Just this past week, I read an essay by Juan Cole of Informed Comment. Cole opens his essay, “Terrorism and the Other Religions,” with the statement, “Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States.” He makes the point that though we think of Muslims as being responsible for most of the violence in the world, in actual fact, far more deaths and political violence during the 20th century occurred at the hands of those of European Christian heritage than from Muslims. He even has a handy pie chart to visually illustrate the fact.
Cole makes a good point. He seems to be emphasizing that Christianity is by the numbers more violent than Islam, but then he talks about religious terrorism being universal. "Terrorism,” he states, “is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents."
I was surprised to see Bill Maher cast as a bigot when I thought he disdained all religions equally. I found online a report of the incident to which Cole refers (you can read it here). Maher was holding up a controversial Newsweek cover with the headline, “Muslim Rage” and did say that “most Muslims” think it is acceptable to kill someone they think has offended the prophet Muhammad. Later in the discussion, the article states, “Maher joked that atheist beliefs would solve a lot of the problems.”
Recognizing Human Traits
When Bill Maher joked (was he joking?) that “atheist beliefs would solve a lot of the problems,” he was voicing what many critics of religion seem to believe. I think the actual truth is that violence is a human trait. Religion is a human trait. Those who imagine that they can eliminate violence and atrocity by doing away with religion are just as blind to human nature as are those who think that only Muslims foment terrorism. As Cole indirectly alludes to, religious teachings attempt to steer adherents away from violence, but there are all those other factors in human nature that bring about violence and destruction. Furthermore, those in power will co-opt religion or any other social institution to stay in power and often violence is the tool for holding onto power.
|Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing|
Birmingham News photo
There are many factors to attribute to causes for conflict. Religion is just one of the sociological traits of humanity. If by some bizarre construct we could actually eliminate religion altogether, human beings would find other means to rally the masses into war and conflict. My opinion as to what contributes to the world's problems? I would choose "D - All of the above" rather than singling out religion.
Put more succintly, as I heard a Pentecostal preacher friend of mine say many years ago: "You hear people talk about this evil world, but there ain't nothin' wrong with this world – not a thing wrong with the world. It's the crowd that's in it that's givin' us problems."
Moving Toward Justice for All
The solution? Don't try to eliminate one particular scapegoat thinking that will remove the problem. Instead, careful attention to ethics and listening to the marginalized of society would be a good place to start. We must come to terms with the fact that we are stuck with our human traits. That doesn’t mean we cannot do better, it just means we need to get beyond the blame game. We must recognize our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Let faith be a strengthening factor for people of faith, but let us always be subject to ethical standards to move us toward a greater realization of justice and integrity.