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DominicY's avatar

Does it make sense to say "religion has nothing to do with violence"?

Asked by DominicY (5657points) January 16th, 2015

I often hear the argument that “it’s not the religion, it’s the people”. This goes hand in hand with “all religions are fundamentally peaceful; religion is only used as a justification for violence”. While these arguments may seem valid, I have to question them a bit, especially in regard to Islamist extremism.

While it might be easy to blame politics or social factors for the violence that occurs in Muslim countries and then say that extremists/terrorists are only using their religion to justify their own selfish reasons for violence, it doesn’t seem quite accurate. In many of these Muslim countries, religion is a fundamental part of how the nations run. In fact, much of their politics is derived from religion. So to say that the religion has nothing do with it doesn’t seem quite right.

Now the anti-religious people will say “religions are violent, especially Islam”. That’s not right either. It seems more like an interplay of various factors, religion being one of them. It contributes to violence in the same way that being in a marginalized group does or being economically disadvantaged does.

Anyway, my thoughts are sort of all over the place, so feel to contribute as you see fit.

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23 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Not really, no.
There are clear rules in the abrahamic religions on what to do with unbelievers.

janbb's avatar

Since all religions are constructed by people, they pretty much have all the flaws and inconsistencies of mankind.

hominid's avatar

@DominicY: “That’s not right either. It seems more like an interplay of various factors, religion being one of them.”

Sure. But that in no way excludes us from discussing the content of the religious beliefs and understanding that beliefs have consequences. I have heard reasonable people talk about the implications of Christian beliefs on AIDS and condom use in Africa. But somehow we are not allowed to discuss the Islam without spending 100% of the conversation talking about U.S. foreign policy. Even if I grant that U.S. policy is shit (and argue all the time), it’s decidedly not ok to discuss Islam in any objective sense like we do with other religions. And I think it’s important to do so. It matters what Christians believe because the extent to which they truly believe these things has consequences. The same goes for Islam or any belief. They inform our actions.

All religions are not the same. We can – and should – discuss what these differences are and take seriously those who truly believe.

It’s easy (and correct) to say that all religions are horseshit. But they are not all equal in their content. A fundamentalist Jain and fundamentalist Muslim are going to believe very different things, and it would be reasonable to expect vastly different responses to real-world scenarios, such as the drawing of a cartoon.

janbb's avatar

^^ You make very valid points but I think it is nearly impossible to make informed conclusions about Islam since there are so many strains and most of us are so ignorant. The same would be true of Judaism; one could argue that it has core beliefs but they are interpreted so vastly differently by different adherents.

hominid's avatar

@janbb: “but I think it is nearly impossible to make informed conclusions about Islam since there are so many strains and most of us are so ignorant.”

I’m not saying that we can make conclusions. Rather, we should have meaningful conversations. Right now, any attempts to do so are met with meaningless conversation-stoppers (“Islamophobia”) or foreign policy analysis. I don’t think many of my fellow atheists believe that people really believe what they say they do. I have had discussions with people that claim that they know that Muslims are all mostly just atheists that speak about Allah and the Quran because it’s politically useful. If that’s the case, let’s find out. I mean, we do have some poll data concerning Muslim beliefs. It doesn’t mean that we can use this to draw conclusions about Islam and be done. It means that it is one source that we can use when having meaningful discussions.

Honestly, I think many liberals find that if conservatives say something, it must be completely wrong and should be resisted. When we hear some southerner on the news talking about Islam, their gut reaction is to say “Christianity is just as bad! Hypocrite!” That could be true, but it’s not relevant to the discussion. We shouldn’t limit our inquiry to only include those things that keep us from sounding like we agree in any way with our ideological enemies.

I also find it odd how discussion of Islam will often result in an instant injection of moral relativism – in circles that have spent their lives working to fight such relativism.

syz's avatar

I would argue that religion has everything to do with violence. Ok, maybe not everything. We like to kill each other over ridiculous things like skin color, after all. And I have no doubt that our future includes killing each other over fresh water, fossil fuels, maybe food.

Religion combined with an imbalance of power or with extreme poverty is certainly a powder keg.

janbb's avatar

@hominid I’m curious about what you mean by your last sentence. What “circles” are you talking about?

hominid's avatar

@janbb: “I’m curious about what You mean by your last sentence. What “circles’ are you talking about?”

Liberals, the left, progressives, feminists, socialists, etc – people who I generally associate with. Their opposition to right-wing anti-women theocracy gets disabled when discussing Islam. It’s immediately enabled again when discussing Christianity, however.

Berserker's avatar

@janbb That. Violence is part of human nature, we don’t need religions or politics to practice it. Those are secondary human things, obviously tainted by our nature. I’m guessing cavemen were probably pretty violent. (although who says they didn’t have a religion, and they most certainly had some kind of political side, no matter how rudimentary)
My point is, things don’t cause violence, people do.

Mind you, a lot of things DO seem to usher more violence than usual, religion being one of these things. But if it wasn’t that, it’d be some other shit. Things people blame violence on are an excuse most of the time, I think. I happen to think the same of hatred and crap like racism.

janbb's avatar

@Symbeline I agree.

@hominid Yes, I see what you mean. It is a puzzlement.

marinelife's avatar

Study the history of the Crusades before you condemn all Musiims for the actions of a few.

hominid's avatar

^ This is what I mean. You then have to explain how a) you’re not condemning all Muslims, or any Muslims. You’re attempting to discuss the ideas that are contained in the books, religions, and b) how the religion is practiced today and by what percentage of people. We talk all day about the crusades and the horrible things that certain Christian beliefs can lead to today. But that does not stop us from evaluating Islam.

Let’s try this: If I were to propose that we look at racism and its effects on the criminal justice system in the U.S., a reasonable response to this would not be to say, “Well, condemn Hitler and his crew before you condemn all police for the actions of a few”. We can and have spoken about Hitler. Can we now talk about the fact that there are real world consequences to the combinations of racism and law enforcement?

I don’t understand the reflexive, “Let’s shut it down, people” response. Conversation isn’t going to hurt anyone. It’s ok. Don’t build straw men. Keep things here and now. Nobody is condemning anyone or all of any group. We’re having a discussion.

flutherother's avatar

Religion has nothing to do with violence it’s all about promoting a world view of order, peace and harmony. It’s when people feel this is threatened that they become violent and so it can lead to violence though it doesn’t espouse it. All we have to do is respect the beliefs of others in order to live in harmony together but this doesn’t always happen.

hominid's avatar

@flutherother: ” All we have to do is respect the beliefs of others in order to live in harmony together but this doesn’t always happen.”

Respect beliefs of these guys?

flutherother's avatar

No, definitely not. I meant the religious beliefs of others.

hominid's avatar

^ Why the exception?

thorninmud's avatar

I find it helpful to think about this as analogous to one’s genome. Just as everyone has a DNA code that roughly—though not precisely—determines their physical characteristics, so each also has an ideological code that roughly—though not precisely—determines their social interactions. Religion, philosophy, politics, the arts, traditions…these are all constituent elements in one’s ideological genome.

The reason that these don’t precisely determine one’s social interactions is that, as in one’s physical genome, which elements are expressed and which are repressed depends to a great extent on environmental factors. To milk the simile further, psychopathy has been found to have a strong correlation to a particular gene. But whether that gene gets expressed as sociopathic behavior or as confident leadership appears to depend mostly on the circumstances of one’s upbringing.

In one’s ideological “genome” (including, but not limited to, the religious element) there are similar potentials that may be realized in various ways, or not at all. There are certainly memes contained in the ideology of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. which, if expressed, become malignancies. Under ordinary circumstances, these same memes will likely never be expressed, and more benign or beneficial ones will be active. But under circumstantial pressures, that can all change.

I do think it’s true that the “genomes” of the various religions differ in the number and virulence of potentially malignant ideas they carry, and how easily they get triggered by circumstantial pressures. But then, the same is true of the other elements in our ideological genome; think about the various political ideologies in this way and it quickly becomes clear that the mechanism is the same.

hominid's avatar

@thorninmud – I think your analogy works pretty well. And it goes a long way in explaining how it’s possible to view even the most religious extremists with empathy, as they are just another victim.

@thorninmud: “I do think it’s true that the “genomes” of the various religions differ in the number and virulence of potentially malignant ideas they carry, and how easily they get triggered by circumstantial pressures.”

Well said.

@thorninmud: “But then, the same is true of the other elements in our ideological genome; think about the various political ideologies in this way and it quickly becomes clear that the mechanism is the same.”

Couldn’t agree more, which is why it is important that we take the protective shield off of “religious” ideologies, and evaluate all beliefs. In this way, we should be able to eliminate religion’s ideological immunity.

janbb's avatar

@thorninmud Did you just take a longer and more intellectual way to say what I said in my first post? :-)

thorninmud's avatar

@janbb Wouldn’t be the first time.

janbb's avatar

Oh, that lotus tree!

Pachy's avatar

As long as there are those who believe their god is the only true god—a belief I believe to be nonsensical beyond belief—there will be killing in the name of religion.

janbb's avatar

@Pachy Or sneetches who have “stars upon thars.” I think it all comes back to the “us” and “the others” aspect of humanity.

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