Is religion to blame for the violent acts of its practitioners? Does Islam deserve to be held to account when terrorists act on its most violent teachings, claiming a “fundamentalist” belief in them?
As an atheist who left his “angry atheist” phase awhile ago, I’ve been grappling with this question anew in the wake of the events in Manchester. I don’t want to unfairly malign any religion or its practitioners; at the same time, I refuse to just close my eyes and pretend calls to violence don’t exist. If a given practitioner of ANY religion chooses to disregard parts of a religious text because they feel those parts are too violent or don’t fit into their worldview, good for that person — but I wish more of those people would take that opportunity to then go the next step and question the underlying text itself. What good is a religious text that requires a “conscience filter” from its readers? Remember, these books, whether we’re talking about the Bible or the Quran, claim to be infallible. One mistake should call into question that claim of infallibility, and ultimately, the entire text.
As it stands, the question of whether to blame the religion feels largely academic. What does it mean to “blame the religion”? Does that mean blaming the book, or blaming the institutions that spring up around the book? The first makes sense — if a book says “kill the people who disagree with you,” that book absolutely needs to be brought to account and should not be forgiven its claims. The second, though, is where the question gets thorny. On face, certain institutions (the fundamentalist ones) are obviously to blame for the violence. But how can peace-loving institutions be held blameless, when they claim to rely on the exact same book for their beliefs?
Ultimately, my issue with “blaming a religion” is that it is too broad a blanket. Like many other labels, it hits every individual person that falls under that label, when in actuality those individuals run the gamut from the murderers of ISIS to pacifists who wouldn’t hurt a fly. It always comes back to people and their individual choices, of course — but denying that those choices can be influenced by the violent passages in a book claiming to be the infallible word of God seems, to me, naive.