PART 4 OF “OUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT GOD”
December 16, 2009
By Kevin M
“More wars are started in the name of religion…”
This common refrain might be the favorite preserve of non-believers all over the planet, but it’s also living proof that if a lie is repeated enough times, it will be accepted as the truth. If you doubt this, start studying some non-religious books—like history books. There have been religious wars in history to be sure, but by far the most and the greatest of human conflicts had nothing to do with religion, or were only superficially religious in nature.
The most popular references to support the assertion obviously are the Crusades and the near perpetual Arab-Israeli conflict. But I wouldn’t be too certain either of those conflicts were or are entirely based on religion either. Ultimately, war is most commonly fought over control of land, people and resources. Attaching a higher purpose—such as religion, freedom, saving the planet, or just about any other we can dream up—is often a latent attempt to add some sort of nobility to a bloody conflict for the purposes of stirring the emotions and drumming up support.
Now I’ll admit that the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict, with all of its global implications, does tend to give weight to the religion-war connection but this is largely because it is one which has been raging for most of our lives right up to the current day. And the fact that people might strap bombs on their backs, to be detonated in places primarily populated by people of different religions, displays a level of “faith” by the perpetrators that’s as mysterious as it is frightening. But both situations tend to carry exaggerated weight because they’re happening in our own time, and we’re nothing if not shortsighted when it comes to events that came before we did.
Let’s go back deeper in time and take a look at other wars—the really big ones.
Wars down through the centuries
Let’s pose some questions from history relating to some notoriously warlike civilizations, peoples and conquerors.
Did the Roman Empire conquer the known world to spread their religion? The people the Romans conquered were just as pagan as the Romans—were they attempting to bring paganism to the pagans? Or were they invading for the purpose of expanding their empire and control? Did the prospect of revenues from future tax collections influence their march in any way?
What faith drove Attila the Hun to conquer half of Europe?
Was Ghengis Khan a holy man, looking to evangelize at the point of a sword? Was he a closet Christian with a hidden agenda?
Did Napoleon march Christian French armies to conquer and impose their faith on an already Christian Europe, or was he after something else?
Was the American Civil War between the mostly Christian Union and the mostly Christian Confederacy fought in the name of religion?
Did World War 1 have any religious purpose at all?
How many people did the Japanese convert to Shintoism after conquering nearly a third of Asia and a good chunk of the Pacific?
Was Adolf Hitler a devout but misunderstood Christian, bent on eliminating Jews in the name of Jesus Christ (himself a Jew) and waging a war of conquest against Christian Europe?
Did Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung execute internal wars on their own people, killing tens of millions of their own countrymen, in the name of advancing a religion the masses refused to accept? If that’s the case, is communism a religion?
The reality of these conflicts
Communism is an entirely secular philosophy, so is Nazism. In fact, most of the –isms throughout history have been secular in origination and in practice, which has put them in direct conflict and opposition not only to religion, but to most human institutions. For all of the talk and press about “religious intolerance”, it is clear that one of the most pronounced features of the –isms is their inability to coexist with other belief systems. It’s almost always ‘join the movement or perish’.
It can be stated categorically, that all three of the 20th Century’s most notorious dictators (Hitler, Stalin and Mao) were purely secular figures bent on the elimination of religion, including Christianity. Religion was viewed by these men as a dangerous counter philosophy.
The list in the previous section represents most of the biggest bloodlettings in human history, and none of them were an attempt to advance any religion, let alone Christianity. The assertion that more wars are started in the name of religion than anything else is totally invalid as a matter of historical fact. Can we drop the claim as a legitimate reason to reject faith?
Now I’m not attempting to infer that there have never been any truly religious wars fought anytime or anyplace in history, but what I am saying is that those conflicts either tended to be more localized and, generally speaking, not ranking among humanity’s greatest conflagrations.
War and Christianity
Some will argue that when Christians have engaged in and supported the persecution and execution of alleged heretics, witches, the demon possessed and people who refused to convert to the faith or to one of its sub-sects, that they were participating in acts of war. That argument is totally correct.
When Christianity has been involved in war or other acts of violence in the name of promoting or protecting the faith, they were often being either hypocritical (and the Bible has much to say on that particular topic) or they were otherwise disconnected from their faith. I contend that when Christians beat the war drums, it’s usually our politics talking and not our faith. We are guilty on this count and in need of correction.
In Jesus Christ’s own time, there were numerous conflicts taking place within his own country (what we now call Israel) and yet there is no written evidence that he took part in any of the conflicts, or even endorsed one side over another. The easiest and by far the most popular position he could have taken—had he sought power within the context of the human system—would have been to support the overthrow of the conquering Romans by the Jews. Instead he directed his followers to “turn the other cheek” and “do good to those who persecute you”. Are those man-made directives, or are they straight out of the upper regions of Heaven itself?
Why do so many believe that the doctrines of man are somehow “purer” than the doctrines of the faith? We certainly don’t see that in anything Jesus taught or did.
Part of our problem—as Christians, as members of other faiths, as members of the human race—is our attachment to war as a means to an end. War is not a characteristic of the Christian faith, or to most other faiths. But war is part of the human system and we ALL need to take ownership of that fact. Blaming war on religion is not only inaccurate, it’s a complete waste of time.
And here’s the ultimate evidence: eliminate religion from the world and we will still have war; the only thing that will change is that we’ll have one less institution to blame it on.
Study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ if you still believe that “more wars are started in the name of religion…” Is war a function of religion, or is it a function of the human system?