Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Religulous and Religious Violence

Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters, makes an excellent point about Religulous:

Perhaps Maher’s greatest misunderstanding of religion is his central indictment: that religion is responsible for the world’s violence. It is not. Violence is a product of human nature. Before monotheism, the Assyrians were not kind; the Romans were bloodthirsty beyond the imagination of religious regimes. When religion became less potent in people’s lives after the French Revolution, instead of making the world less violent, it became far more violent: World War I and WWII, communism, Nazism — all shed blood on an unprecedented scale. None were religious regimes or religious wars.


In fact, Stalin and Pol Pot were both atheists and Hitler was driven by other ideologies. The three of them together were responsible for more deaths than all of history’s religious wars combined. This doesn’t prove that atheists are inherently violent but it does undercut the central premise of Maher’s argument, that our very fate is in danger because of religion.
UPDATE: I’m reminded, too, that the 20th century’s greatest advocates of non-violence — Gandhi and Martin Luther King — were driven by faith.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 9:20 am

This is an argument I have heard for many years. The problem with it is that it ignores the real problem with religion. Yes, violence is basic in human nature. Religion, in far to many cases, simply becomes yet another reason for humans to resort to violence.
Our very fate is in danger because of our nature to turn to violence. Religion has shown itself to be an inadequate solution to that problem, and in far to many cases it is simply another justification for the violence.

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Tim Lukeman

posted October 10, 2008 at 10:27 am

Contrasting believers & atheists in the atrocity sweepstakes misses the point entirely. What we should ask is, What did all those responsible for such horrors have in common?
Answer: whether religious or atheist, they all had the True Believer mentality, the idea that they & they alone possessed The Truth, that anyone who believed differently was not only mistaken, but evil & a threat to be exterminated.
That’s the problem right there. So many people simply can’t accept that what’s right & true for themselves, might not necessarily be right & true for everyone else.
And no, I’m not talking about a bland, anything goes, lowest common denominator type of moral relativism here. There are certain things most decent people of all beliefs can agree on, I think.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Your answer is quite right, Tim, about blindly following and extermination. Add to that twentieth century technology and bronze era culture convictions and Poof! Mahr made that point in the movie and to me, it was the best point. What other tools do we cling to from the Bronz Age? Medicine? Engineering? Technology? It would be ridiculous. Yet we are asked to believe and follow an antiquated textbook. The Muslims are still ‘worshiping’ (if you will) a METEOR for goodness sakes. We know what it is! God did not send a message or a sign. It was a meteor! But the religion cannot admit fault or it puts all of its other tennants on shaky ground. Rather than ever admit flaws or change with the times, the religious would rather take everyone down in a ball of fury.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Tim Lukeman gets it exactly right. From the Inquisition to the Bloods and Crips to the KKK, the True Believer mindset is to blame.
Another thing that these things have in common is a focus on ritual and ceremony and other trappings of religion. Not sure if that’s as true of Stalinist Russia or Pol-Pot era Cambodia. I’m just sorta throwing this out there, but I see a connection between group ritual — which encourages what we might call “transcendant” thinking — and the potential for mayhem.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 4:35 pm

…and the Muslims are driven by what?
Men are inherantly violent, but anything that a man can get passionate enough about, will likely lead to violence against opposition.
Religion’s problem is it creates a “we are right, everyone else is wrong” emotion, on some level and ultimately, “the loving God we worship is going to kill/punish or otherwise destroy all who don’t believe as we do”.
“God is love”, but only to Christians. Everyone else is going to Hell.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 8:04 pm

isnrblog, I would offer to you the latest over on Michele McGinty’s blog as an example of what Christianity is to Christians. Seems that there is an effort afoot to generate enough anger in certain conservative Christian groups that it gets someone to try to kill Senator Obama.
Sarah Palin is encouraging folks who shout out “kill him” at her rallies against Obama. She thinks they “get it”.
God is love, but only to Christians. Everyone else is going to hell, and they may help them get there faster.

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posted October 13, 2008 at 9:28 am

Thank you brother for your concern about this real issue. Bill and that other undoubted demigog are looking to divert attention to Atheist view. No matter what someones background, there is a need for belief greater than yourself. We are fallible man, we have no business dependeing solely on ourselves. Remeber Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heaven’s Gate, etc!
We need to talk up not seeing this movie. If we see it, we make them stronger. Please say to America, “Do Not See This Movie”. Bill should never work again!

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posted October 13, 2008 at 9:09 pm

Just had to say it was about time someone pointed out the emperor’s new clothes (or the pope’s, the rabbi’s, etc.). The religious Order will of course swamp us all out in no time for daring to be heathen AND have our own say… but not before I’ve seen the movie, I hope ;-).

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James C. Mitchell

posted October 18, 2008 at 11:15 am

It is not religion that is bad; though it can be taken to extremes, so can any other human endevor. How much evil has been done in the name of America or “freedom”. I would argue that the ideals behind the American Revolution and the US are positive despite what people have done with them.
So, too, the teachings of Jesus (I speak only as a Christian). “Judge not lest you be judged.” “They will know we are Christians by our love.” “Love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. And your neighbor by yourself.” Yet, much of Christianity has the reputation – deservedly – of being judgemental, condescending, and hateful. We’re not doing it right (though I’ve met a whole lot of people who are – who truly love). Jesus talked of the value of the Spirit of the Law but we get rigid and forget Jesus’ flexability.
This is a common problem and by no means unique to religion.

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Josh W

posted January 2, 2009 at 7:09 pm

How can we separate the horrors of the past from our identity? How can we not fear the same results in our own time?
If we are female, we can say it is the men’s fault, because they have been in power, and “we” have not.
If we are atheists, we can say it is the “religious people”‘s fault, again a category defined almost specifically as “what we are not”.
If we believe somehow that we are in a new age, then we can say that all that history is no longer relevant, we have moved beyond that.
Or we can tie our comfort to the knowledge we have that they didn’t. We know how it turned out. So we can delve into history and find the failures and the forms of behaviour, and avoid them wherever we can, if the choice really is up to us.
We can say it is social structures, false ideologies, lack of self-awareness, mistaken dreams, so many other things, so many causes to fight against.
But we must always leave open the possibility that we cannot find it, or we cannot find it in time. Many people fear the end of the human race, as an event and as a terrible summing up of our years here, and try to come to terms with it as a possibility, but many more seek obscure objectives that they can fight against for the rest of their life so they can be “doing something”.
“The more profound the problem that is ignored, the greater are the chances for fame and success.” Heinz Von Forester.
I’ll add on a note of hope that I really think it is possible to distinguish between what we can change and what we can’t, so there is hope for learning from history, but I suspect we’d be better off building a world than trying to prevent one. And I know a good adviser.

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posted June 11, 2009 at 12:11 am

Christianity and Islam both claim divine truth and that their followers are blessed, chosen, or at the very least, following the “right” path. This is a wonderful corner stone upon which those who wish to execute control and violence of others can build empires.
It’s simply dumbfounding – dumbfinding? – that otherwise intelligent individuals either refuse to be open to the idea that no god exists or that there is simply no reason to believe it.
How did we get here? Well, some guy made us.
Why did he make us? Uhhhh… he got a little lonely and bored.
What’s he want us to do? Uhhhh… follow some rules and hand money over to churches.
What do we get? Everything for which a 5 year old could wish!
How does he know if we do what he wants? He sees EVERYTHING! Hears EVERYTHING! – oh wait – he KNOWS EVERYTHING and always has.
So if he made us and knew what we were all going to do before we ever got here, why have us here? It’s not like we’re revealing ourselves… He gives us free will to choose to be his buddy or not!
He knows and basically controls everything, so that rings a bit hollow. It seems fairly childish. I really have better things to do than waste my time on this.
He will smite you!
Uh huh. Later.

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posted September 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Whoever made this ridiculous point is only trying to divert the masses from the truth Religion does cause mass war, pain, suffering and death. Religion is much like a corrupt bureaucracy, it suppresses all other ideologies and promotes a single ideology.
Violence can be a part of human nature, but on if there are psychological problems, or some other kind of physiological defect. Other than that, there is no scientific cause of violent or aggressive behavior. Free will and choices do play a major part of it in my opinion. Religion has caused much violence, but there is no proof the starters of such atrocities suffered under some form of schizophrenia. Fact is, they chose violence because they’re religions supported it.
On Stalinism, I think it’s preposterous to assume that Stalinsim was violent because of it’s promotion of atheism. In that regard your basically trying to state the fact that Stalin’s unlimited power in a totalitarian government had nothing to do with his atrocities, which is completely ridiculous. Stalin killed for politics, just as Popes kill for God, ultimate the fault is not spiritual concepts, the fault is that the remove the focus on humanitarian values.
Religion and politics would work much better if they focuses on people and not wealth, power, land or supernatural ideals.
Human nature has nothing to do with what perfectly conscious men do, if they have no physical problem then all that;s left is their ideologies.

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Mark Andriesse

posted September 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

Stalin and Mao are atheists. This is the oldest argument for the peacefulness of religion. This is also one of the worst arguments if you interested in convincing people that you are correct. It is power and outgroup mentality that create violence. Stalin and Mao were violent because they were communists and powerful. Hitler was the only one who was motivated by religion. Even if he was nominally Catholic, his hatred of Jews is based on religion, nationalism, and racism and it stems from the influence of Martin Luther. Religion is responsible for all violence in the modern world except for perhaps armed robbery. Sectarian violence, terrorism, and occupation of the Arab/Persian world is because of religion and only religion. Violence against women is practically mandated by all holy books (although this is also a power/outgroup issue). Violence against gay people is 100% caused and perpetuated by religion. Atheists are not violent. The rulers of communist countries may be. There are many people who are religious who are not violent. However, you must recognize that there is much violence that has nothing to do with religion and much that does. Just because something has nothing to do with religion, does not mean that Atheism is to blame. Any religious person worth their salt would blame Satan for violence in the world! Jesus told you that was the case. Atheists can sleep with a clear conscience; but leave a light on and lock your door!

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posted January 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Seriously, how can you point the finger at atheists for speaking their mind? For sharing their ideas? If you’re truly christian, and believe that god (spelled with a lower-case g, of course) is a forgiving and loving god, then why would you not share his love to others even if they don’t agree with your point of view? You’re completely dismissing another’s viewpoint simply because they don’t agree with you. Sounds like every other religion I’ve heard of. Also, Stalin? Really? That’s pretty weak. why not throw G.W. Bush in the same league? You could certainly make the case that his war and presidency was based on Christianity, and plenty of people died because of it, and are still dying. Our own people. And this is entirely in response to Islam and its own ridiculous ideology. Maybe Atheists should rise up and give you a taste of your own medicine. Too bad though, we’re too busy taking care of other, more important, things.

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