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Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?

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    Rabbi Alan Lurie

    Author, 'Five Minutes on Mondays: Finding Unexpected, Purpose, Peace and Fulfillment at Work'

    Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?
    Posted: 04/10/2012 3:52 pm

    There are many common misconceptions about religion that are often taken as unquestioned facts, such as the idea that religious people are inherently anti-science, that a literal reading of holy texts is the "true" religious stance, that faith is incompatible with reason, and that all religions claim to posses sole and absolute truth.

    While all these ideas are true for a minority of the population, they do not describe normative religious beliefs and practices for the majority of believers. It is understandable that these misconceptions persist, though, because they come from the loudest voices on the extremes, and like other polarizing positions in politics and culture are simplistic ideas that promote easy "us vs. them" thinking. But there is one common misconception about religion that is voiced often and consistently as an obvious truth -- often by educated, thoughtful people --that is just not factually true: The idea that religion has been the cause of most wars.

    In his hilarious analysis of The 10 Commandments, George Carlin said to loud applause, "More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason," and many take this idea as an historical fact. When I hear someone state that religion has caused most wars, though, I will often and ask the person to name these wars. The response is typically, "Come on! The Crusades, The Inquisition, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, 9/11. Need I name more?"

    Well, yes, we do need to name more, because while clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, "Encyclopedia of Wars," authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

    History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

    Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.

    Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators' motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious.

    Similarly, the vast numbers of genocides (those killed in ethic cleanses, purges, etc. that are not connected to a declared war) are not based on religion. It's estimated that over 160 million civilians were killed in genocides in the 20th century alone, with nearly 100 million killed by the Communist states of USSR and China. While some claim that Communism itself is a "state religion" -- because it has an absolute dictator whose word is law and a "holy book" of unchallenged rules -- such a claim simply equates "religion" with the human desire for power, conformance, and control, making any distinctions with other human institutions meaningless.

    Of course the Hebrew Bible chronicles many wars -- most notably Moses' conflicts in the desert and Joshua's conquest of the nations of Canaan -- and we may see these as examples of religiously sanctioned violence. Here, though, we must recognize that archeological evidence points to the conclusion that these conquests never occurred, or at least not as dramatically as described in the Bible. As one who reads the Bible for spiritual truths, not historical facts, I am, of course, quite happy that no such slaughters occurred. The ancient Rabbis also understood these stories not as celebrated victories, but as warnings about the dangers of warfare.

    Judaism has always taught that war may only be considered when there is a clear threat, and only after every other option has been exhausted. Avoiding war must be the goal. Deuteronomy states, "When you approach a city to do battle with it you should call to it in peace." In other words, even when threatened, seeking peace must be the first course of action. The ancient Rabbis took this teaching so far as to flatly state, "In God's eyes the man stands high who makes peace between men. But he stands highest who establishes peace among the nations."

    To be clear, this is not to say that religion is not a cause of conflict. Obviously it is, has been, and no doubt will continue to be. Clearly there are those who have committed horrendous acts based on religious zeal, and we must be alert to these threats and respond forcefully. But in a world with billions of people who are self-defined as religious, those who believe that violence is the will of God and that the murder of innocents is a holy act are a small, insane minority.

    Peace is the highest religious aspiration for which we must work. As he envisioned a future where the world is perfected by the conscious acts of human beings, the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." While religions have often fallen well short of this utopian vision, we must recognize that greed, unbalanced power, and causeless hatred - not religion - are the causes of most wars, and eliminating these should be our focus.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-...b_1400766.html
    Shocking, I know
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    I wouldn't say religion itself causes wars, just silly people using it as an excuse for their own agenda.
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    So much reading :sadnod:

    Anywho, I'd probably say no. If you want to kill people, you'd kill people regardless of your religious beliefs.
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    (Original post by chickenonsteroids)
    So much reading :sadnod:

    Anywho, I'd probably say no. If you want to kill people, you'd kill people regardless of your religious beliefs.
    Unless you're an atheist or otherwise secular.

    Religion just adds one more excuse to murder to the list, and that's something we can definitely do without. You have never and will never see someone killing in the name of atheism.
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    Not shocking at all. Religion can sometimes be an excuse/justification for war, it rarely causes it.

    Many young people these days are all too quick to dismiss religion and blame it for many of the world's problems while simultaneously ignoring the positive things it brings to the world. It's a real shame.
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    (Original post by Aphotic Cosmos)
    Unless you're an atheist or otherwise secular.

    Religion just adds one more excuse to murder to the list, and that's something we can definitely do without. You have never and will never see someone killing in the name of atheism.
    I know, what I was trying to get across was that if you want to kill people or start wars then you'd find an excuse to do so even if you have no religious belief.
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    No, there will always be wars. Religion is just a convenient excuse.
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    (Original post by satchef1)
    The positive things it brings to the world.
    May I ask what you think some of these examples are?
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    As such as I detest religion, I don't think religion itself causes war.

    Religion causes schisms in society, but so does politics and various other things - it's people that exploit it.

    The cause of most wars is the human condition, and is pretty strong evidence to suggest that we weren't designed, because we're a self-destructive species.
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    not religions moslems are
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    (Original post by satchef1)
    Not shocking at all. Religion can sometimes be an excuse/justification for war, it rarely causes it.

    Many young people these days are all too quick to dismiss religion and blame it for many of the world's problems while simultaneously ignoring the positive things it brings to the world. It's a real shame.
    Yeah, a whole pile of false hope, terrifying moral codas, rejection of scientific truths, murder, war, terrorism, political persecution and nepotism . . . but who gives a **** as long as we've got some nice buildings, songs and dancing?

    What few positives religion as a concept brings into the world are massively outweighed by the immense damage it has wrought on humanity over the millennia. Blind faith in culturally specific, anthropocentric gods who were established in times where there was literally no chance whatsoever that those positing their existence could have had any knowledge of such powerful beings is not a good thing.
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    (Original post by JollyGreenAtheist)
    As such as I detest religion, I don't think religion itself causes war.

    Religion causes schisms in society, but so does politics and various other things - it's people that exploit it.

    The cause of most wars is the human condition, and is pretty strong evidence to suggest that we weren't designed, because we're a self-destructive species.
    I'd agree with this. If there wasn't religion in the world, people would just find something else to exploit for the sake of slaughtering others for no good reason.

    Oh, and I like that the death tally's for the crusades and WWI have been included when they are just so very irrelevant. Advanced technology designed specifically for warfare and to make it easier for mass killings kills more than swords and less advanced weapons! Well who'd have thunk it, next week - the grass is green, the sun is hot.
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    Completely flawed argument religion causes war when religious groups "clash", meaning they come into close contact for the vast majority of human history religious groups haven’t come into geographical contact and thus theirs been less opportunity for religious war. Whenever they have more often then religion has contributed towards the cause of a war.

    Secondly the only 2 religions that are universal (meaning that they believe they are the one true faith and must be imposed on others), Christianity and Islam both have a history of violence Islam considerably more. Islam’s' presence in india is described by many historians as "the bloodiest story in human history". Also, most of the examples you site of genocide were in the 20th century where people had the means of killing millions, most religious genocides have been in eras whether the most powerful weapon was a meeele weapon, thus in religious genocides while less people were killed, the intention to kill as many people as possible was still present.

    In the 21st century 1 inhently barbaric and violent religion still has a 90+% fundamentalist following, that sole aim is to force everyone to adhere to its beliefs or kill them. Religion should be worries about in the 21st century.
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    MOSLEMS
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    moslems
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    Completely flawed argument religion causes war when religious groups "clash", meaning they come into close contact for the vast majority of human history religious groups haven’t come into geographical contact and thus theirs been less opportunity for religious war. Whenever they have more often then religion has contributed towards the cause of a war.

    Secondly the only 2 religions that are universal (meaning that they believe they are the one true faith and must be imposed on others), Christianity and Islam both have a history of violence Islam considerably more. Islam’s' presence in india is described by many historians as "the bloodiest story in human history". Also, most of the examples you site of genocide were in the 20th century where people had the means of killing millions, most religious genocides have been in eras whether the most powerful weapon was a meeele weapon, thus in religious genocides while less people were killed, the intention to kill as many people as possible was still present.

    In the 21st century 1 inhently barbaric and violent religion still has a 90+% fundamentalist following, that sole aim is to force everyone to adhere to its beliefs or kill them. Religion should be worries about in the 21st century.
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    (Original post by genia)
    not religions moslems are
    (Original post by genia)
    MOSLEMS
    (Original post by genia)
    moslems
    Go away.
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    (Original post by Aphotic Cosmos)
    Unless you're an atheist or otherwise secular.

    Religion just adds one more excuse to murder to the list, and that's something we can definitely do without. You have never and will never see someone killing in the name of atheism.
    I think that's a rather sweeping statement which will not stand the test of time - we have no knowlege of what the future holds, and neither you nor I can say conclusively that there will never be an atheist leader who feels so strongly about religion that they seek to destroy it by killing believers.

    At the end of the day people kill each other over all sorts of things, race, class, politics and yes religion, however, much of these sorts of reasoning for killing is surrounded by fairly abstract concepts... to my mind killing for religious reasons is no different to killing for racial or class reasons, you often find that the people who actually do the killing are usually from fairly ordinary backgrounds, and so don't actually understand fully the logic/concept behind what they're doing or why, they just follow orders &/or are indoctrinated. At that point, how is killing in the name of religion or class any different? You've still been taught to hate another person or group enough to want them to be killed, and exactly the same could happen to atheists against religious people (and vice versa)...
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    Yes, people exploit religion and use it as an excuse. In their eyes, however, it is a justified excuse, so I suppose you could call it a reason.

    Take... Moslems... for example. The radicals don't 'twist' the words of the Qu'ran at all It is written (in most senses), that the Arab culture should be entirely secular to the Western one. Whilst hate isn't inspired directly from the Qu'ran, it does state that the unbelievers (Kafiir) will burn along Shaytan if they are not to be converted. The Qu'ran can also make out Kafiir to be followers of Shaytan unknowingly until they convert.

    So in a way, Islam does inspire and set up wars.
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    (Original post by Ayshizzle)
    Go away.
    Luckily they've been banned temporarily. I just report all their posts now (Using their to remain gender neutral )

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