OSC’s Why religion no longer “causes all the wars”

I remembered hearing the complain while on my way to church one morning, ‘Religion causes all the wars, it’s just a tool to control people.’ Lifting my head from my phone I noticed three university students, though they being fairly disinterested in the topic speedily moved on, they actually began comparing the coffee and juice stains on their converse trainers, the two girls and one lad were each wearing the same unisex footwear after all. Still those sorts of accusation have seriously lost traction in recent years, rather in more modern times the argument is more softly hinted at and used in a family of faulty arguments. For example, Sam Harris writing in the article “science must destroy religion” (catchy title) wrote: ‘Most people believe that the Creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of their books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and each makes incompatible claims about how we all must live. Despite the ecumenical efforts of many well-intentioned people, these irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict.[1]

Rich Deem in his article What about Atrocities reckons differently however, though they first outline how bleak the religious conflicts can appear to be: ‘Many atheists claim that religion is evil and, as such, cannot be from God. It is true that there are many examples of evil committed in the name of Christianity. In the past, those who disagreed with “official” church doctrine, such as Galileo were persecuted or killed. Many other Christians were brought before the Inquisition because they were teaching from the Bible instead of from “officially sanctioned” Roman Catholic Church materials. In addition, the Crusades resulted in “holy” wars between “Christians,” Jews, and Moslems. In more modern times, wars have been fought between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. However, common to all this violence was an underlying struggle for power. Today, some people kill abortionists in the name of God. Are these people unwilling pawns of religion or using religion to justify their own evil agendas? [2]

Robin Schumacher, writing for the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, engages Sam Harris’ claim directly, quoting from his best selling The End of Faith book they continue: ‘Atheists and secular humanists consistently make the claim that religion is the #1 cause of violence and war throughout the history of mankind. One of hatetheism’s key cheerleaders, Sam Harris, says in his book The End of Faith that faith and religion are “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”’ [3] While there’s no denying that campaigns such as the Crusades and the Thirty Years’ War foundationally rested on religious ideology, it is simply incorrect to assert that religion has been the primary cause of war. Moreover, although there’s also no disagreement that radical Islam was the spirit behind 9/11, it is a fallacy to say that all faiths contribute equally where religiously-motivated violence and warfare are concerned.

An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature, [4] which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%.

Rich Deem in their Religion and War article writes similarly: ‘So, what atheists have considered to be “most” really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.’ Robin Schumacher in writing continues. ‘That means that all faiths combined – minus Islam – have caused less than 4% of all of humanity’s wars and violent conflicts. Further, they played no motivating role in the major wars that have resulted in the most loss of life. Kind of puts a serious dent into Harris’ argument, doesn’t it?


The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars. Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government:

Non-Religious Dictator Lives Lost

Joseph Stalin – 42,672,000

Mao Zedong – 37,828,000

Adolf Hitler – 20,946,000

Chiang Kai-shek – 10,214,000

Vladimir Lenin – 4,017,000

Hideki Tojo – 3,990,000

Pol Pot – 2,397,000 [5]

Rummel says: “Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs.” [6] The historical evidence is quite clear: Religion is not the #1 cause of war.’ Though the writers go further still, quoting from The Irrational Atheist, which lists twenty two atheistic regimes that collectively succeeded in murdering 153,368,610 in the 20th century.

Murders by Atheists (20th Century)

Country Dates Murders
Afghanistan 1978-1992 1,750,000
Albania 1944-1985 100,000
Angola 1975-2002 125,000
Bulgaria 1944-1989 222,000
China/PRC 1923-2007 76,702,000
Cuba 1959-1992 73,000
Czechoslovakia 1948-1968 65,000
Ethiopia 1974-1991 1,343,610
France 1793-1794 40,000
Greece 1946-1949 20,000
Hungary 1948-1989 27,000
Kampuchea/Cambodia 1973-1991 2,627,000
Laos 1975-2007 93,000
Mongolia 1926-2007 100,000
Mozambique 1975-1990 118,000
North Korea 1948-2007 3,163,000
Poland 1945-1948 1,607,000
Romania 1948-1987 438,000
Spain (Republic) 1936-1939 102,000
U.S.S.R. 1917-1987 61,911,000
Vietnam 1945-2007 1,670,000
Yugoslavia 1944-1980 1,072,000

Bringing to a close the first half of the argument Tom Price writes a wealth of points to keep in mind when people insist on holding to the religion causes all the wars factoid: [7] ‘It’s too simple to say that religion causes war and violence. As an explanation for what we see on the news it is inadequate.

  • Sometimes it’s pretty clear that corrupt establishments or organizations use religion to justify crooked agendas.
  • The imperialistic bloodlusts of the crusades were not so much a product of the ‘Christian’ invaders bible, but rather their own agendas.
  • Much of the conflict and war in the 20th century was the result of atheist ideologues. Religion gets the blame but history tells us quite a different story. The critic of religion needs to be able to offer an explanation for why the greatest butchers of the last 100 years turned to atheism and secularism for their justifications. Hitler leaned [8] on the work of atheist philosopher Frederick Nietzsche and Stalin leaned on Karl Marx for support.
  • The Secular or atheistic beliefs, such as those of Stalin or Mao Tse-tung, who handed out the biggest share of destruction and pain in the 20th century need to be challenged every bit as much as the religious outlook.
  • To avoid being too simplistic we must look to the essential teaching of what a religion is. We should look at its abuses, but we should also look at its core principles. Is taking up the sword in the name of Jesus to promote Christianity consistent with what Jesus affirmed? We could ask the same of Islam or Hinduism. Do the core beliefs of the religion actually advocate violent means as a way of dealing with others?
  • It is not religion that perpetrates violence, but people. And specifically a certain mindset that seeks to use an ideology or a religious justification to control people’s thinking and restrain the most fundamental freedoms.
  • When freedom of conscience, religious freedom, women’s rights or other important rights are being abused, all of us must reject this as wrong. Sometimes this may mean challenging those who claim the same religious affiliation as we do. All people should stand up for basic rights (freedom of belief and conscience) regardless of religious affiliation.
  • It is a self-defeating statement as well as a contravention of human rights [9] to refuse to allow a person to believe what they choose to believe, with certainty or not. And perhaps to refuse to allow others to believe in certainty requires a stronger ideological commitment to the not-certainty perspective.
  • We are waking up to the fact that what Jesus said was absolutely right. How you think affects how you behave. Recognising that belief plays a role in affecting what we do, is a necessary realignment with the thinking of Christ.
  • Just because a person is part of a church doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a follower of Jesus. Some people are cultural Christians but not authentic Christians. Isn’t that a convenient bit of 21st century revisionism? No, it goes right back to Jesus himself (Matthew 7:21-23).
  • Dostoevsky said that, ‘There is a war between heaven and hell and the battleground is the hearts of men.’ And Dallas Willard says, ‘The greatest need you and I have, the greatest need of humanity in general, is renovation of our heart.
  • ‘The very nature of the way God made humans was with the ability to have free choices. The bad side of this is that we can choose to take up arms against God, which is what Adam did. The good side of this is that we can actually love God. Love is a cheapened word in our culture… We sprinkle it in our loves songs, we talk about it in our movies, but we rarely have the true import of the meaning of that word… God takes the risk for us to have free will and decided to take the bad side of it if we chose to resist him. In giving us freedom, he took upon himself the Cross. The Cross is where love is best played out, a dramatic masterpiece of the high courtesy of heaven: giving His life for ours.’ [10] The cross is where the war against God, that we re-enact in our wars with each other, is faced and overcome.

Atheists and anti-theists no longer defend the statement that religion causes all the wars therefore, they certainly challenge the claim that the above was a result of atheism, nevertheless they’re disinterested in throwing faith under the bus for various wars, although the Crusades are a famous exception that occasionally rears its ugly head. But why continue to defend the idea that the Crusades were an act to blame on the religion of Christianity when that assertion is even easier to disprove than the claim religion causes war, Nick Cohen writing for standpoint sheds light on the subject in an article about the united kingdom and their reaction to modern day terrorism: ‘The authorities at the London School of Economics punished atheist students for wearing T-shirts with a cartoon of Jesus saying “hey” and Muhammad saying “How ya doin’?”, taken from the online “Jesus and Mo” strip. The sight of a cartoon image of Muhammad was too much for the university to bear. The LSE students union egged the administrators on, and passed a motion saying that it was “racist” to fear Islamic culture, even if that culture included variants of sharia law that mandate unequal treatment for women, Christians and Jews. So deep has the rot set in that the National Union of Students decided that it was “Islamophobic” to support the Kurds fighting Islamic State, even though most Kurds are Muslims (although, admittedly, some are Christian and some — shockingly for the British Left — don’t believe in a god or gods at all).

So although the left wing collectively claim to stand for racial equality, gay rights, feminism, religious diversity and equality for all, that’s only true in theory, in theory and on paper yes atheists and the liberal left (sometimes indistinguishable) are in favor of these things, though in practice and in the face of Islamic fundamentalism the theory totally falls apart. The cause of this breakdown plainly stated would be ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Meaning those who blindly repeat the slogans Islam means peace or Islamophobia dislike Christians and the far right more than they dislike radical Islam. That’s why the religion causes all wars argument has lost so much steam in recent years, it’s no longer being advanced by atheists as to advance the argument only serves to empower evangelical Christians who in their mission work are sending Islam to flight, the leftists and atheists who used to use the argument hate Christians and the political right more than they are willing to halt radical Islam. Though in so doing they’re totally missing the point that to halt radical Islam isn’t simply an empowerment to Christians, rather it’s to the benefit of homosexuals, women and children, ethnic minorities, Buddhist, Hindus and anyone who isn’t a Muslim fundamentalist! Still their hatred of Christianity is simply too overwhelming to consider this point, it’s the red flag to their bull. In the same article Nick Cohen continues:

‘One can see in the universities and outside a left-wing version of radical Islam developing. Or if that is too strong, a culture which behaves as if it were controlled by radical Islamists. Like our supposedly alternative comedians, the middle-class left will satirise Christianity, as any Islamist would. Like the newspapers and television stations, it will not allow any satire of Islam even if the satire is as toothless as a cartoon of Jesus saying “Hey” and Muhammad saying “How ya doin’?” It will ignore the crimes against humanity of Islamic State while condemning every Israeli crime. For all its supposed feminism, it will behave as any Islamist would, and allow religious speakers to segregate audiences with men at the front and the seductive women who might drive them from the path of purity at the back’ In closing the article ends. ‘I must face the fact that there is a vast woozy mass of liberal-leftists who will never change, and would not fight back even if a bomb exploded in their own back yard. I will oppose the state’s attempts to restrict freedom of speech, as I hope you will too. But I will not let supposed liberals forget that, by their own cowardice and lack of conviction, they have brought this dismal moment on themselves.’ [11]

The Western elites love affair with atheism is increasingly becoming an alliance with militant Islam, a flirtation which they of course deny, though the signs aren’t hard to see, they’re so apparent that every supposedly secular news channel and media source name Islam’s long dead founder and predatory caravan raider The Prophet. I’ve even asked the question of my more liberal friends, ‘When are the left going to start acting like the left, how many gays, Jews and women need to be stoned to death before you join the world in speaking up?’ I’m still waiting on their reply.

― T. C. M

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/science-must-destroy-reli_b_13153.html

[2] http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/atrocities.html

[3] “A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper reveal that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books…” Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 12.

[4] http://books.google.com/books id=sF8wv_Y54j8C&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=encyclopedia+of+wars+%22Almohad+conquest+of+Muslim+Spain%22&source=bl&ots=VBRkLHXHj3&sig=XLT88ICr2Lu98L1_eldxRwMPgIY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=SdKKT4jLHIr1gAf8vNjiCQ&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=encyclopedia%20of%20war%20%22Almohad%20conquest%20of%20Muslim%20Spain%22&f=false

[5] http://books.google.com/books?id=mbnLn6A3q-4C&pg=PA178&lpg=PA178&dq=Zedong+37,828,000&source=bl&ots=-VlfCns1xy&sig=2TrcOYMxZTjr653ULLdNkIkltwU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2c6KT-G7BYGXgwf63-3kCQ&

[6] http://books.google.com/books?id=N1j1QdPMockC&printsec=frontcover&dq=death+by+government&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WcyKT5TBDITiggfdpO28BQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Almost%20170%20million%20men&f=false

[7] http://www.bethinking.org/is-religion-harmful/religion-causes-wars

[8] Hitler wasn’t a big fan of atheism itself (http://www.nobeliefs.com/hitler-myths.htm#myth4) but as J. Bradford DeLong, University of California at Berkeley writes, ‘His [Hitler’s] very words. “Lords of the Earth” is a familiar expression in Mein Kampf. That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy cannot be doubted.’ (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TCEH/Nietzsche.html). And Victor Frankl writes, ‘I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers’, The Doctor and the Soul.

[9] Article 18-19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html).

[10] Dale Fincher, online chat transcript (http://www.rzim.org/publications/essay_arttext.php?id=17).

[11] http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/5886/full


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