Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reason's Greetings

There is a really strange group of people who hold with religious fervor the tenet that all war is the result of religion. Adherents to this belief have faith that, if mankind simply discarded religion for reason; there would be an evolution in the world spirit that leads to a state of eternal peace.

The statement is essentially that war is the product of religion. If we replaced religion with reason, there would no longer be war.

I feel like tossing a sabot in the machine.

When I read history, it appears that the irreligious are as likely, if not more likely, to go to war than the religious. Of course, since one finds religions on every corner of the earth; it is possible to frame a religion as the reason for any given war.

It is all but impossible to argue a person away from a religious tenet. Atheists would simply accuse me of framing the irreligious for participating in the various communist revolutions that were theoretically based on pure reason.

No, making arguments about specific wars just leads to shrill noise; So, I wish to toss my sabot at one of the central premises of the argument.

The term "reason," of course, simply refers to whatever ideas spurred people to action. Historically, everyone who has agitated for war has done so with a reason in mind.

As we argue about the reasons for war, one cannot help but realize that, if there is a reason for every war, then "reason," is somehow a common attribute to all wars.

If there is even one war where religion is not the reason for the war; then one might come to the horrible realization that "reason" is the cause of war.

This really throws in doubt the supposition that we could get rid of war if we replaced religion with reason.

If reason is the cause of war; some might reason that we could live in harmony with nature if only we learned to discard reason. You will actually find a very large number of people in our society trying to do just this.

I contend, however, that the statement: "if we discard reason we will return to harmony with nature" is flawed.

The ability to reason is part of the nature of man. Denying one's nature does not restore harmony with nature.

Sadly many people, at this point, throw up their hands in despair.

There is hope. I believe that it is possible for us to improve our method of reasoning to reduce the likelihood of war. The path is difficult. There are many paradoxes and ancient hatreds that mar the path peace. (An example of paradox is that one cannot stop war simply by surrendering as the propensity to surrender invites invasions. As for ancient hatreds, we find that the current wars in the Middle East seem to be part of a continuing conflict that reaches back to ancient wars between the Ancient Greeks and Persians.)

The secret to reducing war is to realize that there are different types of reasoning. There is sound and unsound reasoning. If our goal is to stop war, then the better path to blaming wars on religion would be to explore the foundations of our system of reason and to improve our rational skills.


Anonymous said...

I agree, but it's very difficult to do with those caught up in religious zealotry. In fact, the "reason" religion probably shoulders most of the blame for our wars is that too many are willing to bastardize their own beliefs to justify their own flawed "reasoning" for a war or a political advance.

Prop 8 is a fine example. The slippery slope "reasoning" has little logic to it, yet those in opposition were more than happy to spread the memo around, and back it up with their own faith.

It's the same type of thinking we are currently battling in the war on terror as well.

Scott Hinrichs said...

For the religion=war crowd, I suppose they can argue that Hitler wouldn't have had to murder millions of people were it not for those *&#@ Jews.

y-intercept said...


Personally, I think the reason that we (people living in a country deeply influenced by Christian ideals) keep hearing accusations that religion is the cause of war is because Christianity holds peace and sanctity of life as ideals.

Christianity has a long tradition of people doing everything they could to stop war. They stopped some, but could not stop all war. Accusing Christianity of being the source of war has two cutting edges. First it rubs in the failure to stop war, and it opens the door to claiming Christians are hypocrites.

Accusations only have effect when one accuses people of things considered a vice. Accusing someone of committing a virtue has no affect. Try accusing a daytrader of greed or accusing Hugh Hefner of adultery. The accusations are meaningless when the accused holds the essence of the accusation as a virtue.

Atheists hate when you accuse them of poor reasoning. Progressives hate when you accuse them of closed-mindedness.

The Tom Paine portion of the American Atheist movement is based on the notion that Christains have been unable to achieve Christian ideals because of their religion.

The atheists who hold that they irreligion is a better path to achieving Christian ideals than Christianity face the problem that without Christianity, the ideals are no longer held in esteem.

There are other anti-Christian views. The Hegelian/Marxist likes to force change through thesis/antithesis conflicts. They encourage attacks on Christianity with the hope that the agitation will lead to change.

Machiavelli was anti-Christian. His gig was that Christian ideals were wrong headed. He believed that society needed to adopt the virtues of ancient Rome. Machiavelli thought Florence needed to be more warlike to relive the glories of ancient Rome.

Anonymous said...

FOR GOD SAKES MAN DON’T THROW YOUR SABOT IN THE MACHINE! If you do, you will be left with only one sabot! Let me point out that it is December.

War is not a product of religion, but religion is a predisposing factor for war. Just as lung cancer is not a product of smoking, smoking is a predisposing factor for lung cancer. Religion by its very nature, discounts this horrible existence of pain and suffering for a paradise in heaven, and makes it all the easier to accept the mortal consequences associated with war. At the same time it makes smiting your enemy all the more savory by believing that you are sending him to damnation in hell. Actually the sadder consequence of religion is the self fulfilling behavior that it encourages of trashing this planet because what is important is in the hereafter. What would be really awesome, is if the religulous, like the atheists, valued the future on a timescale longer than takes to make it to heaven.

y-intercept said...

AC said "Religion by its very nature ..."

Sorry AC,

But all of the "religion=war" arguments hinge on contorted definitions of religion. Many atheists simply define 'religion' as every false superstion. Their seemingly insightful declaration that "religion is nothing but false superstition" is nothing but a tautology that ignores the important fact that everyone has some sort of belief system. This is part of behing human.

Believing in things other than religion can get people in trouble. If you believe in evolution, you can quickly arrive at the point where you decide that killing large numbers of people is good.

Americans have aborted some 40 million in the prebirth state.

Machiavelli hated religion but he loved war as war allowed the prince to show his virtue. Most war is about controlling people and getting rid of enemies.

The Black Book of Communism details the hundreds of millions of people slaughtered for scientific socialism.

Most war and killing is based on the very logical observation that if you kill an enemy that enemy is gone ... forever.

BTW, I would agree with the argument that there are aspects of religion that lead to war and that certain religious beliefs can make war worse once it gets going.

Of course, the escalation of war is not unique to religion.

Conversely, there are aspects of religion that relieve suffering during war and occasions when religious forces have actually been able to ease wars to an early end.

NOTE, as it is impossible to count wars that were averted, it is not possible to say if Christianity was a net contributor to the number of wars in existence or a net reducer.

The only firm conclusion I've come to on this issue is that radicalization of religion can lead to war.

This problem, however, is not unique to religion. You can radicalize any number of ideas (including pragmatism) and end up in war. So this is a property of radicalization and not of religion.

Radicalization is a process where one contorts definitions to set one group off from other groups.

From my perspective, I see the process of contorting the definition of religion in ways that make statements like "religion=war" to be more problematic than religion.

Dean said...

Its telling that the blogger does not quote or source "Adherents to this belief." Perhaps y-intercept is just creating a straw man to rally the poor oppressed christians.

Let me just give you a basic foundation for why religion must necessarily lead to war: Because religion is based on faith, and faith is the acceptance of a belief without evidence, there is no way to show or convince one of the "truth" of one's belief except by the barrel of a gun.

Thus if the proper survival and/or salvation of mankind depends on the truth of your belief, and the existence of those that do not believe the same hinder that goal, what else is there to do but to kill the non-believer -- afterall, the fate of all mankind is at stake!

y-intercept said...


It's always fun to see an accusation of a strawman argument followed by a strawman argument.

That's called projection.

Your statement "religion must necessarily lead to war" means atheists must get rid of the religious for there to be peace.

This is precisely the reasoning used in the last center to kill hundreds of millions of people. Read "Death by Government" and "The Black Book of Communism" for the body counts.

In secular America, we've aborted some 50 million babies. That's a large pile of dead people that's not the result of "religion."

The drug war in Mexico has taken more lives than 140 years of the Spanish Inquisition.

When I look at the history of war, and read the death counts, I find that most wars about people wanting to dominate other people. Religion is often just a rationalization, not the core reason.

BTW: A blog is not an academic article. Blogging is about recording one's personal oberservations.

In this case I blogged on a theme I heard repeated in a series of private conversations. People I know repeated a common theme of atheists.

Dean said...

You have transformed your straw man into a false dichotomy.

Your statement that my statement "religion must necessarily lead to war" means atheists must get rid of the religious for there to be peace is false.

Even though religion must lead to war, this does not mean that the absence of religion guarantees peace. There are many causes of war. Religion is a special cause for reasons hinted at in first comment.

On Communism: Although many atheists are communists, communism does not preclude theism. Many christian sects interpret Jesus' teachings as the basis for a communist system, e.g., the Maryknolls and Liberation Theology.

On abortion: Your statement reveals a common misunderstanding of atheism. Atheism is simply an absence of belief in a god or gods. It does not propose or advance a particular ideology in itself. There are many atheists, including myself, that are pro-life. The difference between us and the theists is we can arrive at that position without any claim to supernatural knowledge.

y-intercept said...

The dichotomy flows directly from your statement. If it is true that "religion must necessarily lead to war" then getting rid of religion is a precondition for having peace.

As for the strawman argument claim, the effort to equivocate religion and war was part of the 2008 Reason's Greeting campaign. Here is another blogger talking on the issue in 2008.

That they 2010 campaign is different than the 2008 campaign does not make a post I wrote about the 2008 campaign in 2008 a "straw man argument."

BTW, The 2010 Reason's Greetings campaign is a silly thing with the talking point "Christmas is a Myth."

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disillusion, but all war is about MONEY and power. Religion is used as a cover to evoke hatred and coerce people to join in your supposedly "Riteous War" In reality, if you want to know the reson for almost anything, follow the money. If you can't find the money trail, look harder behind the scenes and you'll find it.

Religeon is what saves humanity from disolving into chaos. It's not untill you deal with other cultures not based on a Christian ethic that you see the difference. Ideas of Chivalry, all men being created equal, the right to speak, etc etc are all Christian ideals. They are not the natural order of the wild. "Nature, Mr Alnut, is what we were put on this earth to rise above"

y-intercept said...

The statement that money is the cause of war can easily be disproved because there were wars before the modern concept of money.

Monied interests tend to seek to avoid war. War, after all, destroys one's assets and creates risk.

It is rare to have wars between nations with robust trade. There have been studies on this, but I don't have time to look them up.

There is more truth to the statement that war is about power. Of course that statement is a tautology because the people fighting a war either gain or lose power.

The statement that people seeking to gain power through war often use religion is true and I've written blog posts on that.

There have been cases where religions have used war to advance their influence. This was especially true in the colonial era.

It is more common to see power mongers using religion to advance war than to see religions encouraging the state to go to war.