Charleston shooting: is religion to blame?

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Charleston shooting: is religion to blame?

June 23, 2015 -

Is religion at the root of the Charleston tragedy?  Is it to blame for most of the world’s conflicts today?

David Niose has served as president of the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America.  Not surprisingly, his latest blog in Psychology Today finds a way to blame religion for the horrific shooting in Charleston.

Niose connects Dylann Roof with ignorant racism and thus anti-intellectualism.  Then he claims that “the impact of fundamentalist religion in driving American anti-intellectualism has been, and continues to be, immense.”  His bottom line: religion is one of the forces advocating for “an abandonment of reason,” with all the tragedies that result.

If you’re looking for more ways to blame religion for our problems, consider yesterday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan parliament.  Or the U.N. report on Gaza citing “serious violations of international humanitarian law” by both Israel and Palestinian militants.  You could trace such strife in the Middle East and around the world to the ongoing conflicts between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  You can then agree with atheist Christopher Hitchens, who claimed that “religion poisons everything.”

Or you can consider the fact that “religion” is a category, not a reality.  There is no such thing as “religion,” only religions.  If I were to ask you the color of leaves, you’d ask which kind—oak, pecan, maple.  There are not “leaves,” only individual “leafs.”  So with religion and religions.

The crimes perpetuated by a particular religion are not the fault of another, any more than the failures of one doctor are the fault of the entire medical community.  Anti-intellectualism, whatever its sources and manifestations, is not the fault of a faith which calls us to love God “with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Racism is wrong on any level, whether manifested by murder or by subtle discrimination. (Tweet this) But it is not the fault of a faith which announces that “there is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  (For more on racism and Christianity, see Nick Pitts’s A cultural and theological response to racism.)

If you’re wondering whether Christianity and intellectualism are compatible, ask Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and now head of the National Institutes of Health.  Ask Boston University sociology Peter Berger, or Princeton’s Robert P. George, or Stanford’s Michael W. McConnell, or Notre Dame’s Alvin Plantinga. Read the work of N. T. Wright or C. S. Lewis.  Consider the contributions of Augustine and Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, John Calvin and G. K. Chesterton.

Many in the culture have decided that Christians are anti-intellectual and intolerant.  But how intellectual are those who confuse “religion” with “religions”?  How tolerant are those who will not tolerate reasoned dissent? (Tweet this)

Let us reply to accusation with reason but also with love.  Let us respond to slander with strength but also with grace.  Consider the families of the Charleston victims who forgave Dylann Roof.  As Dominic Bouck notes, “By the grace of God, for those at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, violence begets love, racism begets dignity, sin begets grace, hatred begets forgiveness.”

May it be so for us all.

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