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Isn't religion responsible for all our wars? - Part 1
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August 16, 2009
Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

I was shocked to discover that most of the wars in the world today are religious wars. Religion is the source of everything bad. War, the Crusades, the Inquisition, overpopulation, persecution, prejudice; it’s all religious. I have no idea whether or not there is a God, but if religious people would just leave the rest of us alone, we would all be fine.


Bella Koes

Dear Bella,

Let us first define our terms. We read in James 1:27 that, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” 

The Greek term, (remember them, the Greeks, precise to the point of tediousness?) is “threskeia”, which means “worship, religion, especially expressed in (religious) cult, that is, ritual.”  Translating the text into Latin, the word is religio, whence comes our word religion. Religio meant holding scrupulously to the ceremonies due the gods. There is no clear agreement among scholars as to the origin of the word. It seems to come from “re” and “ligare” thus would have something to do with holding back, or tying down.

In the Church, we talk about the virtue of religion, which is a dimension of the virtue of justice. Justice is that virtue which gives to each his due. It is impossible to give God what He is owed, but our attempt to do so is called religion. In the common understanding religion is “...all that God stuff, do unto others etc.” It can be thus argued, that Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, is not itself a religion, but a faith and a fellowship that has a necessary religious component. (Boy is this boring. What is he talking about? ) Just this: you’re assuming that you know what religion is, and you don’t. “It’s all that God stuff, no?” 

We need to define our terms. There are lots of religions. In the above mentioned passage, St. James says that some religion can be foolish. You are making the claim that religion is the source of human suffering. Which religions? Let’s look at the question of war and religion in tedious detail. The United Nations seems most interested in wars that involve a thousand or more fatalities a year, so we’ll start there. In this list are included  1) the Arab-Israeli Conflict with a grand total of 50,000 - 90,000 fatalities since its inception, then  2) the Somali Civil War, 300,000 - 400,000 fatalities, then  3) the Afghan Civil War 1,500,000–2,000,000 fatalities, a war into which we have recently jumped with both feet and a patriotic smile, though it was originally a Muslim vs. Communist war, then  4) the civil war in Darfur, Sudan, 450,000 (+/-) fatalities, then  5) the Iraq War, 500,000 - 1,500,000, then 6) the war in North-West Pakistan 13,900 dead and, finally, 7) the Mexican Drug War 10,000 fatalities or so.

There are many other smaller-scale armed conflicts that are currently causing a smaller number of violent fatalities each year, but still worth an honorable mention.  8) The Colombian drug war 50, 000 to 200,000 fatalities,  9) the Communist/ Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines about 120,000 dead, then  10) the Kashmiri Insurgency in India, perhaps 60,000 gone, then  11) the Niger Delta and 12) Baluchistan conflicts, (who knows how many dead?) and finally in India, the 13) Naxalite Maoist insurgency whatever that may be!

I have not mentioned the Northern Irish situation, because at the time it seems to be over, but the famous conflict between Protestants and Catholics was not what it seemed. Many of the so-called Catholics were actually Maoist Communists. The conflict seems to be ending because the combatants are just getting too old to continue. You can only do so much damage from a wheel chair.

So, of the twelve wars listed above, 10 involve Muslims, 1 involves Communists, and two involve drug dealers, admittedly in Catholic countries, though I suspect the drug lords don’t attend church that often. In the above list there is not one Vatican paid Swiss Guard mentioned. So those miseries cannot be directly pinned on the Pope.

I mentioned above that the word “religion” may actually mean to restrain or tie back.  I would venture that some religions, like Islam,  make war a positive virtue. Remember that Mohammed was himself a general who mandated beheadings. Other religions seem to restrain the impulse to kill. Jesus and Buddha seem down right opposed to war, though their followers occasionally ignore them. Still, I would venture that Christian/Catholic religion performs the function of restraining what seems to be the favorite pastime of humanity: murder on the grand scale. Where Catholicism has been practiced, war, though not eliminated, has been held back. Have you ever heard of the Peace of God and the Truce of God?

The Peace of God was the protection from military violence won by special groups in medieval society. These included the clergy and their possessions; the poor; women; peasants along with their tools, animals, mills, vineyards, and labor; and later pilgrims and merchants: in short, the vast majority of the medieval population who neither bore arms, nor were entitled to bear them. The Truce of God, while often confused and later merged with the Peace, protected certain times of the week and year from the violence of the feudal class: no private or public wars were to be waged from Wednesday evening until Monday morning, during certain Saints’ days, during Advent, Lent, and Rogation days, also Holy Week, Easter Week and the 12 Days of Christmas, with it’s partridges and pear trees. This peace, though often broken, extended from the 800's until the Reformation in the 1500's. The Pope could excommunicate violators and people actually worried about such censures for almost 700 years. 

The History Channel and Hollywood have convinced you of the myth of the scheming evil popes bent on world domination who were overthrown by the glorious Reformation and the still more wonderful Enlightenment. Look at the numbers. If conduced by the rules, medieval wars were not much more violent than modern English soccer matches. (I’m joking, but not by much.) Remember you could only kill other knights and the technology of killing had not yet benefitted from the Enlightenment of the 1700's and the wonderful scientific revolution which has made our lives so much richer and our war so much more deadly. Medieval wars just didn’t kill as many people as modern wars do. War in Europe really came into it’s own when the papal domination of western Christianity was overthrown. That’s when the “wars of religion,” really got rolling, principally in France, Germany and England.  These probably killed 10,000,000 (ten million) over the course of a century, certainly an inspiring achievement, but nothing compared to the progress we’ve made as we gradually shake off Christianity altogether. Take away the pope, and ten million die. Let’s see what happens when we take away Christianity all together.

To be continued next week…

Rev. Know-It-All

The Question Was
- - -
Isn't religion responsible for all our wars? - Part 1
The Reverend Know-It-All
is a parody of
Mr. Know-It-All,
the alter ego of Bullwinkle,
a carton character created
by Jay Ward (1920-1989).

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