26 July 2007

Religion Is the Cause of Extremism, Violence, and War

It seems that every time I look up there is someone proclaiming their Atheism, and then going on to chastise the rest of us for our belief in God. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have written books about how silly Faith is - not just silly but, as Dawkins put it, "Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense." Hitchens is a proponent of a similar idea that religions hurt people because of the religious wars, fatwas, and interfaith violence.

Globe and Mail columnist and chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, Sheema Khan, insightfully and accurately assessed liberal open mindedness as, "Of course we are open-minded, so long as your world view agrees with ours." The idea that a strong faith is the sign of a simple mind is close-minded and childish. It characterized my opinion when I was a young adult and it surprised me when my classmates maintained that attitude as I grew up.

This argument is flawed. Violence and murder of the sort noted above don't require Religion to stir up extremist passions. Crimes have been committed in the names of nationalism, communism, racism and animal rights; atheist dogma was a the heart of the cult of Ayn Rand and anti-religious persecution in the Soviet Union; and Fatwas are being issued daily to those who don't follow the strict doctrine of Global Warming. It is not the religion that causes the damage. Most religions teach peace and love of one's neighbour. The damage is caused by the overwhelming desire of some to exert control over others - it is a political issue.

If all religions disappeared tomorrow there would be any number of causes to fill the void. This whole spiritual nihilism is akin to saying that the cause of the anarchist would benefit anyone but a prospective strongman. The object of violence in the name of religion or any other cause is to reduce the control of the legitimate authorities and permit the leader to assume control in the manner of a warlord. It has nothing to do with spreading the word of God.

Sheema Khan's column in the Globe and Mail 12 November 2005