When I read of the killing of innocents at the Quebec Grand Mosque, I thought of a conversation I recently had with a friend. My friend’s proposition was that religion had been responsible for more death and suffering in human history than any other cause.
I replied that the desire for power, coupled with greed, were the most common causes for killing in human history. I cited Nazism, Stalinism, and so many ancient imperial slaughters, including Caesar and the Romans, Alexander and the Greeks, Attila and the Huns, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Mongols, and countless others. Very few of these wars had anything to do with religion. While acknowledging that some of humankind’s killing sprees did involve religion, we can see that even many of those were, at heart, quests for power or wealth (such as, for example, the Crusades or the Northern Island troubles).
The recent Mosque killings has persuaded me to add a further comment: Hatred of religion might well represent the second-most common cause of deliberate human suffering.
Sometimes hatred of another’s religion emanates from a misguided attempt to defend one’s own religion by oppressing others. Other times, hatred of religion emanates from the rejection of all religions. In both cases, I think that hatred of religion is rooted in fear and insecurity about one’s own beliefs leading to a desire to oppress others.
In my local newspaper today, an academic, Timothy Snyder, is described as making the following point “Jews had citizenship taken away first. Then it was a slow process to separate them from the state. By the time people are taking shelter in basements, it’s too late.”
When we see public authorities in Canada today punishing citizens with fines, suspensions, deprivation of their livelihood, exclusion from professions, merely because of their religious affiliation, their religious beliefs, or simply their deeply held moral convictions (whether or not religious), we are seeing precisely the type of persecution described by Timothy Snyder.
While such persecution does not possess the same horrific intensity as the evil murders committed at the Quebec Grand Mosque, such measures possess the same antipathy to the right of others to freely choose beliefs which not everyone shares.
Here is the message I sent last week to some Muslim friends:
I’ve been out of the country and only just returned today. As I read of the evil done at the Quebec City Mosque, I felt badly for how severely such deadly hatred must have struck you both, and my other friends in our Muslim community. As I hope you know, I stand with you against hatred of this nature, and with you in defence of freedom of religion and belief.
If I can be of any service to you in this time of grief, please do not hesitate to let me know.