Humanity Is Becoming Increasingly Less Violent, with One Exception -- Religious Violence
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Wherever you look in the world, there continues to be religious motivated violence. From the fighting that has plagued Palestine for the past six decades (Jews vs. Muslims), to the dispute over Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus). Also, there’s Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iraq (Sunni Muslims vs. Shiite), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), and the Caucasus region (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims).
While most of the above examples have basis in disputes over land and political control, it’s religious belief that shapes the terms and the willingness of one party to negotiate with the other. War, by definition, suggests an all-or nothing conflict to determine a dispute against an enemy one believes in hell-bent on our destruction, and therefore cannot be placated via diplomatic means. In other words, war and violence becomes an excuse for not finding compromise. Religion provides the excuse to be violent.
Harris writes, “Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur’an is not a moderate. Reading scripture more closely, one does find reasons to be a proper religious lunatic – to fear the fires of hell, to despise non-believers, to persecute homosexuals etc. Of course, anyone can cherry pick scripture and find reasons to love his neighbor and to turn the other cheek. But the more fully a person grants credence to these books, the more he will be convinced that infidels, heretics, and apostates deserve to be smashed to atoms in God’s loving machinery of justice.”
Charles Kimball's book When Religion Becomes Evil begins with the following claim: "It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.” It’s easy for American Christendom to dismiss this and studies that show increases in religious violence, for it’s something that can be waved away as something that happens over “there” in those “crazy countries.” But lest we forget that it is right wing American Christians that have helped shape Uganda’s anti-gay laws, which carry life imprisonment for homosexual acts and the death penalty for repeat offenders.
The findings of the Pew Research Center’s study confirm the importance of secularism, as one sees a strong connection between governments imposing religious beliefs, customs and norms on its citizens and the outbreak of sectarian violence. Let’s hope America is listening.