The resurgence of religious violence at the start of the twenty-first century has reinforced the myth of secular tolerance—the notion that whereas religious believers are instinctively intolerant, tolerance comes naturally to the secular mind. This paper challenges the myth. It suggests that secular people are not immune from the temptation to persecute and vilify others, and argues that the Christian Gospel fostered the rise of religious toleration.
Cambridge papers, Vol 12, No. 3, September 2003.
On 15 September 2001, four days after the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, Professor Richard Dawkins blamed the tragedy on something he called "religion". Religion, he suggested, is "a ready-made system of mind control which has been honed over centuries", and "teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end". It is thus ideally suited to brainwashing "testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world [who] might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next". By holding out the promise of an afterlife, religion devalues this life, and makes the world "a very dangerous place". Dawkins issued a stark warning: "To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used."