This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Myths and Illusions: The Myth of Religion Preventing Violence

Rembrandt, "Moses Smashing the Tablets" (1659)Today’s entry into the pantheon of modern Myths and Illusions: the myth that religion prevents violence and makes people act all nice to each other.

Duck Dynasty’s archmoron, Phil Robertson, is in the news again, this time for treating lovely Jesus-loving folks at some ultra-conservative Jesusy prayer breakfast to good old-fashioned snuff porn. (Of course, as anyone with interest in the history of religion will tell you — former medievalist here — it isn’t “really” porn if you make it about God. That’s why any square-state youngster who is strictly forbidden from seeing an R-rated movie lest he be harmed by the sight of people having sex for fun (the horror!), is free to gorge himself on stories of rape, murder and incest without any guilt whatsoever simply by reading The Good Book; and it’s not for nothing that Inquisitors enjoyed torture porn and occasional rape, because that was in the course of doing God’s Work and therefore praiseworthy.) If you are unwilling to immerse yourself in the sad, sickening parade of Robertson’s sexual issues, here is the fantasy in a nutshell: some bad guys break into an atheist’s home, rape and murder his wife and daughters in front of him, then castrate him; the moral of the story being that since he doesn’t believe in the judgment of God, why should he be surprised at what was done to his family by people unrestrained by godly morality. Zing! Atheists, ya burnt.

I am going to go out on a limb here and give Robertson the benefit of the doubt : maybe he didn’t mean that fear of hell is the only thing that’s stopping him from breaking into an atheist’s house, raping a couple of girls, decapitating their mother, and chopping off a man’s wiener while delivering a Sunday-school lecture; though he’s certainly soothing his manhood with those mental images. I find it difficult to be outraged or alarmed by Robertson qua Robertson. What can be expected of such a person? He’s intensely stupid. His “mind”, such as it is, is a stranger to thought, so it can only be kept alive with the crudest and most rudimentary stimulation. In this regard, I am not even sure he’s capable of meaning stuff when he uses his voice apparatus to generate word-like sounds. What is of interest to me, however, is that his crude parable of sexual violence reflects a very common argument in favor of religion: that religion is needed as a source of a moral code – like, for instance, the rule against raping and murdering people.

The most fundamental problem here is failure to recognize the incredibly legalistic nature of theology.

Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor. So, that means you are allowed to bear false witness against someone who isn’t your neighbor? The Bible doesn’t define “neighbor”, so the definition is whatever you (or the Pope, or your rabbi, depending on your sectarian affiliation) decide. Is a Jew your neighbor? Is a Gentile? A Muslim? An atheist? A feminist? A single mother? A liberal? Bottom line, it’s apparently totally okay to make shit up, and swear falsely, no matter the consequences, as long as it’s about someone from outside your neighborhood.

Be kind to strangers within your gates. Cool, but you don’t have to be kind to strangers within their their gates, do you? Yay Holy War, I guess.

Rape … I got nothing. In God’s view, apparently, a woman’s consent, or lack of it, is of little to no importance. At most, rape is a property crime against the woman’s male “owner” — her father, brother or husband. So, rape is totally fine, provided you do it to a woman who isn’t owned by a “neighbor”. Do you think Robertson would consider an atheist his “neighbor”? I’ll rely on secular laws making that stuff illegal, thankyouverymuch.

Do not kill. Of course, there are all kinds of conditions and exceptions to that one, which is why we hump our guns (for Jesus) and fantasize about killing intruders. The atheist in Robertson’s story isn’t just a non-believer, he’s probably a limp-wristed liberal pussy, too, who didn’t stockpile guns, which is another reason why he deserved to have his wang sliced off, and why his children deserved to be raped and his wife decapitated. Had he been carrying, like all God-fearing Americans should, he would have been able to protect his family from the intruders, and he would have gotten to rape and decapitate THEIR wives and daughters, just like Jesus intended. Amirite, Phil?

Point is, religious morality is far from being clear-cut — which is why history doesn’t support the argument that religious societies don’t have rape, murder or mutilation, or that religious people don’t do this kind of stuff. When Crusaders took Constantinople, they unleashed unspeakable carnage against their fellow Christians, in the name of God. When they took Jerusalem, the city’s streets ran ankle-deep with blood. The Mongols enjoyed referring to themselves as the Wrath of God, visited upon the wicked; their logic being that, if God didn’t want them raping and killing tens of millions of people, he wouldn’t have made them so good at it. Wars of Religion involved very religious people raping and killing each other, and each other’s families. In fact, looking at history, it would seem that religion is far more effective at inspiring people to murder, torture and kill, rather than at dissuading them from doing so. It’s not because all these blood-thirsty people throughout the ages weren’t “True Christians” — it is that, it’s remarkably easy to use religion to justify precisely the kind of sickness Phil Robertson beats off to.

Whenever I hear the argument that religion is necessary to prevent people from raping and murdering kids, it tells me the person making it doesn’t understand the concept of empathy. And a lack of empathy is a far, far more powerful predictor of psychopathic behavior than a lack of belief in eventual divine judgment. Just ask your nearest edumacated psychiatry science person. Lies from the pit of hell?


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3 thoughts on “Myths and Illusions: The Myth of Religion Preventing Violence

  1. Myth being what it is: the current batch of religiosity claims to originate with Abraham. Abe…hears voices, decides to kill his son, finds a scapegoat, becomes uber-father…minor miracle. Jephthah, sinister, kills his loving daughter (the voices again) as a battle trophy…eerily reprising Agamemnon’s sanguine sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis…was Troy about religion, or just hubris, and is religion just hubris, anyway?
    Robertson may be similarly afflicted (voices, psychopathic tendencies), Librium or Xanax might help, otherwise electro-shock can be amazingly effective (witness: Gitmo, Abu Ghirab)

  2. walker4long on said:

    Thanks for writing this. I have been hearing this assertion a lot lately and it’s gratifying to see it debunked so thoroughly. In my opinion, setting any deity, organization, or ideology above the right of humans opens the door to all manner of immorality.

  3. johnbestille on said:

    You can’t blame Phil. He was raised in a way that makes his beliefs real to him…blame his parents!

    As an agnostic myself, I don’t see religious values in a negative frame. After all they were created at a time when civilization had to be controlled by intimidation.

    I know it isn’t necessarily a person’s fault that they think God is the almighty peacemaker. But we can change parental attitudes and school curriculum to be more observing of all options of faith – including non-belief.

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