John Stackhouse notes that people are savage to each other – and religion can promote or constrain that.
When people say that religion causes violence, I heave a heavy sigh. Because you think, well, human beings cause violence, and human beings will use whatever means are necessary to promote what they think to be their own interests. And if religion eggs them on, or religion is a convenient banner under which to promote my own interests, I’ll do it. When I have nationalism to follow instead – that’s a form of religion, frankly, from a functional point of view – that will be what I’ll use.
So, sure, ideology of any sort can stir people up, and it can provide extra motivation to do things. But people … we don’t need religion to be savage to each other. And the history shows that religion doesn’t seem to make people any worse or any better – religion per se.
I think what history shows instead is that some religions have the resources to constrain violence, and other religions actually intrinsically promote it. And so the question – and it’s the impolite question – is, does Religion A actually teach a more peaceful way of living? And does Religion B actually promote a certain kind of holy violence? That’s where the question needs to be put.