Religion and Violence
by Stephen McAndrew
“Religion poisons everything. As well as a menace to civilization, it has become a threat to human survival.” – Christopher Hitchens (1)
We are often told that religion, including Christianity, is the cause of great evil in the world. That in the words of Christopher Hitchens – “religion poisons everything”. It is claimed that if religion is removed violence will be greatly diminished. In his book, God Is Not Great, the late Hitchens outlined in the second chapter entitled “Religion Kills” various conflicts and atrocities that he blamed on religion. (2)
I’m leaving aside the question of whether one can be good without God. I’m also not going to counter with the argument that atheist belief systems have been responsible for a greater share of evil and death, or enter the debate over whether communist states were atheist. I’m also going to avoid bringing up the thorny issue that if an atheist claims religion is evil they are committing themselves to a system of absolute moral standards.
Instead, let’s do a thought experiment. What if you had a magic ray gun that could remove someone’s religious beliefs instantly? Imagine further that you had a way to spread the effects of this ray gun over the entire earth, so that every person on the planet was struck, and no longer had any religious belief.
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Would all war and evil instantly disappear? Would we wake up to a world without wars, robbery, rape?
An argument can be made that some wars were religiously motivated, but all? World War One, War War Two, Vietnam? Most wars are caused by nations seeking to extend the power and bumping up against others that seek to do so as well.
Are most crimes motivated by religion? Very few crimes are blamed on religion.
I think that it would be extremely difficult to contend that if religion were to instantly disappear that all evil would disappear with it. Therefore, I don’t think it to be the case that religion is the cause of all evil.
So I think we’re left with the following question…
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