September 10, 2011

Does religion cause war?

It has been ten years since a small group of men hijacked a few planes and flew themselves into buildings.  Their cause appears to have been a religious one.

But we forget that millions of other people with the same religion don’t fly planes into buildings.  More significantly than that, other men flew themselves into buildings afterwards, and their cause was not a religious one.

Remember the Engineer who flew himself into the tax building?  His manifesto was how unfair the tax code was.

Sure, we could say that the first suicide pilots were the Kamikaze pilots in World war II.  We could try to say that their religion brought them to do that.

A lot of people kill themselves or others in the name of religion.  There are monks who burn themselves in Asia.  However, the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire did out of desperation, for a lack of the right to earn a living.

If we look at the ancient suicidal attacks in Rome, honor was a key.  Among the ancient Greeks, the average person might not get to heaven.  But one’s reputation on Earth after death was a motivation for one’s deeds during life.

If we look into the culture of suicide bombers, they aren’t really fighting for religion.  Their religion, we are told, outlaws suicide.  Yes, martyrdom is considered great in many faiths, but self-imposed martyrdom is an oxymoron.

No, we look at suicide bombers and we see large sums of money going to their surviving family members.  We see streets named after suicide bombers, and shrines built for them.  These men seem to be more motivated by material benefits at home than they are by rewards in heaven.  If they do indeed have a religion, then it is a pagan one.

Now, there have been religions that might encourage a man to prefer a violent death to a peaceful one.  In one interpretation of Norse mythology, there is one heaven for warriors who die fighting, and another for cowards who die of old age.

But is this just about religion?  Don’t we have the same feelings of duty to serve our country in war whether we have a religion or not?

So many wars have been fought between religions, or against religions.  People have long persecuted others who thought differently.

However, any look at the twentieth century will show that all forms of ideology, whether attached to a religion or not, can be subject to persecution.

Wars of ideas can be traced back to Napoleon’s time.  They can be further traced back the the English Civil War, the Roman Civil War, and even to the ancient city states of Greece.  Wars of ideology are as old as history itself.  Most wars of religion of that era appear to be linked to territory or power struggles.  Wars of ideology can also be seen as power struggles.

While men may use force to try to impose their beliefs on others, the existence of a system of beliefs does not make them do this.  Men chose to do evil, they chose to fight and kill.

If you believe that God is real, and that He is just, then why would you believe a man who told you that God wanted you to commit a terrible act against innocent people?  That lacks all logic.

Even if you think that God would be unjust enough to tell you to do something horrible, you don’t have to obey.  Remember Prometheus who stole fire from Olympus to give it to man?  He suffered eternal anguish, but he can be considered a hero for doing the right thing.

If a person makes up a religion that tells you to do evil, you don’t have to believe it and you don’t have to obey.  If you do chose to follow the commands of an evil person, then you’d be silly to blame the religion for your actions.  You did it yourself.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a story of two groups of people who are judged in the afterworld.  They are not judged by how obedient they are to the priests, or by how many times they cry Hosanna, or how many times they did extraordinary acts that went down in history, or how many times they offered sacrifices.  Instead, they are judged by how well they treat their fellow human beings.  Those who think they have done the right thing, but treated other people badly, are dismissed and sent away.  If you don’t believe me, read Matthew, chapter 25.

An evil person can twist anyone’s words around.  Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection can be used to justify eugenics.   In the aftermath of the French revolution, the seemingly benign virtues of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were used to justify mass murder, overseas conquest, and a series of terrible war crimes.

(In retaliation, other, equally terrible, war crimes were taken against those who sympathised with the Revolution’s ideals.)

The ideology which causes all these terrors is not religious, it’s not secular.  But there are terrible ideas, like the one that says that the means justifies the ends.

Hatred, greed, lust, envy, pride… these cause people to commit horrible acts.  Sloth and all forms of gluttony (including drug addiction) may also motivate people to do things that they would normally know is wrong.

Other people may be motivated by other selfish things.  They may quote whatever ideology, history, religion, or academic thesis they want to justify their selfish or irrational actions. Taken out of context, even a speech given by a pacifist school-teacher can be used as a justification for an unjust war.

But when I look at religion, I can find none that advocates selfishness or criminality.