The slogan ‘religion-leads-to-violence’ finds plausibility today not through logic or the facts but through simple repetition.
I am amazed how frequently this criticism comes up. At lunch a couple of weeks ago a friend insisted that ‘most of the wars of history’ were started by religion. I asked him to be specific, and he mumbled something about the Crusades, the Inquisition and Northern Ireland—hardly ‘all wars’. Perhaps he had just read Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The subtitle says it all: faith robs happiness at the personal level and ruins cohesion at the social level. Richard Dawkins’ Root of all Evil? ran a similar argument. And my friend would have found extra support in the beautifully shot documentary running on SBS at the moment, Secret Files of the Inquisition. All of this was picked up recently by the Sunday Age’s production editor, Michael Coulter, in a stinging piece of secularist apologetics. “The question I can’t escape,” he tells us after presenting the usual litany of religious evils, “is why so many people clearly prefer the realm of faith, the realm of the Inquisition and of violent jihad, to the realm of thought.”
But ‘thought’ is not the secularist’s best ally in this case. The ‘religion-leads-to-violence’ mantra has become a truism in our culture only because fascinating people, popular books and high-production documentaries say it over and over. But it isn’t true—certainly not in the blanket sense intended. I can’t speak for Muslims but I know most Christians would ask the Coulters, Dawkinses and Hitchenses of the world to consider the following thoughts.
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