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Fisher of Men

Is Religion Evil?

Is Religion Evil?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister (IVP). This chapter by Alister McGrath.


In October 2005, the World Congress of the International Academy of Humanism took place in upstate New York. Its theme: “Toward a New Enlightenment.” To judge from the conference publicity, its organizers had no doubt of the urgency of their theme. Religion is regaining the ascendancy! We are facing a new dark ages, a new evil empire! Only a return to the Enlightenment can save us! Yet perhaps quite contrary to the intentions of its organizers, the conference offered a fascinating glimpse of the crisis of confidence which is gripping atheism.

Belief in God was meant to have died out years ago. When I was an atheist myself, back in the late 1960s, everything seemed so simple. A bright new dawn lay just around the corner. Religion would be relegated to the past, a grim and dusty relic of a bygone age. God was just a cozy illusion for losers, best left to very inadequate and sad people. It was just a matter of waiting for nature to take its course. I was in good company in believing this sort of thing. It was the smug, foolish and fashionable wisdom of the age. Like flared jeans, it was accepted enthusiastically, if just a little uncritically.

New Enlightenment—New Atheism 

Since then, the ideas of the “New Enlightenment” conference have been aggressively promoted by the group of writers now linked together as the “New Atheism.” One of its central themes is the simplistic soundbite ideally attuned to a media-driven culture which prefers breezy slogans to serious analysis: Religion is evil.

It resonates deeply, perhaps at a subrational level, with the fears of many in Western culture. The 2001 suicide attacks by Islamic fanatics on the World Trade Center in New York and elsewhere are seen as surefire demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion. Lurking within every religious believer lies a potential terrorist; get rid of religion, and the world will be a safer place.

Generalizations like this are found throughout Richard Dawkins’s God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Sam Harris’s End of Reason. Harris offers his own readings of central religious texts such as the Bible and the Qur’an to demonstrate that they possess an innate propensity to generate violence. Yet there is no attempt to analyze how these texts are interpreted and applied within their respective religious communities. Dawkins tells us that to take the Bible seriously is to “strictly observe the sabbath and think it just and proper to execute anyone who chose not to” or to “execute disobedient children.”1 Dawkins seems to assume that his readers know so little about Christianity that they are willing to believe that Christians are inclined to stone people to death. 

A reality check is clearly in order. As the cultural and literary critic Terry Eagleton pointed out in his withering review of The God Delusion, “Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false.”2 Harris assumes, without any serious argumentation or appeal to evidence, that the naturalistic world-view he proposes as a replacement for religion will generate more happiness, compassion or peace than religion can. His work bristles with the curious and highly problematic idea that scientists have a keener or deeper appreciation than religious people of how to deal with personal or moral problems. Yet such is the force of his rhetoric that such evidential deficits are airbrushed out of the picture. The New Atheism wants to take us back to the rationalism and sanity of the Enlightenment.

So what is “new” about the New Atheism? An innocent reader might assume that this movement had discovered new scientific evidence or new philosophical arguments that demonstrated that God was the arbitrary and meaningless construction of the human mind. Yet it soon becomes clear that there are no new arguments here. The old, familiar and somewhat tired arguments of the past are recycled and rehashed. What is new is the aggressiveness of the rhetoric, which often seems to degenerate into bullying and hectoring. It serves a convenient purpose, by papering over the obvious evidential gaps and argumentative lapses that are so characteristic of this movement. But it does little to encourage anyone to take atheism with intellectual seriousness.

In this essay, I want to look more closely at this core claim that religion is evil. Such is its cultural power that it tends to be assumed, rather than demonstrated, by those who advocate it. In fact, it turns out to be an article of faith, a belief which can be sustained only by highly selective use of evidence and what comes close to manipulation of history.

When I was an atheist myself, things seemed admirably clear. I grew up in Northern Ireland, infamous back in the late 1960s for its religious tensions and violence. It seemed obvious to me that if there were no religion, there would be no religious violence. I bought into the now outdated Enlightenment view that humanity was innocent and disinclined to violence until religion came along, a view which I find charmingly yet not a little uncritically echoed in the manifestos of the New Atheism. Get rid of religion, and humanity could rediscover a golden age of reason and toleration.3

It’s a neat idea, which makes for great rhetoric. Yet it is indefensible in the face of the evidence, rather like believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. A core belief of the New Atheism, which it persistently tries to represent as scientific fact, is that religion is the cause of the ills of humanity. But what is the evidence for this atheist revision of the idea of original sin?

Religion: A False Universal 

The first point to make is simple: individual religions exist; “religion” doesn’t. The Enlightenment was characterized by a love of universals, most famously stated in the idea of a universal human reason, whose fundamental characteristics were independent of history and culture. For the Enlightenment, this universal human reason could be the basis of a true, global ethic and philosophy, which would sweep aside irrational superstitions as relics of a barbarous past. In the end, this noble idea proved to be unworkable, in that human patterns of reasoning turned out to be much more culturally conditioned than had been realized.

The key point here is that the Enlightenment understandably yet wrongly regarded “religion” as a universal category. During the period of colonial expansion, many Europeans came across worldviews that differed from their own and chose to label them as “religions,” when in fact many of these, such as Confucianism, were better regarded as philosophies of life. Some were explicitly nontheistic, yet the Enlightenment belief in a universal notion called “religion” led to these being forced into the same mold.

In recent years, there has been concerted criticism of this unhelpful and deeply problematic approach. It is increasingly agreed that definitions of religion tend to reflect the agendas and bias of those who propose them. There is still no definition of “religion” which commands scholarly assent.

So what is the relevance of this for the New Atheism? Let’s take a statement by cultural commentator Carolyn Marvin, of the University of Pennsylvania. “Nationalism is the most powerful religion in the United States.” Marvin’s comment makes the point that there are many belief and value systems which can achieve religious status. Indeed, the noted English philosopher Mary Midgely argued that evolution, as developed by Richard Dawkins and others, had itself become a religious belief system. The porous and imprecise concept of “religion” extends far beyond those who believe in God, embracing a wide range of beliefs and values.

As Richard Wentz points out, the real issue is absolutism. People create and sustain absolutes out of fear of their own limitations, and people react with violence when others do not accept them. Religion may have a tendency toward absolutism, but the same tendency is innate in any human attempt to find or create meaning, especially when it is challenged. The key thing here, it seems, is not the ideas or values, but the dedication, even fanaticism, of those who follow them.

This leads into a central theme of many postmodern critiques of modernity—that it creates an intellectual context which legitimates suppression of what it regards as aberrant or “irrational” beliefs. The New Atheism is a superb example of a modern metanarrative—a totalizing view of things, locked into the worldview of the Enlightenment. As many have suggested, atheism is the natural religion of modernity. (Or should we say “worldview”?) So what happens when the Enlightenment is charged by its postmodern critics with having fostered oppression and violence, and having colluded with totalitarianism? When a new interest in spirituality surges through Western culture? When the cultural pressures that once made atheism seem attractive are displaced by others that make it seem intolerant, unimaginative and disconnected from spiritual realities? It is a point that postmodern critics of modernity would wish to press home.

It is vitally important to make a distinction between “religion” and “worldview.” Yet it is a distinction that the New Atheism singularly fails to make or defend. Both religions (such as Christianity) and worldviews (such as Marxism) demand allegiance from their followers. The most successful worldviews incorporate religious elements, even if they are fundamentally secular in their outlook—as in the Soviet Union’s use of quasi-religious rituals to mark essentially secular events. The historian Martin Marty, noting the lack of any viable definition of religion, offers five “features” that he holds to be characteristic of religion; all five, he notes, are also characteristic of political movements. It is not unreasonable to point out that, if religion is dangerous on this count, then so are politics. There can be (and are) political fanatics, just as there can be (and are) religious fanatics. The problem is fanaticism, not religion itself. In fact, the tone of the New Atheism critique of religion suggests that fanaticism may not be limited to the ranks of those who defend religion.

The New Atheism, of course, argues that religious worldviews offer motivations for violence that are not paralleled elsewhere—for example, the thought of entering paradise after a suicidal attack. Yet this conclusion is premature, and needs very careful nuancing. For Dawkins and Harris, it is obvious that it is religious belief that leads directly to suicide bombings. It’s a view that his less-critical secular readers will applaud, provided they haven’t read the empirical studies of why people are driven to suicide bombings in the first place.

As Robert Pape showed in his definitive account of the motivations of such attacks, based on surveys of every known case of suicide bombing since 1980, religious belief of any kind does not appear to be either a necessary or a sufficient condition to create suicide bombers. The infamous “suicide vest,” for example, was invented by Tamil Tigers in 1991, leading to a large number of suicide attacks from this ethnic group. Pape’s analysis of the evidence suggests that the fundamental motivation for suicide bombings appears to be political, not religious—namely, the desire to force the withdrawal of foreign forces occupying land believed to belong to an oppressed people who have seriously limited military resources at their disposal.

The New Atheism offers a superficial explanation for suicide bombings, designed to resonate with cultural anxieties about the heightened profile of religion in the United States and many parts of the world. Yet it is not a sustainable analysis, which does little to help us understand why these bombings arise and what can be done to prevent them. They have simply been hijacked as part of a crude atheist apologetic, rather than taken seriously as a cultural and social phenomenon. Happily, there are many serious studies, particularly from an anthropological perspective (including the important work of Scott Atran of the University of Michigan), which point in more realistic and informed directions. For Atran, the solution to suicide bombings is not the excoriation of religion, still less its suppression, but the empowerment of religious moderates.

So What “God” Are We Actually Talking About? 

If there is a serious point to be made by the New Atheism, it is that religion—or at least, certain forms of religion—can transcendentalize normal human conflicts and disagreements, transforming them into cosmic battles of good and evil, in which the authority and will of a transcendent reality is implicated. If God tells you to kill someone, who can argue with that? Although this point is often made in a muddled and overstated manner, there is a serious point that needs to be considered: why might someone think that God would order them to kill someone?

I must make two points clear here. First, I am a Christian, and write and think from that perspective. Second, I regard the idea that all religions teach pretty much the same thing as fatuous, lacking any empirical support. It is an idea that is curiously favored both by theological liberals (anxious to elevate the generic concept of “religion” above any specific religious system) and atheists (anxious to show that religion is evil, by singling out a single religion as representative of all—witness Sam Harris’s stereotypical account of Islam).

As a Christian, I hold that the face, will and character of God are fully disclosed in Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus of Nazareth did no violence to anyone. He was the object, not the agent, of violence. Instead of meeting violence with violence, rage with rage, Christians are asked to “turn the other cheek” (see Mt 5:39; Lk 6:29) and not to let the sun go down on their anger (Eph 4:26). This is about the elimination of the roots of violence—no, more than that: it is about its transfiguration. Does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ command anyone to kill in his name? Certainly some Christians have argued so, especially during the age of the Crusades. But that belief is deeply problematic when confronted with the person of Christ. Christ commanded the sword to be put down, not to be taken up, in his defense. (The contrast with Islam is particularly instructive at this point.)

The importance of the witness of Christ on this matter can be seen in a tragic event in North America which took place in October 2006, within a week of the publication of Dawkins’s God Delusion. A gunman broke into an Amish school in Pennsylvania and gunned down a group of schoolgirls. Five of the young girls died. The Amish are a Protestant religious group who repudiate any form of violence on account of their understanding of the absolute moral authority of the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. When those unfortunate schoolchildren were murdered, the Amish community urged forgiveness. There would be no violence, no revenge—only the offering of forgiveness. The gunman’s widow spoke, gratefully and movingly, of how this provided the “healing” that she and her three children “so desperately need.”4

Richard Dawkins is nauseatingly condescending about the Amish in his God Delusion. Yet I cannot help but feel that he misses something rather important in his blanket dismissal of their significance. If the world were more like Jesus of Nazareth, violence might indeed be a thing of the past. But that does not appear to be an answer that Dawkins feels comfortable with.

What about Atheist Violence Against Religion? 

As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, I know about religious violence only too well. There is no doubt that religion can generate violence. But it’s not alone in this. The history of the twentieth century has given us a frightening awareness of how political extremism can equally cause violence. In Latin America, millions of people seem to have “disappeared” as a result of ruthless campaigns of violence by right-wing politicians and their militias. In Cambodia, Pol Pot eliminated his millions in the name of socialism.

The rise of the Soviet Union was of particular significance. Lenin regarded the elimination of religion as central to the socialist revolution, and put in place measures designed to eradicate religious beliefs through the “protracted use of violence.” One of the greatest tragedies of this dark era in human history was that those who sought to eliminate religious belief through violence and oppression believed they were justified in doing so. They were accountable to no higher authority than the state. It’s a problem that was anticipated by Dostoyevsky in his great novel The Possessed. The most important character in the novel is Kirillov, who argues that the nonexistence of God legitimates all forms of actions. The importance of this theme for Dostoyevsky is best appreciated from his 1878 letter to N. L. Ozmidov, in which he sets out the implications of atheism for morality:

Now assume that there is no God, or immortality of the soul. Now tell me, why should I live righteously and do good deeds, if I am to die entirely on earth? . . . And if that is so, why shouldn’t I (as long as I can rely on my cleverness and agility to avoid being caught by the law) cut another man’s throat, rob and steal?5

In The Possessed Kirillov adopts a related line of argument: if there is no God, it follows that he, Kirillov, is God. This puzzles Stephanovich, who asks him to explain what he means. Kirillov responds as follows:

If God exists, then everything is His will, and I can do nothing of my own apart from His will. If there’s no God, then everything is my will, and I’m bound to express my self-will. 

Since the idea of God is a pure human invention, Kirillov reasons that he is free to do as he pleases. There is no higher authority to whom he is ultimately accountable or who is able to negate his totalitarian moral self-assertion.6

In one of his more bizarre creedal statements as an atheist, Dawkins insists that there is “not the smallest evidence” that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. It’s an astonishing, naive and somewhat sad statement. Dawkins is clearly an ivory tower atheist, disconnected from the real and brutal world of the twentieth century. The facts are otherwise. In their efforts to enforce their atheist ideology, the Soviet authorities systematically destroyed and eliminated the vast majority of churches and priests during the period 1918-1941. The statistics make for dreadful reading. This violence, repression and bloodshed were undertaken in pursuit of an atheist agenda—the elimination of religion. Atheists can be just as repressive, brutal and bloodthirsty as any other human ideology. Atheism is just fine when it remains nothing more than ideas, discussed in university seminar rooms. But when it grasps political power, it turns out to be just as bad as anything else.

This hardly fits in with another of Dawkins’s spuzzling creedal statements: “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster, or Notre Dame.”7 This noble sentiment is a statement about his personal credulity, not the reality of things. The history of the Soviet Union is replete with the burning and dynamiting of huge numbers of churches. So is the postwar history of the German Democratic Republic. Dawkins’s special pleading that atheism is innocent of the violence and oppression that he associates with religion is simply untenable and suggests a significant blind spot.

Dawkins’s childishly naive view that atheists would never carry out crimes in the name of atheism simply founders on the cruel rocks of reality. Let me give an example from the pen of another Oxford scholar who comes to very different conclusions from those asserted (not argued) by Dawkins. In his outstanding study of the Romanian Christian dissident-intellectual Petre Tutea (1902-1991), the Oxford scholar Alexandru Popescu documents the physical and mental degradation Tutea suffered as part of the systematic persecution of religion in Romania during the Soviet era until the downfall and execution of Nicolae Ceaucescu. During this period, Tutea spent thirteen years as a prisoner of conscience and twenty-eight years under house arrest. His story is enormously illuminating for those who want to understand the power of religious faith to console and maintain personal identity under precisely the forms of persecution that Dawkins believes do not exist.

Dawkins gives every impression of being in denial about the darker side of atheism, making him a less-than-credible critic of religion. He has a fervent, unquestioning faith in the universal goodness of atheism which he refuses to subject to critical examination. Yes, there is much that is wrong with contemporary religion, and much that needs to be reformed. Yet the same is also true of atheism, which still needs to subject itself to the self-searching intellectual and moral criticisms that religious systems are willing to direct against themselves. Why is it that so many atheists apply moral standards to their critique of religion which they seem reluctant to apply to atheism itself?

The reality of the situation is that human beings are capable of both violence and moral excellence—and that both these may be provoked by worldviews, whether religious or otherwise. It is not a comfortable insight, but one that alerts us to the shortcomings and dangers of identifying any one people group as the source of violence and the ills of humanity. It may facilitate scapegoating; it hardly advances the cause of civilization.

Furthermore, Dawkins fails to appreciate that when a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcendentalize alternatives—such as the ideals of liberty or equality. These now become quasi-divine authorities, which none are permitted to challenge.

Perhaps the most familiar example of this dates from the French Revolution, at a time when traditional notions of God were discarded as obsolete and replaced by transcendentalized human values. In 1792 Madame Rolande was brought to the guillotine to face execution on trumped-up charges. As she prepared to die, she bowed mockingly toward the statue of liberty in the Place de la Révolution and uttered the words for which she is now remembered: “Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.” Her point is simple, and I believe it to be irrefutable. All ideals—divine, transcendent, human or invented—are capable of being abused. That’s just the way human nature is. And knowing this, rather than lashing out uncritically at religion, we need to work out what to do about it. The problem lies in human nature. The Christian doctrine of original sin has a lot to say about this significant failure of humanity to live up to its ideals.

Binary Oppositions, “In-Groups” and “Out-Groups” 

Let’s take this line of thought a stage further. Suppose Dawkins’s dream were to come true, and religion were to disappear. Would that end the divisions within humanity and the violence that ensues from them? Certainly not. Such divisions are ultimately social constructs which reflect the fundamental sociological need for communities to self-define and identify those who are “in” and those who are “out,” those who are “friends,” and those who are “foes.” The importance of “binary opposition” in shaping perceptions of identity has been highlighted in recent years, not least on account of the major debate between different schools of critical thought over whether such “oppositions” determine and shape human thought or are the outcome of human thought.

A series of significant binary oppositions are held to have shaped Western thought—such as “male-female” and “white-black.” Binary opposition leads to the construction of the category of “the other”—the devalued half of a binary opposition—when applied to groups of people. Group identity is often fostered by defining “the other”—as, for example, in Nazi Germany with its opposition “Aryan-Jew.” At times, binary opposition is defined in religious terms, as in “Catholic-Protestant” or “believer-infidel.”

It is well known, the binary opposition “Catholic-Protestant” came to be perceived as normative within Northern Ireland. Each side saw its opponent as “the other,” a perception that was relentlessly reinforced by novelists and other shapers of public opinion. Media reporting of the social unrest in Northern Ireland from 1970 to about 1995 reinforced the plausibility of this judgment. Yet this is a historically conditioned oppositionalism, shaped and determined by complex social forces. It is not a specifically religious phenomenon. Religion was merely the social demarcator that dominated in this situation. In others, the demarcators would have to do with ethnic or cultural origins, language, gender, age, social class, sexual orientation, wealth, tribal allegiance, ethical values or political views.

This clearly points to religion, at least in theory, as a potential catalyst for rage and violence in some contexts. In concurring, Dawkins makes a significant concession in recognizing the sociological origins of division and exclusion. “Religion is a label of in-group/out-group enmity and vendetta, not necessarily worse than other labels such as skin colour, language, or preferred football team, but often available when other labels are not.”8 Yet even here, his antireligious animus leads him to some problematic judgments.

The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive. It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings. If religion were to cease to exist, other social demarcators would emerge as decisive, some of which would in due course become transcendentalized. Dawkins has no interest in sociology, as might be expected. Yet the study of how individuals and societies function casts serious doubt on one of the most fundamental assertions of his analysis.

Furthermore, one may legitimately wonder whether Dawkins and others, such as Daniel Dennett, have given rise to precisely the same “ingroups” and “out-groups” by their unwise endorsement of the notion of “brights” in 2003. For those who missed this diverting episode in American cultural history, a “bright” was defined as someone who holds “a naturalistic worldview” which is “free of supernatural and mystical elements.” Just as “gays” was seen as a better word to designate homosexuals, “brights” was coined as a term for atheists.

When launching the “bright” movement in the New York Times back in 2003, Dennett insisted that telling people that he was “a bright” was “not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view.” Well, that’s not how anyone else saw it. The opposite of “bright” is “dim,” a mildly offensive word that translates as “stupid.” By choosing to use the label “bright,” atheists were widely seen to be claiming to be smarter than everyone else. As ABC’s commentator John Allen Paulos remarked, “I don’t think a degree in public relations is needed to expect that many people will construe the term as smug, ridiculous, and arrogant.”9

The choice of the term turned out to be a public relations disaster, reeking of intellectual and cultural arrogance. The problem lay not simply in the field of public relations. The use of the label immediately created a mindset leading to precisely the “in-groups” and “out-groups,” mimicking what Dawkins and Dennett had declared to be one of the cardinal sins of religion. If atheists were really so smart, how could two of their leading representatives fail to see that their chosen label would backfire so spectacularly?

My concern, however, is not the arrogance or foolishness of the New Atheism at this point but its fundamentally divisive nature. This crude belief system divides the world between the “brights” and the “dims,” creating a damaging polarity which the New Atheism asserts is the characteristic of religion. Atheism, it seems, is just as bad, having now added intellectual snobbery to its vices and nothing obvious to its virtues.

Conclusion: On Being Realistic

Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society, has made the significant point that religions were implicated in some human tragedies such as holy wars. While rightly castigating these—a criticism which I gladly endorse—Shermer goes on to emphasize that there is clearly a significant positive side to religion:

For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported. . . . Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot bereduced to an unambiguous good or evil.10

Yet the pejorative and hostile spin relentlessly placed upon religion by the New Atheism asserts that it is a universal, unambiguous evil, which is a dangerous threat to civilization. Yet just where is the balanced and judicious analysis that Shermer rightly demands? Why is it so conspicuously absent? I fear the answer is simple: because it doesn’t make for the slick and simple soundbites that will reassure the godless faithful at a time of religious resurgence. Sure, religion can lead to violence and evil. But so can politics, race, and ethnicity . . . and an atheist worldview.

All of us who are concerned for the creation and preservation of a human civil society want to put an end to violence and oppression. Yet the New Atheist attempt to demonstrate that religion is intrinsically and necessarily evil has proved to be a damp squib, simply leading its critics to conclude that it is capable of resorting to the kind of intellectual somersaults and doublespeak that most had hitherto associated only with the worst forms of scholastic theology. It’s time to stop this implausible discriminatory stereotyping and deal with the real problems faced by the world.

Taken from God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515.

For Further Reading 

Atran, Scott. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Atran, Scott. “The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism.” The Washington Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2006): 127-47.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Dickinson, Anna. “Quantifying Religious Oppression: Russian Orthodox Church Closures and Repression of Priests 1917-41.” Religion, State & Society 28 (2000): 327-35.
Eagleton, Terry. Holy Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Eagleton, Terry. Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Fitzgerald, Timothy. The Ideology of Religious Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Gambetta, Diego, ed. Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.
Kakar, Sudhir. The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict. Chicag University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Martin, David. Does Christianity Cause War? Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
Marty, Martin, with Jonathan Moore. Politics, Religion, and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion’s Role in Our Shared Life. San Francisc Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Marvin, Carolyn, with David W. Ingle. Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
McGrath, Alister E. Dawkins’s God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
Midgley, Mary. Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
Pape, Robert A. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2005.
Popescu, Alexandru D. Petre Tutea: Between Sacrifice and Suicide. Williston, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004.
Rosenbaum, Ron. Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. New York: Random House, 1998.
Shermer, Michael. How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God. New York: Freeman, 2000.
Stark, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witchhunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Ward, Keith. Is Religion Dangerous? Oxford: Lion, 2006.
Wentz, Richard E. Why People Do Bad Things in the Name of Religion. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1993.


1Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 249-50.
2Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching: A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion,” London Review of Books, October 19, 2006. For Eagleton’s subsequent magisterial demolition of the views of Dawkins and Hitchens, see Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
This theme is particularly evident in the string of soundbites, implausibly passed off as an argument, in Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007).
4Damien McElroy, “Amish Killer’s Widow Thanks Families of Victims for Forgiveness,” Daily Telegraph (London), October 16, 2006>.
5Letter to N. L. Ozmidov in Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew, ed. Joseph Frank and David I. Goldstein (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), p. 446.
6Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Devils, trans. Michael R. Katz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 691.
7Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 249.
8Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 259.
9Chris Mooney, “Not Too Bright,” Skeptical Inquirer, March-April 2004.
10Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (New York: Freeman, 2000), p. 71. 

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