Thomas Ramey Watson

Is Religion Inherently Violent?

In her new book, Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong argues against the idea that faith fuels wars.

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The point, once again, is fairly straightforward: Humans start wars and slaughter their enemies and blow themselves up for complicated reasons. For a book with such an abundance of historical facts and analysis, Fields of Blood seems to be making a simple argument at an ambitiously macroscopic level—it’s an inevitably overwhelming sprint through nearly 7,000 years of history.

But maybe that’s the point: Humans talk in frameworks. People see the world through cultural associations and narratives of history, even if they’re not apparent; that’s why the attendees of Armstrong’s book talks can intellectually understand that religion hasn’t caused all the major wars in history while still almost subconsciously believing religion to be inherently violent. Fields of Blood can’t debunk the rhetoric about religion that has built up over decades, but “the point is to sow a little seed of doubt, to muddy the waters,” Armstrong told me. Perhaps that’s all one book can hope to do.


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