Are Monotheistic Religions More Violent?

The Ottawa Citizen runs a feature each week called “Ask the Religion Experts.” Representatives from religious (and non-religious) backgrounds are invited to comment on general religion-related question. (So, in other words, there’s one expert.)

This week’s question: Are monotheistic religions more prone to violence?

You get a lot of No, Jesus Christ calls us to be non-violent and Religion isn’t responsible for evil any more than race or ethnicity are and Those who commit violent acts in the name of religion aren’t True [Insert Your Faith Here]s.

I *knew* God was evil. (via The Far Side)

In general, the theists completely gloss over anything bad that’s ever been done in the name of their faith.

Then you have Kevin Smith from the Centre for Inquiry to set everyone straight:

Certainly one can name any religion and find examples of violence within their ranks. Even the Buddhists, one whose stereotype invokes men too overly meditated to fight, have participated in battle, thinking it would help them achieve enlightenment.

But it’s the single Father [of] religions, monotheism, that get the glory in recent history for being the most violent — specifically the Big Two, Christianity and Islam. There are millions of moderates within who are peaceful, although I wonder how many of them have read their holy books cover to cover, or at least don’t take them at face value. The problem lies with the literal fanatics who engage in a gang mentality where their supreme supernatural leader sets the rules. And there are thousands of rules, usually commanding to kill in His name.

Our only salvation is to promote critical thinking, encouraging a belief in reality over dangerous myths.

(Rabbi Reuven Bulka also adds in sensible commentary to the mix.)

It’s simplistic to argue that belief in God alone makes people evil — obviously it’s more than that and we all know people who will say they’re better human beings because of their faith — but it’s willfully ignorant to avoid any discussion of how religion might contribute to violence.

Feel free to chime in on the discussion thread there. It could use more honest, rational discussion of the topic.

(via Canadian Atheist)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Luce

    I think a big part of the problem is the unquestionable authority these people think god has over the world and them, and as a result will do anything as long as they feel they have divine sanction. This is harmless when it spurs them on to do humane, good work, but is very problematic when it causes them to be violent. People operating under the direction of god cannot be reasoned with.

  • Uzza

    A opinion I encounter often is that if
    there were multiple gods, then as the Koran (23:16) puts it, one
    “would have Lorded it over others”. It seems the authoritarian
    types that are susceptible to this god virus are incapable of the
    very concept of equality. If there are two entities—god and man,
    man and wife, human and animal—they can see no possibility that
    these two might co-exist as equals.

  • A3Kr0n

    Has critical thinking ever worked over irrational thinking? It’s usually the critical thinkers who are targeted first.

  • Ronlawhouston

    It’s not so much theism as it is attachment to your treasured memes.  It’s playing out right now in the secular community over feminism.  Granted religion makes it worse but you get the idea.

    • Patterrssonn

      No not really.

  • LesterBallard

    Jesus “said” many things. He told Peter to put his sword away.

     He said 
    Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34–39 NASB)And then there are those loving passages where Jesus wears a garment soaked in blood.Sounds pretty fucked up to me. Glad it means less than a pile of cockroach shit to me.

  • Agnostic

    All of us know that the masses can be easily led by a dynamic leader and some use religion to unify the masses to work for them. The leaders have to first disseminate their version of the religion to the masses and sway them in order to be able to make use of them to do his bidding. Should this absolve atheist leaders who committed crimes to humanity because they did not use the name of atheism?

    It is easy to see how descent can be used to destabilize a society by leaders using the concept of no god to lead people to a godless society just as it is the other way round. Ultimately both types of leaders lead the blinded masses to do their bidding by first cultivating their believe system.

  • blaptpu

    Yes, I believe they are. Robert Sapolsky argues that montheistic beliefs emerge from desert cultures. These environments are vast, open, empty, and largely unchanging. One can imagine that here, it is easy to believe that any changes in the environment must have a single cause and come from a single god. In contrast, polytheistic beliefs are almost always found among rainforest dwellers and not desert people. Think great variety and biodiversity in their environment… there must be a multitude of causes. Among the key differences between these two cultures is that monotheistic desert people tend to be more violent, militaristic, and sexually repressive towards their women.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    The great thing about being a polytheist is that most holy wars have to go through endless committees before they are approved.

    • Stev84

       Nope. Only the god of war and maybe the chief god.

      • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

         Yeah, none of the others EVER get involved. Just look at Greek mythos!

  • RobMcCune

    I don’t think it’s monotheism per say, but the worldview of the mythology. The big monotheisms are authoritarian, strictly separate ingroups from outgroups, holy books that glorify violence, etc. and that contribute to violence.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    It’s an interesting question, but unfortunately, that question isn’t explored here at all. The only question addressed is whether the closely related Abrahamic religions are more violent than others. Nothing at all about the general case of monotheism versus polytheism. Certainly, the Abrahamic religions are particularly violent, but that may have nothing at all to do with their monotheistic nature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Buchy/542338898 James Buchy

     I consider this a result of a primal evolutionary survival strategy. Us humans evolved as herd animals. It was the only way to ensure the survival of a being that can’t really run or climb very well, can barely swim and cannot fly. We’re relatively weak and don’t really bite all that well [the parents among us might dispute that last part ;-)]. Lower animals simply all do the same thing, by simple instinct. But higher animals tend to follow a leader, probably because their capacity for more independent thought is too high to be guided by just instinct alone. In a lot of animals, the leader is usually the alpha male. Some others are the alpha females. In both cases it’s the strongest. Once the leader is established, there is a strong desire to follow that leader. With us naked apes, it’s the strongest mind that becomes the leader. By “strongest”, I don’t necessarily mean “smartest”. 

  • Alchemist

    Great safety comes from great numbers. Also, great stupidity.

  • Lionel D

    Well friends, remember Gujarat 2002 ? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Gujarat_violence)

    Even if I do dislike much of the Monotheistic conception of the world, I would say that as long as a religion does have an orginized church,a  dogma, and becomes interwined with politics, violence will result. The fact that Polytheistic faiths are rarelt seen as violent in the western world is i do believe, mostly due to their underground and marginal nature. And maybe, hell, because most Wiccans are indeed peace loving hippies who knows…

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Hindus are as polytheist as Catholics. They count themselves as monotheists, so does this even count?

  • Paul Crider

    I like this:

    The claim that “____-theism” (fill in your own blank), is more prone to violence, religious or otherwise, is part of the same pointless thinking which continues to breed such violence. If we continue to look for something in them, not us, we will only perpetuate the mistaken thinking that violence can be eliminated by cleansing race, gender, ethnicity, age or whatever variable we select from whatever privileged position we take.

  • Paul Crider

    Since this is on topic, I’d love to get reactions from Friendly Atheist readers about this post on the whole Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot business, with apologies for whoring my own blog.

    http://quittingprovidence.blogspot.com/2012/07/weaselly-arguments-about-atheists-and.html 


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