Giles Fraser: How to rid the world of religious violence

Giles Fraser notes in the Guardian that “the history of religious belief is a history of horrendous violence: intolerance of others, burnings and lynchings, religious wars in which millions have died, torture, persecution.” He writes:

So why is it that religion often does not have enough moral fortitude to resist its own capacity for violence? At its heart, religion is that category of belief in which the world does not revolve around me but around something other than me. It is a sort of Copernican revolution in which the human being is not at the centre of all things. That is not its only characteristic, but it is essential.

But there are two ways in which this thought can go. It can be a source of humility, a reason to admit that there is much about the world that I do not and cannot know, a basis for a sense of wonder at that which is beyond me that cannot be collapsed into my own plans and schemes. But also, and in total contrast to this, having the belief that we are indexed (and have special access to) to something higher or beyond ourselves can itself serve to make us feel more powerful, more virtuous, more in touch with the truth – the very opposite of the Copernican revolution of the spirit. And being exclusively allied to the truth is always a useful way of excusing one’s own violence, for it is all being done in the name of something else, something other than me. For God, as it were.

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