One often hears the lazy argument that “Religion” is responsible for Man’s wars, the assumption being that if we got rid of religion all would be peace and harmony. Presumably then, if all men abandoned the notion that they are spirits inhabiting a material body and conceived of themselves as mere animals fashioned by chance from mud our troubles would be over and we’d all be a lot happier. This is of course untrue and does not correspond with an observation of history, nor of present reality.
It also displays a degree of fogginess about what one means by the word “religion” Religions vary considerably. There are pantheisms (the belief in many gods) monotheisms (the belief in one God who created all) and religions that worship no gods at all, such as Buddhism or modern Scientology.
At the far end of the spectrum there are even religions that do not conceive man to be an immortal soul even while life is considered to be nevertheless spiritual in essence.
Some religions such as Christianity stress faith, while faith has no place at all in others -Scientology and Buddhism being cases in point.
One should note too, while one is discussing paradigms based on Faith, that materialism remains unable to produce conclusive evidence for its basic assumption. That spirituality does not exist is a matter of belief, not evidence. One can of course produce evidence that the material universe exists and one can establish and prove its laws but this is not proof that that the material universe is all there is. The assertion that the material universe is all there is is neither scientific nor logical and is actually a statement of faith.
Alright, so this vague undefined variable known as “religion” or “faith” is responsible for Man’s wars. Is it true?
Well, I can think of a few recent conflicts or humanitarian cataclysms whose driving force was anything but religious.
Hitler’s massacre of ethnic minorities, for instance: religions were often the victim of Nazi psychosis but they were not responsible for it. In fact it is now a matter of record that the drive behind Nazi mass slaughter came from German Psychiatry, the arch-champion of the man-is-mud hypothesis.
The drive behind the Russian revolution and the Stalinist slaughter that followed it was anything but religious, deriving again from the materialism of communism and psychiatry.
Ditto the civil war and ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia. Ditto the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, with materialistic psychiatry the hidden motivator again.
The Chinese invasion of Korea in1950 and the Korean War that followed also had little or nothing to do with religious issues. One had materialistic communist China on the one hand and the largely atheistic commercial imperialism of western nations on the other.
The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were commerce-driven regardless of what justifications are concocted for it, while in the war in Vietnam religion figured neither in the motivation nor rhetoric of either side.
Not all war therefore is “caused” by “religion.” Religious groups are however often the victim or target of it but not exclusively and not always. There is no evidence that by “getting rid of religion” one would “get rid of war” any more than there is evidence that by outlawing atheism or abandoning commerce there would be peace on Earth.
Nor is there any evidence that an abandonment of spirituality would make society happier. On the contrary, our western society has become unhappier and more demoralized as it has become materialistic. You will probably find that the epidemic spread of drug abuse and crime on the one hand and the decline in man’s spirituality and even his sense of right and wrong follow commensurate curves. In the midst of material abundance, which theoretically should have made Man happier, we live out our days in an increasingly miserable Gomorrah of lost souls.
Of course “religion” is a factor in the war in the Middle East and in justifications for their crimes asserted by terrorist groups. And religion has been a factor in many a human conflict. It is true too that religious societies have not necessarily been happy ones either.
In fact, a look at human history tells one that whether spiritual in outlook or materialistic in outlook, Man tends to have a hard time. From this one can conclude that humanity is still evolving its social forms and does not yet have all the answers. This is no reason to get apathetic about the whole thing and to abandon the effort to reason in favour of generalized, unworkable slogans. Indeed, we have every incentive to go on trying to get better at these things called society and civilization, if only through a sense of responsibility to our children who will inherit whatever dog’s breakfast we bequeath them.
Part of getting better at managing human affairs is dropping the habit of buying into broad, untrue, generalities such as “religion is the cause of war” or some such nonsense, looking it over more carefully and seeing if we can get a bit closer to the truth, a bit more accurate about what exactly is getting us into trouble.
Perhaps, if we do, we might grow up a bit and as a species begin carrying ourselves with more dignity and less floundering slapstick and we might perchance knock off the habit of following every psycho who seeks to persuade us to burn the skin off the children of people we have never met.
I will continue this effort to apply reason to the matter of religion and war in the next essay in this series.
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