Religious Debate

I was watching some clips of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens debating religion with Alister McGrath the other day for work, the atheist intellectuals producing an endless list of all the horrible things done in the name of religion throughout history.

Shouldn’t we outlaw something, they argued, that’s produced such hatred and misery and grief in the world? How can you possibly justify something that leads people to do such terrible things?

And I thought even if it isn’t true, even if you can’t believe in God or gods or anything divine—

Isn’t that train of thinking sort of like the parent of two children squabbling over a red firetruck deciding that if she only takes away the red firetruck and never lets her children have a firetruck (or possibly anything red) ever again, her children will never squabble and her job as parent is done?

Because if you don’t believe there are any actual supernatural powers involved in religion, then it just becomes a symbol doesn’t it? The real force of aggression must come from the people themselves. And it seems to me that it’s a waste of time to attack a symbol when the thing that’s really disturbing—the violence and self-justification and lack of accountability—will just attach itself to something else and move on. Humans are, after all, quite adaptable. We’re perfectly willing to hide behind whatever seems largest and most invincible, and if that isn’t religion than I’m pretty sure it would just be something else.

And why should we find it more acceptable to kill others in the name of money or convenience than the name of God? I thought the tragedy was the wrongdoing, not the excuse for it.


That’s what I thought when I heard their complaints. I don’t know what McGrath said because I was out of time and didn’t want to get mired in something that was pretty tangential to my project, but I’m sure lots of people have had this thought before me and lots will after.

It’s nothing new.

I just get tired of the assumption that if religion wasn’t involved, we would have had no Crusades, no colonialism, no Middle Eastern conflict, no witch hunts, no Inquisition—I mean, it’s an interesting hypothesis. But unless Bill and Ted get the phone booth working, that hypothesis isn’t going to make it to theory status any time soon, you know?

None of which is a particularly “Christian” response to the argument, since my line of thinking actually relies on the atheist assumption that religion isn’t true. Oddly enough, it’s actually much easier to defend religion if it’s not true. It’s once you actually believe in a God that he (or she or they, I suppose) becomes much harder to explain.

There can be no crisis of faith unless you have faith to begin with. I find it much harder to come to terms with the God I believe in than the absence I don’t.

Do you know what I mean? You can be angry at a God who allows tragedy to exist in the world, but you can’t rationally be angry at a chimera. You can’t hold a chimera responsible. Not while there are a lot of human beings standing around with suspiciously bloody hands.


It’s a busy morning, and I may have missed something in the sequence. I’m sure if I watched Hitchens or Dawkins long enough they would have some answer for my quibble too. Because that’s how religious debate goes. There are always answers and arguments and more answers.

And it’s interesting and mind-stretching to follow the parade for a while, but in the end I get a little turned off by all of it.

I guess I’m just tired of living in a world where nobody wants to take responsibility for their crap.

It’s not like it’s a new concept. Think of it as the moral and intellectual equivalent of those signs you see at public parks:

How about we stop using tragedies to fuel our agendas or win debates and start actually holding individual people responsible for their individual actions?

Personal responsibility. It could be big.


One thought on “Religious Debate

  1. Brilliant. Truly. And in support, there’s always the long list of modern wars, none of which had much of anything to do with God and all of which caused immense and tragic suffering. Vietnam, for example. Children slaughtered in the name of democracy. Maybe we should outlaw democracy, too?

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