The Atheist/Agnostic War?

The headline on Reddit reads:

Hundreds dead after Atheist and Agnostic gangs clash in Nigeria

You can see where that story leads…

The question: Is that headline making a fair point?

Some people will argue that this is not simply a religious conflict; there are plenty of other factors that go into it.

But religion sure makes it easy to divide people up in an “Us vs. Them” mentality…

  • Wes

    If the gangs are killing each other BECAUSE so-and-so is Christian or BECAUSE so-and-so is Muslim, then I think it’s fair to say so. Yes, there are other factors involved (there always are), and of course it would be wrong to tar all Christians or all Muslims with the actions of the combatants in Nigeria, but it would also be wrong to ignore the religious element of the conflict. That would just be candy-coating the facts for the sake of undeserved deference.

    Some people refuse to believe that religion can lead to violence (they’re “not real Christians” etc.). To avoid pointing out the religious aspect of the conflict only contributes to those kinds of false prejudices.

  • llewellly

    There are other important factors, but religion is definitely an important factor – as it has been in most of history’s recorded wars. Less religion results in less war (in general, less religious nations are involved in fewer wars, especially self-initiated wars). However – it is unlikely that no religion would result in no war, as religion is not the only important cause of war. It would be one less important thing to fight over – an important step, but a complete transformation.

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    They’d be killing each other anyway if there was no religion, they’d just find someother stupid reason. Religion isn’t usually a cause for war, usually it’s an excuse.

  • Jeff Satterley

    As Richard Dawkins points out about the violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants: religion may not be the only reason for the violence, but without it, you wouldn’t know who to be angry at.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    And on that point, I’d say that Dawkins was spewing B.S., since one could answer “Who to be angry at” by responding “Loyalist” and “Nationalist,” or, for a more hypothetical set of labels, “traitor to Ireland” or “traitor to the Crown.”

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Religion is rarely the only cause, but it’s almost always one of the causes (or something equally stupid, but often related, like race).

    However, it is one of the traditional pretexts for violence. It’s not the only one, but it’s almost always part of the justification for violence between two large groups.

    So, you can’t blame what’s going on in Nigeria entirely on religion, but do you have to do that? I think the extent to which religion is responsible, even if it’s not the only cause, is quite enough to condemn it. Concede, then, that it’s not just about religion, but that it is also about religion and any time reasons for war are reduced is a good thing. No religion would be taking away one more reason for people to kill each other, and while they’d probably find other reasons to do it sometimes, sometimes they wouldn’t.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    Religion not only provides a means of identifying the people with whom you have and economic or political conflict, but also enables otherwise decent people to commit atrocities that they would never be motivated to commit for merely economic or political reasons. When the One Lord God Creator of the universe tells you that it is not only acceptable but preferable that you slaughter the infidel, your average true believer isn’t going to think twice about it.

  • Stephen P

    @J.J.Ramsey: you’ve missed the point. Without religion, Northern Ireland would have had a few percent of dedicated loyalists, a few percent of dedicated nationalists and a lot of people just trying to get on with their lives. But religion polarised everything. All, or at least most, schools were religious (and may still be; I’m not sure how far they’ve advanced). The school one went to branded one for life. It was this polarisation that made it possible for Protestants to discriminate against Catholics in matters of housing and employment, and it was religious bigotry that encouraged them to do so. And it was this maltreatment that led to the troubles.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Religion is not so much a cause, but an excuse and a label. It’s also a symptom of a mindset that is non-rational. It’s the non-rationality that leads to racism, violence and abuse. Religion is just a symptom of it…

  • mikespeir

    Religion may only be an excuse sometimes, but it’s an awfully easy and convenient one.

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  • Wes

    I’d like for people to elaborate what the difference is between religion being a cause and religion being an excuse for violence. Also, I have to wonder how it could be that religion can’t be a cause of violence, because I see no reason why religion couldn’t cause violence.

    If someone kills someone and claims it was because of their skin color, would you think skin color was an excuse or a cause of the violence? (Maybe not THE cause, or not the ONLY cause, nor even the primary cause, but at least A cause of violence.) How is it different if someone kills over religion? Why might we see racism as a “cause” in one, but religion as an “excuse” in the other? What if their religion is promoting racism? Would it be a “cause” then? Or would it be an “excuse”? Was the KKK just using race as an “excuse” when they lynched black people back in the day? An excuse for what?

    What about violence regarding sexuality? Ethnicity? Favorite sports teams? Political affiliation? What criteria are you using to distinguish a “cause” of violence from an “excuse” for violence? People commit violence over lots of things, and usually people see no problem with seeing these things as causes—but somehow when violence is committed for religious reasons people refuse to use the word “cause”, and call it an “excuse”.

    I’m not saying religion always causes violence, nor that there would be no violence without religion, nor that all religious people are violent. I don’t believe any of those things are true. But I do believe religion CAN cause violence, and I see all this talk about “It’s not a cause, it’s just an excuse” as pure spin, intended to promote undeserved deference. And it’s dangerous deference. If we refuse to recognize the causes of violence, we have little hope of making any progress against violence.

  • mikespeir

    Wes,

    I don’t think anyone here is saying religion hasn’t been, and isn’t still, a cause of evil. It’s just that so often evil men do evil things for other reasons and then invoke religion as an excuse. Read through Mein Kampf and note all the instances of Hitler using Christianity to justify his designs. Yet, I’m not convinced he had any real religious faith at all.

    In the case of the KKK, is it really religion that causes them to do their evil or is it likelier that they just don’t like non-whites and religion is a convenient rallying point? Hating people for the sake of hating them is hard to defend, but religion can imbue the cause with a faux righteousness.

    No, I’m not trying to get religion off the hook. It has been the cause of much evil. But people can be evil with or without it. What’s hard is to get others to participate in that evil. Religion often works quite nicely as a tool toward that end.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Stephen P: “@J.J.Ramsey: you’ve missed the point. Without religion, Northern Ireland would have had a few percent of dedicated loyalists, a few percent of dedicated nationalists and a lot of people just trying to get on with their lives.”

    That’s about what we have with religion.

    Stephen P: “It was this polarisation that made it possible for Protestants to discriminate against Catholics in matters of housing and employment, and it was religious bigotry that encouraged them to do so. And it was this maltreatment that led to the troubles.”

    Which Troubles are you talking about? The Irish War of Independence? That was basically British versus Irish. If you are talking about the Troubles after the War of Independence, that had to do with hardliners not being satisfied with the compromise that left Northern Ireland part of Britain.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Religion is far too often used as the excuse for violence. No doubts there. However, as many others have said, it is almost never the sole, and even rarely the primary cause for it. I’m currently working on a PhD. in Religious History and quite honestly I’m having a hard time coming up with any wars that were exclusively or even primarily about religion. Even the crusades and religious wars of European history were almost always about multiple factors beyond just the religious.


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