The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a popular book which had the byline “How Religion Poisons Everything”. Is such a sweeping condemnation justified?
If we look at the history of mankind the reality is that evil people have poisoned everything. It has been convenient for many of them to use religion to achieve their own ends, but many evil people who were atheists have managed to poison everything they’ve touched without the platform of religion. In relatively recent history alone we might think of Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, who as leaders had opportunity to cause unimaginable death and suffering to so many.
Other radicals hide behind the veil of religion in carrying out their ideologies while a cursory study shows their objectives to be politically, rather than religiously, motivated.
The other side of the coin is that many religious people have accomplished great good in the world.
So what really is the common denominator at the root of evil. Is it religion? Or is it evil people, whether or not they are religious?
Jesus Christ condemned the religious leaders of his day.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
During his famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In other words there would be people who would make false claims to follow Christ, and yet by their actions show that they really had no connection with him.
The key point to take away is that although Christianity and religion in general has been tarnished by evil people who sometimes hide behind religious ideology, we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. True Christianity – the path of following in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Pet 2:21) – is a force for good in the world. Moreover Jesus will not tolerate those who falsely profess to be Christian forever. The Bible teaches that he will remove evil people from the world when he fully establishes his kingdom on earth.