Tim Crane: Religion and Violence

Tim Crane, The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 123-124.

Given the violence at the heart of the monotheistic religions, it is perhaps not surprising that critics of religion should see its propensity to cause violence as one of the main things to be held against it. Hitchens argues that religion “poisons everything. As well as a menace to civilization, it has become a threat to human survival.” Religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children,” and sectarian, and that, accordingly, it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” Sam Harris goes even further, claiming that “a glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” The idea that religion is the principal cause of the world’s violence and suffering is a common theme in New Atheist writing. But it seems to me that this claim is a large exaggeration and does not survive either a careful scrutiny of the facts or a proper understanding of what makes a conflict religious.

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