Wednesday, September 1, 2010

“Religion is the cause of all wars.”

“Religion is the cause of all wars” is an often repeated phrase and is the subject of this article. The people who assert this are of course secular anti-religious people. This idea therefore comes from a wider viewpoint which considers religion as something inherently irrational. I discussed this a while earlier in a previous article where I said the following:
“This in a very simplified form is the way many atheistic or secular people view religion. Something almost hallucinatory and delusional. For them all that exists is the tangible, the material, that which we can see and touch. I will call this position “Materialism” or “Naturalism”. Some people just grow up with an inherit disposition to rejecting anything beyond the material (5 senses) world and some of these people become scientists and carry this prejudice into the field of science.”
Religion therefore is something irrational in the minds of such people, and thus any belief or action which emanates from religion is itself irrational. Believers are in a state of delusion and thus their actions are likewise deluded. However the inconsistency with this opinion is that often they view violence for secular purposes as being perfectly justifiable and “more rational”. I will come back to this later, however first let’s look at the statement “religion is the cause of all wars” in more detail.
There have been countless wars in history and we cannot look at them all to see if they were based on religion but however we can look at major wars, or major powers which engaged in a lot of war.
The British Empire.

The British Empire is the biggest empire the world has ever seen, unrivalled by any other in terms of sheer size and also in terms of the many parts of the world it covered. The world today is still seeing the legacy of this huge empire in many ways, from the dominance of the English language, to the administrative systems it left behind in countries such as India with its population of over 1 billion people. The British Empire did not conquer territory for the sake of religion but for economic and political reasons.
The American war of independence where the 13 colonies of what is now America fought the British government was not about religion but about what the settlers in America viewed as being able to govern themselves as they wished to. One of the key phrases of the independence movement was “no taxation without representation”.
The British did not conquer India, the “jewel in their crown”, for religious reasons but for economic ones. One of the most bloody parts of British rule in India has been described by British writer George Monbiot.
“In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of famines that killed between 12 and 29 million Indians. These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy. When an El Niño drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England” [1]
This policy resulted in the deaths of millions of people but had nothing to do with religion, but just sheer human greed.
Another major war during the British Empire was the Boer war, noticeable, since that is the first time concentration camps were created.

Boer guerilla fighters. The Boers were white settlers in Africa of Dutch origin who fought the British.
The Boer war was about a variety of different things including about control of valuable territory which contained valuable mineral resources.
The British Empire was not a Christian fundamentalist empire and never sought to forcibly impose Christianity, so its wars in Africa, the Carribean, America, Asia and Australia had nothing to do with religion but to do with conquering new land, economic reasons and geo-politics.
The Mongols
The British Empire was the biggest empire in history and the Mongol Empire came second. However it is the biggest contiguous land Empire stretching from the yellow sea in China to eastern Europe.

The Mongols were bloody and brutal and massacred whole cities. They sacked the capital of the Abbasid Empire, Baghdad in 1256 destroying huge numbers of books on many different subjects thus causing the world to be deprived of valuable works from an Arab civilization which not only transmitted the works of ancient Greece to Europe but had many great intellectual, engineering and literary accomplishments of its own. Centuries after the Mongol conquest, Iraq was still recovering ecologically due to the destruction they had bought.
The Mongols were a nomadic people who loved war and conquest and fought not for religion but to extend their power.
Alexander and Rome.
Alexander of Macedonia, often called “the Great” is also one of history’s great warriors. His conquest of a huge territory comprising many lands of different races, languages and cultures was not inspired by religion but by the desire to conquer to realize personal greatness. Many of the rulers of the ancient period conquered, merely for the sake of conquering. The greater the territory they controlled and the more people, the greater they themselves were. This was a case of territorial and personal self-aggrandizment often driven by a masculine need to increase the personal glory of a certain ruler, to show his virility. A ruler in some cultures of the ancient past who was not a warrior, was not a true man and in some cases was seen as a weakling not fit to rule.

Actor starring as Alexander.
Whereas Alexander conquered south-west Asia and Egypt, the Romans conquered Europe and the mediterranean. They have left a huge impact on western civilization and their Empire lasted for centuries. They did not conquer their Italian neighbours the Etruscans, or their rivals the Carthiginians and conquer France, Spain, England and other countries due to religion but once again for political and economic reasons. When the Romans conquered Carthage, which was then their rival for supremacy of the mediterranean, they burnt every single house and building in the city and killed and enslaved all its people, this was not done since they felt that their gods would told them to, but to prevent Carthage from once again ever being a threat to the Roman domination in the Mediterranean.
If we look at the wars of the ancient past, and also of the past millenia we can see that wars were not carried out primarily for religious reasons whether it was the native American Indian tribes that fought each other prior to the arrival of Europeans, or the Ming, Tang and other dynasties of China, or wars carried out by the Bantu-speaking kingdoms of Africa.
Let us now look at some more recent examples of war.
The first and second world war.
These wars took place due to tensions between the major European powers. Religion was not the reason, but the interests of different nation-states. When the Japanese bombed pearl Harbour they did not do so because of Shintoism but since they saw the US as a threat. When the US dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they did not do so because they thought the bible taught them to do so.

The atom bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
The superpower conflict that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany, between the US and USSR, called “The Cold War” was not about religion either but about two competing secular ideologies, capitalism and communism. One way the cold war manifested itself was in the Vietnam war.
The Vietnam War.
This war saw a communist North Vietnam seeking to take control of the whole of the country with western powers such as the US opposed to it. It has become embedded in the collective psyche here in the west and especially in the US since it happened during the 1960s that great period of cultural change. Many young people who may not have been that politicized went out on the streets rallied to action by what they felt was an unjust and pointless war which was causing many young Americans to die, as well as the suffering of the Vietnamese. In this war agent orange which has horrific results such as deformities to newly born babies was used.  Laos and Cambodia were also bombed during this war.
“From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years.” [2]
One of the key men responsible for this appalling savagery was war criminal Henry Kissinger. Kissinger never ordered such bombings due to any religious belief but out of a desire to thwart communism.

War criminal, Henry Kissinger.
Communists also murdered many people through out the world including in Stalin’s USSR which also saw things such as mass deportation of whole ethnic groups and the creation of gulags in Siberia, as well as the 1 million Cambodians killed by the atheist Khymer rouge.

Children who were victims of the Khmer rouge communists. Estimates of the number of people killed by the Khmer Rouge range from 850,000 to 2 million.
Even those conflicts which are ostensibly based on religion are often in reality about different things. There are of course conflicts which have been caused due to religion, abuse of religion and so forth. However they do not compare to the amount of wars and lives lost due to secular reasons. The biggest example is of course the greatest bloodbath that humanity has ever witnessed, the second world war, which saw the death of over 50 million people. The Nazi party was not a religious organization, and nor were any of its major enemies such as the US, UK or the Soviet Union, religion-based states, Nazism is a race-based ideology believing in the superiority of the Nordic race.
The world since time immemorial has seen countless wars in every part of the world. However wars are just one form of human conflict and violence. Violence can manifest itself in the form of a man abusing his wife, or football fans fighting each other. At such a level no one argues that it is caused by religion. Divorces do not occur due to religion but because two people cannot live with each other. This maybe a myriad of different reasons, such is the case when two nations or states cannot resolve their differences and resort to war. The phrase “religion is the cause of all wars” is clearly false as can be seen by any objective study of war.
The irony is that the same type of people who say this false claim are also sometimes the same ones who regurgitate what Karl Marx said about religion, that is “religion is the opium of the masses”. There is a huge contradiction here.
1. “Religion is the cause of all wars” – it causes people to rise up and fight.
2. “Religion is the opium of the masses” – it causes people to sit down and be quiet.
As we can say they are contradictory.
Marx said his famous phrase in a certain context. The vast majority of people in Europe at the time were peasants, or in Russia, serfs were they basically slaves to a landowning elite. The Church did not call for the restructuring of this social system but legitimized and perpetuated it. It called for obedience to the monarch or the status quo and said that hardship in this world would be compensated by happiness in the next. This statement of Marx’s came from a certain reality which existed. However this labelling of religion as causing people to be violent on the one hand, and then labelling it to be the cause of people to be submissive and quiet on the other is a reflection of the inherent prejudice against religion held by certain people. This prejudice is so strong that they utter commonly regurgitated phrases such as “religion is the cause of all wars” in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary.
There is a certain annoyance that people believe in anything beyond the material, at some times even an anger at such “irrational” beliefs. People believing in the existence of things beyond the material world are “stupid”, and in a form of insanity. Thus the supposedly rational and intellectually superior atheist or agnostic due to his hatred of religion say it is the cause of all wars, ignoring the fact that Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Alexander, Hitler, Stalin Kissinger never killed due to religion but for secular reasons.
We can point to religious extremists who wage war in the name of religion. Their existence is undeniable.

However the reason why people kill, whether it be on a personal level or on a collective level is primarily nothing to do with belief in the divine.

Columbine killers, who massacred individuals.

Hitler, who massacred whole nations.
The belief in a creator, the belief in the divine, and that the world is not merely confined to the material, pensensory (5 senses) world does not automatically cause one to be violent or to wage war. Religions such as Islam or Christianity as much as some may claim to the opposite with misuse of certain verses out of context do not call for killing for no reason. The desire to vilify religion as something malevolent by those who merely belief in the material, that which is tangible  is fruitless as belief in the creator and in the soul and in the hereafter will always exist. Religion can not be potrayed as a wholly malevolent phenomenon when it has been the cause of much good in the world, be it from those who restrain themselves from doing things they wouldn’t normally do, causing racial barriers to come down for the sake of a trans-racial brotherhood, those who go out and help others inspired by a message of abandoning greed and personal self-fulfillment and changing the lives of others.

- Faatih.

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