Millions of people in the past lived morally good and pious lives even though they believed that the earth was flat. Truth is not the best way to reach God, honesty and love is.
Prophet Muhammad said: “Should I tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity.” They (the companions) said: “Yes.” He said: “Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor (that shaves off faith).” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi)
Even more important Prophet Muhammad said: “The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says [only] what is good.” [Ahmad]
This is because because peace is greater than truth. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am wiser, I admire kind people.”
Or as Albert Einstein said: The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that Honors the servant and has Forgotten the gift.”
That we humans are so smart that we can really know the WHOLE TRUTH is a vastly overvalued concept. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: [It is] “so convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”
And to the well known statement of the Talmud: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Who is powerful? One who governs his passions. Who is rich? One who is content.” Benjamin Franklin added: “Who is that? Nobody.”
Great harm is done to religion, and to God’s reputation, when religious people do despicable deeds in God’s name and/or religious leaders try to cover up or sanitize the sins of religious people to preserve the institution’s or the religion’s good name. The burning of witches, the Inquisition, and Jihad suicide bombers, are examples of the misuse of God’s name by some segments of organized religion.
For “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” (Pascal)
Fanatics believe the ends justify the means, thus subordinating God’s goal to their personal or political goal. Extremists believe that more is always better. To them the Talmud says, “If you (try to) grasp it all, you don’t grasp it at all.”
The Rabbinic sages extended the prohibition of misusing God’s name even to taking unnecessary oaths i.e. not required by a court, and making unnecessary blessings i.e. not required by Jewish law.
Personal piety and sincerity do not justify excessive behavior even if self-limited. How much the more so if extremists judge others by their own perfectionist standards. Religious people should not misuse their piety by going beyond normal community limits, and then try to justify it in God’s name.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam apply this religious principle to both excessive personal, as well as political behavior. As the Bible states, “Do not be overly righteous.” (Ecclesiastes 7:17): and as Aisha narrated: “Whenever the Prophet was given an option between two things, he used to select the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful; but if it was sinful, he would remain far from it.”
In today’s world of fanaticism and extremism, the words of Al-Ghazali, a 12th century Persian Muslim theologian need to be repeated by all the world’s religious and political leaders: “Declare your jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see – Egoism, Arrogance, Conceit, Selfishness, Greed, Lust, Intolerance, Anger, Lying, Cheating, Gossiping and Slandering. If you can master and destroy them, then you will be ready to fight the enemy you can see.”
Or as Rabbi Nachman said “Never insist that everything go exactly your way, even in matters spiritual.”