Is Religion Bad?
Michael CravenS. Michael Craven is the President of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). H.I.S. BridgeBuilders is an urban missionary ministry that works to bring the redemptive power of God’s kingdom to bear upon the poverty-ravaged areas of our city, restoring people, families, and communities through spiritual, educational and economic development to the glory of God. To learn more, visit: www.hisbridgebuilders.org
- 2007 Feb 13
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
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
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
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: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.