More death in the last 150 years

Good afternoon,

I have just left my connect group this morning and was reminded of a stat that I would like to have in writing. Could someone please reiterate the argument given against individual’s who declare that religion is evil and the cause of wars.

Specifically the discussion we had this morning used historical facts given in one of the core module sections: they stated that in the last 150 years, the absence of God/religion has seen a greater loss in human life than all the wars of the past put together. I am looking to get the facts correct and to be able to use them to back my point that it is the absence of God which leads to greater loss than wars fought in his name. Who are the leaders who have brought the greatest losses of human life, in their attempts to annihilate a race?


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Interested in this topic

Hi Carolyn,
Andy Bannister covered the theme ‘Does religion poison everything?’ in his book ‘The Atheist that didn’t exist’

Here is a small sample; and he references the ‘The Encyclopedia of Wars’; which if you go and look up counts 121 (or 123?) as religious and the rest caused by government.

A simple analogy like that one, or the tale of my paint-daubing Danish friend, should give us cause to be wary of too quickly assuming that, because we have found a common link between several phenomena, we have thereby explained them. Mao Zedong and Pol Pot had flat caps in common, an Airbus A380 and an albatross have wings in common, and Sam Harris and a walrus both have carbon atoms in common, but, in a word, so what? (Well, actually that’s two words, but you get the point.) This whole conversation would ideally be moot, were it not for the fact that “religion poisons everything” is a remarkably tenacious idea, clinging like a limpet to the slippery rock of atheism. One of the more popular cultural expressions of it comes in John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine”. The music video for “Imagine” features John sitting at a piano while Yoko Ono floats around their mansion in a dressing gown, throwing back the curtains and letting light into a room painted pure white. (This was probably supposed to be a metaphor for the pure sunshine of reason flooding in and driving away superstition, but the result ends up looking more like a Dulux paint commercial. Every time I watch it, I half expect an old English sheepdog to lollop through the shot somewhere round about the third verse, its tongue lolling out goofily.

If you recall how the song goes,Lennon asks us to imagine what a world
without heaven, hell or religion would look like. What a peaceful place it would be, Lennon warbles, once people have nothing left to fight or murder each other over. As “Imagine” wails to a close, Lennon admits that perhaps he’s a dreamer for imagining such a utopia, but, hey, wouldn’t it be amazing. What a world! Just imagine. Yet for all of his pleading, I do say that Lennon was a dreamer, one whose talent for chutzpah knew few bounds, not least because of “Imagine”’s other laughable cry for people to surrender their possessions and share everything. I mention this not because I’m a money-grabbing capitalist, but simply because it’s a bit, pardon the pun, rich coming from a man who died with a net worth of more than $800 million dollars.138 Lennon was also famous for having a violent temper, lashing out at his wife, fellow band members, and even journalists on occasions, all of which makes those lines about peace also ring a little hollow. Still, I digress. What I really wanted to question – especially given “Imagine”’s adoption as something of a secular anthem in some quarters – is that quaint suggestion that, if you simply remove religion from the equation, everybody will automatically begin living their lives in peace. Seriously? Is the suggestion really that if we waggled our magic wand (or perhaps Swished the Shamanistic Stick of Secularism) and made religion disappear, then instantly we would have brought about universal peace and harmony? The problem is that we’ve tried that experiment, several times, in history. The French Revolution represented one attempt at driving religion from society and creating a secular utopia and it ended with bloody violence and the whoosh of the guillotine, including ironically for its chief architect, Maximilien Robespierre, whose Cult of Reason left tens of thousands dead. Or one might point to more recent and even grander secular re-engineering projects, such as in the former Soviet Union or in China, where a state-sponsored atheism drove out all challengers, chasing religion from society. The result? Millions upon millions dead. Imagine no religion? We don’t have to imagine: we can simply replay the historical tape. When we do, it quickly becomes apparent that human beings have a pretty much universal tendency to try to make some finite value ultimate, to transcendentalize something – and if we exorcise Christianity from a society, into that vacuum all manner of nastiness may get sucked. Even Richard Dawkins, in one of his more magnanimous moments, remarked that “Christianity may be a bulwark against something worse”.

“Well, OK,” I hear some atheist friends say, “perhaps atheism has its own chequered history, although I don’t see how I can be held personally responsible for Mao’s murderous excesses –”

“Granted,” I nod. “Although wouldn’t you say that making Christians feel that they’re responsible for everything from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition is precisely how the New Atheists have often proceeded?” “Well, most wars in history have been caused by religion …”
This more nuanced form of the “religion poisons everything” meme is equally common. Even if religion doesn’t poison everything, it poisons most things. Perhaps there’s a piece of mouldy cheddar somewhere at the back of the cultural refrigerator that hasn’t been liberally sprinkled with strychnine, but religion has still proved pretty damned toxic. Look at all those wars! Well, good idea: let’s do just that. There’s a fascinating set of books that provides excellent bedtime reading for those of a more masochistic bent. Called **the Encyclopedia of Wars,**140 it documents in three massive volumes some 1,763 wars between 8000 BC and AD 2003. Of these, the editors see fit to categorize only 123 conflicts as “religious”.141 That’s less than 7 per cent in over ten thousand years of history – if religious types really are out to get us all, as Hitchens claims, they’ve got some catching up to do. Indeed, even many of that 7 per cent are probably mislabelled, since many of the wars we’re quick to tag as “religious” often had secular and political goals.142 Even today, it’s easy to sloppily characterize something such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as a “religious” conflict when it’s primarily about territory. If it were possible to magically remove all religion from the Middle East, do you imagine that all the competing land claims would instantly vanish into thin air, resulting in a Lennonesque (or even Leninesque) utopia? No, of course not. For the problem is that human beings are quick to fight about all manner of things: religion, politics, land, even farm animals (the British and the Americans almost went to war in 1859 over a pig).143 In fact, many analysts have suggested that a major source of armed conflict in the twenty-first century is going to be the humble H2O molecule, as rapid population growth in water-deprived regions of the world lead to clashes. Any takers out there for “water poisons everything”?

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (pp. 106-107). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

here are some links that may be of interest; some quite sad reading.

the problem is the heart of man, which “Is desperately wicked, and who can know it?” as it says in book of Jeremiah.

and here is a short answer; and a longer message on this question from Andy Bannister:

you mentioned about loss of life in the last 150 years was in the core module; do you remember lecture are you referring to? I had a quick look through the PDF handouts but I couldn’t remember where in the Core Module this was mentioned… :slight_smile:


@Gods_Cheer Great question :slight_smile: Personally, I prefer Simon Smart’s approach in the article below to answering the question Christianity and violence better than focusing solely on the numbers. He notes two very important facts:

  1. Christians who commit acts of violence are disobeying Jesus. They need to be more Christian; not less. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. called on Christians to obey Jesus and love their neighbor, no matter the color of their skin. Christianity as a worldview provides a solution to the problem of evil.

  2. Atheism is inherently amoral and, as we see with philosophers like Nietzsche, can easily lead to injustice because the weak / vulnerable are taken advantage of / oppressed (the unborn, those less intelligent, etc). That is not to say that atheism necessarily leads to such unjust systems, but there is nothing within atheism to prevent it.

I feel that this approach avoids arguments over who has killed more people and focuses in on the weakness of atheism as a worldview and, likewise, the strength of Christianity.

Likewise the idea that most of the wars of history have been caused by religion is demonstrably false. The vast majority of wars have been conducted in the pursuit of profits or power, or waged for territory or tribal supremacy, even if religion has been caught up in those pursuits. But there is a very real sense in which religion can moderate those forces. David Hart notes that, “Religious conviction often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill … or for seeking peace … the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant”.

Of course millions were killed at the hands of Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot. To say their murderous totalitarianism had nothing to do with their atheism is to completely misunderstand them and the ideologies on which their actions rested. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues that as far as Christianity goes, it will only be violent if it is stripped of its content— thinned out - and infused with a different set of values. The story of Jesus gives absolutely no warrant for violence. Any believer behaving that way is disobeying the one they claim to be following.

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Thanks Matt! I will have to review my handouts, completely forgot I may have it written down there. Appreciate the references.

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