Two of my friends on Facebook recently engaged in a brief, entertaining debate about the violence associated with religion. One said–as do, it seems, a great many critics–that religion has been responsible for 90 percent of the world’s conflicts.
With all due respect, this argument is, of course, sophomoric. Yet we see it repeatedly trotted out by everyone from Bill Maher on down. A lot of people say that if they could cleanse the world of faith in God, they’d automatically rid it of mayhem.
Have true believers killed people in the name of their religions? Yes. Look at the craziness in the Middle East today. Look at 9/11. Look at the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Zealots of any stripe can be dangerous.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it selectively ignores the obvious: that religion is only one of countless matters over which people kill each other. Nations and tribes have fought over land and gold and food. They’ve fought over slavery. They’ve fought over politics. They’ve fought over the complexions of their skin.
In the 20th Century, the bloodiest regimes weren’t religious, but vehemently anti-religious. Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s Communist China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia were all atheistic–and, taken together, killed tens of millions of their fellow countrymen. The critics who point to religion’s excesses never argue that atheism causes mass murder.
Frankly, and sad to say, human beings will find a way to fight over nearly anything. Religion certainly is one of those things, but it’s far from the only one.
Religion per se isn’t the cause of violence. The cause of violence is the flawed nature of human hearts and brains.
You can just as easily argue that religion serves as a stabilizing force and that it frequently minimizes war’s chaos and suffering. Christians, and for that matter, members of other faiths, have many times lobbied fervently for peace. They’ve fed refuges, protected captives and built orphanages.
I don’t mind when people point out religion’s crimes. Atrocities are atrocities, whether they’re committed by Christians or Communists. Wrong is wrong.
But to argue that war and violence would go away if we were to rid the planet of religious faith is just plain silly.