December 11, 2007

Matthew Murray and the Colorado Christian Shootings

I find absolutely no joy in what happened in Colorado. As much as I find their ideology naive to downright stultifying, I don't wish to see acts of violence perpetrated against Christians anymore than I would like to see them inflicted upon anyone. The shootings that took place in Colorado can be viewed only as horrible acts perpetrated by a twisted individual against innocent people who, regardless of what any of us think about their beliefs, didn't deserve to be gunned down.

That being said, does the personal history of the lunatic who committed these barbaric acts negate the argument that religion makes people more moral? I found the following passage in an article about the shootings published in today's Washington Post:

Murray, who was home-schooled in a deeply religious Christian household, had been thrown out of Youth With a Mission a few years ago and had been sending the group hate mail, the Associated Press reported, citing court documents. He had no known connection with the New Life Church, its pastor told reporters.
Of course, there are going to be people who rely on a No True Scotsman argument to reconcile this in their own minds. I don't suppose there's much that can be done for those people, and I suspect they're the same ones who have managed to write off the misdeeds of people like Ted Haggard and Newt Gingrich over the years. It's tempting and easy to hide from reality when confronted with something that threatens deeply-held beliefs rather than reforming one's ideals. One might even be prone to coming up with incredibly bizarre rationalizations about demonic possession and supernatural intervention in extreme cases of inability to deal with the world-as-it-is.

Note, too, that I am not saying that religion is responsible for the creation of someone like Murray, nor am I saying that it isn't. It could be, of course. Who knows what Murray was taught in that "deeply religious Christian household" as part of his homeschooling. Clearly, whatever it was didn't stop him from becoming a monster, however, and that's the point.

Religion doesn't make people moral; some moral people simply find justification for their values in a religion. The religion itself isn't the necessary part of being a decent human being. Neither religion nor science nor diet turns us bad. None of them turns us good, either. There are many factors that go into making a person; childhood experiences, environment, education... and so no single one can typically be pointed at as the thing that makes us who we are.

I bring this up because one of the frequent assertions I see made about the value of religion is precisely that it makes people moral. That's the assumption that many people make, for instance, when they hear that some convicted criminal has "found God." That's why many of them "find God" in the first place; it can shave some time off a sentence. The thing is, there's no evidence that this is true. It clearly makes religious people feel better about themselves and apparently gives many of them a way to cast aspersion upon non-believers, but even the BTK killer went to church every Sunday.

The only thing religion necessarily makes a person is religious. There can be side effects, too, especially when belief leads to a closed mind and a worldview that contradicts objective reality. Clearly, though, nobody can look at some pious devotee and have any idea of his morality.

Just ask Matthew Murray, Dennis Rader, Ted Haggard, John List...

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