Can Religion Cause War? Essay

Critics often argue that religion causes wars and thus human suffering.

But does history support this, or not? The audit considers 73 major wars in the past 3 millennia, 32 of which took place in the twentieth century. It tests whether religion had a part in causing each war by examining factors such as support for the war by religious leaders and the use of religious motivation by political leaders. This is the most thorough and expert assessment I could find.Its assessments are subjective but the results are clear, and perhaps surprising, If we take only those events that can be classed as wars (not an easy distinction to draw. I have included the crusades and several civil wars), his figures show that christianity is culpable in 3 major wars in which about 10 million people died, non-christian belief systems (Nazism and Communism) are culpable in 2 wars in which 45 million people died, and a further 6 wars in which about 40 million people died have unclear culpability.It seems to me that his figures over-simplify culpability, and he certainly considers far fewer wars than the previous study does, but his conclusions are not all that different to the above study: wars can be caused by religion, irreligion, or by forces where religion is irrelevant, but the worst wars (in terms of deaths). This is a question we hear very often, and there are a number of ways of approaching the issue. I’d like to try a scientific approach.

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The position is that religion causes war. Just like, say, alcohol causes inebriation and sunlight makes things grow.If we wanted to test the alcohol/inebriation or sun/growth hypotheses scientifically, what would we do? Quite simple: Remove the alcohol from whatever drinks we are serving and see if our clients are still inebriated. Same with the sun/growth theory: Remove the sunlight and see if things still grow. With the religion/war hypothesis, we don’t have to actually make a clinical study–it’s already been done for us. In the 20th century, we saw the most disastrous wars of history, both in Europe and in the Far East. Tell me, which of these were centered around religious disputes?There are many issues that governments choose to resolve by means of conflict and there are, undeniably, cases in which governments have sought to make use of existing social divisions, including religious divisions, in order to pursue their own agendas. As an example, consider the demonisation of the Jews in Germany during the 1930s achieved via a massive propaganda campaign following the seizing of power by the Nazi party.

This was a necessary precursor to the subsequent attempt to eradicate the population in the ‘final solution’.The purpose of the campaign was to get people to view the Jews, not as human beings, but as vermin. The holocaust was an example of what has more recently become known as ‘ethnic cleansing’ a phrase I personally find unpalatable – but the reasons behind this attempt at genocide were basically not religious. The Jews were used as a scapegoat for the failure of the country up to and including the First World War. In the act of rebuilding the country and uniting the nation, they were identified and labelled as the ‘other’ group.The distancing of the vast majority of the population from the ‘other’ group resulted in a strengthening of allegiance with the ‘us’ group which, in this case, was the nation; and that was the desired result. The Jews were not persecuted by the Nazis because of their religious beliefs. They were persecuted because they were identified by a ruthless administration as a dispensable and relatively defenseless minority that was also easily recognisable as the ‘other’.

What would Hitler have done in the same situation had religious division not been a tactic available to him i. e. if religion simply did not exist?


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