One of the most common accusations thrown our way by atheists is that religions cause wars. They say that too much blood has been spilled in the name of God to justify religions. Our blind, irrational beliefs cause irrational hatred, dehumanization of our opponents, and it never ends well.
Religions might offer good moral values, they say, but religious wars outweigh all possible benefits. They also don’t accept religious morals as having solid foundation but that is another topic.
I should mention that unless there are direct quotes to demonstrate these accusations they might call it a strawman argument, that they never advocated these position and that we completely misunderstand them, so our counterarguments will be immediately dismissed.
This isn’t an uncommon tactic, btw. It’s often used to refute our arguments against evolution – they just say we don’t understand how it works, we don’t understand natural selection, we don’t understand what constitutes evolution, we don’t understand underlying principles. They are not going to argue with stupid, we need to go and do our homework first, and that’s how it usually ends.
I’ve seen the same tactic in discussions with Christians, too. It’s impossible to pin them to anywhere, they always say that our arguments are directed against faulty understanding of what Christianity is or what Christian position on this or that subject is, or that we have mistakenly picked up on some heretic views. In any case, we should go and read some authentic Christian material, they give us a list of two-three hundred titles, and then we can come back and they would gladly explain whatever it is we still don’t understand.
Two-three hundred titles is not an exaggeration, btw. They give you five-six names, each author produced a dozen or so books and articles, and each of those articles references some other, seminal works that we should carefully study first, and that’s how it snowballs. There’s simply no such thing as “I’ve read enough Christian literature”.
It’s actually clever, sometimes we use the same underhand technique by encouraging people to read our books under less than kosher pretexts. History of the universe, hand book of yoga, easy journey to other planets – that type of thing.
Back to bloody religious wars – atheists talk about them as if it’s an axiom. Personally, I don’t remember when was a last purely religious war. Israel-Palestine conflict is probably the closest that qualifies but correcting historical injustices and controlling territories is as big a driving factor as differences between Jews and Muslims. In fact, there are plenty of shared religious sites there that are sacred to both traditions, and they both are not sold on Jesus, so they got that going.
Wikipedia has an interesting number – some historians recorded and analyzed all known wars and only 7% of them had a religious component, or, as they say, “classified to involve a religious conflict”.
Seven percent! And that’s just having religious connection, not exclusively religious. I should remember that next time I see this argument.
If atheists think that religious rights (right to preach and convert, mostly) need to be restricted because they cause wars, why don’t they also denounce democracy, development, freedoms and all other reasons countries go to war against each other.
If 93% of all wars have no religious motives, can we suggest that they were irreligious and ask to ban “irreligion”? It’s not a word, of course, and it’s not atheism, because people who went into these wars still believed in God in one way or another. I mean it to mean “not following religious principles”, which affects us all from time to time.
Maybe back in medieval history Christians were brutal but we can’t honestly think that modern Christians would turn into Spanish Inquisition the moment we allow creationism in schools. I’m not saying we should teach creationism but these arguments are usually about Christian agenda, not ours. Schoolboards don’t argue about teaching Bhagavad Gīta yet.
Look at the two world wars, they were caused by very rational, scientific ambitions – this country wanted that, that country wanted this. There was a struggle for control of resources, human and otherwise, there was a struggle to preserve “face” and all kinds of other, perfectly justifiable reasons, from the atheistic point of view it was all legit.
Of course they won’t see it that way and I don’t mean to legitimize Nazism, for example, but it’s just what happens when societies act by man made laws instead of following God. Then come excesses, greed, propaganda and eventually wars.
Mass slaughtering is the systematic problem of atheism, it can’t be avoided no matter how much they try. Americans dropped two atomic bombs and wiped out several hundred thousand people in an instant and they justified their actions with scientific rationality. If it was a religious decision it would have promised people some sweet after life but what do they get from atheism? Nothing, just death, these people are just faceless numbers.
One could say that the intensity of armed conflicts in modern times is not as high as before and it’s a good news, I guess, but part of that is also the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction that prevents global superpowers from engaging each other with full force.
Wars are also fought professionally now and that means there are a lot less losses for the developed countries, who value human lives higher than ever in history, but lets not forget that they value only lives of their own citizens, not lives of their enemies who keep getting killed by thousands without any mercy.
Anyway, atheists attacks on us for being bloodthirsty are unjustifiable, we should not accept their accusations at face value and silently nod in shame for ancient history.
It doesn’t mean that we are all pacifists, though. Religious leaders might have their own, perfectly justifiable reasons to go to wars, though atheists would certainly not accept their justifications.
Just think about it – why would a religious group decide to use force against their enemies? Even Christians would agree that forceful conversion should not be practiced, so it would be about survival rather than expansion (territorial expansion should not be counted as a religious reason here).
What would pose such an existential threat, though? Atheism, or maybe mass conversions by another religious group, which is not likely to happen in real life anymore. Atheism, however, is dangerous. It takes control of the state, then it takes control of education, then it erodes religious values, and then it’s game over.
Many countries are very protective of their culture and the way of life and by that they mean raising their children according to their own values. These values always have roots in their religions, so most of the “protect the nation” type of war propaganda is actually to preserve their religions, which is especially true under the onslaught of western civilization.
Even the current Ukrainian conflict is religious at heart – Ukrainians want to be with secular, atheistic and materialistic Europe while Russians want to hold on to their Christianity. They rightly think that western liberalism is incompatible with religion on which their national identity is based to a large degree.
Where does it leave us? So far we don’t have a horse in this race and we present ourselves as absolutely harmless people who won’t even eat meat but this public side of our movement should not make us forget our real principles, ie we should not believe our own propaganda. Truth is, if push comes to shove, we should resort to argumentum ad baculum without a second thought. If we get a chance and the capacity to conduct a war for preservation of religious principles we should not hesitate even a minute.
That’s what Bhagavad Gīta was all about, after all.
Lord Caitanya didn’t want to use force against enemies of religion in this age but there was one room conversation with Śrīla Prabhupāda where this topic came up and he didn’t think twice about it – if demons refuse to listen to arguments we should take guns. He even demonstrated how we should be killing them with a machine gun. I’m not going to give a name of a devotee who relayed this conversation, it’s not in Folio, I believe, there are enough personal attacks in our society as it is, but I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this episode.
Would it be incompatible with the message of Lord Caitanya? Not really. Prabhupāda was talking about a different kind of situation, he was talking about a hypothetical world where devotees would have control of state power and so have a duty to enforce the laws, and he was talking about situation where chanting of the holy name (ie persuasion) would have failed to resolve the conflict. It wouldn’t be Kali Yuga as we know it and it wouldn’t be about preaching anymore. It’s just not going to happen, it’s not how śāstras predict Kali yuga would go, so our critics have nothing to worry about.
But if it came to it, then yes, we should definitely be ready to take arms. If our leaders say this in public it would create a sh*tstorm of epic proportions but I’m counting on no one reading this blog and me not representing official views of our society.