Religion and war?

A friend sent me an email with a link to this animated map. According to the website, here’s what it purports to be about:

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world’s most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!

What follows is so laughably bad it almost deserves no comment. If I were to believe this map, I would be surprised at how little religious violence there has been in history. It fails to show, for example, all the bloody violence associated with the Reformation—e.g., Catholics killing Protestants, Protestants killing Catholics, and Protestants and Catholics killing Anabaptists. I’m sure the other major religions have their share of internecine bloodshed, too.

"What's your favorite color?" suddenly has life and death implications.

Of course, even knowing all that, I can’t say based on evidence that something inherent in a religion itself is to blame for the bloodshed. I would instead argue that there is a fatal flaw in the heart of humankind that is to blame. Christianity has much to say about that problem.

Be that as it may, the site’s purpose, I think, is to imply an ineluctable connection between religion and violence. Finding such a connection is a fool’s errand. As I’ve said elsewhere, no one practices something called “religion.” Indeed, no one practices something called “Christianity”—the map’s monochromatic march of blue-ness notwithstanding. We all come to the faith through particular traditions, creeds, confessions, denominations, or doctrinal emphases, all of which are mediated through culture. It’s fine to speak of the “Christian faith” in general—I hope that we can!—but no one practices such a generic thing.

One thing’s for sure: Whenever we human beings get involved in anything, we tend to mess it up. Not because we’re evil, but because we’re sinners.

(By the way, how have you possibly shown me “5,000 years of religion” without showing me anything about the religion itself? All I know about Christianity from the map is that, apparently, it’s blue.)

Unless one is prepared to get inside every religion, study all of its nuances and varieties, find common threads connecting different religions, and demonstrate in some meaningful way that these common threads are responsible for something called “inter-religious bloodshed”—after having carefully adjusted for other factors, such as politics, sociology, and economics—one has proven nothing.

Speaking as a Christian, how do we justify any bloodshed based solely on a religion whose founder eschewed violence and retribution and taught us to “turn the other cheek”? When we kill “in Jesus’ name,” in other words, we are hardly being faithful Christians. Again, maybe something is going on besides simply “religion.” Just as something else might have been going on in the unprecedented scale of killing in the 20th century between modern, secular nation-states than vague concepts like “modernity” and “secularism.”

Well, you get the point… I’m already taking it way more seriously than it deserves. The point for us Christians is to notice how easily ideas like “Christianity is responsible for an ungodly amount of killing” slip into our cultural bloodstream without much resistance.

I resist!

2 thoughts on “Religion and war?”

  1. I guess I’m aware that there’s so little pink (Judaism) but kinda questioning the fact that everything has a color. Should China really have a color? And yes just boiling down geography to war and religion is a bit too simple for me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. A little bit of pink should be mixed in all over the globe, right? India has (I think) the second- or third-largest Muslim population, but it’s just one solid color. It’s so ridiculous.

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