It’s tempting to conclude that there is a genetic disposition in the human animal to this kind of behaviour. That primitive violence, like original sin, lies just beneath the surface of society, kept in check only by the forces of law and order. The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes thought that, left to its own devices, humanity would spontaneously ignite into a war of all against all and needed a Leviathan – an almighty state – to keep these irrational and destructive passions in check.
However, before we condemn our genes, we should interrogate another suspect. In Northern Ireland and Iraq, there is one obvious organising factor: religion. It is religious conviction that injects the passion into politics.
Religious leaders always insist that they are committed to peace, love and living in harmony, yet their followers seem to be fatally attracted to war, hate and internecine strife. In Belfast, it’s the hatred of one group of Christians for another group of Christians. Protestant versus Catholic. In Baghdad it’s one group of Muslims loathing another group of Muslims. Sunni versus Shia.
What is it about faith that true believers invariably fall out with each other? Give them a prayer book, and in no time they’re reaching for automatic weapons. Why can’t they just live together, for Heaven’s sake if not Earth’s?"
AR: I think he has it mostly right in the first sentence;