The question posed in the title of this post is one which has created a great deal of debate over the past decade or so and, really, a great deal farther back. (Karen Armstrong has a new book coming out entitled “Fields of Blood: A History of Religion and Violence,” for example.) I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too (including Karen Armstrong, and I like her work). When it comes to what causes any particular war to happen, I am not sure that any single definitive explanation has ever been made. Books are still being written about what caused World War I. And while I think you could lay much of the “cause” of WWII in Hitler’s lap but saying “because Hitler” isn’t much of an explanation and it certainly doesn’t explain Japan’s participation.
“I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of
how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too.”
Basically I do not care whether religions start wars or not, or whether they continue them longer than they might otherwise or not, or make them more violent or not, etc. As an atheist, I object to any effect religion has upon violence and warfare because any religious argument is an argument about nothing, about competing fairy tales, or competing moral codes. Hey, that’s a great rationale for war: whether one religion is more moral than another. (That does seem to be a theme in the dialogue between the “moral Islam” and the “decadent Christian West.”)
The good news is that per capita violence of all kinds is on the decline. Yes, including wars. Yes, including the NRA. Yes, including Boko Haram. As we become more civilized (or more urban, or more modern, or more populous, or less religious, or ????) we are becoming less violent. I think this is partly because we are also becoming less different. If you listen to a news broadcast from California, New York, Texas, or Georgia, you would be hard pressed to determine the location of that broadcast without some visual clue. Regional accents just are not as pronounced as they once were. We speak, dress, and act much the same all over the country. We watch the same movies and TV shows and YouTube channels and communicate at a distance more than we ever have. The desire to fit in with one’s peers is a strong urge. And the less different we are, the less inclined to violence we are, my opinion, of course.
Can you imagine the U.S. making war on Canada? Neither can I. Can you imagine making war on Mexico? Maybe a little? Can you imagine making war in the Middle East or in Ukraine? A lot more. As you get away from a shared appearance and a common language and a shared religion, it becomes easier and easier to “think war.” Consider how easily many Americans wanted to go into Ukraine or after ISIS with guns a blazin’.
The main point I wish to make is that the question “do religions cause wars” is irrelevant. If religions contribute at all to wars or violence (and a good case can be made that they do, ask Salman Rushdie) then we are allowing an argument over nothing to create vast pain and suffering. Compare that question with “do fairy tales cause wars.” Atheists are responding from a feeling that the two questions are equivalent. And that leads to exaggerated claims regarding religion and everything wrong with the world, including war. I say exaggerated claims as how could we really know the real cause of any war? Take Hitler’s word for it? Or the leader of Boko Haram’s? Or George Bush’s?
Again, if you wonder why I am writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog, it is because I believe that religion has been a tool of those who started and prosecuted the class war here in the U.S. And now that they have won the class war and are mopping up, I think they will turn their eyes elsewhere.