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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Sep-08


Friday 19-September-08

Religion and war

Strangely, religion and war are not strange bedfellows and if you counted up the people who have died in religious conflicts you would have a very big number and the counter would still be spinning. The current big duel is Christianity vs. Islam, a conflict started in the Middle Ages and recently revived by Islamist fundamentalists. There have also been plenty of other fighting inspired by the gods, going back into Pagan times. And when there are insufficient other religious battles, infighting breaks out between Catholic and Protestant, Sunni and Shiite, and so on. And if you broaden the principle to ideological conflict, then you can include communism vs. capitalism, such as in the proxy fighting of the cold war.

So what is going on? Both religion and war seek to change minds, and when preaching fails war may be seen as a legitimate alternative. This seems a rather bizarre approach in the false belief that coercion will lead to ideological conversion (you will believe this or I will hit you!). In practice, the conflict is far more human.

Sometimes the real cause is territorial, with two (or more) religious groups feeling ownership of the same land, from Northern Ireland to Palestine, where basic arguments include 'We were here first', 'We are here now' and God gave this land to us'. Where territory is involved then political power follows. It also invokes basic needs for a place to live, and religious purpose fades as individuals fight hard to defend their homes.

Another reason we fight over ideas is that belief makes us feel safe. If I believe the world works in a certain way I can predict and control it and so feel secure. Beliefs about how we should act towards others are the glue of society, allowing us to live together in relative harmony. Beliefs also create our sense of identity as we use 'I...' statements.

Many of our daily conflicts are based in subtle differences in underlying beliefs and when these collide we get argue. Anger is a natural response when we feel cornered and challenging beliefs, which are at the foundation of our perception and thinking, often gives us nowhere to go but unthinking animal responses. This effect is amplified when religions seek blind belief and where challenge and exploration is forbidden. From this position, the jihad of righteous war is a short step away..

Your comments

Apologies if I am a bit off topic but I am interested in the way we tend to excuse bad/violent/unreasonable behaviours IF that behaviour is exhibited by person we judge to be on the side of 'right' (ie where we agree with their argument). Conversely we tend to be offended by or critical of similar behaviours when those same acts are carried out by people who we perceive to be already on the side of wrong (ie where we disagree with the validity of their argument).

In theory at least should not our opinion of these behaviours remain the same? Is m expectation unrealistic? Is this a recognised or named behavioural quirk to psychologists.

Did I ask this question in the wrong place? :((

-- Pete F

Dave replies:
Hi Pete. You're right and this is just one of many biases we have that lead to decision errors. The behaviour you describe is driven partly by the cognitive dissonance of internal conflict when we see a person we believe is good do something we believe is bad. To reduce the conflict we must excuse them or frame them as bad (which would also call into doubt all our other judgements of people). Have a stroll around the academic theories and you'll find more explanation.

I agree that wars have been and will be fought in the name of religion but many are not fighting for religious beliefs as much as they are fighting for other selfish reasons. For example is Iraq a war about religion? I have been there four times and I can tell you it is not about religion. If it is those fighting are not very committed to their religion. No it is about ideology or resources or some other reason. Many fight for many reasons. I believe that we initiated a war for one reason but did not find that reason to be true. Weapons of mass destruction or did we find weapons of mass destruction. We did, the weapons was not gas, posie but Saddam Hussein. He, his family and his followers are weapons of mass destruction. But I will admit that there is a religious element to the fighting it is called free choice. The belief that every person is free to choice the god they will put their faith in and worship. I fight because I believe that each person should have the freedom to hear the beliefs of others and choice where they will put their faith. Democracy is not a perfect system but no other system is or ever will be. Why? Because people are involved. People are the cause of war not religion. People's greed, selfishness and hatred. All of us have something we believe is worth dying for my is freedom to chose my religion and if that aligns me with a religious war I guess you are right. Thanks stirring my heart with your writing and thank you for reading mind point of view.

-- Ranger R

Dave replies:
Indeed, many wars are not about religion and religion has been used as an excuse for other reasons for many wars and conflicts. Many religions promote peace and are ambiguous at best about war, yet the slightest hint allows interpreters to use them as reason. Our intolerance of those who are not like us is sad, particularly when it leads us to physical conflict, but that's just a part of the human condition, I guess.

What is wrong with this world? Religion is truly one of the roots of evil, historically and undoubtedly Christianity being the world leader. More than likely, if the Crusades had never occurred the twin towers are still standing in New York and Americans are safe in the land of the free. If the people and government had listened to President Grant on December 7, 1875 and taxed the church, the U.S. would be financially sound. He stated, ?In 1850, I believe, the church property of the United States which paid no tax, municipal or State, amounted to about $83,000,000. In 1860 the amount had doubled; in 1875 it is about $1,000,000,000. By 1900 without check, it is safe to say this property will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000.. So vast a sum receiving all the protection and benefits of Government without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, or not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time, as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority and through blood.? Wake up people.

-- Blind Faith

Hey there Blind Faith,

I believe, if you check your history the "Crusades" were in direct retaliation to the "Muslim Conquests". If the Muslims had not raided and pillaged the lands of the Catholics they likely would not have paid the price of retribution. Personally, I think it's all whacked! We have a world population that knows next to nothing about one another's religions. Yet, we choose to believe anything bad about a religion we no nothing about. I ask you this, If you are reading this and you are Catholic, do you know what makes your religion different than Protestant, or Nazarene or Baptist, much less Muslim, or Sunni or Shiite or Jew. Have you studied their writings, have ever even had an in-depth discussion with someone not of your religion about their religion... without condemning them or making light of their choices of worship... or God forbid they choose to worship no God in particular but a nondescript higher power! It is the same if you are any other religion, do you know what makes you different from a Catholic? People these days spend far to much time tearing other people down for what they believe, what their station in life is, what country they come from, how they dress. They should spend more time examining themselves, whats inside that is worth sharing with others that might make those "other people" find value in them and make them want to be their friends. This world will never be at peace. Not as long as human beings roam it. But I do believe that it all starts at home with each of us making the best of ourselves and sharing that with others. If you see someone being unjustly treated and he/she is not you race, religion, or economic class, step up to the plate and stand up for them anyway. Be a "HUMANE BEING" not just a human being. It starts with one person changing another's day, then that person goes on to change another's and so on.

-- K J

Here is a short comment...
So if Religion and War are bedfellows does that make Religion bad?

-- matthew

Dave replies:
Hmm. Sounds like a syllogistic fallacy?

What happen to love one another as I love you?

-- Jocelyn

K J,

I could not agree with you more

-- Terra


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