In every discussion about religion, the issue of religious violence comes up. Typically it is the “atheists” who will say “More people have died over religion than for any other reason”
I am unaware of the part religion plays in heart disease, or malaria, or AIDS. In fact, there is evidence indicating a relationship between being religious and better health. Certainly most religious practices guide the follower towards healthier lifestyle choices, yet thirteen million people died of heart disease and stroke in the last year for which statistics are available.
As it is, only one out of ten deaths can be attributed to violence.
So then the anti-religious person responds, “Well, what I meant was that more violent deaths are caused by religion”.
So the majority of the 1.3 million people who died in traffic accidents were driving to Church?
There are a number of ways to quantify causes of death, my favorite report (I’m a guy who used to subscribe to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) is called “Deaths by mass unpleasantness“, but a more conservative measure by the World Health Organization suggests that of the one in ten deaths caused by violence, one in ten of those is homicide, and I’m fairly sure that not all of those were religiously motivated.
You could certainly factor in such things as “Death by oppression”, but there is no evidence that a significant number of people have died because of religion. Not even when you include historical atrocities.
“But really” he pleads, trying to vindicate his position in the face of factual evidence, “More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason”.
According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, of the 1,763 major conflicts in recorded history, only 123 of them can be classified as having been fought over religious differences. That’s less than 7 percent.
It was funny when George Carlin said “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason”, but that was the seventies, and we’ve had forty years to check the facts. And George taught me to question everything, including him. The people who run around quoting him weren’t really listening to him.
Judaism wasn’t a threat to Germany, but Adolf Hitler exploited religious prejudices into a unifying hatred, from which he propelled his thousand year Reich into a twelve year suicidal spiral. Wars are fought over real estate, religion is often used as an excuse or incitement.
Our most current experience with “religious wars” are not religious in nature at all. They are power struggles between greedy leaders, and greed is a sin in every religion I know of. Exploiting a largely illiterate and uninformed populace, claims of religious righteousness are made. Any student of the religions involved knows that murder is not the prescribed remedy for conflicts within or without the church.
Which brings me to my summation. “Fewer people have died due to Religion than any other cause”. Immediately you know the statement is false, more people have died due to religion than have been trampled by elephants. When we consider the violence caused by religion, we need to quantify the statement. I’m not even going to argue the balance of good spirituality has provided to mankind, damage is not undone by good works. I will argue that of the violence inflicted in the name of religion, very little has been caused in the active and prescribed practice of religions.