Monthly Archives: August 2016

Religion and Violence

“Religion causes violence.”

Really?  How?

Religion has no agency, no consciousness or will: it’s not alive.  It has no physical mass, no energy, no kinetic force.  How, precisely, could such a mindless, formless, forceless entity cause any change in anything else?

“Religion makes people violent.”

Really?  You mean violence is a characteristic demonstrably restricted to religion, and so people aren’t violent without religion?  I’m terribly sorry to have to point this out, but history disagrees with you: Mao’s China, Stalin’s USSR, Hitler’s Germany, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia were not religious states.

“Religion makes people more violent.”

Really?  And you have a sample of before-and-after cases wherein we can empirically identify religion as the unique factor which produces such a change?  No?  I thought not.

“Most of the wars in history have been perpetrated by religious people.”

I hate to have to explain this to you, but most of the people in history have been religious people.  You might as well have said that wars are caused by belts.

At the same time, if you look at those wars, the political agenda of the ruling class in each case is quite easy to find, such as with the Franks who were causing trouble in their own countries and so were packed off on a heroic quest to ‘Recapture the Holy Land’, the English lords who incited Elizabeth I to (re-)invade Ireland in order to steal the lands of Anglo-Norman lords, the Western powers who felt unsurprisingly sympathetic to the Jewish people after World War Two and so decided to hand them a homeland already inhabited by someone else.

It might also be worth considering that most major religions actually preach against various forms of violence.

“Religious texts preach violence against unbelievers.”

Sure, some of them do.  There are, however, two enormously-important factors which your equation is missing.

One is the aforementioned preaching against various forms of violence.  Religious texts tend to say quite a lot of things, and the Bible, for instance, is actually a compilation of texts written by at least two dozen different people over a period of at least six centuries.  Why would you suppose that the parts which preach against violence don’t reduce violence while assuming that the parts which do preach some form of violence increase violence?  How, exactly do you imagine that works?

On a similar note, how does a text make anyone do anything?  Does it somehow steal their free will?  Does the reader of the text become incapable of doing anything other than what it says?  If that were the case, why would theft, adultery, and murder still happen in religious communities?  Practically every religious system preaches against them.

Or are you just assuming that people ignore all of the instructions to do good things, and act upon all of the instructions to do bad things?  If that’s the case, then the factor which creates the difference is not in the text: it’s in the reader.

“Religion causes all kinds of problems.”

Such as the maintenance of classical knowledge during the so-called Dark Ages, you mean?  And the creation of hospitals?  And universities?  And public school systems?  And public libraries?  And the abolition of slavery?  And the guaranteeing of workers’ rights?  And massive contributions to charitable concerns?

“Religion is bad.”

It’s ever so slightly more complicated than that, dear.

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