Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can Religion Really Be the Blame of Most Wars?

I was watching a debate on ABC News Nightline Face-Off concerning the existence of Satan.  The debaters were Deepak Chopra and Bishop Carlton Pearson arguing against the existence of Satan and Mark Driscoll and Annie Lobert arguing for existence of Satan.  During the debate Deepak Chopra made the statement that there is currently around 30 wars being fought right now and most of them are being fought over religion.

Now I've heard this argument against religion before.  Teaching a comparative world religions class and philosophy I hear this argument all the time and to hear Deepok Chopra say it sort of struck a nerve.  Here is an educated man making a general statement without backing it up with fact.  Now I have always felt that such a statement was and is a hasty genarlization and after hearing Deepok I decided to do a little research to clear it up once and for all.

Now I admit that wikipedia is not the best resource out there, even going as far as to discourage my students from using it as a reference for their papers, but it does have some good information, and so after doing a Google search on current wars being fought in the world I found myself on a wikipedia page listing about 20 different current conflicts.  Out of the conflicts listed only 5 to 7 involve actual religious groups and can be said to being fought as a result of religious beliefs.  Only one of these is not Islamic.  This should come as no surprise for radical Islam understands their mission to subjagate the world to Allah at whatever cost.  Putting this aside, 7 out of 20 is definitely not a majority.

Knowing that wikipedia is not the best source I did another search on religion being the cause of most wars and came across this interesting article on BBC News titled "Can religion be blamed for war?"  A "War Audit" was commissioned for a BBC programme "What the World Thinks of God."  The commission investigated the links between religion and war and came up with some rather startling conclusions.

Though many wars are fought with both sides drawing upon religion this doesn't indicate that a war is being fought for religious reasons.  According to the War Audit one would have to go back to the 7th century during Islamic expansion, the 11th century during the Crusades and the 16th century during the Reformation.  These wars were fought primarily for religious reasons.

The final conclusion of the War Audit was that very few wars are truly fought because of religion.  They may "take on religious overtones, [but] their genesis invariably lies in factors such as ethnicity, identity, power struggles, resources, inequality and oppression - and one factor is often exacerbated by another."

So just because wars are fought between parties that are religious in nature does not mean religion is the cause of war.  This is like saying that the cause of most wars are men because a majority of those who fight in them are men.  The cause of war has nothing to do with a person or group of people being men.

Don't let people argue that religion is the cause of most wars.  Most people who say this are only regurgitating what they have heard from "learned" and "qualified" men like Deepak Chopra.  The fact is, religion is one of many reasons why wars are fought, but it is not the main reason.


Anonymous said...

I was debating this on Facebook recently so here's a reposting of my original counterpoint on this subject:

Just as a personal aside I think it's kind of interesting that one of the biggest advocates of that view I know of is a friend of mine who is a former Presbyterian minister, so I find it amusing that most people on the opposite side of that debate try to slate that as a purely atheist view.

Now just to reiterate, I'm not talking about numbers of people dead I'm talking about the actual number of wars so while I wouldn't claim to be a historian, here are a few immediate examples that I can name off the top of my head:

1. The Reconquista
2. The Troubles in Ireland
3. Rwanda (1994)
4. Boznia-Herzegovina (and Kosovo by extension)
5. The Ivory Coast civil wars
6. Cyprus
7. East Timor civil war
8. Sri Lankan civil war
9. Current Iraqi civil war
10. The Iran-Iraq War
11. Kashmir civil war
12. Chechnya civil war
13. First Sudanese Civil War
14. Thirty Years War
15. WWI (I'll grant you that it was more complicated given that Europe was pretty much a powder keg at that point but the fact still remains that a religious fanatic's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the spark that lit Europe up)
16. The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency (1989-Present)
17. The Second Sudanese Civil War

All the wars stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict:
18. Israeli War of Independence 1948-1949
19. Retribution operations 1951-1955
20. Suez War 1956
21. Six-Day War 1967
22. War of Attrition 1967-1970
23. Yom Kippur War 1973
24. 1978 South Lebanon conflict 1978
25. First Lebanon War 1982
26. South Lebanon conflict 1982-2000
27. First Intifada 1987-1993
28. Second Intifada 2000-2004
29. Second Lebanon War 2006
30. Gaza War 2008-2009

The Crusades:
31. The Reconquista (711-1492)
32. The Pisan–Genoese expeditions to Sardinia (1015–1016)
33. The Mahdia campaign of 1087
34. The People's Crusade
35. The First Crusade
36. The Crusade of 1101
37. The Norwegian Crusade (1107-1110)
38. Balearic Islands expedition (1113-1115)
39. The Wendish Crusade (1147)
40. The Second Crusade (1145–1149)
42. The Third Crusade (1189–1192)
43. The German Crusade of 1197
44. The Livonian Crusade (1198-1290)
45. The Fourth Crusade (1202–1204)
46. The Cathar Crusade (1209–1229)
47. The Fifth Crusade (1213–1221)
48. The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229)
50. The Prussian Crusade (1217-1295)
51. The Second Swedish Crusade (1248-1250)
52. The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254)
53. The Eighth Crusade (1270)
54. The Ninth Crusade (1271-1272)
55. The Aragonese Crusade (1284-1285)
56. The Third Swedish Crusade (1293)
57. The Smyrniote crusades (1343–1351)
58. The Alexandrian Crusade (1365)
59. The Savoyard Crusade (1366–1367)
60. The Despenser's Crusade (1383)
61. The Crusade of Barbary (1390)
62. The Crusade of Nicopolis (1396)
63. The Crusade of Varna (1443-1444)

Anonymous said...

Continued from my previous post:

Excluding various individual battles and extended periods of Empirical Expansionism (Ottaman Empire, Mongolian Empire, Macedonian Empire, Roman Empire, British Empire, etc., etc. to the point of ad nauseam ;) here is what I can come up off the top of my head for non-religious wars:

1. The Vietnam War (1955-1975)
2. The Korean War (1950-1953)
3. World War II (1939-1945)
4. The War of 1812 (1812-1815)
5. The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.)
6. The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
7. The First Opium War (1839-1842)
8. The Falklands War (1982)
9. The American Civil War (1861-1865)
10. The Gulf War (1990-1991)
11. The Second Gulf War (2004 – 2011...We hope :p)
12. The War in Afghanistan (2001-Present)
13. The Libyan Civil War (2010)
14. The Syrian Civil War (2011-Present)
15.The Second Opium War (1856-1860)
16. The French Revolutionary War (1792-1797)

The Hundred Years' War:
17. The Edwardian War (1337–1360)
18. The Caroline War (1369–1389)
19. The Lancastrian War (1415–1429)

The Second Hundred Years' War:
20. Nine Years' War (1688–1697)
21. War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714)
22. War of the Austrian Succession (1742–1748)
23. King William's War (1689–1697)
24. Queen Anne's War (1702–1713)
25. King George's War (1744–1748)
26. French and Indian War (1754–1763)
27. Seven Years' War (1756–1763)
28. War of the First Coalition (1792–1797)
29. War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802)
30. War of the Third Coalition (1803–1806)
31. Peninsular War (1808–1814)
32. Hundred Days' War (1815)

33. The Second Chechen War (1999-2000)

Now, I know I've probably forgotten/overlooked/am not aware of a lot of conflicts on both sides of the fence over the course of writing out the lists above (but to be fair, as I mentioned earlier I don't in any way consider myself a historian, merely somebody who is fairly well read) but according to the people who I have read (some of whom I actually know personally) that is an actual historical fact.

Pastor Brian B Van Dyke said...

I think you might have missed something I said in my post. Actual religious reasons for war being fought is relatively small compared to other reasons. Yes, many wars involve religious groups such as those between the Arabs and Israelis, but if you take a close look at the reasons for such wars (and let us not confuse wars with battles) you will find that the main reason is not religious. The warring between these two groups is primarily over land.

Many of the crusades were cleverly disguised as religious but really had nonreligious underlying reasons.

I really appreciated the nonbias approach of the BBC commission. The research pointed to the fact that just because a war involves religious groups does not mean defacto religious reasons.

If I had time I would love to look over your lists and point out how many you listed were actual religious wars. Perhaps some day I will have the time.