Has religion made the world less safe?
By STEVEN PINKER - THE WASHINGTON POST
Added: Wed, 28 Dec 2011 01:47:56 UTC
The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys. The world of the New Testament is little better: kings carry out mass infanticide; thieves and activists are punished by being nailed to a cross.
Though most of the events narrated in the Bible almost certainly never happened, historians agree that they reflect the norms and practices of the era. We live in a world that is indisputably less violent than that of our ancestors. Savage practices such as human sacrifice, chattel slavery, blood sports, debtors’ prisons, frivolous executions, religious persecution, and punitive torture and mutilation have been eliminated from most of the world. Less obviously, homicide rates have plummeted over the centuries, and during the past sixty-five years that the rate of death from war has fallen to historically unprecedented lows.
Having documented these declines of violence, I am often asked what role religion has played in this historical progress. Overall it has not been a good one. Many humanitarian reforms, such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery, were met with fierce opposition in their time by church authorities. The conviction that one’s own values are sacred and those of everyone else heretical inflamed the combatants in the European Wars of Religion, the second-bloodiest period in modern Western history, and it continues to inflame partisans in the Middle East and parts of the Islamic world today.
This essay has been adapted from The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011).
Stephen Cave - Financial Times Comments
What we really know about our evolutionary past – and what we don’t
Stacy L. Memering,Viviana A.... Comments
Magic at Every Age
A review of Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True
Andy Liegl - CBR (Comic Book... Comments
In front of a packed crowd during his panel titled "My Two Years with Dawkins, Christ and a Small Crab Called Eric" at Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist, writer and indie filmmaker Dave McKean recounted two recent life events on radically opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum: an all-ages book he illustrated with scientist and Atheism proponent Richard Dawkins called "The Magic of Reality," and a film he shot starring Michael Sheen in Port Talbot, Wales called "The Gospel of Us," a modern day interpretation of "The Passion" story chronicling Jesus Christ's final days of life on Earth.
Doctor Science - Obsidian Wings Comments
Last weekend I noticed two religion blogs, one Jewish and one evangelical (though not fundamentalist) Christian, discussing the same passages in the Bible: the ones commanding the Israelites to fight, slaughter, enslave, and dispossess the Canaanite inhabitants of the Land of Israel. To commit genocide, in fact.
Oliver Kamm - The Times Comments
Review of The Magic of Reality
John Gray - The Globe and Mail Comments
A review of The Future of Blasphemy Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights
by Austin Dacey
MORE BY STEVEN PINKER
Steven Pinker - The Edge Comments
The False Allure of Group Selection