Think of a random event of mass violence in history. If the perpetrators subscribed to a different religious or political belief system, would they have not committed it, because they had different beliefs, or would they have tried to justify it using their alternative beliefs?

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    This is also the case with the lack of belief i.e. a nihilism where killing babies is not wrong. In fact, I believe that many depraved individuals are nihilists. During WW2 the Japanese have used a variant of nihilism (inspired by DT Suzuki's Zen) to make people commit quite atrocious things. Dec 10, 2021 at 9:57
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    Your question presupposes that there is a categorical answer for all perpetrators. But what makes you think that? Could not one perpetrator have acted differently with another belief system and another perpetrator not? To me this sounds like more of an empirical, (socio-)psychological question.
    – 303
    Dec 10, 2021 at 10:14
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  • @bodhihammer: Actually, you cannot make people do things. Yes, different beliefs will result in different outcomes, because what people do depends on their own free choices as well as their environment including what others tell them (not just belief systems). But that does not mean all the choices are not free in the important aspects. In particular, a good person will try not to do evil things no matter the belief system. A bad person may not do the same evil things under a different belief system, but they will do other evil things.
    – user21820
    Dec 13, 2021 at 11:44
  • @user21820 Looks like you are talking past me. Also, define 'Evil'. To use a concept of Good/Evil you have to accept those as your values, namely, that there are things that are inherently Good or Evil, but this can't be nihilism. Dec 13, 2021 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


A belief system is a tool, like a hammer. Some people use it to build a house, some people use it to kill their spouse (ugh, that's way too 'Dr Seuss'...). Most belief systems intend to make people's lives better by giving them common rules, common goals, and common standards to live by. But the nature of the egoic mind is that many people are highly motivated to have what's better for themselves, but not overly interested in what's better for others.

How belief systems are used by individuals is a developmental issue that's out of scope for this answer, but we should all be aware (metaphorically) that the difference between an angel and a demon isn't that they have different belief systems, but that they understand their in-common belief system in completely different ways. As I heard a monk quip once: "Everyone goes to the same place when they die, but according to their attitude some think it's heaven and some think it's hell." But you don't need to die to see that effect in practice; it's all around us in the living world.

  • «Everyone goes to the same place...some think it's heaven and some think it's hell» 👍🙏
    – Rushi
    Dec 11, 2021 at 1:57

To argue that belief systems have no influence on the actions of their adherents seems obviously false to me.

Lets choose a non controversial example. You would be arguing that people who don't like pork convert to Islam in order to have an excuse not to eat pork and people who like pork convert to Christianity in order to eat it guilt free.

Given we admit some influence of the belief system on the believer, why would we exclude influence where the things promoted by the belief system are considered evil by some other people?

Undoubtedly there must be some instances of people pretending to a belief to justify their actions or simply taking advantage of a belief for personal gain. But to say it applies in all cases seems ridiculous.

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