Violence and Religion

Let me start this by quoting The Unassuming Atheist (emphasis added by me)

Were the Fort Hood and Charlie Hebdo murder sprees or Boko Haram massacres caused by Islam? Are the Central African murder sprees caused by Christianity? A yes answer is far too simple. But violence, tribalism, and mutually exclusive truth claims are built into in our sacred texts and traditions. As a consequence, religion around the world continues to disinhibit lethal violence at a horrendous rate. For us to vilify Muslims or Christians or any group of believers collectively is to engage in the familiar act of cowardice we call scapegoating. It means, ever and always, that we end up sacrificing innocents to appease our own fear, anger and thirst for vengeance. But for us to ignore the complicated role of religion in violence is a different kind of cowardice, one that has been indulged by peace-lovers among the faithful for far too long.

It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, to be fair it is necessary to state things in the manner above. Religion doesn’t cause violence but it damn sure disinhibits it. Wait, let’s rethink that. Religions and their holy texts actually call for violence and war. That religion and violence are connected so tightly is no accident. What the Unassuming Atheist is trying to say is that only batshit crazy people actually go through with the violence. All the sane religiously deluded people are too chicken shit to do what their holy books tell them to do. Wait, maybe they’re not True Christians or True Muslims or True Jews… who knew?

For a group of people to tell me that they follow a book full of bat shit crazy violence and marching orders to kill those who do not believe but that their religion is not a religion of violence, that true-believers do not adhere to such things and that violent believers are just nut-jobs that have nothing to do with them is to piss down my back and try to tell me it’s raining.

Yeah, and the neo Nazi party is not anything to do with the original Nazi party, am I right? No, they have nothing in common. The Neo Nazis are peace loving political movement, not a violent genocidal group of whackjobs. You believe me when I say that, right?

Okay, so if you tell me your religion is the religion of peace and I can go to Google and find 100s of thousands of pictures of religious violence, violence created by believers, and violence created in the name of the deity I’m going to spit in your face. Yes, that’s offensive but it is also a proper response to telling me that monotheism is peaceful.

The Unassuming Atheist wants us to believe that religion simply does not inhibit violence. To a degree I’d be willing to agree with that. Humanity is a violent species but we did get it honestly. There was a large part of human history where live and let live was okay. There was enough land to keep us separate. The world is a much smaller place now. This is no longer possible and religious violence is no longer tolerable. Religion is no longer tolerable. Yes, it’s okay to say that. If religion was out busy trying to jail and punish the violent nut-jobs that are following their holy texts we might be able to forgive moderate believers. That is not what is happening and I can’t forgive them. Oh, sure, many of them have no clue what to do.

Well, here are a couple of clues:

  • Leave your violent religion behind. Just get out.
  • Condemn the violence with the strongest possible measures. Turn vigilante.
  • Start telling the public sphere who is right and who is wrong where violence is concerned. Be vocal. Make sure the world knows where you stand.
  • Then put your money where your mouth is – support those that hunt the violent ones down and kill them. Start spending your money on feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and so on.

When the pious can do this the world will gain. Humanity will gain.

Renounce the violence by punishing the violent people who claim your religion. Stand up, deliver, speak out. The longer that moderates remain quiet the more tyrannical the violent ones become. Weed your own gardens believers. Then, just maybe, we can believe that your religion is one of peace.

    • ryan59479
    • January 18th, 2015

    Well put. I can see, however, an argument to be had on the other side. Just to play the devil’s advocate (pun fully intended), condemning a command of violence in religious texts is more reasonable if that text is taken literally. Granted, millions of people do take texts literally–certainly the ones who follow through on the violence.

    But there are also millions of people who don’t. There are a lot of religious people out there who view the texts as allegorical. Or they read them within the historical context they were written in. I think it’s important not to lose sight of these people in this argument. Violence goes hand in hand with religion only insofar as literalism is involved.

    At the very least, religion provides a convenient rationale for violence. Not to mention descrimination and inequality. But I don’t think its connection to violence is always so black and white. Although it certainly can be.

    • Name a situation of violence linked to religion where it was not black and white? I’d like to know of one.

        • ryan59479
        • January 18th, 2015

        I guess my point wasn’t that religion doesn’t cause violence necessarily, rather that all people who are religious won’t take away violent messages from the texts.

        You can use anything as an excuse for violence if you try hard enough. Even science. Some rather dubious things have been done to people “in the name of science.”

        I’m sure you wouldn’t say that science is the root cause of that violence.

        • Science, or the science that I know about does not intentionally advocate violence in the name of science. Science is hard to do when surrounded by violence so it kind of abhors violence on some levels.

          Not everyone that hears the story of Santa Claus will come away thinking they will get free gifts every year. That does not mean that the story doesn’t positively encourage people to think that way.

          It does not matter that all religious people do not opt to be violent. It does matter that religions advocate violence in the name of their deity and when not openly advocating it they protect those that do violence in the name of the deity. Monotheism is egregiously guilty of this. If monotheism _actually_ promoted peace the 24/hour news cycle would be pretty damned boring. Clearly that would not be enough because there are whack jobs out there that are violent. We cannot ask people to not give birth to mentally defective people (yet) but we can demand that violent religions be done away with.

          No, their sincerely held religious beliefs are not enough to protect them from the responsibility they owe to the society which supports them.

          It has been said that in life there are sheep, sheep dogs, and wolves. The vast majority are sheep. The religions of monotheism allow the wolves to hide among them, protect them, feed them. Even believers can’t tell who real believers are yet they push onward using their violence ridden holy texts to justify their belief while forgiving the wolves because of their beliefs.

            • ryan59479
            • January 18th, 2015

            I guess I don’t see the difference between directly asking someone to commit a violent act and simply providing a rationale for the act. The outcome is the same regardless.

            I’m not advocating that we give religion a pass in this matter. I’m not exactly trying to defend religion here, which I’m worried is what this is coming off as. Rather that violence and why people commit violent acts is a complicated matter.

            • I agree that it is a complex matter but I cannot see religion as anything but promoting that behavior. Sure, many are to feeble to follow the holy books fully, that does not make the holy books non-violent. When the choice is obey or burn forever, a little violence is no problem at all.

  1. I recall a passage in “The Will to Power” about how the afterlife actually promotes terrible behavior in the here and now. As an idea, it forgives people of all the wrongdoing they perform in “this” life. I wonder how many people would be willing to perform suicide attacks if they believed this was the only life they’d get?

    In this way, I think a strong point can be made that religion actively removes barricades to doing violence.

    • I say that religion promotes violence. It provides forgiveness and eternal reward for those who are violent in the name of a god.

  2. Great post. Indeed, not all who follow the Bible and the Koran commit the acts of violence those books command them to do. This does not make the commands to violence any less of a problem. They are all the craziest of believers need to commit violence on others. They are cries from their god, through his books, to kill other people. They ARE the bloody religion itself, an integral part of it. We can not act surprised when followers of holy books that demand violence act violently. These acts are just as “religious” as giving alms to the poor. Both are mentioned in the holy books. the solution is simple: get different holy books. Write new ones. Toss out any holy book that demands violence be done anywhere within it and start over. Create a faith in human kind. Support all humans as equals. Place violence and murder as the most heinous of crimes, for ANY reason, at the top of list of things NEVER to do. Do this with a holy book, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t think it’s such a bad thing. Because the holy books we have now, well, they suck. They suck really, really bad.

  3. The vast majority of believers don’t even read much,if any,of their religious texts and simply tow the party line — ”Oh, they’re not true , Jews, Christians, Muslims.”

    Ignorance in the pews, prayer mat, or cheap seats, is a god-send for those in charge .

    Good post. Points well made, MAL.

    • I consider that some high praise. Thanks Ark

    • “The vast majority of believers don’t even read much,if any,of their religious texts..” All too true. The vast majority of believers are sheep waiting for the command of their Shepard to lead them to slaughter. I just don’t want them taking me with.

  4. For us to vilify Muslims or Christians or any group of believers collectively is to engage in the familiar act of cowardice we call scapegoating

    Bullshit. Dangerous mewling and apologetic faitheist bullshit.

    Is the Saudi government ‘crazy’? Are the governments and laws of Pakistan and Iran and Indonesia and so on merely a ‘few bad apples’ of ‘religious individuals’?

    Of course not.

    These governments are the embodiment of islamic principles in political and legal power. That’s not cowardly to admit; It’s cowardly to deny this reality. These governments and their barbaric laws supported by sharia are the product of something very much related DIRECTLY to the koran that connects acts of violence done in the name of islam to islam.

    Go figure. And he wants to call this honesty ‘scapegoating’?

    Give me a fucking break from his liberal happy-place kumbaya delusion.

    I suspect this connection has a little something to do with the more than 500 verses in the koran – the PERFECT WORD OF GOD for those too dull to learn about why it’s a wee bit difficult to ‘interpret’ it a little more liberally, a littel more tolerantly, and a little less violently – before making ridiculous statements about the religion that really does talk about when it’s right and proper to engage in violence… not to mention the 109 commandments to do so. Perfect word, remember.

    Am I going out on a limb to dare to think there’s a link? How very intolerant of me to point out the obvious and be truthful about it. I must be an islamophobe.

    Islam needs to be condemned as a vile and violent religion of conquest incompatible with western liberal secular democracies whenever and wherever it raises its public head… because that’s a true statement that accurately reflects the reality all of us share. It is a religion of barbarity and brutality when politically empowered that is richly deserving of contempt for its blatant intolerance of individual legal autonomy and equality rights. That this incompatibility exists is not a reflection of my appeasement to a self-created fear, anger and thirst for vengeance I have. I – unlike the Unassuming Athiest – am just being honest. I am not making the REASONS for this negative assessment of islam up; they are on stage for all to see. And because so many liberal ostriches refuse to see what’s right in front of their faces as they continue to espouse love and tolerance, and respect for the hateful, intolerant, and disrespectful, the extreme rightwing nuttery groups are making political hay by representing this growing backlash against the falsely advertized religion of peace.

    To deal effectively with this public expression of this barbaric perfect-word-of-god religion, I think we must have an oath of citizenship so that to receive the rights and freedoms and protections of law from these countries requires an oath of allegiance to these principles. For all regardless of place of birth… no matter what wingnuttery of other beliefs might interfere with that allegiance. Taking the oath means refusing to do so can be dealt with right there and then. That way, if a muslim or whomever refuse to acknowledge this proper ranking of legal respect over and above delusions of religiosity or intolerant political extremism, then citizenship can be revoked accompanied by the loss of these legal rights that currently are used as the shield for those who wish to do nothing but harm to the Unassuming Atheist’s and my civil rights.

    • I agree but recognize that they can and will lie to get citizenship. I think it much more appropriate to simply hang them for treason… in public. Before we start the hangings, we should revoke religious privilege of any kind. No more tax breaks, no more back-handers, no more special treatment. If you break the law you go to jail. If you attack the US or in the US you get tried for treason. The hangman should be female and the body should be left hanging for days. Failure to enforce federal law is already a punishable offence. Enforce that law too.

      I don’t believe in curtailing freedom of speech but I do believe the laws should be enforced. If you own property you must pay the taxes and so on. If you kill people in an act of treason or support those that do, you will be hanged on the public square. No questions, no reprieve, and you get one of the quickest trials ever… then your family and friends get to experience internment camps where there are no religious facilities.

      To start it off I’d make Kosher and Halal butchery illegal in the country and put high tariffs on the imports. Is that biased against religion? No, it is biased against cruel treatment of animals. Then I’d place a federal tax on religions, all of them. They operate for-profit businesses. Just like any organization that collects charitable funds, they must be subject to audits and pay their taxes. If they are selling pie and cake to raise money then they need the appropriate license and health inspections and so on. I’m certain that in the US alone we could recoup over 100 billion dollars per year. That would feed, house, educate, and protect a lot of people.

      It should be seen in the public eye that professing religion as a politician is a death knell for the politician’s career.

      • Sure, people may lie and even change their mind later but, and here’s the point, the oath is binding, meaning that breaking it comes with a loss of rights and freedoms. How that plays out is certainly open to debate and I do not endorse any kind of violence by fiat. I think it is not just unnecessary but counter-productive.

        Look, people can believe whatever they want… in private. And they do, don’t forget. No law is going to change that. I think It is unreasonable to think any law against this is enforceable. It isn’t, and so it’s a bad idea. It’s doomed to failure… especially under the guise of ‘treason’ for simply holding religious beliefs.

        I want some means to respond to someone who breaks what until now has given tacit consent to be governed by that consent in the aggregate. A broken oath does just that: it demonstrates the culpability of crossing that boundary into the public domain and intentionally breaking of that agreement. And there needs to be real penalties for doing so… the kind of penalties that any reasonable person would choose forgo by exercising informed choice. Tacit consent doesn’t do the trick; enunciated consent before witnesses is necessary I think will. And brutal penalties I think drastically limit the chances of returning to the fold.

        Consider people lying on immigrant applications… happens all the time. But living according to the country’s founding principles more than makes up for it. Living contrary to these principles doesn’t and gives funding agencies the right to pull immigrant funding for cause. Charity aimed at producing opportunity through integration in such cases usually produces excellent and highly productive citizens: threatening that financial aid in the name of ‘submitting to god’ in a public display when one can continue to believe so in a private way is a poor deal when one has children to feed and a life to build.

        The benefits are obvious: all of us can find agreement that people should be able to and still can exercise their freedom of religion. And that religious belief can even be contrary to the principles of the oath. What will not be tolerated, however, is practices contrary to the oath and I think this is as it should be. But by keeping some contrary belief private (and I’m thinking specifically the notion of submitting to some god’s supposed authority), each citizen understands the necessary limit that accompanies that personal freedom: to the person and not to be exported to the public under the guise of freedom to be intolerant to the freedom of others.

        • I think we basically agree but are saying things just different enough to sound like we don’t.

  5. I agree but I think it’s nearsighted that no one ever brings economics into the argument. Most instances of horrendous mass violence that I can find usually happen whenever there’s a large, poor population with nothing to do. A belief system is usually provided to rally that population to violence but even a belief system built around the ideas of communism might work.

    On the contrary, take a rich islamic nation like Qatar, Kuwait or the UAE. You will find lots of stupid religious laws. Religious police even. And yet – no violence. Not in a mass sense anyway. It might give rise to a sociopathic narcissist like Bin Laden but then that person will have to go to a much more impoverished place like Afghanistan to find recruits ready to do his bidding. It seems to me that the main cause of extremist violence is, by far, economic… Belief systems definitely help.

    • What you have said is that religion is the perfect tool to convert the poor to angry mobs yet this is antithetical to claiming the moral high ground. Religion is dangerous. period.

      • Forgive me, that’s not quite what I said.

        I said religion is one of the tools. Religion is merely a set of ideas, often silly ideas. But extremist violence comes from mobs (or individuals) who couldn’t find fulfillment elsewhere. For those people the exact set of ideas that drives them is often irrelevant and a matter of coincidence.

        What about the Soviet idea that world peace will not be achieved until the Communist Revolution is spread throughout the world? If you blame ideas for violence, then that idea has killed at least 60 million from the time of Lenin to Brezhnev. Or what about the idea that preventing terrorist attacks is justification for blanket government surveillance? Or the idea that markets work best when not regulated (2008)? Heck, even Greenpeace has crazies who ram boats into each other and permanently damage century-old archaeological sites.

        So I don’t think that ideas (no matter how crazy) are dangerous. I think its the unfulfilled, impoverished, cornered people who feel cast out that are dangerous.

        • The idea of manifest destiny killed how many native North Americans? Ideas can be, and some are, dangerous exactly because there have always been poor and disenfranchised humans around to accept them and the leaders profiting from them. Religion has that built-in ‘kill the opposition’ theology and the guise of morality – that makes it the perfect tool for converting the poor and disenfranchised into violent mobs and whackjobs. Let’s not simply gloss over the culpability of those that run religions in their use of them as a tool.

          In recent times Christian leaders in the USA have incited believers to not pay taxes, charge extra to non-believing customers, deprive others of their rights, boycotting businesses. What’s the difference in that and actual violence? Surely YHWH sees all of it as causing harm and worthy of punishment? It’s antithetical to the supposed message of Christianity. Its real message is bigotry and privilege for their in-group. Its a perfect tool for making people dangerous. Religion is dangerous.

          • Sorry, MAL I’ve been way too busy doing to write lately. No way to live indeed. Let me just humbly (forgive me if this annoys) offer the following.

            I’ve happened visit the MIT campus in the past couple weeks. In the hallways, hanging around between science stuff were big black posters asking “GOD?” It was for some event put together by some student Christian group. Caught my eye. Saw posters for some Muslim stuff too.

            So here’s a community of arguably very well educated, industrious individuals and there’s the religion stuff. They’ve found “a place to put it” – in this temple of science, amid the robots and the genomic labs – it’s neither eradicated nor is it the law of the land. Some might argue it adds a certain amount of flavor and diversity. Surely they don’t see it as dangerous, do they?

            Now on the other hand, there were the Boston bombers a couple years ago. Those two guys were poorly educated, economically disadvantaged outcasts. They caused damage. That attack was somewhat of a cross between 9/11 and the Columbine shooting.

            So I maintain the “dangerous” needs to be at least qualified. Dangerous when? Dangerous for whom? Are Communism and Manifest Destiny also “religions” or should we expand the attack on all “dangerous ideas”? And how do you fight against dangerous ideas?

            Well we could argue against Christianity but people have been arguing against for 2000 years. It seems the more you argue against it, the more nutjob supporters it gets! But… I think the sensible thing to do is foster more places like MIT. That’s a community that’s been built once. Well there are many awesome communities likely. Clearly that result can be replicated.

            • I see the logic of your stance though I find it placating to those that hold the argument which needs be made.

              “”In the meantime, both believers and non-believers are done a huge disservice when people promulgate biased and disingenuous claims that distort what current science implies and can imply about the universe. In a society in which the understanding of science is already marginal—and where, at the same time, the continued health of modern society as it meets the challenges of the twenty-first century depends, in some sense, on our ability to utilize our scientific knowledge, both to create new technologies and to help guide rational public policies—this is the last thing we need. — Lawrence Krauss””

              == Some might argue it adds a certain amount of flavor and diversity that the weeds live placidly among the crops. Surely the farmers don’t see it as dangerous, do they? ==

              One might argue that religion and science are Non-overlapping magisteria and in this are compatible. They are not. I have no idea what the policies are for advertising for school groups is at MIT. That signs exist, outside of context, has no meaning other than to say that they did not inspire mobs to tear them down. A reaction that one would not expect in the halls of MIT.

              The question is how to tell what a weed looks like. The idea that we can all coexist is laudable yet the humans who believe in ideas make it impractical and even dangerous. It’s far better that we sort out what ideas are good and keep those, shunning the ideas that are bad and bring dangers. In an egalitarian way, ideas survive based on their merits. Religion has no merit that cannot be acquired elsewhere without the dangers of religion. To me, that makes religion look like a weed.

              • Let me add this on the topic if education and religion

                • Hm. I might be speaking too quickly but I’ll point out the merit of religion is simply explained by its continued existence for thousands of years. In the same way as natural selection kills off species that can’t adapt, the ideas would not survive if there weren’t something in them that people (at least some people) cling to. Even the ancient stories about Zeus and Odin are still around.

                  I am against fundamentalism, I am against legal systems derived from anything other than logical humanism. But religion spans that weird line between law and fiction. If you take it too seriously (maybe because you have nothing else that adds value to your life) then you become ISIS. If you don’t take it that seriously, then it’s more like a set of inspiring stories – a shopping list of metaphors about the universe you may or may not adopt.

                  It’s easy to argue about funadmentalist Christianity because it causes suffering. But its harder to argue about the whole story of Christ and the metaphors he used – the prodigal son, the clothed lilies, the grapes and thorns – it’s like arguing against The Little Red Riding Hood. I’m sure Christians would’ve loved to eradicate Greek mythology completely but even they couldn’t accomplish that. Those stories remain, reincarnated in Hollywood, maybe someone somewhere still takes them too seriously…. So I don’t see how we can ever “root out all the weeds” as it were…

                  I think all we gotta do is focus on economic equity (in the global sense), mental health, proper education (our education is horrendous indeed), basic liberties and civil justice. I.e. Do what MIT does but globally. I think when those things are done right, fundamentalism will die on its own. But fairy tales seem rather immortal… People like fairy tales. Even scifi fairy tales. Can’t seem to get rid of those…

                  • Nobody has ever turned mass murderer while chanting lines from Aesop’s Fables. The idea that religious texts contain some good moral stories is the dangerous part. What moral story of merit says it’s good to kill homosexuals or anyone for that matter? What moral story of merit aims to scare you into submission?

                    Despite your references, it is unclear that MIT has done anything. All that I can say from your description is that MIT has not erupted in religious based violence. That’s not a huge deal, all things considered. Look at all the cities in the world where they are not having religious based violence.

                    You support compatibilism, I get that. I do not for the very reason that what you think gives some merit to religion is exactly what makes it dangerous. You talk of the beauty of the flower – that grows on a very poisonous plant as if this makes the plant useful. The very same mistakes that people have been making for thousands of years.

                    That beauty you talk of makes 80 year old women believe I’m going to burn in hell. It makes otherwise intelligent people vote for the candidate with the best spiel about religion rather than the most qualified candidate.

                    The stories of monotheism should never go away, just as the stories of Auschwitz should never go away and for the very same reasons.

                    Economic equity, health, education etc. – these are things that we need to do without regard to religion but religion will not let us. Monotheism remains toxic no matter how you slice it. What you want to do will be fought against by religions. Further I do not think that you understand the insidiousness of religion. It was designed to eliminate the competition. In a respect religion is a virus, or a cancer. They too evolve/mutate to continue propagating. You see, bad things evolve too. Evolution does not direct morality. It is simply the description of the diversity of life. That something survived does not mean it is good. Ebola continues to survive.

                    • Well as you said:
                      “Look at all the cities in the world where they are not having religious based violence.”
                      — that’s exactly my point. Perhaps I’m not articulating it well. You seem to agree that there are many places where religious violence isnt a problem at all, but you don’t think its important to examine and replicate what makes those places special. Maybe there’s a bit of a chicken-egg problem. What comes first – poverty, inequality and ignorance or fundamentalism? I argue the former indeed causes the latter.

                      To continue the ebola metaphor – one strategy is to try to eradicate the virus entirely. And that might be possible, only with nuclear weapons. You might have to kill some bat species entirely. And after you go through that, another different virus might later emerge. After all, these things pop up spontaneously. So a better strategy might be to promote hygiene, and informed care. In the same way, education and economic opportunity are the perfect preventative measures against fundamentalism.

                      There are many people who have been exposed to the virus at least once but don’t show any of the symptoms. Maybe a nutrient like lactose is a better metaphor? Some sell it. Some consider it absolutely essential. Some have never eaten it or heard of it. Some get a violent reaction. Ha. Except the reaction is probably not caused by genetics…

                  • But all religions are fundamentalist in that certain fundamental tenets are believed (that’s what gives the religion its particular identity) and then held immune from reality’s arbitration of them. That’s why religion as a method of thinking based on a model that purports to offer explanations ABOUT reality don’t just wither and die. They are passed on through teaching. Until the teaching changes, we’re stuck with the constant insertion of religion in the public domain causing pernicious effects.

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