How do I respond to someone who says that religion is the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world?
The first thing I would do is establish the positive impact that religion has had on the growth of civilizations and the general wellbeing of mankind.
The sciences have been especially nurtured by religious people, especially Catholics. The scientific fields with important foundational contributions from Catholic scientists include: physics (Galileo), acoustics (Mersenne), mineralogy (Agricola), modern chemistry (Lavoisier), modern anatomy (Vesalius), stratigraphy (Steno), bacteriology (Kircher and Pasteur), genetics (Mendel), analytical geometry (Descartes), heliocentric cosmology (Copernicus), atomic theory (Boscovich) and the origins of the universe (Lemaître). 35 craters on the moon are named after various Jesuit scientists and mathematicians!
Catholics have also made significant, if not outright foundational contributions to economics, the university system, systematic health care, natural philosophy, architecture, and the arts (painting, sculpture, music).
I also mentioned the general wellbeing of mankind. Study after study has shown that religion plays a significant role in social stability. The Heritage Foundation has analyzed these studies and come to the following conclusions:
— Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
— The regular practice of religion has been shown to help poor persons move out of poverty; inoculate individuals against suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime and divorce; increase longevity, improve one’s chances of recovery from illness, and lessen the incidence of many killer diseases.
— Religious people have less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness.
— Religious belief and practice is a major source of recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown.
In light of all this, how can religion be the most divisive, destructive, and deadly force in the world when it does people and civilizations so much good?
Once you establish the goods of religion, it is also necessary to make a distinction between the religion and its adherents. When people commit atrocities in the name of religion, sometimes it’s because the religion itself calls for it, other times it’s because people are sinning against their religion. Let’s not condemn all religions when not all religions are the same in this regard. If the root of the atrocity is sin, the fault is in the sinner, not his religion.
Peace of Christ to you,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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