Did more people die in religious wars than other kinds of wars?
I often hear people complain that "more people died in religious wars than any other way." That is plain false. Let us consider the following deaths in this century caused by non-religious conflict where the leaders all claimed they did not believe in God.
61,911,000 Murdered: The Soviet Gulag State
35,236,000 Murdered: The Communist Chinese Ant Hill
20,946,000 Murdered: The Nazi Genocide State
10,214,000 Murdered: The Depraved Nationalist Regime
5,964,000 Murdered: Japan's Savage Military
2,035,000 Murdered: The Khmer Rouge Hell State
1,883,000 Murdered: Turkey's Genocidal Purges
1,670,000 Murdered: The Vietnamese War State
1,585,000 Murdered: Poland's Ethnic Cleansing
1,072,000 Murdered: Tito's Slaughterhouse
1,663,000 Murdered? Orwellian North Korea
1,417,000 Murdered? Barbarous Mexico
1,066,000 Murdered? Feudal Russia 1
All of the leaders of these regimes claimed they did not believe in God. These were not religious wars, they were fueled by plain old power and hatred.
Let us never dismiss religion as a pathway to peace. And for me as a Catholic, I especially encourage us not to dismiss Jesus' wishes to honour his Church. (Mat 16:18)
The great thinker George Weigel writes about a French theologian who has done a lot of thinking about the decline of Europe: 2
Henri de Lubac was one of 20th-century Catholicism's most distinguished theologians. Like other Europeans who had witnessed the Continent's travail during the first four and a half decades of the century, Father de Lubac was haunted by the question, "What happened?" Or, perhaps more to the point, "Why had what happened, happened?"
Father de Lubac was fascinated by the history of ideas, which he knew to be fraught with "real world" consequences. Thus, during the early 1940s, he turned his attention to some of the most influential intellectual figures in pre-20th century European culture. The result was a book, "The Drama of Atheistic Humanism", which argued that the civilizational crisis in which Europe found itself during World War II was the product of a deliberate rejection of the God of the Bible in the name of authentic human liberation.
This, de Lubac suggested, was a great reversal. In the classical world, the gods, or Fate, played games with men and women, often with lethal consequences. In the face of these experiences, the revelation of the God of the Bible -- the self-disclosure in history of the one God who was neither a willful tyrant (to be avoided) nor a carnivorous predator (to be appeased) nor a remote abstraction (to be safely ignored) -- was perceived as a great liberation. Human beings were neither the playthings of the gods nor the passive victims of Fate. Because they could have access to the one true God through prayer and worship, those who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus could bend history in a humane direction. History was thus an arena of responsibility and purpose.
Yet what biblical man had perceived as liberation, the proponents of atheistic humanism perceived as bondage. Human freedom could not co-exist with the God of Jews and Christians. Human greatness required rejecting the biblical God, according to atheistic humanism.
This, Father de Lubac argued, was something new. This was not the atheism of skeptical individuals. This was atheistic humanism -- atheism with a developed ideology and a program for remaking the world. As a historian of ideas, de Lubac knew that bad ideas can have lethal consequences. At the heart of the darkness inside the great mid-20th century tyrannies [of] communism, fascism, Nazism, Father de Lubac discerned the lethal effects of the marriage between modern technology and the ideas borne by atheistic humanism.
He summed up the results of this misbegotten union in these terms: "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man." That is what the tyrannies of the mid-20th century had proven -- ultramundane humanism is inevitably inhuman humanism. And inhuman humanism cannot neither sustain nor defend the democratic project. It can only undermine it or attack it. .
1. Stats from:
2. Address to Gregorian University, Dec. 2004