Written sometime in the mid-2000s.
Launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II, the First Crusade hoped to liberate the “Holy Land” from Muslim control. “Deus Vult” (God wills it!) was their battle cry as they left a 2,000 mile path of destruction from Western Europe to Jerusalem, murdering thousands of Jews along the way in what some call the first Holocaust. Once they arrived, these “Christian” soldiers “purified” Jerusalem by killing almost everyone in the city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote, “In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God.”
The First Crusade was not the last. When “Saint” Bernard of Clairvaux launched the Second Crusade, he declared, “The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified.”
There were at least 8 other numbered Crusades, and six that were not numbered as such. They extend hundreds of years from the first and cost an unknown number of lives.
For example, in one of the six unnumbered Crusades, launched in 1209 by Pope Innocent III against Albigenses Christians in southern France, tens of thousands were tortured and murdered after instructions were given to “Kill them all. God will know his own.”
In the 13th Century, Inquisitions began against Albigensian heretics and torture was given holy sanction by Pope Innocent IV. By the 15th Century Inquisitions began to focus on witchcraft and up to 2 million accused witches were tortured and murdered over the years, lasting until the 17th Century.
I’m really just starting to scratch the surface here and I’m just giving the antiseptic version of events. I’m tossing off millions of people in a few sentences without even mentioning the gory details or getting into the personal agony, pain, and sheer terror each of them must have felt.
On the other side of the world during this time: Mayan’s in central America were cutting out hearts and beheading virgins while children were being burned in Peruvian temples, and later, the Aztecs were killing children so that their tears might cause rain, they were killing and skinning virgins, cutting out their hearts, eating their bodies, and sacrificing 20,000 people a year to their gods.
In India, the Thuggee sect was murdering another 20,000 people a year to their goddess, while the spread of Islamic armies from India to Morocco killed millions of people over 12 centuries.
Wait! There’s more!!! We are just getting started and I’ve just been skimming!
By the 17th Century conflicts between Protestants and Catholics had begun….
The Thirty Years’ War, according to Wikipeida:
Over the course of the war, the population of the German states was reduced by 30 percent; in the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two-thirds of the population died. Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third. The Swedish armies alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.
Damn! Millions and millions killed.
Then there were the Puritans, starting their own little theocracy in the New World and torturing accused witches before they murdered them.
By the 19th Century, Buddhists in Burma were sacrificing men to sanctify the capitol, Muslims were murdering tens of thousands of followers of the Baha’i Faith, Muslims and Hindus were killing Christians in India, while in Bucharest, Christians were murdering Jews in the ghetto.
Throughout the 20th Century, there were many more violent conflicts between and within various Christian and Jewish and Islamic and Hindu sects that continue to the present day.
Over the centuries, more people have been killed for religious reasons than for any other. One of the main reasons our Founders wanted to separate church and state in the U.S. was to “keep forever from our shores the blood that has soaked soil of Europe for centuries.”
Today, almost every conflict in the world can be divided along religious lines. Even where it is not the root cause of conflict it is an exacerbating factor. Most every religion promotes the vanity that its adherents are right, special, or “chosen” above others and that it has divine authority for its claims of ultimate truth. Because these various claims cannot be resolved objectively by evidence or reason, it frequently leads to violence and conflict. There can never be “peace on Earth” as long as differing groups all claim to be in possession of ultimate divine authority based on superstitious exceptionality dogmas that cannot be rationally resolved.
These types of conflicts are an increasingly dangerous threat now that we have the ability to wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth.
Consider the current so-called “war on terror.”
Al Qaeda is an Islamic militant organization. Their objectives include the end of foreign non-Muslim influence in Muslim countries and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate (an Islamic form of government based on Islamic theology). They have launched a jihad (or “holy war”) against us. A couple of the reasons bin Laden became angered at the West and launched this jihad is because of our support of the state of Israel in the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, as well as the fact he objected to the U.S.(which he considers a country of “infidels”) setting up a base in Saudi Arabia on what he considered “sacred” soil. The terrorists praised “Allah” on 9-11 and thought they would become “religious martyrs” by their actions, thereby receiving what they believed would be 40 virgins in the afterlife (based on their religion).
Many Christians believe this conflict will bring about Armageddon and that this part of the world is where the battle will begin. Many of them also support the state of Israel because they believe certain objectives must be accomplished by this Jewish state before the “Rapture” or the “Second Coming” can happen, so they are supporting certain things that will lead to conflict and look forward to the “End Times.”
Many Muslims and Arabs believe the “war on terror” is a war on Islam itself and is a threat to their religion and way of life. Many of them also believe in a “final battle” between themselves and the people they consider infidels — and many of them are doing what they can to bring it on.
So we have believers on both sides driving the current global conflict of our times.
Some other recent or ongoing violent conflicts where religion has been either a cause or an exacerbating factor include: all the conflicts resulting from the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel (hijackings, suicide bombings, the Munich Massacre, the Six Day War…etc.), the thousands of people killed in the conflict in Northern Ireland over the years between Catholics and Protestants, the Hindu-Sikh-Muslim massacres in India, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Serbian Orthodox factions (with over 220,000 people killed), the hundreds of suspected witches killed in South Africa every year, the Muslim insurgency in Thailand against the Buddhist majority. Christian rebels in the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda (who enslave and/or rape 2,000 Animist and Muslim children a year, hoping to build a Christian theocracy based on the 10 Commandments), the conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Afghanistan, the conflict between Sunni & Shiite Muslims in Iraq, the massive genocide being conducted in the Sudan by the National Islamic Fundamentalist government there (in waging jihad on its own people in the South, who they consider to be non-believers that must be totally eliminated or converted to Islam — with millions killed, forced into slave labor, raped, forced into religious conversions, or given ritual female genital mutilations), as well as all the religious conflicts over the past few years in Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, East Timor, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Nigeria, Macedonia, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tibet.
And all this is just in the past 80 years or less.
Even religious moderates are a threat because they help create the soil for extremists to flourish. As long as people accept the premise that it is possible for someone to have some kind of direct communication with ultimate divine authority, then they are giving a certain amount of legitimacy to anyone claiming it happened to them. They cannot effectively challenge anyone – no matter how extreme – that claims that authority. They can only dispute who has the better line of communication, and that dispute cannot be resolved using reason.
If extremists see that most of their society buys into this premise, they might either believe it themselves, and come to the conclusion it is happening to them, or believe they can get away with making the claim that it does.
On the other hand, if most of society rejects this premise, there would be a lot fewer people blowing themselves up or crashing planes into buildings, and the world would be a better place as a result.
Hitler and Communism
Many believers point to Hitler and the Nazi party as a counter example….
In all his public speeches, Hitler claimed to be a Christian and said things very similar to what you might have heard from Robertson and Falwell in the past. He framed what he was doing in religious terms (to motivate other believers) and included nonbelievers (atheists) in his persecutions and spoke out against them.
Hitler saw himself in the role of a Martin Luther-type reformer of Christianity into something he called “Positive Christianity.” He was hoping to merge Church and State into a “Volkish” version of Christianity with himself at its head.
The anti-Semitism was based on religion (the “Christ killer” story), the Aryan “Volkism” was based on a “folk” religion, the “Positive Christianity” their constitution supported was based on religion, the overwhelming majority of their population and their troops were Christian (approx. 2/3 Protestant and 1/3 Catholic), Hitler was a self-professed Christian, the slogan that the SA troops had on their uniforms was religious (“Gott Mit Uns”), they persecuted nonbelievers and people of a different religion (the Jews), so to think that religion had nothing to do with the Holocaust and that most of these people didn’t think of themselves as Christian runs contrary to all the evidence.
Sure, some can argue that there have been atrocities that resulted from Communism (or more properly, totalitarianism), but this ideology has many of the dogmatic aspects of religion with “cult-like” leaders at their head (a good example is the current leader of North Korea who considers both himself and his father divine). In most respects, these were ideological religions.
In none of these cases can you say that any atrocities were committed based on Enlightenment Principles of Reason.
Some could also argue that there may be other causes for conflict besides religion, or that there would still be violent conflict without it. Maybe so, but religion has always been an exacerbating factor even when it wasn’t at the heart of the conflict. At least without religion one exacerbating factor will be removed from the equation in those cases.