In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, much of the Western world offered a display of solidarity with the French people and the friends and family of those murdered. A quite different reaction, however, was also very common, particularly on social media. Of course, this reaction frequently appears in the wake of what seems to be religiously motivated violence, whether it concerns ISIS, Boko Haram, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorist attacks such as the one in Paris, or even references to the Crusade and the religious violence of Early Modern Europe. I am speaking of a general hostility toward religion. Comments like “religion is the scourge of mankind” or “until we get rid of religion, this will never stop” made routine appearances on the net, even earning “top comment” distinctions on a variety of Facebook posts. The most conspicuous representative of this anti-religious mentality is secular-progressive darling (is it fair to say that?) Bill Maher, who rarely misses a chance to demonize people of faith.
As a Christian, I find this extremely frustrating. There is no denying that people have committed scores of despicable crimes claiming to act in the name of religion throughout history. This does not mean, however, that religion is fundamentally bad. Quite the contrary, even for you materialists out there, but that’s another issue.
It also does not mean that religion is the cause of all of this violence that afflicts much of the world. To assume that religion is at the core of the problem constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding of something we rarely talk about in connection with every sort of problem that garners our attention: human nature.
“Religion” is not the reason people fly planes into skyscrapers, blow up train stations, run amok in newspaper magazine headquarters, or commit mass murder in general. One glance at the twentieth century reveals as much. The Communist regimes of Mao and Stalin that sought to eliminate God from their societies? They murdered more than 60 million of their own people. Hitler’s Nazi Germany? The Holocaust was hardly perpetrated in the name of God. Far from it; it was an outgrowth of a horrendously racist, unscrupulous, and purely naturalistic worldview.
Faith is not what causes people to do these things. It is a perversion, misappropriation, or exploitation of an ideology that drives people to commit mass murders such as the above. This ideology does not have to be theistic in nature, as Mao, Stalin, and Hitler demonstrate. It does not have to be remotely related to faith or religious belief, as it is commonly understood, but can be entirely naturalistic. The point, then, is that as long as beliefs, opinions, and ideologies of any kind exist – theistic or secular – in other words, as long as humans continue to think, some people will find ways to abuse these ideas and justify committing terrible crimes in their name. It is a predisposition toward evil that is present in all of us to greater or lesser degrees that drives us to pervert given ideologies in order to rationalize our crimes.
No, religion is not the problem. Human nature is the problem. And until we collectively understand that, this oversimplified and mindless blaming and maligning of vast collectives of people – which only serves to produce more anger, hostility, hatred, and division – will unfortunately continue.
A variation of this post was originally available at http://thestarspangledbanter.weebly.com/