Faith did some healing
I found J. Anderson Thomson Jr.'s [September 30 cover story] about Islamic terrorism to be an interesting discussion of the evolutionary nature of group violence. I did, however, find his conclusion to be a non sequitur.
If, as Thomson suggests, there is no god, then one has great difficulty in defining good. If there is no god, then how can one definitively condemn violence? Any statement about what is good or bad in itself is based on faith– faith in a higher power or faith that our physical experience and our feelings of pleasure or pain are reliable, true, or absolute.
Those who live by faith have a moral ability to criticize immoral behavior. The various Eastern traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, and varieties of Buddhism, were able to bring stability and peace to the Chinese empire. Islamic religionists were able to create the studies of modern medicine, mathematics, and a host of modern sciences. Several monks in imperial Spain were able to bring to an end the slavery of Indians within the Spanish empire.
Christian activists in the United States were able to argue for the reformation of prisons, the abolition of slavery, and a variety of legal reforms (hand in hand with unions) to benefit workers. Christians and Jews in this country helped to establish the first institutions of higher learning and the first hospitals. Christian pacifists opposed American imperialism from the War of 1812 through Mexico, and all the way up to Iraq.
Religion, by its nature, can bring violence in many forms but can also bring peace and civil society, just like human nature. The key, as one of our great secular leaders who was also a religious man, pointed out, is to appeal to the better angels of our nature.
Matthew J. Lind