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Religion as a Cause of Conflict and War

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Q: A new thinking is gradually developing which suggests that hatred and fighting between different types of believers are due to religion and sects. Without religion, people will have less to fight for on religious grounds. It is suggested that if people throughout the world implement a system of education which is geared to strengthen the best human values, they will be in a better position to control all sorts of evil. Please comment.

A: This is not a new concept at all. People have advanced this idea time after time throughout history, but a careful study of human history and the causes of conflict between people, nations, races and religious groups is sufficient to reveal that human beings fight under any banner and for whatever cause, and in pursuit of self-centered goals. Such a study is bound to conclude that greed and selfishness, as well as laying one’s hands on what belongs to others, are the main reasons for starting armed conflicts. Ideals and human values are always forgotten whenever it comes to the pursuit of personal and national interests. Western civilization has tried hard to shed its Christian values and replace them with secular human values that give prominence to human brotherhood, freedom and equality. Ever since the French Revolution, these values have been paramount in European thinking, while religious values were gradually weakening. Has this helped Europe, or the West in general, to reduce the frequency of wars and armed conflicts? Whether we look at the relations between European states and nations or between Western nations and the rest of the world, the answer is unquestionably in the negative. In the 19th century, Europe witnessed so many wars between European nations, despite the fact that all Europe is presumably Christian. Moreover, European nations went out to colonize vast areas throughout the world. They were happy to treat the nations of those areas which they occupied as second class people, deprive them of the wealth of their land, keep them ignorant, uneducated. They also adopted a policy of “divide and rule” to create hatred and enmity between the people of those nations. In the 20th century Western nations pulled the world into two great wars in which religion had no role whatsoever. Moreover, the West helped create Israel on Palestinian land, totally ignoring the rights of the Palestinian people. What human values could stop future wars if human beings can easily develop a system that gives legitimacy to driving a whole population out of their rightful land to bring in their place another nation that has no claim to that land whatsoever apart from the fact that their ancestors lived there 2000 years ago? It is true that religion could be used as a justification for war. The Crusaders were a good example. But religion provides the best hope for humanity to avoid war. If people take their faith seriously and abide by its teachings, they are certainly less likely to fight than if they were driven only by selfishness, greed and a feeling that they have the power to impose their will on others. Religion implants in human beings the feeling that they are answerable for their actions, while human values, no matter how refined, will have man as the ultimate arbiter. We know that man is greedy by nature. Therefore, man cannot be trusted to implement justice when he feels that he will never have to account for his actions.