I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone make the comment that ‘most wars are caused by religion’ like it was self evident. With the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East, 9/11, not to mention past fiascos like the Crusades and The Inquisition, the claim seems rather intuitive and has become an icon of modern cultural truth that is accepted and unquestioned by millions. But is it really historically accurate?
I believe the facts of history disprove this popular notion. The major wars of the 20th century had political/ideological causes and most wars in the ancient world were caused by territorial expansion. Just how many conflicts were really caused by religion? Some were for sure but my reading and study of history has driven me to conclude that only a faction of the wars in documented human history really had a religious contribution or cause.
Now there is research published in a 3 volume work- "Encyclopedia of Wars" by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod that documents the entire history of human warfare and shows that only 123 out of 1763 or only 7% of the recorded human wars had a religious cause or basis.
Obviously 7% is far from ‘most’ and the historical research above really demonstrates that 93% of the wars were not caused by religion or a vast majority had different causes. So what seems to be so self evident to so many is so far from the truth that it is surprising that it ever had any credibility at all. Yet this false assertion about religion will probably continue to receive popular acknowledgement and usage in our increasingly secular culture.
Here’s a link to an excellent and informative article from Huffington Post written on this same issue:
“Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?” by Rabbi Alan Lurie