Religion the greatest danger to world peace? Think again
Contrary to what anti-religious zealots such as [Sam] Harris assert, throughout history far more lives have been snuffed out by faith-hating fanatics than by religious believers.
Historical demographers estimate that, in the 350 years between 1478 and 1834, the Spanish Inquisition was responsible for the execution of between 2,000 (Encyclopedia Britannica) and 32,000 people (Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, 1987.)
That works out to about ninety-seven people a year- a ghastly number, to be sure, but a far cry from the "millions" routinely cited by secular fundamentalists.
As for the "witch hunts," another example Harris and others give as irrational religious fanaticism, the British historian Norman Davies estimates 50,000 people, primarily women, were executed as witches over a four-hundred year period-an average of about 125 a year.
Yet as horrible as these examples of religious intolerance may be, they pale in comparison with the single-minded, bloodthirsty, satanic fury unleashed upon the innocent by secular fundamentalists-those militantly atheistic regimes that sought to expunge religious belief and "bourgeois" morality represented intolerable obstacles to social progress.
According to research conducted by the political scientist Rudolph Rummel at the University of Hawaii, the officially atheist states of the Communist bloc committed more acts of genocide than any societies in governments in the twentieth century-communist, socialist, fascist-equals about 170 million.
As a result, ordinary people-whether religious or not-might be forgiven their general skepticism when today's secular fundamentalists talk about the "intolerance" and "violence" of biblical religion or the people who believe in it.
In terms of raw numbers-which is the only kind of evidence that rationalists such as Harris claim to accept-the evidence is incontrovertible: Freed of any moral restraint, believing that the ends justify the means, scoffing at the notion that they will ever answer to a power higher than themselves, the murderous dictators of atheistic regimes feel little hesitation in committing mass murder if they believe it will advance their more "rational," more "scientific" social aims.
I realize that the above information does not automatically mean that atheism is false. Nor do we believe (or mean to imply) that all atheists are bad people. We know some that are very nice.
The purpose of this book excerpt was to challenge the often proclaimed statement that "religion has caused more death and wars than anything else," or an objection like it.