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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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Axel Spain June 8, 2017

Tzvi you're my hero! I just wanted to let you know. Hope to meet you once in person. Keep up the amazing job at lighting our way. Reply

KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell Riverside, CA USA 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. Reply

Anonymous Guilford July 24, 2015

When???? 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. Reply

Tzvi Freeman 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. Reply

Robert Queens 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. Reply

Anonymous Guilford February 18, 2015

Reglions based on hatred cause wars. Reply

Tzvi Freeman February 1, 2015

For Gordon Smith My answer is not one of them. What is yours? Reply

Gordon Smith 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? Reply

Marlene Potter Miami July 26, 2014

How can we stop religious wars? We live in a time when we can destroy the earth. Reply

RandyW May 31, 2014

Religion merely provides an unquestioned justification for any and all transgressions. Reply

berock212 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. Reply

Mani jack kuching, sarawak, malaysia July 17, 2013

religion is an illusion, created by God to test our faith and wisdom God creates human beings, and gives them colours. However, human beings divide themselves politically, economically and socially. Those who kill others because of god are those who do not understand the holy books, while those who continue giving his best to the world is a true fighter. Reply

Anonymous June 14, 2013

Religion does not cause war, it is just the fuel War is caused by man usually over a selfish or power hungry reason. religion is just the fuel they use to get people to fight for them, as it is easier to get some to fight for something they belief in than getting them to fight on your side.

Leaders know this and use it to there advantage by twisting the media into making it appear as a religious war to get people to fight, when in truth its just all about power and control over world economy. What ever countries currency runs the trade market runs the economy, at this point in time it is america so countries are turning on them power hungry and the leaders are using religion to brainwash the people to fight, same on both sides.

That is just one modern example, the economy theory is just an opinion not fact so please don't start an argument about it cause i don't care.

Throughout history though this has always been the truth though any leader wanting world domination has used religion to brainwash people to fight. Reply

Anonymous May 20, 2013

Religion itself does not cause war. You don't see the Bible running around with a sword stabbing people. It's those who take their religious teachings and warp themselves into thinking that their religion is the truth. Many Human's have an inability to tolerate one another, be it because of race, color, or religion. Unfortunately, religion is a motive for Humans who cause and fight wars. World War II was not caused by religion. The Allies had little knowledge of Hitler's concentration camps and what he was doing. Reply

Harley Trevorton, PA April 30, 2013

Opinion Not every war is caused by religion, but more were caused by religion then what people think. Granted, World War II did have the highest death count, but it still only counts as one war. Wars are not won by loses, they are won by whoever is stronger. We are not asking what has the higher death death toll, we are asking if religion is a cause of wars. Mathematically, religion is the number one cause of wars because there is so many. World War II cannot be the deciding factor. If you want to use it that way then my next argument would be that Hitler exterminated the Jewish, Gays, Gypsies, and the Mentally Challenged. He hated the Jewish because of their religion, not because they were not the same race because lets not forget that Hitler was Jewish himself, and you may say Hitler wanted there to be a master race, but there were plenty of Aryans that were Jewish and Hitler still killed them. Again, not every war was religious, but math and history don't lie. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA November 1, 2012

Matt in RI said it extremely well, In fact, it is a blessing he was able to even use his computer, since RI was also hit by the hurricane and power was out. See, this message of his was ordained by G-d for us to see!!!!!!!! Reply

Matt Providence, RI October 31, 2012

! I don't think religion can be looked at as a "cause" for war. What causes war are the traits of human beings in general. Take away a human's natural capacity for aggression, greed and self-preservation, hatred, bigotry and what you have left are our positive traits and our values which generally serve as the basis of our religions. I think religion is just another label to add to the list of things that make people wage war. Reply

Janos Desert Mountain, Nevada October 10, 2012

good social experiment... you need no further proof than this thread... "no it does not - yes it does - no it doesn't - yes it does...". what is war?
Islam condones violence for conversion and jihad, just look at all conflict in the world today about 70%+ is all Islamic related... And as for Christians: you should remember that Yeshke (the Jew you have your faith in) said: "I come to bring a sword, not peace..." So I think it's a moot point... Reply


RELIGION AND WAR ARE INCOMPARTIBLE Religion, in its ultimate right, neither teaches nor supports war and conflict. Instead, by and large, it has always settled for a more peaceful position, especially pertaining disputes. It is, however,the mindsets of some people, who use the religion as a jurisdiction for their evil deeds, including war and conflict, possibly to appeal for higher authority. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA August 27, 2012

Rabbi Tzvi, I just re-read one of your posts above and couldn't stop laughing. I LOVE your sense of humor. Mass frontal lobotomies. Hahahahahaha. Oy. I can't stop giggling at the thought of it. What a VISUAL!!!!! I think I'll be stuck with that for a while !!!! Thanks. Reply

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