Were many of the religious wars really about religion? And is there such thing as a just war? This article is about the idea that war is caused by religion.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1996. 2 pages.

The Beatles, Religion, and War

When I see all the wars religion has caused, I don’t want to be a Christian

One of The Beatles most popular songs affirms that all you need is love. The late John Lennon, who sang

all we are saying
is give peace a chance,

also tried to imagine a world in which there would be no heaven or war. These senti­ments both expressed and contributed to the anti­establishment and anti-war themes of the late 60s and early 70s. They are also evi­dent in the objection: "when I see all the wars religion has caused, I don't want to be a Christian". This objection, however, appears to be stronger than it really is, al­though it relates in part to the larger question of the existence of evil.

An Absurd Conclusion🔗

The objection begins with an assertion that religion has caused many wars. It is certainly true that there are conflicts which seem to be directly traceable to religious conflict. The wars of religion which followed the Reformation in Europe and the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland are examples of this. However, a closer examination of these conflicts reminds us that things are rarely as simple as they seem.

The period prior to the great spiritual and theological move­ment known as the Reformation and the Catholic reaction known as the Counter Refor­mation included both political and religious elements. Protes­tant rulers fought to preserve and establish the Reformation and its liberties, whilst Catholic rulers fought to regain their influence and to reassert the Roman Catholic Church's domination in Europe. The story of Ireland's relationship with Britain, including Ulster, similarly combines the volatile mix of religious belief and questions of cultural and na­tional identity. While there are elements of religious conflict involved, other factors such as political and national concerns are also evident.

The recent past demonstrates that some wars have also been fought for other and largely non-religious reasons. Conflict­ing nationalisms produced the Great War. Assertions of na­tional independence have re­sulted in numerous post-Colonial wars of independence and the continuing conflict be­tween Russia and the Chechens. Similarly, political, ethnic and even tribal disputes have pro­duced the violent conflicts in Kwa-Zulu/Natal, the war and war crimes in Bosnia Herzego­vina and the appalling genocide in Rwanda and, increasingly, Burundi.

It would be clearly absurd to argue that on the basis of these conflicts there is good ground for withdrawing from political, cultural or national interests. It is equally absurd to argue that, because there has been, or there can be, a relig­ious dimension to the waging of war, there is therefore good reason for abandoning any concern for religious truth in general and the Christian faith in particular.

Christian Virtues and War🔗

The major assumption of this objection is that war and religion (and in this context the Christian faith) are incompati­ble, so that the validity of Christianity and its claims is undermined because of the fact of war. This assumption how­ever is itself invalid. In various places the Bible condemns the motive and conduct of war — as in the Lord's word against Assyrian pride and expansion­ism (Isaiah 10:5-19), and the announcement of his judgement upon the house of Jehu (Hosea 1:5). But it nowhere condemns war in itself. Indeed, to take one example, Solomon in his prayer of dedication recognises what is taught elsewhere, that warfare is an expression of God's right­eous anger and a means by which he advances his re­demptive purpose (1 Kings 8:33). Similarly, the possibility of rulers properly waging war is a legitimate application of Paul's teaching about the rights and responsibilities of those who do bear the sword (Romans 13:1-7).

War is always a terrible ca­lamity for a people, but it is sometimes a sad necessity. It might be necessary, for example, to engage in war because of considerations of Christian duty, such as self-defence, concern for the welfare of the weak, and the assertion and maintenance of justice and righteousness. The war waged against the evil and godless values of the forces of Nazism by nations which were moulded to some degree by Christian values is an example of such a war. In such cases, the long and honourable Christian doctrine of The Just War should be applied.

This doctrine teaches that a war is just if it is declared by a legitimate authority; is waged for a just reason; is intended to bring about a just and better end; and is waged as a last resort. It would also be prosecuted with proper attention to the principles of dis­crimination (in only targeting military targets and in attempts to avoid or keep to the minimum non combative casualties) and pro­portion (so that only sufficient force as is necessary to achieve a proper end is used and only for as long as it necessary). The conduct of such a war would be tempered by the Christian values of justice, compassion, service and self-restraint.


The fundamental problem pre­sented by this objection, however, is that of the unwillingness of an unregenerate person to recognise his/her standing before God and to consider the claims of Christ as the Saviour they need. This is only to be expected. The natural man is at root both hostile to and afraid of God. Consequently any objection which might appear to give some relief will be adopted and ad­vanced.

This reminds us that we cannot argue a person into the kingdom of God. All we can do is to attempt to answer their objections, to present them with reasons for faith and to present them with the challenge of Christ. And pray.

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