Religion and War- The Chicken and the Egg

Religion and War- The Chicken and the Egg

By David G. McAfee 

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                 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.

3 responses to “Religion and War- The Chicken and the Egg

  1. What I find so strange about this post is the last paragraph (besides the several historical, philosophical, theological errors – I recommend Tim Keller’s sermons on his podcast responding to the objections to Christianity – like suffering, injustice, hell, etc.) You seem blissfully unaware of the utter hypocrisy of it all. You say,

    “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.”

    But you miss that you are writing this on a website, from a viewpoint, and worldview that is doing that very thing. There are the good atheists like you, and the bad theists. There are the smart, modern, scientific atheists like you, and those stupid, ancient, “blind” religionists. Do you not see the sheer hypocrisy of criticizing theist by doing the very same thing you criticize them for? Or do you forget that Stalin tried to purge theism from Russia by means of the firing squad? Ditto for Mao.

    Plus when Christians are immoral it is contrary to their own religion – crusades, witchhunts, etc. are contrary to loving/forgiving your enemy, turning the other cheek, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc. But when an ahtiest dictator/government/person is immoral they are not contrary to their worldview but consistent with it. Their worldview says that morality is not objective, but subjective. It is power grabs. Dog eat dog. The fit survive. So why shouldnt Hitler, and Stalin, and Mao and others slaughter millions if it will continue them in power? It’s not a violation of their worldview because their worldview cant tell them that they ought not do such a thing.

  2. Tyler-

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I wish, however, that you would have a more open mind regarding the subject.

    For instance, I do not claim to have the “superior knowledge” that religionists often do. All that I can do is work with the scientific evidence presented before me and use logic to fill in the blanks- I have never claimed to know any of this for certain; it is simply an opinion based on years of research.

    Secondly, before you comment on the “loving/forgiving” religion of Christianity, I suggest that you read the bible in its entirety, as opposed to simply taking out the best parts that are preached across the world. See this article for details.

    But there is a lot of violence justified by God in the Old and New Testaments. You should take up the bible for some not-so-light reading sometime.

    Thanks again, I suggest that next time you educate yourself prior to posting 🙂

  3. David,

    I’m not sure how I’m “not being open minded” about this subject. (Though from experience, the only time people accuse people of being closed minded is when they want to make them wrong by default.) I could say that you are not being open minded for narrowing in on only those kind of ideologies that you argue cause justification for immorality while ignoring when the same has occurred under atheistic reigns, and by ignoring the fact that there is no basis for objecting to it from within atheism because within atheism there is no basis for objective morality, innate human rights, and obligation to society.

    I also never said that you claimed to have superior knowledge – but that you are guilty of the same thing you condemn in others – the superiority of worldview; that it is wrong for one worldview to claim it is right and others are wrong because it leads to hate, prejudice, and ultimately war and violence. But you fail to realize that atheism is guilty of the same things – and yet is actually the view that is unable to be critiqued by moral obligation because atheism cannot account for morality.

    And tell me, from your years of research (a bold assertion for someone still pursuing undergraduate work) what has been the leading cause of war/genocide/human rights violations in the history of the human race – religion or secularism?

    And I have read the entire Bible, multiple times, studied it, majored in it, investigated it, etc. I actually was raised an atheist and came to faith through study. I also read your article and to be honest, was surprised at how simplistic the objections were (commonly based on equivocations, English uses of words rather than the original texts, and drastically vague generalizations.


    Does God tempt man? James refers to temptation (the deliberate temptation to sin) while Genesis refers to testing of Abraham. There is a large difference between God being the direct cause of someone’s sin, and testing their faith (often with the end result of moral purification rather than degeneration). The problem here (something I have noticed commonly among the new anti-theists) is the reliance on versions like the KJV rather than more scholarly and up to date translations like the NASB or ESV. Lots of textual and lexical work has been done in the past 400 years since the KJV was translated (besides the fact that the KJV isn’t even working on the best manuscript traditions to begin with). This one seems easily solved just by getting a better translation that has a larger lexical range and use of modern semantics and vocabulary.

    Is God angry forever? Well you clearly miss context. The first statement in Jer. 3:12 is condition – God will not remain angry if Israel returns. By the time we get to Jer. 17 it is clear that Israel will not repent. (This is similar to the statements in Deut. which state that Israel should not do X while living in the land, but says that since they will do X when they get there, Z will be their punishment). This also is somewhere in which your apparent lack of understanding in the covenantal structure of the Bible is obvious. We see that God says in some places that his love is unconditional and others that says that salvation is conditional – how is it resolved? That God will unconditionally save us based on the condition of the death of Jesus. If you fail to understand the shadow/fulfillment structure of the covenants, you will never be able to reconcile certain passages.

    Can man see God? Well context is what is lacking (and you actually base this on a very literal rendering of “see” – what is also common among the anti-theists is to try and force the Bible to be MORE literal than even most fundamentalists try to make it). Has any man ever seen God in his fullness? No. But have men seen manifestations of God? Yes. Did Adam, Jacob, Moses, etc. see the full measure of God? No. Did they see manifestations? Yes. So did they see God? Yes and no. Jesus was right that no one had seen God in his fullness in the way that He had (since he is God incarnate, come from heaven to us) and the other passages are right that other people have seen manifestations of God. Did Jacob see God “face to face” Well God is spirit and thus has no actual “face” and we know that Jacob is actually referring to when he wrestled with God. But it was only a manifestation of God. You may want to try and read context and not just verses in isolation.

    Who was Joseph’s father? One genealogy was patronage, the other was legal (the difference between a legal roman genealogy and a royal jewish one.) Joseph’s father was Jacob (tracing Jesus’ legal lineage back through his adopted father) and Joseph’s father in law (not really a distinction made in ancient cultures however) was Mary’s father Heli (which traces Jesus genealogy back to his royal line of David). This one just shows that you haven’t done much research like you say you have.

    Is the Messiah named Immanuel? Well again a better translation would clear this up. It does not say that he would be NAMED Immanuel, but that he will be CALLED Immanuel (which he was and has been for centuries). This one is what we calling making a mountain out of an imaginary mole hill.

    Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword? This one actually isn’t even a contradiction. It can be both. We fought WWII (brought the sword) in order to establish peace. You also equivocate on the meaning of the word “peace”. In Matthew “peace” is used to refer to family/state relationships a person might have. In John the reference is to a lasting peace between a person and God himself. So these passages not only don’t contradiction, but they aren’t even talking about the same things.

    You also baulk at justified violence in the Bible. Well my question is this: is ALL violence bad? Or can some violence ACTUALLY be justified and not just falsely justified? Was WWII and stopping the holocaust justified? Would me fighting off an attacker be justified? And is God a subject of external morality, or the basis for human obligation?

    I actually think it is ironic that you suggest I “educate” myself when it is painfully obvious that I have thought about this, researched, studied, and explored this in much greater width and depth than you have. I suggest next time you decide to write on it, do a little bit of reading into the better responses to these, rather than simply assuming that there is no answer and throwing these objections up without questioning them yourself. I recommend that when you find a “contradiction” in the Bible that you read the entire context, read some commentaries (that deal with the original languages) on the issues, and see if they are such good objections afterall.

    (Did you check out those Tim Keller sermons? They should all be available through his podcast and they address many of the issues that you post about.)

    Oh, p.s. I see youre in S.B. I’m just south of you in T.O. wouldn’t mind working out a time to grab a beer and discuss some of this.

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