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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Is Religion Good for the World?

One of my distant friends posted a question on Facebook – “What man-made creation has killed more humans than any other?” Someone immediately posted the answer that was being looked for – “religion.” I get so tired of this question because it's such a simplification of something to which I have gladly dedicated my life. So my response to the Facebook post was as follows...
*yawn*. The answer is without any doubt the concept of ownership of land. More people have died because they were either on the wrong land or because someone else wanted their land or resources than have died from anything else. Most wars that were given a religious connotation were actually wars over land or resources or, at the core, the concept of ownership of land. It's a cheap lazy shot to say religion, I'm afraid. When the crusaders went marching into Jerusalem, they did so not because of religion because the religions were already mixing there. They did it because they wanted to OWN Jerusalem. Religion by itself is not violent and does not cause death."

The obvious claim against religion is that it’s the basis of all the major conflicts in the world. That of course doesn’t bear out when you look at the history of wars in the last century alone. Even wars that are between differing religious groups often have nothing to do with religion at all, although religion is often at some point subverted for the cause of division to then support the war. But just because something can be subverted, does that mean it’s inherently bad for the world? Hardly. If I take a coin and put it in a charity box, for example, it becomes a good thing for the world. If I take the same coin and throw it at someone, it becomes a bad thing for the world. Even this comparison doesn’t quite work because a coin is an amoral object whereas religion by its nature deals with morality and actions based on morality.

Has the track record of religion been perfect? No, of course not, although it certainly doesn’t fare any worse than the track record of secular societies. Of course there are religious extremists who go around killing people - Yigal Amir's assassination of Yitzchak Rabin was religiously motivated - but such acts say more about the individuals who carry them out than they do about why they thought they did them. To be blunt, I don't believe that religious nuts go nuts because of religion - I think that religion is a convenient excuse for them being nuts.

At the end of the day, those who are involved in religious communities see that while there are those who would use religion for the detriment of society, ultimately religion can bring people together, help people explore their own meaning and place in the world, inspire people to better themselves and help create a society of peace. If that’s not good for the world, I don’t know what is!

1 comment:

  1. This is the sort of question that is regularly thrown at me at dinner parties... surely man is the cause of all these troubles, and religion is just a tool - both for good and for evil - of all that we are capable of anyway. I'm sure without religion we'd find another reason to be upset at each other - land, colour, crops... I thought last nights Louise Theroux was an excellent opportunity to reflect on why Progressive religion is so important today! Picking and choosing the bits of text that bring the most conflict vs. picking and choosing the bits that bring the most meaning and love - know where I side every time! Thanks Neil!