Sunday, August 30, 2020

Is Religion the Root Cause of Evil?




(I mentioned this post in my sermon this morning.
I taught philosophy of religion for eighteen years at Monroe County Community College. My PhD is in this area, to include the problem of evil, as related to metaethical matters.)

Is religion the cause of evil? Was John Lennon correct (in spite of his own wife-beating, child-abusing behaviors) that "imagine there's no religion" and... no wars?... and we all will live as one big metaphysical love-mass?

I don't think so. Atheist David Berlinski doesn't think so either.

See Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. What is unique about Berlinski is his non-religious nature, railing against the new (but aging) atheists. He writes: "I am a secular Jew. My religious education did not take... I cannot pray. I have spent more years than I care to remember in studying mathematics and writing about the sciences. Yet the book that follows is in some sense a defense of religious thought and sentiment. Biblical verses are the least of it." (xiii)

Berlinski is witty, caustic, funny, and brilliant. One of the things he addresses is the atheistic idea that religion is, especially, the root of all evil. He quotes physicist Steven Weinberg, famously, as saying: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." (21)

I now confess: "religion" has made me a far better person than I was without it. And, I have met countless people over the years about whom I could say the same. But onwards...

Berlinski turns to atheist Steven Pinker, who believes that "something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler." Pinker gives us good news: "In the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture. Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler." (21-22) Pinker goes on to list things like "cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, genocide..., torture and mutilation..., assassination..., rape..., homicide... - "all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are close to nonexistent in the West." (22)

To which Berlinski responds, surely Pinker jests! Here is Berlinski's list of 20th century "happy-face moments," presented to you by irreligion and atheism..

A Shockingly Happy Picture by Excess Deaths (22-24)



  • First World War(1914-18): ……...................................15 million
  • Russian Civil War(1917-22) ……...................................9 million
  • Soviet Union,Stalin's Regime(1924-53) ……...............20 million
  • Second World War(1937-45) ……................................55 million
  • Chinese Civil War(1945-49) ……..................................2.5 million
  • People's Republic of China, Mao's regime(1949-75) ...40 mill.
  • Tibet(1950 et seq.) …….................................................600,000
  • Congo Free State(1886-1908) ……................................8 million
  • Mexico(1910-20) …….....................................................1 million
  • Turkish Massacres of Armenians(1915-23) ……............1.5 million
  • China(1917-28) …….......................................................800,000
  • China,Nationalist Era(1928-37) ……..............................3.1 million
  • Korean War(1950-53) ……............................................2.8 million
  • North Korea(1948 et seq.) …….....................................2 million
  • Rwanda and Burundi(1959-95) ……..............................1.35 million
  • Second Indochina War(1960-75) ……...........................3.5 million
  • Ethopia(1962-92) ……...................................................400,000
  • Nigeria(1966-70) ……....................................................1 million
  • Bangladesh(1971) ……..................................................1.25 million
  • Cambodia,Khmer Rouge(1975-78) ……........................1.65 million
  • Mozambique(1975-92) ……............................................1 million
  • Afghanistan(1979-2001) ……..........................................1.8 million
  • Iran Iraq War(1980-88) ……............................................1 million
  • Sudan(1983 et seq.) ……................................................1.9 million
  • Kinshasa,Congo(1998 et seq.) ……................................3.8 million
  • Phillipines Insurgency(1899-1902) ……..........................220,000
  • Brazil(1900 et seq.) …….................................................500,000
  • Amazonia(1900-1912) …….............................................250,000
  • Portuguese Colonies(1900-1925) ……........................... 325,000
  • French Colonies(1900-1940) ……...................................200,000
  • Japanese War(1904-5) ……............................................130,000
  • German East Africa(1905-7) ……....................................175,000
  • Libya(1911-31) …….........................................................125,000
  • Balkan Wars(1912-13) …….............................................140,000
  • Greco-Turkish War(1919-22) ……...................................250,000
  • Spanish Civil War(1936-39) …….....................................365,000
  • Franco Regime(1939-75) …….........................................100,000
  • Abyssinian Conquest(1935-41) ……................................400,000
  • Finnish War(1939-40) ……...............................................150,000
  • Greek Civil War(1943-49) …….........................................158,000
  • Yugoslavia,Tito's Regime(1944-80) ……..........................200,000
  • First Indochina War(1945-54) ….......................................400,000
  • Colombia(1946-58) ……...................................................200,000
  • India(1947) ……................................................................500,000
  • Romania(1948-89) ……....................................................150,000
  • Burma/Myanmar(1948 et seq.) …….................................130,000
  • Algeria(1954-62) …….......................................................537,000
  • Sudan(1955-72) ……........................................................500,000
  • Guatemala(1960-96) …….................................................200,000
  • Indonesia(1965-66) ……...................................................400,000
  • Ugandi, Idi Amin's Regime(1972-79) ...….........................300,000
  • Vietnam, postwar Communist Regime(1975 et seq.) ……430,000
  • Angola(1975-2002) ……....................................................550,000
  • East Timor, conquest by Indonesia(1975-99) ……............200,000
  • Lebanon(1975-90) …….....................................................150,000
  • Cambodian Civil War(1978-91) …….................................225,000
  • Iraq, Saddam Hussein(1979-2003) ……...........................300,000
  • Uganda(1979-86) ……......................................................300,000
  • Kurdistan(1980's,1990's) ……...........................................300,000
  • Liberia(1989-97) ……........................................................150,000
  • Iraq(1990- ) ……................................................................350,000
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina(1992-95) ……............................175,000
  • Somalia(1991 et seq.) ……................................................400,000
Berlinski concludes: "In considering Pinker's assessment of the times in which we live, the only conclusion one can profitably draw is that such an excess of stupidity is not often to be found in nature." (25)

And, we have the following "awkward fact": "The twentieth century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind." (19)
One more: U of Notre Dame's Alvin Plantinga writes:

"Of course the world’s religions do indeed have much to repent; still (as has often been pointed out) the suffering, death, and havoc attributable to religious belief and practice pales into utter insignificance beside that due to the atheistic and secular idiologies of the twentieth century alone."  (Plantinga. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism . Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.