From the Mailbox – “Atheists and Violence”
Paul Sturman asks: Though not proving or disproving the question of whether highly religious people are more likely to commit murder, and interesting comparison is the opposite question…are the least religious people more or less likely to murder? The answer to this would most certainly be “less likely”.
It’s interesting, Paul, that you should bring this up. I happened to stumble upon this video by www.freedomainradio.com which talks about the correlation between belief systems and violence, happiness and abuse among other topics. It also talks at length about how atheists are the most despised people in the USA, according to various polls. The video is 15 minutes long, but is very interesting, and eye-opening, for those who have never seen these statistics before.
More after the video…
The video itself delves into ideas of why these numbers and statistics are the way they are, and what it is with a religious society that makes people more prone to act out in violence. One of the most telling statistics in the video is that, in the USA (in 2009 when the video was made and published anyhow) that the percentage of atheists in American prisons is a measly .16%. That’s 16 people in every thousand within a prison that identifies him or herself as atheist. That’s a pretty low number, and it means that the other 99.84% of inmates identify themselves as religious (or other). The sources for this information in the video can be found here.
There’s no denying that people go to prison because they break the law, most of them in violent and antisocial ways. If the percentage of inmates is that low in the test group of inmates, then surely the incidence of violence outside the prison system is an even lower number. Remember in order to go to jail, you need to be caught and charged, so there could easily be an even higher correlation of violence among the religious that simply goes unreported. (Of course this could be true of atheists too, but I would tend to think not to the same degree, given the numbers we have seen in the video.)
The video itself doesn’t delve into homicide specifically, but you can’t have homicide without violence. It is an often used quip that people use when decrying the virtues of religion, that religious people are much more likely to go to war, especially when the term “God-willed” or something similar is used when hyping up the people. Former US president George W. Bush walked in the shoes of his father when promoting the second Gulf War. The people of Palestine and Israel fight against each other over a “Holy Land” and differentiate each other by religion AND ethnicity. The conflicts in the Balkans were between people who were more different in religion than in blood (Muslim, Christian and Orthodox.) And the list goes on. Whether these conflicts were due to religion, or whether they used religion as a catalyst is beside the point. These ideas can be, and are, used and misused to justify bloodshed. And that’s just in recent times.
Of course there’s that old chestnut that says Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were atheists. That is completely beside the point, as none of them used “atheism” as a cause or a means to an end. (And don’t mention Hitler, at very least he was a deist, and at most he was a Catholic, as historical records will show.)
I also found an article in Answers.com actually talks about the correlation between religion and war, and may be of some use to those who wish to read further on this topic.
I think what I am seeing is definitely a trend toward non-violence among those who call themselves godless, contrary to pretty much everything that the religious would like to have to believe. I would attribute this to a few things; people often arrive at atheism because they think enough about the world and those around them to come to the conclusion that a God doesn’t exist; people who arrive at atheism have thought about what it means to be a good person, and that it can be attained without religious influences; people who arrive at atheism also see around them so much wrong done in the name of religion that they are likely to react in a positive manner towards others rather than carry the trend on into their secular lives; and the people who arrive at atheism are individualistic and may be less likely to band together under a banner of homogeneity.
A lot of this is speculation, as I don’t actually have data to back it up. I have however spoken to a great many atheists to whom this reasoning is sound. Of course it’s not true of all atheists, but then again these stereotypes can represent a majority without representing the whole.
There may also be a correlation between levels of education and violence also, but that is another topic, and deserves its own blog piece.
Don’t forget, if you want me to answer your question, or have a topic you’d like to see me cover on the blog, send me a message here. And stay tuned for more “From the Mailbox” coming soon to this blog!