The terrorist attacks in USA were carried out by men claiming a religious justification for their actions. In East Timor and Nigeria, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Christian’ communities are in conflict. In the Indian sub-continent, there is warlike confrontation between Hindus and Muslims.
Is religion, then, a source of evil in the world? Would life be more civilised if we were all atheists?
A brief look at the last century will shout the answer to these questions: no, no and no! The last hundred years provides a case study. They show conclusively that society without God is unspeakably terrible.
Karl Marx wanted to get rid of every thought of God from people’s minds; he wanted to create an atheistic society. But it was left to others to actually try and put his ideas into practice.
Lenin echoed Marx’s sentiments when he wrote: ‘There can be nothing more abominable than religion … Every religious idea, every idea of God, every flirtation with the idea of God is unutterable vileness’.
Accordingly, early in the Russian revolution, religion was seen as a major threat and steps were taken to destroy it. Many who refused to abandon their belief in God were sent to concentration camps and mental institutions — or their grave.
After Lenin’s death, Stalin took over. Under his leadership the ‘Godless Union’ was founded and in one year alone published some fourteen million pieces of atheistic literature.
Over twenty million people were herded into slave-labour; some fourteen million were imprisoned; perhaps ten million people were slaughtered.
When the dissident Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn was presented with the prestigious Templeton Prize for progress in religion in 1983, he explained the tragedy that wrecked his country.
‘I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution. In the process, I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own towards the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval.
‘But if I were asked today the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that has swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this happened”.’
In 1949 Mao Tse-tung established the atheistic People’s Republic of China, a regime which liquidated religious organisations, expelled foreign missionaries, persecuted believers and killed millions.
At one stage, his opponents were being executed at a rate of over 22,000 a month.
Pol Pot, the Cambodian leader, was another who tried to create an atheistic state. In the ‘killing fields’ of Cambodia between April 1975 and January 1977, over 1,500,000 people, one-fifth of the country’s population, were slaughtered.
I am not suggesting that all atheists would condone these actions. I am simply stating that if society is uncoupled from a belief in God, who is our judge, we lose any basis for deciding what is right and what is wrong.
We also lose any desire to make the distinction.
So how do we explain the fact that religion is so often the cause of conflict? The answer is ‘tribalism’.
Since Adam and Eve turned their backs upon God, the fear and jealousy of people different from ourselves has cursed mankind. It was jealousy that made Cain kill his brother Abel, and that was only a start.
In other words, we cling to what we know and fear or envy what we do not. Other communities have other customs, other standards, other world-views. Their ways and beliefs threaten our own; they do not belong to our ‘tribe’ and we feel the need either to nullify or destroy them to remove the threat.
Whether in the East-West divide, in Ruanda, Kosovo, Indonesia or Northern Ireland, the problem is tribalism, not religion. Sadly, religion is often used to define ‘tribes’ and thence arises the confusion.
God revealed in Christ
Atheism is not the answer, for it merely defines another tribe. For the solution we must look to God himself, not ‘religion’.
And how can we do that? Jesus Christ tells us: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’, he declares (John 14:9).
The true God, who made heaven and earth and even now sustains them, has revealed himself in Jesus Christ who is ‘the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person’. Christ has ‘by himself purged our sins’ and has ‘sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:1-3).
We can trust him for time and for eternity.