graphic by James Ellis

I follow the hashtag #atheism on twitter in order to keep abreast on what people are saying about religion and other controversial subjects. Often the content contains thoughtful discussion or bits of news that interests me, but much of it resembles typical “zinger” one-liner material: pithy 140-character messages that resemble confrontational bumper stickers instead of well-balanced arguments against religion. Yeah, I’ve done it too. I admit it! Twitter is the safe-haven of the verbal jab.

I spotted one such “zinger” today:

Without faith there could be no genocide, no racism, no bigotry; faith breeds evil. #christian #jesus #bible #god #atheism #islam #muslim

-@FlyingFree333 (Flying Free), 29-4-2011 13:30:22

I’ve certainly heard this hyperbolic argument before, and as an atheist I do not agree. I realize you cannot easily present a reasoned argument for an enormous claim like this on twitter, but even if there were paragraphs of explanation behind it I’m not sure I would ever be convinced that the sole reason for racism, bigotry, and genocide is faith. To avoid an argument about vocabulary; “faith,” could easily be replaced by “religion.”

I am far from being an expert, but I think there are sociological, psychological, and economic causes unrelated to religion that cause these problems in the world. Religion is certainly used to justify many horrible actions such as genocide (e.g. Deuteronomy 20:16-18) and slavery (e.g. the Curse of Ham). However, I do not think all religions or faiths bring about these results, nor do I think ruling out other causes for the evil in the world is wise.

I’d really like to have a discussion about this claim. Is faith the cause of genocide, racism, and bigotry?

And as a side question: What do you think about these kinds of pithy statements on twitter? Do you think they help anything or perhaps give atheists a bad name?

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18 thoughts on “Is Faith the Cause of Genocide, Racism, and Bigotry?”

ikonografer · April 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm

sometimes i think the one liners are all they deserve. let’s face it, every argument’s been made already. none of them work, we are rational, they aren’t-i’m not hatin’ them for it, but we’re always talking past each other. at least the one liners might help theists come to the realization that they’re out of their minds.

Also, i don’t know that we can’t ascribe all these ills to religion. from a narrow p.o.v., we can say that religion encourages disparities among groups, which leads to the aforementioned problems. I’m almost certain we can comfortably lay the blame at these ills on religion, though not on faith-i’ve got faith that science will provide answers.

    Godless Girl · April 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    … we are rational, they aren’t-i’m not hatin’ them for it, but we’re always talking past each other. at least the one liners might help theists come to the realization that they’re out of their minds.

    I have to disagree with you. Someone lacking a belief in the supernatural it doesn’t make them nor their arguments rational. I don’t think “out of their minds” is an accurate phrase either, but I get the feeling that you’re not being particular about your word choice here, so I won’t harp.

chivpolis · April 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Its not restricted to religious faith – its all ideology that is followed without questioning, reasoning or applying moral judgement. Its clear that enlightenment is not necessarily something you get for free when you determine you are an atheist – its a step on the way.
Religion is though , a bear trap on that path.

Parsley Victorious · April 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I’d certainly agree that religion is a cause of division – and a strong one! – but I’d argue against the idea that it’s the cause of all division. What about resources? Greed? These are things that are not necessarily religious. A person with a starving family may be driven to steal food, without a deity of any kind coming into it. Take this example and apply it to the scale of nations – a neighbouring country with a thriving gold or diamond mine, for instance – and suddenly you’ve got conditions in which a certain type of person could rally a population war, no faith involved.

This is just one example, and a simplified one at that, but for all that I believe that faith has contributed to the world’s woes, I can’t believe that it’s the sole cause.

NDDave · April 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I’d say that faith is a major cause of those ills, with religion being one of the major kinds of faith. There is also faith in ones government (nationalism), faith in a particular economic policy, faith in a particular person, etc.

But I don’t think that faith is the sole cause of such ills, just a major one. As Parsley said, there are other factors that can come into play such as simple greed. Admittedly, if the populace had good critical thinking and skeptical skills, even those motivators would be significantly reduced in their ability to cause havoc.

    Godless Girl · April 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    There is also faith in ones government (nationalism), faith in a particular economic policy, faith in a particular person, etc. … Admittedly, if the populace had good critical thinking and skeptical skills, even those motivators would be significantly reduced in their ability to cause havoc.

    I honestly hadn’t thought of it this way before. Being able to see a situation objectively is unbelievably difficult, but if we’re open to questioning our views, we can bring more peace to the world.

mcbender · April 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm

There is a difference between saying faith is “a cause” and “the cause” of those things. I think the first is undisputed (well, at least among atheists), and the second clearly hyperbolic.

Parsley Victorious · April 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

NDDave nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not so much eradicating faith that will solve the world’s woes; it’s eradicating ignorance. Critical thinking abilities do a lot to diminish the ability of an individual (or a population) to commit atrocities. Of course, I’m also convinced that the widespread propagation of these abilities would have as their natural consequence the elimination of religion, but that’s just me.

As for the one-liners, I like them, but more as an internal reinforcement. They help remind me that I’m not the only one, that there are plenty of people who believe that reason is the path to take, despite what I constantly see in the news. They’re not going to help convert the faithful, but then, what is? In the meantime they help me stay sane.

    Godless Girl · April 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    It’s not so much eradicating faith that will solve the world’s woes; it’s eradicating ignorance. Critical thinking abilities do a lot to diminish the ability of an individual (or a population) to commit atrocities.

    I totally agree. There’s a reason why promoting widespread education in underdeveloped nations makes a difference in civil and human rights. It reminds me of that bumper sticker, “Know god, Know Peace,” instead now it’s “Know More, Know Peace.”

Pedro Botas · April 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I don’t call it the cause, it’s the weapon used by the people in charge.
You can find more about it searching for “secret societies”.

greateighthsin · April 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Correlation vs. causation.

In all reality, faith has little to do with creating hatred. It’s generally the fact that the person already has that form of hatred and gets involved with a particular congregation or hive that thinks the way that they do which they then use whatever resource (bible) to affirm their hatred. Faith, however, can breed hatred. The person that birthed the hatred can, and will do anything possible, to pass that hatred on to friends, family, and most importantly, their children.

angie gunnell · April 30, 2011 at 10:57 am

I certainly don’t agree that faith (religion) is the sole cause of all genocide, racism and bigotry, but it is used to justify those things and has been throughout history. I guess it’s easier to commit horrible acts if you think there is a god somewhere who will be pleased. But there are other reasons for atrocities that have been committed, greed, certainly – as well as insanity – but the bottom line is that religion teaches people to follow blindly, and with faith, instead of questioning their leaders.

vjack · May 1, 2011 at 8:15 am

Of course faith is not the cause of genocide, racism, bigotry, and the like. These things are going to happen with or without it. However, faith does enhance them in a variety of ways.

Harold · May 6, 2011 at 1:24 am

I think racism, genocide, bigotry, and holy wars all hail back to the simple battle between Us and Them. Way back at the dawn of man, people lived in small groups and struggled over food and water. You needed some way to tell Us from Them to improve your group’s chance of successfully reproducing. Since neighboring groups probably looked pretty similar, you had to resort to some other way to tell what group a person came from. This could include the way a person spoke a particular word (“shibboleth” for example), which deity the person worshiped, or whether the person had the proper body mutilation/decoration (which your holy man may have decreed). As civilizations grew and diverse peoples began to meet, we expanded our repertoire of ways to tell Us from Them to cover race. Tribalism grew into nationalism, and when individual nations couldn’t fight on a massive enough scale, they formed the occasional supergroups based on religion (The Crusades). Even without outright violence, we look for ways to separate Us vs. Them, from political groups to sports rivalries to entertainment fandoms (Star Trek vs. Star Wars anybody?). I don’t have hard evidence to back this up, but it seems like we form into groups very easily and this seems like as good a hypothesis as any.

Stephen · May 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

The book “Descartes Bones” has a particularly good case for how you can get bloodshed with an adherence to reason alone.

Descartes certainly helped science move forward with a reliance on reason, rather than authority. But he introduced dualism – the split of the mind & soul, and the idea that the soul was supernatural, and therefore was not the provice of science. This has held back research on consiousness, and other phenomenon. The clear lesson with Aristotle is that even a genius can make mistakes. With luck, we can get over Descartes’ worst mistakes.

TheSecretAtheist · May 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm

I agree. It would be pretty hard to make a case for religion being the sole cause of all the world’s ills (just as they can’t legitimately make a claim to being the source of all the world’s good).

I tend to dislike these sorts of pithy sayings as much as I disliked the Christian versions for most of the time that I was a Christian. I don’t know whether they help or hurt our cause, I just don’t care for them personally.

Schroedinger's Parakeet · May 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Most wars and conflicts in history have been over land and resources, not religion. The two worse wars in human history, WW1 and WW2, with tens of millions slaughtered, were entirely secular in nature.

So the answer is No.

Flying Free · March 18, 2013 at 2:49 am

After reading this post and the comments all I can do is weep for humanity; not because of religions, faiths or ideologies, but because of the obvious failure of our collective education systems. Not one person here is apparently capable of reading.

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