Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Guns Don’t Kill People. Religions Don’t Either.

Perusing blogs I came upon a comment that someone posted to the blog titled “Why I am not an Agnostic.” While I can’t vouch for the validity of any of the examples this commenter used (and I also don’t own the material or the statement), he/she certainly seems well-informed. The part of one response to which the commenter is responding is in italic quotes below. The comment is all of the text that follows.

“… it is a historical fact that religion is dangerous and has killed more people than any other cause in nature combined.”

This is a fairly strong statement, and a common theme in the modern atheist movement. However, what is the basis of this claim? For example, what constitutes ‘death by religion’? As an abstract concept it is incapable of directly damaging a living being, so the definition must be ‘death motivated by religion’. But even this is fairly nebulous. Using the early Catholic Church as an example, some of the more conniving Popes (and some were surprisingly conniving! see The Corpse Synod) may not have been religious in the least. There was a period wherein the role of Pope was a political position sought after by politicians and used for political means. During their reign, some of these Popes murdered, engaged in warfare, etc. This was facilitated by the infrastructure in place within the church – but could those caught up in the crossfire be called casualties of religion?

The common factor in most deaths attributed to religion is politics. Religions are political entities, and therefore they are often caught up in ideological disputes that can result in bloodshed. The only difference is that at the end of the day, a ‘political figure’ will appeal to political ideals as a means of encouraging his constituents to engaged in whatever act they desire whereas a ‘religious figure’ will appeal to religious ideals. Often the underlying motivation between these two figures is negligible – speaking cynically, they both want to improve their grasp on power and (perhaps) improve their overall quality of life. Even so, I imagine any deaths resulting from the latter would be attributed to religion, likely because these acts are always coached in religious terminology (e.g., see the persecution of the Knights Templar – a probable political maneuver to claim their wealth and consolidate power).

Jim Jones (of Jonestown) is another possible example: According to his son (who survived the massacre) it is quite possible that Jones did not believe any of the religion he preached and was instead using religion as a means of controlling the population. Reading historical accounts of Jonestown seems very congruent with this interpretation – near the end it was far more political than it was religious. Also look to Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

Even if political/ideological involvement were responsible for many of the deaths attributed to religion I suppose one could argue that whereas political influence is unavoidable, religious influence is unnecessary; and as something that is unnecessary that has the potential to encourage harm, why not abolish it? The same argument could be made for alcohol (which directly and indirectly kills an impressive number each year), fast cars (why even make a vehicle that travels faster than legally permitted?), and rap music (the misogyny found in some rap lyrics is comparable to ancient Biblical texts). The reason we do not abolish these things (besides the fact that abolition only begets illegal trade) is because it is not the alcohol, car or music that commits any wrong. People kill people, not objects and certainly not abstract notions.