Religion Doesn't Kill People; People Kill People


It's hard to be a nonreligious mother writing a blog about kids and religion without acknowledging Christopher Hitchens' widely publicized view — or implication, rather — that religion may be akin to child abuse. So I'm acknowledging it. But that's about all I'm going to do.

It's not that I dispute any of the major points Hitchens puts across in of his 2007 bestseller, "God is Not Great." And that includes Chapter 16 ("Is Religion Child Abuse?"), in which Hitchens recounts the horrors of genital mutilation, priest abuse and sexual repression of young boys, among other things. But to imply that raising children to be religious may be abusive — that there's a deep harm in, for instance, baptizing kids or taking them to temple or teaching them to pray — well, as Bruno would say: "Ich don't think so."

Unfortunately, there probably will always be freakish cases, like this one, that add fuel to Hitchens' fire. But, generally, in this country, we’re not talking about real injury or trauma to children. We’re talking about loving parents trying to do what they think is best for their kids.

I'm not the most reverent person. The title of my blog alone suggests that. I was raised on a healthy dose of sarcasm, so irreverence just comes sort of naturally to me. That said, and this is the part where Hitchens officially declines to write the foreword to my book, my irreverence about religion doesn't mean I think there's anything inherently wrong with religion.

The way I see it, religion is a tool like any other. This may be the '80s kid in me talking, but I liken religion to the candlestick in the game of Clue. The candlestick brings light to the old mansion right up to the moment when it's used to kill Col. Mustard in the library. So is religion good or bad? Both or neither? Do we try to ban the candlestick? Of course not. Because religions don't kill people; people kill people. People protest the funerals of gay soldiers. People fly planes into buildings. People create wars. People abuse children.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some truly F’d up things written in nearly every “holy” book out there, or that people do bad things because they genuinely think it will get them into whatever version of heaven they've imagined for themselves; but the vast majority of the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an speak of  peace and love and friendship and kindness. Religion, at its core, is meant to bring comfort and hope to people, and to give them a moral compass. This is what most parents want for their kids; and it's why so many of them turn to religion to accomplish it.

What exactly is abusive about that?