Religion and War: Are Most Wars the Result of Religious Belief?
by Rich Deem

War and Religion

A slew of books by "evangelical" atheists have claimed that most of the world's suffering (including most wars) are the direct result of religious differences and the discord that it fosters. Such statements are seldom backed up by real evidence (other than citing a handful of wars that seem to be the result of religious differences).1 Does religion really lead to war?

Rich Deem


People can be pretty passionate about their religious beliefs. So, it is not surprising that at least a few famous wars have resulted from disagreements about religion. However, is it true what Sam Harris says that our tendency to slaughter each other "generally have their roots in religion?"2

History of human wars

The history of human warfare goes back to the beginning of recorded history (and, no doubt, well before that). A recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict.3 So, what atheists have considered to be "most" really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.

U.S.A. - the most religious country

The Myth of Religious ViolenceSince the United States of America is and has been one of the most religious countries over the last 200+ years, if the atheists are correct, the U.S.A. should have been involved in the largest number of religious wars of any other nation. In fact, the United States has been involved in 17 wars, only one of which (the current "War on Terror") has any religious entanglement. The number of Americans who have died as the result of religious wars is 14.2/year, which is less than the number of people who die yearly from dog bites.4

Conclusion Top of page

The atheist claim that religion is the cause of most wars is shown to be false. The history of human warfare shows that less than 7% of all wars have religious causes. If atheists are correct, the most religious industrial nation, the United States of America, should be involved in more religious wars than any other country. However, only the "War on Terror," among all 17 American wars, involves a religious component.

¿Son las Mayorías de las Guerras el Resultado de las Creencias Religiosa?

References Top of page

  1. The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day"The fighting that has plagued Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims vs. Christians), Ivory Coast (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few, recent cases in point." Harris, Sam. 2006. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Knopf, p. 81-82.
  2. "A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper reveal that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion. It seems that if our species ever eradicates itself through war, it will not be because it was written in the stars but because it was written in our books..." Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 12.
  3. Phillips, Charles, and Alan Axelrod. 2004. Encyclopedia of Wars. New York: Facts on File.
  4. Day, Vox. 2008. The Irrational Atheist. Benbella books, Dallas, TX, p. 101.
Last updated March 28, 2013


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