Why Do Good People Do Bad Things in the Name of Religion?

By Richard E. Wentz

Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 31207

87 pages

In the face of continuous religious-fueled strife in Northern Ireland, the Punjab, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and any number of places on the face of the earth, as well as violence done against believers in the name of human progress, this little book deserves careful reading by all who hold strongly to opinions of any sort -- whether they think of themselves as religious or not.

Religion, or better, our "religiousness", is according to this author, "to be involved in ideas and actions that transcend biological existence to tell a story of ultimate meaning and order." Unless we understand this basic human need and propensity, we will completely misunderstand the cause of religious conflict. For religious conflict is not the result of people having different religious opinions, or even some people being religious and others not, rather "It stems from those who misunderstand the nature of our religiousness."

Having lauched this theme in three very short chapters, Wentz, who is a professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University, goes on to show us, in the final four chapters: a) why religions exist because and not just in spite of people doing bad things (the problem of human evil), b) the necessary distinction between popular religion ("the way of the masses) and true discipleship, c) how beliefs turn into "absolutes", and finally, d) how true "religiousness" must be a quest -- a "pilgrimage."

My own reaction to the book was a desire for more than this brief treatment, particularly in the area of dealing with so-called "absolutes". In his most seminal paragraph (on page 21) Wentz quotes a geologist who observed that "Science offers truth without certainty. Religion offers certainty without truth." Wentz disagrees. It's rather that some people are willing to live without certainty, yet constantly seeking the truth -- these are the "pilgrims", the truly religious, whether they know it or not. Others seem unable to live without the feeling of certainty and may even resort to violence in the name of religion or even in the name of science, in order to defend their need for certainty.

Much, much more could be done to explore this theme, and indeed, much more research is being done. What are the deepest roots of this need for certainty? How can it be satisfied or dealt with? And what, as a result, is the real nature of faith? Wentz does not attempt to explore these questions thoroughly, much less answer them. So, perhaps more than its catchy title intended, this book is a more a thought provoker than any attempt at a complete answer. It poses a question that needs to be probed, even by the most seemingly nonviolent person, in the depths of his or her own heart.

R W Kropf

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