Recently I engaged in conversation with an atheist friend of mine who said that we have tried religion for the last 5000 years, and nothing much has come from it. Religions just war with each other, commit acts of violence, and doesn’t lead to any progress. The assumption was that there’s nothing great about religion.
This is a popular misconception today. Many angry pop-atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens propagate these kinds of claims constantly. Despite their lack of historical knowledge and their overbearing prejudices, these religion haters have been successful in convincing many people (even religious people), that religion has been the scourge of history, and the source of all wars and violence.
Does Religion Lead to War and Violence?
Is the world really better without religion? Is religion responsible for all war and violence? Admittedly, there have been some religious conquests and wars that were not good, and everyone can admit that bad things have occurred in the name of God. That’s true. After all, people are sinful, and there will always be those who fail to, or choose not to live up to the moral ideals of their religion.
Being a Catholic, I ended up telling my atheist friend that religion is mostly good, and the Catholic Church has had far more good than bad. I also asserted that religion has been a source of healing, help, love and peace, more than anything else in the world. First, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world and does more good than any religious or secular organization. Over the last 2,000 years, the Catholic Church invented hospitals and orphanages, started health clinics, run away shelters, and groups to combat human trafficking and other atrocities.
Moreover, through peace and love, it was the Catholic Church that civilized the Vikings, Huns, Danes, and various other barbarian tribes who had ravaged the Roman Empire for centuries – along with cannibals and other violent groups. It was also the Catholic Church who started schools, preserved literacy and culture, advanced science, invented colleges and universities, economics, law, and created some of the most beautiful art, music, and architecture that the world has ever known. Religion has done a lot of good that atheists and skeptics overlook. If anyone thinks on these things for any length of time, they will admit that religion, especially Catholicism, has made civilization much better.
Does Religion Cause War?
Some will say, “But, what about the Crusades and religious wars that have happened!?” This assertion is greatly exaggerated and painfully misunderstood. One might be surprised to find that the majority of all religious wars and atrocities didn’t come from all the religions, but come primarily from the religion of Islam.
Since their establishment, Islam has lived by the sword. Where Jesus preached His message in love and with non-violence, Mohammed preached his message with war. Certainly, the majority of Muslims are peaceful today, and no one disagrees with that, but that does not take away from the historical reality that Islamic wars lasted for 1,200 years.
People don’t realize that what Christianity had spent five centuries building through peace, love, and sacrifice, Islam wiped out almost overnight with the sword. So, as much as this gives a bad rap to the religion of Islam, it does not give a bad rap to all religions, and it is unfair to throw all religions into the category of perpetual violence.
The Crusades themselves were first and foremost a war of self-defense against the invading armies of Islam. After Mohammed’s death, from 756 A.D. – 856 A.D. Muslims conquered everything from Afghanistan to North Africa and then pushed into Europe where they were finally stopped. When they then laid siege to the Byzantine Empire, the Emperor Alexius I, begged the pope for help against these invading armies. Thus, Catholics and non-Catholics alike fought against extinction from Muslims. That’s the historical reality. The Crusades were a war of self-defense. And, though abuses certainly happened, it is patently false to chalk the Crusades up to random religious violence and intolerance. (check out my blog posts on the Crusades).
Most people don’t realize, and most atheists like Dawkins choose to ignore the fact that much more violence has taken place at the hands of atheists regimes than religious people.
HITLER – An atheist for much of his life who eventually got into druid religions and gods was responsible for the murder of about 10 million people (including 6 million Jews and 1 million Catholics). This violence didn’t come from religious ideology but political and racist ones.
STALIN – Responsible for about 20 million deaths, twice as many as Hitler. Stalin alone killed more people than the Crusades and Inquisition combined.
MAO – Responsible for up to 70 million deaths in China.
POL POT – Killed nearly 2 million of his own people, about 1/5 of his own country’s population. Then, there is Fidel Castro and many more.
The bottom line:
Atheists like Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were people without religion. So, atheists who claim that religion is the source of all violence need to open their eyes and look a little deeper. Atheist regimes murdered more than 100 million people in less than one century. The Crusades and the Inquisitions together killed not even a 250,000 in a period of over five centuries.
So, it is patently false to say that the world “would be better without religion” or that religion only leads to violence. Have bad things happened in the name of God? Absolutely. However, as we have seen, good religion has changed the world for the better and made it a much better place.