How to judge the church
Would the world be a more peaceful place without Christianity?
JUSTINE TOH: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Or so said the provocative French philosopher Voltaire, 200 years ago. Plenty of people today would agree with him.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: I get sick of getting into a London taxi and there comes a moment when the taxi driver will say what do I do for a living? And I tell him I write about religion. And then he will intone this sentence (which is repeating it like a kind of mantra), “Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.” Utter nonsense!
JUSTINE TOH: There’s no doubt religion has contributed significantly to conflicts, but it’s also true that removing religion doesn’t solve the problem.
Take, for example, that great humanist experiment, the French Revolution. The champions of “Liberty, equality, and fraternity” couldn’t exactly hold their heads up high.
The Spanish Inquisition executed an estimated 6000 so-called heretics over its 350-year history.
The “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution executed 17-thousand people, in just nine months.
Then there’s Stalin’s Soviet Union, a dogmatically atheist regime, responsible for the deaths of around 20 million people over about 30 years. That’s two whole Spanish Inquisitions … every week.
I certainly don’t want to suggest that non-religious people are more violent than religious people, or that religious people haven’t been incredibly violent. Only that the human capacity for brutality is vast, and not at all limited to religious causes or religious people. Maybe there are wars because there are humans, and any ideology can be a source of violence and hatred.