Is Religion to Blame for Violence? Karen Armstrong’s Flawed Case

Just as I finished Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood, which is a very extended attack on the notion that “religion is inherently violent” or that religion and war go together like a horse and carriage, news broke of the latest atrocity-of-the-day: the beheading of 21 Egyptian men by ISIS, apparently in Tripoli. The men were Coptic Christians, from an Egyptian village where Christians and Muslims have lived together peaceably, but where lack of employment opportunities compel men to look for work abroad. According to NPR, one of the brothers of the victims of the gruesome executions invoked a biblical use of the “m” word – “martyr” – to understand the act:

“I prayed for his soul,” he says. “I heard him calling, ‘Oh Jesus,’ as he was beheaded. I’m happy and I’m proud of him. He is a martyr for Christ.”

In response, the Egyptian government initiated a bombing campaign on presumed ISIS targets in Libya, but early reports indicate that among the dead in those attacks are civilians unconnected with the group. And so the cycle of retribution, in the name of “religion,” continues.

Such a context makes Karen Armstrong’s job in this book difficult. In the work, she assesses countless such examples, including everything from violence in ancient Sumeria, to the “psychotic” Crusades, to the Thirty Years War, to the Terror in France, to the American Civil War, and finally to the appalling legacy of violence and destruction that characterized so much of the twentieth century.

To these examples (or to the one that will spring immediately to our mind, the atrocity of 9/11), she would have us remember as well the American role in perpetuating cycles of violence and retribution, including the deaths by drone strikes of women such as Mamana Bibi, killed in October of 2012 while out picking vegetables in a field in north Waziristan. Armstrong concludes that, contrary to what Cain asked sarcastically of his brother Abel in the Old Testament – “Am I my brother’s guardian?” – we are now “all implicated in one another’s history and one another’s tragedies.”

Armstrong’s is an intervention – well-intentioned, extremely informative, but not entirely successful – in an increasingly tiresome “debate” of sorts between New Atheists (the Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris crowd, et al), and religion-defenders (with Armstrong at the forefront). To use yet another example, an attack on Pakistani schoolchildren by the Taliban, a conversation might go something like this:

New Atheists: The Taliban just slaughtered those children in Pakistan. Crusaders slaughtered a bunch of people in the medieval era. The list goes on. Are you really saying religion had nothing to do with this? Ha, fat chance. If all religions just died tomorrow, good riddance.

Defenders: So if all religions died tomorrow then violence and atrocities would just suddenly cease? You don’t know much about history.

NA: Look around the world. Pretty much all the nastiest mass murderers claim religious inspiration.

Defenders: That’s a simplistic way to look at an incredibly complex history that has everything to do with the coming of modernity and an abortive nationalism to much of the Middle East, and little to do with Islam or with a serious reading of the Qur’an. The problem with those who carried out the actions on 9/11 is precisely how little they knew of Islam, not how much.

NA: For every Mother Teresa (and we don’t think she’s all that great, for that matter), there have been a hundred Bin Ladens and Jim Jones’s, or wannabes.

Defenders: The human propensity to violence is deeply rooted in human societies – as I spend about two-hundred fifty pages of my book (which all of you keep saying that you haven’t read, and don’t want to) exploring. Moreover, “our modern Western conception of ‘religion’ is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No other cultural tradition has anything like it, and even premodern European Christians would have found it reductive and alien. In fact, it complicates any attempt to pronounce on religion’s propensity to violence.” Besides there is no universal way to define religion, and for most of human history has simply been a catch-all for “imprecise connotations of obligation and taboo.”

NA: Whatever. We can blame religion more than anything else for most wars in history and much of what is wrong – anti-scientific thinking, climate change denial, suicide bombings, Tea Party wing-nuttery, and the list goes on and on – in contemporary societies.

Defenders: We can blame “religion” more than what? More than nationalism? More than struggles over land, property, and power? More than secular ideologies such as Nazism? Since the birth of the modern world, anyway, states have claimed a monopoly on violence, as Max Weber famously wrote, and they typically harness quasi-religious feelings of nationalism to bolster their essentially secular campaigns of violence to achieve political ends.

NA: You want to talk Nazism – that’s just another religion. Or have you never seen Triumph of the Will? That’s a 6 hour church service if I’ve ever seen one.

Defenders: By your reckoning, we should just blame “Science” for everything, rather than carefully consider the contradictory human impulses that go into the creation of “religion,” “science,” “government,” and other human institutions. More importantly, one of the most important responses of “religion” to human violence, historically, has been to hold human societies to higher standards, to protest injustice and bloodshed, and to point to methods of reconciliation and justice.

As I say in my book, “perhaps the role of religious vision is to fill us with a divine discomfort that will not allow us wholly to accept the unacceptable.” Or look at another example, the violent subjugation of Native Americans during the age of colonization: “Where churchmen frequently condemned the violent subjugation of the New World, the Renaissance humanists who were trying to create an alternative to the cruelties committed by people of faith endorsed it.”

And the beat goes on.

I’ll stop there because one quickly grows weary of the sophomoric sarcasm and retorts of the haters, and wants to tell the defenders, “don’t go here; this is like one of those bad Facebook threads that gets hijacked by some ideologue and pretty soon everyone comes out looking poorly.”

But Armstrong is one of those patient writers who truly believes that a careful and reasoned exploration of a topic as politically and ideologically charged as the relationship between religion and violence will lead to greater understanding, and heighten our sensitivities as to how we may come to terms with our own era of violence and destruction. If you get nothing else out of this book, you will get that some kind of organized violence is a constant of human history, even if its state sponsorship is a relatively more recent phenomenon.

Sympathetic though I am to Armstrong’s project, and admiring though I am of the tremendous erudition on display in her survey of five thousand or more years of human history, there is a flaw in the argument that makes the book less than fully satisfying (even if I would consider assigning it for a “World History” survey course in college). On the one hand, as she rightly points out in the introduction, “religion” as we understand it usually comes loaded with a heavily Protestant connotation of assent to a particular set of beliefs which are held internally. But that is a form of “religion” uncommon in human history. And anyway, there is no such thing as “religion” per se, but only the varied, humanly constructed, and historically context-specific forms that come under that name.

With predictable regularity, defenders of the notion that “X religion is a religion of peace” arise to explain and defend particular religious traditions against what they perceive as appalling misues of it. For example, Mustafa Akyol’s  op-ed in yesterday’s Times calls for a “Lockean leap” in Islam. Here again, religion is set apart as a thing that can change with the introduction (or, in this case, revitalization) of a theological concept that has been buried by other, worse, theological ideas. The message is: The religion itself is good; it’s just that people always muck it up.

Critiquing these abstractions of true religion apart from context is standard-issue stuff for religious studies classrooms. The issue here is that, in addition to saying that, Armstrong also is at pains to defend religion against the haters, as in the imagined dialogue above. To do so, she sometimes has to give up the very deconstruction of the term that she artfully manages to accomplish in the introduction. Thus, in her efforts to portray the complexity of particular events or movements (such as the rise of radical Islam, or the role of religion in the Thirty Years War), she separates out “religion” from other factors – political, cultural, economic, and so forth – after she has pointed out that such a separation is a construct of modernity.

This is not a fatal flaw in the book, but speaks to its contested place as at once an academic survey as well as an intervention in an ongoing but oversimplified and disheartening “debate.” Armstrong wants to examine, in all its complexity, the relationship of religion and violence, and often does so with great success and insight. She also wants to exonerate “religion,” but that tends to muddy the waters of the first, and more important, goal of this book.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    Maybe you can’t attack the concept of religion. Maybe you have to break it down. Separate it into different religions, then each particular religion can be blamed for what they have done. Are any of them blameless? If nothing else, attacking individual religions seems like it has been a lot more fun than attacking the general concept of religion would be, and it is also much easier.

    The only way around this would be for a religion to attack itself and blame itself for what it has done and problems it has caused. If done well that religion would be immune to our cirtique, but it just seems unlikely any religion would ever get involved in honest self-evaluation.

  •' Craptacular says:

    What I fault religion for is the “othering” and tribalism that occurs when one group sets themselves apart from other groups, for whatever reason.

    Note that “othering” is not only done by religions, but religion gives it a legitimacy that different types of “othering” do not have, since it has the claim that a divine/perfect being is the driving force behind it. The only institutional “othering” that comes close to lending this level of legitimacy is nationalism or some perceived exceptionalism based on nationality.

    Political leaders have used both of these tools (religion and nationality) to drum up support for whatever political or economic gains they seek.

    And when religions continue to fall in line behind these politicians, what are the rest of us supposed to think? That religions are being misused or that religions are using politicians?

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Not sure I would have followed the same path as the NA in the conversation above.

    Humans can be violent, the issue is when that violence is explicitly sanctioned by holy texts. The perpetrator (regardless of real motivation) can be given significant “cover” if they can point to the writings of an ultimate authority. So the issue isn’t if religion motivates violence, it is the question of whether that violence can be justified. We had a recent article here in RD that talked about a monk that was advocating for all sorts of unethical actions to be taken against the Muslim minority in Myanmar. He was able to justify much of this (in his mind and many of his countrymen) in that they were somehow ruining the Buddhist purity of the country (hey there’s chocolate in my peanut butter!).

    One common re-tort from the NAs, is that there is a strong correlation between the social ills of a society and how religious it happens to be. The Defender’s reply) and a correct one to ask – which came first? The lack of religiosity or the societal well being? Not sure anyone has been able to answer that question yet.

    Enjoyed the post.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    Wow, great minds think alike.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Not sure what the criticism is. Of course religion can’t be separate from other aspects of human culture. I’m sure Armstrongs knows this.

    But it doesn’t matter. Don’t you understand? She isn’t writing to counter the sophomoric arguments of hostile atheists; she is writing to salvage religions’s participation as ONE of the inspirations for that vitally important and almost invisible aspect of human socieities: the ” discomfort that will not allow us wholly to accept the unacceptable.”
    Of course religion is also one of the ideologies that promote and practice the Unacceptable. Perhaps religion supercharges hate, but no case can be made to eliminate relgiion from the human heart without proving nationalism, and all other ideologies, are less effective in rationalizing our cruelty.
    Perhaps is our tendency to build hate upon the foundation of ideology – any ideology – that is the problem. Hate twists everything it touches, including the Second Commandment.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Yes, that may be the way religion is different from other ideologies – in justification of hate by texts blessed by an ultimate authority.
    Whether religion precedes social ills: Not sure people can hate quite so deeply when they are satisfied in their daily lives.
    Probably a feedback loop once the hate gets rolling.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:


  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Probably true, but any religion worthy of its best aspirations would do just that. But we are cursed to live in a time that even Buddhists prevert and betray their foundations.
    Armstrong does a service by reminding us of faith’s best aspirations.
    Yet you are right, religion must be blamed when they betray their own golden rules. Not because they will actually be convinced to abandon their theological defenses to justify their hate, but so the rest of us can fullly comprehend their hypocrisy.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The nature of the scientific method is to be critical of science. Whatever one scientist says, the others will destroy, if possible. That leaves science with only what can withstand a lot of criticism, and over time they build upon that. I guess religion can’t work in that kind of a mode because religion tends to be based on nothing, and build on that base by not questioning what came before.

    I think it is not as simple as just the problem of hate. The deeper problem is not questioning what is false. That may not immediately lead to hate, but accepting what is false leads to bigger and bigger problems, and there really is no way to control where it will ultimately lead.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Maybe the Commandments need a few amendments.

  •' GeniusPhx says:

    It’s not just religion. About half of us is born with some form of mental disorder/disease. If you take someone who thinks in black and white, who are a obsessive compulsive personalities, narcissists or psychopathic, and give them a religion that gives them the ammunition to set themselves on a higher plane than everyone else, then you are feeding an already burning fire. People who are already fanatics just need a subject, any religion does fine.

  •' weylguy says:

    Voltaire’s age-old remark — that if you can be made to believe in absurdities you can be made to commit atrocities — was never more true.

    I give one example here. The birth stories of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are irreconcilably contradictory — one has the family dashing off to Egypt to escape Herod the Great’s murder of the innocents, while the other has them calmly going to Jerusalem for the purification rites — is never questioned by Christians, who think that it’s somehow the same story told in two different versions. Sorry, but it’s simply pure contradictory nonsense.

    The Crusades were inaugurated because of such ignorance and stupidity, while the Bible’s incessant stories of genocide by divine order and the divine approval of slavery produced untold human misery and slaughter in America. While there were Christians who denounced slavery, lynching and the more modern crusades of George W. Bush — whose bogus war in Iraq led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths — all their prayers and piety added up to nothing. If all the untold millions of inspirational sermons given out in Christian churches over the past two hundred years could not induce God’s supposedly loving truth to enter the minds of the faithful and force them to act accordingly, then I cannot see what good they produced.

    Religion and violence do indeed go hand in hand, and they always will. But if God exists, I don’t blame Him — I blame the billions of fearful, ignorant and stupid creatures He created for not using the brains they were given to make the Earth a decent place to live.

  •' apotropoxy says:


    Man is to blame for violence. Religion is just one of the inventions we’d created to justify it.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That’s not what brains are for. Brains are designed through evolution to assist those creatures in the struggle for survival. Usually this is a matter of eating other creatures. The jury is still out on the Bush crusade.

  •' weylguy says:

    Good point. I basically agree, although I don’t see the survival advantages of higher brain functions that allow for abstract mathematics and similar thought.

    As for the church/Jesus entering our hearts, I suspect that what parishioners are really seeking is comfort from the travails of life, especially the fear of death. Still, if they were to practice what Jesus really taught, the world would be transformed for the better. Since I don’t see that happening, I suspect something’s gone awry somewhere. Perhaps fear, tribalism and superstition are simply more powerful than knowledge and faith.

  •' Makaden says:

    Sounds like someone has watched too many bad Christmas plays. The purification rights occur 8 days after birth. The flee to Egypt occurred after the Kings of the East visit the boy Jesus, not while he was resting in a manger, but TWO YEARS after he was born. After Herod hears this, he issues his decree. Even if you don’t buy the truth of the story, it isn’t contradictory at the point you claim. It is your criticism that is nonsense.

    As for the last half of your second paragraph, you are arguing from a negative: that somehow it is obvious that the truth of Christianity has not prevented all sorts of atrocities, and that it does not produce faithful who “act accordingly.” I suggest you try reading a different set of blogs/books than the ones you have been. You might see a different side to Christian faith and its social impact.

  •' weylguy says:

    You’re wrong. It is the circumcision rite that occurs 8 days after the birth, with the purification rites occurring 33 days later in the Jerusalem Temple (according to Leviticus 12). Luke has Joseph and Mary hanging around Jerusalem when Herod’s soldiers are out trying to kill Little Baby Jesus. It simply makes no sense.

    As for the two-year time frame, there is no reliable chronology available with the exception of the historically accurate death of Herod the Great (4 BCE) and the census of the Syrian governor Quirinius (6 CE), both of which are cited in the New Testament as the year of Jesus’ birth — yet another contradiction. But without a complete and historically accurate chronology, you can say whatever you like to make things fit your dogmatic beliefs.

    And no, I don’t buy the stories. Either Matthew is wrong or Luke is wrong, or they’re both just made up. Which is probably the case.

    Jesus actually lived. He was a profound teacher, humanitarian and philosopher, and I wish to God people would follow His teachings today. His sayings are true and wise, but the New Testament is a wash of dogmatic nonsense used to get people into church and into their wallets.

  •' jfigdor says:

    I would start with the UN Declaration on Human Rights, or my book, Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the 10 Commandments for the 21st Century (

  •' LegalizeLezMarriage says:

    He probably “lived” as much as Homer or Moses “lived” – in that he didn’t really; but was an amalgamation of historical persons adopted into a larger cultural consciousness. And his “profundity” wasn’t exactly unique; Jewish thinkers and philosophers of various stripes were already grappling with the same things he “said” years before he was “born.”

  •' Shiva says:

    problem with those who carried out the actions on 9/11 is precisely how little they knew of Islam, not how much.//

    she detail her reasons for saying this? Perhaps it’s true for the small number
    of specific individuals who physically carried out the attacks, but I don’t
    think we can extend this to generally characterize Islamic terrorist
    organizations, particularly their leaders. Just because
    their understanding of how to practice and implement Islam is different
    from the understandings of the majority of Muslims doesn’t mean that they
    understood little about Islam. But in any case, even if we can assume
    otherwise, we have to also acknowledge that most moderate or
    whatever-label-we-give-them Muslims, meaning most Muslims of the world, also
    know close to scrap about their religion. That’s just the case for humans in
    general. They don’t actually know much about what they profess or what they
    identify with/as. That goes for religion, political party, ethnic heritage,
    social justice movements, and so on. And the ones who do know, like religious
    clerics or scholars, are often apologetically defending their religion without
    honestly or wholly considering what’s relevant to gaining a most accurate and
    critical understanding of it.

    “our modern Western conception of ‘religion’ is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No
    other cultural tradition has anything like it//

    Arabic word for religion is “deen”. I grew up using this term before
    studying religion in university, and I can say that it and the English
    “religion” are used in precisely the same way. As I understand it,
    she is false in her exaggeration that no other culture has “anything like

    importantly, I don’t really see what scholars of religion really want to
    accomplish with arguments about the ambiguous and newly coined nature
    of the term “religion.” If you analyze any term to that degree,
    you will notice the same thing. Try it with the word “chair,” for
    crying out loud. They do this in introductory philosophy classes, as is
    well-known. Let’s try it with “culture,” “language,”
    “art,” “politics,” “philosophy,”
    “theology,” and so on. Try it with “New Atheist”!
    Define precisely and unambiguously for me what “New Age”
    religion means. I can go on and on. We can go so deep into any word
    that it becomes overwhelmingly confusing and essentially undefinable.
    This effort to destroy the term “religion” while still defending it
    at the same time starts to
    sound like a means to divert attention from the real issue at hand. I mean, why
    even argue or study a topic if the topic isn’t even realistic? In the very act
    of engaging in the argument over religion’s relationship with violence (or in
    studying the history of religion), you have to pay service to the reality of
    the concept called “religion.” I remember, in class with one of my last
    religion professors, finally coming to the question of what relevance all this
    theory about defining and understanding religion has if it essentially goes
    unused and takes us to no end. It’s as if those who go into the academic study
    of religion have to go through a painstaking series of presentations
    and arguments about the ambiguity of religion and all the failed
    (more like incomplete and partially wrong) attempts at understanding religion by previous thinkers, but only
    to dump all of that in the trash not too long later when they actually have to
    get in the business of focusing on whatever aspect(s) of religion they research
    or study. It’s only again invoked when they get stuck responding to other
    understandings of their area of focus, or when they get pissed off at
    “New Atheists,”
    having to come up with a way to show opponents how unsophisticated
    and irresponsible they allegedly are.

    // As I say in my book, “perhaps the role of
    religious vision is to fill us with a divine discomfort that will not allow us
    wholly to accept the unacceptable.”//

    Yes, let’s be functionalists and try understanding
    the significance of religion for human society and history. But an issue
    that bugs others into disrespect for religion and those who deal with it, even
    if scholarly, is the pass that’s often given to so much of the sophistry and
    apologetics that comes with trying to defend a level of respect for religion. Admitting
    the integral role that religion has played in such abhorrence as slavery, war, the
    abuse women and children, the persecution of other groups of people, regressive
    ideas about science, and so on is important, but how often do Armstrong and her
    sophisticated crew care to do so? She prefers to focus on a sugar-coated presentation
    of religious mysticism, religious sages, and the comfortable parts of exegesis,
    mixing them all together to create a salad of religious brotherliness which she
    then uses to promote her theory of “compassion.” It’s the type of inter-faith
    phoniness that we see so often these days, paralyzed from the ability to admit
    the reality of religions’ incompatibility and historical disdain for each
    other. Religions are created in opposition to one another, not in harmony with
    one another. That is true despite the elements of religion that teach you to
    love your strange neighbor and call certain others by special names like “People
    of the Book.” Yet, to me, she seems to treat religions like they are fighting siblings
    who mature into the realization of their true purpose of promoting peace and
    egalitarianism. So to me it sounds like what she’s really doing is not to
    fairly evaluate the role of religions in violence and other human phenomena,
    but rather to argue in favor of an essence for religion that is (at least close
    to) the opposite of what those we label as New Atheists seem to argue. So sure,
    popular anti-religion speakers sometimes aren’t sophisticated in their thinking
    about religion and neither are they very learned on the topic of religion, but in
    my view, those responding to them aren’t accomplishing much better. Those
    responding have their biases too. They too fail at providing satisfactory
    explanations and of convincing their opponents that they have an objective,
    rational viewpoint.

  •' Rmj says:

    I agree with Mr. Harvey: the very topic is one of those that makes you argue with fools (it is a fool’s argument) and pretty soon, no one can tell the difference.

    Which is why you never argue with a fool. Even Ms. Armstrong can’t avoid trying to preach it round and square; which tells you the topic itself is not worth engaging.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    By taking that approach, you might be avoiding the deeper question. What is religion for?

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I doubt any one person could accomplish anything like that. Karen Armstrong is doing her part, joining the others who approach the study of the world’s religions and working too make them understandable to each other. Anyway I don’t think a list of commandments or laws or rules would make any difference corrupt lawmakers and their rulers will always find the most egregious ways to subvert them. The only way to change are violent tendencies is a change of heart. That is what religion at its best can accomplish ( but only in those who are already there) and what it refuses to do at its worst.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Yes that is exactly where we should start. The the passage of those rights was one of our most important moments. There is no doubt the humanitarian impulse is every bit as powerful as faith because it is motivated by empathy and a profound commitment to decency. The world disregard and abuse of those rights – including our country’s use of torture and distance killing – may be our undoing. I fear for the future and any antiote to our madness is divine work. Imho empathy & passion for justice are much more important than faith in dogma.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Who is it that gets to define what is foolish and should be silenced. Karen Armstrong’s whole enterprise is directed at dialogue even dialogue with fools. I don’t know how else humanity will survive.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Making them understandable to each other sounds like a tough job. In the case of Christianity, I don’t think you could make it understandable even to Christians. It keeps coming up here on RD. Fundamentalist Christianity is full of contradictions so requires belief where you don’t try to understand. Progressive Christianity can’t be explained, because pining it down to what it is might kill it.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    And yet we keep trying because we don’t think the effort is meaningless. Huston Smith Karen Armstrong Elizabeth Johnson John Haught Bede Griffith’s and so many others spend their lives trying to make the connections that help us to understand each other.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I’m not sure that ideology is what drives hate, altho it certainly heightens it. We are not rational creatures. If our motivations were driven by correct thought (or by acceptance of correct theology) our dissentions might be less impossible to resolve. Seems to me that if we accept humanity’s existential cluelessness, we could gain the openness to enjoy the dialogue. I propose we start to redeem relativity as a positive virtue! And that we begin to regognize that a fact in itself cannot give meaning to existence. Science is not engaged in that enterprise. I undetstand people see scientific fact as the definitive reality, but it seems even the particles don’t behave predictably. Yes science is a bit more open to question than religious institutions, but the churches have always been light years behind the mystics.

  •' Guest says:

    I was referring to the Two, not the ten.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I was referring to the Two not the ten.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Not convinced objective rational argument is what is needed, but actual dialogue that attempts to comprehend the other. This does not include correcting their errors of thought, but requires the ability to listen and the genius to hear. We should understand communication is not entirely rational. If it were, music, poetry and art would mean nothing to us.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    What are music art and poetry for? What is love for? Are they merely evolution’s byproducts? Is the Mona Lisa merely paint on canvas, without any import beyond the atoms that form its physical reality? What of the man who painted it? Was he deluded in the creative vision that moved his hands?

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Gotta say I don’t have anything against butts, but what is the point of the tattoed butt? Seems disrespectful. And silly.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Religion has always been used to serve the madness of the powerful and greedy. People suffering from mental illness have always more likely been victims than beneficiaries of the unholy alliance between power and religion.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It looks kind of that way but it is an arm and back, I think.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I see your point. If you are looking for divinely reveal truth, then music, art, and poetry are probably better choices.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think I am less trusting than you. You see what people could be. I see it as what institutions do. What happens to institutional truths in an area outside science? In science, it is encouraged to question and shut down what can’t withstand correction. In other institutions when institutional truths are questioned they must be defended. Certainly religions are that way. Those who are better at defending institutional truths rise to higher levels in the institution, or religion. This is a dangerous direction. If the institution thinks it is defending divinely inspired truth, and the institution has been evolving for generation after generation becoming better at shutting down any questioning, the institution will just naturally turn itself over to those who are most fanatical because that is what is required to defend the religion stuff. The religion doesn’t start out with inquisitions and crusades and moral majority clubs, but that is where it ends up, given enough time.

  •' JCF says:

    Geez, it never occurred to me that one could see that tattooed *shoulder* and think it was a butt! (Except the butt of the gun in the tattoo ;-/).

  •' cgosling says:

    Of course there is no single cause of human conflict, but that religion plays a major role, cannot be denied. Ultimately, it is human nature which sponsors war and suffering. Physical appearance and cultural differences between humans are at the heart of conflict aided by territorial jealousies. Religion is the facilitator of much of the conflict because people claim their actions are sanctioned by God.

  •' CarlMN says:

    The vast majority of wars have not been ’caused’ by religious differences. Even in most cases where there have been religious differences between the opponents, those differences have usually been an incidental aspect of ethnic or national differences. The primary causes of the vast majority of wars have been due to ethnic or cultural conflicts, or to national interests involving territory or resources.

    Yes, there have been religious wars, but only a few. The “Encyclopedia of Wars” (Phillips and Axelrod) lists 1763 wars, only 123 (7%) of which are classified as religious conflicts. The “Encyclopedia of War” (ed. by Martel) categorizes only 6% of the wars listed as religious wars. Anti-religion folks like to blame religion for wars because it seems to provide them an easy way to disparage religion. In doing so, they actually reveal their lack of understanding of history and of religion.

    Even where religious beliefs seem to be a significant factor, they are simply part of the cultural differences, and they typically only serve as part of the rationalization and fervor used to sustain a conflict.

    The essence of true religion is unity, love and peace. Every religion has, at it’s core, some statement equivalent to the Christian “Golden Rule” – a.k.a. The Law of Reciprocity. Any actions that are not based on the Law of Reciprocity are violations of the essence of religion. They are also violations of the essence of Humanism.

    Anyone who tries to use their self-proclaimed religion to justify conflict, violence and war is perverting some aspects of a belief system to serve their own egotistical purposes, whether primarily based in fear or greed. In so doing, they are violating the essence of any and all religions. From that point of view, few if any wars can really be classified as religious wars. All wars are caused by the inability of people to see and acknowledge that we are all in this together; that we are all intimately and inextricably interconnected and interdependent. May we all come to realize this and learn to live in Peace.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    We are all in this together is a progressive concept, and in the US that means class war. Right now the upper class through the Republican party control most parts of government, all except the president. They are using this to kick ass in the class war. That complicates the live in peace idea, especially considering how the rich have been able to use this war to pressure the rest of us so that instead of fighting back against the rich we are in a fight for survival against each other.

  •' Murmur1 says:

    Oh, but perhaps things would be a lot worse if a lot of Christians hadn’t practiced what Jesus really taught! And there are those even now who do so.

  •' Murmur1 says:

    Religions don’t kill people. People kill people. And yes, a lot of people are and have been hypocrites. A lot of power-hungry people have used and currently use the language of religion as a tool. And yet, it is not religions’ “golden rules” that are at fault — it is the people who betray them who are at fault.

    But it is not just religion that is misused. For example, there have been and still are a lot of people who use the language of the U.S. Constitution to justify the very injustices it is meant to guard against. Those in power have used the “rule of law” that was meant to protect the rights of the less powerful against those in power. And take capitalism. Has unguarded capitalism led to the benefit of all mankind?

    Could it be greed and self-interest that leads and has led to so much hypocrisy, rather than religion?

  •' CarlMN says:

    Our only hope for a positive outcome is to realize that survival of the fittest ultimately means survival of those who are best able to live together in harmonious cooperation, which is what we citizens need to learn to do. Anything else is suicidal. It’s a simple lesson, but it remains to be seen if we get it and do it before we exterminate ourselves.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It can’t totally eterminate us. Worse case, we kill a lot of each other but the others have to live through it.

    The bad news is the strategy of the rich. As the rich get more rich, they put pressure on the rest of us. The rich don’t want to kill the rest of us, but collectively that is their personal best approach for individual survival. When things get worse, if they have enough money they can buy the way out of trouble for themselves and their family. They will have the best chance of survival if they can stockpile even more money. As things decay, if they are wealthy enough they can move into the gated communities that will protect them from the poor. They don’t want to see so many destroyed, but they know even if they try to help it won’t do much good because the other rich are going to continue stockpiling wealth and cause economic divide that will bring disaster whether they are also stockpiling or not. They know what they have to do to protect the interests of their family.

    The only solution would be for the masses to stop voting power to the rich, but that seems impossible because the propaganda that the rich are buying for us is so seductive we always do what they ask.

  •' CarlMN says:

    When things really start to fall apart, the rich will fall, too. Perhaps not immediately, but they will certainly fall the hardest – all the way down from the artificial top they’ve created, with our help.

    They won’t survive because they don’t know how to survive. Without the little folks to help them they will be out of luck – no one to provide them with even basics for survival. More likely, a bunch of little folks out to get them. There won’t be any way for them to maintain fancy gated communities – power, food, utilities, services, labor, entertainment. If nothing else gets them first, they’ll be leaping out of high windows – as has happened to many of them in the past.

    As soon as we quit playing into their game, they’re done for, because their only skills are manipulating people and money.

  •' navyguns says:

    Well said, CarlMN. I was going to post the “Encyclopedia of Wars” stats. Glad you did. They show that “more wars are caused by religion” is a canard. Appeals to religious fidelity may motivate the troops and the people (which is why politicians have always appealed the leading deity for justification of their actions), but a particular belief is rarely the actual cause of a conflict.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That’s what they all think.

  •' Collin237 says:

    What we think is irrelevant. What are we supposed to do about it?

  •' ChristianPinko says:

    “The birth stories of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are
    irreconcilably contradictory . . . is never
    questioned by Christians, who think that it’s somehow the same story
    told in two different versions.”

    Oh, really? That’s funny, because I was just reading a book by the Catholic historian Garry Wills, who made just the same point you did. I guess someone had better tell him that Christians never recognize that the Gospels do not give historically compatible accounts of Jesus’ life.

  •' weylguy says:

    I’ve discussed this issue many times with devout Christians, who neither understand, admit nor care about biblical discrepancies. I doubt they even know what ‘irreconcilable’ means. It’s always “I just know in my heart it’s right.” The end. I suspect this has been the case now for two thousand years, so I’m hardly the first one to mention it.

    As for WIllis, I liked his ‘What Jesus Meant’ but, since he’s still a devout Catholic, irreconcilable issues evidently don’t matter much to him, either.

  •' eliza says:

    I think that Voltaire’s quote may be applied to politics as well. Plenty of absurdities and atrocities there.

  •' eliza says:

    There is a Unique Voice that says love your enemies. No one else says that. Whoever that was, was Jesus.

  •' LegalizeLezMarriage says:

    “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”

    Proverbs 25:21

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    And yet ever time I see it, the butt is what I see. Probably because of the fatty fleshiness of it.
    Just goes to show that perception greatly personal.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I can see that now you mention it.
    Yet it still looks like a butt to me at first glance.
    Perception is such a determinant.
    Which is why a diversity of perceptions are necessary! 😉

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I don’t give much credibility to divinely revealed truth. Because we have always found ways to corrupt the most benign revelations. Thou shall not kill and love your enemies is easily thrown away when the persecution fever takes hold. Art at least is mostly honest.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    By taking that approach, you might be avoiding the deeper question. What is religion for?

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I suppose there are many answers to that question. We could view institutional religion as a means to control the behavior of individuals, reinforcing cultural norms. Certainly religion has always been used to justify cultural institutions: slavery, patriarchy and bloody conquest. On the other side of that coin, we could view institutional religion has a means to instill a sense of meaning and purpose to individual lives. Life is often a pain and an irritation even in the best of circumstances. Certainly religion is an almost universal human trait, a response to a spiritual dimension that was once understood to be a pervasive part of life (only very recently rejected by parts of the western culture that tends to dismiss any other interpretation of reality but scientific materialism (despite the slippery oddities of quantum physics) and intellectual rationalism. Certainly the profound insights of spiritual Masters have been a blessing and a bane to their followers as their messages are concretized and perverted. And yet somehow the message lives on despite all that. The Tao is still the Tao no matter how many idiotic accretions are added to deface it. My own particular (and no doubt peculiar) answer is that religion may serve to anchor our desire for what the mystics have always asserted is Reality: waking up from our limited consciousness to the Reality of the Benevolence and Oneness. Anchors are no longer needed when the boat becomes one with the Ocean.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    So religion is both good and bad. But the good parts might be illusions that the bad parts need to keep people happy.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    One could say rationalism & rationalism are illusions. Those who experience awakening to oneness and study the wisdom of mystics tell us our ordinary consciousness is an illusion. But dialogue about the spiritual dimensions of reality is difficult when the very concept offends. Sometimes materialism’s proponents seem as full of certainty as any religious fundamentalist and the desire to convert the world as fervent. I fear religious fundamentalism far more than I disagree with materialism,but it seems to me both rely too much upon different forms of reductive literalism. Western culture has not yet assimilated the strange aspects of quantum reality. So untii rationalism comes to terms with the slippery uncertainty and impossible connections that seem to fill the depths of material reality, our culture will continue to destroy the world it views as objects to be exploited. Crazy religion is not the only threat to the world and it’s creatures, and perhaps it is not the greatest cause for our destructive lack of decent empathy.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    With the spiritual dimension it would be a problem if you believe anything it says, except when it talks about being unsure. That you can believe.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    Ok, so you dismiss the validity of a spiritual dimension, right? We will just have to disagree.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    I used to think our intentions – how we choose to see the world and our relationship with it and others – determined what beliefs we choose to internalize, but now I don’t know. Those who claim WHAT we believe, whether it be the tenets of Objectivism, Capitalism, or the dogma of any religion, influence how we think and what we do, have a point.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    You can’t just accept it for no reason.

  •' dsp says:

    U posted on the laube murder case. Does the kid arrested look like the guy u saw? He doesn’t look like the sketch…

  •' Guest says:

    You posted on the Nicole Laube murder case. Curious if the guy arrested looks right to you?

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    We all have our reasons, most often having little to do with reason. There are no simple answers to anything.

  •' Carolyn Shadowland says:

    The reason for faith can’t really be explained by Reason, or reduced to conscious reason. Humans are not motivated by reason alone. Although brilliant people have tried to tie dogma to the framework of human reason, including Abelard and Thomas. Even so, their thinking doesn’t always translate well to science, to the modern mindset, nor to the fledgling postmodern adventure. No matter. Most of us lesser folk are more interested in rationalizations than reasons.
    Bottom line we are groping in the dark, and it is enough that what light we see illuminates enough to pick our way through.
    I don’t know what answer you want (a predetermined response of some kind?), but I suspect I can’t provide it.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I know religion seems to involve a lot of groupthink, but it seems to be a problem when the groupthink centers on belief in Jesus, and it turns out in the Bible Jesus is not an actual human person. I think the approach has been to paper over this fact, and create a society where it is impolite to talk about it. Whatever society directs people away from, that is the direction I want to go.

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