Why Does Religion Keep Killing Us? What Do We Do About It?
“Science sends people to the moon. Religion flies planes through buildings” (Richard Dawkins, God Delusion).
It seems that way doesn’t it? Every week there is a new news story from somewhere in the world that tells us religion is killing us. It seems like religion is doing more harm in the world than good, and science is doing more good for the world than harm. It also seems reasonable to conclude from this that religion aught to be forfeited and placed on a shelf as an icon to an embarrassing era of human development. In this post, however, I want to argue that if we did this, if we locked up religion in a box in the attic like Chevy Chase’s old film strips of the family, this would not solve our problem nor result in less killing.
To begin I must say that I agree with those who say religion is killing us- it is. But the reason religion is killing us is because every human act, good or bad, is religiously motivated. Every act of humanity is driven by some presupposition about the world that is neither provable nor evidentially verifiable. If we believe people should not kill each other we do not believe this because some scientific evidence somewhere has proven this so. In fact scientific knowledge all by itself makes killing justifiable; that’s how we got here- the strong killed the weak. The reason we believe we should not kill each other is because something inside us, some un-provable conviction deep in our hearts tells us killing is wrong. That conviction is a religious, scientifically un-provable assumption. We all mourn the events of Manchester, England and London this past week because deep down we know (no matter what the science says) that persons died; material substances did not expire.
Philosopher John Gray said it well when he said,
“The need for religion appears to be hard-wired in the human animal…Certainly the behaviour of secular humanists supports this hypothesis. Atheists are usually just as emotionally engaged as believers. Quite commonly, they are more intellectually rigid…In short, it is not as though [religious people] have faith, while secularists base their convictions purely on facts and reason. Secularism itself is based on ultimate beliefs, just as much as [religion] is. Some part of creation—usually matter or nature—functions in the role of the divine. So the question is not which view is religious and which is purely rational; the question is which is true and which is false” (quoted from Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth).
Religion is killing people- it’s true. But that’s because all human behavior, whether we admit it or not, is religiously driven. Religion keeps killing us because most of our religions do not offer us a solution to our problem. Most of our religions fuel our problem and lead us to segregate people into groups of good and bad; always where I am the one who is good and they are the ones who are bad.
One suggested remedy to our problem is to preach tolerance. But this is not a solution because it is impossible to be completely tolerant. We preach tolerance but we do not want to tolerate the terrorists. We preach tolerance but we do not want to tolerate those who do not preach tolerance. So tolerance is self-defeating.
Another suggested remedy is to get rid of all the bad apples. It says, “The bad apples are spoiling the bunch so let’s get rid of them”. This sounds reasonable too but in truth this is exactly what the terrorists believe. The terrorists believe there are a bunch of bad apples in the world and that they are not bad themselves. In this suggested remedy we simply become a different flavor of terrorist- getting rid of those we think are spoiling things.
A third remedy would be to identify some chemical-balance solution. This remedy sees all the problems in the world as derived from our dysfunctional upbringings and/or body chemistry. The reason people are so messed up is because they either have chemical imbalances or they were abused as a child. The problem with this, if it is totally true, is that it does not allow us to hold anyone accountable for their behavior. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of their parents or it’s the fault of their chemicals.
What then do we do? If every human deed is religiously motivated then which of our religious assumptions will lead to world-peace?
All religious views (atheism included) either believe everyone is good except the really bad, or everyone is bad except the really good. If you are a Humanist you believe everyone is good except the really bad. You believe mankind is inherently good but occasionally there are some bad apples. If you are a Catholic, however, you believe everyone is bad except the really good. In Catholicism only certain people can become saints.
However either of these views poses serious problems. If you believe everyone is good except the really bad then there really is no need for personal transformation or for societal transformation. Why? Because you already believe things are pretty good! The even more troubling thing is that anyone who believes this also believes they are good. No one who believes this thinks they fit into the category of the really bad. This worldview allow us to say to ourselves, “I am good, they are bad. I am better, they are worse. I am arrived, they are not. If they would just become like me all would be well.” Osama Bin Laden probably said the same thing before he died.
But if you believe everyone is bad except the really good this does not get us to world peace either. In this view you either believe you are the really good or you believe you are not, and both are problematic. If you believe you are the really good then you are in the same boat as the other: “I am really good because I have followed all of these rules and regulations; all of you people are not.” This view will also lead you to become a hermit. You will feel an increasing need to withdraw from the world so that you do not get corrupted. And of course if you believe you are the really good you will be blind to how really bad you are.
But the other side of that coin is that if you do not believe you are the really good you will always feel inferior; you will always feel like you never measure up.
So what is the answer to this? I believe the answer is found in Christianity. Christianity says, “everyone is bad”. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:23). Christianity says it’s not just the bad who need to repent. It’s not just the addicted who need to repent. It’s not just the intolerant who need to repent. It's not just the terrorists who need to repent. In God’s eyes everyone everywhere needs to repent. I either need to repent for all the bad things I have done or I need to repent for all the good things I have done for all of my selfish reasons.
The Bible says, if I may paraphrase in NH lingo, “You guys are wicked sinners”. But it also says, “You guys are wicked loved”. The Gospel of Jesus says we all are wicked sinners but Jesus wicked loves us. It says we are worse sinners than we can ever imagine (not just the terrorists) but Jesus is a Greater Lover than we can ever fathom. The Gospel says, we were wrong, He was right, but on the cross Jesus took our wrongs and made us right. The Gospel says our sins were so bad they required Jesus’ sacrifice, but His love for us was so great that He wanted to be our sacrifice.
If you see this; if you believe this; if you embrace this then you can never look down on anyone. You know why? Because Jesus totally loves you regardless of what you have done and the only real difference between you and someone else is that you see your sinfulness and need for a Savior: others either don’t see their sinfulness or don’t want a Savior.
The solution to the religious killing happening in our world is the flattening, unifying, leveling truth of Christianity: We are so bad that Jesus’ sacrifice was required, but His love was so great that He wanted to be our sacrifice. We are all wicked sinners; but we are all wicked loved because of Jesus. What the terrorists need is a religion that does not make them into animals. They need a religion that humbles them and makes them see their personal need for mercy. This is what we all need if we are to stop hating those who are not like us. The Gospel says there is no one not like us.