The following essay, by Andrew Holt, is republished from John D. Hosler‘s edited volume, Seven Myths of Military History (Hackett, 2022). It is provided here with both the permission of Professor Hosler and Hackett Publishing. Thoughtful feedback and comments are welcome and can be emailed directly to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 1. War and the Divine: Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?
“It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.”
To uproarious laughter, the late comedian and social critic George Carlin once condemned God as the cause of the “bloodiest and most brutal wars” ever fought, which were “all based on religious hatred.” He stated that millions have died simply because “God told” Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians it would be a “good idea” for them to kill each other. Carlin’s comedy routine, entitled “Kill for God!” has received rave reviews by its viewers for being “brilliant” and “spot on,” with one anonymous fan confirming that religion is “by far the single biggest cause of human deaths.”
To be clear, it is not modern military historians who claim religion is the cause of most wars, but rather many prominent intellectuals, scientists, academics, and politicians, often with far greater influence over popular cultural assumptions than professional historians, who have popularized such claims. In a 2006 interview, the neuroscientist and cultural commentator Sam Harris stated, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology.” The Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins claimed in 2003 that religion is the “principal label, and the most dangerous one,” by which human divisions occur, contributing to “wars, murders and terrorist attacks.”Continue reading