A common argument levied against theism, specifically the Christian and Islamic varieties, is one that attempts to blame the theist for the world’s problems. Often, the atheist asserts the vast majority of wars were religious or religion retards progress. But despite its popularity, the charge is blatantly fallacious for multiple reasons and should be abandoned by able minds.
The assertion is historical nonsense. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of wars has little to do with religion. Here, the atheist erroneously will be all too keen to bring up the crusades, Spanish Inquisition and Irish Protestants vs. Irish Catholics. Granted this is true, but there are so many conflicts not because of religious differences: the Greco-Persian wars, Peloponnesian Wars, Roman Civil Wars, the Punic Wars, Roman Servile Wars, Julius Caesar Gaulic Wars—fast-forwarding a bit— the French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II are a just a from the top of my head.
I won’t deny terrible things have been done in the name of religion and or God, but to hold religion responsible of humanity’s historical atrocities is without a solid basis. There are plenty of counterexamples to cast doubt on such a claim. The common denominator here is not religion, but people. Note, this sentiment will be a trend throughout this post.
An ideology should be judged by its tenants and not by its malpractice. Many of the Christian culprits for the horrors of the crusades or Spanish Inquisition weren’t acting very Christian, were they? Given the most important commandments prescribed by Jesus were “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” ~ Luke 10:27, these Christians were ignoring some important Christian rules. Again, don’t pronounce judgment on a worldview by its corruption.
The same can be applied to Islam, especially nowadays. The terrorist fanatics, who are a minority, and their perversion of Jihad is not representative of all Muslims nor Islamic theology. People are the problem; not the actual belief system.
There exists an important distinction between religion and theism that I feel like I need to elucidate. The two are not the same thing despite atheists will lump them together with reckless abandon. Jews, Christians and Muslims are all theists and the faults of one group don’t necessarily invalidate the others’ or theism as a whole even if Reason 2 wasn’t applied. Moreover, there are non-religious, rationally affirmed theists, hence even if all forms of organized religious monotheism were shown to be false, it doesn’t completely follow that theism is false. Last but not least, there are religions that don’t fundamentally involve belief in God such as Buddhism or Taoism. So, please understand, theism is a sufficient condition of religion, but not a necessary one.
It’s plausible to think even if Christianity and Islam had not risen to prominence people would still be killing everybody else. To stick it where the sun don’t shine and for the sake of argument, lets say atheism instead came to dominate life in the European Middle Ages. That, the pagans renounced their various polytheistic beliefs for the view the natural world is all there is. It’s impossible to know exactly how things would play out, but I feel it’s arguable that the strong would still trample the weak, some other reason than God would be employed to justify it and any opposing ideas would be quelled to consolidate power. How do I support this? Well, it’s already happened. Joseph Stalin had a knack of killing his own people “to preserve the wonderful legacy comrade Vladimir Lenin had given to Mother Russia.”
People, not just Stalin, are depraved. When we encounter different cultures, ideas and religions, our nature is prone to mistrust and often, to react violently to these foreign concepts and the aliens who hold them. It’s certainly not right, but as a species, it’s what we do.
Moreover, if this theory that religious belief is pathologically linked to violence and war is worthy of consideration, then we’d expect to see a more peaceful world because most divine right monarchies have been supplanted with governments with the separation of church and state. Well, we expected incorrectly. The last century was easily the most violent of our history. See World War I and World War II for more detail. Oh, and after those blood baths, we came a razor’s blade away on multiple occasions of self-immolation as a race during the Cold War. Lastly, the secular United States could be considered the most belligerent country on the planet as we’ve been in a number of conflicts over the past 100 years.
I think I’ve successfully refuted this way too traversed avenue of attack. And it’s a path many a theist is also too eager to travel. I’ve seen on the Internet many Christians accuse atheism being the cause of more and death and suffering than Christianity, and they actually attempt to justify this by attributing the atheistic communist regimes of the last half of 20th century as culpable. Much of what I argued above can be and should be applied to the defense of atheists and atheism in general. But what I really take issue with here is the attitude here of both parties.
See, it isn’t fair for this to be even called a fallacious argument anymore because it isn’t. It’s more egregious than that. Now, it’s devolved to nothing more than a shouting match, a blame-game. The question is no longer if this is a viable topic of discussion; it’s who has more blood on their hands, and the truth is we’re all submerged and drowning. We’ve trivialized human life, a notion most theists and atheists ought to find deplorable. We’re forgetting we all value humanity.
As a Christian theist, I reject atheism, but I don’t reject atheists. I don’t hold the ones I know as responsible for the horrid acts committed during the Cultural Revolution of China. Nor do I expect any of them, or any intellectually solid atheist for that matter, to hold me accountable for the Salem Witch Trials. They might find the arguments for God’s existence and theism as a whole unconvincing, and that’s fine—I find metaphysical naturalism shallow and wanting—but it’s not too much of a concession on either of our parts to acknowledge our respective worldviews aren’t false on the grounds of the actions of other Christians or atheists past, present or future. It’s that simple.
I’ll leave you with the wise, yet succinct words of former YouTube Christian apologist Veritas48:
“Don’t judge a philosophy by its abuse,”