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Is Religion Bad?

Michael Craven | Center for Christ & Culture | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is Religion Bad?

This seems to be becoming a popular argument: “Religion is the source of all strife and conflict in the world and we would all be better off without it.” Prominent advocates of this view include the eminent Richard Dawkins, the professor of evolutionary biology and author of The God Delusion. Dawkins argues in this most recent book that “as long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, then it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers.” Dawkins further states that religion is a “bad idea” that when foisted on children; it is a “moral wrong.”

Then there is Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Harris argues that, “unless we renounce faith, religious violence will soon bring civilization to an end.”

In an article written by former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich which appeared in the New Prospect; Reich states that:

The great conflict of the 21st century may be between the West and terrorism but terrorism is a tactic and not a belief. The underlying battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that beings owe blind allegiance to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is no more than preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe that truth is revealed solely through scripture and religious dogma, and those who rely primarily on science, reason, and logic.

In essence, the sentiment common to each of these men and a growing number of others is that religion, in their minds, answers the question, “What has gone wrong with the world?” Unfortunately, all they have to offer is the scientific or modernistic worldview as the solution which postmodernism is now revealing as both futile and crumbling.

Regardless, much of this sentiment has been given a credible voice in the wake of Islamic violence and terror. In this sense, I do understand the reaction. In the case of Islam, one must ask what is it that this religion teaches which encourages such brutality and bloodshed. However, it is both incorrect and rather sophomoric to conclude that ALL religion is therefore “bad.”

Investigation into the teachings of Islam will no doubt convince one that this particular religious idea is indeed dangerous. Critics attempt to argue that Christianity is equally guilty of preaching violence and bloodshed “in the name of God” but this again is not an accurate account of the theology and teachings of the Christian faith. Furthermore, this is almost always based upon religious ignorance by those who are predisposed in their opposition to religion in general. Additionally, this narrow idea that “religion is bad” does not take into account the overwhelming good that we see produced by religion every day.

No, in answer to question, “What has gone wrong with the world?” the better answer is this: pride. Pride is the universal human evil across the globe – not religion. Pride, according to C.S. Lewis “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” There is no doubt that many atrocities have been and continue to be committed in the name of religion and this would include those who have, at certain junctures, perverted the Christian religion. However, whether this evil is true to a given religion or a perversion of pure religion it is always the product of human pride.

This is the uniquely Christian analysis of the human condition and the biblical counter is humility – humility before God first and then others. It is this wretched condition of pride that separates us from God and from each other. It is this universal disease that has convinced each of us that we are important in and of ourselves and we often validate this “self-importance” by comparison to others. In doing this we inevitably exalt ourselves and demean others. This is what creates division, envy, strife, and even violence.

It is pride that causes people to think they are better and perhaps more deserving than others and so they justify their greed, avarice and scheming. It was pride that produced the Enron scandal as well as every other that rocked American business in the last decade. It was this same pride which has led so many elected officials into graft and corruption.

It was pride that led Adolf Hitler to believe in the power of the human will and it was pride that facilitated the deception of the German people in the name of nationalism and Aryan superiority. It was pride that gave birth to the communist revolution and its violent reign by elevating the idea that human reason alone was sufficient for the governance of men. This same pride was at the root of the bloody “reign of terror” known as the French Revolution which tried (unsuccessfully) to found its government on the “Rights of Men” supposedly given by men rather than God.

Throughout the ages it has been pride, not religion that has caused all human conflict and related suffering. No good has ever come from this kind of pride and arrogance. Religion, as we talk about it, is a concept until it is institutionalized by sinful, pride-filled men. Christian teaching warns us that sin proceeds from within rather than from without. It is pride which proceeds from every human heart that has alienated us from God and from each other. Here again Lewis is helpful in understanding pride and the Christian call to humility:

We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity – as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. …He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity that has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and strutting about like the little idiots we are.

This is pure religion: the Christian faith which calls men to humble repentance and reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus. It is not the source of all evil in the world as some propose – it is the only cure for the universal human disease: Pride.

© 2007 S. Michael Craven

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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit:

Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.

Is Religion Bad?