Religion and Conflict


Religion has been at the root of many conflicts and wars over the centuries, shouldn’t we just dump it and get on with our lives in the 21st Century?

It is all too easy to be simplistic in our analysis of such situations.  Here are some points to think about.

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1. Religious wars are rarely, if ever, purely religious

Whether we look at the Crusades, the wars of the Reformation, the conquest of Latin America, or Northern Ireland, we find that the causes of these conflicts are more to do with power, politics and economics than religion, even if religion is used to fuel the combatants’ zeal.

It is impossible to say, for example, how Philip II was motivated when he launched the Spanish Armada. Without doubt he was driven by his zeal for his faith, but with hindsight we would question whether he was truly motivated by God. Could he have behaved differently? It’s difficult to say. How could such a man in such a position even think himself into a different way of being? Like all of us, he was heavily conditioned by his culture, and blinkered from receiving the further light of God’s truth.

2. Is this what God intended for religion?

It is therefore pertinent to ask whether this is what God intended for religion. The fact that Christians – along with those of other faiths – have besmirched the name of God should not necessarily be held against him. If we agree that God, on the whole, does not condone ‘religious wars’, then perhaps that should cause us to focus more keenly on what he does want, rather than on giving up all together.

3. Shouldn’t God control his church more tightly?

Surely, however, if God has any influence on ‘his people’ then he ought to bear some responsibility for what they do. Why can’t he simply make them better people? According to the Christian faith, God is very generous with his gift of free will. Both before and after we become Christians we have the continuing option as to whether we will allow more or less of him into our lives. Our freedom is a quality of life that God prizes very highly in the world he’s created. The failures of the church, including the failure to rise above our culture and the failure to be open to God’s Spirit, all cause tremendous grief in the heart of the Creator God. Yet, for him to become a ‘fat controller’ and us to become robots is even more unacceptable.

4. Can we be trusted with religion?

Lord Acton said: ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ We can see this in almost every institution, including the church. It is amazing, therefore, that God entrusts us with the business of religion: we make such a mess of it and handle power so badly. Yet we do this in every other area too, and the reason, in theological terms, is called ‘original sin.’ We handle politics badly; we handle scientific progress badly; we handle art badly; we handle education badly. In all these areas and more there is abuse, neglect, unnecessary war and conflict. Yet still God trusts us with them. The challenge, therefore in every generation, is to address them in a godly manner, with true humanity and true godliness.

5. After all, we don’t ‘just dump’ politics!

People say we should ‘just dump religion’, but why don’t they say it about any other area of life? Politics, economics, social ideals, family loyalties all cause war – and probably much more so than religion. Furthermore, religion has probably done as much as, if not more than, all of them to promote peace. We don’t dump these aspects of life, so why should religion be dumped?

No. Religion should not be dumped, but it needs to be challenged afresh in every generation by true faith and by the Spirit of the living God.

Part of the material contained within this page is copyright © 2003 Richard Dormandy