Last week I went to the supermarket. As I processed my small basket of items in the self-service aisle (which, by the way, I just love) I heard the lady who was supervising deep in conversation argument with her colleague. Her main contension was simple: religion is terrible and every war has come about because of it.
I listened to her rant away and was already walking away when something made me turn back and talk to her. I tried, very simply, to explain that the 20th Century had more people die in war than all of previously recorded history and yet not one of those wars was “religious”. Her response was amazing:
Hitler killed the Jews – that was about religion
Seriously, I’m not making this up. Hitler killed the Jews, that was about religion. QED.
I was stunned and just smiled a “wow” smile at her and walked away. Only as I got into my car did I realise how utterly horrible her answer was. Think about it for a moment. Her original premise was that “religion causes war”. She then argued that “Hitler killed the Jews” was an example of that. So, basically, it was the Jews own religion that caused their persecution. If only they’d not been Jews then the Holocaust would not have happened. Basically, it was their own fault for being Jewish.
I’m not even sure where to begin when I see her again. I think showing a little grace would probably be the way to go.
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, 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%.
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?
Indeed it does. There’s even more in the article. I’m going back to the supermarket.