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Is Religion the Cause of War?
Most Wars Are Not Religious
If you speak to a militant atheist for any length of time, you will hear him say that religion is a bad thing because it is the cause of most wars. The truth is that this is a myth, and cannot be backed up with the facts of history. There was actually a book written recently called the Encyclopedia of Wars. This book, authored by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, documents the history of recorded warfare in the world. From their list of 1763 wars, only 123 have been classified to have involved a religious cause. That means that religion accounts for less than 7 percent of all wars, and less than 2 percent of people killed in all warfare.
I. Examples of Non-Religious Wars
Wars have been started for various reasons throughout history. For instance, in the Renaissance and Medieval times, wars were primarily about control and wealth as the various city-states tried to gain more and more power. Some were at the instigation of the Church, but most were not. And if you look at the Mongols in Asia, there were 30 million people killed with no religious cause whatsoever.
In looking at wars like the Napoleonic wars, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, The Civil War in America, World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, these wars were not religious in nature.
Although some would seek to pin religion on some of these wars, historical evidence shows otherwise. Take the conflict of World War II for example. At least in Germany, religion is sometimes blamed, because a religious group was targeted, namely the Jewish people. But that was not the reason Germany went to War. History shows that the motives were nationalistic and ethnic rather than religious. In Germany, the economy was destroyed because of World War I, and the German people felt humiliated by being forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler used the Jewish people as a scapegoat in order to rally the people of Germany to fight.
II. Genocides and Ethnic Cleansings in the 20th Century
The bloody history of the 20th century was full of genocides and ethnic cleansings. None of these can be shown to have been caused by religion. It can be only estimated, but about 160 million civilians were killed in ethnic cleansings during that century. Almost 100 million were killed by the Communist states of the USSR and China.
III. What Really Causes War?
While we could name a number of causes for war including greed, nationalism, bigotry, revenge, ethnic pride, desire for power, reputation, desire for glory, hatred, religious zeal etc. the number one reason for war is the sinful heart of man. Man is by nature and by choice a selfish and sinful creature who is in need of salvation. And wars are caused by man's heart problem.
Jeremiah tells us that:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" (17:9).
And James gives us an overview of where war and conflict come from:
"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (4:1-3).
Truthfully, as long as man's heart is sinful, we will always have war. But Christ, on the cross, died to give us a new heart and make us into a new humanity (II Corinthians 5:17). And all who accept Him by faith can one day experience a world without war.
Our Lord Himself said that before He returns, there will be wars and rumors of wars. (Matthew 24:6). In the end time He, the Prince of Peace, will come and put down war forever. Until then we wait in expectation for the peace on earth which is to come.
Don't let the atheists tell you that war is the result of religion. Indeed the cure for war is the Christian religion, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone can give us peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace on earth. Jesus is the hope for this world, and He is the only hope of ever attaining the end of war.