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Demosthenes's avatar

Can religion ever be blamed for violence?

Asked by Demosthenes (7302points) April 13th, 2019

Religion is my example, but non-religious ideologies can work for this question.

Often when violence is apparently committed in the name of religion, the defense is “it’s not religion, it’s politics/greed/people. Religion is just an excuse”. But why must religion always be an excuse? Is religion inherently blameless?
How do we determine whether something is a root cause of violence or “just an excuse”?

A non-religious example: When people cite the violence committed under socialist regimes, socialist apologists will fault corruption, ego and greed rather than anything inherent in socialist theory itself. It’s not socialism’s fault, they say, it’s something else. The “it works on paper” defense.

While I understand that most religions in their ideal state cannot be used to justify the kind of violence often committed in their name, I’m not convinced that the religion plays no role in said violence. No, most seemingly religious violence is never wholly religious in origin. Politics, ethnic strife, and power always play a role. But so does religion. To automatically exonerate it of blame doesn’t seem honest. Religions preach peace, but they also preach that violence is sometimes justified.

This is not an “attack religion” thread. Please no snark.

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33 Answers

seawulf575's avatar

Of course religion can be blamed for violence. ISIS is a fine example. They are on a holy crusade. But it gets a little muddied beyond that. It is true that, in the ISIS example, Islam is the reason they are killing…why they are formed in the first place…but that does not mean that all Muslims are killers or violent. Lilkewise, the KKK killed many people, ostensibly in the name of religion, but not all Christians are killers or violent.
I think oftentimes one of two things happen when we discuss killings and religion. Either people try ascribing the violence to all members of a religious belief or they try saying that because someone was religious, that is why they killed. I have had these exact conversations on these pages. People have told me how violent Christianity is, it has been the source of many killings. When I challenge that, they have brought forward examples of shooters and tried saying “see? He’s a Christian!”. Going to church or being a Christian is different than saying someone killed in the name of Christianity. The former is a trait or habit, the latter is a cause.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Demosthenes: “No, most seemingly religious violence is never wholly religious in origin. Politics, ethnic strife, and power always play a role. But so does religion. To automatically exonerate it of blame doesn’t seem honest.”

Nobody is automatically exonerating religion. But what the right chooses to see as exoneration is often an actual explanation of the phenomenon.

Besides overlooking larger societal and economic issues at play, people who choose to focus on religion as the cause tend to define violence in very strange terms. Violence isn’t enacting crippling sanctions against a country. Violence isn’t invading a country and murdering thousands of people as long as the US is doing the invading and the intent is good. Note: The intent is always good if we’re talking about the US. If the outcome of the invasion isn’t great, then it was “a mistake made with good intentions” or “a good effort but executed incorrectly”.

Because this is the real automatic exoneration, discussions of this type tend to be difficult because the framing is often so confused that it’s difficult to come to an understanding that makes sense to everyone.

I think what might be a more helpful approach would be to talk about a concrete example – something you had been thinking about. We’ll likely be able to go beyond correlation and discuss causation.

ucme's avatar

Only all the time.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Complicated answer. If the religion is promoting warfare or violence by nature then it can be fully to blame. Usually though it’s any power structure large enough where the right people at the helm use it to promote that kind of agenda. It’s not automatically religion. Some religion promotes peace and tranquility.

elbanditoroso's avatar

You need to flip the question around.

When hasn’t religion been responsible for violence?

With the exception of Ba’hai, maybe, religions are responsible for huge amounts of violence all over the world. Even the so-called non-violent Buddhists will do violence as part of their theology.

And of course, there are the Christians, Moslems, Jews, and a panoply of other religions where violence is taught and preached from the pulpit.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Yes, but only if the religion approves of violence. Otherwise I would say religious ideology.
Would you kill someone over your strong beliefs in a certain circumstance? Many people have and will.

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seawulf575's avatar

@elbanditoroso I can list a number of times when religion wasn’t responsible for violence. Columbine H.S., Aurora CO theater shooting, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs Tx Baptist Church shooting, Las Vegas Shooting, the 2000 gang related homicides each year, and the list goes on. In fact, your entire comment is crap. Most violence has nothing to do with religion. AND you show your ignorance of what is preached at most churches. I have NEVER heard a Christian preacher promote violence. Ever. Even when talking about difference in people, beliefs, or sins. It usually something more along the lines of “yeah, God says this is a sin, but don’t we all sin? We are not supposed to sit in judgment of others.” Not sure how that is inciting (or teaching or preaching) violence.

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josie's avatar

In Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong makes a good argument that political leaders, be it chieftains, kings, presidents etc. have committed acts of violence in the name of religion as a veiled excuse to expand their wealth and power more regularly and frequently than religious leaders have ever done in the propagation or pursuit of their faith.

People who like to (constantly) argue this issue, particularly on Fluther, would be well served to read the book.

Demosthenes's avatar

@josie Well, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. The idea that religion is not really the cause of the violence, that it is instead about power, politics, etc. For individual fighters, they may be wholly convinced that they are committing violence in the name of their faith, but for the powerful people using the language of religion to convince those fighters to fight, it may be about something else.

But I’m also trying to get at the root of why the blame is always taken off religion. Is it because religions are supposed to be peaceful at their core so violence in the name of religion is necessarily about something else? Is it possible that some religions (no, I’m not just talking about Islam, but I know that’s what we will think of, given recent historical events) more easily lead to violence than others?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Religion is about money and power.

Faith (and the selling of faith, heaven, riches) is the candy that religion puts in from of people to allow the religion to amass more money and more power. Always has been—since before Christ and going back to Moses and even earlier.

It’s not hard to see examples unless you are willingly blind: I’m just scratching the surface here.

Recent: Isis and Islamic state, Nazi Germany, Ireland / Northern Ireland, Christian right in the US.

Middle East : Israel, Palestine

Shiite and Sunni Muslims killing each other for decades

Middle Ages: Crusades – Catholics tried to wipe out every non-catholic

1600s thru 1800s – a whole lot of religious wars in Europe

Pakistan – India—Hindus versus Muslims for 100 years

Serbia Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s – Muslims versus everybody else

Sudan Civil War – muslims versus christians

MrGrimm888's avatar

Religions were invented by people who wanted to control other people. In many ways, there is a symbiotic relationship with people who use a religion as it was intended, and the religion itself. The religion is often used to manipulate people into violence, which will increase/decrease the amount of followers, and their power/influence.

The biggest problems ,regarding religions and people, come from the importance that people place on their religions. Often times, a person’s beliefs trump that of any laws, or restrictions placed on them by the society in which they live. In such capacity, religions undermine most/all of the world’s intentions of governing people. All forms of government are vulnerable to being undermined by religion.

Religion isn’t just about a person’s lifetime. It is usually tied to what a person believes happens after they die. This gives religion much more authority over a person’s deepest concerns. And brings up why it is SO important to most theists, that nobody shed doubt on their religion. Because if a person realizes that their beliefs are wrong/unfounded, then they can also realize that they have been essentially wasting their lives. Combine that with the realization that all of a sudden death is far more worrisome without their beliefs and then it’s like people hot a breaking point. Many people will hurt, or kill others to prevent their fantasy from falling apart.

Most organized religions have built into the belief a defense mechanism. That mechanism usually being that a follower is strictly prohibited from questioning their religion, and great punishment is in order for followers or even non-followers, who would even slightly question a religion’s legitimacy.

So. Fear, and punishment, are the main influences for religious followers turning to violence. Power, wealth, and prosperity, are why people use religion to manipulate the religious.

A leader using religion to advance certain agendas can be either a true believer, or a conman. But if they are successful, the religion will still likely benefit from gaining power, and more followers.

On much smaller scales, religious people can be swayed by others, or their own interpretations of their beliefs, to be violent.

Humans are, sadly, naturally prone to some levels of violence. So, I won’t argue that religion can be blamed for that. But religion has historically proven to exacerbate most conflicts, and/or be the reason for the conflict in the first place. It also is often the reason that conflicts cannot be settled after they start.

I would liken religion to putting a loaded gun in a monkey cage. A powerful tool, typically in the hands of a being far too ignorant to use it without hurting others. Is it the gun’s fault, that monkeys turn up dead? Not really. But without the gun, in the first place, we can guarantee that no monkeys would ever be shot…

In conclusion, I would opine that absolutely religion can be blamed/is to blame for a large amount of violence.


flo's avatar

Is it the words that are to blame if term the “Almond milk” leads people to think it’s milk flavoured with almond?

Demosthenes's avatar

@MrGrimm888 So. Fear, and punishment, are the main influences for religious followers turning to violence. Power, wealth, and prosperity, are why people use religion to manipulate the religious.

Okay, I can agree with that and acknowledge the difference. Many notable examples of religious violence are the latter.

@flo You always find a way to connect everything to almond milk, don’t you?

flo's avatar

The vast majority of athesists, and the vast majority religious (to whatever degree, i.e they pray go to church, mosque etc. every day etc.,) people are not in the least violent. Why is that?

flo's avatar

Is soccer to blame if some commit crimes in the name of love of soccer?

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mazingerz88's avatar

“When people cite the violence committed under socialist regimes, socialist apologists will fault corruption, ego and greed rather than anything inherent in socialist theory itself. It’s not socialism’s fault, they say, it’s something else.”

@Demosthenes So there is something inherent in socialist theory asking practicers to commit violence?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@flo Invalid and simplistic answer.

Soccer doesn’t teach people to hate. Soccer doesn’t inculcate feelings of superiority. Soccer doesn’t have the power of excommunication.

Religion does.

seawulf575's avatar

@elbanditoroso That must be why Jesus told us to love our enemies as ourselves and to avoid hate. Must be why one of the Ten Commandments is Thou Shalt Not Kill, another is Thou Shalt Not Steal and another is Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. Yeah…nothing says hate like telling people how to treat each other well.
I would suggest you go to your local church sometime as an experiment. Hear what is being said. If you have questions, ask the pastor after the service. Maybe then you would be able to speak from a position of intelligence on this topic.
And violence due to sporting events are some of the most destructive there are. Yes, soccer too:

So while some soccer coaches don’t encourage violence from the fans, they do indeed teach their players to hit hard and sometimes dirty to stop an opposing player. So yes, they do teach violence.

flo's avatar

Edited to add.
Yes. And what do they call the hockey players whose job it is to play dirty, commit violence?
“More modern examples of violence include brawls, fan involvement[citation needed], physical abuse of officials and deliberately injuring opponents. Violent actions such as kicking, hitting from behind and prohibited stickwork, are penalized with suspensions or fines. Fighting, or fisticuffs, is also penalized but is considered by many hockey enthusiasts, particularly in North America, to be quite distinct from stick-swinging or other violent acts. They regard fighting as an entrenched, acceptable and integral part of the game.”
Too many fans argue to the max when someone suggests to get rid of the violence in hockey. It’s their religion in sense. Edited to add.

flo's avatar

…Edited to add to the above post.

flo's avatar

…So, the point is you don’t suggest the games hockey, soccer, etc. are causes of violence, do you? You just make a point of having no violence within them. Same with religion, you just discard_ the part that says ”….stoning…” etc., in the Bible, and the things in the other scriptures in other religions.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Having not studied every religion, it would be unfair to put a blanket statement on all religions.

There are guilty parties that claim that their religious beliefs were aligned with their intent or actions. Usually, that isn’t the truth.

Most people have some sort of bigotry, and rarely do they act upon it. It is the handful that go ballistic and act upon their hatred.

flo's avatar

Re. my ”...and the things in the other scriptures in other religions.” Corretion “and similar things in some other scriptures.” (looking at @Pied_Pfeffer‘s first statement above.)

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