Religion and Violence

Cheap Propaganda

One never ceases to chuckle at the nonsense spouted about “religion” by the allegedly irreligious, or by those who should know better.  Here is a classic of the genre:

It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.  [Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2002),  p.1.]

Ah, yes.  Trite indeed.  Why not make the following claim–equally true, and meaningless: “more wars have been waged under the influence of breathing than any other force in history”?  As Christians, we should never fall into the trap of such lazy, foolish generalisations.  Coincidence does not mean causality, as any student of Logic 101 would insist.  Kimball, being a professing Christian, should know better.

The Scriptures declare that all men are religious, and act with religious motivation of one kind or another.  It is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God  [Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1].  Moreover, every single human being knows the true God, according to Romans 1:21:

For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they [mankind] became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The key issue is not whether a man is religiously motivated, or not–since all are to one extent or another–but what the particular doctrines and precepts are which that man’s religion teaches.   Stalin, for example, was an intensely religious man.
  He believed fervently in Marxist dogma and the ultimate triumph of Marxist-Leninist over human history.  He was a deeply religious atheist–and as a result of his belief in that religion there is a great deal of blood on his hands.

Philosopher, John Hick is nearer to the mark.  Hick argued that it is the phenomenon of ultimate beliefs, intrinsic to religions, that lead them into violence and bloodshed.  But, later in life, under sustained criticism for his selectivity, Hick concedes that it is not possible to draw clear lines of demarcation between what is a religion and what is not.

Hick admits the extreme difficulty of deciding whether Confucianism, Theravada Buddhism and Marxism should be called religions; none has a deity, yet all share certain characteristics with what are normally considered to be religions. [William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p.19.]

Charles Kimball should have been listening.  Moreover, such silly mistakes and misrepresentations should be even more clearly seen for what they are, given the profligate blood-letting in the century of irreligious secularism.  Nazism, Soviet and Eastern European Communism, Chinese Communism, and Japanese Fascism shed a great deal of blood in the twentieth century.  In a narrow, technical sense none of these examples are a result of a particular religion.  Yet, in the more profound sense, they are all religious wars, caused by religious beliefs.

All this leads to the real point: it is not religion per se that is responsible for violence and bloodshed.  The particular doctrines of a particular religion, whether secular humanism, atheism, Marxism, or Shintoism that make all the difference in any particular case.  It is when we are ready to take the doctrinal and philosophical beliefs of a religion seriously we are in a far better position to discern any causal connection between a particular religion and violence.

If we are not prepared to do those hard yards, hasty generalisations about the causal connection of religion and violence are little more than specious twaddle.  A hasty generalisation is a fallacy–and a sloppy one at that.  Concluding that co-incidence proves causality is equally specious.  Useful for sensational headlines, though–that is, if you happen to be more interested in propaganda than truth.
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