Religion is Violent

religion is violent

Krynn: So…  Look…  I just don’t get how you can be religious.  I simply don’t get it at all.  I mean, c’mon!  Haven’t you paid attention to the news for the last 15 years!?  Religion is violent. Who flies planes into buildings killing thousands of people?  Religious people.  Who beheads innocent people and throws the images on social media outlets?  Religious people.  Who votes in crazy right-wingers onto school boards who are determined to eradicate science and indoctrinate children with their creationist ideologies?  Religious people.  Who gets in lock-step and supports the NRA and allows all kinds of murderous weapons to be legal?  Religious people.  Who still supports racist views and tries to deport desperate families who cross the border looking for ways to give their children a better life?  Religious people.

I don’t get it.  Or better yet, I DO get it!  You religious people say to yourselves that you are God’s chosen ones, and that everyone should be forced to believe the Bible, or the Koran, or the Upanishads, or The Book of Mormon, or whatever is your ancient or silly book of choice, when we all know it is just bullshit.  No, it’s worse than that.  Religion is violent.  Why in the world would you be in to that stuff!?

Brian: Krynn, thanks for reaching out and speaking your very honest thoughts and concerns!  I always appreciate it when someone is willing to truly speak their mind and share their deepest concerns with me.  Thanks!

Well, great questions…  Where to start?

First of all, you have to keep in mind that all human beings are religious.  All people.  Yes, even you!  Now before you start to type out some four-letter words in response to me, let me try to explain what I mean.  :)

All of us live within a big story that we believe makes the best sense of our lives.  We all do this.  We all see ourselves as some small part of an overarching narrative.  Some people believe the Bible.  They believe that there is a personal Creator who formed all that exists, a God that is holy and loving and sovereign, who has certain purposes for humanity and the world as a whole as revealed in the epic story of the Bible.

Others believe the story of the Koran.  That there is one God, Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.  They believe that God (Allah) has a very specific will for how men and women should conduct their lives, how society should be structured, what laws people ought to submit to, etc.  (I believe this is what Islam actually means: submission to God.)

And others (maybe like yourself) believe another story about the origins and destiny and well-being of humanity.  Something like a narrative of progress and freedom.  A tale that says we are the product of random biological processes (evolution) and that we are emerging from a naïve lower state to something higher.  And that this process, historically speaking, involves human beings originally believing in some myths that provided people with purpose (religion).  But this story says that now we live in an era where (slowly and painfully) people are being emancipated from these childish views into the salvation of personal autonomy based on scientific progress.  Or something like that.

There is so much I could say and want to say here- but at least to begin with, I would suggest that you are also a religious person.  You too have faith in a grand meta-narrative that makes sense of your life and history as a whole.  The question is simply: what is the best faith system?

Krynn: Okay, I am really trying to calm down and hold my tongue after reading your response.  You think I am a believer in some kind of faith system?  What the hell!  No, I don’t believe in any kind of religion or some grand meta-narrative or whatever kind of mumbo-jumbo words you used.  No I don’t!

Everyone knows (at least people without an agenda know) that evolution is true, that religions are dangerous crutches that mixed up people rely upon.  That we all would be much better off and live in a more peaceful world if all religious people- like you- would just drop these kind of games and wake up to reality.

Brian: I am sorry if you think I came on a bit too strong.  But I do stand by what I have said.  All people hold to some kind of faith system- yes my friend, even you.

I think if you read your cultural history (although I admit that isn’t necessarily enjoyable) that you will see that every culture has always lived within some kind of mythical faith system that gives meaning to their lives.  And most of the time, one faith system emerges to correct the problems of the one that came before it.

The Greeks and the Romans had their gods and their mythical tales of heroes (and curses) and achieving glory through some kind of act of valor.  (This also had the regrettable downside of believing that most people were ignorant and weak and therefore undeserving of any rights- hence they were slaves.)

Christianity arose as a faith system in response to these Greco-Roman narratives.  In the Christian story, all people matter and have worth, because God became a human being in Jesus, and therefore redeemed the value of humanity as a whole.  He was murdered by the Greco-Roman way of life, and yet in this story, he made that system redundant through resurrecting from the dead.  In essence proclaiming that the story of a few noble heroes (and many, many, worthless people) was old hat.

In the Middle East, Islam arose as a response to Christianity.  They believed there was too much emphasis on the individual’s value and personally knowing God, and they returned to a structured and ordered and predictable way of life under Allah.  Though of course, Islam didn’t overtake Western culture.

The modern world slowly evolved in response to the “Age of Faith.”  Due to some latter abuses of religious leaders and their overly-mystical worldview, science and rational truth arose to combat these “silly myths.”

And then later, narratives of the personal freedom of the individual, over and against rational processes, arose to bring “excitement and enjoyment” again to a culture that lived way too much locked within the rational mind.

My point Krynn, is that none of these are narratives can easily prove that they are objectively true.  All people have simply chosen one to live within- to make some sense of their place within a confusing world.  Whichever story becomes dominant one of each time period (like your faith system) always seems like it’s the obvious reality at the time, because most people believe it.  It just seems like it has to be true.  But my guess is, 300 years from now, others will believe that your faith system is superstitious and silly as you believe that my chosen story is.

Krynn: Okay, now I am starting to get a little bit angry.  First- I don’t buy at all what you are saying that I live within some kind of faith system.  I live in reality!  Your little timeline of history thingy that you did- proves my point.  My position is clearly more advanced than your Christian one.  You are making my case!  I believe in evolution and I am evolving.  You are stuck in the past.

But even more, you never addressed my original point that religion is violent and a negative force in society.  Even if my position was one of faith (which I don’t buy) at least where I come from leads to peace.  You religious people are the cause of all kinds of violence.  There is no way around that.

Brian: Okay, a few more things.  Honestly, I don’t have any problem with evolution.  I cannot see why my understanding of God couldn’t or wouldn’t use biological evolution to bring the world He loves into being.  I think evolution may actually show His divine creativity.  He did not merely create a boring, static, never-changing world.  He is so artistic, that He created a universe that keeps on evolving and changing!

But with that said, I am not sure I believe in societal evolution.  I guess society does evolve in that it keeps changing.  But I don’t really believe in the myth of progress in that we are evolving into something higher and better.  At least not in every way.  Sure, our scientific and technological understandings continue to advance, but I am not convinced that humanity is necessarily improving.  Sure, women have rights now in many nations that they didn’t before.  And thank God that most people see slavery as an unspeakable evil.  But look at the 20th century.  More people died in world wars (led by “advanced” nations) than was previously imaginable.  Atheist leaders (Stalin, Mao, etc.) murdered millions and millions of their own people.  We dropped atomic bombs on civilians.  It’s hard for me to imagine that that is an improvement.  No, I think the modern world is beginning to simply recycle the Greco-Roman myths.

But to your question about religion being inherently violent…  Of course, there have been (and currently are) people who in the name of Jesus, or Allah, or other gods, have committed atrocious acts.  There is no doubt about that.  But I don’t think religion caused this.  Some people, are so angry and jaded towards life that they simply want to kill and maim and rape.  That is their desire.  And they look for any justification they can to do such things.  If they come from an overtly religious culture, they claim it is the will of God.

But I think secular, liberal cultures do the same.  How many people have died at the hands of religious terrorists in the last 20 years or so?  Something like 150,000 people.  Evil and wrong?  Certainly!  It’s awful.  But how many people have died as the result of Western military actions?  Somewhere between 350,000- 400,000 with close to 7 million people being displaced and close to $4,000,000,000,000 being spent.

I am not convinced that religious people are inherently violent and secular people are naturally peaceful.

Krynn: I am not sure what to say.  This dialogue is making angry, frustrated, and it is depressing me.  Here’s the deal: I don’t believe in God.  I am a fairly happy person and I think religion is all fairy tales.  I think religious people are ridiculous and dangerous- regardless of what you say.  And if religious people didn’t begin committing religious terrorism and if religious people didn’t enflame everything (like George Bush!) the world would be better off.  I just wish everyone could drop their political and religious agendas, and just find a way to get along.  This is all crazy!  Why do all of these people think killing each other is gonna solve anything???  It’s ridiculous!

Brian: Yes, I hear you and I agree with you in many ways.  All killing and war is evil and wrong.  And yes, I too wish we could all just drop it and live peacefully.  Krynn, we are on the same page with this!

And as much as you may completely disagree with me, this is part of why I believe in Jesus.  I believe that his life and teachings are the very best explanation of how to live well and how to live at peace with others.  He commanded his followers to love their enemies and not to fight them.  He taught them to turn the other cheek and not to retaliate.  When his enemies came for him, he didn’t fight back and even he asked God to forgive them as He died a murderous death at their hands.  And yet the story I believe says that he rose again from the grave.  Translated: love and forgiveness ultimately triumphs over violence.  This is why I call myself a Christian.  Or better yet, a follower of Jesus.

Yes, it’s true, many so-called Christians do not really follow him.  They say that they believe in him, but when push comes to shove, they trust in power and force and not love and forgiveness.

Our wishes and hopes for humanity are the same.  Where we differ, is that I honestly do not believe that a general “Christianity” nor Western, secular, liberalism will morph this dream into a reality.  As crazy as it may sound, I believe that only a radical commitment to the vision of Jesus will make this dream come true.

Thanks for chatting.  I will pray for the realization of your hopes.  The Spirit of God is working for these to become a reality one day.

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