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When religion is evil

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 21, 2008 | 9:48 am

Faith Central, one of two religion blogs on the Times of London’s site, has held a special place in my heart since they plucked The God Blog, seemingly out of thin air, for their list of the 30 best religion blogs. It is one of many faith blogs I read intermittently, and this morning I noticed a post about some undue hype given to a report that noted religion as a 21st century source of evil. Read on:

Fascinating, the way surveys get reported.  Yesterday with some glee it was reported that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, set up by a deeply religious Quaker,  had with delicius irony done a survey which concluded that a great 21st century evil is religion - which “not just in its extreme form - is intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution”.  So the paper said.  So the National Secular Society echoed, with glee.  The faith school issue, clearly, has fuelled this view, as has Islamist terrorism.  The Bish of Southwark is wheeled out to protest.

But get this…a fuller reading of the research makes it utterly clear that long before they got to religion people were worried about violence, gun crime, binge drinking, knives, drugs, child exploitation, poverty and inequality.  Moreover, somewhat bigger than religion was the observation that the media “propagate negative and damaging attitudes”  and that the big businesses which fund them “fuel inequality and consumerism”.  Moreover, earlier Rowntree research points out the usefulness of much religion as “social capital”.

I think we all can agree that religion—defined sociologically as a body of thought that bonds people in community and connects them to something greater than the world we know—can, has and will continue to be used for evil. The Crusades. The Inquisition. The Holocaust. The Cave of the Patriarchs massacre. The 9/11 terror attacks. The writings of Dan Brown.

Indeed, we see barbarism and abuse in all religions, throughout history. (Yes, Hindus do it too.) But does this make religion evil or does it speak more to the depravity of man?

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