Religion and war...

Had a co-worker bring out the old "more people have been killed in wars over religion..." chestnut today and having grown tired of hearing stuff like this over time from folks who've combined over confidence and under thinking into the toxic soup of slogan I decided to answer back.

First, in the matter of sheer body count its probable the officially secular and athiestic regimes of the 20th century probably have the honors. The mechanized and systematic killing of the century past simply has no counterpart in human history and resembles something more like an epidemic illness in its gross killing power then the battlefields of even the prior century and certainly less then the supposed "dark ages".

Second, one needs to do some critical thinking and analyze the actual causes of war. There are many cases where religious belief was used by the prevailing authorities as one way to legitimize a particular war, and certainly people who were personally devout have fought in wars and perhaps even seen their involvement as a form of devotion, but not nearly as many cases where religion itself was the actual cause of the conflict. It is probably a fair criticism to say that too often religious groups have lent uncritical support to governments as they embark on wars but even that support does not mean a given war's source is religion, just that religion has allowed itself to become a tool of the larger effort to support a war. A small bit of rational investigation yields the conclusion that war is the sad result of many causes and effects and rarely is it so simple to say that "religion" is the single source of any conflict and often its not even a contributing cause.

The point in this is to help a person think beyond the sound bite and if you can they usually see the complexities of history and discover that a phrase like "More people have died in wars caused by religion..." is simplistic and functionally useless. It's also good for Christians to not be afraid of people making such claims because many who make them are simply regurgitating something they've heard over and over and assume that the repetition of an idea is related to its veracity. A little information beyond the sound bite can sometimes make all the difference.

As for the antagonist who just like to throw things like that in your face to justify whatever it is they're thinking at the moment just remember pearls before swine and such and walk away. That they feel this is some kind of conclusive argument against religion indicates a kind of shallowness of thought that should only be encountered if there is some reasonable hope of growth. If not, you just argue in circles and time and energy go to waste. Let your life do the debating and the Holy Spirit do His work. The harshest critics of our faith often make the best proponents when grace comes calling.

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