Does Religion Lead to War? (God Is Not the Problem)


One of the great advantages of reading news online is the benefit of immediate feedback. The comment section is like an instant collection of letters to the editor.  While reading through such comments recently, I came across an all-too-common refrain: “Stop killing in the name of god. If religious zealots could just learn tolerance, we’d all be better off.”

Typically, this kind of comment is made against all religions equally. The meme is repeated more often now since Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens

Crusades Christian violence war

(Public Domain)

popularized atheism with zeal surpassing even the most ardent, spiked-hair Christian evangelists. Though popular, the mantra is woefully misguided and diabolically untrue.

Religion is not the cause of war. Most religions, in fact, promote peace and offer peace a viable window of opportunity. The only major religion which prescribes war is Islam. Other religions—Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism—seek (through various means) to promote personal peace and, thus, promote harmony among the masses. To repeat the refrain that religion causes war is to betray ignorance of religion, history, and anthropology.

Religion

Religion does not seek war. Christianity, for instance, commands followers to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11). Christians are to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit (1 Peter 3:8).  To claim that religion is the root cause of war is to prove ignorance of the instructions found in religions like Christianity.

No doubt, the skeptic mocks such religious instructions on account of the historical reality of religious violence. Christianity and other religions have launched wars. No one should deny that violence has occurred often in the name of religion. However, such violence happens in spite of religion, not because of it. Religious people have at times failed their own religion.

Christians betrayed their faith when they slaughtered Jews in Jerusalem during the Crusades. Likewise, Buddhists in Sri Lanka went against the teachings of Buddha when they slaughtered minorities during a civil war in that country (which cost about 50,000 lives). Religious people often fail to live up to their own ideals. They are hypocrites at times. Such hypocrisy is, without a doubt, a blight on their religion. Nevertheless, religion itself is not to blame. The blame lies with the sinful representatives of said religions. Blaming religion when hypocrites defame its teachings is like blaming the team owner when a player fumbles the ball. The owner did not expect him to fumble, nor did he desire it. The player is responsible for the mistake and will be held appropriately accountable.

History

Those who blame war on religion also expose their own ignorance of history. While it is true (as stated above) that Christians, Buddhists, and others have engaged in violence and war, it is not at all true that these wars constitute the majority of the wars in history. Using the examples above—the Crusades and the civil war in Sri Lanka—these religious wars accounted for about 250,000 deaths.

While a quarter of a million deaths in the name of religious zeal is horrific, it is also (by historical comparison) rather tame.  As a matter of sad, historical fact, atheism has Graph of religion atheism death totals proved more deadly by far.  Communists sought by definition to rid their societies of sectarian religious violence. In the name of atheism and the utilitarian goal of what is good for the state, Communism unleashed human blood-baths on a scale unimaginable before the 20th century.

In Cambodia, Pol Pot killed 3 million. Stalin killed as many as 20 million. And Chairman Mao likely killed over 50 million in China. However bad one considers the Crusades to be, Stalin’s “Society of the Godless” was by number 100 times worse.  Even with the rise of militant Islam in the 20th century, atheism still proved a far more destructive force against humanity than religion. If religion is bad, the lack of it is apparently 100-300 times worse.

Anthropology

Finally, statements blaming religion for violence and war show little reflection on the nature of humanity itself. War is not the product of religious zeal bubbling over into the secular realm. Violence and war have but a single root: sinful humanity.  The reason there is violence, murder, rape, and war is because there is a battle raging in every human soul.

Each person is bound in a personal struggle against sin and unrighteousness. Each soul is at war against its own best interests. Each soul struggles to do what is right in the face of overwhelming desire to do what is wrong.  And so, each soul must battle personal guilt and the temptation to place blame on others.

In Christian terms, the case proves to be as advertised by the ancient prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”

The Apostle Paul describes human sin in much darker tones:

There is none righteous, not even one… Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes… (Romans 3).

Paul’s prescription for such people is to come to know the Prince of Peace and to walk the narrow way of life, being justified as a gift by God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. God’s prescription is peace through the redeeming sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That is pure religion. That is the hope for peace. That is the hope for every individual, including you and me. Thank God, there is hope for peace.

Religion, then, is neither the problem behind war nor the solution for it. Religion, if it is right, will point to Christ who is bringing all wars to an end.

Song of the South’s Demise


I am presently in the deep South where I grew up.  It is almost obligatory here to peruse a recent edition of Southern Living.  On the coffee table was an issue of Southern Living featuring the beautiful Hydrangea, a pink and blue plant that has fascinated me since I first saw it growing alongside the white frame houses of the gray and white-haired ladies in my little, Louisiana hometown.  Excitedly, I turned to page 78 for the feature story on growing Hydrangeas.  Disappointedly, the article turned out to be the story of Mark’s hydrangea parties instead of Mark’s hydrangea plants.  The photos were nice, but the article left me longing for more of the glory of my southern heritage—not that kegs of beer and party music weren’t part of my heritage.  Surely, they were, but I had hoped for a more positive review of my own history and of the glory of the hydrangea.

Undaunted by the lack of fulfillment in the first article, I continued to review this catalog of Dixie living only to unfold an even greater letdown.  Another article featured a Miami-based Yoga instructor who lovingly volunteers her time to teach poor kids the secrets to Yoga.  Whatever one wishes to say about Yoga, he ought not refer to it in any sense remotely related to cornbread, iced tea, or hydrangeas.  Yoga is not a southern tradition—unless you are referring to southern Asia.  Yoga is clearly an eastern tradition, originating from Hinduism.  Surely, it is practiced by many in the South today, but this isn’t because it is part of their heritage.  It is, instead, a result of the neglect and diminishing of that heritage.

The article was a glowing review of the peace and tolerance of Yoga and how it benefited the public school kids in troubled areas of Miami and the rest of the South.  Interestingly, the article did not mention any conflict of interest between church and state, between religion and government education, even though it is undeniable that Yoga is part of religious practices of Buddhists and Hindus.  The goal of Yoga is to achieve balance with the forces of the “moon” and the forces of the “sun.”  The balance, of course, is one of spiritual lobotomy, whereby the person learns to pursue neither love nor justice.  He simply purifies himself from all desires as he is absorbed into the greater balance of reality.  None of this is mentioned (at least not forthrightly) to the little southern school kids.

People who practice Yoga are in danger of being sucked in to the illusory peace of eastern inactivity.  We do not live in a passive world of balancing the force—a fact which should be obvious to anyone who has watched the murder and mayhem prevalent in Star Wars.  The comfort and affluence purchased by the Christian work ethic has provided southerners the luxury to comfortably pursue Yoga.  In India, where Yoga originated and has been practiced for centuries, there is sewage, starvation, and gross oppression of human beings in an entire class of 300 million people are considered less valuable than dogs.  Eastern religion offers no heritage of which southerners should be proud.  I am disappointed by its being featured so glowingly in Southern Living.

I am disappointed, too, that so many are willing to imbibe in its illusions from their own contexts of comfort brought about by the heritage of the Christian South.  If you are a Christian, I would urge you to avoid Yoga.  You know that you cannot be purified by balancing your mind and body with the forces of the sun and moon.  That is pagan nonsense.  In fact, you cannot be purified by any form of exercise or religious work.  Your purification comes from another—One who Himself was pure and offered as a sacrifice for your sins and impurities.  Indeed, through the sacrifice of the pure and spotless lamb of God, you have come to see the fulfillment both of love and justice.  Don’t be fooled by the eastern impulse to avoid the fulfillment of love.  Even the pink and blue snowballs of southern hydrangeas pale in comparison to the crimson cross belonging to their redeemer.