Are Most Wars the Result of Religious Belief?
by Rich Deem
War and Religion
A slew of books by “evangelical” atheists have claimed that most of the world’s suffering (including most wars) are the direct result of religious differences and the discord that it fosters. Such statements are seldom backed up by real evidence (other than citing a handful of wars that seem to be the result of religious differences).1 Does religion really lead to war?
People can be pretty passionate about their religious beliefs. So, it is not surprising that at least a few famous wars have resulted from disagreements about religion. However, is it true what Sam Harris says that our tendency to slaughter each other “generally have their roots in religion?”2
History of human wars
The history of human warfare goes back to the beginning of recorded history (and, no doubt, well before that). A recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict.3 So, what atheists have considered to be “most” really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.
U.S.A. – the most religious country
Since the United States of America is and has been one of the most religious countries over the last 200+ years, if the atheists are correct, the U.S.A. should have been involved in the largest number of religious wars of any other nation. In fact, the United States has been involved in 17 wars, only one of which (the current “War on Terror”) has any religious entanglement. The number of Americans who have died as the result of religious wars is 14.2/year, which is less than the number of people who die yearly from dog bites.4
The atheist claim that religion is the cause of most wars is shown to be false. The history of human warfare shows that less than 7% of all wars have religious causes. If atheists are correct, the most religious industrial nation, the United States of America, should be involved in more religious wars than any other country. However, only the “War on Terror,” among all 17 American wars, involves a religious component.