Defending the Faith: Don't blame religion for world's ills

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The same is true of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which often serves as a parade example of the evils of religion. The murderous struggle between Jews and Palestinians has often been described as an attempt "to convince each other of the superiority of their respective religions." Again, this is nonsense. The Arab-Israeli conflict arose between two secular 19th-century movements, Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, over one little parcel of disputed land.

These notions rattle around, without supporting evidence, in many heads. But misunderstood history often leads to mistaken beliefs and actions in the present. Like many things, religion can play a positive or a negative role. Yes, there was an Inquisition. But there have also been St. Francis, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer and Emperor Asoka of India. To blame religious people for all human evil — for what some would call, simply, original sin — grants skeptics a powerful weapon that they haven't earned.

Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, where he also serves as editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He is the founder of, the general editor of "Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture" online at and he blogs daily at

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