Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Good has, as one of its focus, the undisputed history of evil done in the name of religion. As I wrote earlier, I think that this has more to do with human nature and not religion per se. British journalist Edward Pearce offers a further response in a commentary on the Guardian group blog:
All the evidence taken together makes religion look dreadful. But religious faith, the prime mover of evil?
The response to such a grand, archdeacon-annihilating sweep of the arm must be a prolonged, grown-up "Steady on." Rebuttal begins at personal goodness. Put in evidence San Carlo Borromeo and William Mompesson. Both, Catholic Archbishop and Anglican Vicar, discharged for puritan views, faced bubonic plague - in Milan 1576 and Derbyshire 1665/6, respectively. Borromeo refused to follow the great body of the well-to-do into the clean air of exile, but stayed, cared and expended his own fortune - something he had already done during a major famine in 1572. Mompesson, the Puritan, told his parishioners that if they fled the village of Eyam for somewhere free from pestilence, they would only spread their sickness to other people and resolutely stayed himself, to tend the victims.
Both acts of resolute human goodness sprang from religious conviction, and one can add to them at generous length: Lord Ashley of the ten-hour bill, so objectionable to free-market principles, Clarkson and Wilberforce taking on the comfortable iniquity of slavery. They did so because their Christianity implied the equality of all before God. Consider also the Religious Society of Friends, interpreters of Christianity as renunciation of all killing and all wars; a source of evil - the Quakers?>
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Incidentally there is a mighty contradiction between the doings of Franco or Pavelic and the teachings of Jesus. "Love your enemies." "Do good to them that hate you." "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor. And the maimed, and the halt and the blind." Both from St Luke's gospel. Such a gap surely also lies between the central invocation, "Allah, the merciful, the compassionate one" and current practices.
Such words, so many dead; such exultant killings in their name. How are they reconciled? Quite easily. For what Hitchens passes by in his rush to pronounce is power. Power and the lust for it created the wars of recent centuries. Clive wanted to master a sub-continent, Napoleon moved in 1807 beyond consolidation of defence to open-ended empire and lost the far-seeing Talleyrand when he did. Kaiser Wilhelm yearned to use his superb war machine to win something; Hitler had specific objects in the despised Slavonic East. And as power infected the weakest or nastiest rulers, so it infected the church. How remote are the Crusader Popes from the gospels? So unchristian are the makers of the thirty-years War, a conflict in which the final Catholic/ Protestant balance would decide the division of mastery. Cuius regio, eiuus religio goes the tag; to govern a state was to choose its faith.
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Power has been called an aphrodisiac, which I doubt. It is more of a grand alibi, a cloak under which every worst instinct, the non-sexual ID of human desire, takes refuge. People who imagined themselves pacific, liberal creatures of the Enlightenment, have discovered that making war is good, delightful - and morally right. "Now God be thanked, who has matched us with his hour," wrote that crying fool, Rupert Brooke, in 1914.
Only delete poor God, the universal squash wall of human motive, and you have the sentiments of the people now engaged in justifying what you might properly call a crusade. It is a crusade for western values, which values through money, weaponry and the ready instruction of a power-loyal press, hope to prevail. Religion just doesn't have the thrill of it.
Read it all.