Is religion REALLY the number one cause of war?

by Jon Sorensen

religion Number-one-cause-of-warI have had two different people on Facebook tell me that they believe religion is the cause of most wars. One friend of mine said “Wars start because of religion and land correct? Tell me a war that didn’t have religion involved?” while another commented, “Which has killed more people, Jon? The Bible or guns?” These types of questions often stump many Christians because the assumption that religion is at the root of most of the major conflicts throughout human history is one that is ingrained in our society. It’s easy to understand why this assumption gains so much traction, especially in light of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the current unrest in the Middle East. But is this assumption correct? How can a Christian respond?

Just the Facts

According to the Encyclopedia of Wars (Phillips and Axelrod, Facts on File, December 2004) of the 1,763 major conflicts in recorded history, only 123 of them were classified as having been fought over religious differences. That’s just under 7 percent. The encyclopedia also explains that the number of people killed in these conflicts amounts to only 2 percent.

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What are most wars fought over?

My good friend and co-worker, Jimmy Akin, explains this best:

Religion is a powerful motivator, and thus is often invoked in wartime, but the real reasons most wars have been fought have nothing to do with it. Instead, they have to do with political control–either allowing certain political leaders to gain or remain in power (e.g., who is the rightful heir to the throne) or they have to do with gaining political control of resources (e.g., land, money, food supplies, transportation and trade routes) or they have to do with a particular leader’s ambitions (i.e., being remembered as a great man, or not being remembered as a weak man). When leaders aren’t being totally naked about those things, they dress them up with national pride or religion, but ultimately they are not at the root.

Think of the most modern wars you learned about in school. The American Revolution, The French Revolution, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea; None of these wars were fought for religious reasons. In fact, the death toll of World War II is estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 70 million, making it the deadliest conflict in all of human history…

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