Is War Just an Invention? Maybe Religion Is, Too.

Is War Just an Invention? Maybe Religion Is, Too. February 23, 2018

Why do humans engage in war? A typical answer has been that resource scarcity drives war. This is the Malthusian model—if you have more water or oil or farm land than I do, I might be tempted to take yours. But studies have shown no clear correlation between war and scarcity.

Maybe there’s some sort of masculine drive for conquest. But this doesn’t explain why war is relatively recent in human history. If war were just “boys being boys,” we should see more widespread evidence in the archeological record. Indeed, some societies today have violence but are unaware of the concept of war.

Margaret Mead

Let’s consider another explanation, Margaret Mead’s 1940 theory about war.

With so many examples of war throughout history, you might expect that we could find the traits that always accompany belligerent societies and never accompany peaceful ones. Societies can be highly- or poorly-developed, resource rich or resource poor, large or small, and so on, but any of these societies can engage in war or not. From Scientific American’s Cross-Check blog:

War is both underdetermined and overdetermined. That is, many conditions are sufficient for war to occur, but none are necessary. Some societies remain peaceful even when significant risk factors are present, such as high population density, resource scarcity, and economic and ethnic divisions between people. Conversely, other societies fight in the absence of these conditions. What theory can account for this complex pattern of social behavior?

What’s the answer? Mead argued that war is an invention, not an innate part of humanity. Once invented, war is contagious. When your neighbors become infected, your society must get infected for its own safety. Adopt it or get wiped out—the war meme wins either way. A society reluctant to go to war might conclude that a preemptive strike would be the safest move, making the idea of war self-fulfilling.

One approach is to turn war on its head to come to a peaceful result, to push it to be so destructive as to be unthinkable. Alfred Nobel said, “Perhaps my [dynamite] factories will put an end to war sooner than [peace] congresses: on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops.” This hope has been expressed about poison gas, machine guns, and Nobel’s dynamite, though these have only served to make war more efficient.

Getting past war

Let’s return to Mead’s theory. If war is innate, we’re stuck with it, and war will be a perpetual threat. But Mead argues that it’s not innate. It’s an invention, and society can rid itself of it—maybe not easily, but theoretically.

Consider our closest primate relatives. Chimpanzees seem to have in inherent violent streak, but bonobos have a “make love, not war” attitude. We’re genetically equally close to each species.

And we’ve actually done this sort of thing before. We’ve gotten rid of poor social inventions such as slavery, genocide, mental illness as demon possession, witchcraft as a capital crime, and so on. We’ve adopted lots of good social ideas: democracy, universal education, universal suffrage, trial by jury, bankruptcy instead of prison, and prison instead of capital punishment (in some regions, at least). We can change.

War certainly isn’t obsolete, though Steven Pinker argues that it’s trending that way. Maybe the answer is something as straightforward as: democracies never attack each other, so make all countries democracies. That’s not easy, but it’s conceivable.

Getting past religion

Now that we’ve asked the remarkable question, “Is war simply a poor invention for which we can invent a replacement?” let’s ask the same about religion. Is religion innate and an inherent part of human makeup? Many Christians think that we are given God-radar, which points us unerringly to the Creator of the Universe, but that’s obviously false given the many incompatible religious directions to which this imagined “radar” sends us. Others say that we’re built with a vague and undirected desire for the divine, but we mustn’t confuse this spirituality with the existence of the supernatural.

If religion is innate, we could suppress it, but then it would reassert itself. But if it’s an invention, perhaps it would stay gone once we replaced it with something better.

Christianity once ruled Europe, but today it’s seen in much of Europe as a quaint custom from the past, like chamber pots or chewing tobacco. Perhaps it’s not too optimistic to see religion as nothing more than an invention that needs improving.

It doesn’t have to be the Grand Canyon, 
it could be a city street, 
it could be the face of another human being—
everything is full of wonder. 
— A. C. Grayling

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/2/14.)

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Image public domain


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  • War as a recent invention is contentious. Mead’s work no longer has much cachet as I understand it. Nor is it clear democracies don’t go to war-this greatly depends on equivocation over the term. However, it may be the case they go to war less. This doesn’t mean we can’t change either.

    • skl
      • Yep, that stuff is why she’s no longer taken very seriously. She completely omitted many less pleasant aspects of Samoan culture, due to an inexcusable credulity.

    • Good points, though the discrediting of one part of her work doesn’t mean that others might not have value. The idea of war as invention is useful if it encourages us to think in new directions.

      • True, but it casts doubt on her credibility. Pinker, who you mentioned above, argues against it being a recent invention in The Better Angels of Our Nature, citing different anthropologists. This isn’t a settled question, of course, and there is much debate about it. I think that it’s more important whether this is true though than whether it might be useful. Even if it isn’t a recent invention, we can still strive to overcome war.

        • The interest in the question “Is war an invention?” is that it might be easier to overcome if it is. If it’s just part of our nature (the religious equivalent might be: is a quest for the divine part of our nature?), then it’s innate, and we’re kinda stuck with it.

        • Sure, but whether it is innate or not remains an issue. Even if it’s innate, that doesn’t mean war can’t be reduced, if not abolished. We evolve after all.

        • Anat

          Even if a tendency towards war is innate in humans, innate behaviors are displayed to varying degrees and frequencies depending on external conditions. So find the conditions that make war less favorable.

    • Anat

      Democracies prefer to go to war with non-democracies, not so much with other democracies.

      • Why? “Not so much” is less impressive than “don’t at all”.

        • Anat

          Well, I don’t like making uninformed blanket statements. Also, even in Europe until not so long ago there weren’t that many democracies to test this on.

        • True.

  • Priya Lynn

    Yeah…I don’t really buy the idea that war was invented. I’m sure that there’s always been occasional conflict between tribes of early man that wouldn’t be what we now consider war simply because population density was very low. It wasn’t until population density increased due to agriculture and permanent settlements allowed enough excess wealth to devote significant resources to conflicts with those deemed to be the “other” that we saw what we would now consider typical wars.

  • Snowflake

    I do love the chamber pot comparison. Pretty close to perfect.

  • epicurus

    As a friend of mine loves using the war of 1812 as a counter example to democracies never attacking each other (which I think of as really an aftershock of the revolution) I usually say modern democracies that consist of allowing the general population of both all adult men and women (with a few small exceptions like perhaps those in jail or mentally handicapped) to vote, rather than just property owning males.

    • Raging Bee

      Neither Britain nor America were really all that democratic back then. Counter-example FAIL.

      • epicurus

        Yeah, that’s why I always say modern democracy. Although I guess modern can be a relative term.

      • epicurus

        Some would say they aren’t now either.

    • good point.

    • Michael Neville

      The American Civil War pitted two democracies, using very similar political, legislative and constitutional systems, against each other. The Boer Wars were between two democracies. The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus had one democracy attacking another. In the Yugoslav Wars (1991 to 2001), Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia were all multiparty democracies.

      • epicurus

        I guess if you can whip up enough ethnic hatred even democracy can’t save you from war.

      • Jim Baerg

        In _Never at War_ Spencer Weart examines the marginal cases where societies that were at least somewhat democratic at least came close to fighting each other.
        One of his finding was that oligarchic republics did not fight each other & democratic republics did not fight each other, but oligarchies & democracies would fight.
        His distinction is that in an oligarchy only a minority has the vote & puts a lot of effort into suppressing the non-voters. By that definition the US north was democratic, but the US south was oligarchic.

    • TheMountainHumanist

      Was not Britain a democracy at that time?

      • epicurus

        You tell me. 50 percent of the population were not allowed to vote because they were women, and of the men, I believe one had to be a land owner and maybe of the aristocracy, not sure about that but certainly many men over 18 couldn’t vote. So is that what most people today consider a democracy? I don’t think so.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I just meant I think they were a monarchy in 1812.

        • epicurus

          They have a monarch now, just like then – do you consider them a monarchy (and not a democracy) now?

        • epicurus

          The English Monarch has had very limited powers for a long time. The British parliament runs the show, as it did in 1812.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I’m not well verrsed in history to know how accurate that may or may not be. CHeers!

        • epicurus

          Then why do you keep implying I’m wrong?

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I was implying nothing. I was truly interested to know if they were democratic at that time or not. My recollection was they were a monarchy. If you are correct..then I am mistaken. Not everything on Disqus is a battle.

        • epicurus

          I don’t feel like I was the one making it a battle, and if you go through my many comments on disqus, you”ll see I’m not a battler.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          Great! Cheers…

    • JP415

      As I recall, some democratic city-states in ancient Greece (Athens and Thebes) fought wars with each other. Of course, since slaves and women couldn’t vote in those societies, you could argue that they weren’t really democracies, at least not in the modern sense.

      • epicurus

        Yes, that was the point I was trying to make – that until very recently, most countries and states throughout history that generically get called democratic or democracies would not be considered to actually be very democratic by a modern 21 century person, because usually it was only a very small percentage of the adult population that could actually vote. So in the past, when a democracy has gone to war with another, it could be said they weren’t actually real democracies as a modern person would define it, and this would allow us to uphold the maxim that democracies tend not to attack each other.

        See Micheal Neville’s reply for examples of 20th century democracies at war with each other. Whether women could vote in Serbia Croatia Bosnia Greece and Turkey I don’t know.

  • grasshopper

    “World’s oldest-known rock art created by Neanderthals, not modern humans” says a news headline yesterday. So the impetus towards artistic expression could have been extant in the last common ancestor for Neandertalers and Sapiens.

    Jane Goodall documented warfare amongst the Gombe chimpanzees, which again suggests similar behaviour was present in the last common ancestor of chimps an humans. Goodall has also argued that ritualistic behavior in chimpanzees and the circumstances under which it occurs indicates a sense of awe in chimps, so there again is a possible indication that there is commanality between human and chimp ‘religious’ inclinations.
    I have always argued that ancient cave paintings cannot have been made by modern humans, because modern humans would have painted pornography, too.

  • Lerk!

    Chimpanzee tribes whose males go out and pick off the males of other tribes in order to bring the females into their own tribes are, as far as I can tell, engaged in war. Even if it isn’t war, it’s violence.

    I would hope that human intelligence would eventually lead to the end of war. Maybe the problem is that we haven’t been around long enough. The hope is that we survive long enough to quit warring, because we could conceivably complete wipe ourselves out before then. There’s quite a bit of discussion as to which might happen first.

    But as far as I know, there are no wars — political ones, anyway — going on in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela may be on the verge of civil war, and the U.S. is involved in wars on the other side of the world, but this side is quiet at the moment. Maybe that portends hope for the rest of the world. (If only we [the U.S.] would stay out of the ones “over there!”)

    I suppose it must be a meme, but then the chimps have that meme in their societies, too. Could we be intelligent enough to debunk it, do away with it?

    With religion, I’m convinced it exists because of the belief in an afterlife, and that belief exists because it’s so difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that a personality, a consciousness that we’ve known our entire lives, can suddenly cease to exist. I know that the people I miss were simply biological processes that have ceased to function, and that their minds or personalities were emergent properties of that biological process, but I still out of habit occasionally think of something that I might to tell them or ask them, surprising myself at having had the thought.

    • Greg G.

      Maybe the problem is that we haven’t been around long enough.

      Natural selection would require that all the warrior types kill each other off, leaving those with genes for peace-loving. However, when the population is mostly that type, a remnant with warrior genes can thrive by confiscating goods from the non-warriors.

      • grasshopper
        When peace-lovers come to a position of numerical superiority in a population, then they are easy pickings for the warrior types, whose numbers then rise again.

      • Chuck Johnson

        War is mostly a cultural invention, not a genetic invention.

        The Vikings were conquered by Christian culture, then Christian Culture was conquered by modern secular culture.
        Throughout, the violence and warfare decreased and the peace love and understanding increased.

        Scandinavian societies are some of the most peaceful, prosperous and successful societies on Earth.

        • Greg G.

          <snark> See, all the people with the bad genes left and were eliminated from the Scandinavian gene pool.

      • Chuck Johnson

        Humans don’t have much in the way of warrior genes or non-warrior genes.
        Mostly, we have learning genes.
        Violent societies or peaceful societies are mostly a result of cultural adaptive evolution.

        • Greg G.

          I think you are correct.

          Twenty-some years ago, I dated a teacher with advanced degrees. She told me about a study that said that when infants cries are ignored so that their needs are not met, it tends to grow up to be anti-social and lack empathy. I was skeptical of social Darwinism even then but I wasn’t going to fact check her because, well, I had high hopes for where things were going.

          When I started reading about epigenetics years later, I recalled the conversation and wondered if there was something to it.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Epigenetics is part of the explanation.
          Plain, old-fashioned learning is also a part of the explanation.

    • Ficino

      There was an episode of the TV program, Nature, years ago, where lions did the same. Four lions from one pride traveled some distance to a pride that had only two lions. The four killed the two. Then the four killed the existing cubs, took over the females, and sired a new set of cubs. Pretty similar to war in a lot of ways.

      I remember reading a book in which an anthropologist went to a “tribe” in the Amazon. He was trying to figure out what were the causes of raids between one tribe and another. Although he was trying to figure out economic and other material factors, an old man kept saying, “I keep telling you. They’re fighting over women!”

      So do the lions and S American examples illustrate raiding or warfare? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

      • grasshopper

        It might be warfare, it might be raiding: it is certainly biblical.

        Numbers 31:17
        Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

        Numbers 31:18
        But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

  • eric

    this doesn’t explain why war is relatively recent in human history.

    Who says it is? Decades before Pinker published is book pointing out how violent death rates have been declining for centuries, Lawrence Keeley published War Before Civilization, making the same argument but applying it to millenia.

    The point Keeley makes has a different focus from Pinker (he was trying to disabuse academia of the notion of the ‘noble savage’, rather than arguing positively for a more peaceful future). But he points out two important points. One: evidence of warfare going back through the stone age is still pretty good – and includes indirect evidence from current tribal societies that even pre-civilization peoples caused massive casualties to each other. Two: the reason we don’t often grok this is because we get fooled in to thinking small casualty numbers for a small tribe are less significant than large casualty numbers for our large nation-states – when in fact, as Pinker later pointed out – the reverse is true. Small tribes conducting ‘small’ conflicts with each other tend to cumulatively, over many skirmishes, accomplish casualty rates an order of magnitude higher than modern nation states do in war. If two 50-man tribes have a skirmish every year but they stop each skirmish as soon as one guy from each side gets killed, that’s 1% of their population dying every year. If the entire US military died in a conflict next year – a result we’d consider an unimaginable tragedy, worth nuking someone over – that would only be about 0.35% of our population. The Russians in WWII lost a whopping 15% of their population over the 6 years of the European conflict. Which is horrible. It’s also about the same as my tribal skirmish scenario where each side loses 2-3 per annual skirmish.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yeah, I’m no expert when it comes to history, but I’ve never encountered the hypothesis that war is a recent phenomenon. Just the opposite, actually.

      I’m unsure about the bonobo line as well. I seem to recall reading that they aren’t nearly as peaceful as their reputation implies.

      • You’re correct about bonobos. They have a reputation for peaceability because they don’t display territorial violence against each other in the manner of chimps, preferring to use sex-type behaviors to settle social situations. But they are also very violent hunters and can sometimes be violent with each other. Bonobo-on-bonobo violence is much rarer than chimp-on-chimp, but it does happen. Since bonobos are a matriarchal society, violent actions are sometimes taken by females, particularly in captivity. It’s pretty common for dominant females to hurt males who get “out of line.”

        “There are lots of males in zoos that are missing digits. There’s a male bonobo that’s actually missing the tip of his penis because the female has bitten it off … This isn’t quite [in line] with the stereotype of them being peaceful.” -Dr. Zanna Clay

        Fights between bonobos are rarely (if ever) lethal in the wild, but of course they are so secretive that it’s difficult to tell for sure. They have been witnessed fighting in the wild, but they do not brutally murder each other in the manner of roving chimp gangs. From what I can tell (being no expert, merely a book addict), they still have territorial aggression, but they handle it in ways that don’t generally involve bloodshed. It is wrong to think of them as peaceniks, though it is right to view them as less violent than chimps.

        Lots of people seem to think that bonobos are gentle nymphomaniacs, but neither term is appropriate. In many ways, they use sexual behaviors in place of violence, which I’m not sure is much of an improvement. They obviously cannot be judged according to human standards, but not all of their social sex is consensual, lots of it is about social domination, and bonobos have no taboos regarding age. There are plenty of reasons to not admire them.

        In any case, I don’t think we can look to them for guidance in regards to our own predilection for violence. Our families split apart millions of years ago, and they are unique products of their environment and evolution.

    • That 15% figure matches what I’ve read about the history of war violence.

      That link has some cool data, for anyone interested.

    • Chuck Johnson

      War isn’t that recent of an invention, and neither is genocide.
      Our ancestors, (the most kickass hominids to ever walk the face of the Earth), decided (about 70,000 thousand years ago) to make a world tour.

      Wherever they went, not only did competing hominid species quickly (and mysteriously) go extinct, but megafauna in those regions also went extinct. – – – And then there was just us.
      I suspect foul play. This looks like some kind of “original sin”.

      But then, as Pinker has noticed, human-on-human violence began to decline, and it continues to decline in modern times.
      The explanation is simple. Within the context of 70,000 year-old human cultures, war and genocide were desirable, practical and useful cultural inventions to help the Homo Sapiens survive and thrive.

      With the passage of many of thousands of years, Homo Sapiens have gradually found ways to survive and to thrive while reducing human-on-human violence, including the reduction of warfare. – – – This is an improved way of surviving.

      So where are the strong
      And who are the trusted?
      And where is the harmony?
      Sweet harmony.

      ’cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, it just makes me want to cry.
      What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

    • Pinker cites Keeley in his book.

  • RichardSRussell

    We’ve gotten rid of poor social inventions such as slavery, genocide, mental illness as demon possession, witchcraft as a capital crime, and so on.

    As SF author William Gibson remarked: “The future is already here. It is just not uniformly distributed.” Same with the above roster of societal failings, all of which are still going on in various places around the world.

    We’ve got a million years of tribal behavior built into our DNA, barely covered by a thin veneer of 10,000-year-old civilization, topped with a sprinkling of 500-year old rationalism. A really good shove (think asteroid) would bring the whole house of cards toppling down again, and the survivors would find themselves re-enacting The Lord of the Flies on a daily basis.

  • Michael Neville

    Military historian John Keegan, in his A History of Warfare argues that Karl von Clausewitz was wrong, war is not a continuation of political processes by other means*. Clausewitz’s
    thought is incomplete. It implies the existence of states, of state interests and rational calculation about how they may be achieved. Yet war antedates the state, diplomacy and strategy by many millennia. Wars have been fought between pre-literate groups and modern day neolithic tribes fight each other.

    There’s nothing incorrect about Clausewitz’s theory. However, Keegan uses dozens of cultural examples of warfare to show that, instead of being universal, Clausewitz is only appropriate to a certain time in history, specific to a particular kind of war, and applicable to a unique set of resolves from the warring nations. The warfare utility of animal domestication, the chariot, fortifications, the warhorse, the phalanx, and gunpowder all changed how wars were fought. There’s also the unique implications of culture on warfare technique, tactics, and procedures. Each warring organization was dominant in its time and area based on a unique set of guiding, cultural principles. Zulus, Magyars, Vikings, Spartans, Huns; the Roman legions, the British navy, Samurai, Aztecs, Ottomans; all practiced different kinds of warfare that was born of a logical accumulation of technology, culture, and exposure to other warriors and soldiers.

    *Clausewitz wrote that war was the continuation “of political intercourse” (des politischen Verkehrs) “with the intermixing of other means” (mit Einmischung anderer Mittel). The original German expresses a more subtle and complex idea than the English words in which it is so frequently quoted.

  • jmarch17

    War needs to be studied as a possible consequence of male sexual frustration. That’s what contrasting bonobo and standard-issue chimpanzee groups seems to suggest.

  • magnolia

    I assume that is the same Margaret Mead who believed a group of 15 year old girls on a lovely island who told her that all sexual behaviour was cool and adultery was fine. Turned out that they were telling her what they thought was required and actually that society stoned people to death for adultery.

    Much as I hate warfare, and think world war takes some instigator, I suspect smaller scale battles have been with us from the year dot, and that this article is rather naive. The New Testament is rather one of the earliest comprehensive dissuasives to violence and antipathy, unlike the impression given here.

    Much as I like democracy, Hitler was democratically elected, so there goes that theory…

    Why do people fight, and kill? Because they “want and do not have”. As the Apostle James (James.4.2) noted. What do they want? Anything. Maybe especially love, sex, power, attention, approval, possessions, (down to tulip bulbs), or even to be left in peace or to win an argument, lest any here think they are above it all. And sometimes it seems like trivia.

    No need to study bonobos, chimpanzees, and genetics; which is a waste of time and money and brainpower; the causes are far, far too obvious.

    • James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.”

      I doubt that actually works, so perhaps James isn’t that good an authority.

      • TheMountainHumanist

        well people like James wanted a theocracy — not a democracy.

        “Much as I like democracy, Hitler was democratically elected, so there goes that theory…”

        Finding a single exception to a general rule does not obviate the general rule.

        • magnolia

          Too easy; these questions are best answered by the study of history, and too many people here are going three sides of a square through other disciplines.

          You may like to feel Hitler is an insignificant example, but he is a major one, a much quoted one, and also not the only example. Mussolini was initially democratically elected. Iran and Pakistan have thrown up interesting examples of democracy. In Northern Ireland erstwhile bombers have been elected to seats, while going back in history Jesus was crucified by democratic vote. Which makes the theory good only for fish and chip paper.

          Oh and Malthus, the mistaken cleric, has been comprehensively and repeatedly proved wrong, wrong, and wrong again, while causing much useless and unnecessary misery via those who have acted upon his theory, and needs to be utterly and entirely consigned to the dustbin of uselessly heartless history.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I never Hitler was not significant..I merely pointed out that his rise to power was technically democratic but also a bit bastardized by several back-room tactics.

          In a general rule..we do not say “all” anything…we say some or most. That’s why it’s a general rule.

      • magnolia

        That is a further argument that isn’t key to this question. James’ analysis is spot on, down to men duelling over orchids (see “The Orchid Thief”). The right-on theory amongst many slightly lazy academics (because if you are with the flow you don’t need to think so much) is that much fighting is due to religion, and one grows so tired of it. No way does Jesus Christ EVER condone violence or aggression. NOT ONCE. Never does he show it. Indeed Peter is told off for using a sword and Malchus’ ear is healed, while Jesus suffers the effects of violence non-aggressively, and absorbs and transforms it, which most of us even in far lesser ways find all too often beyond us.

        In the OT this is different, but then it is a less transformed era. It is the NT which is meant to be the template in this regard, so that “an eye for an eye” (remarkably for that era a restrained and limited vengeance) is not good enough, and instead we are commanded “but I (Jesus) say to you “love your enemies”.”

        We do not need a post-Christian era, but to learn to live it out. There is nothing higher.

        • Greg G.

          No way does Jesus Christ EVER condone violence or aggression. NOT ONCE. Never does he show it.

          Jesus tells his disciples to carry swords, and to buy one if necessary.

          Luke 22:36 (NRSV)36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

          Jesus is talking about bringing swords and starting family squabbles. I hope he doesn’t mean he is bringing swords to those family squabbles.

          Matthew 10:34-35 (NRSV)34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

          Jesus is tolerant of slavery and recommends violent aggression toward slaves as good and proper.

          Luke 12:47-48 (NRSV)47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

          This parable is an analogy about the punishment God metes out being like the beating of slaves. If God’s punishment is OK, beating slaves must also be OK or the analogy doesn’t work.

          Jesus definitely condones violence.

        • magnolia

          This is cherry-picking plus wrong interpretation. I could go through each example showing you that your hermeneutic is way awry, but there is absolutely no lack of theology books and commentaries out there. Biblehub or Biblegateway are a start, and you can see the Greek as well as the English versions and do some proper study. Otherwise it is a rather lazy Really I don’t need to waste time on (your) minor misunderstandings, when the main theme is Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.

        • Greg G.

          You claimed, “No way does Jesus Christ EVER condone violence or aggression. NOT ONCE. Never does he show it.” It is not cherry-picking to show an example where you are mistaken.

          Really I don’t need to waste time on (your) minor misunderstandings, when the main theme is Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection.

          You made the claim “NOT ONCE” with great emphasis. Now you are backing off to the main theme.

          The Luke 12:47-48 passage relates to the main theme that God will punish people who mess up. As I said, the analogy only works if Jesus agrees with the beating of slaves being the proper thing to do and using it as an example endorses it. As I recently pointed out elsewhere, if Jesus does not endorse the beating of slaves as proper, the analogy becomes satire so that Jesus is arguing that God would be wrong in punishing people for doing wrong.

          Matthew 10:35 is taken from Micah 7:6.

          Mark 6:8-11 evolved into Matthew 10:9-16 and evolved into Luke 22:35-38 so one could argue that Jesus didn’t actually say what Luke 22:36. But that makes all the quotes suspect.

        • Methinks “proper interpretation” is just “magnolia’s interpretation.”

          You do realize that there are many Christians who differ with you on interpretation? Maybe you should figure out how that can be first.

        • Glad2BGodless

          I can’t help noticing how much you really love the word hermeneutic.

        • Kevin K

          You’re kidding, right? Jesus doesn’t condone violence or aggression?

          Sermon on the Mount: If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out. If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.
          That last little bit is about masturbation. He’s saying you should do self-violence if you whack off (or “jill off”, which I suppose is the old-fashioned term for female masturbation.) Are you left-handed? Do people call you “Stumpy”?

          In addition, Jesus practically invented the concept of a permanent, eternal punishment in a place called “hell” reserved for those who do not think correct thoughts…ie, believe in his goddiness. How in the world can you look at those passages and NOT think them violent and aggressive?

          And FFS: the entire book of Revelation is nothing but violent revenge porn. Jesus is coming down with a flaming sword coming out of his mouth to kick ass and take names. Or do you think he’s going to turn the other cheek instead?

          Methinks you haven’t actually read the bible.

        • Glad2BGodless

          You’d think just once they would check for themselves before they throw down the gauntlet. But no.

        • No way does Jesus Christ EVER condone violence or aggression. NOT ONCE.

          Sell your cloak and buy a sword (Luke 22:36).

          More important: his dad was quite violent in the Old Testament.

          In the OT this is different, but then it is a less transformed era.

          And an unchanging God. The same violent God we see in the OT exists in the New Testament and now.

          It is the NT which is meant to be the template in this regard, so that “an eye for an eye” (remarkably for that era a restrained and limited vengeance) is not good enough, and instead we are commanded “but I (Jesus) say to you “love your enemies”.”

          You’re easily impressed. I have higher standards for the perfect creator of the universe.

        • magnolia

          You live out higher standards than “loving your enemies”? How’s that? (Maybe that should be “Howzat?”)

          I am a bit bored by the level of hermeneutic here so farewell.

        • If you have “love your enemies” as high morality, you should bring that up with the god of the Old Testament. He needs a refresher course.

        • Anri

          Damnation is violence-free?

          Who knew?

    • Hitler was appointed to his position, not elected. Also he created a dictatorship before making war. So this doesn’t count much, not that I buy democratic peace theory anyway.

  • Anthrotheist

    I can’t help but feel, especially after reviewing the comments here, that there is a whole lot of ambiguity in a statement like “Is war an invention?”. First and foremost, it seems, is clarifying “what is war?” and “is invention itself an inescapable part of human ‘nature’?”.

    Perhaps more useful would be the question, “what purpose does war fulfill, and can we get past either that purpose or war’s use in its completion?”, which of course correlates to the related question of religion. Unfortunately, it seems that there is almost certainly more than one reason for a society to wage war, just as there are multitudes of reasons for religion; moreover, the ancient purposes and goals of those activities may not in any way reflect their modern practices. That further confuses any consideration between the ancient and contemporary reasons and intentions.

    To give an example on religion: in learning about the Anthropology of religion, one thing that stuck with me was the essential definition of religion’s original purpose. The text illustrated how religion was a means of using familiar human social interactive practices to try and make sense of (and influence) natural phenomena. For example, if you want to get a neighbor to stop messing with your stuff, you appeal to that neighbor utilizing your understanding of his or her interests, desires, and personality. Assuming that the neighbor is more powerful than you are and you cannot intimidate or command their behavior, a gift or promise may be employed to win their acquiescence. Religion was framed as this type of behavior in an attempt to appeal to nature; over time, as personalities and desires were attributed to different aspects of nature, these aspects took on a social dimension that transcended the actual phenomena (they became supernatural).

    To bring this back around to the topic at hand, part of religion’s purpose has already been made obsolete: we no longer need to rely on religion to try and understand the world in which we live. Increasingly, attempting to use religious rituals to appeal to a supernatural agency of the universe is viewed as unproductive (at best). “Thoughts and prayers” are becoming increasingly unacceptable in response to tragedies, both natural and man-made (since, let’s be honest, there still are very few woman-made tragedies in the world). However, this ancient aspect of religion is now only part of religion’s purpose, and many of the other aspects of religion have not been made obsolete: community, reassurance over death, a sense of certainty regarding morality, etc.

    • Kodie

      Very well put. I wanted to say stuff like this but it sounded all over the place, and I am very late catching up. I feel like war is a tool and tools are invented, but lots of other animals have figured out that any hard surface might be useful as a hammer, or a stick can be used to dig or reach. For social creatures who build familial and tribal bonds, it’s not that far-fetched to figure out ganging up on another person or group is a way to get what you want. The tools used in warfare are far more sophisticated now, but I don’t think we could get away from the human tendency to want something and get it any way that works. Christianity is an invention like a cannon – it’s kind of specific to humans, the stories are made by humans, and it’s just one example. War is just the social/political tendency or ability to use our tribe to overpower another tribe, or by necessity, rally to defend our tribe from an invading tribe (or even just preparation against rumors). It might be that some societies are pacifist, but it doesn’t mean pacifism is in the hearts (so to speak) of everyone. Using available means to take what another has is pretty universal tendency among many species, and war is just the same thing, using some means, coercion, charisma, whatever, to get others to do it for you, or to join you and make you bigger. I was only meaning to add that religion is a thing like story-telling, only it is taken as fact instead of fiction. It shouldn’t be conflated with any particular religion, as I think we do get to a point where specifics are obviously inventions, but not necessarily intentional lies. Using the tool of religion is also invented, whether that is useful in persuading others to go to war, or anything else. If you can create a panic in your citizens, if you can use our invisible big brother told me we have to do this, rather than commanding it as a fellow human, I don’t think religion was created or came about for that purpose, but it is efficient and exploited for that also.