Religion and War

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War and religion draw high levels of attention globally. One of the most common arguments is that religion causes war. However, the extent to which the religion contributes to war is contentious given that there are other causes of war. Despite the divisions in perceiving the role of religion in the emergence of war, it is argued in the paper that religion contributes to war although it is not the primary cause of war.

Citing British zoologist Dawkins Richard, Hunt, Pochia, Martin, Rosenwein and Smith (2007) observed that religion triggers war by generating certainty. The news that beams constantly into peoples’ homes or cars reminds them that the most violent and intractable contemporary conflicting contests such as the September 11 attacks, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Middle East, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, and many others are linked to religion in one way or another.

The above wars have resulted from religious appeals. For instance, following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of New York, the US launched retaliatory attacks against Afghanistan. It is noted that the terrorist attacks had been instigated by religious intolerance and perceived injustices perpetrated by the West against the other peoples of the world, especially those prophesying the Islamic religion.

Videos have been played showing the religious connection to warfare. For instance, suicide bombers have been shown mentioning religion as the drive behind their intentions to launch attacks. The role of religion in the processes of civilization is also seen as a contributing factor. Beliefs shape tolerance or intolerance levels which in turn affect the emergence of conflict.

Religion as a Cause of War

Suggesting that religion causes war is seen as being simplistic and exhibiting ignorance to the real issues. To begin with, what is relayed to the public as news is inadequate. Hence, making judgment based on such news is improper. It is also apparent that religion has no guards or boundaries to ensure that false or corrupt elements do not use it for selfish pursuits. Hence, uncouth individuals or organisations camouflage in religion with a view to finding a justification for their unfathomable endeavours.

Assessing the conflicting nature of the 20th century is also indicative of the fallacious observation that religion causes war. It is alleged that conflicts that emerged in the 20th century were outcomes of atheistic ideologies (Cavanaugh, 2009). Although religion is blamed, reviewing history gives a different picture about the causes of war. It would be beneficial for exponents of the view that religious differences cause war to provide explanations on the leaning towards atheism or secularism among the leaders of war. For instance, Hitler based his warfare agenda on the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche while Joseph Stalin based his on Marxism (Miner, 2003).

Secular or theistic beliefs like those held by Mao Tse-tung and Stalin who in history rank among the worst butchers of human life reaffirms the view that religion is not the primary cause of war (Brent, 2008). Hence, in order to avoid falling into trap of blindly assuming that religion causes war. A plausible assessment of the role of religion in causing war should consider the invasion mounted by deviants who want to capitalize on loopholes to wreak havoc. Put differently, there is a need to examine religion deeply in order to identify its abusers. Looking at religion closely, it is apparent that no religious outfit, whether Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam allows believers to take weapons to advance their cases. No religion advocates for the employment of violence as a means of solving issues.

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Another simple observation is that no religion executes or perpetrates violence (Sohail, 2012). On the contrary, people are the actors in war. Hence, it appears that a certain ideology is behind driving people to war. In a bid to justify their antics, warmongers cite religion as their motivation. Hence, people hiding behind religious freedoms are responsible for causing or contributing to warfare. The noblest thing in such circumstances is to reject the abuse of freedoms. The implication is that people need to challenge abusers of religious freedom by questioning unjustifiable claims that are used to support war.

Taking a Christian perspective is informative to the debate on the contribution of religion to war. Based on Christian beliefs, God created men with the idea of making them free (Adams, 2013). The negative side of being created free is that people have the choice of taking arms against their creator. From the book of Genesis (the Bible), Adam was the first person to turn against God by exercising the right of freedom of choice. The positive side is that one can love God. Although the word love is very common as demonstrated in songs, movies and drama, in real life, it is rarely applicable. In giving his life for humanity, Jesus demonstrated the true meaning of love. Drawing from the biblical view of love, taking arms against another is not an option. However, those who instigate war in the name of religion are deceitful, and out to attain self-serving goals.

Despite assertions that religion plays a limited role in the occurrence of conflict, in some cases it is hard to believe otherwise (Pedahzur & Perliger, 2010). For instance, the Gaza strip war, which has dragged for a long time, comes into focus. The Middle East conflict is mostly explained by religion than any other factor. Israel is a Christian state while Palestine is an Islamic region that is seeking independence. The Palestinians point out that the Israelis’ occupation of their land is a form of colonialism, hence they are willing to fight to the end in order to secure their independence. On the other hand, Israel indicates that the land they occupy is the ‘promised land’. For that reason, they claim that they will not vacate the land under any circumstances. From the above brief, it is noted that Israel bases its claim on the Gaza strip on religious grounds. Based on the finding, it is arguable that religion has played a major role in causing and sustaining the Middle East conflict.

Cases where people of high religious ranking take part in fuelling wars have been noted. For instance, in Rwanda (an African country), the catholic clergy stands accused of exacerbating tribal strains between the Hutus and Tutsis paving the way for one of the most horrific genocides in the world history. Like in many related conflicts, the Rwandan genocide was ethnically motivated. In truth, the tensions have been in existence for long time. Hence, religion had little to do with the conflict. It is also noted that the members of the clergy who participated in the war either actively or passively, did so without seeking the permission of the church. Besides, such members did not notify the church about their intentions of taking part in the conflict.

From the above case, it emerges that wars have root or primary causes. However, it seems convenient to look at symptoms or sideshows when trying to explain an event. Whereas, religion might have contributed, research into the conflict demonstrates that like in many African countries, ethnicity was the real reason behind the skirmishes that hit the country. It would have been more informative to indicate that the catholic clergy who were suffering from ethnic chauvinism hid behind religion in fostering tensions among the people of Rwanda. Were it not for the ethnic differences, religion would not have found an opportunity. However, proponents of the view that religion causes war would argue that the catholic clergy could have used its position to defuse the tensions instead of fuelling them. It is nevertheless pointed that bad people can be found within good institutions and vice versa. Hence, condemning an institution because of one or few errant members is not ideal.

Looking at the world history is also useful in answering concerns about the role of religion in war. Many historical conflicts are associated with religion. The position that religion advances warfare is further supported given that many religions have been involved. For instance, the Crusades, which were a series of campaigns between the 11th and 13th centuries with a clear objective of re-conquering the Holy Land invaded by Muslims, are indicative of the connection between religion and war (Tyerman, 2004). In the process, they expected to restore the Byzantine Empire. Secondly, the French Wars of Religion, which witnessed a succession of battles in France in the 16th century between the Protestants and Catholics, affirms the view that religion causes war. Another infamous war was the Thirty Years’ War that saw the Protestants come up in arms against the Catholics during the 17th century in Germany.

Although the above wars do not present an exhaustive list, they highlight the association between religion and war. Without doubt, Christianity has played a part in the last 2 000 years as it pertains to the mergence and sustenance of war. Shifting focus to Islam, it is also notable that the religion has contributed significantly. In Islam, the concept of Jihad, commonly known as ‘holy war’ appears (Nigel, 2011). Literarily, jihad implies struggle. However, the term has been used to include expansion and defending the Islamic territory. The long-running conflict in the Middle East has been viewed as a religious confrontation too. The September 11 attacks have also been cited as consequences of Islamic radicalization. Attacking the US, which Muslims see as the best representation of Christianity, underscores the role of religion in war. Looking at the chronicled wars and conquest in the book of Joshua under the Judaism religion also supports the idea that religion causes (Reuven, 2012). In the chronicles, conquering the Promised Land is a direct commandment from God.

The twentieth century ranks among the most devastating centuries in world history. During the time, two world wars took place. In fact, the two wars had nothing to do with religion (Henig, 2005). Other notable wars involved the Communist Revolution in China, Russia, Cuba, Southeast Asia, and the Holocaust. The most common aspect about the wars is that were based on ideologies rather than on religious differences. The argument that more people have died because of ideologies as opposed to religion does not however negate the idea that the latter causes or contributes to warfare. The communist ideology supports conquering and ruling others while the Nazi ideology calls for the elimination of others considered of inferior race. Given that communism is an atheistic ideology, questions linger over the input of religion in warfare.

Resources and War

Whether one cites religion or ideology as the causes of war, the apparent view is that the two are not primary causes. Thus, the finding raises more questions than answers. However, exploring the issue of resources holds the key in the pursuit of answers to questions on war. By nature, resources are scarce. Despite the scarcity in resources the number of people and their needs continue to rise. Hence, every individual or society is up in the struggle to obtain resources. It is argued that in most cases, people are looking to gain control of resources. Similarly, the issue of power is critical in understanding cases of war. However, power is related to resources since whoever has the power is also in charge of allocating resources. In such pursuits, the possibility of conflict increases. The problem is further exacerbated by the inability to agree especially when the stakes are high.

The expansion of the Islam religion in the 20th century aligned itself with imperialism perceptions against the West. Based on the Muslim world, the West has engaged in activities that marginalise the remaining parts of the world. Apparently, the marginalization takes the form of political, economical, and religious dimensions. Thus, it is not surprising that sections of the Islamic followers have set up organisations whose purpose is to agitate for a renewal of the role of Islam in carrying out both public and private affairs. Although Muslims believe that such establishments would act as instruments of promoting Islam as a religion, the West perceives them as attempts at reigniting Islamic fundamentalism (David, 2013). On the basis of the views of many Muslims, the term, fundamentalism is erroneous. In its place, terms such as revivalist should be adopted. Giving movements religious names such as Islamist carries different connotations that are subject to exploitation. Interpretations of such words by an average Christian could trigger violence and fear. Hence, a mutual conflicting view between an average Muslim and Christian on what the other religion stands for emerges.

Based on the above discussion about Islam and Muslim world, it appears that religion is a factor in war. However, as stated previously, religion is not the primary source of war. It is apparent that the real issue is marginalisation. Whether real or imagined, the primary concern is access to or control of resources. Since the West has been ahead of the rest of the world for a long time, feelings of marginalisation are bound to emerge. In order to enhance one’s case, finding supporting premises or reasons is mandatory. Consequently, individuals who prophesize the Islamic faith although feeling aggrieved by the unequal control of resources between the East and the West drum up support for hatred against the latter by appealing to religion. In brief, religion is used to advance the case against the West based on perceptions of imperialism. Masters of the game of influence are able to use religion to radicalize people in the pursuit of given agendas. The case of al-Qaida perfectly fits the criterion of pursuing war agendas using religion as a vessel.


Without a doubt, religion plays an integral role in influencing societal relations. In many instances, religion is expected to foster peaceful coexistence. Despite the expectation, divisions persist regarding the effect of religion. One of the most divisive aspects about religion borders on whether it causes war. In responding to the issue, the paper looks into history and reviews many cases involving religion and war.

As established, the 20th century was the worst in terms of war. During the time, two world wars were experienced. The fact that religion had nothing to do with the two World Wars reaffirms the view that religion is not a primary cause of war. However, the involvement of religious figures in fanning violence against others provides contrary evidence although in such cases, different underlying problems such as fights for power and resources could have been the cause of war.

Based on the above cases, it appears that religion has played a major role in causing or influencing wars. The current paper establishes that religion is not a primary but a secondary cause of war. The view holds since, despite the absence of evidence directly linking religion to the emergence of war, it gives impetus to warring factions to engage in full-blown attacks or conquest.
The expansion of religious factions such as Islam and Christianity have coincided with outbreaks of wars in the case of the Christians, the Crusades present a notable example.

It is also established that most wars are fought over resources as opposed to any other reasons. For instance, the case of the Middle East is about land. As a reminder, Israel and Palestine are laying claim to common land as ancestral land. Instead of looking at the conflict based on the primary cause, many observers decide to focus on the more convenient or easily visible factors such as religion.

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