Studies demonstrate the world is becoming less violent, and that human warfare is on the decline. There is one aspect of the human existence, however, that continues to ignite humans to commit violence and atrocities against fellow humans. A major new study published by the Pew Research Center shows that religious hostilities reached a 6-year high in 2012.

Dr. Steven Pinker, Pulitzer prize-winning author and Harvard psychology professor, writes, “Today we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.” He acknowledges: “In a century that began with 9/11, Iraq, and Darfur, the claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene.” Pinker points out, wars make headlines, but there are fewer conflicts today, and wars don’t kill as many people as they did in the Middle Ages, for instance. Also, global rates of violent crime have plummeted in the last few decades. Pinker notes that the reason for these advances are complex but certainly the rise of education, and a growing willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of others has played its part.

Religiosity, however, continues to play its part in promoting in-group out-group thinking, which casts the difference between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation, observes, “Faith inspires violence in two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe the creator of the universe wants them to do it…Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation: Muslims side with Muslims, Protestants with Protestants, Catholics with Catholics.”