Religion and War- The Chicken and the Egg
Religionists often misinterpret my (and other atheist activist’s) assertions regarding the close relationship between war and religion; this is a problem that the secular community has often faced- and one that I will now attempt to rectify. The idea, in particular, that I wish to address is the strong and apparent link between all popular religions and violence, murder, and war. You may have heard the popular argument against religion that, in one way or another, suggests that religion is uniquely dangerous because it causes war. This concept can be easily refuted by any thinking person by simply calling to attention the fact that wars existed prior to religion- and humans will continue to wage war long after the reign of religion.
It’s not necessarily that religion causes brutality and war- but that it justifies acts that, otherwise, would be considered unacceptable. But religion, theism, and spirituality aren’t the only mind altering constructions within humanity that have spawned dangerous ideas; nationalism- for example- has a similar effect on mankind. It is the “blind faith” that these two institutions often create in individuals and groups that causes many of the world’s largest issues. The concept of basing ideas and actions on that which cannot be proven is what, sometimes, allows an otherwise rational person to follow the orders of extremists without considering reasonably the consequences on earth to themselves and others.
When this concept of religious or ‘holy’ war is discussed in modern, western, society- the conversation often drifts towards Islamic issues of Jihad- but an enormous amount of earthly historic wars were caused or perpetuated by Christian leaders and believers. In fact, Christianity can be traced to the roots of many of today’s most recognizable wars and injustices; from the Christian Crusades, to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, to Hitler’s genocidal master plan, to the imperialist colonization of America- this violent aspect of Christianity is radically embedded in its past, present, and future.
In conclusion, the key word when discussing religion and its many complicated ties to war is “justification.” In many cases, using religion to justify a specific violent act allows other followers of that religion to declare that act “righteous”- regardless of the consequences, victims, and ulterior motives. If you are religious, you believe that your religion is the ‘right’ one- and, in many cases, all others will be sent to hell. Similarly, a nationalist believes his or her nation is better or more advanced- and a racist believes that an inherent difference between each race make his or her ethnicity superior. All of these ideologies spawn the hate, philosophical disagreements, and prejudices that have been the catalysts for various atrocious acts throughout history.