I have just finished reading the chapter “Religion Kills.” It was a very frustrating chapter to read. Hitchens’ argument is that religion seems to lead to greater violence. His evidence is that numerous groups that aligned themselves with religious traditions have been involved in violence. I cannot speak for other religions, such as Islam, regarding how closely violence is taught or tolerated in those traditions. That is not my area, although I strongly suspect Hitchens is overstating his case there as well. I would like to make few short observations about Hitchens’ claim that religion kills.
1) Hitchens does not make a clear distinction with regard to sources of conflict. How much is really about religion and how much of it is about ethnic groups?
2) Have more groups that had some religious affiliation committed acts of violence? Perhaps. But look at how much of the world is religious and how much is atheist. Atheists are a very tiny minority and so by the odds, more violence will be done by those who claim some religious affiliation because there are so very few atheists.
3) Hitchens has done nothing to show how this violence has come from religion rather than just people who happen to have a religious affiliation. What Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist teachings direct people toward violence? How exactly do religious teachings lead to violence? Hitchens gives no evidence on this.
4) What Hitchens probably knows but does not admit is that religion is not a cause of violence but a tool used by violent people. Religion is an extremely motivating force. Those who want to manipulate their followers are wise in using religion. Hitler is an example of one who detested Christianity but was happy to use the church as a tool for his own purposes.
5) Does Hitchens really believe that if the world suddenly became atheist that the violence would end? That ethnic differences apart from religion would disappear? That greed and lust for power would be eliminated? The experiments with the officially atheistic Soviet Union and Communist China and their 100 million or so murdered does not point to much hope.
6) How does religion’s supposed influence toward violence fit with its even greater influence to bring about good?
7) The common denominator in all the examples Hitchens provides is not their religion but their humanity. War and violence is not a religious characteristic but a human one.
A side note, Hitchens passes on the common accusation that Jesus’ virgin birth was just one of many in the ancient world. Since this is an area of interest, I should comment.
Perseus – Considering Zeus’ habit of mating with mortal women, the “golden shower” probably was not as innocent as it sounds.
Buddha – He was not born of a virgin but was conceived in the normal way. Presumably Hitchens is mis-stating that his mother dreamt a white elephant entered her side.
Attis – Hitchens neglects to mention that the tree that was involved in Nana’s pregnancy came from Agdestris’ penis.
Genghis Khan – He was not virgin born and living over a thousand years after Jesus is not relevant.
Krishna – Not sure how Devaka was a virgin as she gave birth to seven children conceived in the normal way before Krishna.
Horus – He was conceived through the sexual union between Isis and her dead husband Osiris.
Mercury – Was the result of a union between Jupiter and Maia.
Romulus – His mother was a virgin only in that she was a Vestal Virgin. She was impregnated by either Mars or Hercules.
I share all this, not just out of my interest in supposed pagan parallels, but as a picture of how Hitchens uses facts. What is important is not what is technically accurate but what is a good poke at religion in general and Christianity in general.