Is religion the cause of most wars in the world?

Part 2: People are the problem

By Maggie Peil

In Part 1 of this article, I looked at statistics that said religion has been a significant factor in only 7% of wars throughout history. In Part 2 of this article, I continue to address the following question from a young Christian woman:
Religion has torn families apart and started countless wars. People are treated differently because of their religion. People are killed in the name of 'God'. To this day the most controversial topic is religion, and God. Why is this? From a questioner
PEOPLE ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OF THEIR RELIGION. This has been and still is true in many cases, but it is just one of many ways we judge one another. Cases of conflict exist where people are treated differently because of their appearance, heritage, language, gender, race, or even political affiliation. Often people don't like other people who look, act, or approach life differently. Consider the civil war (genocide) in Rwanda. A degree of skin color was the physical trait which was typically used in the "ethnic identification" of being Hutu or Tutsi. The problem was a clash in culture, not a clash in religious beliefs. Although religion might be blamed as the primary source of some troubles, it is usually cultural differences and human prejudices that are the problem. In some cases, religion actually reduces the chance or intensity of conflict (there are pacifists among god-believers as well as among agnostics and atheists).

PEOPLE ARE KILLED. As I mentioned in Part One of this article, it appears that only 2% of people killed in wars (throughout human history) were killed in wars related to religious beliefs. But what about more recent atrocities? Surely religion is currently the cause of most conflicts around the world? Nope, that's just not the case at all. I counted 27 genocides and 'ethnic cleansings' around the world since 1990. This happened all over the globe, from Russia to Rwanda, from Germany to Guatemala. Of those 27 purges, only 5 were related to religion, and sometimes there were people of the same faith on opposing sides. Based on estimates of people killed, those five purges constituted between 1% and 5% of total deaths. Even in these recent and deliberate attempts to completely annihilate a certain group of people, less than 5% of the genocide deaths were related to religion.

RELIGION ISN'T THE PROBLEM. Most conflict in the world is not due to controversy over religion or 'god'. Most conflict in the world is caused by people misbehaving. Blaming religion for the majority of human conflicts is simply inaccurate. When we hear people say such things, maybe we should (politely!) ask them for their sources, and (kindly!) explore history with them. Certainly, we should be careful to check our own assumptions before coming to any conclusions. (I had no idea I was so misguided until I took the time to really look into it I am thankful to the young woman who asked me about this topic.)

RELIGION IS A CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC. Even if it hasn't started the most wars or killed the most people, religion is often grouped with politics as two things to never discuss in a crowd. Why does discussing religion (or politics) lead to such controversy? My guess is that our inherent shortcomings as humans and our insecurities about identity are the underlying causes.

1. PRIDE: We can't admit that we don't know everything or that we are wrong about something. We don't really consider another person's point of view as being valuable. We fail to admit to a lack of understanding.

2. LAZINESS: We repeat stuff we hear without checking into it. We don't take the time required to research a subject. (For some people, research isn't even an option due to lack of resources or a totalitarian regime. Most of us in the USA don't have that excuse.)

3. GREED: We want what someone else has. We want their land, slave labor, trade route, riches, or resources. We envy their children, spouse, house, car, job, talent, beauty, or high-top shoes. If we blame greed and envy on our religious beliefs (or the beliefs of others), we suddenly feel justified.

4. FEAR: We worry that other religions (or lack thereof) will undermine our freedom, our heritage, our identity, and our lifestyle. Fear spurs us on to preemptive attacks on others, avoiding real dialog and exchange of ideas. People against religion use fear to try and convince us that religion is a "significant force for evil." Christian extremists in the USA use fear to try and convince others that our President is secretly a Muslim bent on destroying our country. Muslim extremists use fear to try and convince us that all Muslims are aggressive and determined to take over the world.

I can't help but think of James 4:1-2 here:
Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you? You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions."

In Part 3 of this series, I'll look into what the Bible says about war and how people are supposed to treat each other.

Is religion the cause of most wars in the world? The series:
Part 1: Religion isn't the problem
Part 2: People are the problem
Part 3: The Bible says be nice to each other

Image credit: Jayel Aheram; Some rights reserved

TagsControversial-Issues  | History-Apologetics  |  Political-Issues

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Published 1-28-14