Is it really the fault of religion?

Opposing views
Opposing views (Photo credit: Wolfram Burner)

I came across an article on the Internet asking why church attendance these days has dropped off dramatically. Among the comment contributers were several people who stated that ‘religion’ is the source and cause of war and unrest in the world  and being atheists themselves set arguments against it, without proof I might add. I made a few comments to the contrary myself as I was reminded of an article I once read on the web site listed below. I have to admit that my eyes were opened when I first saw the article for I knew from history many conflicts brought about through religious fervour but the facts speak for themselves and although some wars have been started in the name of one religion or another, they are indeed in the minority. Take a look …….

Below is an extract taken from a site compiled and produced by Rich Deam called Evidence for God. All credit acknowledged and directed to the author.

TABLE 3.1 Selected Pre-20th Century Democide and Totals1

Cases Years2 Democide3 Religious?

China 221 B.C.-19 C. 33,519,0004 No
Mongols 14 C-15 C 29,927,000 No
Slavery of Africans 1451-1870 17,267,000 No
Amer-Indians 16 C-19 C 13,778,000 No
Thirty Years War 1618-1648 5,750,000 No
In India 13 C-1 9 C 4,511,0005 No
In Iran 5 C-19 C 2,000,0004,5 No
Ottoman Empire 12 C-19 C 2,000,0005 No
In Japan 1570-19 C 1,500,0005 No
In Russia 10 C-19 C 1,007,0005 No
Christian Crusades 1095-1272 1,000,000 Yes
Aztecs Centuries 1,000,0006 Yes
Spanish Inquisition 16 C-18 C 350,000 Yes
French Revolution 1793-1794 263,000 No
Albigensian Crusade 1208-1249 200,000 Yes
Witch Hunts 15 C-17 C 100,000 Yes

Total For All Cases pre-20 C 133,147,000 2,650,000
Hypothetical Total 30 C B.C.-19 C A.D. 625,716,0007

International war-related dead 30 C B.C.-19 C A.D. 40,457,0008
Plague dead (Black Death) 541 A.D.-1912 102,070,0009

  2. Unless otherwise noted, years and centuries are A.D.
  3. Unless otherwise noted, these are a best guess estimate in a low to high range.
  4. Excludes democide in China by Mongols.
  5. An absolute low.
  6. A very speculative absolute low.
  7. From STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE.. Calculated from the 20th century democide rate and the population for each century since 30 B.C.
  8. From table STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE. Total undoubtedly inflated by democide.
  9. A minimum: includes plague dead in circa 541-542 A.D.; 1346-1771 in Europe; 1771 in Moscow; 1894 in Hong Kong; and 1898-1912 in India. From Duplaix (1988, p. 677-678).

What percentage of these killings were due to religious democide? It is less than 3% of the totals. The surprising thing is that these killings occurred during a period of time when virtually all the peoples of the world were involved in some sort of religion. Here is the data for the 20th century:

TABLE 1.2 20th Century Democide1


U.S.S.R. 1917-87 61,911,000 Yes
China (PRC) 1949-87 35,236,000 Yes
Germany 1933-45 20,946,000 No
China (KMT) 1928-49 10,075,000 No
Japan 1936-45 5,964,000 No
China (Mao Soviets)3 1923-49 3,466,000 Yes
Cambodia 1975-79 2,035,000 Yes
Turkey (Armenian Genocide) 1909-18 1,883,000 No
Vietnam 1945-87 1,670,000 Yes
Poland 1945-48 1,585,000 Yes
Pakistan 1958-87 1,503,000 No
Yugoslavia (Tito) 1944-87 1,072,000 Yes
North Korea 1948-87 1,663,000 Yes
Mexico 1900-20 1,417,000 No
Russia 1900-17 1,066,000 Yes
China (Warlords) 1917-49 910,000 No
Turkey (Ataturk) 1919-23 878,000 No
United Kingdom 1900-87 816,000 No
Portugal (Dictatorship) 1926-82 741,000 No
Indonesia 1965-87 729,000 No
LESSER MURDERERS 1900-87 2,792,000 ?
WORLD TOTAL 1900-87 169,202,000 107,047,000

  2. Includes genocide, politicide, and mass murder; excludes war-dead. These are probable mid-estimates in low to high ranges. Figures may not sum due to round off.
  3. Guerrilla period.

Vox Day, in The  Irrational Atheist, lists 22 atheistic regimes that committed  153,368,610 murders in the 20th century alone:

Murders by Atheists (20th Century)
Country Dates Murders
Afghanistan 1978-1992 1,750,000
Albania 1944-1985 100,000
Angola 1975-2002 125,000
Bulgaria 1944-1989 222,000
China/PRC 1923-2007 76,702,000
Cuba 1959-1992 73,000
Czechoslovakia 1948-1968 65,000
Ethiopia 1974-1991 1,343,610
France 1793-1794 40,000
Greece 1946-1949 20,000
Hungary 1948-1989 27,000
Kampuchea/Cambodia 1973-1991 2,627,000
Laos 1975-2007 93,000
Mongolia 1926-2007 100,000
Mozambique 1975-1990 118,000
North Korea 1948-2007 3,163,000
Poland 1945-1948 1,607,000
Romania 1948-1987 438,000
Spain (Republic) 1936-1939 102,000
U.S.S.R. 1917-1987 61,911,000
Vietnam 1945-2007 1,670,000
Yugoslavia 1944-1980 1,072,000

What percentage of this democide was due to religious conflict? It turns out that religious democide doesn’t even make the top 20 (although I am sure there is some in the “lesser murderers” category. Still, the total religious killings is less than 2%. In fact, the top two killers were specifically atheistic states (which had never existed before in human history). Should atheism be blamed for more than 50% of the atrocities committed during the 20th century? The answer of course is No! If one examines the nature of the regimes that committed these atrocities (even the religious ones), the key factor is absolute power (see Figure 1, right). According to Professor R.J. Rummel, in the 1816-2005 period there were 205 wars between non-democracies, 166 wars between non-democracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies. Lord Acton’s warning that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” seems to be more than just a trite saying.

What about Christians who commit evil?

Jesus Himself addressed the issue of “Christians,” performing evil deeds in a rather chilling prophecy:

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matthew 7:22-23)

One should note that Jesus said that “many” people who think they are His followers will be rejected by Jesus when at the judgment when they attempt to claim that they are His disciples. Not all who claim the name of Jesus are actually His disciples. My guess is that in even the best of Christian churches only about half of the people have been truly born again (see John  chapter 3).1 Christianity should be judged on the basis of what Jesus said and did, not on the basis of the actions of people who merely claim to be Christians. Foxe’s      Book of Martyrs details the deaths of Christians who were killed because of their faith in Christ, in many cases by people claiming to be Christians.

So you see it isn’t all about religion is it? Man is born into sin. It is in his nature. Jesus Christ said ..’no-one is good, not even one’

Shirley Anne


Author: Shirley Anne

Happy to be alive because of Jesus

2 thoughts on “Is it really the fault of religion?”

  1. Hi Shirley Anne

    I had not come across some of the terms.
    Genocide: among other things, the killing of people by a government because of their indelible group membership (race, ethnicity, religion, language).
    Democide: The murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder.

    Your topic was ‘is it really the fault of religion?’. To me the question is, ‘is what really the fault of religion?’ Are you trying to argue that over the centuries, governments have killed less people because of religion than because of other things? Well I read you blog with interest and even followed some of the links. As statistician, or at least a number cruncher, I know that figures can be used to support anything and it all depends on defintions.

    We could argue over which wars are caused by religion eg 30 years war, Ireland, WW2 etc?, and which countries are atheist…….. many I saw in the list have huge religious popluations that have ‘warred with the ‘atheist majority? Maybe you could argue that sometimes it is Religion v Religion and not Government v Religion?

    You can read up on many religions being ethnically cleansed over the last 100 years or so with warring factions being delineated on religious grounds.

    Iran/ Iraq, Israel/ Palestine, Burma, India/ Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Ireland, old Yugoslavia, and many many more. I see no mention of WW2. Were not the jews killed because of their religion? and so many jews/ gentiles/ islamists in more recent times. What about Stalin and his pograms? At least a part of it was about religious minorities. You could argue that Vietnam was a Christian crusade. There must be dozens of wars that have not been mentioned that are on religious grounds.

    You can argue a lot of these things either way. But I guess the key thing is, ‘should anyone be killed because of religion?’.

    You have recently blogged on drink driving. Drinking and driving causes deaths and therefore should be discouraged. If Religion causes any deaths should it not also be discouraged?

    It would be interesting to compare the numbers killed in recent decades between drink-driving and religion.

    Respectfully yours

    Tina xx

  2. The first part of your question is in my opening paragraph Tina…’several people who stated that ‘religion’ is the source and cause of war and unrest in the world’…..In answer to that argument the article shows that most wars and conflicts are NOT caused by religion at all. Yes there have been conflicts which originated and totally driven because of religious beliefs for instance the Crusades but most have not. The argument wasn’t aimed at government religious cleansing by any country but those events would only serve to strengthen the argument that the cleansing was done for other reasons such as the war crimes committed by Nazi Germany. No-one should be killed because of their religious beliefs and that isn’t part of the argument here. To suggest that religion should be banned is totally a silly statement to make for a couple of reasons, one, that would be an infringement on a person’s right to have a belief system not dictated by another, two, it would be like saying ‘let’s get rid of all the lakes and pools, rivers and streams because someone may drown in them’ or close all roads because people get killed on them. People have to be able to make their own decisions and judgements in life. Some of the decisions they make are the reasons we have conflict and the reason for that is because they have turned away from God and His directives. ‘Religion’ is a man-made thing and bears no resemblance to the relationship those who really know God enjoy. There are indeed many ways to interpret numbers and manipulate them to fit an argument but I think the figures above are not attempting to do that. The simply show the facts. Those facts prove the point of the argument that it isn’t religion that is responsible for most of the deaths in war and conflict or to put it another way most of those deaths were caused by other motives. Essentially all wars and conflicts are the responsibility of human beings who live by their own rules and have no fear of God. By default it is atheists who have caused the higher percentage deaths by conflict.


    Shirley Anne xxx

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