Stop picking on religion

I am so tired of this argument.

Of course religion fosters a sense of community, ritual and identity. Look how well these various religious centered communities have interacted through-out history as they butcher each other to prove which god is the true and most loving entity.

(This is from Comment #12 posted here by someone whose “handle” is “I-know-truth-is-mine.”)

Of course religious groups have been butchering each other throughout the millenia. Human groups have been butchering each other for millenia: over resources, from hurt pride, out of fear, out of greed, and yes, because they believed it to be their God-given duty. (Ugh.) But religion usually was not the cause of the conflict; it went along for the ride. It could be useful in whipping people up to the frenzy necessary to kill and be killed. But whether or not it was being used like that, it was part of the picture … because almost every pre-modern human culture was a religious culture. People don’t stop to think about that.

Now, alas, we have ample evidence that non-religious cultures can be just as monolithic, just as fundamentalist, just as rigid and just as blood-thirsty as religious cultures. Behaving like this is apparently built into us as human beings, and religion neither uniformly causes nor prevents it. Religion is a tool, like fire or stones or stories. It can be used for good purposes or bad. We are the authors and architects of the uses these things are put to.

Examples of murderous regimes without religion? Let’s start with “Godless Communism,” a determinedly atheistic culture/community/dogma if there ever was one, which has been plenty bloody and fundamentalist and awful in our time. (As well as having some good flowerings too.) Look at Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Saddam Hussein’s Baath party (socialist, again) hasn’t exactly been peaceful and gentle. Then consider Hitler’s Germany: the Nazi regime used religion and the church as a tool in its social engineering, but its basic genocidal ideology was premised on pseudo-science, not religion.

It’s not religion that “makes” people kill other people. We do it all on our own, thank you very much, with religion and other ideologies as tools and sometimes an excuses. Taking religion away doesn’t take dogma and fundamentalism away. I’m sad to say that even feminists can be dogmatic fundamentalists.

To me, the litmus test is this: Does a community or person treat others with basic dignity and respect? With what is encoded in my tradition as awareness that the Other is created b’tselem Elohim, in God’s image, every bit as much as I am?

Doing this requires a bit of humility, I think; an awareness and acknowledgment that one does NOT have all the answers. Ever. Much as one might like to. It’s simply beyond our capabilities as human beings to have this. It’s when we start to believe that we do have all the answers that we get insufferable, fundamentalist, and finally dangerous.