10/2/2008--I saw a review of the new anti-religion documentary Religulous that seemed to suggest that people kill each other over differences in religious doctrine. The movie opens tomorrow, so I have not seen it. But Bill Maher is quoted as saying that “religion is one day going to get us all killed.”
This view that conflicts in the world today are “religious” seems to me to be mistaken as to the nature of the conflicts. When a Palestinian says, for example, “the Jews stole our land,” it may sound like a theological conflict. But it is a conflict over land. Such a statement is similar to a saying by a native American that “Europeans stole our land.” Conflicts like these are not over dogmas.
As to conflicts over dogma per se, all three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—agree that coercion can never be used to promote belief. It is not the case that Muslims are willing to kill Christians because Christians believe Jesus is God. It is true that many Muslims consider this belief a profound and horrible error. But Jews also consider this belief an error. Yet no Jews are killing Christians over it.
I don’t mean that there has not been interreligious doctrinal violence in the past. There has been. For example, the Inquisition was just such coerced conversion. But this is not our problem in the world today.
There is religious violence today, but it tends to be religious oppression of members of one’s own group. For example, Muslim women are oppressed in some Muslim countries. And there is also discrimination without violence. Gays are discriminated against in America for religious reasons, for example.
But these issues are not what Maher is pointing to. He is suggesting that the great international conflicts of our time are religious in nature. About that he is simply mistaken.