Two Things Terrorist Attacks Do NOT Tell Us About Religion

Two Things Terrorist Attacks Do NOT Tell Us About Religion

With the rest of the world, I’ve felt deeply grieved over the recent terrorist attacks. I feel a true sense of despair that there is no end in sight to events like these.

If you’ve been online much lately, you’ve probably noticed the endless articles pointing fingers of blame for the attacks in all directions. As has been the case since 9/11, many of those fingers are pointing squarely at “religion.”

For example, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page published a post that expressed condolences and stated, “Let us continue to be an opposition to religious fundamentalism!” This was followed by a “Don’t pray for Paris” meme which has been shared over 53,000 times.

Similarly, a cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo (the French magazine whose office has been the target of two terrorist attacks) published a drawing stating, “Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforparis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy!

These negative sentiments about religion in general are hardly new in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Ever since 9/11, atheist authors have used religious violence as a major impetus for their own war on religion (as an example that can be extracted from the title alone, consider Christopher Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). Their conclusions are generally two-fold: 1) that religion is bad and 2) that religion is (consequently) false.

But terrorist attacks and other religious violence don’t tell us those two things at all.

In a world where such violence is increasingly becoming an issue, and where atheists are increasingly using that issue to challenge any notion of God, it’s important that our kids understand how to think critically about such claims. Note that this isn’t even about Islam specifically; it’s simply about what a person can or cannot conclude about religion based on the existence of religiously motivated violence.

Here’s what your kids should understand about the two erroneous conclusions that religion is bad and religion is false.


1. That religion is bad.

I’ll be honest with you: I find it very difficult to understand why otherwise intelligent people make the seemingly obvious logical error of proclaiming that “religion” is a bad thing based on the morally grievous actions of any particular “religious” people. In fact, if you’re unaware that this is a common claim by atheists—that violence attributable to religious people shows religion is a bad thing in general—you might wonder why I even need to explain it here. But, rest assured, this is an argument many atheists put forth and one that your kids are sure to eventually encounter.

We can establish why such an argument holds no logical weight with three basic points:


  • First, the word religion simply means “the belief in and worship of God or gods; a system of religious beliefs and practices.” Depending on your criteria for grouping belief systems, there are several hundred to several thousand religious groups in the world. The beliefs of these groups are extremely wide ranging. It’s logically impossible to make an evaluation of how moral “religion” is in general when religion is simply a collective term for thousands of different beliefs. Most evaluative statements using the bucket term “religion,” therefore, are meaningless.


  • Second, even if we focus on one specific religion for the sake of argument, it doesn’t logically follow that we can make moral judgments about that religion based on the actions of specific individuals who claim to hold that worldview. Those individuals may or may not have been acting in accordance with the “instructions” of their religion. The appropriate question for moral evaluation is, What are the instructions of that religion?


  • Third, once you drill down to the actual instructions of a given religion, you have to have some kind of basis for moral evaluation. In other words, when we ask the question, “Is (this) religion morally good?” we have to have a definition of morality. Interestingly, it’s usually atheists who question the morality of religion…yet atheists have no objective basis for defining morality! With no moral authority (such as God), everyone’s opinion on morality is of equal value. If there’s no objective basis for morality, it’s meaningless to say religion is morally bad (except in one’s personal opinion). You can evaluate evidence as to whether or not a given religion is true, but you can’t claim that it’s objectively immoral.


2. That religion is false.

Stating that religion is a morally bad thing (see the first point) is often just the first step in the broader argument that the history of religious violence demonstrates God-based religion is false…that God doesn’t exist because He wouldn’t permit such evil in His name. Once again, we can show how this doesn’t logically follow by looking at three basic points:


  • First, this really isn’t as much a question about faith-based violence as it is about the broader “problem of evil”—why is there any evil or suffering permitted in the world? Even if no one committed violence in the name of God, this difficult question would still have to be answered, so it’s important to identify it as the real issue to address.




Get the Conversation Going

If your kids are old enough for this discussion, ask them if they think terrorist attacks and other religiously-motivated violence show that religion is a bad thing. They’ll probably say no, but probe further on why not. Help them learn to think critically by leading them through the bullets here as talking points (What do we mean when we say “religion”? How do we know if people are really acting according to their religion? How do we define “bad”?). Then ask them if they think terrorist attacks and other religiously-motivated violence show religions aren’t true (i.e., that there is no God). Use the same method of walking them through the key questions raised by the bullet points.


What  indictments of “religion” in general have you seen stemming from the attacks?

6 thoughts on “Two Things Terrorist Attacks Do NOT Tell Us About Religion”

  1. The most terrifying truth for people who don’t know Jesus as Lord is that God is good. Terrifying because if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us are good. Why doesn’t God just get rid of all evil? If He did, there wouldn’t be anyone left.

  2. Well said Natasha,more wisdom l pray for you.
    The wisdom you share on this blog is such a blessing/empowerment to christian parents struggling to present practical ways to connect faith and modern living for our kids.
    I will definitely be having these discussions down the trace with my kids. Thank you.

  3. Another articulate, well thought out article Natasha! Most intelligent people know that you cannot/ should not judge any group of people by the actions of a few troubled, hateful people. I’m sure that most atheists today would not want to be associated with the likes of Joseph Stalin or China’s Chairman Mao, two of the most violent and heartless atheists of the 20th Century. Also, can people not see how ridiculously biased it is to emphasize the evil that’s done in the name of religion, yet ignore the countless acts of love and compassion that are done daily by “religious” people?

  4. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (11-26-2015) « 1 Peter 4:12-16

  5. I think you switched the order of the arguments. Or perhaps misinterpreted the main point of the anti-religious.
    It should be in the order:
    1) Religion is false, and therefore 2) it is bad.

    “…that God doesn’t exist because He wouldn’t permit such evil in His name…”
    This is an argument is a poorly formed one, often used by theists-gone-astray, or theists who want to point at logical fallacies in atheists arguments. Since it assumes there is someone/thing to actually do the permitting.

    Atheists I know reason along the line: “There is nothing that indicates that any supernatural being can expresses a will or has any influence in the world as we can observe it to the best of our abilities. Therefore, the hypothesis of there not being any supernatural being can be regarded as truth, until proven otherwise.”
    Note that agnostics and apathics don’t go as far as the last point, and keep the option of there being a supernatural being open. Though arguably He/She/It isn’t bothering with us.

    From the above stems: Religion is false.
    The second part, (‘it is bad’) is then true because one shouldn’t follow something that is false. It is a lie, an illusion, a fairy tail from desert tribes to explain the origins of stuff and to provide a moral and social framework on which rules can base their power (aside from ‘because I say so’ and ‘because I have the biggest stick’, which are still very popular ways of rule even nowadays).

    Finally, you note the good/evil ‘source of morality’ question. Indeed atheists have no moral objective base, neither do theists.
    Everyone only has their own subjective experience (any Holy Writing is written by man, and must be interpreted by someone).

    Remember the old-testament texts the hardliners love(d) to quote to justify slavery, racial segregation, the prosecution of homosexuals? The New Testament, I think more important for it being the latest ‘update’, radiates ‘don’t do onto others what you don’t want to be done to yourself’ which frankly, isn’t objective either. In fact it is a very clear call to THINK and observe the results of certain actions, and then decide weather they are good or bad.

    Logic can just as easily promote the idea that cooperation, therefore being ‘nice’, sharing, not killing, not stealing, etc. is the way to go. Not doing harm, live and let live, seems logical in all scenarios unless there is a direct threat to survival.

    Finally, I do actually agree that pointing blame at religion is a very crude way to go. Religious and non-religious people have both shown to be very capable of doing good and bad.
    It is a thing of all times, people want someone/something to blame. Though I must admit that blaming anyone who blindly follows any text or person without critical thought is a sure hit.

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