Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God"?

"No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God".

I saw this quote in a blog recently and starting thinking. This is often brought out as a criticism of religion, implying that religions are somehow violent and intolerant by nature rather than peaceful. But how true is it?

A quick look through history says that there is truth to this statement. A lot of people have been killed in the name of God. And before the 20th century this statement would likely be true, especially if one discounts disease under the heading of "killed" (counting disease, the plagues of the Middle Ages were easily more deadly than any sort of religious killing).

In the 20th Century religion has a reprieve. While there have been religious conflicts (the Arab-Israeli conflict, Northern Ireland, the breakup of Yugoslavia, etc) the biggest killers were communism (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) and National Socialism (Hitler), both political ideologies. Other major killers are national / tribal conflicts which have killed millions in the Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and other nations. In the 20th Century religious conflict is dwarfed by these other conflicts.

Looking before the 20th century, there was certainly a lot of killing in the name of God, though some of it might be qualified. Much is made today of Islam as a violent religion, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. However, while Muslims have engaged in wars of conquest, they have generally not engaged in a lot of bloodshed. There was little "convert or die" in the Muslim expansion of the 7th and 8th centuries. Rather, Islam was given a privileged position and people naturally converted to the official religion. Even conflicts which might be considered explicitly religious (such as the Mahdi in Sudan in the latter 1800's) were likely more a response to colonialism. In fact, much "religious" conflict might be more properly judged to be political revolt which uses religion as a rallying point.

So certainly religion has been the reason for much killing. However, it must always be remembered that religion is often an excuse for a war rather than religion causing the war. And even when a conflict is overtly religious, it is likely that the underlying causes are economic, tribal, or national differences which are encompassed in religion.

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