Is Religion to Blame?
EARLY 18th-century cleric and author Jonathan Swift wrote: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one-another.” Many have argued that religion is in fact a force for division rather than unity. But not everyone agrees.
For example, consider the conclusion that was reached by a group of researchers at the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University in the United Kingdom. The group was commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation to provide a sound answer to the question of whether religion is a force for peace or for war.
In a published report, the researchers said: “After reviewing historical analyses by a diverse array of specialists, we concluded that there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years.” The investigative team explained that some wars “often painted in the media and other places as wars over religion, or wars arising from religious differences, have in fact been wars of nationalism, liberation of territory or self-defense.”
However, many others argue that the clergy, by their actions or by their silence, have condoned and actively supported many armed conflicts, as indicated by the following quotes:
● “Religion seems to be connected with violence virtually everywhere. . . . In recent years, religious violence has erupted among right-wing Christians in the United States, angry Muslims and Jews in the Middle East, quarrelling Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, and indigenous religious communities in Africa and Indonesia. . . . The individuals involved in these cases have relied on religion to provide political identities and give license to vengeful ideologies.”—Terror in the Mind of God—The Global Rise of Religious Violence.
● “Ironically, nations with fervent religion often have the worst social evils. . . . The saturation of religion has failed to prevent the severe crime level. . . . The evidence seems clear: To find living conditions that are safe, decent, orderly, and ‘civilized,’ avoid places with intense religion.”—Holy Hatred.
● “Baptists are much better known for fighting than for peacemaking. . . . When the [American] slavery issue and other developments divided the denominations and then the nation in the nineteenth century, Baptists North and South supported the war effort as a righteous crusade and assumed that God was on their side. Baptists also identified with the national effort in wars with England (1812), Mexico (1845), and Spain (1898), justifying the last two ‘mainly on the grounds of bringing religious liberty to oppressed peoples and opening new areas for mission work.’ The point is not that Baptists desired war rather than peace, but that, for the most part, when war became a reality Baptists supported and participated in the effort.”—Review and Expositor—A Baptist Theological Journal.
● “Religious motivation to combat has been located by historians in most eras and among virtually all the world’s diverse peoples and cultures, and usually on both sides in any given war. The hoary cry that ‘the gods are on our side’ was among the earliest and most potent of incitements to battle.”—The Age of Wars of Religion, 1000-1650—An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization.
● “Religious leaders . . . need to reflect more critically on their own failure to provide more effective leadership and witness to the true fundamental values of their respective faiths. . . . It is true that all religions aspire to peace but it is questionable whether religion has ever fulfilled that role.”—Violence in God’s Name—Religion in an Age of Conflict.
Throughout history, the clergy of all the major religions of Christendom (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) have provided an endless supply of priests and chaplains to raise the morale of the troops and pray for the dead and dying—on both sides of any conflict. By this support they have condoned the bloodshed and given their blessing to all the military forces.
Some might still argue that religion cannot be blamed for warfare. But the question is, Has religion succeeded in any of its efforts to unite mankind?
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“The Rev. Dr. Charles A. Eaton, pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church, announced from his pulpit yesterday that the parish house of the church was to be turned into a recruiting station for men desiring to enlist in either the army or navy.
“He was one of a dozen clergymen in the city who preached war sermons at their regular Sunday morning services, and who urged the men and women to attest their loyalty to the nation and democracy by offering their services in the war at the earliest opportunity. Flags decorated many churches.”—The New York Times, April 16, 1917.