Doesn’t Religion Cause Conflict?

Quick Questions about Christianity

There is no denying it. Religious differences can cause—and have caused—all manner of conflict, violence and evil between humans on every level. Nevertheless, this by itself proves very little about the rightness or wrongness of religious belief in general or about Christianity in particular. After all, countries frequently go to war in the name of justice and honour—but this doesn’t mean that justice and honour are bad ideas. Similarly it isn’t uncommon for people to commit murder in the name of love—but this doesn’t mean we should abandon the idea of love.

In reality, religious conflict tells us less about religion and more about human nature. Humans are capable of turning on each other for all kinds of reasons: historical, racial, cultural and personal—as well as religious. In fact some of the worst atrocities committed within the last century were carried out under regimes hostile to religion in the name of national and international socialism. In general, humans will fight about anything they feel strongly about from politics to carparking spaces.[1] Religion simply provides a good place to start a fight because so much hangs on which one is right.

In general, humans will fight about anything they feel strongly about from politics to carparking spaces.

The right question then is not, “does religion cause conflict?”, but rather, “can anything be done about human conflict?” And here, God’s word, the Bible has some helpful perspectives.

1. Humans often fight because they Won’t trust God.

At the heart of much human violence and vindictiveness is the conviction that it is up to us to make our own way and create our own justice. By rejecting God and trying to live our own way, we have in effect become our own gods. The problem is that we must now compete with every other human who is also trying to be god. We fight and become more and more fragmented as we each try to establish our view of right and wrong and defend our own cause in this world. We convert justice into revenge and lose all sense of proportion. The first example of this in the Bible can be found in the boast of Lamech (grandson of Cain) who declares that his justice – killing a man for injuring him—is seventy times better than the justice promised by God to his grandfather.

“I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
(Gen 4:23-24)

2. BAD religion can hurt, Christian Faith can help.

Now some religions and cultural movements can pander to this human tendency—especially those which divide the world into good people (on our side) and bad or stupid people (against us). Tribalism is natural. We all, both as individuals and groups, like to build ourselves up by judging others. Even we who call ourselves Christians are far from immune.

Some religions and cultural movements pander to this human tendency to build ourselves up by judging others.

But true Christianity insists that, whatever has been done to us by other people, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to God: we’re all sinners; all hypocrites; all deserving of condemnation; all in need of mercy. Because of this, Jesus likens our judging of each other to a person with a log in his eye pointing to another person with a speck in theirs (Matt 7:3-5). Or, on another occasion, he compares it to a person who has been forgiven a debt of a millions attacking someone who owes them a few cents (Matt 18:21-35).

3. God’s forgiveness brings peace between people

The Christian gospel tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus and find another way—not condemning and being condemned by other people, but acknowledging our own sin and receiving forgiveness through the death of God’s Son. If we truly grasp this, the Bible says, it will begin to kill the roots of violence, making us:

  • willing to forgive others as God has forgiven us (Eph 4:32);
  • able to wait for God’s justice when we can’t get it in this world (1Pet 2:21-22);
  • confident that God will take care of us, even when people mistreat us (Rom 8:31-39);
  • aware that our identity is not in our ethnicity, culture or history but in Jesus (Eph 2:12-16);
  • patient with opponents, knowing that any advantage we have come only from the mercy of God…

For we ourselves were once foolish … passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.
(Titus 3:3-5)

Image: “Les Misères et les Mal-Heures de la Guerre”, Jacques Callot, 1633

[1] Or even more bizarre causes. Those who need convincing might like to search for details on: The Franco-Mexican Pastry War; The War of Jenkin’s Ear; The Al-Basus War and The Battle of Karansebes.