Saturday, March 01, 2008

War and Religion

One of those little arguments popular nowadays - and not challenged much in my sight - is expressed in these two remarks that were part of a post I was involved in this week.

Organized religions do not unite us, they divide us. They segregate one group from another. You can argue the truthfulness of your religion all you want to, but you'll only alienate others who honestly believe in the truthfulness of theirs. Organized religions, regardless of their good intentions, have caused hate, mistrust and in extreme cases death and destruction.
and its comments thread:
More people have slaughtered in religious wars than all other wars combined.
Certainly, the author of these remarks is in good company - and I am guessing, even though s/he is some sort of deist/theist, that this is a parroting of remarks of a similar nature by some of the new atheist writers of our day. These kind of comments have been common since the rash of books by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and company in the recent past - and back into the 19th century with the likes of Robert Green Ingersoll:
Religion makes enemies instead of friends. That one word, “religion,” covers all the horizon of memory with visions of war, of outrage, of persecution, of tyranny, and death. . . . Although they have been preaching universal love, the Christian nations are the warlike nations of the world -- “The Damage Religion Causes” [HT: The Irrational Atheist]
The first comment I am only going to briefly deal with: it is counter-intuitive to me that religious expression and organization has been responsible for more division between folks than race, class, nationality, and tribe. Indeed, I am not going to try to speak to all religions, but I will speak to Christianity. Other than the obvious examples of the Crusades (actually, according to modern historians, not so obvious), the wars arising out of the Reformation, and the rise (and delay in the fall) of modern slavery - Christianity has united folks across racial, class, and national lines. Human beings are fallen, and find lots of reasons to kill each other, but religion is no more divisive an issue than class, race nation, and tribe. Indeed, much less potent and, in fact, it has largely served as a restraint in the bloodthirstiness of humans. Now, that is an opinion - for which I hold no proof other that the previously mentioned intuition. However, there is a bit of statistical support

That brings us to the second comment - which is simply factually wrong. I found an interesting resource for folks who wish to see a very good destruction of the "religion = war" arguments of folks like Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion):
The Irrational Atheist [downloadable E-book] by Vox Day [HT: Evangelical Outpost]
His arguments against the "religion = war" arguments of what he calls the "new atheists" reside primarily in these chapters: "Sam Tzu and the Art of War" and "The War Delusion" - but not exclusively. Vox cites The Encyclopedia of Wars:
I had barely begun separating the teetering stacks of books dedicated to ancient and medieval warfare when Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod fortuitously happened to publish their three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, a massive 1,502-page compendium compiled by nine reputable professors of history, including the director of the Centre of Military History and the former head of the Centre for Defence Studies, of what amounts to a significant percentage of all the wars that have taken place throughout recorded human history. -- Vox Day
where he found
These 1,763 wars cannot be considered entirely comprehensive . . . in any event, the very large size of the sample set definitely provides enough detail for the purpose of determining what percentage of Man’s wars are caused by his diverse religious faiths with some degree of accuracy.
According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, of those 1,763 wars, the following were categorized as religious wars for one reason or another:
Albigensian Crusade, Almohad Conquest of Muslim Spain, Anglo-Scottish War (1559–1560), Arab Conquest of Carthage, Aragonese-Castilian War, Aragonese-French War (1209–1213), First Bearnese Revolt, Second Bearnese Revolt, Third Bearnese Revolt, First Bishop’s War, Second Bishop’s War, Raids of the Black Hundreds, Bohemian Civil War (1465–1471), Bohemian Palatine War, War in Bosnia, Brabant Revolution, Byzantine-Muslim War (633–642), Byzantine-Muslim War (645–656),Byzantine-Muslim War (688-679), Byzantine-Muslim War (698–718), Byzantine-Muslim War (739), Byzantine-Muslim War (741–752), Byzantine-Muslim War (778–783), Byzantine-Muslim War (797–798),Byzantine-Muslim War (803–809), Byzantine-Muslim War (830–841),Byzantine-Muslim War (851–863), Byzantine-Muslim War (871–885), Byzantine-Muslim War (960–976), Byzantine-Muslim War (995–999), Camisards’ Rebellion, Castilian Conquest of Toledo, Charlemagne’s Invasion of Northern Spain, Charlemagne’s War against the Saxons, Count’s War, Covenanters’ Rebellion (1666), Covenanters’ Rebellion (1679), Covenanters’ Rebellion (1685), Crimean War, First Crusade, Second Crusade, Third Crusade, Fourth Crusade,7 Fifth Crusade, Sixth Crusade, Seventh Crusade, Eighth Crusade, Ninth Crusade, Crusader-Turkish Wars (1100–1146), Crusader-Turkish Wars (1272–1291), Danish-Estonian War, German Civil War (1077–1106), Ghost Dance Uprising, Siege of Granada, First Iconoclastic War, Second Iconoclastic War, India-Pakistan Partition War, Irish Tithe War, Javanese invasion of Malacca, Great Java War, Kappel Wars, Khurramite’s Revolt, Lebanese Civil War, Wars of the Lombard League, Luccan-Florentine War, Holy Wars of the Mad Mullah, Maryland’s Religious War, Mecca-Medina War, Mexican Insurrections, War of the Monks, Mountain Meadows Massacre, Revolt of Muqanna, Crusade of Nicopolis, Padri War, Paulician War, Persian Civil War (1500–1503), Portuguese-Moroccan War (1458–1471), Portuguese-Moroccan War (1578), Portuguese-Omani Wars in East Africa, Rajput Rebellion against Aurangzeb, Revolt in Ravenna, First War of Religion, Second War of Religion, Third War of Religion, Fourth War of Religion, Fifth War of Religion, Sixth War of Religion, Eighth War of Religion, Ninth War of Religion, Roman-Persian War (421–422), Roman-Persian War (441), Russo Turkish War (1877–1878), First Sacred War, Second Sacred War, Third Sacred War, Saladin’s Holy War, Schmalkaldic War, Scottish Uprising against Mary of Guise, Serbo-Turkish War, Shimabara Revolt, War of the Sonderbund, Spanish Christian-Muslim War (912–928), Spanish Christian-Muslim War (977–997), Spanish Christian-Muslim War (1001–1031), Spanish Christian-Muslim War (1172–1212), Spanish Christian-Muslim War (1230–1248), Spanish Christian-Muslim War (1481–1492), Spanish Conquests in North Africa, Swedish War, Thirty Years’ War, Transylvania-Hapsburg War, Tukulor-French War, Turko-Persian Wars, United States War on Terror, Vellore Mutiny, Vjayanagar Wars, First Villmergen War, Second Villmergen War, Visigothic-Frankish War.
For someone not wanting to count those, that is 123 wars in all - or just a very fine hair under 7% of the wars in the book. I included the whole list just so those who would argue the numbers could see exactly what they are based on.

Before finding this list, my primary source was going to be this online resource - "Wars, Massacres and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century". It doesn't take much examination of the conflicts and deaths there (there are links to centuries earlier than the 20th) to realize that religion may account for even less than the 7% above if you are actually talking about those killed by wars.

The human race is great at finding reasons to slaughter each other - but religion has neither been the chief cause or the principle feature of that slaughter: not even close. However, those who have repeated the arguments of Dawkins and Harris have missed a point:
While both men are too cautious to ever come right out and state that they believe religion is the direct and primary cause of war, most likely due to the fact that it is so easy to disprove such a belief, they nevertheless attempt to insinuate that this is the case by repeatedly associating religious faith with group violence and military conflict . . . This is done by claiming that while religion is not the explicit cause of most wars, it is still responsible for the fact that those wars are taking place because religious faith is the reason there are two different sides in the first place . . . by constructing a pair of shaky parallel arguments based on the idea that religion causes division. -- Vox Day
That will be the next post .


  1. My first visit. I enjoyed your article and will subscribe to your RSS feed to read more of your thoughts.

    Keep up the good work.

    PS Found you in the Christian Carnival.

  2. Thanks for dropping by David, and I appreciate the compliment


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly