How can religion be good when so much violence and war is started from or because of religion?

I’ve addressed this question in a couple of different ways over the past month. But the main point I’ve made is that the people citing their faith as a justification for violence are not true members of their faith.

This answer is both minimizing and unsatisfactory. Let’s unpack the question, its implications, and explore why relabeling violent zealots isn’t helpful.

Answer the Questioner

The problem with dismissing zealots as members of their faith is that it does not prevent their association to the faith. At best, we would agree to differ.

When we address tough questions, we must remember to not only answer the question but to answer the questioner. They bring their entire life experience into their meaning, word choice, and tone.

“Religion” is a charged and loaded word. It carries heavy cultural, traditional, corporate, social, and pejorative connotations. To use “religion” instead of “faith” or “spirituality”, in Western culture, implies a basis for the individual-first mindset, a rebellion against authority, and ultimately a fear of being wrong.1

Violence occurs regardless of religion. Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany, and Pot’s Cambodia were anti-faith, anti-free-thought, and combined in killing ~70 million people. Supplying these counterexamples are less important than empathizing with why and how the questioner came to their conclusion.

We must address the questioner’s core assumption: even religious people behave poorly, so why be religious?

Distinction

From the Christian perspective, “good” behavior is a side-effect, not a goal. Christianity offers a non-temporal purpose and consistent answers to life’s existential questions:

  1. Where are we from?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. What is the purpose of life?
  4. How should we live?

Our hearts are positioned to place ultimate value in things that are fleeting: work, money, power, success, prestige, sex, relationship, education, family, happiness, and self. When those things disappear, we lose purpose and are placed in despair.2 Christianity offers an answer outside of this world, an answer that is loving, permanent and true.

Responsibility

As a Christian, I cannot dismiss people that commit ruinous acts to others and themselves in the name of Christ. I must apologize for it. I am sorry. I realize that I am associated with them and must take responsibility to not ignore their acts. There’s an interesting effect that happens to people of faith.

When one acts poorly, people will consider that a strike against one’s faith, while one’s positive traits or actions are a reflection of one as an individual not as a Christian. For the Christian, the opposite is true. A person’s good deeds, traits, actions are a result of God (James 1:17).

Christians will falter and struggle. It is the nature of being human. When we do, we turn back to God to seek guidance, wisdom, and grace to fix and mend our actions. It is a process that spans one’s life.

A Call to Action

This question of violence and its underlying assumptions has a subtle implication for the modern church. A more powerful witness against the Christian faith is not violence, it is judgment.3

It is easy for us to judge another Christian (Matthew 7:3). The church is a safe space4 yet we undoubtedly make value judgments on each other’s struggles and transgressions.

The modern church forgets Him. We stray from what He gave us. We take His grace for granted. When you were saved, He accepted you as-is. He does not say, “fix all your problems, then you can join Me”. He met you exactly where you were. Then the process to help you began.

The church is a hospital.

It exists for broken people (Mark 2:17). For healing. Just because another member is not where you are spiritually, emotionally, or physically does not give you the ability to demean their process. Remember where God found you. Extend that grace to others (believers and non-believers alike).

There are people in this world that will never accept Christ. And God has called you (if you are a Christian) to be His representative to those people. You may be the only impression of God they will ever encounter.

“Grace for them?”. Yep.


  1. Anecdotally, people have felt judged by those in spiritual authority (pastors, priests, monks). By leaving the structure and traditions of a church, these same people feel that they are able to dive into their spiritual journey without the fear of judgment. [return]
  2. Idols are a great topic for another post. [return]
  3. Pride: the urge to control, the lack of self-reason and respect for others, and the spiritual plagiarism against God. [return]
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_space [return]