Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Is Religion the Chief Cause of Suffering?

I just read yet again about how religion is the main cause of inhumanity in this world.

This is such an absurd contention that I don't understand how it survives. But it does. So in what is probably a vain attempt to counteract it, I did a quick Internet search to compare Christianity (since it is Christianity that most concerns me) against the only specifically God-free political philosophy I am aware of - communism.

So, my question was this: Which has caused the most human deaths, Christianity or communism? I am very sure I have left tragic events out here, but even if I missed a lot, I don't think it would come anywhere close to changing the outcome. I am also including just events where the motivation for the killings was mostly Christianity. Frankly, I think that even in this list the motivation was not always purely religion. For example, in his book, For the Glory of God, Rodney Stark points out that the killing of witches was most frequent in areas where the church had less influence and was often done despite the church, and while religion was involved in the 30 Year's War, the fact that France (a Catholic country) often supported the Protestants in Germany in an apparent effort to weaken Germany suggests that nationalistic forces were perhaps stronger than religious forces in that ugly conflict. Nevertheless, I'm throwing them all into the pot because religion is generally considered to be the major factor in these events.

Okay, for Christianity:

Number KilledEvent
1-5 millionCrusades
20,000-900,000"Witches" killed
14,000Jews killed, scapegoats for Black Death
1 millionAlbigensian Crusade
2-4 millionCatholic vs. Huguenot (France)
100,000Peasants War (Germany)
31,912Spanish Inquisition
11.5 millionThirty Years War
13,445,912High Total
6,565,912Low Total

Now let's take communism:

Number KilledEvent
20 millionJoseph Stalin
40 millionMao Zedong
2 millionPol Pot (Cambodia)
62 millionTotal


Okay, so if we take the most wildly generous estimates of people killed by those who claim to be Christians, it is 13.5 million. For communism it is 62 million.

Communism wins! In less than 100 years it killed about 62 million people, more than four and a half times the number of people those who claim to be Christians have killed over the course of nearly 2,000 years, or more than nine times as many if you accept the lower estimate for Christianity.

My suspicion is that a lust for power and fame and loot and glory are far more central to man's inhumanity to man than every religion in the world added together.

So PU-lease! Don't tell me how religion is the major cause of violence or suffering in this world. It is nonsense.