I had indicated, in a previous post, the kinds of considerations that might lead a believer in, say, Christianity, to use force in the promotion of his own beliefs. I had given the following argument as to why they might think this way.
1) Our beliefs are true, and others are false.
2) Whether you accept our beliefs or not determines whether you go to heaven or to hell.
3) The people who promulgate these other religions are putting other people's souls in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to hell.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of religion is justified.
Chris Hallquist has responded, suggesting that assuming Christianity and some biblical assumptions, this line of arguments provides a good reason for using force to promote Christianity. I had maintained that there were gaps in the argument, but Chris thinks those gaps can be easily filled. Hence, he maintains, people like Sam Harris are right in supposing the religion leads to violence.
First, I would begin by saying that Christians have gone far enough down this road to see that they don't want to go there anymore. In the present day, we don't see persecution in the name of Christ, or not a whole lot of it. (The disputes in Northern Ireland are political first and religious second). But we did have the 30 Years War in which Protestants and Catholics decimated 1/3 of the population of Europe. This is largely because religious groups have gradually come to accept the secularization of government. The bitter lessons of history have made Christians think twice about the kind of reason that leads to the use of force to promote their beliefs. This history is why I, for one, am a pretty thorough church-state separationist who gets nervous when people like Falwell and Dobson look to state to support their religious values. Even though there have been persecutions since the Thirty Years War, the trend has been away from the use of force on behalf of faith.
Remember, Christianity was founded when it had no political power and it survived for nearly three centuries before it got any political power. Islam is another story, since it's inception was political, and it does seem essential to Islam that it have the aspiration to rule.
Second, many Christians that I know are inclusivists and universalists, not exclusivists. I know that there is a biblical argument to be made for exclusivism, as Chris mentions, but many Christians don't accept that argument. I am not an exclusivist myself.
Third, if we say religion causes violence, presumably the violence would be removed if religion were removed. Of course atheists affirm 1 in the above argument just as vehemently as Christians do. They think they are right and we theists are wrong. Of course, atheists do not believe in hell. However, it would be naive to suppose that there is no equivalent to hell in the atheist ideology. To be able to say, with John Lennon, that if we had "no religion" we would have "nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man," one would have to smoke as much pot and drop as much acid as John did. To people like Dawkins and Harris, religious belief is delusional and insane, and impedes the progress of science and the human race in general. My commentator mattghg's equivalent argument is relevant here:
1) Atheism is true, and so obviously so that religious believers must be insane.
2) Insane people can do outrageous things.
3) The people who promulgate belief in God are putting other people's sanity in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to insanity, and hence possibly outrageous actions.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of suppressing religion is justified.
We already get Dawkins saying that raising children to believe in supernatural beings is to abuse them. He doesn't just say the sensible thing that you could say here, which is that religious upbringing can be abusive if the doctrine of everlasting punishment is used as a tool for control. He says that all religous teaching of children is abusive. Now he doesn't say that the forcible removal of children from religious homes is justified, but most of us think that Child Protective Services is doing its job if it removes a child from an abusive home. Dawkins and Torquemada agree that one's beliefs about religion matter profoundly to the well-being of human beings. Taking one's children away forcibly to prevent Christian parents from teaching them their faith is anti-religious persecution.
Have atheists shown that, put in the seats of political power will all the tendency to corrupt that political power provides, that they would wield that political power in a way that respects the beliefs of all and doesn't force unbelief down anybody's throat? Well, there were atheistic governments in Russia, China, Cuba, and throughout Eastern Europe. Oh right, those were communists, and communism is really a religion. They weren't true humanists. So I suppose it is also a telling point to say that the so-called "Christians" who did much of the persecuting in history were Catholics, and that I am not a Catholic? Didn't think so.
I suppose one could be escape the possible temptation to persecute by being a thoroughgoing relativist. But that kind of position is just incoherent. No, the way out of this problem is not to enlist political power to promulgate one's world-view, whether that world-view is religious or secular.
It is quite true that Christian history has had some bad chapters in it. But we have for the most part learned our lesson. If the New Atheists acquire political power, would they learn the same lesson or would they think themselves immune, since they have no religion?