Blood for the Blood God?
"There has been more blood shed in the name of religion than in any other cause in history."
I have heard this phrase bandied around in several discussions, both on the Internet and in real life. The usual examples given are the Crusades, September 11th, and, if the speaker knows a bit of history, the Hussite rebellions, the Irish Troubles, and the conquistadores.
I have been mulling this over for some time, and have come to the conclusion, perhaps unsurprisingly, that I disagree.
I wil begin, as people who intend to pontificate pompously on human civilization often do, in Ancient Greece. A loose confederation of city states who shared a language, a pantheon, and a charming tendency to wage war against one another at the drop of a hat.
Sparta, Athens, Thebes, and Crete all prayed to the same gods for victory, but it didn't seem to slow them down when it came time to butcher each other for glory and territory.
For that matter, the Persians had a completely different cosmology than the Greeks, but that didn't stop thousands of Greek mercenaries and recidivists from serving in the armies of the God Kings against their fellow Zeus worshippers in the city states and the Macedonian Empire.
Speaking of the Macedonians, if you look at Alexander the Great and many of the other great conquerors, men like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Attila the Hun,as a general rule they didn't seem to be overly concerned with religion in their wars. The newly conquered subjects were usually allowed to pray to whomever they wished, as long as they paid taxes on time. (If the local religious establishment interfered with said taxation, it became a bit of a different story).
So, what do you guys think? Am I on to something here, or am I perhaps being influenced just a smidgen by my own views on the subject of religion?
My uneducated opinion: you're onto something. Religion is one reason people give to justify war but I think violent competition between groups is just part of our nature.
Saying that religion isn;t the only reason people go to war does not mean that the number of people killed in the name of religion is overstated.
It is not only in "wars" that religions have murdered for faith.
Add up every woman burned as a witch, every heretic put to the stake, every kurd, jew, gentile, muslim, hindu, pagan, monotheist et al killed in the name of "invisible friends" and I think you will find a stagerring number compared to those who were killed in the name of pure conquest.
Hell, some of the "secular" tyrants were the most prolific when it comes to killing over religion. Hitler, Stalin and Mao all had their own little private beefs with religion even as a concept. As did many of their political decentdants (Pol Pot anyone?)
This **** continues to this very day from the third world ethnic progroms against Kurds to the relatively developed world progroms against Falun Gong worshipers in China.
Nah, I think you're just distracted by focusing on those who didn't kill for religeous reasons. JMHO, but I think fanatics still hold the title for most blood shed.
Seeing as humanity invented religion, humanity is responsible for all war, not religion.
Religion's an ideological force that builds group-identity and can certainly be implicated in getting people to act irrationally. (Individual rationality in war would lead to the soldiers on both sides killing their own generals and then just going home.)
That said, given the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, surely the nation-state as an ideological force has a higher bodycount than religion.
Try to guess one main difference between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (****, I actually used that term).
I'm pretty sure that religion is the main reason for the raging nationalism and bloodshed we had here.
Since I'm told it's bad form to sling mud at another fellow's ideas without putting up your own, here's what I think is the most common reason we kill each other, a little thing called "zero sum thinking" (Full disclosure, I'm cribbing this from conservative pundit P.J. O'Rourke, although I imagine he likewise cribbed it from someone else on down the line, since coming up with radical new ideas sort of defeats the purpose of conservatism in general)
It goes like this:
There are a limited number of (things I need or want) in the world.
Every (thing I need or want) that you have is one that I don't have.
The easiest way for me to get more of (thing I want or need) is to bash in your skull and take yours.
Apply this on a small scale and you get the Dalton gang, Edward Teach, and various and sundry other bandits and highwaymen.
Apply it on the large scale and "We need oil. Roll the Republican Guard into Kuwait!"
Don't forget that a large percentage of victims in this pool were persecuted for their religion.
Originally Posted by Rivington
Just because the Nation State did not represent a diety, does not negate the fact that they did kill people for beleiving in deities. China still does this. There are probably others but they escape me at the moment.
You could do this as a general example, but civilization started independently in at least 7 different places and it didn't unfold the same way everywhere, and pompous pontificators (such as myself) are quick to point that out.
Originally Posted by Vince Tortelli
Some of the objections and arguments that are commonly made here should be mentioned, because they're valid, but I'll be brief, because they're so old:
- Measuring the evil or potential for violence of any cause by sheer number of dead is problematic, since modern population sizes and modern technology allow greater numbers of murders without increase in effort or motivation.
- It's probably true that wars over resources, nation-state boundaries &c. have killed more people than conflicts strictly over religion, but see above and below.
- It's commonly argued that no war has really been started expressly due to religion, as even e.g. the Crusades were prompted, at the leadership level, by economic and political considerations.
- Even if wars are started for other reasons, though, religion is a convenient us-vs-them in-group/out-group delineation.
I'd like to take a moment, though, to consider the question literally. The quote is about people killed "in the name of religion", and a common protest is that wars over resources or land borders or what have you have killed more people. However, it's interesting to note that as far as I know, very few wars have actually been started in the name of resources. Maybe King Such-and-such really went to war because he wanted his neighbour's metal resources, but he claimed it was over heresy.
This line of thinking is often at least vaguely mentioned as exonerating the role of the church: If religion was just an "excuse", it isn't really to blame after all. However, I think that the culpability goes deeper than merely delineating in- and out-groups: If it weren't a useful excuse, the wars couldn't happen. After all, the point of carrying a religious banner was to get public support for the cause -- and it worked. If I started a war over resources in the name of fruitcake, the result would not be that fruitcake was unjustly blamed, but rather that nobody would follow me into war. Apparently religion has been an ample motivator for the common man to support war, and to go murder people for holding a different religious opinion. Even if we accept that in many (maybe most) cases, the leadership's ultimate motivation was greed or power, does that really do much to exonerate religion? At any rate, I cannot accept that the thing in whose name wars are frequently waged is just a red herring.
If a religion is a force for good and against war, then it should not easily lend itself to being wielded as a tool of war by leaders and sway the faithful into killing; preferably, it should clearly work against it.