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History is littered with wars and atrocities apparently inspired by religion, and today there seems no end to reports of cruelty and violence carried out in the name of God. But is it belief in God that motivates these evils? Or do they spring from other motives?
At the same time, history testifies to numerous benefits to humanity brought about by religious individuals and movements. But despite these positive outcomes might it be true, as some atheists suggest, that religion in general does more harm than good? Is religion itself inherently toxic? Or could it simply be that there is good religion and there is bad religion, and we just need to learn to tell the difference?
‘Religious rhetoric – from several quarters – is one of the things that most threatens the peace and sanity of the world’. If even a highly respected faith leader such as Rowan Williams can voice such a claim, the case against religion would appear compelling. So, are the major spiritual traditions greater sources of discord than harmony? Or are conflicts widely blamed on faith differences fundamentally social and political?
In this rich but highly succinct book, Rupert Shortt offers even-handed guidance on one of the most disputed questions of our time. Among much else he sheds light on the contrast between good and bad religion, and on why the distinction is of urgent relevance in an era increasingly described as post-secular.
Rupert Shortt is religion editor of The Times Literary Supplement. His books include Benedict XVI (2005), Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack (2012), Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop (2014) and God Is No Thing: Coherent Christianity (2016).