Religious Violence: How Religion Fosters Hate

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is religious violence? Why does religious violence occur?

Religious violence is when people enact violence in the name of religious doctrine or goals. Studies find that it is extremely easy to become violent in the name of religion.

Read more about religious violence and why it happens.

The Fostering of Religious Violence and Hatred

Because religion teaches people that they have access to a divine truth that can never be questioned, it inevitably breeds intolerance toward those who don’t share the same beliefs. After all, those who don’t share your faith are enemies of God and his holy word.

Religion is one of the great sources of in-group loyalty, but also hatred and fear of the other. The Israeli psychologist George Tamarin found that 66 percent of Israeli schoolchildren, most of whom were raised with the stories of the Old Testament, expressed support for Joshua’s slaughter and enslavement of the people of Jericho.

The children who defended these actions did so overwhelmingly on religious grounds, claiming that it was justified because the victims were heathens and unbelievers. Interestingly, when Tamarin presented the facts of the case but changed the context so that it was a Chinese general committing war atrocities, the numbers reversed; only 7 percent approved of the action. 

The intolerance bred by religion can escalate into violence, which, according to some theists, is justified—even moral. Whether it’s an anti-abortion fanatic murdering a doctor in the name of rescuing innocent “babies” or the 9/11 hijackers killing nearly 3,000 people because they believed that they would be divinely rewarded in the afterlife, religion has a unique power to justify that which would otherwise be indefensible.

It’s important to note that those who commit acts of religiously inspired violence are not “evil” or “psychopaths” (however malevolent their deeds might be). To write them off this way is to absolve religion of any responsibility for the poisoning effect it has on the human mind.

A quick exploration of just a few of the injustices perpetrated by religious extremists shows how dangerous faith can be.

Religious Violence: How Religion Fosters Hate

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  • Why Dawkins thinks religion has exerted a harmful influence on human society
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  • The 3 arguments that challenge the existence of God

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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