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Os Guinness on Religious and Secular Violence

It would be a safe but sad bet that someone, somewhere in the world, is killing someone else at this very moment in the name of religion or ideology. ¶ Currently, the world’s newspapers give us each day our daily read of the Sunni Muslims ferociously slaughtering Shia Muslims in Baghdad, and of Shia Muslims ferociously slaughtering Sunni Muslims in revenge. Elsewhere it might be Muslims and Hindus killing each other in Kashmir, or Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, or Muslims and animists in Sudan. Earlier it would have been Protestants and Catholics in Ulster, and Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics in the Balkans. … But before anyone drifts off into the well-rehearsed litany of blaming it all on religion, we should remember that modern “terror” began in France in 1789 in the name of secular Reason, killing several million in its wars and committing a near genocide in the Vendée on its first outing. Nearer our own time, close to a hundred million people were slaughtered in the twentieth century by secularist ideologies — far more than the deaths from all the religious persecutions and repression in Western history combined.

In the world’s most murderous century, about one hundred million human beings were killed in war, another hundred million under political repression, and yet another hundred million in ethnic and sectarian violence.

Unquestionably, religion can be divisive, violent, and evil. But, also unquestionably, secularism can be oppressive, murderous, and evil, too. Leaving aside Hitler, who was anti-Christian but not an atheist, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Pol Pot, the Young Turks, and the Spanish Republicans were all secularist, though cut from the same cloth as Osama bin Laden and Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. When priests and nuns were slaughtered by the thousands and churches sacked and destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, a Republican wrote: “These burning were the autos de fé necessary fo the progress of civilization.”

This is no moment for crowing by either side, or for cheap attacks and mindless finger-pointing by anyone. There is enough blame to go around to sober us all, and the urgent need is for solutions, not scapegoats.


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