Putting the “Religion Causes War” Lie to Rest

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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.

Her complaint is indicative of a commonly-held view. But it’s complete nonsense. Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) have an excellent article:

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%.

religious wars bar chart

religious wars pie chart

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.

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  1. Melissa


    Most people are not academic analytical thinkers.

    I can understand that many people see News stories about specific events like the Narobi Shopping Mall massacre and then they use that as a springboard to come to their conclusions.

    First I understand a Terrorist act is not a war in the technical sense. However the Narobi massacre was religiously based. This is why people come to their conclusions.

    You can academically try and argue these people have it wrong but their perception will not change with rational academic facts. People are concerned with those who fight in the name of their religious beliefs. They are concerned about their own future and what might happen in their own lives. People are wondering is it safe to go on Holiday or even to the Mall.

    Mankind is fundamentally wicked and they easily allow anger to lead them to hatred and then to violent actions. That is the basis of all wars. Many are drawn into war simply because they have to join the armed forces of their nations or villages etc to defend themselves. However it only takes a handful of wicked men (I would say in most cases just one person who doesn’t have anyone to stand against them) to start a war, a rebellion, a conflict.

    Hilter didn’t fight a war because of religion but he did target those who had a religion and many Jews died because of their faith. Many Christians are dying because of their faith, in Egypt, Iraq and other nations that no longer tolerate Christians or Jews.

    Even though wars are not started based on religion you cannot just sweep aside the unfortunate use of religion in conflicts. I’m of Slavic background educated in Australia but I only did a smattering of history and mainly Modern History so as an adult while I heard of the Crusades I have no idea really what they were all about. YET I was set upon on a number of occassions at work by a co-worker and asked all about the Crusades because they knew I was a Christian. I had from further Lunch time (not work time) conversations found out the real reason why these people were blaming the Crusades in their own interpretation and thinking of Christian History and the relationships between mankind and nations and various religions. BTW these people were of a Catholic background but not practicing and would have seen themselves as Athiests or in some cases converted to Buddhism (because they wanted to be people of Peace). I found in the end it wasn’t religious war they were fundamentally needing to discuss but other issues that made them angry with the Christian God and therefore Christians.

    OK so wars are not actually started most of the time by religious differences. That is a fact. Good to know.

    Most people have many other underlying issues when they make comments of this sort that actually need to be addressed and discussed and hopefully you can show them God’s Truth, Biblical Truth that might change their lives and give them the peace they truly crave. Peace with God and themselves and this world can only come from knowing Jesus and Lord and Saviour.

    Not debating here, just giving my thoughts on the topic.

  2. youthpasta

    But the problem with the lady saying that the holocaust was caused by the Jews being Jewish is the same as saying that rape happens because the victim has a genital area that can be raped. After all, if they didn’t have a genital area that was able to be violated then rape could not happen.
    The immediate argument people would use against this suggestion is that rape victims do not choose to have a violable (assuming this is the correct word) genital area, as it is something that they are born with. However, that is to say that a Jew, or indeed any person of faith, can simply choose not to be a person of faith. It reduces the idea of religious belief to that of choosing what food to buy, or what DVD to watch.
    And the worst thing is that those that use such thought processes of reductionism will have stopped reading this post by the end of the first paragraph, become insulted and either get defensive and, potentially, abusive or go off in a huff and feel morally outraged. They won’t tend to bother to engage with the argument or be open to changing their view until the bubble that they exist within is utterly burst and they have nothing left to cling on to.
    So, based on that, David I would suggest that you converse with her and lovingly and pastorally tear her arguments apart and reduce her worldview to dust, then offer to help rebuild it. To do anything less would do her a disservice.

  3. Melissa

    Let us put aside the religion causes war for a moment.

    MT 10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

    There are many examples of Christians being persecuted or killed for being a Christian wether they are practicing or non-practising in the Modern world today.

    Religious difference may not start wars but when a war starts many people are killed and some because of their nationality not just their religous beliefs.

    Here is a link to a timeline of all Jewish persecution and do remember Jews were killed and often in large numbers as well not just persecuted (not just in war time). It will give you some persepective on Anti-semtism over the centuries.


    Jewish or Christian we both represent the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob to a sinful and rebellious world that hates God. They hate God and anyone who represents Him. Jesus said they hated me first and so don’t be surprised they will hate you. Don’t be surprised they will kill you for it.

    Have we forgotten the many who died because of their Faith?

    HEB 11:32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

    Killing a person because of their religion/faith or their nationality is of course not Politically Correct(PC) thinking or reasoning but people filled with hatred and murder don’t care about being PC. Killing for race/nationality or religion does happen.

    I have family who saw this in WW2 as children before their own eyes and I have spoken to those who have come from recent conflicts overseas as refugees here in Australia. Civillians had been round up and those of a particular race or religion were targeted for rape and torture and even some were shot & buried in mass graves.

    All people are born Sinners and wicked to the core. Give them a war and that seems to give them a reason to let go of any kind of morals and ethics they may have and anything goes.

    We have obviously forgotten about the Blonde, Western Journalist raped during the first Egyptian Riots. Why? She represented the West and was a Woman. So she was turned upon because of who she was and what she represented to the Muslims that raped her.

    There doesn’t even have to be a war on for persecution and killings to happen.

    It shouldn’t happen but it does. The woman in the store got it partially right. The Jews were singled out by Hitler because they were Jews (Hebrews) who represented the Nation of Israel. The Jews were Not the reason for the war but their persecution was because of who they were & who they represented.

  4. Stupid is Forever.

    Just as stupid Christians exist, so do stupid Atheists.
    I am an Atheist and her argument (if you can call it that) is frankly embarrassing.

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