One of the enduring myths of the secular state—indeed, its very justification—is that religion is so dangerous, so volatile, so likely to burst into conflagrations of violence, that the only protection we have from societal destruction is the erection of a wall that separates religion from the state. . . .
Even my calling it a myth seems out of place. Isn’t it true—in fact, a truism—that wherever religion and politics mix, it is like gasoline and a match? Isn’t that what history teaches us?
No. History actually teaches us two things.
First, as William Cavanaugh so powerfully argues in his Myth of Religious Violence, when we take a closer look at the 16th and 17th century wars of religion we find that differences between Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and other Protestants, were secondary to the aims of the emerging nation-states and various political and dynastic intrigues. Simply put, the main cause of these wars was political, not religious. . . .
As Cavanaugh makes equally clear, the secular state needed (and still needs) people to believe the story that religion is the cause of violence because this belief allows for the actual creation of the secular state. The secular state is what emerges when religion is forcibly removed from the public square through the powers of the state. The myth of religious violence justifies the removal of religion, and it is through that very removal that the state achieves secularization.
Secular humanists say very little about the millions and millions of people who were killed in wars before Christianity ever existed. This is because it is a powerful case against their efforts to portray religion as the primary source of war. By propagating the myth of religious violence, nation-states are serving their own agenda. The myth runs on the assumption society can separate government and religion into two completely separate entities. This assumption is false, but allows nation-states to require complete allegiance from its citizens, even unto their death, while proclaiming violence in the name of the nation is honorable and worthy of special medals, and then declaring violence in the name of religion is something to be feared and labeled as “fanaticism”.
Mankind has repeatedly demonstrated that we do not need faith based convictions to cause harm; there is no real evidence that shows people of faith are any more inclined to cause violence than, for example, those people of secularist convictions – or even secular progressives who claim reason and service to humanity as their guides. The “myth” of religious violence may be consoling to those who find comfort in their prejudice, but it does not provide us with true insight into religion or ourselves.
Posted on Friday, August 10, 2012 by Samuel