You sometimes hear atheists claim something to this effect, e.g. Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith that religion and faith are “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”¹
However, this claim is simply false. Charles Phillips and Alan Alexrod in their magisterial 3 volume Encyclopedia of Wars analyze around 2,000 wars, rebellions and revolutions ranging from 8000 B.C. to 2003, and classify them by causes, among other things.
The inimitable enfant terrible Vox Day, in his The Irrational Atheist, took the trouble to work through the entire Encyclopedia in order to determine what percentage of all wars have been primarily religious wars. He discovered that according Phillips and Alexrod’s classifications, only 6.98% of wars have been primarily religious in nature. And if one subtracts the wars directly attributable to Islam, the percentage falls to 3.28%. Yes, Islam has been responsible for more war than all other religions combined.
Even including the extremely violent faith of Islam, 7% of all wars hardly makes “religion” the cause of “most wars” or even of many, much less Harris’ absurd “most prolific source of violence in our history.”
Visuals are good, so let’s include some charts, courtesy of CARM:
Religion isn’t a very impressive as a cause of war, is it?
But “religion kills“!
No, human beings kill. Sometimes they do it in the name of religion, but this is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition, and not a major cause.