9/11 and Religion
How did 9/11 change America’s attitude toward religion? A blogger on CNN’s Belief Blog wrote: “Before 9/11, many atheists kept a low profile. Something changed, though, after 9/11. They got loud… Criticism of all religion, not just fanatical cults, was no longer taboo after 9/11.”
Indeed. Last year, around the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, American Atheists hit the nightly news by suing to remove a steel cross from the September 11 memorial, even as others were calling it a national monument and a symbol of hope. This year, The American Center for Law and Justice is challenging the suit. Still, many atheists continue to say that 9/11 is a perfect example of why religion itself is evil. But what about this?
Is Religion Really Evil?
The late atheist, Christopher Hitchens, often called religion a poison that makes people give up their reason—a sentiment shared by popular atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. In light of 9-11, some point to the violence and say, “This is just like in all religion…” But lumping all religions together is awkward.
Saying religion itself is dangerous is like saying belief itself is dangerous. Of course, we don’t just believe, we believe specific ideas. Ideas like “Barack Obama is the President of the United States,” “Golf is the best sport in the world,” and “It is wrong to torture babies for fun.” Ideas are powerful. And they have consequences.
Apples and Oranges
Comparing the beliefs of religious people is often like comparing apples and oranges. Take sports as an example. Imagine you’re watching aquatic sports like diving, swimming, and water polo at the summer olympics. Later, you see some competitive boxing, judo and wrestling. You wouldn’t lump all these events together and say “All Olympic sports are violent. They’re all just about beating people up!” After all, aren’t all sports basically all the same? They’re all about competitive people training to win medals, right?
But why do this kind of thing with religion?
Consider these two beliefs:
- It’s good to be a terrorist.
- It’s good to be a pacifist.
Obviously, a Muslim extremist’s belief that “it’s good to be a terrorist” is way different than a Quaker’s belief that “it’s good to be a pacifist.” For example, contrast the September 11 terrorist attacks with the Quakers’ influence on colonial Pennsylvania—which was basically unarmed as a matter of policy for about 75 years! So, is religion itself evil? Ask yourself: “Are these beliefs both dangerous or evil? Do they produce the same kinds of people or actions?”
What Would Jesus Do?
There’s a reason the teachings of Jesus has been a force of good in the world–for Christians and non-Christians alike: When Jesus said “love your neighbor,” he didn’t just mean our friends and family. He meant anyone who needs help. Historically, these Christian beliefs resulted in the invention of hospitals, the abolition of slavery, and the alleviation of human suffering through countless humanitarian missions around the world.
Terrorists who wrap their evil actions up in religious terms don’t represent everyone who believes in God any more than communist governments that have collectively murdered hundreds of millions represent all atheists.
Of course, anyone can say, “I’m religious” or even claim to follow Jesus—and then turn around and commit a heinous act that’s totally against what Jesus taught. But the Apostle John actually said that you’re a total liar if you live like that (1 John 2:4-6).
Religion Isn’t Evil
Biblical Christianity shows that religion itself isn’t evil. So it’s not really religion itself that’s the problem. It’s the content of certain beliefs that we need to carefully evaluate for truth. Because ideas have consequences. And when it comes to God, the consequences are massive.
As J.P. Moreland put it:
The more important the issue, the greater the harm in having a false belief. How a person thinks about God has a huge impact on the way they live the rest of their lives.
Religion isn’t dangerous or evil. Rather, it’s false beliefs about God that can have devastating consequences.