Recent world events have brought to my mind a quote made famous by the the late Christopher Hitchens:”religion poisons everything.” With deadly bombings at a church in Pakistan and devastation at a mall in Kenya, both of which saw members of one religion targeting members of another, you have to wonder if Hitchens is correct. Additionally, while the West condemns Assad of Syria, many Christians living there long for a return to the status quo under his rule. At least his regime provided protection for religious minorities like their own, saving them from violence at the hands of other religious people. All this seems to lend support to another famous quote from atheist Victor Stenger: “science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings.” So are Hitchens and Stenger proven correct?
First, recognize that nothing is as simple as it seems and there are often other factors at work. Being originally from Northern Ireland I am particularly frustrated when I hear people referring to The Troubles as a religious conflict. It is a political conflict about governance, not a religious conflict about creed. The people who attend Bible Studies and are actively seeking to be better Christ followers, whether better Catholics or better Protestants, are not the people who set off bombs. As we observe religious conflict and sectarian violence in the Middle East we can expect to see a complex mix of politics and religion. Take the religion out of a religious war and you will still have a war.
Second, admit that religion really can poison everything. It seems that non-religious Canadians tend to either give no religion the benefit of the doubt or, perhaps more so given our multi-culturalism, every religion the benefit of the doubt. But are all religions created equal? The fact that some religions in the past required child sacrifice should be enough to convince us that religions are not equal in their benefit to the adherent or to society and that, contrary to popular opinion, they do not always lead to similar values or morals. Yes, religion really can poison everything. Now someone will object that religion is not the problem, but the fundamentalists within the religion. But isn’t the fundamentalist the one who holds best to the religion’s core fundamentals? If you want to see where a religion leads a devout person, look to the beliefs and actions of the fundamentalist of that religion. If poison is found there, expect a level of poison everywhere.
So why is a Christian pastor, from all appearances a religious person, seemingly assenting to a statement like “religion poisons everything”? For one thing, the greatest example of a fundamentalist Christian is Jesus Christ. Following His example, a Christian will be led not to violence but to sacrificial and generous love. While religion might fly you into a building, following Jesus will lead you to bear a cross, forgiving and giving grace and mercy. One person doing that will accomplish far more in our world than flying to the moon ever could. Proper Christian faith leads to healing, not poison. For another thing, it is reasonable to believe that Christianity is not a religion we came up with, the Church is not an organisation we created to spread our own poison. Christianity is a response to God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ, the Church is a body He created to spread His love. Finally, study the Bible and you will find that it teaches something remarkably similar to Hitchen’s assertion, that is “idolatry poisons everything.”
(Written for Northumberland Today)