In light of recent horrific events around the world, it has become extremely popular to blame the world issues on organized religion & its wayward adherents. With a political atmosphere dipped deep in anti-religious rhetoric about radicalism & pious violence in the name of God, the general public, believers and non-adherents alike, have been fed that religion is the cause of most of humankind’s wars & violent disputes, citing historical events like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition or more recent events like the Paris terror attacks as all being perfect examples of just how deep religious violence has plagued the historical human experience.
However how factual is this assertion? Does history prove religion holds the title for being the main cause of humankind’s conflicts, the direct cause of violent division, death and destruction since the start of civilization, or has religious extremism become the new hyperbolized scapegoat for our world’s issues? According to Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of recorded human history, of those wars the authors classify only 123 as being religiously motivated, which is a remarkably low 6.98% of all wars.
With less than 7% of all wars being religious in nature, the Encyclopedia of War concludes that the total sum of all the people killed in religious conflicts equates to only 2% of the mass total of all people killed in wars throughout history. This may seem surprising, especially considering humankind’s knack for insidious war-mongering and conflict, as well as a seemingly natural predisposition for a belief in a Supreme Deity, however historically speaking, there have been a vast ocean of many more non-religiously motivated instigators for war and division. Whilst many have jumped on the bandwagon of claiming that religion is the cause of most of the world’s violence and destruction they are really leaving out a long and abhorrent history of non-religious dictators who have justified the killings, genocides and mass murdering based on a political, racial or philosophical motivation.
History is riddled with the likes of Joseph Stalin, a man motivated externally by the spreading of communism, a political governmental framework that is based on atheism as much as any other tenet of its manifesto, and internally by a pursuit for control and power. Under Stalin’s tutelage, his communist political party killed a whopping 42, 672,000 in the name of their political agenda. Or the Cambodian communist leader Pol Pot whose totalitarian dictatorship forced urban dwellers to move to rural areas to work in collective farms on forced labour projects. The combined outcome of rapid executions, harsh working & living conditions, malnutrition and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population; an estimated 2 to 3 million people of a population of 8 million, all died due to the policies of his four-year control.
The list goes on, from Vladimir Lenin (approx. 4,017,000 dead) or Hideko Tojo (approx. 3,990,000) to the Marxist minded (read: atheist) Mao Zedong, the Chinese dictator, who was responsible for an estimated 40 to 70 million deaths through starvation, forced labour and executions, placing his time as totalitarian leader as the most prominent occurrence of democide (the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder) in human history.
There isn’t a need to mention Adolf Hitler, whom, although he attempted to use Christianity to build hate towards the Jewish citizens of Germany, ultimately the mass deaths of over 20 million citizens was the outcome of his leadership in the Nazi regime’s propaganda against a race of people. Even more recent examples of war, for example the Iraq war, justified by the unproven claims of Saddam Hussein having had weapons of mass destruction. However the lack of evidence wasn’t enough to stop the invasion of Iraq which sparked off the many never-seen-before terrorist organizations, splinter groups and their offshoots in the wake of over 151,000 to one million civilians being killed as a direct result of a war to apparently liberate them. Many critics of the Iraq war cite the real motivations for the insurgence as being politically and resource-control motivated rather than for the betterment of the same citizens that are considered casualties of war since 2003.
Religion has historically been and will continue to be a powerful tool, both for the spiritual betterment of its adherents but also unfortunately as a misused but powerful invoker for zealous action and often times radicalism. However, even in most cases where religion is pushed as the justifier for horrendous actions, it is usually a thinly veiled cover for ulterior motives like political control, justifying a monarchy or control of resources like land, money, trade routes. If there is anything clear it is the unfortunate commonality in all these examples of mass death and destruction is that human beings, when given the right propaganda, combined with the inclination to want to fit in, history bleeds with reminders of when people drawn into the seizure of a mob mentality have committed the worse of acts towards other humans, for whatever the reason to be divided was that time around; be it religion, race, nationality, skin colour, hair colour, what side of town you live on or even to what sports team you support.
In the bustling and diverse world of cultures, races and creeds intermixing more than ever before, humanity needs to reassess the issue, instead of breaking branches of the tree we need to look at the deep root of the problem; man fears what he doesn’t understand. Communication begets communion of common unity making community. In other words, you don’t cut the arm off when the poison is in the heart.
Article by Saamer Matuse Elali