Sample Essay on Does Religion Cause War

Does Religion Cause War?

Can war be sourced from religion? Religion cannot, arguably, be defined as the worship of and belief in a Divine being, as such a definition would leave out other systems of belief and practices such as Confucianism, Shinto, Taoism, Buddhism, and Jainism; it is difficult to define religion (Al-Khattar 44). However, all religions associate themselves with such positive qualities as love, compassion, and peace, among others. On the other hand, war is a state of conflict that involves the application of arms and injuries and deaths. Considering the contrast between the two, can wars be sourced from religion? First, I consider some of the wars that have happened, both in history and recently, that may be directly linked to religion. Whether or not they were motivated by religion is another question, at the center of which is the subject of this talk.

One of the striking wars in the history of religions is the Crusades. This war involved Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The religious groups fought over control of holy lands. Megoran recounts that on 27 November 1095, Pope Urban II led a sermon in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, France, calling on all Europeans to unite in defense of Christian territories and pilgrims against Muslim attackers, initiating a war that came to be known as ‘The First Crusade’ (382). He further writes that in the final days of the fall of Jerusalem, there occurred a massacre of not only Muslim and Jewish defenders, but also residents of the city who may not have had any affiliation to either religion. This was a war between religious groups over control of holy lands, of which innocent residents became victims. As if this was not enough, seven major crusades, with other minor ones among them, followed the first crusade, all of them over the control of the Holy Land.

Let us now consider a more recent event – the “9-11” events and the ensuing war on terror. For most people, and especially Americans, whenever the words war and religion are mentioned in the same sentence, in most cases, the phrase, ‘nine eleven’ comes to mind. This terrorist attack on the American Twin Towers cost many innocent lives, but the question is whether it was religiously instigated. Osama bin laden is thought to have been the central perpetrator; in fact, he not only claimed responsibility, he also called it a war. In his paper, Sullivan quotes Osama bin Laden as having said that “the call to wage war against America was made because America spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation… meddling in its affairs and politics…” (1). what followed Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 war against America was President Bush’s ‘war on terror’, in the context of a reaction. NATO, under the leadership of the United States, launched a military campaign in an endeavor hunt down and destroy Al Qaeda and what they called Islamic extremist groups. While this war in the Middle East is not explicitly portrayed as a war against Islam, Osama bin Laden’s words link the conflict to religion and religious differences as the source.

Nevertheless, could these wars have been caused by religion, or is it just a misplaced argument? In the next section, I provide arguments to refute this belief.

First, when academics, scholars, atheists and some philosophers associate wars with religion, is it with war or secularism that they are associating religion? Religion is hard to define, as any sort of definition would not only leave out other beliefs and practices, but would also leave out some essential aspects. These people either define it in a way that would suit their arguments, or avoid defining it altogether. In his work, Cavanaugh retorts that “A survey of religious studies and literature finds totems, witchcraft, the rights of man, Marxism, liberalism, Japanese tea ceremonies, nationalism, sports, free market ideology, and a host of other institutions and practices treated under the rubric of religion” (22). It is possible that not all the papers out there associating religion with war even have an idea of what it is they are calling or associating with religion. They are potentially talking about something different. The line between secularism and religion is blurred. Secularism could be being passed for religion. Before I am accused of hiding behind the definition and its technicalities, let me handle the two examples of past wars that I have mentioned earlier.

Firstly, I handle the crusade. There is religion, and there is the person practicing the religion; these are two separate entities. Religion entails the message, and the practitioner is meant to use the message as a canon for his/her life. The crusade, as mentioned earlier, was incited by the Pope, Urban II. However, what evidence is there that his stand was not personal, rather than a religious or religion-inspired decision? It cannot be seen, or at least it is not clear, how Christianity or Catholicism informed the steps he took. The possibility that he and the other crusaders had misappropriated the message cannot be overruled.

Secondly, I dissect Osama bin Laden’s attack on the American twin towers and the subsequent war on terror. Many non-Muslims are naïve about religious radicalism and extremism (Kirmse 179). This is because they tend to associate anything done with the claims of a legitimate basis on Islam and its concepts – portraying Islam as the source or origin of the extremist or radical attitudes and actions. Osama bin Laden and his disciples are among these people who have deviated from mainstream Islam. Islam is not violent; in fact, it condemns extremism. Al-Qaradawi and Roberts talk about Islamic texts as calling on Muslims to exercise moderation, reject, and oppose all kinds of extremism (5). Whatever Osama bin Laden’s motivation for his actions was, it is clear that his views and deeds, which are, arguably, extremist, deviate from Islam. Furthermore, Islam does not have monopoly on extremism. Another extremist group that calls itself LRA or Lord’s Resistance Army exists in Uganda. They claim that they want to take over the country and rule according to Christian values, but Annan et al. recount that the group started as a result of the conquer in 1986 of the northern ethnic group that dominated Ugandan government, resulting in a resistance led by Joseph Kony – an Acholi “prophet” (6). The similarity with Islamic extremism is in the underlying political dimension; people ignore the political aspect and put all the blame on religion.

Finally, for the sake of some of us who are yet to be convinced, and still think that people fight over religion, let us take the liberty of assuming for a moment that religion causes war. The word here is ‘assume.’ Having done that, is religion the only thing over which people fight? Do not people fight over love? People fight over political power; men fight over women; communities fight over land and fishing waters. To focus, deliberately or not, only on religion as the only cause of war is clearly a bias intended to harm beliefs and practices. Furthermore, it is not just the focusing that is concerning; the misplaced arguments as well do.

In conclusion, I have presented two examples that I feel best associate war with religion. I have intentionally created the wrong impression that they cause war, and then completely discredited and contradicted the arguments, I believe. I have pointed to the misappropriation of the message, as well as emphasized the political dimension that is usually overlooked and replaced with religion. I have pointed to the lack of clarity in the definition of religion and the blurredness of the line between religion and secularism – secularism can be mistaken for religion. People can fight over anything; religion does not cause wars.

















Works Cited

Al-Khattar, Aref M. Religion and Terrorism: An Interfaith Perspective. Westport (Connecticut:

Praeger, 2003. Print.

Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf, and Nancy Roberts. Islamic awakening between rejection and extremism.

Iiit, 2006.



Annan, Jeannie, et al. “Civil war, reintegration, and gender in Northern Uganda.” Journal of

 conflict resolution 55.6 (2011): 877-908.


Cavanaugh, William T. The myth of religious violence: Secular ideology and the roots of modern

 conflict. Oxford University Press, 2009.


Kirmse, Stefan B. Youth and Globalization in Central Asia: Everyday Life between Religion,

 Media, and International Donors. Frankfurt a.M. [u.a.: Campus, 2013. Print.


McCormick, Patrick T. “Violence: Religion, terror, war.” Theological Studies 67.1 (2006):



Megoran, Nick. “Towards a geography of peace: pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian

Crusade apologies.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35.3 (2010): 382-398.


Sullivan, Andrew. “This is a religious war.” New York Times 7 (2001).