WHY RELIGIONS SOMETIMES PROMOTE HATRED, VIOLENCE, AND GENOCIDE
Why many people hold their religious beliefs with intense tenacity:
Considering that there are:
||Many quite different religions in the world, and that
||Each religion teaches beliefs that conflict those of other faiths,
one would expect that people would only hold their religious beliefs tentatively.
After all, if different major world religions teach that there is no God, or one
God, or two Gods, or three Gods in one, or many Gods, the chances are slim that
one's own faith group has it right. But, in spite of the uncertainty, people
tend to support their personal religious tradition as being
absolutely true. And, many do it with fierce determination.
There are countless reasons for this. Some are:
||Religious beliefs are an major, integral component of how people view themselves.
Often, one's faith is tied to one's nationality, culture, race, even sexual
||People believe that their religion links them directly to God
and/or other deities. Conservative Christians often speak of having a
personal relationship with Jesus and of having a daily walk with God.|
||Religion permeates all aspects of one's life:
||It provides rituals for life's major transitions, like birth, coming of
age, marriage, death, etc. Some religions like Neopaganism also provide rituals
for puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc.|
||It may teache:|
||Rewards beyond ones ability to imagine which are associated with salvation,
||Horrendous eternal punishments
for the unsaved, without any possibility of mercy, and
||the mechanism(s) by which people can become saved.
||It is often the source of one's moral code.|
||It delineates God's expectations for the behavior of each believer.|
||It provides an understanding of the workings of the universe:|
||It teaches what believers can expect after death.
||It explains the origin of the world's life forms, the earth itself,
and the rest of the universe.
||Many people are not familiar with other traditions or denominations
within their religion, let alone the beliefs of other religions. So, they
give unquestioning belief to their own faith group's teachings.|
Why religion is a main cause of so much murder and
One of the most serious human failings is a rigid belief in the two option
theory - i.e. that there are often two and only two possible alternatives:
belief is either true or false;
||An act is either good or
||A person is composed of body and soul;
||Everyone goes either to
Heaven or Hell after death;
||There are two
supernatural beings: God and
Often, we do not allow for a third or fourth possibility. Many people do not
realize that what one group may consider to be a heroic act, others consider it
to be a despicable, cowardly act. This leads many people to a sequence of
beliefs that can descend into genocide. They believe that:
- Their own faith tradition is all good.
- All other religious traditions are evil.
- Their own deity or deities are the only good supernatural force in the
- The God(s) and Goddess(es) of other religions are really Satan or
Believers of other religions are evil.
||This can lead to the belief that they are sub-human.
||This may lead to the belief that they have no right to exist.
- It is acceptable to advocate the mass murder of followers of other
- By exterminating believers of other religions, one is doing God's will.
Josh McDowell seems to have covered steps 1
to 5 in the above sequence when he is reported as saying at a Youth for Christ
rally in 1994: "Tolerance is the worst roar of all,
including tolerance for homosexuals, feminists, and religions that
don't follow Christ." One example of a person who went all
the way to the sixth step occurred during the year 2000, when a Baptist
pastor in Texas allegedly recommended that the U.S. army round up and napalm all Wiccans.
Some individuals can be motivated by their devout faith to
cheerfully exterminate people of a different faith. One recent example was
the " 'ethnic cleansing' of the Muslims in Bosnia. [Some Serbian Orthodox
believers]... quoted the book of Joshua to justify slaughter. They saw it as
'godís will' to slay the infidels." 1 Another
occurred in Vietnam
when some American soldiers also "quoted from Joshua to condone the My Lai
massacre. They claimed that butchering babies would purge Vietnam of the
'commie stain,' and that they were on Godís side." 1
As Blaise Pascal wrote: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they
do it from religious conviction."
Followers of almost all religions believe that some form of life after death
||Most Eastern religions teach that, after death, a person's soul
returns to Earth in another body -- human or animal. This generally
continues for many lifetimes.|
||Some religions are rather vague about the afterlife. Judaism is one.
The BahŠ'Ū's also view life after death in rather vague terms -- as nearness
to or remoteness from God. Religious liberals of all faiths often hold no
specific beliefs about the afterlife.|
||Many faiths teach that certain individuals will spend eternity being
tortured in Hell. The criteria for being
saved, attaining Heaven and avoiding Hell
varies from religion to religion and denomination to denominations:|
||Some, like Islam and Zoroastrianism, teach that the balance between
the good and bad deeds that one has done wile on earth will determine
one's eventual destination after death. This seems to be the majority
belief among Christians in North America as well.
||Conservative Christians tend to view Hell as a real place. A few
generations ago, most literally interpreted the horrors of Hell as
described in the Bible. Many Fundamentalist Christians still do. More
recently, some conservative Christians have modified their view of Hell;
it has become a place of isolation from God rather than an endless
A potential problem arises within most Conservative Christian groups. They
teach that Hell is a place of extreme punishment where all non-believers will
spend eternity. A person avoids Hell by being "saved" -- by believing as they do
that Jesus is Lord and Savior. This teaching was expressed in very clear terms
during a radio program "Life on the Edge," in which the hostess
Susie Shellenberg explained to teenagers that: "If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to
heaven; If you're following another religion, then by default you will
go to Hell." 2
The concept of Hell can motivate believers to exhibit extreme hatred towards
non-believers. It can happen like this:
A believer might:
||Believe that many different religions teach the existence of diverse
Gods and Goddesses; every religion's concept of deity is different.
||Believe that only their religion teaches the truth; only their God
and/or Goddess exists.
||Believe that all of the other religions' deities are false and
non-existent. They are the artificial creations of humans.
||In some cases, believe that the gods of other religions are actually
demons or Satan himself.
||Believe that their deity sentences non-believers to be tortured in
Hell for all eternity because the latter have committed a thought crime --
i.e. they have trusted and have believed in the wrong God or in no God for
||Believe that since their deity inflicts such horrendous torment on
non-believers in the afterlife, then it is acceptable for true believers
to oppress, discriminate against, or even kill non-believers in this life.
The believer might think that they are simply carrying out the will of
||Feel that it is their duty to oppress non-believers. Otherwise, the
latter will spread their errors through proselytizing, and cause more
people to be tortured in Hell.
"Christ Yes! Christendom No," at:
"Life on the Edge," a teen radio program sponsored by Focus on the Family, for
Copyright © 2002 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-MAR-23
Latest update: 2006-AUG-21
Author: B.A. Robinson