It is a tired and inaccurate argument made by atheists and the generally ignorant that religion is the main cause of war and strife in the world. We hear it time and again that if humanity could just eradicate religion, the world could live in peace. The argument is common, lazy, and wrong.
Vox Day did much of the heavy lifting in destroying this argument by presenting the evidence against it in Chapter VI of his book, The Irrational Atheist, published in 2007. Day looked at the historical evidence put together by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod in their Encyclopedia of Wars; a three volume set which catalogued 1,763 wars in the recorded history of mankind and the reasons and motivations behind them.
Day went through their work and tallied up all those that were attributable to religion and found that the number was,
“123 wars in all..[and]…that these 123 wars represent only 6.92 percent of all the wars recorded in the encyclopedia…It’s also interesting to note that more than half of these religious wars, sixty-six in all, were waged by Islamic nations, which is rather more than might be statistically expected considering that the first war in which Islam was involved took place almost three millennia after the first war chronicled in the Encyclopedia, Akkad’s conquest of Sumer in 2325 B.C.”
“In light of this evidence, the fact that a specific religion is currently sparking a great deal of conflict around the globe cannot reasonably be used to indict all religious faith, especially when one considers that removing that single religion from the equation means that all of the other religious faiths combined only account for 3.35 percent of humanity’s wars.”
“The historical evidence is conclusive. Religion is not a primary cause of war.”
Two points can be made here.
1) It is not in the least bit reasonable to blame “religion” for all the wars and strife around us since just under 7% of all wars had religious motivations. The history of humanity is the history of war; war has always been a part of mankind and will be until the end of time. Men are evil by nature and the outworking of this evil culminates ultimately in the wars between peoples and nations.
2) If one were to look at the violence that has been done in the name of religion, history teaches us that Islam stands atop them all. Islam bore responsibility for 3.57% of wars while all other religions combined were responsible for 3.35% of wars; quite a large discrepancy that highlights the violent nature of Islam.
This should help to dispel with those who argue that religion is the primary driver of discord in the world. Human history is a bloody one and at times religion did play a part in this, albeit a more minor one than people naturally assume. And yet, it is nothing compared to the body count of more than 100 million people that lost their lives under the atheistic regimes of the 20th century (Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al). It will be hard to beat the body count that occurred under the godless totalitarians of the previous century.