Is religion inherently violent? Certainly there are those who will say it is. Or rather they will say Islam is. You can find those claims if you like – usually made by people who have an outside’s view of that religion. There are others who will tell you that all religions are inherently violent. That faith itself is the basis of violent behavior.
I’m not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no big fan of religion. It is a colossal waste of human time and energy. It is sometimes used to oppress people; it is often used to defraud them. The good that religious people do is neither different nor greater than the good done by the irreligious. And make no mistake; people have done great violence in the name of religion. All people, all religions, everywhere.
It’s hard to do violence in the name of atheism but a few people have even managed it. Not Hitler – he was a self-proclaimed Catholic – but others.
See, that’s the thing. People do violence. And, sometimes they use religion as an excuse. Some may even use it as a motivation. Nobody gets off the hook for that.
Yet, if religion was a cause of violence, we’d be in a lot of trouble. There are literally billions of devoted people in the world. If religion drove them to violence, we’d all soon be dead. Yet, in fact, the world is getting less violent. Don’t take my word for it – there is good solid research to show it is true. The world is also getting more secular but the trend away from violence predates that change.
Why people like the barbarians of Daesh are driven to commit atrocities is unclear. Some of it is based on ideology rooted in what is clearly a misinterpretation of Islam just as Anders Breivik in Norway murdered scores of people because he misunderstood Christianity, just as Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar clearly misunderstand the teachings of Buddha. I could go on – as I said people have committed acts of violence and terrorism for a long time for a lot of reasons.
You might as well ask if politics is inherently violent. Think of all the acts of violence committed in the name of one ideology or the other – right or left, authoritarian or anarchist, they all do it.
People are violent and usually don’t need any reason at all to be that way – except to justify themselves. Violence is a tool to get what you want – money power, sex. We are all wired to respond to violence – a few by fighting, many by fleeing, some by freezing. Frozen people do not resist.
And of course there are causes for violence – which include poverty, powerlessness, fear of the other, fractured economies, criminal tendencies and human venality.
There are those who think that violence must be met with more violence. The evidence for that succeeding is pretty slim. When you look at why the world is becoming less violent, clearly it is not because of more violence. It is because we are also remarkably good at cooperating, at building societies, negotiating ways of living, of talking and working together for a better world.
Because most people don’t like to be hurt. Most people do not like hurting others. Most people believe in the golden rule: do unto others… And you don’t need religion to know that. But it’s surprising how many religions preach it.
And that’s a little more than ten minutes.