Hereford Times Article - 09/05/19
“Does religion do more harm than good?” That was the title of an article I read just before Easter.
Very soon there were examples of why that is by no means just a theoretical question.
First there was the murder of Lyra McKee in Londonderry, giving a chilling reminder of the troubles in Northern Ireland, in which conflict between Catholics and Protestants has been a key ingredient.
Then came the indescribably horrific bomb attacks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in which a number of churches and hotels were targeted, resulting in more than 300 deaths.
At the very time at which Christians across the world were meeting to celebrate and rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and his defeating of death, suicide bombers caused untold grief and destruction – in the name of their understanding of their faith.
The article to which I referred, from the Tablet magazine, also identified the confrontation between Israel and Palestine which has “taken on an overtly religious cast” and said that “religion has played a role in recent and continuing civil wars, from Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Sudan.” It went on to assert that “several countries have seen the rise of highly divisive faith–based political groups, whether violent or not.”
So, does religion do more harm than good? On a positive note, the Tablet writer could point out that religion is “the world’s greatest source of social capital and that faith-based conviction has mobilised millions of people to oppose authoritarian regimes, inaugurate democratic transitions, support human rights, and relieve human suffering.”
Over the years, various surveys have been carried out which indicate that an enormous number of people do believe that religion causes more harm than good. I believe that is understandable – and it’s important that we don’t try to take the moral high ground in this country, where, historically all sorts of horrific things have been done in the name of Christianity.
The truth is, I believe, that there is good religion and bad religion. It is not religion itself that, for example, causes intolerance. It is intolerance that uses religion. Moral and religious language can be used as a cloak for evil and irreligious ends.
From a Christian point of view, the challenge is pretty clear in the teaching of Jesus, who taught us not only to love God and our neighbour as ourselves, but also to love our enemies.
Bishop of Hereford.