How human beings poison everything

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.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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27 Responses to How human beings poison everything

  1. Anthony Paul says:

    Father Richard Rohr (OFM), in his book Things Hidden, suggests that any type of fundamentalism will always lead to dualistic (as opposed to unitive) thinking. He equates fundamentalism to a literalism “left-brain” thinkers require in order to attain the certitude and hard answers (as opposed to living by faith) for all things personally relevant… whether of religion in particular or the social order in general. This is why science becomes the last bastion of defense for such thinkers because they see it as impregnable from what they view as the “chaos” that lies below. This is clearly a mind in a state of confusion.

    Rohr writes as follows: “The fundamentalist mind is a mind that likes answers and explanations so much, that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations, or how self-serving they usually are…. Great spirituality, on the other hand, is always seeking a balance between opposites, a very subtle but creative balance. As William Johnson, S.J., once said, “Faith is that breakthrough into that deep realm of the soul which accepts paradox with humility.” When you go to one side or the other too much, you find yourself either overly righteous or overly skeptical and cynical….”

    • Mel Wild says:

      Great quote, Anthony. It seems to me that a lot (not all) of these angry ex’s left Fundamentalist Christianity to become Fundamentalist anti-Christians. Trading the certitude of the Fundamentalist Christianity for the certitude of Fundamentalist scientism. Quite an interesting thing.

      Btw, I love Richard Rohr! He said, “mystery is not never knowing, it’s ever knowing.” When we let go of our need to control everything, we find ourselves in the great adventure in Christ.

  2. jim- says:

    We do just love everybody Mel. Some guidance is in order for people to survive well in the future and some needed changes would be welcome. Religion obviously needs to be the catalyst but they fail to comprehend what they are doing, versus what they wish for. Beliefs that are harmful to society should be edited, and religions hold the key to that change. Here is just one, and I’ll stick to Christianity, but Islam and others are similar in many regards; The idea that Jesus is going to come fix everything is harming our planet. UN median population estimates that in 2114 we will have between 15-18 billion brand new people in the world with Islam the dominant religion. (Not through conversion, but fertility rates) Willful indifference to the climate, pollution, plastics, wildlife, natural resources and population growth need to be more gentle in their approach or our grandchildren are going to be living in filth with even more starvation and worldwide misery and contention. See, we don’t believe someone is coming to fix it. It is up to us. Christians need to be good stewards and use wisdom and a little restraint when it comes to these things and stop digging in their heels against obvious problems. It is frustrating when we see religion hold so much power and do so little to protect the natural world. As a whole the attitudes need to change.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s one of my pet peeves with some Fundamentalist Christians (not all). According to the Bible we say we believe, God gave humankind a mandate to take of the planet (Gen.1:26-28; Psalm 115:16)). Many modern Christians (this idea of vacating the planet suddenly was invented in the 19th century) have abdicated their role in this regard and that is not excusable.

      Having said that, I do believe this attitude is starting to change. When we can leave fear for other-centered, self-giving love, we can embrace the very things Christ came to restore. I think the teaching of Christ have a lot to offer in regard to healthy human relationships, too. That’s my take, anyway.

  3. Well said, Mel. Yep, people poison everything. A big part of that poison is our never ending blame game, an unwillingness to take responsibility for ourselves, and our tribalism.

    I kind of chuckle when we say “act like a human,” or embrace humanism as a form of morality. Has nobody ever observed the other humans?

    So, faith in Jesus addresses all 3 of our major afflictions, we stop blaming others, we take responsibility, and we seek to build some unity. Obviously we are imperfect and humans poison everything, but that’s the path we’ve been on for centuries.

    • Mel Wild says:

      So, faith in Jesus addresses all 3 of our major afflictions, we stop blaming others, we take responsibility, and we seek to build some unity.

      Of course, I agree with you. I believe this is the major aspect of Jesus’ teaching, showing us how to become healthy and whole human beings. Girard has some brilliant insight on this, contrasting what Jesus did with relation to mimetic desire, scapegoating, and religious mythology. I will focus on that on the next post.

  4. Wally Fry says:

    Well, you are going to get in trouble again, Mel. Good post, though. People ARE the problem, not “religion.” Oh, and for what it’s worth, I happen to be about as fundamentalist as a fellow can get, but I certainly don’t see any problem with being good stewards of the planet God created for us. We can’t abuse the place to death, because we don’t know how long we will be here. I do happen to believe He will come someday and make all things new, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it a train wreck ahead of time.

    • Mel Wild says:

      LOL! Of course.
      On Fundamentalist Christians, that’s why I always qualify that by saying “some” are like that. Actually, it’s more a political caricature, a straw man propped up by anti-Christians more than describing the norm. I think almost all Christians want to take care of the planet. I’ve met some extreme ones who say those things, but they’re not representative. But if they can make us all monsters, then it’s easier to justify getting out the torches and pitchforks. 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mel Wild, thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.

  6. john zande says:

    “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”

    83% of white evangelicals support and adore the sexual predator, Trump; a lying racist selling intolerance and bigotry, and who is presently tearing babies and children from their parents and throwing them in concentration camps. Hell, the administration is even quoting the Bible to justify these concentration camps.

    So, what’s your point again?

    • Mel Wild says:

      So, what’s your point again?

      LOL! How ironic. You make my point beautifully. What vitriol! You’re simply bringing up partisan American politics as the scapegoat. But, even if this were completely true (all evangelicals are violent, irrational, intolerant, hostile to free inquiry…”), American Evangelicalism only represents 2.8% of all Christians in the world, so your straw man doesn’t work. You’re simply blaming all Christianity for a small segment of politicized Americans for what you deem to be wrongly affiliating themselves with a particular politician. Again, thanks for making my point.

      “…Trump; a lying racist selling intolerance and bigotry, and who is presently tearing babies and children from their parents and throwing them in concentration camps.”

      Wow! Another great example of scapegoating vitriol! A perfect example of what Girard was saying:

      “Ultimately, the persecutors always convince themselves that a small number of people [Evangelicals, Republicans], or even a single individual [Trump], despite his relative weakness, is extremely harmful to the whole of society.”

      Now, if you were to say you disagreed with Trump’s policies, even thought they were dangerous, but without blaming all organized religion, you might not be scapegoating. We are entitled to our opinion. But all you’re doing here is parroting politicized fearmongering propaganda to create hatred and polarization. And you’re not even American! But you do get a gold star for trying. Thanks for giving us great examples of scapegoating.

      • john zande says:

        Mel, you have concentration camps for children on US soil… and Evangelicals are QUOTING THE BIBLE to justify them.

        If that’s not a working example of the poison, then I don’t know what is.

        • Mel Wild says:

          And how does that prove that organized religion poisons everything, John? Again, a straw man argument.

          And Satan quoted the Bible to Jesus. What does that have to do with anything?

        • john zande says:

          Mel, you have concentration camps for children on US soil… and Evangelicals are QUOTING THE BIBLE to justify them.

          Deal with it.

        • Mel Wild says:

          ANYONE can quote the Bible, John. That means absolutely nothing. And I don’t have to agree with a particular political immigration policy to make my point.

          You have an amazing propensity to say the irrelevant, erecting your straw man, and apparently thinking you are making a point. And then you’ll just keep repeating it over and over instead of, in this case, actually dealing with your own scapegoating. Good luck with that!

          I know your M.O., John. I’m getting off the merry-go-round here.

        • john zande says:

          Actually Mel, that means EVERYTHING to the point of this post… and that’s what is irking you so much.

          Evangelicals are quoting the Bible to justify concentration camps for children.

          The poison getting into everything is self-evident.

        • john zande says:

          You think it’s funny that evangelicals are justifying prisons for babies ripped from their mothers’ arms?

          That’s disturbing.

          Thanks, though, for demonstrating my point.

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, now you’re just being obtuse. I was laughing because you did exactly what I said you would do. If anything, you’re very predictable, but do carry on if you want. You make a great example.

        • john zande says:

          And there it is, Exhibit VII: projection.

  7. john zande says:

    hostile to free inquiry

    How many times do you think the darling of evangelicals, Trump, has said “Fake news”?

    This week on Fox News, the evangelical “news” station, Tucker Carlson said:

    “If you’re looking to understand what’s actually happening in this country, always assume the opposite of whatever they’re telling you on the big news stations,”

    Hostile to free inquiry? Amy Sullivan, author of The Party Faithful has even coined the term, “Fox Evangelicals,”

    “the nationalistic, race-baiting, fear-mongering form of politics enthusiastically practiced by Mr. Trump and Roy Moore in Alabama … This emerging religious worldview — let’s call it ‘Fox evangelicalism’ — is preached from the pulpits of conservative media outlets like Fox News.”

    As one of the leaders of US evangelicals, Franklin Graham, said:

    “Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump … God intervened in our election and put Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose.”

  8. Happy Father’s Day, Mel. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Christianity: The Founding Murder in Reverse | In My Father's House

  10. Franklin P. Uroda says:

    Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist” has helped me.

  11. Pingback: The myth of secular progress | In My Father's House

  12. Pingback: Humans behaving badly and the existence of God | In My Father's House

  13. Pingback: Why we need to (properly) understand Christian history | In My Father's House

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