There’s a very interesting discussion over at Philocrites about religion and violence. The main question, “Does religion cause violence?” is a tough one. It’s probably impossible to answer. Religious beliefs are certainly used often enough to justify violence. I can’t really think of a religion that has not been used this way at some time in history. But then, a lot of other kinds of beliefs have been used to justify violence too. I can think of philosophical beliefs, scientific beliefs, cultural beliefs, and others that have been used as the basis for atrocities. Maybe beliefs cause violence! Of course, “unbelievers” have been violent as well.
What “hooked” me personally about this is how it relates to things happening in my ministry and life right now. I’ve been getting calls and emails about not one, but several people who are struggling to the point of death with religion. These are people who are very close to taking their own lives because they have been told by their religious communities and authorities that they are sinful or evil and therefore without value. These are not subtle messages in the guise of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” These are accusations of deep moral failure and being “in cahoots with the devil.” This is religion being used to humiliate, degrade, and crush the human spirit.
In one case, sexuality is the issue. But in the other, it’s that the person has begun to question and even refute some of the orthodox beliefs of the religious community. Either way, there is religious fervor driving the condemners. One of them even dared to tell another human being, “You should commit suicide rather than let the devil use you this way.” I don’t understand how the leaders of religions (there are two different religions in the two cases) that say they are about kindness, love, family, and goodness can be so deeply unkind, hateful, and mean.
Does religion cause violence or does it give us a reason to justify the worst in ourselves? It doesn’t really matter, does it. Either way, I’m left trying to help people pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.