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RandomMrdan's avatar

Have there been any wars that can be argued had absolutely nothing to do with religion?

Asked by RandomMrdan (7420points) March 22nd, 2012

Someone stated that all wars of mankind were rooted to religion. I can think of a few big wars that were rooted in religion. But I’m hoping there are some very good examples that could be used to debunk this statement. As I find it to be pretty bold, to say religion indirectly or directly caused all wars.

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46 Answers

Esedess's avatar

Only the card game.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Both World Wars were more about ideology and nationalism than religion. The Vietnam War. The American Revolution, possibly the American Civil War. The French Revolution. 1848 Revolutions. Probably most wars of the Roman Empire. Lots of smaller medieval wars and battles.

There’s really a difference between being about religion and rooted in religion, and having a religious aspect to it if looked at a certain way, or religion being one of many factors. To me, there seem to be very few wars that are really mostly or all about religion. There are a lot more wars that are more about economics, that might use religious rhetoric or pit a marginalized group against a dominant group that also have differing religious views.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@Aethelflaed, as always, you are brilliant, but disagreeing about the American Civil War. I have read a number of sources that claim the motivation to free the slaves on the part of Northern soldiers had far more to do with religious conviction than is described in modern textbooks, which like to scrub religion as a factor.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought I’ve heard a lot of stuff about it being more about economics, and conflicting ideologies. But, there’s a reason I said possibly – the American Civil War is my least favorite war to study, ever.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@Aethelflaed no I think you are spot on on all the others. Northern preachers told young people, however, that slaves could never give their souls up to God freely, while in slavery. So to allow slavery, they were preventing black people from going to Jesus, and Jesus would not be happy

Aethelflaed's avatar

Oh, probably huge, huge amounts of wars in pre-colonized Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Don’t know for sure, but it how they tend to conceptualize and deal with religion is so different from our notions that it seems like a fair guess.

ro_in_motion's avatar

It depends on how one defines ‘reasons’. Certainly, there are wars that tap into religious fears: the various wars in the Middle East are a great example. Some people justify the wars on the basis of religion alone.

It’s tough to start a war unless you’ve demonised the enemy first. Naturally, a difference in religion makes this easy.

YoBob's avatar

How about the U.S. Civil War – That was about state’s rights and the scope of the federal government.

Then there was the Mexican American War – That was about territory.

Actually, come to think of it, I’d venture to say that a very large percentage of wars are about political ideology and/or territory rather than religion.

PhiNotPi's avatar

The First World War really did have a lot to do with religion and ethicality:

When the Roman empire split into two halves, the two empires diverted culturally, becoming religiously and culturally different. The line of the split went straight through the Balkans area, where many different ethnicalities were formed. These groups had different religions, one side Roman Catholic and the other Eastern Orthodox. This cultural difference has fueled wars as recently as the 1990’s with the ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. This violence has been going on for several hundred years in this region, although some time periods have been more violent than others. The assasination of Archduke Ferdinand was perpetrated by Serbian conspirators. Serbians, Bosnians, and the Austrians had been in conflict for a long time before the war. Those ethnic tensions started the war.

WWII is similar, fueled by a German urge for unity (the treaty of Versailles split the German ethnicity into several countries). This is why the public supported the war, at least the beginning of it, which consisted of unifying the German states. The war in the Pacific was fueled by ethnic pride in the Japanese.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@PhiNotPi But is ethnicity the same thing as religion?

ro_in_motion's avatar

@PhiNotPi Certainly to some people. Many religions in the US (Mormonism comes to mind easily) have had horrid things to say about blacks. Southern White Baptists tend to have a problem as well. In certain other countries, it’s much worse than here.

I would also add ‘sexual and gender’ identity to your list.

PhiNotPi's avatar

@Aethelflaed Religion is an important part of ethnicity, but ethnicity also contains some other features that religion excludes.

@ro_in_motion Absolutely some other places are worse than here. During one incident in the 1990’s in former Yugoslavia, approximately 350,000 Serbs were killed by Croation troops. Ethnic cleansing (cleansing being a euphemism for mass murder) was committed by both sides, over an ethnicity difference that I would have never really considered important.

Coloma's avatar

The War of the Roses. haha
We give all this attention to the few wars and criminals that cause great suffering and destruction, but the worst war and destruction is waged with everyday “normal” people. doing their everyday warring and destructive thing.

Aethelflaed's avatar

The Hutu-Tutsi conflict.

CaptainHarley's avatar

The Korean Conflict
The Vietnam War

rojo's avatar

@CaptainHarley Vietnam was a police action, not a war.

CaptainHarley's avatar

When I was there it surely felt like a war to me! Under that criteria, Korea was a “police action” too.

rojo's avatar

I believe you are correct, @CaptainHarley . In fact, I do not believe we have fought a war since WWII. How lucky are we?

Moegitto's avatar

Cold War and the Kosovo one…

Nullo's avatar

You’re going to find religious elements in every conflict, albeit peripherally, if you look long enough. That’s because humans are religious. You’re going to have at least one guy whose faith is somehow pertinent, because your religion is part of who you are as a person. At the very least, he’s going to be praying for better odds of going home in one piece.

thorninmud's avatar

The Napoleonic wars, for good measure.

rojo's avatar

@Aethelflaed Neither the Iraq war nor the Gulf war were actual declared wars.

@Moegitto The cold war was against the godless commies and the Kosovo one, while broken down along ethnic lines for the most part, pitted christians against muslims.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Oh yes, very fortunate. When the hell did we decide we were the world’s policeman?? : (

Moegitto's avatar

@rojo Actually, the Cold War wasn’t about religion in the slightest. It was basically about deterring Communism. The Kosovo war was about the Albanians wanting independence from the Serbian rule. Neither war was religion based, both were about power.

rojo's avatar

@Moegitto this is a good link to begin looking into the role of religion in the cold war Religion and the Cold War

and here is a quote and website on the Kosovo Conflict.

“So, the Kosovo conflict was fueled by differences of:

Ethnicity: between Serbs, of Slavic origin, and ethnic Albanians who are Illyrian in origin.
Religion: between Serbs, who are almost entirely followers of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and non-Serbs, who are overwhelmingly followers of Islam, and Roman Catholicism. There is also a minority of ethnic Albanians who follow the Albanian Orthodox Church. However, there would be no significant friction, on religious grounds, between Albanian and Serbian Orthodoxy.

As in all conflicts involving ethnicity, religion, national aspirations, economics, etc., there was no single cause of the Kosovo war. However, in our opinion, it is not much of an over-simplification to view the war in Kosovo as largely a religious conflict between:

Serbs who overwhelmingly belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church,
Ethnic Albanians who are mainly Muslims, and
A Roman Catholic minority. ”

From this site Religious Tolerance

poisonedantidote's avatar

I am an atheist so I happen to know a fair bit about the “all wars are caused by religion” statement. The statement needs to be changed, it is not correct.

You could say “religion has had a role in every war” and it would be correct. However, you could also say “technology has had a role in every war” and it would also be correct.

When you look at the war in Iraq and Afganistan, you can certainly see Muslims flying in to buildings, and you can also see Bush saying “god bless america” and all that good stuff, but Bush did not declare “war on terror” because Christianity is “better and true”, and he did not declare war to get any virgins or to convert the Muslims. Bush declared war for revenge, opportunism, and to settle an old disagreement and to finish what his father started.

Bush did use his religion a lot to get people behind him, and maybe used his religion to manipulate the public at times, but he did not declare war because he was Christian.

This is why I say “religion has had a role in every war”, but that is expressing a totally different thing to what people feel and think when they claim “religion causes all wars” or something like that.

I think, when people claim religion causes war or all war, they are remembering the days when religion did in fact be the cause of most war. I also think they are probably trying to express their observation that religion gets used to manipulate people in to war. However, overall it is a kind of generalizing poorly worded statement.

I would scrap “all wars are rooted in / cause by religion” and instead go with “religion is the warmongers most useful and most used tool”.

We could sit here all day and look at different wars, we could bring up how Hitler used to have “god with us” on his soldiers belts, we could look at the conflicts in the middle east and spend all day talking about how religion is always around when war shows up, but it is also here in times of peace.

Religion is always there, and it some times has a role, in fact it quite often more than not has a role, but you can’t really throw about words like “caused, rooted, motivated” and so on. The actual cause of war is usually something else, even if religion some times plays a role.

ro_in_motion's avatar

@poisonedantidote I think Bush2 actually believed this was a war to bring on the End Times. Apparently, he told President Sarkozy that this war was all about Gog and Magog. (

Other than that, I totally agree with your analysis. What is disturbing to me are reports that army bases are being run as ‘Christian outposts’ where anyone not toeing the Christian line is in trouble.

cheebdragon's avatar

“God doesn’t kill people. People who believe in god, kill people.”

Ron_C's avatar

I agree that most wars are not about religion WW1 was the final gasp of old empires. WW2 was a reaction to an expansionist fascist state’s attempt at rebuilding an empire. Korea was the result of an attempt of a deluded demagogue’ quest for power. Vietnam was a stupid attempt to expand the American empire. Afghanistan and Iraq are the result of ignorant Americans electing a “good old boy” that was the puppet of international arms and mercenary organizations.

Religion had a support role in some of those actions. The chaplain corps on both sided of WW1 and 2, and on the American side in Vietnam did a great deal to shore up soldiers morale and justify their violent acts. This was especially true in Vietnam, a war (not a police action) that should never have happened.

Moegitto's avatar

You’re reading too far into some of this, most wars are not caused by religious differences. The fact that most parties have differing religions is true, but most wars are NOT because of religion. There was a single cause of the Kosovo War, the leader/Serbian president was pressuring the Albanians:

That’s what really started the war.

Nullo's avatar

Even the infamous Crusades weren’t all about religion. A few of them were about expelling Arabic incursions into Europe (a case where religion is a related concern.) One was aimed at Constantinople, of all places, which was already Christian. But a lot of them were sparked by cash flow problems at the Vatican – more Popes than you might have thought were party animals – rather than noble sentiment, and the actual soldiers operated on a fairly typical conquest-and-plunder-and-glory basis.
The irony, of course, is that Biblical Christianity all but explicitly states that this was the wrong way to go about the business of converting people. Not too unusual, really; the Bible features its share of people who got instructions from God and proceeded to screw them up before being straightened out.
I’m looking at you, Jonah.

mattbrowne's avatar

WWI and WWII, both carried out in the name of nationalism.

GracieT's avatar

@poisonedantidote, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that revenge is one of the main reason for the “war on terror.”. I know that he may believe that he’s “spreading democracy,” but lets face it- part of the reason is that he wants revenge!

digitalimpression's avatar

“God doesn’t kill people. People who believe in god, kill people.”

Romans 13:8
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill

rojo's avatar

In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.

Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators’ motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious. Source

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SmartAZ's avatar

As a disclaimer we should note that the American Revolution is known in England as “the Presbyterian Rebellion” and they put the blame squarely on John Calvin even though he had been dead for two hundred years at the time. A popular slogan among the American rebels was “No king but King Jesus”. I am told that every soldier of the rank of colonel, except one, was a Presbyterian elder, but I have not checked that fact. So it seems accurate to say that the nation was founded by religious nuts with guns, but the rebellion was always justified on non-religious grounds.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SmartAZ No, the American Revolution is not known as “the Presbyterian Rebellion” in England. It was called that by a small handful of people in the late 1700s, and the fact that they called it that in no way entails that the characterization was accurate. Indeed, the fact that the phrase never gained any sort of general popularity somewhat implies the opposite.

rojo's avatar

^^(Kinda like our own “War of Northern Aggression” mistakenly being called the “Civil War”)

SmartAZ's avatar

@SavoirFaire I would refer you to the 443,000 links indexed by google for “presbyterian rebellion”. The first is quite interesting.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@SmartAZ Do you seriously think I didn’t Google the phrase before responding? In any case, your article backs me up: only a few people ever referred to the American Revolution as “the Presbyterian Rebellion.” The article then goes on to look at the influence of Presbyterians on the American Revolution, but that doesn’t mean it supports the claim that the war is generally known by that term in England and that the English people blame John Calvin (which is what you originally claimed).

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