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Why religions sometimes promote hatred, animosity & intolerance

Introduction, one possible cause

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Religion as a force for good and evil:

As we once stated on this web site's home page:

"Religion is a unique force in society. It promotes both good and evil. Historically, it has helped to abolish slavery. It has promoted  racial integration, equal rights for women, and equal rights for gays and lesbians. It has motivated individuals to create massive support services for the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the broken. Conversely, it has been used to justify human slavery; racial segregation; oppression of women; discrimination against homosexuals; other conflicts, oppression, and discrimination; and mass murder terrorism, and genocide."

"Religion drives some to dedicate their lives to help the poor and needy. (e.g. Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa)  It drives others to exterminate as many "heretics" as they can....Religion has the capability to generate unselfish love in some people, and vicious, raw hatred in others."

Unfortunately, a heresy as seen by one faith group is another denomination's or religion's orthodoxy. And so the hatred continues.

Expressions of religious hatred in recent decades:

Christianity's main rule of human behavior, the Golden Rule, tells its followers to treat other people as they would wish to be treated. This is referred to as an "Ethic of Reciprocity." Similar passages are found in almost all other world religions. Yet, even a casual examination of today's newspaper will show that religious hatred is often a motivation for intolerance, hatred, mass crimes against humanity, terrorism, and genocide. In the past 15 years, such behavior has been observed in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, India, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, etc.

Even the United States is not free of religious hatred. In recent decades, we have noted reports of many isolated events displaying religiously inspired hatred. Some were:

bulletA lynching of person because they are a Wiccan -- a follower of the religion of Wicca.
bulletA longing by a teleminister to return to olden times when we stoned religious minorities to death.
bulletA call by a Baptist minister for the U.S. army to napalm all Wiccans.
bulletMultiple calls for a genocide to wipe out all Muslims or Jews or Christians, etc.
bulletAn attempted mass stoning in Arkansas of demonstrators advocating greater religious freedom and tolerance.
bulletContinuing attacks on churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious buildings.

This site receives a few hate Emails each month. They are balanced by about three or four times as many positive Emails.

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A possible connection between religion and anger:

John S. Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA distributed an essay titled "Understanding Religious Anger" to his subscribers during 2006-AUG. 2 He has noted that it is common for religious people to express anger towards individuals of other denominations or faiths. He described two verbal attacks that he personally experienced: one happened while lining up at a university graduation ceremony; the other when a heckler interrupted him giving a speech. He wrote:

"When one looks at the history of religious persecution, which has included such things as excommunication, torture, and the burning of heretics at the stake, there is ample evidence of hostility associated with Christianity. When one adds to that the Crusades designed 'to kill the infidels,' a history of anti-Semitism, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants, the picture of religion as a source of anger in human society, victimizing people in every generation, becomes clear."

He suggests that most of the anger expressed during the debate on women suffrage early in the 20th century, and on equal rights for homosexuals and bisexuals today has originated in the Christian churches. He links religious rage to the "frightened human psyche" that "needs the certainty of religion, no matter how narrowly defined, in order to feel secure."

He asks:

"Has religion in general and Christianity in particular degenerated to the level that it has become little more than a veil under which anger can be legitimatized? What happened to that biblical proclamation that the disciples of Jesus are to be known by their love? 3 How does religious anger fit in with the Fourth Gospel's interpretation of Jesus' purpose to be that of bringing life more abundantly?" 4

"Perhaps the time has come to recognize that Christianity was never meant to be about religion; it is to be about life. The achievement of personal security is the goal of religion. The ability to live with integrity in the midst of the insecurity of life is the goal of Christianity. Religion seeks to control life with guilt. Christianity seeks to free people to be all that they can be. There is a vast difference. Perhaps it will take the death of religion to open us once again to the meaning of Christianity, even 'Religionless Christianity.' For the purpose of Jesus was not to make us religious but to make us fully human."

About this section of the ReligiousTolerance.org web site:

In this section of the web site, we will attempt to:

bulletDiscover why religion motivates some believers to hate other faith groups within their own religion and followers of other religions.
bulletDocument the existing levels of prejudice and bigotry.
bulletSuggest methods by which faith groups can reduce the level of religiously-motivated hatred.

Some of these essays may be distressing to some readers. We invite those who agree or disagree to consider writing their thoughts down and donating them for publication  to our visitor essay section.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David Barrett et al., editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200." Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. J.S. Spong, "Understanding Religious Anger," Bulletin, 2006-AUG-22. You can subscribe to these weekly Emails at: http://secure.agoramedia.com/
  3. The instruction to "love one another" appears 13 times in the King James Version of the Christian Scriptures. See: John 13:34, 15:12 and 15:17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, and 4:12; 2 John 1:5.
  4. John 10:10b: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Additional information sources:

bulletDeborah Caldwell, "The Problem With Monotheism: Why the world's two largest faiths, Christianity and Islam, have a tendency to 'turn evil'." A Beliefnet  interview of Charles Kimball, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
bulletCharles Kimball, "When Religion Becomes Evil," Harper SanFrancisco, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Site navigation:

 Home > Religious intolerance > Basic information > Religious hatred > here

 Home > Important essays > Religious hatred > here

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUN-4
Latest update: 2009-NOV-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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