How Religion Can Lead to Violence

Aug 4, 2016

By Gary Gutting

The latest victim is a French priest, murdered in his church by killers shouting “Allahu akbar! ”Following such attacks, Muslim leaders assure us that, as Tariq Ramadan said after the Paris massacre, the murders are “a pure betrayal of our religion.” After the shootings in Brussels, the leading Sunni university, Al-Azhar, issued a statement saying,

“These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.” Similar responses followed recent attacks in Orlando and Nice. We are told that the fanatical fringe groups who do these terrible things are at odds with the essential Muslim commitment to peace and love. I understand the reasons for such responses, but they oversimplify the relation of religion to intolerance and the violence it can lead to.

Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence.


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7 comments on “How Religion Can Lead to Violence

  • Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards. Those who follow the second view insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

    Succinctly put. but is condensed into the sublime quote by Voltaire.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

    Thus, you can’t trust any seriously religious person!



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  • @OP – “These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.” Similar responses followed recent attacks in Orlando and Nice. We are told that the fanatical fringe groups who do these terrible things are at odds with the essential Muslim commitment to peace and love.

    A bit like the “peace and love” of the Spanish inquisitors who were showing their love (and love of other people’s property), in saving the souls of all those European heretics, and those in the heathen native South and Central American cultures they invaded.



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  • I think that religious leaders and western politicians are both to blame here, primarily for not tackling the subjects of heaven and redemption head-on. Whether paradise exists or not is beside the point – an eight year old child would understand that the notion of a perpetrator of indiscriminate mass murder being rewarded with virgins in some heavenly idyll is absurd. It is an utterly ridiculous concept, irrespective of your religion or culture.

    For too long politicians and clerics have avoided pointing out the patently obvious. Western leaders don’t want to get bogged down in theological arguments which they could never win, whilst Imams are too busy distancing their flock from responsibility for the usual carnage.

    The inescapable truth is that none of the perpetrators of the atrocities we have seen in the last fifteen years is now in Heaven. None of them.

    It’s high time everyone with a dog in this fight started calling it like it is. Take away the redemption and most of the justification goes with it.



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  • 5
    Cairsley says:

    To M27Holts #1

    Yes, that is the point in a nutshell. It is hard to capture in English the particularly economical idiom that Voltaire used in French:

    “… qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste.” (Questions sur les miracles, 1765).

    The paragraph in which this sentence occurs is apposite to quote here:

    Once your faith, sir, persuades you to believe what your intelligence declares to be absurd, beware lest you likewise sacrifice your reason in the conduct of your life. In days gone by, there were people who said to us: “You believe in incomprehensible, contradictory and impossible things because we have commanded you to; now then, commit unjust acts because we likewise order you to do so.” Nothing could be more convincing. Certainly any one who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. If you do not use the intelligence with which God endowed your mind to resist believing impossibilities, you will not be able to use the sense of injustice which God planted in your heart to resist a command to do evil. Once a single faculty of your soul has been tyrannized, all the other faculties will submit to the same fate. This has been the cause of all the religious crimes that have flooded the earth.” (Translation from Norman Lewis Torrey: Les Philosophes. The Philosophers of the Enlightenment and Modern Democracy. Capricorn Books, 1961, pp. 277-8)

    Never mind that later quoters of this passage, in the heat of polemics, substituted “atrocities” for “injustices”.



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  • @OP – “These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.”

    Apparently these ones sometimes don’t!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37115746

    A report on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the North Caucasus has sparked a fierce debate in Russia, with some clerics defending the practice.

    A civil society group found FGM to be common among Muslims in mountain villages in Dagestan. Girls’ genitals were cut in primitive homes.

    Regional Muslim leader Ismail Berdiyev suggested all women should undergo FGM but later withdrew the remark.

    But a senior Orthodox Christian priest, Vsevolod Chaplin, had backed him.

    In a Facebook post (in Russian), Archpriest Chaplin expressed “my sympathies for the mufti, and I hope he doesn’t retreat from his position because of the howls and hysterics which will start now”.

    “We Orthodox Christians have different traditions – but that never stopped us respecting the traditions of neighbouring peoples,” he wrote.

    He said FGM was not necessary for Orthodox Christian women “because they’re not promiscuous anyway”. But he approved of the mufti’s statement that God had created “woman so that she could give birth and bring up children”.

    “Feminism is a 20th-Century lie,” he added.

    Mr Berdiyev, the mufti of the North Caucasus, had said earlier that FGM was practised in some villages in Dagestan and that it was necessary to curb women’s sexuality.

    “It would be very good if this were applied to all women,” the Islamic cleric said, adding, “It doesn’t stop women giving birth and there would be less debauchery.”

    Speaking later to Russian media, he said his “joke” had been “twisted” by journalists to make it look like he advocated FGM.

    In its report (in Russian), the Russian Justice Initiative (RJI) said it had interviewed many women in Dagestan and discovered that FGM was widespread in mountain villages.

    The mutilation – condemned by the United Nations as “child abuse” – was usually carried out in primitive conditions, without anaesthetic, on infant girls aged up to three.

    Women quoted anonymously in the RJI report said they considered FGM to be a Muslim duty for their daughters.

    Usually it involved removal, or part-removal, of the clitoris and/or labia. But the most extreme form of FGM – sewing up the vagina to leave a tiny hole – was not done.

    Girls suffered psychological trauma, bleeding and painful scarring from FGM.

    These religious leaders, really do have a mental problem with their repressed sexuality!



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  • Tolerating Intolerance

    Some say we must learn to tolerate intolerance, particularly religious intolerance. If we were to do that, what would it mean?

    Normally, you may not kill someone, even if they are gay, even if they reject some religion, even if they marry someone you do not approve of, even if they lose their virginity before marriage. Normally, if someone comes into your hotel or restaurant, you have to serve them, even if they are gay, black or Muslim.

    But Christians and Muslims want us to make an exception, just for them.

    On what grounds should they get an exemption? All they have is tradition. They have no reason at all for continuing this tradition. This is the most idiotic ground for an exemption. These are just feeble excuses for breaking the law. I say absolutely not. If they are not willing to obey the law, they must pay the penalties, just like any other citizen, or leave the country.

    There should be no privileged religious classes issued get-out-of-jail-free cards.



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