There’s an opinion among some people that “all wars are caused by religious belief.” But is that actually true? Does religion cause war?
Very seldom. Wars are about control and ownership of physical territory. The winner gets to impose his or her laws, steal what is easy to steal, and to reap the taxes of the populace. Sometimes the conqueror will go further, using their power to require new behaviors of the conquered populace. In the unusual case where the central reason for a war is to impose an idea, and if the idea is a religion, that war may be due to religion.
What people should say is that religion is involved in most wars. This is true!
Religion does play a key role in most wars. (It’s being done right now in America, as described in Christianity and War). After all, the rulers need to convince the young males to fight and die – and, as a rule, they are not overly interested in such things. Religion works really well at sealing the deal, and getting the young men armed and to the front lines. Other things (fear, revenge, proving their courage) get the young men started on the road to fighting, but when it comes to actually facing death, even young minds quickly make their ways to the ultimate questions, and not only does religion provide answers to these questions, but it often adds a rationale for fighting. (All this said, don’t completely overlook the fact that if you’re in a situation like England faced in 1940, you need such motivated young men to step forward.)
Even Stalin, a confirmed atheist and tyrant, was forced to let the Orthodox Church open up and function a bit during World War II. It simply kept people more willing to die. Religion is a very good way to motivate and console the people who actually have to fight and die in a war.
So, to answer the question: Does religion cause war? Not really. Rather, the all-too-common truth is this:
After war is chosen, religion makes the young men willing to face death.
[Does Religion Cause War is an excerpt from Paul Rosenberg’s book, Mindless Slogans – 101 Cheap Substitutes for Actual Thought]