Let’s approach the matter of religion and violence from a slightly different angle.
I lived in London, England for a couple years. One day I was strolling down the sidewalk when I noticed the street had been blocked off at an intersection and a couple dozen bobbies were standing around nervously. Curious, I went up to one of them and asked, “What’s going on? Has there been an incident?”
“Not yet,” the officer replied omniously. He then explained the problem. Currently a football match was being played in greater London between football clubs that had a long and often violent rivalry. And as luck (or fate?) would have it, fans of the two clubs were centered at two pubs that were kitty-corner to each other at this intersection. In the past whenever these two teams would play each other, the fans had a habit of spilling out of the pubs after the game and rioting in the street. And so the police had taken to preemptive actions to prevent any eruption of violence.
While it was a bit of a culture shock, I soon grew accustomed to the violence that sometimes comes with English soccer fans.
Now imagine somebody citing scattered examples like this to justify the conclusion that the world would be less violent without sports … and so we’d be better off without sports. Such a bald claim wouldn’t even get the time of day. People who made it would be laughed out of the room. And along with the laughter would come a string of incredulous rejoinders:
You think all sports are linked to violence? MMA and boxing, perhaps. But tennis? Golf? Chess?
What makes you think it is sports per se that is the catalyst for violence? Isn’t it the case that social groups all specialize in making and sustaining in group/out group distinctions? You see the same phenomenon in politics and philosophy, culture and religion. So why pick on sports?
And even if it were true that sports on the whole increased violence in society, you can’t make any judgments about the social value of sports until you add up all the goods that sports also produces. What about the value of physical fitness? Social cohesion? The virtues of courage and self-discipline? Mental engagement?
The bottom line: it would take a truly irrational prejudice against sports to float with any seriousness the thesis that sports on the whole increases violence and so we’d be better off without sports.
And yet, throw a Nerf football into a crowd at a “skeptics” convention and you’ll probably hit a couple people that argue a claim no less absurd about “religion”. How ironic that folks who pride themselves on their cool minded rationality harbor an irrational prejudice of such formidable proportion.