Under War’s Bloody Banner

By: Carl Teichrib; ©2005
It has been popularly said that religion is responsible for the majority of the world’s conflicts. Posted on a BBC News Talking Point discussion board on the relevance of religion, one commentator boldly asserted, “Just look around the world today. Religion is the cause of all war and hate.” But does the research support that position?


Under War’s Bloody Banner

“…all modern trends point to the specter of a terrifying, bigger and more pitiless conformity.” — Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.[1]

If a global motto exists, it would have to be “Give Peace a Chance”.[2] From every corner of the world, from every academy and institution, from every school, church, and public office, it seems that the cry for global peace is being sounded.

Peace is a noble idea; but since mankind has had a written history, we have never known true peace. The scattered, bleached bones of human history testify to this brutal truth—millions upon millions of times over.

So is Mankind incapable of achieving ultimate peace on Earth? In a nutshell, yes. But accepting this reality doesn’t imply that we are to automatically embrace conflict and strife. If anything, it gives us a window into who we are and how we operate. Unfortunately, the view from this window isn’t very pretty.

How do we collectively respond to this sad state of affairs? By perpetuating a lie.

Religious Guilt and the Death Factor

It has been popularly said that religion is responsible for the majority of the world’s conflicts. Posted on a BBC News Talking Point discussion board on the relevance of religion, one commentator boldly asserted, “Just look around the world today. Religion is the cause of all war and hate.”[3]

Expounding on this line of thinking is an internet petition seeking “world peace” by the outright banning of “organized religion.” This petition, which needs to be viewed for what it is—an exercise in dissent—makes it very clear that organized religion “in all it’s factions, is responsible for most of the worlds wars and the entire ‘War on Terrorism’.” A number of petition signers, some showing immense tolerance by resorting to obnoxious and crude language, repeat the mantra “Religion is the cause of all wars.”[4]

On a more serious note, Ken Wilber, a contributor to BeliefNet.com writes,

Throughout history, religion has been the single greatest source of human-caused wars, suffering, and misery. In the name of God, more suffering has been inflicted than by any other manmade cause… for every year of peace in humankind’s history there have been fourteen years of war, 90% of which have been fought either because of, or under the banner of, God by whatever name.[5]

Has religion really inflicted “more suffering” than any other manmade cause? Is this assumption, one shared by a large segment of society, an accurate notion? Certainly it’s a position that’s well ingrained.[6] Demonstrating the imbedded nature of this popular impression, history professor Pat Johnson writes, “I challenge my classes to comment on the following statement: Organized religion has caused more suffering, wars and violence than any other cause. Almost all the students raise their hands in agreement.”[7]

Logically, if religion has been the major cause of the world’s wars and death, then religion should shoulder the burden of responsibility towards making peace. Today, this rationale underscores much of the global interfaith movement, including the recent United Nations Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.[8]

But can the finger of guilt really point to religion as the primary cause of war and strife?

The Killing Century

In analysing this hypothesis of religion’s global war guilt, let’s examine the role of religion as the primary killing factor in the bloodiest century of all time—the last one hundred years. As Winston Churchill explained during the MIT Mid-Century Convo­cation,

Little did we guess that what has been called the Century of the Common Man would witness as its outstanding feature more common men killing each other with greater facilities than any other five centuries together in the history of the world.[9]

So was religion the prime death factor, the “single greatest source” of war and suffering, for this very cruel and brutal century?

In order to understand the answer to this question, we need to chart the major wars and human-caused genocides that occurred during this time frame. And in order to do this in the space allotted for this short article, we need a lower stop-limit number—let’s say 1.5 million as a minimum death total.

Please bear in mind that this chart will not be able to list or separate-out all examples. Some, such as the death figure for World War II, could be broken down into holocaust tabulations, single battle totals, etc.—but we’ll try to keep it simple.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that many historical conflicts and killings lack accurate death tabulations, and in some instances—such as killings done under Stalin and Mao—the numbers given in our chart may actually be too low.

Other problems arise from the lack of concrete death totals. For example: the Mexican uprisings of 1910-1920 variably runs between 750,000 and 2 million dead, likewise the decades-old Rwanda/Burundi conflict falls into this statistically difficult range. Because of the variance in accounting up to the 1.5 million mark, I will leave out these two examples, along with many others that display complex numerical discrepancies up to the 1.5 million figure.


Event Time Frame Est. Dead Central Cause
Congo Free State 1886-1908 8,000,000 Control of colonial profit and power base.
Feudal Russia 1900-1917 3,500,000 (figures vary) Political control.
Turkish purges (cross­ over with the Russian struggle and World War I) 1900-1923 5,000,000 Ottoman Empire collapse. Political control struggle. Islamic/ethnic factors play an important role.
First World War 1914-1918 15,000,000 Balance of power.


Russian Civil War 1917-1922 9,000,000 Political control.


Soviet Union, Stalin Regime 1924-1953 20,000,000 Political control.


China Nationalist Era 1928-1937 3,000,000 Political control.


Second World War 1937/38-1945 55,000,000 Balance of power. Expansionism.


Sino-Japanese War 1937-1945 21,000,000 Expansion.


Yugoslavia (includes WWII) 1941-1987 2-2,500,000 Political control. Ethnic and religious issues.


Post-WWII German Expulsions from Eastern Europe 1945-1948 1.8-5,000,000 (figures vary) Post-war policies. Retributions/Soviet and Eastern European control.


Chinese Civil War 1945-1949 2,500,000 Political control.


People’s Republic of China (Mao Zedong) 1949-1975 40,000,000 Political control.


North Korean Regime 1948- 1.7-3,000,000 (figures vary) Political control.


Korean War 1950-1953 2,800,000(figures vary) Political control.


Second Indochina War 1960-1975 3-4,000,000 Political control.


Ethiopia (includes famine) 1962-1992 1,500,000 Political control. Ethnic issues came into play.


Pakistan-Bangladesh Genocide 1971 1.7-3,000,000 (figures vary) Political/economic, and social control over East Pakistan. Islam and Hindu ethnic/ religious issues.


Khmer Rouge 1975-1978 2,500,000 Political control


Afghanistan 1979-2001 1,800,000 Political control. Soviet expansion. Islamic issues.


Second Sudanese War 1983- 2,000,000 Historical ethnic struggles. Islamic religious issues play a key role. Resource control and usage.


Kinshasa Congo 1998- 3,800,000 Political control and debasement. Ethnic strife. Resource control.

However, the preceding death-inventory will suffice for our brief review.[10] Notice how many of these mass-killing events had classical religion as its central cause.

The sheer horror and brutality of mankind throughout the twentieth century cannot be properly demonstrated in a simplistic chart. However, it’s more than apparent that the principal causations of the majority of these awful events—especially those with death numbers more than five million high—cannot be laid at the feet of classi­cal religion.

Remember Professor Johnson and his statement, “Organized religion has caused more suffering, wars and violence than any other cause”? Professor Johnson just baited his students, and as the good professor tells us, “Almost all the students raise their hands in agreement.”

I then demand that they provide dead bodies as evidence. They usually mention the Crusades and one or two other religious wars they might have heard of but in none of their examples can they come up with a million deaths… I then point out that most of the people who have died as a result of war, have done so in the Twentieth Century and that most of the killing was done in the name of secular ideologies. I then ask them who is the “baddest” of them all. Most guess Hitler. I then tell them that he is rated #3. Some then guess Stalin and I inform them that most scholars place him at #2 with 20 million killed. Almost no one gets #1 who, of course, is Mao who starts with an estimated 40 million. I then point out that the top two were Communists and Hitler was a radical proponent of Social Darwinism. All of these ideologies are based on atheistic systems.[11]

Matthew White, a librarian who has done a tremendous amount of study in genocide/war issues, and is the author of the on-line Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, gives this Q &A response to the question of “religion.”

Q: Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?
A: No, of course not—unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century—Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union—no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion.[12]

Maj. John P. Conway, studying at the US Army Command & General Staff Col­lege at Fort Leavenworth, commented in an article “War and Religion: Is Religion to Blame?”:

Most times, it can be argued that religion may play a key and significant role in the conduct of warfare on a psychological and cultural level, but is it the cause of warfare? Do nations, states and kingdoms wage war over religion? Is religion a primary cause of conflict between governments? Many have argued that it is. Another popular statement is, “Religion has been the cause of more wars than any other factor throughout history.” This is commonly accompanied by “people have been killing each other in the name of God for centuries.” Upon closer examination, these statements exude an element of mythology versus fact… A fundamental analysis of past wars commonly attributed to “religion,” as the causal factor, may reveal an uninformed and reactionary misjudgment. Throughout the course of history, the cause of warfare between sovereign states, kingdoms, and governments is attributable to many factors, but can rarely be attributed to “religion” as is so often the assertion.[13]

Maj. Conway continues,

…it becomes apparent that those who make the claim “religion has been the cause of more wars than any other factor in history” may speak from ignorance or have ulterior motives for the assertion. Further, this type of assertion seems rooted in anti-religion posturing… Men and nations have a history of warfare and the root of conflict is power and gain… Occasionally war is fought over religion, as is perhaps the case during the reformation period in Europe. More often than not however, the cause of war can’t be laid at the door of religion.[14]

Certainly religion plays a motivational and ruse factor in various conflict sce­narios (all kinds of pretexts can be used in inciting and snow-balling hostilities, in 1969 soccer played a key role in exploding tensions between Honduras and El Salvador), but as a whole the main cause of the major genocides and wars of the last one hundred years lie outside of purely religious stimulus. Moreover, even wars that contain a deep religious element often have multiple causations, including economic, political, and territorial grievances.

None of this is to say that religion is innocent when it comes to strife. Historically we can cite the Crusades, the Reformation genocides, and the mass slaughters done in the name of Allah—such as during the Wars of Apostasy.[15] And in modern times we can see the effects of Catholic-Protestant clashes in the British Isles, Hindu-Islamic hostilities in India, the Islamic-Christians slaughters in Sudan, Bud­dhist-Hindu warfare in Sri Lanka, Moslem-Christian fighting in Indonesia, and the constant struggle in the Middle East between Israel and her Moslem neighbours. However, in terms of the largest concentration of outright killing capacity, commu­nism, national socialism, and imperial expansionism—all power struggles based on centralist methodologies—have been the grandest contributor to war and human-caused mass death. Nothing else comes even remotely close.

Clearly, to exert that “religion is the cause of all war and strife” demonstrates a severe degree of historical naivety, or deeply distorted emotional blinders, or the outright broadcasting of disinformation for an ulterior motive (see Maj. Conway’s above quote).

For the students of Mr. Johnson’s class, naivety is the most probable reason for their belief in this religion-war mythology. But for others, ulterior motives exist.

Wrong Assumptions, Wrong Peace

When wrong suppositions are employed, wrong results are guaranteed.

As already demonstrated, the war/religion assumption is nothing short of faulty. While religions today and historically have been culpable (Islam is a prime example in both modern and ancient contexts[16]), religion has not been the prime cause in every instance of war and strife, not even in the most extraordinary cases of the 20th century. Embracing this mythology as fact, the quest for world peace already finds itself building on a shaky foundation.

But regardless of the incorrect nature of the above point of view, many religious authors and spiritual leaders hold to this assumption. Then, taking motivational cues from this war theory, a response is formulated around another faulty assumption.

Here’s the crux of the matter: as faith communities are to blame for the world’s sorrows, then religions need to unite under a common umbrella to ensure peace and security prevails. Therefore, by uniting faiths in the push towards world peace, the divisions that drive humanity to mass violence will be bridged. Today’s global interfaith movement takes this approach, as does Ken Wilber of BeliefNet.com.

Postulating this idea of religious unity in light of religion’s historical war burden, Wilber explains,

If humanity is ever to cease its swarming hostilities and be united in one family, without squashing the significant and important differences among us, then something like an integral approach seems the only way. Until that time, religions will continue to brutally divide humanity, as they have throughout history, and not unite, as they must if they are to be a help, not a hindrance, to tomorrow’s existence.[17]

So what does it mean to be religiously “united in one family”?

Marcus Braybrooke, president of the World Congress of Faiths, explores this theme in his book, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age,

My hope—though certainly not the hope of all in the interfaith movement— remains that dialogue will eventually bring convergence or, at least, that theology will become an inter-religious discipline or “global theology”.[18]

German Catholic theologian Hans Küng describes a similar pan-spiritual unifica­tion, “after intra-Protestant and intra-Christian ecumenism we have irrevocably reached the third ecumenical dimension, ecumenism of the world religions!”[19]

Küng and Braybrooke’s concept of universalism is shared by a large assortment of spiritual thinkers, and even some religions. John Davis and Naomi Rice—both connected with the Coptic Fellowship International—succinctly tells us that “the ultimate objective is a fellowship of religions, and the gradual appearance of a world-faith, which in its broader concept will be able to encompass all humanity.”[20] Similarly, the Bahá’í International Community, the global representative of the Bahá’í faith, openly asserts, “The key to interfaith harmony and co-operation is to focus on the essential oneness of all religions.”[21]

To a global public sick of war and bloodshed, the above unification ideology becomes a very appealing venue. Yet this postulation flies in the face of anthropol­ogy, sociology, history, and theology. The belief sets of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Animism, Hinduism and so on, are fundamentally and irrevocably discon­nected—including who God is (or is not), the constitution of Man, the problem of evil, and the redemption solution to humanities failed state. Furthermore, the concept that all religions are “equally valid” is logically inconsistent.

If all religions are authenticated as valid, we must then admit each spiritual ex‑pression into this new “global religious club” as legitimate forms. Therefore, cults-of‑death such as the Aum Supreme Truth movement—which was accused of delivering nerve gas inside a Tokyo subway train—must be more than just tolerated, it must be embraced as a legitimate source of truth. Satanism too, along with any other anti­social belief system, no matter how disagreeable, must be accepted on par and received into this universal fold.

Clearly, this “world faith for world peace” assumption is also lacking in credibility. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, this flawed unity concept is designed around the first fabrication—the guilt of war.

It can never be said that a House of Truth is built on lies, yet the perfect dream of world peace is being constructed on that very foundation. Waving the flag of toler­ance and solidarity, religion is looking to re-invent itself to a new level of “planetary responsibility”—devoid of truth, logic, and reality.

Indeed, as Man sacrifices truth in the pursuit of peace, the only peace gained will come at the sacrifice of liberty. Why? Because such a system, misdirected from the onset, can only coerce and enforce. And whenever Man imposes a utopian peace design—that is, the “creation of peace” at the expense of reality—it inevitably be­comes a “bloody utopian dream.”[22]

Paradoxically, by its nature, a “world faith”—world peace structure may actually become a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, ultimately raising the terrifying banner; “Peace is the destruction of all opposition.”


  1. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse (Arlington House Publishers, 1974), p.17.
  2. The song Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon, recorded on May 31, 1969, has become a type of global anthem often sung at peace rallies.
  3. BBC News Talking Points, “Is religious faith still relevant?” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/ 1885779.stm, April 9, 2002 (Accessed November 18, 2005).
  4. Ken Wilber, “Why Do Religions Teach Love and Yet Cause So Much War,” www.beliefnet.com/ story/147/story_14762.html. BeliefNet column. Accessed November 17, 2005.
  5. See Carl Teichrib, “Casting Stones: Christianity and the History of Genocide,”
  6. Professor Pat Johnson, responding to and supporting an online Christian apologetics discussion regarding war as an excuse against Christianity. http://net-burst.net/hot/war.htm (Accessed November 18, 2005).
  7. The UN Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace was held on June 22, 2005, in conference room #4 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. A reading of the various speeches and documents that surround this event demonstrates the link between religion as a conflict force (and the guilt this implies), verses what religions can now do—unite under the banner of world peace and development.
  8. Winston Churchill, MIT Mid-Century Convocation address, March 31, 1949.
  9. Sources for this chart include the work of R.J. Rummel, Matthew White, and a host of other encyclopaedic resources.
  10. Professor Pat Johnson, responding to and supporting an online Christian apologetics discussion regarding war as an excuse against Christianity. http://net-burst.net/hot/war.htm (Accessed November 18, 2005).
  11. Matthew White FAQ section on twentieth century history.
  12. Maj. John P. Conway, US Army Professional Writing Collection, “War and Religion: Is Religion to Blame?” www.army.mil/professionalwriting/volumes/volume1/december_2003/12_03_2.html (Accessed November 17, 2005)
  13. Ibid.
  14. For more information on these historical conflicts and slaughters, see The Encyclopedia of Military History by R Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Age of Faith by Will Durant, The Crusades by Zoe Oldenbourg, Judgement Day: Islam, Israel and the Nations by Dave Hunt, Martyrs Mirror by Thieleman J. van Braght, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe, A History of the Jews by Abram Leon Sachar, The Arabs in History by Bernard Lewis, etc.
  15. See Dave Hunt, Judgement Day: Islam, Israel and the Nations (The Berean Call, 2005) and Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom (Regnery Publishing, 2003).
  16. Ken Wilber, “Why Do Religions Teach Love and Yet Cause So Much War,” see footnote #5 for details.
  17. Marcus Braybrooke, Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age (CoNexus, 1998), pp.15-16.
  18. Hans Küng, Preface to Willard G. Oxtoby’s, The Meaning of Other Faiths (The Westminster Press, 1983), p.10.
  19. John Davis and Naomi Rice, Messiah and the Second Coming (Coptic Press, 1982), p.111.
  20. Bahá’í International Community, “At the UN, governments and religious NGOs convene a peace conference,” One Country, April-June 2005, p.14.
  21. See the Bloody Utopian Dreams series by Carl Teichrib

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