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Does Religion Cause War?

Does Religion Cause War?



If believing in a god or gods is good, then why is so much pain and suffering caused by religion--like the crusades, suicide bombings, etc., etc?


This is a question we hear very often, and there are a number of ways of approaching the issue. I'd like to try a scientific approach.

The position is that religion causes war. Just like, say, alcohol causes inebriation and sunlight makes things grow.

If we wanted to test the alcohol/inebriation or sun/growth hypotheses scientifically, what would we do? Quite simple: Remove the alcohol from whatever drinks we are serving and see if our clients are still inebriated. Same with the sun/growth theory: Remove the sunlight and see if things still grow.

With the religion/war hypothesis, we don't have to actually make a clinical study--it's already been done for us. In the 20th century, we saw the most disastrous wars of history, both in Europe and in the Far East. Tell me, which of these were centered around religious disputes?

As scientists, we are forced to develop an alternative hypothesis: There is another common factor to war, much more common than religion--and that is that they are fought by human beings.

I can't speak on behalf of other religions, but I can tell you that many of the great prophets of Judaism spoke of the value of peace even in a time when war was the accepted state of affairs. Isaiah's words are inscribed on the wall of the United Nations: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword upon nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

In fact, the rabbis of Roman times taught that Peace (Shalom in Hebrew) is one of the names of G‑d.

For the rest of the world, it wasn't until the cataclysmic disaster of World War I that people began to realize that war isn't so much fun after all. That's how recent it was, less than ninety years ago, that suddenly peace became a value in the minds of human beings. If only they had listened to those prophets and rabbis a few thousand years earlier!

Here's another article on the same subject: Who Needs Religion, If It's the Cause of So Much Violence?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (70)
March 23, 2016
Are you kidding?
Are you saying that we Jewish people never went to war? Yes we did. We were the aggressors many times as listed in the Holy Scriptures. There is even a verse which says when you go to war, be sure to kill all the men, women, children and animals. There is another scripture saying God will make you to eat your children or children to eat parents, I can't remember which. Even earlier, there was Abraham, pretty much declaring war on nations who worshiped idols. So, this answer, Tzvi, is not all as encompassing as your usual fantastic answers.
Riverside, CA USA
July 24, 2015
The question is not only when men will learn to have respect for all and everything that lives and exists on this planet; the question is will it ever happen?
Why is it so difficult for men to realize that Hashem created all and imbued all with a beautful little spark of His Shechina? This beautiful world; meant to be a Gan Eden and a place for all to live in peace; and for Hashem to be with us; what is so hard to understand??? Don't all know yet that you reap what you sow? Let everyone who is not Jewish study the Noachide laws and follow them. let all of us Jews study our laws and follow them. Hashem gave us the roadmap; let's go.
July 21, 2015
For Robert
The point you raise is poignant and vital to address today. Human beings form communities. The strongest glue of any community is common beliefs, rituals and modes of dress—that which we call religion.

But the community is a double-edged sword. It creates oneness within, but it also renders outsiders as "others." Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses this issue in his most recent book, "Not In God's Name."

Torah addresses this issue with a constant reminder to respect and care for "the stranger amongst you." This is taken to mean the non-Jew who lives in Israel, keeps the civil law, but not the religious law of the Jews. Great thinkers of the 17th century, such as Selden, Grotius and Locke, cited this as a precedent for the principle of religious tolerance.
Tzvi Freeman
July 16, 2015
This is my second posting on chabad but I do not know the purpose of the site, simple searches have led me here and I like the articles and the comments even better. Their is fundamental problem in religious belief and its that its tapestry forms clothing for its believers who then segregate
themselves from other persons wearing different outfits. Segregation is such a problem within religion and it creates ego. That ego grows and then believers feel entitle themselves to act God-like. What God needs the help of man? To fight over religion is to have no faith in God. If the point of celebrating a higher being by a means of demeaning others then the diety is reflected with malice. What religion does not have oposing sects? Who can claim to wrestle a spirit into his hand and hold it for a minute. Agreed, man causes war and the God enlightenment. Religion is a bird in a foxhole.
February 18, 2015
Reglions based on hatred cause wars.
February 1, 2015
For Gordon Smith
My answer is not one of them. What is yours?
Tzvi Freeman
February 1, 2015
Mr. Freeman, you ask "In the 20th century, we saw the most disastrous wars of history, both in Europe and in the Far East. Tell me, which of these were centered around religious disputes?" May I ask for your answer?
Gordon Smith
July 26, 2014
How can we stop religious wars? We live in a time when we can destroy the earth.
Marlene Potter
May 31, 2014
Religion merely provides an unquestioned justification for any and all transgressions.
September 3, 2013
Religion definately causes war, so that's not a good quesiton to ask
WW1 and WW2 were both caused because of the advancement of military technology. That doesn't mean that religion never causes war. We know that religion causes war cause of crusades and other wars so that isn't a good question to ask. The real question we should be asking is are atheists more or less inclined to support war.