The complaint is often made that religion causes wars. It divides people, we are told, and they fight over whose God is right. As many wars as I have seen and read about, in the end, few of them appear to be over who is the true prophet, or which is the true God. We may say we are fighting over freewill against predestination, but really we are not fighting over whether God is in control, we are fighting because we want to be in control. Wars are about power; they are started by the powerful and paid for most dearly by the vulnerable.
What’s more, the record of religions stand against the impulses of war. Whereas the rules of war favor the strong, the Torah says that God fights for the weak and oppressed. The rules of war say “to victor go the spoils.” The Gospel says, “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” While we may protest the violence in the Bible, we may also consider the difference between what the Bible describes and what the Bible prescribes. Even those Bible prescriptions we find intolerable are often mitigations of the common cultural practices of the day.
The Prophets tell us that when the Law goes forth from Zion and the word of the Lord goes out from Jerusalem that swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations will not learn war again. Those are effects of religion that would be nice to see. However, it seems like our natural impulses can not get us there. If religion brought us wars, remember, atheism brought us the gulags. The common element in both is not God, but people. So, is religion necessarily bad? Perhaps it is a good thing to have guides for what we ought to do. Religion or no, what is not good is when we refuse to do what we ought. Perhaps the problem with religion is not that we have it, but that we fail to practice what we know to be good.