I do not think that religion is the only source of evil in this world. Humans have an instinct to form groups, and to amplify the differences between the in-group and the out-group. I am myself a fan of Manchester United, and for some weird reason I can get a little bit upset when someone criticize a player in the team or something similarly harmless. Now, I would never act on such feeling, however, there are fans or hooligans who in fact get into fights for such reasons, unbelievable as that may sound… I think that mankind will probably always find something to fight about, however, I also think that religion is the worst culprit of all when it comes to creating conflicts between groups. In chapter eight of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins addresses the very frequent question "what is wrong with religion"?
The danger of Islamic fundamentalism is obvious to most people. Last weekend I watched the movie United 93. Even though I have seen those planes fly into the world trade center thousands of times I still just cannot understand or accept that any human being can plan and execute such a deed which intentionally strikes against civilians, many of whom have had absolutely nothing to do with the miseries that the Muslim world has experienced. To take a plane full of civilians in great despair and then fly that plane right into a building with more such civilians is an act that must require a lot of faith. 9/11 was no zenith of terrorism. According to “The Religion of Peace.com” Islamic terrorists have carried out more than 9500 deadly terror attacks since 9/11.
Islam is not the only religion with blood on its hands though. In Africa, countless massacres has been carried out in the name of Christianity. See for example Joseph Kony (see picture), proclaimed spirit medium and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
So where does religious extremism stem from, what causes it? I have not read any studies on this, and if someone could enlighten me then I would be grateful. However, I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that religion has to take part of the blame. In particular, the problem with almost all religions is that they teach the young that blind faith is a virtue. To doubt in God when there is no evidence is for some reason a horrible crime. As a consequence, religious people often cannot tell you what it would take for them to stop believing. This is one of the things that separates science and religion. Dawkins writes:
But my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.
There are well documented differences in peoples' tendency to be open minded. Some individuals are born with a taste for absolute rules and principles and a great dislike for grey-scale ethics and knowledge. One could add to the speculation above that if individuals of this kind, who score low on openness, is brought up in say a Christian family, then it is probable that this individual will become more extreme in his/her faith than the parents. Maybe, unlike the parents, the youngster decides that the bible must be read literally and then he read from the bible that “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22.20), right there you have the birth of an extremist. Dawkins explains it perhaps more elegantly than me when he writes:
The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves are an open invitation to extremism.
The religious movement in the United States seems to have abandoned the founding fathers' ideal of a true secular state. The intelligent design movement tries to bring religion into the classroom, a goal which may become a problem for them since the creator is not specified. Meanwhile there are the so called pro-life politicians (ironically, the same politicians tends to be strong proponents of the death penalty), who want a ban on abortion for faith based reasons. The religious movement in America has culminated (I hope) in a group referred to by outsiders as The American Taliban. I can find no difference between their rhetoric and that of Osama Bin Laden. According to Ann Coulter:
"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."
Anyways, the main problem with faith and the answer to the question "what is wrong with religion" is that it idealizes faith without evidence. It is really hard to argue with someone who merely says "this is what I believe, and nothing can change that". Such an attitude makes it impossible to have discussion that is of any use. I will end with the following quote from Bertrand Russell (see picture) (which can also be found in The God Delusion):
Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.