|Atheist Communist China.|
Jimmy Akin, Catholic apologist extraordinaire, published an interesting article yesterday on Catholic.com. In it he examines the oft-cited objection to religion that it is the major cause of violence, bloodshed, and countless wars in the world.
Religion is a human universal, and historically there have been no atheist societies. It is thus impossible to argue that non-religious societies were less violent than religious ones. The officially atheist societies that arose in the Communist world in the twentieth century were not more peaceful than others. They warred, exported revolution, and killed tens of millions of people, including their own citizens.
If religion predisposed people to violence, we should see this on the small scale, yet violent criminals don’t usually seem to be devout churchgoers.You can read the whole thing over there: The Myth that Religion Causes War.
Allow me to add few additional thoughts:
- The most destructive wars in human history have been waged by officially secular states for entirely secular reasons, to achieve exclusively secular goals. States such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Napoleonic France, Ancient Rome all come to mind. As do wars such as, The American Civil War, the two World Wars, etc. The West in the twentieth century (the most secular continent at it's most secular) killed more people in it's wars than all the wars up to that point combined.
- Most wars are caused not by religion but to advance economic interests. One thinks of the conquests that led to the British Empire, the conquests of ancient Persia, Japanese expansion in the twentieth century, and the Venetian Republic's creation of a Mediterranean Empire all serve as examples.
- Some wars have a religious motivation, but these are rather few in comparison to the overall number of wars. If the argument advanced by atheists was true, religion would have to be responsible for most (or at least a majority) of the wars in human history. This simply isn't the case.
- Many of the wars supposedly caused by religious differences, on further examination, were primarily caused by the advancement of political, economic, or national interests. One needs only think of the most obviously religious wars (the Crusades and the wars of religion in the sixteenth century) to see this. For example, the Crusaders sacked and conquered Christian Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and during the wars of religion, Catholic France oppose the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. These battles between co-religionists during "religious" wars underline that other reasons trumped religious motivations even in the most explicit religious wars.
- Unlike the other major causes of warfare (economic interests and the establishment and expansion dominion over other peoples), religion provides examples of decreasing warfare. In the violent Middle Ages (Catholic on Catholic non-religiously motivated violence there as well), the Church (i.e. religion) banned certain weapons (e.g. the crossbow), banned attacks on non-combatants (The Peace of God), and banned warfare from being enacted during certain times and on Sundays (The Truce of God).
- Many world religions teach non-violence or limit the use of violence severely. Judaism has the fourth commandment (fifth if your using the Protestant numbering system), Christians have the teaching of Jesus to "turn the other cheek," Buddha taught "not to injure living beings is good," and Hinduism restricts all violence to resisting evil.
This "objection" to religion is, simply put, absurd. Whether you are an atheist or religious, we all ought to be able to call out a bad argument. It's the only intellectually honest thing to do and intellectual honesty is something atheists and theists alike should value.