Friday, April 1, 2011

Imagine No Religion

Richard Dawkins—evolutionary biologist, Oxford professor, accomplished author, famous atheist, anti-religionist, and anti-creationist—is perhaps best known for his latest book, The God Delusion, a 2006 Bestseller. In The God Delusion Dawkins takes all of religion to task, laying upon its shoulders the blame for much of the evil in the world, especially wars. In the Preface of the book, Dawkins draws upon John Lennon’s famous song, “Imagine,” which includes the line “Imagine no religion.”  By imagining a world without religion, we are told, we can imagine a world without 9/11, 7/7 (London bombings of 7/7/2005), the Crusades, witch hunts…you get the picture. The suggestion is that religion is the cause of most, if not all, wars and violence. In fact, Dawkins is on a personal crusade to wipe out religion from the world.
In the weeks ahead, I’d like to take a look at some of the arguments of Dawkins and his fellow “New Atheists” as they are called, starting with this idea of religion being a major cause of wars and violence. For starters, let’s try to imagine a world without religion, or at least without Christianity (Dawkins refuses to distinguish between violent and non-violent religions). R.J. Rummell, political scientist from the University of Hawaii, has extensively researched historical data on wars, compiling estimates of government-caused deaths (i.e., deaths from wars, genocides, persecutions, etc.) throughout history (what he calls democide)( He estimates the total number of deaths from democide in the past 100 years alone to be 262 million, which is about 50% of the total number killed throughout history! My, how far we have evolved! Of those, the number killed in the name of “Christianity” (including the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and witch hunts) on the most liberal count is about 264,000. Now, that is 264,000 too many, to be sure. Even one single death performed at the hands of man in the name of Christ would violate the consistent teachings of Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5.9) and love your enemies and pray for them (Mt 5.43-47). He told Peter to put away his sword, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mt 26.52). And he told Pilate that if his kingdom were of this world, his servants would be fighting, but his kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18.36). The apostles similarly taught followers to be peacemakers (Rom 12.17-21; 1 Pet 3.8-12).  So while some religions could well be characterized as violent and hateful, in no way do the teachings of Christ even remotely justify wars and killing in the name of religion—beyond, perhaps, defending the defenseless against such murderers.
But let’s continue imagining. Imagine a world without religion, and thus an atheistic world. Actually, we do not have to imagine, for we’ve seen it in our own lifetime. Consider the worlds of Soviet Russia, Communist China, and the Khmer Rouge, for example. According to Rummell, Atheistic Communism alone in the past 100 years has wrought 110 million deaths. That’s one third of all deaths by democide in all of history! And that’s 1000 times more deaths in the past 100 years than those caused by so-called Christians supposedly in the name of Christianity over the past 2000 years. And we haven’t even considered the regimes that strongly discouraged religion (Nazi Germany, WWII Japan, Vietnam, North Korea, etc.), which would bring the total to 141 million—almost 50% of all people killed in all of history! We could add to that the 100 billion abortions, which Christians have consistently opposed. So imagine! And these were just short-lived regimes covering only a portion of the world. It makes one wonder, if there was an entire world without religion, how long would it be before there weren’t any people left at all? Imagine!