“Does religion cause violence? Yes!” This is the starting point of the atheist narrative that seeks to indict religion on the ground of its (allegedly) great potential to harm. It has been repeated by atheists so many times that the so-called New Atheists who claim to put reason, logic and evidence before all else have abandoned reason, logic and evidence in order to make their accusation about religion. But as I have said in the past and have to say again because I actually care about reason, logic and evidence, it is not religion that causes violence.
In order to determine if religion actually causes violence, it is worth asking if there are ever instances in which religion has nothing to do with violence. Well, yes, such examples would be too numerous to mention. But, let’s mention some anyway: Does a man ever attack another man over an insult? Yes. Does a man ever hit a woman in order to have power over her? Yes. Do people ever trample each other on Black Friday in order to be the first to get a deal? Yes. Do sports fans ever riot after their team wins a championship? Yes. Do neighboring territories or countries ever go to war over land or some other resource? Yes. And most importantly, has any atheist ever harmed another atheist? I’m betting on ‘yes.’
Even if New Atheists want to assert that religion is the cause of most harm in the world, they are still wrong. Many of the armed conflicts in the world today have nothing to do with religion; while Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS) may be making headline news, any number of ethnic and civil wars are actually piling up more bodies than the Islamic extremists. Even historically, 87 of the world’s greatest atrocities had little to nothing to do with religion (according to scholar Matthew White). In the 20th Century, WWI and WWII racked up a higher body count than any religious war and both wars had nothing to do with religion. So why aren’t New Atheists acknowledging the evidence contrary to their claims? Is it because they have an agenda? Probably. How can we tell?
For one thing, you’ll never hear a New Atheist assert that religion makes people commit decent acts, like feed the homeless. If you then ask a New Atheist why a religious person would feed the homeless, you’ll be given an answer that has anything to do with it BUT religion, most likely that the given person is a decent person to begin with. Hmm, okay, but if that’s the case isn’t it possible that a religious person could act indecently or even violently for reasons that actually have nothing to do with their religious beliefs? And, even in cases where people claim God told them to kill other people, isn’t it at all possible that such people are indecent or have violent tendencies to begin with? Because if not, what New Atheists are asserting is that religion can compel someone who is otherwise a pacifist to commit terrible deeds. Problem is, there is no evidence whatsoever to back up this claim. Even the famous Stanford prison experiment, if pointed to by New Atheists as evidence – which would be ridiculous – merely implies that when people are given the chance to have power over others, they take it. Why? Because this desire is ingrained in our biology (at least, this appears to be the case, generally speaking). Human beings are still ‘wired’ for violence as well, as the billions worldwide viewing the Super Bowl and Hollywood shoot-em-ups every year can attest to.
When religious people become violent, it seems to me (and this is admittedly armchair psychology) that what is actually taking place is this: They are trying to control or suppress another person or group for the sake of their own survival, even if such a threat is incorrectly perceived, this is not a behavior unique to the religiously inclined. Religion then simply becomes a social acceptable excuse to commit violence (socially acceptable to members of the perpetrator’s group). If religion were abolished, then some other excuse for violence would take its place.
Claiming religion causes violence is akin to claiming that something like alcohol can turn a happy-go-lucky average Joe into an angry drunk. Only, angry drunks are already angry people to begin with who suppress their anger in order to operate within the confines of the prevailing social contract.
In much the same way that guns don’t kill people, religion doesn’t cause violence. People cause violence. Granted, some tools make it easier to rise to violence, but indecent people will always find a way to act indecently. Religion isn’t the problem; biology is.