How Religion Can Lead to Violence

Aug 01, 2016 · 203 comments
Jay Orchard (Miami Beach, Florida)
The comments about the negative aspects of religion are juvenile. Some religions are more tolerant of non-believers or adherents of different faiths than others.

But millions of innocent people have been killed in the name of religion and millions of innocent people have been killed by people in the cause of anti-religion.

For either side of the religion debate to claim that the other is the exclusive cause of the evil that men do is intellectually dishonest.
Stephen Rinsler (Arden, NC)
This should really be considered as a warning against fundamentalism.

I believe that fundamentalists - whether religious, economic, racial, national or other are subject to acting out their intolerance.

I also sense (without any survey data or "expert" opinions to depend upon) that the culture one is a member of interacts even with fundamental beliefs to modulate the risk of violent behavior against nonbelievers.
Deyan Ranko Brashich (New York, New York)
The call for killings or war by anyone is just plain wrong and coming from any “man of God” [Muslim or Christian] despicable. It is a call for yet more blood. The only reason there is war in Mogadishu, Ghazni, Niger, Kazakhstan, Kabul, Karbala, Mosul, Aleppo and in Baghdad is because we brought it there by going at it “in your face” – and now we fear the reverse coming home to the United States. Religion cannot condone criminal acts. See my comments “Guns Kill, So Does Religion – Sometimes” at:
http://deyanbrashich.com/home/2016/6/17/guns-kill-so-does-religion-somet...
cheshire1 (Queens, NY)
Islam is about 1,500 years old. Think of Christianity when it was 1,500 years old-- it's not a very pretty picture. It wasn't much better at 1,600 years or, depending on where you were, 1,700 years. "Error has no rights" wasn't just the doctrine of the Catholic church; Protestants basically also acted on that view. Nowadays some born again Christians would like to make Biblical law the law of the land; presumably, the sections on stoning, and a literal eye for an eye, would prevail. So it's not just Muslims, folks.
O'Brien (Airstrip One)
The issue is not the divine revelation behind Islam and Christianity, but the notion that each claims to be the One True Faith that all need for salvation. The peculiar thing is that each derives from Judaism, a faith that does not make that claim and affirms that the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come.

Fortunately, Christianity seems to have gotten past its willingness to expand itself at the point of a sword. Catholicism even affirms God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people. Much of Islam may have also have gone beyond its willingness to expand via the sword/bullet/suicide mission, but there is a significant minority that has not yet gotten the modern message that it's not okay. Moreover, the Muslim majority seems unable or unwilling to close down that significant minority. Peoples have gone to civil war over far less. Maybe that's what's needed here.
John Kuhlman (Weaverville, North Carolina)
A person who says "my belief is superior to yours” is laying the foundation for some sort of physical encounter.
Joel (Pierce)
The article does a good job of identifying how Christianity and Islam have been turned into ideologies which justify the use of compulsion rather than toleration, but given that the USA spends over $600 billion a year on military hardware a more interesting question might have been what unspoken ideologies motivate our present obsession with violent solutions.

For example with a little substituting and updating of terms the third paragraph could be rendered equally true of Enlightenment liberalism:

...Enlightenment liberalism claimed to be rationally compelling, holding that its teachings are truths that reason itself has conveyed to us and which everyone who is good must accept. It was, from the start, a missionary philsophy. A philosophy charged with bringing reason’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate rational error? At certain points in its history, it has been intolerant of other belief systems even to the point of violence (the Napoleonic Wars, colonialism under the flag of the White Man's Burden, the invasion of Afghanistan, and Iraq War)....

The point isn't that the Enlightenment liberalism which underlies the political discourse in America is necessarily wrong, but rather that if Gutting is going to call on American-style tolerance as a panacea to the violence of religion he needs to contend with its own history of violence.
bobbyb (buffalo ny)
just a comment on the term islamophobe. when someone questions,or criticizes a religion,in this case,islam,it is unfair to label that as islamophobia,because that term seems to incorporate not just a criticism of the religion,but followers of that religion,muslims. and that is two separate things.i am not anti muslim,although i may be critical of the religion they follow. if a person criticizes christianity,does that necessarily mean they hate christians ? i don't think so. that term,islamophobia. should not be used to censor,or shut up people.
Don Salmon (Asheville, NC)
Ok, I just browsed through the comments and see that nobody made this point (well, Ramesh Rao came close - he noted that Hinduism is a pluralistic rather than mpnotheistic religion, hence - up until India was infected with the ever fractious, contentious European mentality - there was no motivation to employ violence to 'convince' others of the "Truth" since there could by definition be no form - no words, no methods, no philosophy - that encapsulated what has always been understand to be an "infinite" Truth.)

But what struck me most forcibly was the idea that a religion of revelation must of necessity lead to violence and intolerance.

In fact, the Vedas are considered to be "sruti" - revelation. So how was it that India refrained from violence (no Jerry Falwells or Ted Cruz' emerged to attack the Buddha when he challenged the Vedic revelation)?

Simply because, as Mr. Rao said, the Indians have always known that the Absolute - if there is such a thing - cannot by definition be confined to any relative form.

It is said that among those with a more active anterior cingulate, there is a greater ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Some studies suggest that meditation increases activity in the anterior cingulate. A third observation - liberals tend to have more active anterior cingulates than conservatives.

Conclusion:

Meditate - it will create a more tolerant civilization, and it may even turn conservatives into liberals.

www.remember-to-breathe.org
David Kleinberg-Levin (New York, New York)
I agree with Gary Gutting's analysis. In a way, a certain temptation to intolerance is inherent in all three main religions of monotheism. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all founded on the inherently, essentially intolerant doctrine that there is—and can be—only one God. It is also noteworthy that monotheism emerged in tandem with monarchy, and that these two systems or institutions are both in principle intolerant, opposing difference, otherness, and pluralism. This of course does not imply, or mean, that all these three religions, as practised, are, and need to be, always and everywhere systematically intolerant. Many of the practitioners in all three religions are very tolerant—tolerant of other religions and other ways of life, even of atheism. I speak only of a certain doctrinal temptation—a temptation that, I believe, must always be resisted.
John (Brooklyn)
Religion in early human groups, hunter-gatherers, was needed for group cohesion, and to protect the group from outsiders. Therefore, religious virtues like kindness, charity, cooperation, etc. were for the in-group, and group survival, and justified killing outsiders. So, religious belief and practice, somewhat ironically, is a product of evolutionary group selection.
Larry Gr (Mt. Laurel NJ)
There is no moral equivalency between Islam and Christianity in 2016 as this commentary suggests. There has been no mass violence in the name of Christianity in hundreds of years. In Islam it continues today. Christianity has evolved as society has evolved. Islam has not.

And it is very suprising that many liberals and feminists will jump on the Muslim bandwagon and denegrate Christians considering how even mainstream Islam still treats women.

My guess is that hating Christianity in more important than being realistic about radical Islam and Sharia. No wonder many Americans see the left as morally bankrupt.
Adele (Toronto)
Great article. People think that they are being kind and respectful when they refrain from questioning another person's faith. The truth is though, that if we are going to live in a civilized society where we make decisions for the public good based on reasonable evidence, we have to be able to question everything. Especially people who are claiming an action is right because it was divinely inspired. That's clearly not true.

It may hurt people's feelings to say so, but the alternative is to remain in ignorance. It hurts people's feelings more when their family members are murdered by terrorists, or killed as soldiers in the war on terrorism, or blown away as "collateral damage" from one of these wars.
Jack (Bergen County , NJ USA)
Christianity at its core - albeit manipulated by Popes and Kings for their own glory not the glory of God or spreading the good news - is non violent. I am sure that some people will counter about the Hebrew Bible and the wars, deaths, etc. Nonetheless Christianity is non violent and meant to coexist in a secular world.

Why? Jesus claimed to be the messiah but was rejected by most Jews because the messiah was to free the Jews and restore Israel from the bondage of Rome.

Jesus did not advocate "state" change but individual "soul" change. As Christians were able to read the bible for themselves (thanks to literacy) many were able to realize that we are to turn the other check, forgive 7 times 70, and if a master treat a slave as well as you treat yourself. Jesus forgave sinners and hung out with sinners. If He wanted to he could have overthrown Rome and forced conversions ... but He didn't. That is true Christianity. The history of the violence in the name of Christianity is blasphemy. Period. Hence, if you chose not to accept Jesus that is your free will choice.

I would contend that nearly all the "leaders" (crusades, inquisition, Holy Wars) were evil men with their god being money and power not Jesus.

As for Islam ... that is something very different. There is no "swords" doctrine in Jesus' teachings.

As for religion in violence - Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot - atheists all.
Geoffrey (Golden, CO)
Boring: Hitler wasn't an atheist.
None of your list murdered millions in the cause or name of atheism.
MdGuy (Maryland)
Ironically, the critical thinking skills that I developed from eight years in Jesuit schools have led me to appreciate what absolute, absurd nonsense religion and belief in invisible beings are.

You might have thought that Edwin Hubble's realization that the (current) universe is many, many orders of magnitude larger than previously thought, would have made people re-evaluate their conception of the cosmos.

The not unreasonable likelihood of multiverses adds yet another mind-boggling layer to cosmic possibilities.

Pierre-Simon Laplace presented his definitive work on the properties of the solar system to Napoleon. Napoleon, liking to embarrass people, asked Laplace if it was true that there was no mention of the solar system’s Creator (ie God) in his opus magus. Laplace replied, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”
Paul Drake (Not Quite CT)
In the short run, Islam needs it's equivalent to Vatican II, and it's equivalent to Pope Francis. In the long run, we all need to realize the religion is for people who prefer not to think for themselves.
Paul Drake (Not Quite CT)
In the above comment, I meant to write : In the long run, we all need to realize that religion is for people who prefer not to think for themselves. Not "the religion", which might imply that there is one true religion. Apologies
Brian Sussman (New Rochelle, NY)
The problem isn't 'revealed religions', but rather 'missionary religions'.

Those 'revealed religions' that are not 'missionary religions', do not seek to impose their beliefs on people of other religions and sects, although they might be over-zealous in imposing orthodox beliefs on members of their own religion or sect. Judaism is an example of a 'revealed religion' that is not 'missionary religion', yet it is the the religion that both Christianity and Islam were based on.

Regarding European Christianity having lost its own history of violence against other religions, that largely ended at the end of WWII. But Germany's perspective in WWII was largely of Catholics and Protestants vs Russian Orthodox and Jews (Catholic Poland being an exception).

The real problem with religious-based violence is extreme religious zealousness (and anti-religious zealousness) to convert people of other beliefs to a rigid faith. The solution in all cases, is tolerance of others. It would be helpful if Evangelists of all religions did not try to convert others, except those truly seeking conversion.
Dave R. (Trenton, NJ)
It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk *humbly* with thy God.
simon (MA)
Finally the truth is being told! It's been a long time coming. The latest atrocities make it imperative to speak out.
Lynn (NYC)
We need to figure out how to completely eradicate 'religion', for at its core it is all about controlling people's behaviors all under the guise of 'holiness' or 'soul-saving' or guilt or fear of 'eternal damnation'. No one 'needs' religion in order to do good for others. No one 'needs' religion in order to know right from wrong. How many religious folk do we know or have we heard of, committing unspeakable acts? Conversely, how many 'atheists' in the world have done amazing things for their fellow man?

Religion has ZERO correlation with one's innate goodness.

Yet time and again, religion has been used as the 'explanation' for countless evil acts, endless mistreatment of people or groups of people who don't 'coincide' with your own moral beliefs, etc.

Religious folk also often like to point to prayer as 'solving' so many problems, or creating so much good in the world. But this too is complete hogwash, for if indeed prayer in and of itself were that all powerful, it would then follow that prayer would eradicate any and all that which is bad in this world. But we haven't seen that happen, now have we? To which religious folk will often THEN turn around and say 'well.... some things are simply god's will...that's why that person died....or that's why you didn't get that job you wanted so much, etc., etc. But by that rationale then, isn't everything 'god's will', in which case, isn't prayer (once again) pointless, if in the end, everything is 'god's will'?? lol!
Gerald (Toronto)
Well put. And I'll tell you, the Muslims who sat with their French "concitoyens" in the church where that priest was killed said more about human decency and tolerance than the many columnists here who daily elide the issue of Islamist extremism.

I raise my hat to those good people.
Richard Watt (Pleasantville, NY)
Unlike Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, Jews discourage conversion of Judaism. Why? In part because Jews believe other peoples only have to observe the seven Noachide commandments to be righteous, while Jews have 613 commandments including You shall build a parapet around your roof. Why would someone choose 613 commandments, when they only need seven to be righteous?
Ellen T (New York City)
I would like Muslims to explain how their supersessionist religion allows them to be tolerant to those who have no intention of converting? I would like to understand how they teach tolerance in a community that holds among its articles of faith that the Quran is the last of God's revelations, that Islam supersedes the monotheistic religions that predate it. I have asked this question of Muslims and have never received a satisfactory answer. I do not believe myself, and would love to learn otherwise, that a supersessionist religion can truly respect those who do not share their beliefs. As a Jew, not a member of "my way or the highway" religion (except for the ultra-Orthodox, who really only feel that way about other Jews), I'm pretty skeptical since our history is riddled with murders justified by our being labeled heretics, sinners, Christ-killers or infidels. It took the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust to get most Christians to step away from their Jew-hatred and accept us as "older brothers" or whatever, and believe me when I say that I don't care what's in their hearts, only what's in their actions. I don't care if you love me as a Jew, but I do want justice and equality under the law. Muslims have no Pope to coerce them and from what I've seen by many of their actions, I think they are biding their time. I truly, deeply wish to be wrong.
Susan (New York, NY)
"This is really all about "my god has a bigger **** than your god." - George Carlin
David Roche (British Columbia)
The second worst holocaust in recorded history (after the genocide of the aboriginal people of the Americas) was the wholesale slaughter of pagans in Europe by Christians.
Imid (Alexandria)
You don't need morals to have religion and religion doesn't require you to have morals.
William (Rhode Island)
I don't want to hear what your god has to say. Especially after you put the words into your god's mouth. I don't want to hear about what your god told you to do, especially after you made your god tell you to do it. Not interested in your god's Special Plan for you and especially me. Not interested in your need to 'save' me, sanctify me, convert me, convince me, stone me, burn me, or whatever else you made your god tell you to do to me.
Take a good looooong look at your gods. Look familiar? No?
Keep looking.
blockhead (Madison, WI)
What a revelation!
The theologian has figured out some things we atheists have known for decades.
I wonder what took him so long?
yehudis (jerusalem)
I'm so surprised that the author has so noticeably omitted the forerunner of both of these revealed religions--Judaism. One reason could be because the diaspora experience altered the relationship of Jews and their beliefs to the public sphere. Another is that Judaism does not have a tradition of missionizing, via coercion or any other means, because conversion can only be genuine when it is done absolutely freely, without ulterior motives.
Mr. Gutting, your omission is very noticeable--to what do you attribute it?
uofcenglish (wilmette)
Religion is becoming a scourge upon us. I used to tolerate it. I even practice it in the form of a Buddhism seeking to establish world peace. I practice a humanistic form of this buddhism where we are all responsible for our actions. This idea that we need to appeal beyond humanity for how to live or treat others in a moral way is ridiculous and clearly dangerous. The price for living in modern society should be at all times the recognition that the secular is superior to the religious. If people don't believe this we are just doomed to loose civil society. Religions had to be put in a subservient place to civil society and the rule of law. Let's keep them there.
Dan Green (Palm Beach)
Excellent article, as it gets one thinking. Johnny Cash had a song about all the soldiers who die believing God is on their side. Grew up indoctrinated into the Catholic Church in the forties. The rules were numerous, as we were taught we were the only true religion. We had no access to the Bible but were taught Catholic scripture, called the Gospel. Now we face a embolden Islam, and are being asked to live with the off shoots. Aside from the Obama's and Angela Merkel's , of this world, a clash of civilizations , all in the name of religion seems on the horizon.
barbara8101 (Philadelphia)
Unfortunately, two of the main characteristics of any evangelical religion are first that all other religions are wrong and second that all believers in any other religion should be converted to the one true way. The article seems overly optimistic in its portrayal of Christianity as a group of faiths that accept freedom of religion, however. Many forms of Christianity remain anti-Semitic and engage in discriminatory conduct against those who disagree with them. Such attitudes make any claim of tolerance into hypocritical statements of false toleration. Moreover, freedom of religion these days has become a rallying cry for those who complain that they are being forced not to discriminate against those whose lives do not match theirs. For them freedom of religion means freedom to act as they please in discriminating against others, no matter whom their conduct harms. This is hardly tolerance. It is, rather, a transformation of the concept of religious freedom into a license to discriminate.
Sazerac (New Orleans)
Your response, Barbara, should be required reading in every civics class - particularly those in Kansas, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma.........
Jack (Bergen County , NJ USA)
True Christianity doesn't force conversion. Those that tried did so for their own gain in power and money. No where can you find Jesus saying you must convert people. Share the good news to all the nations, yes. Forgive others, yes. Masters treat their slaves like themselves, yes. Help the less fortunate, prisoners, widows, yes.

I am glad that we are having this debate ... it will demonstrate true Christians vs nominal "Christians" who hide behind religion to discriminate. Case in point, if you don't want to serve marriage licences to the LGBT community than quit your job. Period. I say that as a Christian. As a true Christian you don't bend the will of the state to serve your needs or profession.

As for intolerance ... Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Pol Pot were all atheists.

The popes and kings of the religious wars were not about Jesus and the Gospel but about personal enrichment, power etc. Jesus never look to overthrow the Romans. He wanted soul change not state change. And it was free will. And never coerced. Those that have killed in the name of God will answer to that ...

As for Islam. I am not an expert but read the Koran for yourself.
Kathleen O'Neill (New York, NY)
Until Islam resolves the division within its own doctrines it will be very difficult for reconciliation with other religions. When teachings are fear based - the fear of loosing power - then rational, caring and humane thought cannot be heard or tolerated, from any source.
Judith Vaughan (Newtown Square, PA)
Christianity has been misunderstood by its adherents from the early church to the present day. Its divine founder, Jesus Christ, never advocated war or violence. Although He instructed His followers to become missionaries, He certainly never advocated forced conversion. Nor did His disciples.
Mixing religion and politics is usually what causes the violence.
Although I do not know Islam as I do Christianity, I think it is probably the same. Some people distorting a message of peace for political aims.
Jack (Bergen County , NJ USA)
Well written and spot on until your assumption about Islam. It is not the same. Unfortunately.
cedricj (New Mexico)
Where does war come from in those who don't accept the premise that god wrote either the Koran or Bible? Surely the "me first" dualism that views the world in terms of "them-us" is just as powerful a source of hostility and hatred towards the "other".
MJR (Stony Brook, NY)
The author ignores cultural and social factors that masquerade as religion inspired violence, which could account for differences in violence levels related to Christianity and Islam. First religious differences are often used as a cover for violence perpetrated for material motives - resources and territory. Second, dominant factions in society - particularly the dominant male ethnic group will often use violent religious purification as a way to enforce cultural and economic dominance - keeping women and other groups under their control. Finally many nations with large Christian populations have managed to take full advantage of the modern industrial revolutions and evolved modern social structures, whereas most nations with majority Islamic populations have yet to fully realize the economic benefits along with the many societal changes that accompany modernity - especially emancipation of women. Rather than Christian v Muslim, modern v medieval societies would be more relevant.
David Taylor (norcal)
I think of this issue in a slightly different way. It's worshipful behavior that can lead to unspeakable horrors. Worship of different gods, or even men like Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. While some of these men might have been atheists, it was the worshipful behavior of their followers that gave them the power.

Beware, be very very aware, of any type of worship. Even worship of what we consider to be reason. Self-checking and self-criticism are always required.
Mor (California)
This is an excellent article that finally addresses the complexities of Islam and Christianity without the platitudes of "God is love " on the one hand, and "are religions are stupid" on the other. Theology matters. It is not an accident that contemporary Islam, especially in its Wahhabi form, gives rise to so much violence. Nor is it an accident that Christianity only became more tolerant after being subjected to the withering critique by the Enlightenment and developing theologies that weakened the idea of divine revelation. Until Islam develops its own Enlightenment (not Reformation, as often suggested; in fact, Wahhabism may be seen as an equivalent of Calvinism), violence will be endemic in Islam. The West should encourage free thinkers, artists and scientists in the Muslim world; this would be a more effective tool for combatting terrorism than surveillance.
Beetle (Tennessee)
If certainty in beliefs is the failing then it is not limited to those with religious beliefs. It is easy to cast stones at religion. Where are the philosophies of human creation that are responsible for millions dead in the 20th century? Millions starved and more murdered to implement the utopian view of socialism in Russia, Ukraine, China, Tibet, and Cambodia? Theses are the deeds of the anti-theists. Were they any less dangerous?
Joe (Texas)
Just because non-religious movements have resulted in mass murder does not take religion off the hook. If religion is just as bad as non-religion - what is it worth?
Adele (Toronto)
No one is saying badness exclusively comes from religion. The article is merely pointing out the path from religious belief to violence in the name of god. Saying "what about..." is not actually refuting the writer's argument, it's merely trying to change the conversation because criticism of religion makes you uncomfortable.
Decatur (Winnipeg)
Extremist Christians refuse to bake cakes for gays.

Extremist Muslims gun down dozens of gays at a nightclub.

There is hardly a day that goes by where we don't hear about some sadistic mass murder carried out specifically in the name of Islam. Conversely, it's only once in a blue moon that you hear about violence being carried out in the name of Christianity (such as the targeting of abortion clinics/doctors). It's true there are Christian terror groups in existence (like the Lord's Resistance Army), but they are confined to small sections of certain countries. There is no global effort by Christian "terrorists" to create a Christian caliphate by any means necessary. There is so much focus on ISIS these days, but there are literally hundreds of other Islamist/jihadist groups, on almost every continent on the planet, that are just as dangerous and have the same ultimate end goal.

There is violence in the holy texts of Islam and Christianity, but the reason there is no comparison between the violence carried out in the name of the two religions is because of the most important figure in each ideology.

Jesus, who Christians try to emulate, did nothing but preach peace and tolerance.

Mohammad, who Muslims try to emulate, carried out numerous acts of mass murder, beheadings, ethnic cleansing, etc.

Outside of technology, the sad reality is there is nothing the likes of ISIS is doing today that Mohammad and his early companions did not also carry out.
Kathleen O'Neill (New York, NY)
Not accurate. Christianity has a long history of violence against those who would not accept its tenets. Paul was the Christian Mohammad. More importantly, knowing history does not condemn us to repeat it. We can make different choices. Why do we choose mayhem? This needs to be answered.
MdGuy (Maryland)
The conversos and moriscos of Spain would beg to differ.

I suppose the kindly citizens of Philadelphia, MS, who murdered civil rights workers were devout Christians, yes?

You know, the place where Ronald Reagan and Turmp, Jr. made it a point to visit to give speeches.
Rick (San Francisco)
Was Paul the Christian Mohammed? Did Paul lead any armies? Did Paul organize a campaign against the Jews of any town in which he proselytized, or conduct a mass slaughter of the male survivors and the sale of women and children into slavery? Maybe, but I haven't heard about it.
Steve Ruis (Chicago, IL)
How can trying to live in a fantasy world not connect to reality not lead to violence?
Justaperson (NYC)
When a guy goes to prison and receives Christ, he strives to live a peaceful, positive life. When a guy goes to prison and becomes a Muslim, he learns jihad. Truth, Christianity was spread throughout the Old World through largely peaceful means. Islam was spread through the sword. Did Christians fight to preserve their faith? Sure. Unfortunately, we invaded Iraq, but at no time has the imposition of Christianity been on the American or European agenda.
Brian Pottorff (New Mexico)
Guess you never heard of the Crusades or the suppression of earlier religions in Europe.
bobbyb (buffalo ny)
tell that to the native Americans, and to Africans who were brought here as slaves...... their religious beliefs were not respected,and violence was certainly done to them.
Singapore11 (Singapore)
Practically every religion claims some words from God Himself. Also, every religion tends to become more ritualistic with time.vso, reformers come from time to time to tell us about the common sense envisioned in the original form and which got muddled up with time. Gautum Buddha was the first reformer for Hinduism, some 2500 years back. Christianity went through its own reformation about 500 years back. Somehow this reformation has not happened in Islam yet.
ivehadit (massachusetts)
Many traditional societies will need some time to catch up with the pace of the modern world. Ignorance, a lack of education, a colonial legacy and poverty are pervasive in many societies. There is change in the air, like Muslims attending Catholic mass in France for example, and economies improve and ordinary people find they have a stake in the natural order.

On the other hand, the West seeks to bin all its intolerances or aggressions under a secular banner. But is it not the same human impulse - to harm the outsider, to belittle or cast aside those that are different, whether it's Abu Ghraib, the "Turkey Shoot" of Iraqi soldiers fleeing Kuwait, the "shock and awe" of the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq and the vast majorities that supported that adventure when it was going well, the tolerance of violence in surrogates that do our dirty work, the advocacy of torture, it goes on and on. So lets allow some introspection as well.
Ramesh Rao (USA)
Prof. Gutting writes: "At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence." Sorry, it is not just at "certain points" that Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of others but always. Let me, as a Hindu, point out how my Hindu belief -- "There is one God, but there are many paths leading to God" -- is at complete odds with Christianity and Islam (or for that matter any of the other prophetic religions which make monopolistic claims to God), because the fundamental logic of monopolistic and supremacist claims is that there is no other but them/theirs. There can be no reconciliation therefore between real pluralist belief systems and monopolistic religions, and the only logical recourse for these monopolistic faiths is therefore to beat others to death or to convert them. Prof. Gutting comes late to this position, but at least it is good to know that the New York Times allows some watered down version of these dangerous/deadly faith systems that have wreaked havoc across the world. That the majority of the followers of these supremacist religions claim to be peaceful, liberal or ethical is nothing but the assertion of a brute majority that has no grounding in logic or reality. It is time that Muslims are rescued from Islam and Christians from Christianity so that we human beings can together live in a less fractious world.
Koyote (The Great Plains)
No offense to the author, Mr. Gutting, but this sort of thoughtful essay is beside the point. Once we start behaving like rational beings, and bring the same sort of critical thinking to religion that we bring to, say, the choice of a new flat screen TV, we'll all stop believing in this claptrap. Then the world will be a much safer place.
Justice Holmes (Charleston)
When men claim to speak for God, humans and God lose!
Catherine (New Jersey)
Religion is a convenient scapegoat, but the murderer who took the life of a priest last month in France has more in common with the murderer who took lives last summer in a church in Charleston, South Carolina and the murderer who gunned down students 30 years ago today in Austin, Texas than he does with the average Muslim. The religion of the individual wielding the weapon is as relevant as his hair color. It tells us nothing about why he did what he did and how we could hope to stop the next one.
If we blame religion as the source of the scourge, we must carve out some other excuse for gang violence, partner violence, war crimes, abuses of police power and school shootings. But they, too, share a common thread with nearly all violence. It is not religion, but testosterone.
Combine testosterone and the male aggression that it fuels with access to weapons and either some alcohol to lower inhibitions or a touch of mental illness and the inevitable outcome is destruction.
C. V. Danes (New York)
The only way in which we can get close to the truth is through science. Religion may provide a moral structure to reconciling those truths, but make no mistake: There is nothing spooky about the universe. There is only what we empirically know, what we still don't know, and how we utilize the former to enlighten us on the latter.
Sequel (Boston)
Gutting's perspective continues to give Religion a privileged position in the world of ideas, which thus allows him to conclude that Islam is suffering from a surfeit of bad ideas, which can allegedly be relieved by Religion's becoming more evolved ... like, say Christianity or Judaism.

I disagree. Religion itself is the problem. It is incompatible with democracy, which requires an egalitarian set of laws applicable equally to all.

Disavow theocracy, which continues to rear its ugly head in all religions and all societies, and the problem goes away. No democracy can ever give any privileged status to its preferred religion, thus separation of church and state is a universal moral imperative.
Edward Allen (Spokane Valley, WA)
The unreasonableness of a belief, the sheer improbability, the lack of any evidence, the counter explanations of science and observation, none of that seems persuasive to the religious person. The reality of loss, pain, and evil often only strengthen their faith. What can explain the tenacity these ideas have on the mind? I think it is the idea of heaven. The death of a loved one is far easier to accept if you believe it is not permanent. In the end, my atheism is offensive because it threatens the fantastic delusions that seem to make death and loss bearable. My declaration that death is final changes our life expectancy from infinite to finite, and that is terrifying.
Al Rodbell (Californai)
Of course we all should know this, but don't fully understand how the concept of "separation of church and state" is in play in this election. One of Trump's personal promises is to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which while never even voted on by the Senate in 1954, is the central bulwark against a Christian theocracy in this country.

It is described in this essay:

http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/7/17/1549065/-The-Johnson-Amendment...

AlRodbell.com
Larry Brothers (Sammamish, WA)
Believing in ridiculous myths and fairy tales apparently leads to violence.
blockhead (Madison, WI)
Ideologies encourage tribalism, and tribalism often leads to violence.
Religions are a subset of ideologies, and a particularly virulent form since they often claim absolute "truth" and "good."
ST (New Haven, CT)
The fundamental current issue of "violence" is not "religion" as such (as witness the atheist turns to murderous violence of the USSR and Nazi Germany in recent times, and the pacifism of various devout sects worldwide), nor "Islam" as such, but the overt claim of particular sects of any organized religion to involuntary forced universality, not as eschatology, but as current reality. Catholicism, for one example, (there are others) once made that combined claim and advanced it by force, which claim was suppressed by political and military counter-force, as well as, secondarily, by argument.

"Islam," currently through a significant number of its preachers, now as in the past, continues to make that claim, a claim unfortunately accompanied by popular passive toleration of substantial extreme sectarian views, supplemented, in an active minority, by lethal force, force supplied both through religious law and by organized or stimulated violence.

As any claims of involuntary "religious" universality are not ever tenable or acceptable in a free society, they must be rejected by continued direct argument and neither deferred to nor tolerated. All forms of force must be appropriately repelled, as necessary, to the point where they cannot be applied or revived.

Arthur Taub MD PhD
Chevy (Holyoke, MA)
"Don’t people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should?"

As they SHOULD? How about not worshipping at all? Why do parents poison the minds of their children with such blatant nonsense? I understand the Bible or Koran as literature, but when I shared the stories of Greek mythology with my son, it was to reveal the deeper truths of humanity. We never pretended they were real.

Religion of any stripe is another set of mythology. Organized religion imposes a layer of social control and, if necessary, encourages violence, with the goal of having everyone believe in its own one narrow way. It is inevitable that there will be winners and losers.

Right conduct is to bow to no man and no god. The only solution is not to play the game. The only violence that is ever justified is to immediately and defensively protect the life and individual freedom of yourself and others.

Chevy
South Hadley, MA
SR (NY)
I do feel a little sad at reading some of the comments which still seem to interpret this excellent article in terms of "my religion and your religion". The fundamental thesis here is simple - if you claim your guy "got it" from the "big guy" and it "applies to the whole world" then that very foundation of your religion will inevitably breed intolerance. On top of it, if the "big guy" does not explicitly rule out violence then violence and death will be one the ways (and when it suits it the only way) your tradition will seek compliance of others. Islam has an additional burden of tradition - that in the lifetime of its founder it also established a state primarily through violence ! If it has taken so many centuries for Christian societies to shed their many ways of thinking of a "Holy Roman Empire" then imagine how much harder it'll be for Islam to shed its "Caliphate" when its own founder founded the Caliphate also (unlike Christianity which had to go to bed with Rome to beget the 'Holy Roman Empire').
Ann Batiza (Milwaukee, WI)
IMHO criticism of revealed religion is often muted, even at the NY Times. Perhaps it is time to point out when leaders who demand rigorous factual analysis as the premise for decision making are willing to suspend that epistemology in favor of conflicting religious teachings.
Jack Belicic (Santa Mira)
The history of religion is mass murder of The Other; those in the thrall of a mythology-based belief system ought to be shunned in the modern world and yet are instead given tax subsidies and are coddled by politicians. The blah blah about sacred texts is a joke; these are ancient comic books about flying horses, brutality and supernatural creatures and superheroes. If religion is so powerful, let it pay for itself in modern society. Secular society needs to stand up and decry the bloodthirsty and anti-women/gay/Other texts and actions of those who worship fill in the blank). Worship Aquaman on your own dime and in your won house; if you wish to be covered in fish scales and burn sea urchins in brass pots, do so away from those who have risen above ignorance. News flash: 100% of the ethics found in some religions is fully duplicated and in practice without the need for venerating comic book characters.
smcmillan (Louisville, CO)
If we look only at the US, the only way that we can really mesh the secular with the religious is the firm statement that religion is a personal choice. If someone chooses to accept a religious concept or way as a guide to his/her life, good for them as long as they understand that that choice does not apply to anyone else. If they want to spread the word, fine. If they want to vote a particular way, fine. If they want to create laws to enshrine their particular morality, not so fine. Professor Cutting is over stating the tolerance that exists here. The catholic church seems to want to extend its views on contraception to everyone else. The concept that abortion is a personal decision is contrary to the actions of that church. This has caused some people to espouse violent actions. I agree that Islam has a way to go to really embrace the modern world but Christianity has a way to go as well. It would be a big step if even in the US, all religions would actually accept and preach the concept of religion as a personal choice and the idea of tolerance, but somehow I don't see that happening.
Jean (Saint Paul, MN)
This comment is the best so far. Faith is personal, individual, and for many people, what helps them "make it through the night." Religion is faith weaponized.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
A most interesting article, depicting the religious dogma (not subject to discussion nor revision) that leads to intolerance of 'the other', all in the name of a totally unproven divine revelation, and written eons ago by primitive, ignorant and prejudiced men. What is a miracle to those of us agnostics, is that many still believe in tenets so radical and in the name of a deity, that it requires the suspension of what makes us human, Reason. Further, the torturing and killing of innocent human beings, just because they don't believe the radical fundamentalism preached by jihadism (violent extremist Islam), all in the name of an all-loving God, is an aberration and an injustice for us, imperfect human beings, and the enjoyment of Earth's reality and beauty, the only one we know for sure. Any make-believe system based on violence must be fought against, as is contrary to love itself. The current jihadist actions are crazy even if wholeheartily believed and embraced by these fanatics. Quite frankly, all religions contain the seeds of intolerance, so well demonstrated by the catholic Inquisition and the crusades, burning and torturing so many, all in the name of a loving God. And now, this nightmarish scenario is being repeated by the radical branch of Islam. We will never know for sure if there is a God; but if it where, he/she sure knows how to hide from us, and tolerate injustice and suffering by innocent children, an insult to any deity worth its name.
Pete (CA)
Religion leads to human sacrifice.

Yes, I know, an absurd argument. But honestly, how many of the world’s religions historically allow or require human sacrifice? Too many. Yes, I know, they’re only those “primitive” religions. Not the "people of the book".

Yet every Sunday, Catholics perform a blood ritual commemorating a death. All Christians celebrate a scapegoat. A human sacrifice.

There is something in humans that believes self-cutting makes us cleaner, stronger, better.
We need to evolve.
Bill Scurrah (Tucson)
Religion can lead to violence only in a species already inclined to violence. Long before the rise and spread of Christianity and Islam, people engaged in great violence for all sorts of "reasons". The two greatest wars in history were not fought for religious reasons. The Enlightenment seems not to have had any braking effect on that. The ancient Greeks were not monotheists, but they viewed non-Greeks as uncivilized and suitable only for slavery (the Greeks gave us the word "barbarians").
petey tonei (Massachusetts)
Its all a big (huge) misunderstanding. A benevolent compassionate Almighty will never ask his children to hurt each other, punish us or favor one child from the other. And then we blame the Almighty for not intervening on his behalf in bringing peace, brotherhood among humans.
Perhaps listening to Neal Donald Walsch will help a tiny bit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc_vZJ-UWJU
shorter video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XVRCDYSH_A
"life collectively, are creating me (God) as you go along".
Henry Hughes (Marblemount, Washington)
What is strange beyond understanding is that Gary Gutting can write such a piece as this, with its historical awareness and fine explanation of religions' claims of divine revelation, and yet maintain his belief in his religion. Simply bizarre.

And let's explore the very real possibility that, religions being quite murky and adaptable, Christianity quietly morphed into an ideology that countenances "secularism" as required. The violence of global capitalism is doing the job just fine. Christianity and its violence haven't gone away; it is always waiting to become the state religion--or to remain the de facto one.
Bret Thoman (Loreto, Italy)
I know it’s fashionable to cast Christians as fanatics, but the truth is that true Christianity is never violent. In fact, Christ told Peter to put down his sword when the soldiers came to arrest him (cf. Matt 26:52). To the Roman governor who was about to flog him and order his crucifixion, he said, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over” (cf. John 18:36). Sure, historically some followers of Christianity did engage in armed conflicts (even in the name of Christianity); however, these struggles are almost always sectarian and political in nature and not religious per se (e.g. Northern Ireland).
Regarding Islam, as I am not a follower or expert in it, I cannot offer anything other than a generic observation. That said, wasn’t the founder of Islam indeed personally and directly involved in armed struggle?
On this issue, (and I know he really tries to be diplomatic), when the Pope himself said just last night on the way home from Poland: "I believe that in nearly all religions, there is always a small fundamentalist group," adding: "We [Catholics] have it [too]", I look around and ask myself, where are these fundamentalist Catholics blowing themselves and others up?
Lastly, regardless of any "holy wars" in history, let's not forget that the most savage ones (those of the 20th century) were completely devoid of religion and were fought due to atheistic ideology: communism, fascism, Nazism.
AM (New Hampshire)
A person who believes that there is some supernatural being capable of intervening in (or caring about) human activities is a potentially dangerous person. When you add in things that a "god" allegedly tells people to do, you have a prescription for disaster.
Allen Jones (Toronto, Canada)
The author asks: "Does this mean that Islam is evil?" He then answers it with "No, but it does mean that it has not yet tamed, to the extent that Christianity has, the danger implicit in any religion that claims to be God’s own truth. " Frankly, any revealed religion where a significant number of its adherents would propose Islamic law be imposed on non-believers and who would execute apostates is, by its very essence, "evil".
Frank Joyce (Detroit, MI)
Apologies for the bad form of posting twice on the same topic. But In addition to my previous comment regarding US violence, I would point out that the very birthplace and heartland of "reformed" Christianity committed the holocaust. Is there any Muslim equivalent? No, there isn't.
Beetle (Tennessee)
Look at the quite destruction of Christian and Jewish communities all over the middle east. One after another was bombed, exiled by their loving Islamic brothers. The list is long and bloody.
doggerel (Tacoma, WA)
I'd change the title to "Why Religious Faith Always Leads to Violence." Edward Abbey said it better than I can:

"Fantastic doctrines (like Christianity or Islam or Marxism) require unanimity of belief. One dissenter casts doubt on the creed of millions. Thus the fear and the hate; thus the torture chamber, the iron stake, the gallows, the labor camp, the psychiatric ward."

Until we (humanity) escape from belief in supernatural beings and stop allowing ourselves to be controlled by organized religions and ideologies that demand unquestioning belief, there will always be fanatics who, enabled by "moderates" in their particular faith, engage in violence against those whom they see as unbelievers.
Ian MacFarlane (Philadelphia PA)
Religion, if stripped of the robes it wears, is an invention of men which has always been used in an effort to maintain male power.

This thought is unwelcome by many because their fear of death needs to be assuaged and reason offers little or no solace.

The "sacred" always trumps the profane and actual existence with the limits imposed by nature is that profanity.

Until humanity stops denying death we will always be in conflict.
libdemtex (colorado/texas)
What a better world we would have without religion.
Objective Opinion (NYC)
Excellent article - finally someone who realizes how complex Islam is and how it it's teachings can be interpreted so differently. Living in a 'Western Civilization', it's very difficult to understand the tenets, culture and beliefs of those living in an 'Eastern Civilization'. Only time will heal the religious wounds which seem to have increased significantly in the last decade. The religion of Islam is now a focus of all countries around the world - what will be it's destiny? It will continue to change in both good and bad ways. We must be tolerant as the author states as the violence which seems to emerge from the Islamic religion today is not the true message Allah wanted to convey. One tenet I can assure you will never change - 'Violence begets more violence'. Only through understanding can we ever hope to achieve peace.
Kelvin F. (Pacific Northwest)
I find it curious that Judaism was left out of the list of religions whose belief in divine revelation has inspired intolerance and violence against non-believers. The Tanakh, or "Old Testament", is full of stories of violence and slaughter of others.
As someone raised in a Jewish household in which non-Jews were denounced regularly, I can attest to the religiously-inspired Jewish intolerance of those not of the tribe.
And while it's true that most Jews (and especially liberal American Jews) of today eschew violence, the most sacred religious scriptures of Judaism contains its own history of barbarity against men, women, and children and is still used to justify violence and cruelty against the indigenous people of the area known Palestine or Israel.
Judaism is not uniquely violent or intolerant, but it certainly deserves a place amongst the rogues' gallery of religious intolerance affecting the world today.
Mor (California)
Judaism is not a universal or proselytizing religion, as opposed to Islam or Christianity. In fact, traditional Judiasm is very hostile to converts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one, and has precious little to do with religion. As to who "the indigenous people" of this area are, both Jews and Arabs lay claim to this title and Jews may have a better historical proof on their side. Not that it matters, since there are two peoples in Palestine living side by side now and both will have to find a way to coexist.
Kelvin F. (Pacific Northwest)
@Mor, you're being a bit disingenuous. Whether or not Judaism proselytizes is beside the point. It is an intolerant faith based on a revealed text, just as are Christianity and Islam. (And, in the past, Judaism proselytized quite freely - that's why Christians had to make laws against Christians converting to Judaism.) Although you say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has "precious little to do with religion," said conflict would not exist without the Jewish scriptures. Nor would the occupation of Palestinian land or the illegal settlements thereon.
Rage Baby (NYC)
"We may find it hard to believe that religious beliefs could motivate murders..."

Not at all. In fact I'm surprised that it doesn't happen a lot more often.
sr (Ct)
Interesting article that has nothing to do with killings by Muslims in western countries. If you are trying to find these potential killers you won't find them in the mosques. They are almost always drinkers , pot smokers, petty criminals and/or domestic abusers who have latched onto Islamic radicalism as a way of inflating their own egos and find fulfillment of their egotistic mission in these murders. The political ferment in the Middle East combined with western intervention has contributed as well

The attitudes the article describes in most Muslim countries have probably existed for at least 100 years. Why didn't we see these acts of terrorism 50 years ago. There is no question that countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia , etc. are Intolerant and backward. Most westerners wouldn't want to live there but that is not the reason for the acts of terrorism in the west
gemli (Boston)
Blowing oneself up in a crowded marketplace is one form of violence. Telling Catholic children that their non-Catholic friends will burn eternally in hell is another. The Islamic tendency to stone homosexuals is violent in the extreme, but so was the Catholic Church when it preached against condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa. Regardless of faith, these kinds of violence arise from credulous belief in revelations. The true target of the violence is our deepest integrity as rational, thinking human beings.

The Koran, like the Christian Bible, contradicts itself on every page. Any believer can find passages in both that justify peace, murder, love, cruelty, kindness and brutality. Every one of us must bring our morals to our holy books in order to cherry-pick the palatable parts, and to know which of the gruesome, bizarre and disgusting parts to ignore.

The true revelation is that these books are confused chronicles that reflect our own misgivings and ambivalent feelings toward others. We love our neighbors, but not those who are far away and who have different customs. At the very least we should be suspicious of inviolable religious beliefs that often vary by zip code, much less by the continent of our birth.

The cure for religiously motivated violence is to recognize that all religions are human constructs that were created in our intellectual infancy. There is no revelation needed to explain something that is so patently obvious.
Dr. T (United States)
From a far away perspective, one can sometimes see something that those who are immersed in something cannot. Perhaps this article sheds some light on Islam. Christianity as it is being practiced in the United States may not be such a tolerant religion as it seems to those of us who live here. Yes, there are anti-abortion and anti-gay sentiments, and these bespeak intolerance. What is less visible to the U.S. public is the U.S. foreign policy of world domination that has been unfolding over the last decades. Some would say the endless wars are the result of political or economic ideology. The notion of some sort of superiority bestowed by Christian religious authority may also be a factor. Why is the so-called religious right in this country so quick to be supportive of war, in contradiction to some of the principles of Christianity?
W (NYC)
There are no gods. There never have been any gods and there never ever will be any gods. There is not a single shred of evidence for any god posited in the history of gods being posited.

The easy solution is to abandon the notion of gods. We are pack animals and morality is hardwired into us. We do not need the threat of eternal torture to behave morally. We are moral by design (of evolution). Behaving a certain way to avoid your god torturing you for all of eternity is not acting morally. It is CYA.
Tom (San Jose)
"We are pack animals and morality is hardwired into us."

I'm a committed atheist, to be clear. But that statement is just plain wrong. Morality changes, which is not exactly what one thinks of when "hardwired" is discussed. One example of the changing-ness of morality is slavery. Today we think of it as barbaric, but it was once an intricate part of the social fabric of most (all?) civilizations. And those civilizations developed their gods and religions with some fairly strict moral codes that encompassed slavery. The full tenth commandment, for example, admonishes against coveting one's neighbors' slaves. This implies one's neighbors should not covet YOUR slaves. And as a bible-banging soap-box preacher made clear to me recently when I challenged him on this, the punishment for breaking ANY of the ten commandments is death (or it was the prescribed punishment at the time these texts were written, although I'm fairly certain this specific self-ordained preacher wished he could have killed me on the spot).
Mor (California)
I am an atheist but I have little tolerance for this kind of mindless dismissal of faith. Sure, religion is a human construct. So are political parties, art museums and indoor plumbing. Whatever people believe in is real for them, and combatting this belief requires understanding it. Are you going to parachute into Syria and preach evolutionary psychology to Daesh? Good luck!
Tom (San Jose)
"Whatever people believe in is real for them." I agree with much of what you're saying, but that sentence is just wrong. Reality exists, whether or not one believes it. It's not a matter of "choice," and that gets to my disagreement with W's post. People's beliefs are conditioned by the world we (they) live in. That in no way means that people's belief in a non-existent being is "real" whether it's for them or for someone else. I'm not arguing semantics with you.

We as a species will never overcome the problems we're confronting if we don't deal with the reality of them. They are complex, multi-faceted, and nuanced. But they exist - the problems don't depend on whether or not someone believes they're problems.
Dobby's sock (US)
Wow.
Sure, ok. The subordinated value of Christianity in the US. Where we still have Political party's using a candidates religion, or lack there of, as a cudgel to beat him and his followers with. That would be you DNC. Not that the Republicans didn't do it also with the newly formed "Baby Christian" Trump.
Mr. Gutting seems to also be dismissing the whole Roe v Wade shenanigans going on much less the War on X-Mas and gay issues.
Please!
"Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision...?" WHAT?! I can't drive into the city without seeing some kind of hate message from a local church. My military is rampant with religious fervor. Check out our Air Force. We still are in what is being considered by our previous Pres. a "Holy crusade!" Quit pointing fingers, when are still being inflicted upon by these bronze age ignorants here in America. Yes, Muslims seem to have an issue with fundamentalists. Just as we do with our own.
SAK (New Jersey)
Islamic scholars have made big mistake by not clarifying
the context of certain verses in Quran dealing with
violence. These verses were revealed when Muslims
were a tiny minority and pagans( infidels) in large
majority posed existential threat. It was enjoined for
muslims to fight and kill these infidels. Apostasy was
also made punishable by death for the same reason.
As muslims became numerous and now number 1.7B
these verses are irrelevant and should be ignored.
It is a stretch of imagination to brand these terrorists
as islamists. The killer in Orlando, Nice, Brussels were
not observant-doing things prohibited by Islam like drinking alcohol,womanizing, petty crimes- can't be regarded as
religious. They probably were sociopaths, had low
self esteem and discarded by the society. They took
the revenge on society before ending their useless
life. Unfortunately, any killings by a muslim are
branded as religiously inspired while shooting spree
by secular Americans is branded as mental illness.
This is simplistic and somewhat propagandist.
Ben (NYC)
Refreshing to see this admission somewhere in the times, without the false equivalency of "all religions are in principle equally violent."
Aaron Adams (Carrollton Illinois)
The Old Testament, which speaks of much violence, was given to the nation of Israel, not to Christians. When Jesus died on the cross, He put an end to the Old Testament law. Christians are under the law of Christ which is to " love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and mind....and to love your neighbor as yourself" ( Matt:22: 37-39 ). Religious truth, as put forth by Christians, is very important. Whether one accepts it or not could have eternal consequences. But that decision to accept or not should be personal, not forced by a church or a state. That it what Jesus taught.
Ben (NYC)
Jesus put an end to old testament law? You mean all that stuff about homosexuality? And the 10 commandments? That old testament law?

Also the old testament, no matter violent, never involved torture of the dead. We had to wait for gentle Jesus meek and mild to introduce the concept of unending torture in hell.
Kelvin F. (Pacific Northwest)
And yet, the Christian (and canonical) Book of Revelations teaches that when the Prince of Peace returns to earth, there will be horrific bloodshed as his enemies are slain around the world. This would seem to contradict your closing assertions.
Duncan Lennox (Canada)
46% Americans Believe In Creationism According To Latest Gallup Poll http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/americans-believe-in-creationism

Forty six percent Americans believed in creationism, 32 percent believed in theistic evolution and 15 percent believed in evolution without any divine intervention. The data shows that the percent of Americans who believe in creationism has increased slightly by 2 percent over the last 30 years. The percent of Americans who believe in evolution has also increased by 6 percent over the last 30 years while the percent of Americans who believe in theistic evolution has decreased by 6 percent over the same time period.

Most educated people today see the natural world through the lens of science rather than the Bible. That shift in perspective is largely complete outside the UnitedSta
A recent Gallup poll indicated that more than 100 million Americans are not ready to abandon the biblical understanding of the natural world, insisting that the Earth is but a few thousand years old and that humans were created in their present forms.
ALL religions are the creation of man`s imagination. To persecute/kill each other for fairy tales is something that in the future will be as strange as the Salem witch trials/hangings.
Peg (Washington, DC)
The divine revelation of Christianity is that God is love. It owes this to the Jewish biblical tradition from which it descends. Its only "logic" is of non-violence-- the total refusal to participate in systems of scapegoating with their insatiable appetite for victims. Any attempt to turn this revelation in the direction of violence abominates the message of the Gospels. This too must be forgiven, especially among those who know not what they do.
Nuschler (anywhere near a marina)
As an atheist I find discussion of religion--a group’s view of magical beings to be so out of touch with the 21st century.

We cavalierly point to Islam as being so seventh century with its Shariah Law, its violent interpretations but I have seen what Christianity has done to the USA with its bizarre attacks of homosexuality and how am I am perceived as “perverted” for NOT believing in these “mysteries.” There is no mystery...gods don’t exist.

As George Carlin said in response to televangelists:

“Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!”

So Reverend Creflo Dollar will tell his mega congregation in Atlanta, GA that “god” wants him to have a $65 million personal jet so that they too will become wealthy and all I can do is keep trying to keep folks healthy with REAL medical science...and not “praying” for their health.
uofcenglish (wilmette)
George Carlin-- what a genius. What a loss. Go back and see his explanation of the financial crisis and capitalism ala wall street-- true genius.
Mike W. (Brooklyn)
I'm wondering if there is an Islamic version of 'excommunication'. If so, or if there was some other similar action that could be taken by Islamic religious leaders to bar violent extremists from calling themselves Islamic.

This may not be a workable concept for Islam to distance itself further from these people since Islam has no organized central leadership structure.
gary abramson (goshen ny)
The absence of "concessions to secular values" in Islam should be the focus of the immigration debate. Instead, on the left we have wishful thinking and political correctness. And, on the right, there's nativism.

Theocracy is a threat to the liberty we're supposed to value most highly. We should require of would-be citizens that they share our commitment to the separation of church and state and accept the legal equality of women.

The problem with such a test is that it's hypocritical: too many of us who actually are citizens wouldn't pass. If the US itself had truly "secular values", the issue of citizenship standards would not be so problematic.

The fact is all religions are equal in the sense each is faith based and, as such, inherently illogical. The issue is not the religion, if any, to which one adheres. It's whether the adherent accepts the difference between subjectivity (inherently private) and objectivity which governs how individuals of all faiths and irrationalities relate to each other in a free society.
Richard Green (San Francisco)
The "truth" of any revealed religion depends on first accepting the "truth" that there is, of necessity, a God which will reveal (almost always "his") will to unworthy Man. If you refuse to believe this first principle, then religion becomes just another human scheme for power and, more importantly for the control of others.

Those who purport to know what God intends for them and for others betray their own beliefs. Since God as we have created him is, as the philosophers say, "wholly other" then it (can't actually be male or female) cannot be know or understood by the limited mind of any mere human. Understanding God then becomes a matter of "faith." I have to admit, I do not understand faith. I don't denigrate the faith or Faiths of others, but I can't bring myself to indulge in this refutation of personal agency and responsibility. After all, if the world and we are all the "will of God," why do we bother with courts of law?

Don't even get me started on the problem of gratuitous evil!
Catherine Hopwood (Ottawa)
The real problem is religion, of any brand. Most religions are built on false premises and rely on the belief of their followers to spread "the word." Humans have an unceasing capability to believe things that are not true, and to put their faith into these institutions. The driving force is the fear of the unknown - what happens after we die? If humans would accept instead the spiritual premise that we are all connected through our common reliance on the riches and the health of our earth, and would put their faith into nature and saving the planet instead of believing the false constructs of religions, the world would be a better place for all living things.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
The author says "(t)he potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation."

Agreed. But where does that potential for intolerance actually come from? Given that it exists as well in political ideologies, including ones that explicitly reject religion, isn't it more likely that it arises from a human tendency to cling to certainty in areas of life where certainty isn't possible? Why do disagreements over political ideology split families and end friendships, when one would think that the tangible aspects of supposedly positive relationships would override the abstract nature of most political arguments?

Human beings seem addicted to the idea of certainty and in some circumstances from the individual to the mass level, will engage in violence simply to prove that they are right and their adversaries wrong. Seen from that point of view, revealed religions and political ideology have the same roots. Believing otherwise may be both illogical and dangerous because it fools those of us who are not religious into believing we don't have the disease and are (And We Can Prove It!) morally superior to those who are.
The sense of moral superiority whatever its roots, sets the stage for violence.
Did God say it or did Lenin, Mao or some Darwinian eugenicist say it? Does it arise from revealed religion or the religion of "scientific" politics and racism?

If people die what's the difference?
mikecody (Buffalo NY)
A very well organized and credible article, I believe the only flaw is that it does not address the relative age of the two religions. Islam being about 700 years younger than Christianity, a proper comparison would be Islam today and Christianity in the 1300's. On that basis, we find a similar maturity level between the two of them.

Just as people mature as they grow, so do religions. Islam is in a similar stage of its maturity as Christianity was in the time of the Crusades, and will eventually grow out of it to a stage where tolerance is more widespread.
Policarpa Salavarrieta (Bogotá, Colombia)
This is a provocative, but ultimately disturbing article. I fear that it plays into all the intolerant positions that are sweeping across North America and Europe. One can imagine Donald Trump, if he were indeed so literate as to read The Stone, citing this essay as validating his denunciation of contemporary Islam and as supporting all the odious policies that stem from there including a ban on Muslim immigration.

One should proceed with extreme caution. Even Muslim scholars who call for a Protestant-style reformation would be reluctant to accept the article's fundamental premise: religion based on received divine wisdom carries within it the seeds of intolerance and violence. This may be a step too large to take.

There is an extensive literature in the social sciences on violence. Here in Colombia, where we have coexisted with ceaseless armed conflict for over 70 years, we have a field of study called "violentology." For the Colombian "violentologists," there is somewhat of a consensus that ideology and religion alone are generally not enough to sustain protracted violence. Other factors, such as political exclusion, oppression, and extreme economic and social inequality are more closely correlated with armed rebellion, in Colombia and across the globe.

Islam would likely benefit from a modern-day reformation. But Islam, or any religion that claims to be divinely inspired -does this not cover all religions? -is not the primary source of modern day terrorism.
Fellow (Florida)
Does Professor Gutting interesting article imply that atheistic societies are somehow tamer than those that expose a religious tenet that does or doe not separate the individual's secular nature from a religious One. Is it not something in the character of our evolutionary nature confronted by population pressures , resource limitations and manipulative hierarchies that provokes unacceptable and self-serving fight or flight behavior whose rationalizations are both religious or secular .
David Older (Norwich NY)
Islam is about 600 years younger than Christianity - as time goes on they will mellow and become less focused on the "rightness" of their religion; eventually all religions will evolve to atheism and the world will be a better place.
Bruce Higgins (San Diego)
While religions claim to be about goodness and bringing people closer to god, their actual effect on human history has been rather more ugly. Virtually all major religions has a history of pogroms. To say that christian religions have moderated themselves is particularly disingenuous, witness the slaughter in Northern Ireland and the on going rape and abuse of children by the Catholic Church.

Belief in a higher power, a God or Gods, seem to be wired into humans and since we are social animals it should be no surprise that we organize ourselves into groups, calling them religions. Unfortunately we are still a primitive people who insist that whatever we are involved in is the best; best family, town, sports team, religion, whatever. We take a dim view of 'others' and are willing to kill if provoked. Until we recognize that there is not just one path, but many paths; until the power of love over comes the love of power, I'm afraid nothing will change.
Eugene Patrick Devany (Massapequa Park, NY)
Those who think God wanted one person to kill another at any time for any reason fail to accept, “Thou shall not kill” – a commandment around long before Jesus. Most of us have been deceived by religious, legal and political leaders that have invented exceptions to what most religions know God’s law to be. Too many have given up on the design of political systems and non-lethal controls that can restrain and discipline without killing.

The sacred prohibition against killing is followed by “Thou shall not steal.” For decades our tax system has adjusted the tax bases to help the rich get richer (10% have 75% of the wealth) while the middle class decline and the poorer half of the population now share just 1% of family wealth. This is stealing by the government to the point where poverty leads to abortion of tens of millions. Sex is encouraged by free birth control and a stable marriage is out of the question for those with debt and without stable work. It is also easy to covet the lifestyles of the Trumps and Clintons. All of the above suggests that it is not religion that leads to violence but rather post-religious artificial intelligence – a/k/a pride. The Ten Commandments are as important today as they were 3,000 years ago and they do not lead to violence.
Joa Marques (Boston)
I think these are extreme personal obsessions provoked on the masses and piggybacked on religion and political organizations (that often benefit greatly from their radical actions).

We have a lot of mentally sick people in the world: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that happens when there is a problem with the way the brain deals with worrying and doubts.

Some people feel afraid that bad things could possibly happen to them, sometimes they feel that something bad could happen to people they love, or sometimes they feel like they have to get things "just right" and have to make sure things stay "just right" - some take extreme measures against others to make things "just right" to better manage and control their environment. We call these people "extremists", “puritanical” or “fundamentalist”.

Children educated by people that have OCD can’t distinguish the different and react as if OCD is a true cultural education and will use it and defend it as they grow up.

Get these very mentally sick people into groups that interact and reassure their fears and you have a major mental decease with the power of transmission.

(yes, I have over-simplified for effect).
ted (portland)
Funny, no mention of Judaism, you don't think there might be a tad bit of ill will between Muslims and Jews or have the wars we've been fighting, the nations we've over run, the refugee crisis we've created in Europe, the Middle Eastern leaders we've deposed or assassinated in the Middle East in the last sixty years been all about land and oil? What say you Mr. Guttag, why the obvious omission?
goerl (Martinsburg, WV)
Think about all the non-violent religious violence which has dominated our American culture for so long. People have been arrested and gone to jail for blasphemy, serving alcohol, loving the wrong person, playing the wrong music or movie, not wearing enough clothing, wearing the wrong clothing, saying the wrong words, working on Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) and violating countless other laws enacted at the insistence that a god said it must be so. All gods are demanding and jealous gods. So much of our supposedly secular culture is rooted in belief in a god or sky fairy, much more similar than dissimilar to Allah/Jaweh.

If you truly believe an omnipotent being issued commandments, or just mentioned a subject in passing and that "sinners" must be punished then violence is instantly justified.
Ian MacFarlane (Philadelphia PA)
To which I can only offer a 'blasphemous' amen.
Justice Holmes (Charleston)
Whenever I read this kind of article that attempts to say all things are equal, I want to scream no actually they are not! Look at the realities and then the Crusades always come up! The Crusades at least the ones in the Middle East weren't about a bunch of Christisns attacking a pacifist group of Muslims quietly practicing their religion. No, they were a reaction to Muslims ranging across the Middle East taking over Christian cities and towns and killing the Christians or enforcing conversion. Were the Christina who carried about the Crusades Christlike? Most assuredly not but the Muslims were a well trained brutusl fighting force fighting to set a theocratic Empire in the Middle East and beyond and doing a good job of eradicating the Christians and Jews who got in the way. At one point they made it to the walls of Vienna!

This is offered simply to clear up the claim that Muslims have always been and still are victims. It is not offered to excuse atrocities against Muslims
DaveG (Manhattan)
Ideologically tainting Christianity from its start is the central, violent act in which its deity is murdered, an act required in order for the religion to make any sense.

The 30 Years War mentioned here, fought by Protestants and Catholics, wiped out 2/3 of the population of central Europe. It was seminal in “taming” Christianity because of the devastation it caused. Islam is younger than Christianity; maybe it needs wrenching experiences like the 30-Years War to tame it.

However, one element common to both religions at one time was the taboo against charging interest for lending money. Western Civilization was only able to enter an economic take-off period after a number of conditions were met, one of them being the lifting of this taboo by Christianity. (It also needed to ignore Biblical passages like Matthew 19:24: “…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.)

Islamic Civilization has never lifted the interest taboo. For a number of additional reasons, it has also never been able to lift the low living standards of its people.

This economic failure of Islamic Civilization, one reason resulting from religion, is central to the violence it experiences and propagates today. On the other hand, no civilization has been more violent on a global scale than that of Western Christian Civilization, with its religion of “turning the other cheek” also having invented the atomic bomb.
David (Maine)
Serious thoughts, but even "revealed" religions exist in a matrix of culture, politics, economics and even climate. The religious toleration evolved in the US owes much to persecution and coercion in Europe in the 1600s, the need for political coalitions to establish the Republic, and several hundred years of an economy short of labor. All of us are struggling with the many consequences of the last century of the West's projection of the power into Muslim homelands.
JimB (Richmond Va)
God allowed man to make a choice so that he could know good and evil. It is only in knowing good and evil that you can begin to learn to love. So we love God above all else and we love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a universal message from God. However man got in the way and decided to structure religion and to use religion to manipulate behavior by promising an afterlife to ease man's greatest fear, death. With institutional religion came rules that said my God is better than your God and what has been revealed to me is better than what has been revealed to you. This further institutionalized the tribalism that came when man stopped being a lone wanderer. Now ever though you say Christianity is tolerant it still fuels distrust in the Tower of Babel that Christianity has become. This group does this and that group does that but do they equally treat the same people or each other the same way?
Religion should be only for good but in reality despite it does to try to ease it's collective conscience it fuels hate with its inclusive rules that define exclusion. The sins of the past need to be cast aside. We are one world one people and we need to live and work together to confront the challenges of life both in our shared identities and our diversity identities.
Felix (Boca Raton, FL)
Non-religious beliefs can also motivate violence. Take, for example, secular totalitarian ideologies like Communism and Nazism. Either of them have resulted in significantly more murders than either Christianity or Islam ever have.

Therefore, demanding that religious beliefs be subordinated to non-religious beliefs will not prevent violence motivated by the desire to suppress dangerous dissent.

One might argue that religious beliefs are more likely to result in violence than secular beliefs because religion deals with an infallible God and the possibility of eternal reward or punishment in the afterlife. However, proponents of secular ideologies can be just as certain of the infallibility of Marx, Lenin, Mao, or Hitler. And even if their goals are only concerned with this world, they can be just as willing as a religious fanatic to kill. People who don't believe in an afterlife can even value this life and the things that happen during it more than people who believe in an afterlife. Therefore, they could be at least as willing to kill others to bring about what they believe is a just society.

The view that people with different views should be tolerated is one that can be supported either by religious beliefs (e.g., "Love they neighbor") or secular beliefs (e.g., J. S. Mill's harm principle). The authors of this editorial do not give us a reason to prefer one over the other.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Nazism began with, and was supported by, the Catholic Church, in which Adolph Hitler was raised. I'll be relieved when the Church admits its collaboration in the annihilation of millions of Jews and others, by not lifting a hand.
Rage Baby (NYC)
"Take, for example, secular totalitarian ideologies like Communism and Nazism. Either of them have resulted in significantly more murders than either Christianity or Islam ever have. "

It's very difficult to believe this assertion that you've pulled out of thin air, for the simple reason that Communism and Nazism aren't nearly as old as Christianity or Islam.
Cliff (Charlottesville, VA)
Of course, many different kinds of belief motivate many different kinds of action. Not all motivations are religious. However, there is a logical pathway from many religions to violence, and no such pathway exists for atheism. Hitler and Stalin took advantage of engrained religious infrastructure to create state religions.
Jason Vanrell (NY, NY)
Currently, Islam has the farthest to go in terms of social development, and perhaps this is fair given it is about 700 years newer than Christianity, and contains texts that read as violent as other Abrahamic religions, such as what can be found in the Old Testament, without the benefit of that additional time to socially evolve. It should surprise no one that a strict interpretation of these texts will incite believers to commit horrible violent atrocities.

Christianity may be less violent than many factions of Islam today, even by a significant margin. However to imply that Christianity is somehow beyond any ability to be interpreted in a manner inconsistent with normal human morality is patently false. Many "Christian" religions use the same absolutism to promote such immoral and hurtful acts as shunning former believers, (particularly "cults" like Jehovah's Witnesses), which has lead to alienation from families, suicides, etc. This is nothing more than "soft" violence, and is tolerated, even protected under our First Amendment rights, right here in the USA, with little recourse to prevent it.

It is time all willful ignorance be put out to pasture. Strict adherence to religion = willful ignorance.
Martin (Brinklow, MD)
As the perennial pessimist I can only envision a coming global war against Islam. Our societies cannot function in the mental straight jacket of Islam. Even Islamic societies don't function well as is documented in the anemic economic output of all Islamic countries. Couple that with with a willingness to kill and conquer by a considerable section of Islamic society and a deadly conflict is staged.
We see it already happening in Europe where enlightenment and secularity is clashing with a manipulative religion that traps its people. The people of Europe have to fight to keep the blessings of open minds.
Youmustbekidding (Palmsprings)
Salient article!

The monotheistic religions are historically responsible for more human misery and carnage than any other multi god religion and mythological ideology, combined.

Of the one-god religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) Christianity is author to more atrocities than Judaism and Islam combined.

Islam, the youngest of the one-god religions suffers from effects of a cultural stasis, having been awakened by the world with technology and oil. This religion has not had the time to evolve with the rest of the world.

How does the world deal with this enfant terrible? How do we survive this religion's "terrible twos"?

Perhaps the history of Christianity and Judaism have some clues. Perhaps we should also look in the mirror and take note of the obvious and the clandestine in ourselves (especially given the current storm of promulgating fear, anger, hate and violence).
Tom (San Jose)
Mr. Gutting sets parameters, the short version being: "...They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards..." and then conducts the discussion within those.

The idea that none of this is divine, supernatural, or whatever one wishes to call it (or believe to be the case) is beyond the scope of the discussion. The fact is that all religious beliefs have been undermined by reality and humanity's ever-deepening understanding of reality. What religion does, and has done historically, is provide a cohering ideology and morality for a given society.

As for the modern confrontation between the West (more accurately, the former colonial powers and current neo-colonial powers) and Islam, this has its religious element, and it's a powerful one, but that confrontation was not caused by religion. Islam is the tent under which opposition to foreign domination, pillage and plunder has cohered. There is not a "good side" in this. Trying to cast the issue as one of Islam's need "grow up" (we've heard this for some time now) doesn't develop anything new, and at best it's another paternal attempt to reconcile an intense confrontation to the benefit of the status quo, with the minimum amount of disruption.
Colenso (Cairns)
Religion per se rarely leads to violence or intolerance. Rather, the organised religions lead to organised violence and to organised intolerance.

We who are freethinkers celebrate religions but condemn the straitjackets of the organised religions. Being a theist or a deist is completely different in the mental approach required to being a Roman Catholic, a High Church of Low Church Anglican, a Calvinist, a Southern Baptist, a Sunni or Shiite Muslim.

If one believes in one or more gods but disavows the organised religions, then one has to ponder endlessly about what is virtuous and what is not. One has to pray. One has to reflect. One has to think.
Squidge Bailey (Brooklyn, NY)
It seems to me that there is a contradiction in this argument, which, if I understand what Prof. Gutting is saying, is that the European Enlightenment and the ensuing sociopolitical changes the Enlightenment engendered sublimated the intolerance inherent in Christianity as a “revealed” religion. Islam, while also a “revealed” religion, never underwent this process, and therefore is a more intolerant religion, at least relative to Christianity.

But, at the same time, Prof. Gutting acknowledges that Islam has undergone periods of religious tolerance. This is true, and appears to contradict the thrust of his argument about the roots of the relative tolerance and intolerance of the two religions. If not an “Islamic Enlightenment,” then what?

I don’t pretend to be qualified to answer that question. But I will point out that the economic relationship between East and West, North and South may well have something to do with it. The more I read about and consider the current conflict and problems of terror, the more I am thinking about it in a post-colonial context. This is not to say that colonialism leads to terror in a straight line. But it is to say that the players line up in a colonial manner.
Tom Spector (Oklahoma)
Dear Mr. Gutting,
While I find nothing to disagree with in your essay on the link between violent intolerance and revealed truth, I do believe it misses an important element in the motivation behind the violence: the demand for purification.
The urge for purification takes many forms—“detoxifying” teas, political party purges, and in abstract art “purified” of the figurative, but combined with acceptance of revealed truth, it takes a violent outward turn not only emanating from the Middle East, but also closer to home by Fred Phelps’ church in Topeka, in nooks and crannies of the Morman religion committed to polygamy, and in somewhat milder forms in rivalries amongst different types of Judaism and in calls against gay rights in not a few large evangelical churches.
In all these cases, the urge and the demand to purify the ranks is an important element of the “buy-in.” The presence of the impure in a religious-based society, the thinking goes, is inviting damnation. Therefore, it must be ferreted out and eliminated. This demand justifies the most horrific acts from —from casting one out of one’s family to murder.
As you imply, many varieties of Christianity have largely shorn themselves of the demand for outward-looking, or social, purification while concentrating on the inward. Until such time as this inward turn becomes widely accepted in the Middle East, the urge to purify society in the name of God will continue to place wedges between the Western and Muslim worlds.
Stephen Delas (New York)
Thank you for explaining this issue so clearly and irrefutably. There is a huge chasm between our secular world and cultures where religion plays the central role. When people's deepest inner truths are based on their religious convictions it creates a mindset where both intellectualism and tolerance are pushed aside. We need to be able to acknowledge this even if it is not considered politically correct in some circles.
Beartooth Bronsky (Collingswood, NJ)
Professor Gutting, there is a significant body of Americans who, like many Muslims, believe that the teachings and values of their own "holy" book transcend the teachings and values of our Constitution, civil law, and general secular values. Islamic religiousity is at a peak today in many countries, but Christians, particularly in America, take a similar stance, only substituting the commandments of their Bible for the Shari'ah of the Koran.

They say a theist is one who rejects all religions as superstition and nonsense - except the one they believe in. An atheist is no different except he or she simply does not make that final exception.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all contend that their "holy books" come from an invisible God, or those to whom that God has "spoken," even when that God tells different people different, and contradictory, stories. And that God instructs them all to kill the "others," i.e. anyone who doesn't believe what they believe. Lots of these believers are not familiar with their own "holy books," except for specially selected bits, so they argue that their religions are peaceful and loving, and also the only valid one.
Aurther Phleger (Sparks, NV)
But the "specially selected bits" are what constitute the religion not the bits that are forgotten and never mentioned. I grew up Catholic and went to Sunday school. I can't remember a single word ever that could be construed as promoting violence or even intolerance although I now as an adult have seen the history of intolerance the the divorced and more recently gays. The only things that stuck with me were things like turn the other cheek, do unto others.., the poor are the treasures of my church... and about 10 other similar peace love lines that post Beatles John Lennon might have written had Jesus not beat him to it. Because that's what sticks with me (and my guess most other non practicing catholics of that era) I assert that those phrases and the feelings and guidance they provide are the religion.
Bob Ducker (Illinois)
All religions point with pride to their teachings about moral issues, for the most part justified. The various stories that are told to "sell" those teachings have always involved some individual's personal revelation; Noah, Buddah, Christ, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, L Ron Hubbard, and many, many others.
If we're trying to understand the extreme violence in the Middle East, it would probably be more productive to focus in on the vast unearned oil wealth of "royal" families (and others) who use religion as a political tool to stake their claims.
Joconde (NY)
What of Buddhism and violence in South (East) Asia, a politico-social phenomenon that first appeared in the 20th century?

It's hard to conceive of any religious or moral system that could be more diametrically opposed to violence than Buddhism, whose very tenets and practice are zen, peace, harmony, self-denial even to the point of self-effacement. Yet man has found justification for their evil in it.

It is not theology or the inherent logic of a religion that (necessarily, as Gutting argues) leads to human violence. It is human nature that leads to human violence.

Gutting thinks there has been a decline of violence justified on the grounds of Christianity in recent human history. Has he already forgotten the American invasions (twice) of Iraq which were motivated by the evangelical strain of Bush's Christianity? Indeed, America's Christian-based violence is state-sponsored, backed up by the military and economic might of the United States.

But, as I argued from the beginning, it would be unfair to say that some inherent theological logic of Christianity was the cause of America's violence. We all know the real reason was greed for oil, and Bush's own insecurity and incompetence as a leader. To repeat, human nature causes human violence. Leave religion out of it.
petey tonei (Massachusetts)
Buddhism, as the Buddha taught, champions non violence. Those who follow Buddha's teachings have nothing to do with Buddhism, they make their own choices based on their own interpretations.
Beartooth Bronsky (Collingswood, NJ)
Evangelical religions and their denominations have two characteristics that, unchecked, can lead to brutal violence. The first is the belief that they and only they have a path to absolute revealed truth and that all other faiths, denominations, and even an absence of faith are not only wrong, but dangerous heresies.

The second is the evangelical component of religions like Christianity and Islam, which teach their followers that they have a "God-given" mission to convert others to their faiths.

Before we had the Enlightenment and Renaissance, the Church held absolute sway in Europe and other areas of the world. Wars were a constant. It wasn't until the Church lost total control of societies that the brutal wars began to abate. Islam is not yet 1400 years old and, in many countries, holds the same sort of absolute control. If you look at Christianity when it was 1576 years old, you find:

"I do further promise and declare, that I will, when opportunity presents, make and wage relentless war, secretly or openly, against all heretics, Protestants and Liberals, as I am directed to do and to extirpate and exterminate them from the face of the whole earth, and that I will spare neither sex, age nor condition and that I will hang, waste, boil, flay, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics; rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women and crush their infants' heads against the wall, in order to annihilate forever their execrable race."

--Pope Paul III, 1576
Nightwood (MI)
Wow! Shock! Good grief! I will not waver from my promise to myself to maintain my pagan belief system, worship God as i see fit, usually a good morning, good night is sufficient, follow the Golden Rule, and not care one whit if anybody else does the same.
Bogara (East Central Florida)
Wonderful article. I would add that Christianity was and is influenced by the concept of parables, and the deliberate instruction that some Biblical teachings are not to be taken as concrete truth, but as representations of ideas, and are to be analyzed for meaning. I realize that is not the way all Christian denominations interpret the Bible, and am not opening an argument among denominations, but it does point to a willingness to have an open mind to interpretation. Thus, for instance, the ancient practice of actual sacrifice of human life or of animal life has become symbolic, and in ways that many Christians themselves do not recognize because they were not taught the roots of some traditions.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in the same geographic area. Their conflicts, over land and control, do not represent all religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions also exist. In looking at the historical relations of the trio that sprang from the Middle East, one should not extend those conflicts to generalizations about religion itself.
sam (Hyderabad, India)
This is one of the best articles I have read on the subject of organized religion and violence specially Islam and Christianity. They both lay claim to word of God & commit atrocities. What is God's role in this ? Why can't he come down and ask his followers to stop the violence ?

Hinduism has a whole different view on this ! We don't kill people of other religions - too scarred ?! We kill our own so called lower castes !

Organized religion is the worst human invention !
Vesuviano (Los Angeles, CA)
This is an important, informative piece that very succinctly and articulately states the problems of both Christianity and Islam.

It is apparent that any "protestant reformation" of Islam will not be completed in what remains of my lifetime. In my view, it won't even start. In the meantime, I guess I won't be visiting Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Dubai, Qatar, or any of Islam's other garden spots. They're all getting crossed off my bucket list.
Elizabeth Digeser (Santa Ynez, cA)
Surely Judaism is also a revealed religion and deserves to be analyzed along with Christianity and Islam.
Ellen T (New York City)
Well, yes and no. Yes, because, why not? And no, because Judaism never saw itself as replacing other belief systems, that if you weren't a Jew you were less. The Hebrew Bible is filled with stories of treating the "stranger in your midst" with justice and love, not with threats and forced conversion.
Matthew Carnicelli (Brooklyn, New York)
Bravo, Professor Gutting. I do believe that you have hit this one out of the park.

The problem of revealed religion is best illustrated by the fact that all revealed religions tend to strongly contradict each other – despite the dubious assertion that each infallibly reflects the eternal word of God. However, if they indeed embodied this eternal word of God, IMHO they would strongly agree with each other.

In reality, the best scripture can do is reflect the alleged experience of a greater power by a specific group of people at a specific time and place. The humility that this single recognition introduces is perhaps the best vaccine against religious violence, which is typically incited by an unwarranted and indefensible degree of theological confidence.

But if revealed religion were to be banished, what would remain? I argue that commemorative religion would remain – as best encapsulated though Jesus’ admonition at The Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me”.

The commemorative approach would not require acceptance of scripture as the infallible word of God, but merely a personal willingness to emulate / interpolate the inspired model of a great religious avatar of yesterday in our day.

I put it to all people of faith: If God truly exists, would He, She, or It be obsessed with whether you “believed”, or instead whether you daily strove to act in a fashion consistent with the highest ideals espoused by your beloved avatar, as interpolated for our time?
ChesBay (Maryland)
Matthew--Well, your comment is very well stated, but it's a moot point. There is no evidence of a higher power, or an invisible, magical God. As soon as there is, I will be first in line to sign up.
Dlud (New York City)
What you describe is no longer "religion" which requires "faith" which requires acceptance of realities not verifiable through ordinary experience. Love, contrary to your discourse, is not natural. Self-interest is much more normal and becomes politicized very quickly.
Alex (camas)
Unfortunately, for "people of faith" their faith supersedes logic and reasonability, so trying to reason with them as you try to do in your last sentence is futile. This is the very reason why religion can (and often is) dangerous.
Richard Friedman (Wilmette, IL)
Once you label something a religion, you basically immunize it from criticism. As the writer shows, however, the majority of Muslims are all too comfortable imposing their "religion" on non-believers, even to the point of killing them. It would be better to recognize them as nothing more than a hate group, not all that different from leftover Nazis or Ku Klux Klan members. We tolerate hate group members in our society, but only to a point. And we do not dignify them by labeling them a religion or alternative philosophy.
W (NYC)
As long as you include ALL religions as hate groups ESPECIALLY "christians". In my 50 year out gay life the "christians" have been terrorists.
American (Santa Barbara, CA)
The real underlying problem here is the level of general education and awareness in most Moslem countries. The more educated Moslems are more tolerant. This was true during the hey days of the Islamic civilization that controlled most of the world. There is hope. With the increased borderless communications, more tolerance and greater understanding of the true role of religion in people's lives will dominate.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Actually, the leaders of extreme Islam are among the most highly educated members of their communities. I would think you'd know that. Extremists know their scriptures better than anyone. By "educated," did you mean "enlightened?"
Dlud (New York City)
Traditional cultures do not change quickly, and the more embedded the traditional laws/customs, the longer change will take, probably not without wars and bloodshed.
Nuschler (anywhere near a marina)
Just a few corrections
1) These folks are “Muslims.” Not Muslins or Moslems

2) Within a few decades Islam WILL have the most followers in the world passing the number of Christians.

As far as “controlling” the world--this is STILL a religion, not an ideology or type of government. We MUST keep that separate in this discussion. Just as “Christians” don’t control the world. Or the ever-present subliminal hatred that “Jews control the world through economics.”
bcw (Yorktown)
The taming of Christianity is one of degree: many Christians still assume the right and power to control the lives of others by banning abortion, gay and interracial marriage and sexual conduct. Religions separate morals from ethics - thus a Church has moral reasons to do things that are unethical. Examples are the Catholic church lying about abuse because "preserving the image of the Church and bringing souls to Jesus" is more important than individual children; churches describing gay and transgender people and pedophiles to pass prop 8 and the NC bathroom law; groups lying to pull pregnant women into fake and anti-abortion family planning clinics. The extreme is the murder of clinic doctors.
Dlud (New York City)
This is a pure propaganda pitch citing all the bugaboos of secularist minds. Religions by definition do have beliefs and the sanctity of life is a common doctrine of valid religion. Religion has also been one of the most civilizing forces in human history. The issue is large than bathrooms. The sewer and bathrooms is the level of discourse where there is no religion.
Fred Frahm (Boise)
" ... all the bugaboos of secularist minds." I suspect you think secularist minds and practices are in need of civilizing since humans are, in your mind, incapable of morality in the absence of divine revelation. I try to steer clear of social orders that think the way you think.
Mathew Swora (Minneapolis)
From Jesus through the first few centuries of Christian faith, a commitment to something more than tolerance for non-belief and non-believers--active love for enemies and opponents, active peace-making--was a key and central feature of what Christians considered divine revelation and their total commitment to it. It was when Christians abandoned or relaxed that commitment to become more "tolerant" of imperial political necessities (e.g., criteria for a "just war") that they gave into, or sponsored violence. But the peace teachings of Jesus and the apostles ("love your enemy...turn the other cheek," and the cross) kept reappearing with people like St. Francis, the Anabaptists and Quakers. In their case, a life-and-death commitment to divine revelation included a similarly strong commitment to nonviolence. Their faith was not "tamed" nor "tolerant" in the modern, or postmodern sense at all. Their otherworldly zeal takes the form of pacifism.
Charlie (NJ)
The author can't find a historical reference point of Christianity initiated violence in over 200 years. In fact he really leans back to the Middle Ages to find that reference. There are stark differences in the "revealed" word of God between Islam and Christianity. The Quran is loaded with the supposed word of God, as witnessed by the Prophet, that sanctions all manner of specific and violent ways to deal with hundreds of facets of daily life. There is no comparison to Jesus' teachings. I find myself wondering why so many learned people don't have the courage to confront Islamic teachings without suggesting it is just like Christianity. It is not. It may indeed be true that Islam has yet to broadly adopt secular values Christianity has but a better thesis would be to explore why these two religions are not analogous.
Thomas Lloyd (Philadelphia)
While the teachings of Jesus as we know them are overwhelmingly non-violent and see to make peace with rather than convert outsiders (see Mathew Swora above) the violent behavior of Christians in later centuries, including the violence of slavery, was justified by referring to many violent passages in the Hebrew scriptures (often used against Jews themselves rather than by Jews) and in some of the New Testament letters. (see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788 for a very brief summary of these arguments)

The "modern" tolerant approach of followers of "revealed religions" is based not only on humanism, but the theological tenet that no individual or sect can say that they possess complete understanding of the "mind of God" because of our imperfect nature (eg, "let the one who is without sin cast the first stone" and "judge not, that you not be judged." Of course there has been disagreement about this principle in Christianity, not least in the Reformation. But whether a religious people and institutions behave violently or not comes down to whether or not this principle of ultimate humility is promoted or ignored.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Charlie--That is probably because Christianity is just like Islam, a slightly different version. For a change, read some authors who don't agree with you. I suggest the hair raising Sam Harris.
Susan H (SC)
The Bible sanctions "all manner of specific and violent ways to deal with hundreds of facets of daily life." Read the Book of Leviticus. Even in the New Testament, the teachings of Paul describe behaviors expected of followers of Christ, especially putting women in secondary positions in life. Just in the last few weeks in this country Protestant ministers have suggested that gay people should be shot, stoned to death and otherwise removed from society. There are many like Ted Cruz who would, with their fellow Dominions like to see a form of Christian Sharia law imposed on this country. It is even expressed in the Republican Platform. I admit that not as many have died from "Christian" terrorism in this country, but since George W. Bush stated that it was Partly on God's counsel that he ordered the invasion of Iraq one could argue that the "born-again' President caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East.
Is Not a Trusted Commenter (USA)
Republicans make a big deal of the fact that Obama and Clinton don't use the term "radical Islamic terrorism." The explanation for not doing so is clear and reasonable: smearing an entire religion will needlessly alienate many innocent people, making the situation worse. Besides, if that term were used by Democratic leaders, it would make no positive difference even to conservatives. They'd just move on and find another excuse to attack.

On the other hand, accurately calling anti-abortion violence "radical Christian terrorism" wouldn't do any harm. In fact, it would have a plus side for "war on Christmas" conservatives like Bill O'Reilly. It would give them another pretext to play the victim.
Mark Rogow (Texas)
(Not Mark) I would be comfortable using the term 'radical Christian terrorism' if the organized mainline religions were backing that terrorism with money, arms and sermons. They are not and from what I can see they do not. It is a big difference. I'm Jewish, so I don't have a dog in this fight, but it's sophistry to believe that the two religions are the same. Also, I've lived in Asia and believe me, Buddhists can fight with the best of them, monks included.
Dlud (New York City)
One could much more genuinely call abortion "radical secular violence." Same pew, different church.
Paul Tabone (New York)
At over 65 years of age I have been what I consider an Atheist for as long as I can remember. I see religion as nothing more than a forced way of life that looks down upon alternate religions. Some "religions" do get forceful and murderous. Others spew hatred. All profess to offer love and understanding. I find those positions to be in conflict. If there were some form of superior being there cannot be the hatred spewed by so many "religions". ('The lord works in mysterious ways' is such a cop out response) There cannot be killing in the name of a god to justify ridding a society of a given group of people. Religion is nothing more than a man made creation. It was devised as a means of answering questions that mankind was unable to resolve on his own. It has been capitalized upon in all societies to the advantage of those who saw a benefit in the promotion of the religion. In the United States religions are offered tax free status making the entire country carry the financial load of religion even when a substantial percentage of the population considers themselves either Atheist or Agnostic or "none of the above". I would not profess to know the subtleties of all religions but I am certain of one common denominator. Too many wars and battles have taken place in the history of mankind because of the insane idea of a "superior being".
Dlud (New York City)
Faith is a gift. Faith is deeply personal. Faith has led many heroic people to give up their lives for something larger than the average mind can grasp. Faith has marked the human experience for thousands of years. One can discard it for oneself, but general dismissal of authentic religious experience is anti-intellectual and even ignorant.
Susan H (SC)
And then there is the matter of Orthodox Jewish men who expect women on airplanes to change seats, on busses to sit in the back and on the street to cross to the other side.
MTNC (NYC)
Amen!! I just read The Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi. It confirmed my dozen plus years as a spiritual agnostic. We are contemporaries (I'm a bit younger than you), but I have believed, for years, what you wrote in your comment. I grew up moderately devout in the Christian denomination I was born into and I was long interested in different denominations, but having worked for well over 40 years in religious institutions, I saw the under belly & dirt under the carpet and how rotten some treat their lay employees. I found the religious institutions are no different that big biz & Wall St. The RCC is a typical example of many who are more interested in climbing the ladder of power and what they can get. A lot of what I have seen and experienced in institutionalized religion is a total hypocrisy. For as much good as the Judeo-Christian traditions done, I sometimes think they have done twice as much evil. On does not need "religion" to be a good, decent, kind and moral human being. For me, most of religion is based on unproven mythology & blind faith.
No thanks. I'm more interested in the truth. I won't say anything (or touch) Islam here at all. I think it speaks for itself.
Northwester (Woody, ID)
One terrific article, I am astonished by the clarity and through explanations of the issues, created out of thin air, that still bedevils our time. It should be required reading for all evangelicals and Jihadists everywhere and some, of course, in their jail cells.
Parisblues2 (Brooklyn)
Mr Gutting writes, "Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards."

Competent in describing naive theology, his statement misses the genius of religious theology. March Luther King, Jr's theology and practice certainly "contradicts ordinary human standards." As did the life of Martin Buber. But their practice radicalized human norms of morality towards a more loving approach. Both men were transformed by the passions of their belief that "revealed" truth surpasses human wisdom. And, indeed, for them, it did.

For both men, and for the men and women mystics and meditators of the whole history of spirituality emerging from the religions of revelation, the earth and all that is in it participates in the divine life. As such, as sacred incarnations or sacraments of divine presence, all things are to be loved and treated with self-sacrificial and intimate respect.

If Jewish and Christian and Muslim behavior doesn't always live up to this traditional call which "contradicts ordinary human standards," then common sense alone tells us that human beings fail their highest thoughts. In this campaign year, of what human aspiration is this not true?
ChesBay (Maryland)
"Ordinary human morality" will serve us just fine, if we can just get most people to think about it, agree upon it, and adopt it, instead of pick and choose religions, that condemn all others as infidel. There are universal truths that do not require endorsement from an invisible God.
quilty (ARC)
This article misses the cognitive dissonance and anxiety that is provoked in believers of a religion by living in contact with believers in other religions or no religion.

Religions claim to be the truth, and many offer believers in that truth the promise of a glorious afterlife as a reward for their faith in that religion.

It's much easier to rest assured that obeying the rules of a religion will lead to the rewards of that religion when everyone around you agrees with that, and engages in the same activities as you, with the goal the same reward.

People who believe another religion will provide similar rewards for faith in that religion automatically creates anxiety about whether the religion you are following is the right one. If you believe a certain text to be the source of guidance, and others believe in a different text, you have to deal with the fact that your true religion's text and the promoters of your religion have, in some way, failed to be persuasive enough to cause the unbelievers to convert.

Now let's remember: the goal is salvation and life after death. Avoiding total and final death is such a potent urge that many people will risk death to demonstrate that they are truly devoted to the true religion.

No one wants to have immense doubts about this. To create certainty, many will demand that all must convert to their version of the truth, and will commit violence and engage in warfare to rid the nonbelievers from their presence.
Mark Rogow (Texas)
(Not Mark) Judaism is not about salvation and life after death.
Diana (Charlotte)
Quilty, you are so right. You can't imagine the reactions I get when I tell people there is no hell, and I don't believe in the devil. It completely undermines their world view and they do NOT like it! Meanwhile, I'm very comfortable believing things that most people in the US don't support at all and find outlandish, like reincarnation.

When you have inner strength and ego strength, when you have a tiny bit of spiritual maturity, you don't need anyone else to buy in. And you certainly don't need to murder others to feel better about what you believe and the choices you've made in your life.
Dlud (New York City)
This commentator needs to get up-dated on several counts regarding religion. These are populist mis-understandings of religion rather than conclusions arrived at through genuine religious practice and modern theology.
Lee Paxton (Chicago)
All Holy Book religions have the potential for violence and historically have revealed this propensity. Jews, Christians, and Islam, but we in the West have free speech, democracy, and the dialectic; bequeathed by Ancient Athens; without logic, science, and free speech, guess what? The US would have no First Amendment and just be another intolerant holy book religious society, in short, no room for debate about anything except what the so called holy books tell us.
SK (Cambridge, MA)
If it took Christianity 1800 years to reach tolerance, why should we expect Islam to get there much faster?

We need to wait another 600 years to know if Islam did better or worse in this regard. Based on where Christianity was after the first 1200 years, I think Islam is ahead of the game.
betaneptune (Somerset, NJ)
SK of Cambridge, MA, writes: "If it took Christianity 1800 years to reach tolerance, why should we expect Islam to get there much faster?"

Because we now know so much more about how things work in the real world.
Big Cow (NYC)
Nice try. The reason they should get there faster is because they have models of successful tolerant societies to emulate, which now everyone can see on their television screens and many have even visited (and in fact many elites in Muslim countries are in fact educated in tolerant countries). It didn't take Korea and Japan 250 years to go through the scientific and industrial revolutions, like it did the west; they did it in 50 years because they could learn from others. Islam could do the same.
Frank Joyce (Detroit, MI)
There are lots of problems with this essay. For me, the biggest is this. The dominant religion in the US is Christianity. It always has been. Rev. Martin Luther King was correct when he said in 1967 that the US is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. That is as true today as it was then. Maybe more so. It is true inside the country, in our constant wars on other nations and in our massive arms export business. Just how much more Christian "reformation" can the world stand? And how much of the violence we dispense at home and abroad is based on and justified by the kind of alleged moral superiority this article is preaching?
Dlud (New York City)
Would that human history and human experience or religion could be reduced to one issue, i.e., war and peace. The "Christianity" that supposedly identifies the U.S. is largely in name only. Capitalism, commercialism, hedonism, materialism are vastly more influential in this society than Christianity.
SAK (New Jersey)
The essay missed colonization of Latin America, Asia
and Africa by European Christians who offered justification
of bringing Christian civilization to the savages. America
invades other countries or instigates regime change in
the name of democracy-another doctrine not different
from religious belief imposed on others.
Hank Gold (Lanesboro, MA)
So much death, misery, and destruction in the name of "god".
John (Palo Alto)
Well, this is at least a step in the right direction. There are so few credible voices that are willing to come out and say that Islam the religion writ large is having huge problems adapting to the modern world. It's not just radical Islamic terrorism - it's religious intolerance in most every Muslim majority country, it's the Muslim immigrant experience in Europe, which has been a flop, it's the striking lack of serious scientific or intellectual or artistic output from the Muslim majority world for the last century or so.

Time to call it like we see it, or we cede the conversation to the far right crazies who revel in being politically incorrect. If thought pieces like this, that still feel the need to hem and haw and draw false equivalencies to Christianity before admitting the obvious, are how we eventually get there, then so be it.
Boni (Hendersonville)
This article gets closer to the truth than many others that tiptoe around the subject. And the "tiptoeing" is unfortunately necessary; to call it like it is will result in Armageddon, which the ancients precisely forecast.

That said, religion in general is a tool to guide and control the masses. It is a reincarnation of and a solution to superstition (the fear of the unknown). Muhammad, exiled from his own people, founded his religion for the specific purpose of power and conquest. The rigidity and violence (among themselves and towards others) inherent in his teachings is a powerful tool to control the people. Remove these components from the teachings of Islam and that control will collapse, just like Christianity's influence diminished when the physical control of the people abated.
Susan H (SC)
Many of the top scientists and doctors in the US today are Muslims and Hindus or Buddhists. There is more than one Muslim on broadcast television, and creating in or running major business today. And they do practice their religions. Just walk around the Microsoft "campus" in Redmond, Washington and see the diversity. The same in Silicon Valley. They are contributing to this country because we have recruited them to come from their countries. And then we "dump" on them!
operadog (fb)
The dominance of the Abrahamic Religions has been and still is the single greatest disaster inflicted upon humanity and on the Earth. Want to find the true answers to living correctly, behaving well, as a species and as individuals on this planet? Look to Nature.
Carl, Portland
Mark Rogow (Texas)
(Not Mark) I don't get that. Do you worship nature or just live a natural life? What? Nature itself is just dog eat dog, largest on the food chain wins. Lucky for you, you're on the top.
betaneptune (Somerset, NJ)
operadog of fb writes: ". . . Want to find the true answers to living correctly, behaving well, as a species and as individuals on this planet? Look to Nature."

Look to Nature? What? Have you never seen shows like "Wild Kingdom"? Have you not heard of natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes, severe weather, dangerous animals, poisonous fruit, asteroid impacts, disease and pestilence? How about the Ichneumonid wasp, who will paralyze a caterpillar, lay an egg into it, which turns into a larva that eats the creature from inside, ingesting the organs in the optimal order to keep the creature alive as long as possible so as to keep its meat fresh. This is your example to follow? I think we can do better than that!
Dlud (New York City)
True opera, operadog. Everyone does not confront life as opera.
george eliot (annapolis, md)
Simply stated, organized religion is a cesspool.
MS (New Jersey)
This identifies the problem that atheists face. They can't find an excuse to hate of kill.
blueingreen66 (Minneapolis)
What part of the 20th Century did you miss? It must have been the part that elevated an economic theory, Marxism, into a religion, Communism, that was evangelical in its efforts to convert non-believers and killed tens of millions.
MS (New Jersey)
I'm sorry. Communism claims to represent a god?
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