Religion and Violence?
One of the marvellous things about the world wide web is the plethora of information on almost anything. Recently I stumbled across one of the many atheist blogs on the web (Daylight Atheism cohabiting with “Big Think”) and a post called “People of Darkness and Light”. Fine, God bless them… or whatever blessing atheists believe in. But I’ll to admit I was taken aback by this paragraph in particular:
“religion is as strong and dangerous as ever. Granted, there are many nominally religious people who are humanists in all but name: people who practice an enlightened and rational morality, who don't interpret the fairytales of scripture as literal truth, people whose notion of God is sufficiently amorphous to accommodate any scientific discovery. But there are at least as many people who proudly uphold the banner of ignorance; people whose god is small and ignorant, and who want to keep him that way; people who persecute to the limit of their power to do so, and who'd gladly use force and flame to rid the world of every dissenting viewpoint or crumb of knowledge.”
To be more specific, I strongly objected to this, mainly on the grounds I don’t believe it to be true. I happen to know a lot of Christian people and don’t know any who “would gladly use force or flame to rid the world of every dissenting viewpoint”. Force is antithetical to free will, human dignity, etc. etc.
When I mentioned such objections on the blog, and asked whether any research could be provided as to whether this claim had any basis in fact, there was an interesting range of reactions. The mildest was that I had misinterpreted the claims (quite possible, although I think one should write what you actually mean to say), the more colourful included that I was a “&%$#ing moron”, arrogant, shallow uneducable” etc. Anyway, perhaps mercifully the thread was shut down for further comments.
The whole conversation left me intrigued on the link between religion and violence. The poster on “Daylight Atheism” claims (in a number of articles) that such a link is strong and intractable.
Anyway, thanks to the power of Google and a good lead from Daniel Batt, I researched and wrote this on another thread of Daylight Atheism. (No one has responded… the cynic in me suggests research should never get in the way of a good prejudice… he he.)
“I’ve been attempting to do a little research on the ‘religion and violence’ issue discussed a few posts ago. Social science isn’t my strong suit so I’m very open to links to other studies, but I’ve discovered this is one of the research specialties of Scott Atran… this first link is probably more accessible than his large number of published research articles so I’ll post it here:
Some interesting extracts from this:
“In the Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed nearly one thousand eight hundred violent conflicts throughout history, and less than 10 percent were religious. Religious motives accounted for few of the more than 100–150 million deaths in twentieth-century wars (mostly caused by World Wars I and II, Russia’s and China’s civil wars, along with Stalin’s and Mao’s purges).” (ie this confirms the thesis I linked to from William T. Cavanaugh that there is much more violence commited by secular civil states than by the religious… I’ll repost this here:
“Examination of available cases of Muslim suicide bombers shows that few ever had a traditional religious education. Most jihadis, including suicide bombers, are usually “born again” into radical Islam in their late teens and early twenties, with little knowledge of the hadith and Koran. The idea that suicide bombing is a preferred form of jihadis restricted to a very small minority of Muslims (invoking jihad against infidels as the “sixth pillar of Islam”—on par with the five traditional pillars of belief in God, prayer, alms for the poor, fasting at Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca—is considered heretical by most religious Muslims). Most data-driven studies find that religion is not a highly significant predictor of who becomes a terrorist. Other factors, including friendship and family networks (Marc Sageman), perceived foreign meddling and occupation (the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape), and a sense of “national humiliation” (Ariel Merari, retired from Tel Aviv University), prove far more significant. Religion is not even close to the most powerfully predictive cause”
“Harris’s proposal to ban Islam (and wage war on it, if necessary) to stop suicide bombing would be terribly ineffective and wasteful if put into practice, given that the actual number of jihadist terrorists is some few thousand out of well over a billion Muslims. That’s about one per one hundred thousand, far from “10 percent of Muslims are terrorists” as Glenn Beck baldly asserted on his radio show last December. (To put the actual threat in a bit of perspective: the odds of an American getting killed on an airplane by a terrorist are about 10 million to 1, or less probable than death by lawn mower.) Even if 10 percent of Muslims were to buy into jihadist ideology, the need to prioritize the use of available resources in combating terrorism, the Harris-Beck proposal to end the current scourge of suicide bombing by ridding the world of Islam could prove harmful to the well-being of our society and most others. It could also help to resuscitate bin Laden’s flagging viral movement, which is rooted in a superficial but powerful message that political leaders and other influential people in the West want to kill Islam.”
Here's some further reflections from Atran on religious thinking and peacemaking
What thought do you have on peacemaking, religion, atheism and so on?