My tongue is firmly in cheek here, playing off the subtitle of Christopher Hitchens’s book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but I do want to make a point about this that I believe I can back up with empirical data.
Here’s my logic: There has been much evil done in human history. All of these atrocities involve human beings. Therefore, human beings poison everything.
You will no doubt object to this simplistic explanation, but I think it’s more sound than our chronic blame-game we’ve been practicing since the beginning. French historian and philosopher René Girard has done a seminal work on revealing what he called the “scapegoating mechanism.” I’ve talked about this before here and here, but it bears repeating to help understand my point.
What Girard uncovered is that we humans have been looking for scapegoats to rid us of our ills from the beginning. Adam blamed God for Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and it’s been the same M.O. ever since. Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome, the Jews blamed them for their trouble with the Romans, the Medieval Christians blamed the Jews for just about everything. And blame led to hatred which usually led to rationalized violence. Hitler took the Jewish hatred to its ultimate end to justify their systematic genocide in 20th century Europe.
Our “angry mob” need for a fall guy is still alive and well. It’s so ubiquitous in our culture you may not even notice it, ranging from making our spouse the culprit for our bad marriage to blaming “the Muslims” for the terrorists attacks on 9/11. The latter arguably led to the New Atheist phenomenon, with pop writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens blaming religion for everything that’s wrong with the world today.
Here’s what Hitchens said in his book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything“:
“Organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” and sectarian, and that accordingly it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”
Or Sam Harris’s response to 9/11:
“Harris was motivated by the events of September 11, 2001, which he laid directly at the feet of Islam, while also directly criticizing Christianity and Judaism. Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity. Also in 2006, following his television documentary The Root of All Evil?.” (Wikipedia)
And their sanctimonious minions have been parroting their diatribe ever since. On that note, my personal experience with these anti-Christian zealots has been quite interesting (you can just read the comments). Many refer to themselves as “deconverts” from Christianity. They divorced Jesus and now they’re like angry “ex’s” roaming the Internet for anyone who will listen to their vitriol.
Of course, they see themselves very differently, as freedom fighters for truth, bringing superstitious Christians out of the dark ages. Here’s what one determined angry ex declared to me in the comments of a recent post:
“I am involved in one the greatest movements in human history: the debunking of religious superstitions; superstitions which cause division, hatred, discrimination, and violence.” (Comment here).
Or, this one:
“That is a core problem with monotheistic religion. Christians think all the bad guys will get their burning. It’s just a psychological trick causing division, hate, and bigotry. Religion is the problem. It says it’s the solution but has failed to deliver at every level.” (Comment here).
Ironically, statements like these are divisive, hateful, and bigoted. It’s not enough to just disagree with religious people’s views. We must create fear of them and rid society of their influence. Man the pitchforks! Storm the castle!
This isn’t too far from the fascism of Nazi Germany, certainly on the same trajectory.
We sophisticated moderns like to talk about living in a pluralistic society. The truth is, we find actual pluralism frightening, even repulsive. In practice, we seek to rid ourselves of anyone who is different than the prevailing cultural groupthink. And that’s true for both dogmatic theists and anti-theists.
We need a victim to sacrifice so we can bring peace and order back into the village. And the current sacrificial victim is religion.
Remarks like those of Hitchens and others is classic scapegoating. As Girard points out in his book “The Scapegoat“:
“Ultimately, the persecutors always convince themselves that a small number of people, or even a single individual, despite his relative weakness, is extremely harmful to the whole of society.” (p. 15)
Now that Christendom is no longer the dominant cultural shaper, Christianity becomes the new scapegoat victim:
“Crowds commonly turn on those who originally held exceptional power over them.” (ibid, p. 18)
There’s a lot more I could say about this but I hope you can see that no matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced we’ve become, nothing has really changed. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Of course, you can disagree with everything I said and we can all continue pointing fingers at who’s to blame for our societal ills. I will just conclude by saying that it’s currently popular to bash Christians and point to religion as causing of all things evil, which has been both true and false, depending on how you select historical events (and, historically, almost all people were religious). But we can also point to over 100 million people who were murdered for secular reasons in the 20th century (which is more than in all human history combined, by the way). Not to mention, unprecedented and escalating shootings in secular public schools in the 21st century.
Here’s the only thing we can be certain of. All of these atrocities involved human beings. Therefore, human beings poison everything.