Atheists and secular humanists consistently make the claim that religion is the number-one cause of violence and war throughout the history of mankind. For example, Sam Harris says in his book The End of Faith that faith and religion are "the most prolific source of violence in our history."
There's no denying that campaigns such as the Crusades and the Thirty Years' War rested on religious ideology. Such events are horrible and should have never occurred.
That said, it is simply incorrect to assert that religion has been the primary cause of war. Moreover, although there's also no disagreement that radical Islam was the spirit behind 9/11, it is a fallacy to say that all faiths contribute equally to religiously motivated violence and warfare.
An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod's three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature, an astonishingly low 6.98 percent of all wars. However, when one subtracts wars waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage falls to 3.23 percent.
That means that all faiths combined – minus Islam – have caused less than 4% of all of humanity's wars and violent conflicts. Further, religion was not a motivating factor in the wars that have resulted in the most loss of life.
The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind's wars. Any appeal to the contrary or arguments that dictators like Hitler were Christians simply do not hold up under historical scrutiny.
Moreover, the number of lives lost during true religious conflicts does not compare to the number lost during atheistic regimes – a fact showcased in R. J. Rummel's work Lethal Politics and Death by Government:
Rummel says, "Almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of a myriad of ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not germs."
The historical evidence is quite clear: religion is not the primary cause of war.
If religion can't be blamed for most wars and violence, then what is the cause? The principal trigger is the same thing that produces crime, cruelty, loss of life, and other such things: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person" (Mark 7:21–23). The problem, according to Jesus, is sin.
James (naturally) agrees with Christ: "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel" (James 4:1-2).
In the end, the evidence shows that the atheists are quite wrong about what causes most wars. The sinful human condition is the number-one cause of war and violence, not religion, and certainly not Christianity.
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