So the topic this time: If you’re claiming that religion is the cause of nearly all the wars and conflict in history, you aren’t talking about Christianity (or any other religion, or all religion, for that matter).
The most obvious objection to this meme is that it simply isn’t true. Though many atheists like to take us on a tour of the crusades, and put strange glosses on wars that were clearly not caused by religion, these “arguments” only ever reveal an ignorance of the historical facts.
The best evidence such a person could muster here is the crusades themselves, and even they have many socio-political roots that are simply ignored by this popular meme. Once we get out of the Crusades, however, it becomes clear that war (and, really, all human killing of one another) is almost always over land, money, and power. Religion definitely takes a back seat.
This, it seems to me, is so obvious that what is most interesting here is how anyone can seriously deny it. Personally, I expect that the reason is something along these lines:
There have been many times in history that a zealous group decides (on flimsy evidence) that it has found the source of nearly all the evil in the world, and can eradicate most of life’s problems by eradicating that thing.
There are countless examples of such scapegoating, from the rationale behind Jim Crow laws, to the Reign of Terror, to the Holocaust, to the overblown rhetoric of partisan politics. But the point is that it is scapegoating. There is always this curious fact that it is someone “out there” who is the problem, and that “we” don’t have that same weakness–that same evil can’t possibly be in “us”.
I suppose that this is why there is, inescapably, a strain of self-righteousness in these groups that leads them to create the very evils they began by decrying. And I’ve seen a lot of this sort of thinking in the New Atheist rhetoric. It is amazing how similar Richard Dawkins and Jerry Falwell sound. Neither one seems at all aware what happens when an angry “them” hating group actually gets the power they seek. It’s never been pretty.
So much has been said, but let us move on to the second, and much more serious, objection.
Christianity (and many other religions) specifically forbids this kind of thinking. Christ speaks against judgment and self-righteousness, and insists that no one can be his follower unless she first admits to having that same inner darkness that lives in others.
To see others as worse, even to the point of being willing to make war when one is facing no threat to innocent life, is to contradict Christianity.
True, Christians contradict Christianity all the time. But this hardly means that it is “religion” that causes the wars that Christians wage for other reasons.
Nor is it enough to say that people often couch their war cries in religious language. What people couch their war cries in hardly reveals the actual reasons for the war (particularly when so many of the reasons are too shameful to publicly admit). And I highly doubt that couching one’s war cries in the language of democracy, freedom, or safety (which has also been done) will lead anyone to think that those things are an evil cause of war.
And, to some extent, even the battle cries betray the lie. No one ever ran through a battlefield crying “transubstantiation”, because no war was ever primarily about doctrinal differences. War is either a terrible necessity against an unreasonable foe, or motivated by the greedy, prideful, and heartless parts of our nature.
And it is only a self-righteous refusal to admit having such a part that leads one to point to an institution and say “war is all their fault”. One even suspects that this is connected to the frequent inability to understand any need for salvation, but that’s a post for a different time.