How to answer tough questions

Religion Caused Almost Every War in History

Conversation Stopper

A common misperception of Christianity and religion is the claim that most violence and war is caused by religious belief/intolerance. The argument goes: religion is intolerant and divisive, thus promoting violence and being at the root of most wars/conflicts in history, and should, accordingly, be dismissed in the name of peace and societal progress. At best, this claim is a fundamental misunderstanding and/or lack of knowledge of historical conflicts. At worst, it is a deliberate misconstruing of Christianity, religion, and history in general, based upon an anti-theistic worldview.

Assumptions

  • Christianity and religion are the chief cause of suffering and pain
  • The Bible upholds a wrathful and cruel God
  • Essential to religions is a toleration of wars/other evils, preventing “Progress”
  • Some Christians may do good, but they do so in spite of their Christianity

Talking Points

  • The claim is historically inaccurate
  • Some conflicts have been instigated by Christians, though the reverse is also true
  • Violence, evil, and war in general are contrary to Christian ethics
  • The human heart, its desire for power, influence, security, etc. is the true cause of evil/violence in the world—and Christ is the answer

Talking Points

  1. This claim is historically inaccurate—Ask: “That’s a strong statement, how did you come to that conclusion?”
    • According to one reputable source, only 7% of the 1763 recorded wars in history were fought on religious grounds (Encyclopedia of Wars).
    • Even in “religious wars”, religion is often a cover for ethnic, social, economic, or other power struggles
    • In comparison, Atheist leaders (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Lenin, etc.) killed at least 110 million people (according to the BBC War Audit) in the 20th century alone, more than all religious wars in the previous 19 centuries combined. (Russell). All of these leaders were bent on the destruction of religion
    • Yes, religion has been the direct cause of some wars. But so has economics, politics and geography. Are we ready to throw out these institutions simply because they've been misused?
  2. Humbly admit that some wars and conflicts have been caused or encouraged by Christians (i.e. Crusades, Catholic/Protestant conflicts)
    • As Christians, we acknowledge sin and seek reconciliation/forgiveness over such acts insomuch as possible
    • Even so, war and violence motivated by Christianity is far and away a statistical outlier in the broader body of human conflict
    • Conversely, many Christians throughout history have also staunchly opposed violence and war. Example: Martin Luther King drew directly from Old and New Testament theology as a main motivator for the non-violent approach to the abolition of segregation in the 1960s.
  3. 3) Aggression, war, and violence run contrary to the Bible’s fundamental teachings of sacrificial love and forgiveness
    • The Bible directly condemns murder, many forms of violence, other forms of oppression and, alternatively, promotes love, patience, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in their stead
    • “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40), “laying down one’s life for others” (John 14:13) are deeply rooted ethics of Christian teaching
    • This is modeled and demonstrated through Christ’s sacrificial love and forgiveness toward humanity in His death on the cross
    • Note: In the Old Testament, God sometimes used Israel as an instrument of bringing justice (judging and destroying evil) in certain situations. Please see “God’s justice and violence in the Old Testament.” Even in these cases however, mercy, forgiveness, and patience preceded such action.
  4. Christianity identifies the human heart and its desire for power/pleasure as the alternative source of suffering and conflict—with Christ as the solution
    • “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21–23).
    • “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” (James 4:1–2).
    • Don't blame the hammer: Religion (the hammer) is not always at fault. It's sinful people who improperly wield the hammer (religion) that are to blame.
    • Alternatively, Christ is the answer: “12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Additional Resources

What are "mini-wars" you may have caused with other people because of pride? How was it reconciled, if it was?

Share your examples in a comment below.

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