With each new atrocity, each new arrogance, each new monstrosity, there are those ready to re-voice their deeply held convictions about the evils of religion. “See,” they growl with great fervor, “the world would be better off without religion.” Indeed, it seems there is an abundance of evil rooted in religion, or more accurately, veiled in religion.
Personally, I don’t see much more virtue in the Crusades than in the Russian purges or Islamic jihads but I suppose the courageous knights perhaps targeted fewer women and children. At least, as far as our version of that history goes, they mainly focused on armed combatants. Lost upon them, and upon many current claimants of faith is the incredible irony of killing in the name of the Prince of Peace, who quite plainly told his disciples to put down their swords, turn the other cheek, return good for evil and even to love their enemies. As far back as belief can be traced, we find followers who quite easily ignore all inconvenient aspects of whatever doctrines they claim to believe. Religion has long been twisted to purposes more private: greed, power and sadistic satiation.
While radicalized followers may indeed claim that their cause and care are born of deep devotion to their finest beliefs, it seems much more likely to me that it is more about vengeance and hatred. Those twisted qualities transcend all religions, even those that most plainly condemn them. While the most severe sects of Islam clearly accept and even exalt murderous and cowardly actions of terrorism, there is no shortage of Christians, Hindus, Jews, and even Buddhists who are quite ready to shed the blood of those they perceive to be threats to their way of life.
Strangely enough, if we accept the simplistic explanation of the anti-religion quadrant, there has never been any lack of murderous evil among those most opposed to religion, either. To the best of my knowledge, Stalin wasn’t a born again Baptist.
Whether its inflictors are pagan or atheist, fundamentalist or agnostic, the true root of violence is far more universal than a particular religion or even religion itself; it is the desire to dominate, control and annihilate whatever threatens or interferes with ambition. Its home is in all those willing to exalt the most base of human emotions over the finest of our divine desires. Strip away the shrouds and masks and we find that Boko Haram, ISIS and the KKK all serve at the same shrine.
Nonetheless, those of us with less radical beliefs must take caution ourselves. It is often in our moments of greatest condemnation of the actions of others that we ourselves are at greatest risk of violating our own beliefs.