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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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Student Question

What does Chapter 14 of Guns, Germs, and Steel suggest about Diamond's view on the usefulness of religion?

Expert Answers

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I am not sure that it is fair to say that Chapter 14 reveals Jared Diamond’s own religious beliefs or his attitudes towards religion in today’s world.  Diamond is talking in this chapter about the role of religion in bringing about the creation of the state as a form of society.  He is not necessarily saying that religion continues to play this role.

Historically, at least, Diamond certainly does not think that religion did much for the “average Joe.”  Instead, he believes that religion was used mainly as a way to con the average Joe out of his money and to cause him to believe that the people who ruled over him deserved to do so.  For example, on p. 277 in the paperback copy of the book, Diamond says that one

way for kleptocrats to gain public support is to construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy.

What Diamond is saying is that religions were institutionalized and made to serve the interests of the people who held power in society.  He is not saying that the underlying beliefs were not true.  What he is saying is that religion became organized as a way of helping to reinforce the power of the government.

In today’s world (at least in the West), religion is no longer connected to the state and it is not clear at all that Diamond would criticize religion in the modern West in the same way that he criticizes religion in historical times.

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