Is Religion the Root of All Evil?

03 Mar
Four Horsemen

from Google Images

Often the accepted leadership of the new atheism, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens,[1] Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett (also referred to as the Four Horsemen) have argued that religion is not only a delusion but a dangerous delusion. It seems that they believe religion is at the root of all our problems. They not only advocate separation from religion but desire to separate religion from public affairs. In other words they advocate religious impotence. No religion of any kind (but especially Christianity) should have a public voice, including in education. It seems, according to their point of view, if religion should become irrelevant, many, if not all, of our problems would be solved.

“Of all the issues faced by human society today, religion remains one of the most divisive and destructive. In America’s Midwest and Israel it became apparent how prone otherwise sane people are to extremism once they indulge in faith—belief without evidence, when they give up reason. This film takes a hard look at the very concept of faith—how it behaves like a kind of brain virus, infecting generations of young minds—how it perpetuates outdated and dubious moral values. Religion deserves to be scrutinized far more critically than it normally is. I feel passionately about this. If the film does one thing, I hope it encourages people to start questioning why the strange distorted mindset of religious faith should automatically demand and usually receive our society’s respect.”[2]

“Part of what makes Jehovah such a fascinating participant in stories of the Old Testament is His kinglike jealousy and pride, and His great appetite for praise and sacrifices. But we have moved beyond this God (haven’t we?).”[3]

Hardly endorsements one would want to add to his résumé. However, one of the big problems with Richard Dawkins’ otherwise very interesting YouTube video is that he doesn’t even approach proving his case, which he states in his 2 minute introduction—namely, that sane religious people are prone to violence and give up reason to embrace faith. What he does show is that what he calls religious “fundamentalists” are unreasonable and may (given the opportunity) resort to violence in order to advance their understanding of how things ought to be. Nevertheless, one could also say the same for political “fundamentalists” or tribal/ethnic “fundamentalists” or any group who might be unreasonable but wish to control the world or a part of it. Dr. Dawkins makes the mistake often made by so many otherwise intelligent people—namely, he lumps together everyone in a particular group and blames the whole for what a portion has done. Moreover, because a particular group has done evil in the past (e.g. Crusades) that group has not changed, will not change and cannot change as long as it embraces faith, which Dr. Dawkins erroneously labels “a kind of brain virus” that opposes reason.

What is conspicuously absent from Dr. Dawkins video is the enormous good done by religion, particularly Judaism and Christianity. According to John Adams, America’s 2nd President:

“…the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation… (and not only so, but they preserved and propagated) to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.”[4] (parenthesis mine)

As Dr. Dawkins points out in his video, religious zealots do horrendous things in the name of God, but if one were to actually investigate, for example, what Jesus claimed, could one honestly blame God for the bloodshed of the Crusades, the Inquisition or between different groups of Christians? Did he order it, or was the bloodshed done at the command of men who have no real support from the Bible? Jesus predicted that his name would be blasphemed among the nations (Matthew 24:5, 11; cf. Romans 2:24). Things like this should be considered, because anything can be done in the name of a respected person but the thing done is abhorred by the person it is supposed to honor. If I began hating religion and organizing church burning events by claiming Richard Dawkins (my hero) would rather a world without faith-based institutions, would I accurately represent Dr. Dawkins? Of course not! Should he or people who accurately represent his point of view be insulted, persecuted or otherwise penalized in society for embracing that point of view? Of course not! Then why should it be done to Christians, Jews or any people of faith who otherwise obey the laws of the land and seek to peacefully influence society?

Christopher Hitchens claimed that “religion poisons everything.”[5] Was that true of Mother Teresa? Was it true of William Wilberforce? Is it true of education, whereby in early America all of the colleges (except Penn State University, but including Harvard, Yale and Princeton) were begun by Christians for the glory of God? Surely, Dr. Hitchens must have remembered that his alma mater, Oxford University, was begun by Christians. Was his own education poisoned thereby?

Have we moved beyond this God? Is Religion the root of all evil? Does it cause violence? Does religion truly poison everything? Should the God of the Bible be discarded? It seems the new atheists are very evangelically minded (did they take a page from the religion they despise?). Perhaps it’s just me, but I fail to see that the case they try to make in their works is conclusive. Certainly, they read and can quote from the Bible, but it is all from their point of view, and they seem to ignore a lot of it to keep from dismantling their point of view. They don’t tell the whole story, only that part of it that supports their evangelistic mission: 1) we need to move beyond this God, or 2) don’t let faith (a kind of brain virus) infect you, or 3) God really isn’t all that great, belief in him poisons everything and he should be discarded. Essentially, that’s their case, but I’m not buying any of it.


[1] Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011.

[2] Richard Dawkins: from the introduction (first 2 minutes) of The God Delusion film on YouTube.

[3] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), p. 265.

[4] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Vol. 9 “Letters and State Papers, 1799-1811” – To F.A. Vanderkemp, February 16, 1809.

[5] Christopher Hitchens, part of the title of his book: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in apologetics


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