I sent my friend, Neil Remington Abramson, some comments from someone expressing a degree of antipathy towards organized religion, from the perspective of agnosticism, verging on atheism. Neil responded as follows (reproduced with permission):
If we relied on history as a basis for evaluating social movements, I don’t think any would come off well. The Old Testament is full of genocides. King Saul was overthrown because he failed to kill all the whatever-they-were-calleds [The Philistines], including all their livestock. The Christians have, as this writer says, participated in some terrible events, and so have the Muslims. Lately I have heard of Hindu mobs burning mosques, or were they Buddhist temples. So, what about the atheists? You think Hitler and the Nazis were religious? I bet they were atheists, as was Stalin, who killed more people than Hitler. The only safe position seems to be that of a fence-sitting agnostic.
In the end, it is society – in our case, us both individually and collectively – that is sinful in the sense that sin is when people pridefully attempt to be autonomous from God’s expectations of us. Christ defined expectations for people who call themselves Christian. Mohammed defined expectations for people now calling themselves Muslims. If these self-alleging Christians and Muslims are behaving in ways other than those defined by Christ or Mohammed, it is not these prophets to blame or their religious ideals. It is the sinful people who claim to be one thing while behaving like another. I think a prerequisite for massacre is little tolerance that morphs into violence.
My definition of sin is derived from C. Stephen Evans (1997), Soren Kierkegaard’s Christian Psychology: Insight for Counseling and Pastoral Care (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing), p. 57.