Was there ever a war because of religion?

I’m very anti-religion myself and have in the past claimed that religion is the cause of war but I’m not sure I agree with myself. It’s obviously true that there has been religions justification for a lot of wars, but the actual cause for the war is usually found in the real world, not the imagined ones. Such as real estate, succession, natural resources etc etc.

In fact I am starting to wonder if there are any out-right wars where the main cause of conflict was religious and not a more earthly one. Of course this is hard to answer factually, which is why I post the question here rather than in the GQ forum.

The Crusades would be a good example of a series of wars with religion as a major cause.

I predict a long and pointless thread where various people define ‘religious cause’ in ways that:

1 can’t cause a war
2 might cause a war, and
3 must cause wars

accompanied by a discussion which sheds no light on the topic.


The Catholic-Protestant wars for certain, though one might argue that it was fundamentally a war between those who wanted to separate from the might of the Pope than anything else. (All wars, religious or no, won’t happen unless one side sees a real-world benefit to it. Religion is a handy demarcation for teams to form on.)

Even though I expected this to be the first example brought up, I’m not completely sure that religion was the main cause of the crusades and hope that someone who knows more about that part of history will contribute. It also happened a millennium ago. There has been plenty of wars since, so for the argument that religion causes wars (and not only helps justify them) to be considered relevant there should be more recent examples.

Your prediction really adds nothing to the thread and other than shitting on me or the idea for discussion I see no point to it.

The thirty year war was about a lot of things, such as succession and economy, and seems to have been mainly about territorial expansion and consolidation of power in a fractured Europe. I think you could argue that the war would have happened even if religion was removed from the equation, but once again I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about it to make that argument with any certainty.

See? With people it’s very hard to tease out single triggers for complex events.

Yes, that is the main point of the discussion. :wink:

You can always argue whether something was the main cause, just look at the ACW and slavery. And yes there is always an argument to be made that the religious aspect is just a front for power hungry schemists.

Regardless I think you can point to wars where religion was a big big BIG factor.
Although they would be limited to that one religion, that believes there’s only one god, and it’s derivatives.

To name a few;
Conquest of Canaan. (If that actually went the way it says in the Bible).
Unification of Israel.
Jewish revolt against the Romans.
Inter-Roman wars over Christianity ( Arbogast, Theodosius)
Islamic conquest wars.
Carolingian wars against the Saxons.
The Reconquista.
Albigensian crusades.

and on…

Then aside from actual war there is also a minor matter of persecutions, isn’t there?
War is not the only form of violence.

Not really. The First one was launched because the Pope was weary of Christian nations infighting, which had very nasty consequences and could really have spelled doom in the long term, through plagues and starvation. So he pointed His [del]finger[/del]crozier and yelled “hey, guys, look ! Over there ! Go fetch !”.

The later ones were clearly financial endeavours - securing trade from the Levant, claiming or reclaiming titles there, looting rich Muslim cities and ransoming their nobles… there was even a kind of “pioneer” spirit going on, because unlike Western kingdoms where the social order was firmly and durably established, the Crusader kingdoms had something of a meritocracy working for them. A minor heir, 28th in the line of succession back in England could become a baron in the Holy Lands, through force of arms alone. ETA : And of course, the last ones were pretty much only motivated by antagonisms caused by the earlier ones, and wills of revenge.

I wouldn’t say no individual crusader ever took the Cross for religious reasons - some of them really were pious and sought redemption via death wish, others really did believe they could enter Heaven by spilling enough Muslim blood, and others still really reckoned protecting pilgrims was a noble endeavour to volunteer to. But the Crusades themselves weren’t really religious affairs.

The term “The Crusades” covers over half a century of military activity, depending on how you want to define the term. But there’s no question that the First Crusade would not have happened without religion, specifically:

[li]Pope Urban II’s 1095 preaching tour, complete with rhetoric about the infidel seizing the Holy Land[/li][li]the specific guarantee of remission from sin for those who bore the cross to the Holy Land[/li][li]the support of the church for all who took up the cross - not only spiritual, but financial[/li][li]the diplomatic involvement of the church, specifically in the person of Bishop Adhemar of Puy[/li][li]the deep religious faith of the majority of the participants, as seen in the Miracle of the Holy Lance and the willingness of the rank and file to force their leaders to march on Jerusalem rather than consolidate territrory.[/li][/ul]

The key point is that Alexius Comnenus’ original letter to Urban II had merely been a request for some military aid to help Byzantium fight the Turks. He was, according to all sources (including his daughter) genuinely astounded when tens of thousands of western Europeans (some knights, some unarmed peasants) rocked up to his city and asked for directions to Jerusalem. Sure, some were adventurous younger sons, and some were bandits on the make (and some were con-artists who found themselves reaping the whirlwind) but the vast majority of Crusaders genuinely believed that: a) Jerusalem was a holy city, b) that they were going to go to hell when they died and c) that by freeing Jerusalem from the infidel they would please God and win remission from eternal punishment.
On preview, I see that I’m in disagreement with Kobal2. I won’t entirely disagree that Urban had his own reasons for encouraging a Crusade but the reason that he had the authority to say “Go fetch!” was because of religion, the reason people went was because of religion, and the reason he though it was better for Christians to fight infidels than each other was because of religion. If you subtract religion from the equation, the First Crusade doesn’t happen.

Could the Crusades have had just a little bit to do with the Muslims having come and taken the Holy Land, invaded Spain, and Eastern Europe? The Europeans didn’t just go crazy one day and attack the region for no reason.

I’d say that while few if any wars happened strictly as a matter of religion, there are a lot of wars that could not have happened without religion. Religion just happens to be a very good tool for organizing large groups of people and getting them to do things that are not in their personal interest.

I’d say religion “causes” wars in much the same way that ethnicity and nationality “causes” wars: by acting as the means of self-identification around which people rally.

The natural consequence is that the removal of religion as a factor will not necessary decrease warfare, as people with simply rally around some other means of differentiating “them” from “us”; for 20th century examples, nationalism and political ideology. You don’t need religion to have a “crusade” - you can have an equally bitter “crusade” against (or for) Communism, or the German “volk”.

Yes, there has been. After the foundation of Islam, Muslims believed that they had a divine justification for spreading their religion by conquest. Consequently they fought a series of wars, first to unite the Arab tribes, then to conquer Iraq, then to take Palestine and Syria from the Byzantine Empire, then expanding both eastward into central Asia and westward across northern Africa, and finally into Spain and France, with the goal of destroying Christianity. If the Christian army had not prevailed at The Battle of Tours in 732, it would probably have been the end of western civilization.

That’s a particularly clear example because there wasn’t any political power in the area of Mecca and Medina that was using Islam as a justification for war. The inhabitants of those areas did not seem to have any expansionist tendencies until Islam swept the area. For the later Muslim attacks against Christian Europe, such as The invasion of Sicily in 827, the attack on Naples in 831, the attack on Rome in 849, The Invasion of Sardinia in 1015, the attempts to conquer Greece throughout the ninth and tenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire’s attack on Italy in 1571, and the Ottoman invasions of central Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries could conceivably be pinned on a drive for power rather than purely religious motives, but it would be hard to ignore the Islamic world’s long history of waging war on non-Muslims as a cause.

(I would argue that it’s a cause of the Crusades as well, since by the tail end of the 11th century the Muslims had made it clear that they were not interested in peace with Christian Europe. Hence it was entirely reasonable for Europe to respond by deciding that they’d rather fight the war in the Middle East than at home. While European forces didn’t succeed in permanently retaking Palestine, they did succeed in putting Islamic forces on the defensive for several centuries.)

Yes, there was a relationship there. And a big part of the reason for the Muslims invading territory like that was to spread Islam, i.e., a religious reason.

Nonsense, I think you seriously underestimate the power of the Church over medieval minds. Whether religion was the casus belli or just the major tool used to propagate the conflict it makes no difference, religion was at the center so it’s a religious war.

Bingo. Its Deja vu all over again with the Christian world’s attack on Afghanistan, summoned by the de facto leader of the Christian world, not the pope this time but the American president.

My history isn’t too good, but an Albigensian crusade is the example that came to my mind of a clearly religious war.

And do the recent Wars of Serbia vs. Bosnia and Kosovo count? They probably wouldn’t have occurred if the Balkan Muslims had converted to Christianity centuries ago (or vice versa).

I hope I don’t “hijack” the thread, but I’ve always been intrigued that the Abrahamic religions lead to wars but not, say, Buddhism. (Has there ever been a Buddhist-inspired war? Is this related to the fact that Buddhists don’t really “believe in God” in the sense that Abrahamists do?)

The book “Zen at War” discusses the role of Buddhist institutions in Japan actively supporting and encouraging Japan’s expansionism prior to WW2.


All war in the end is about control of resources and the acquisition of wealth on the part of a few represented by priests and politicians. Religion (and politics) opiates the masses to point where the idea of killing or being killed by someone they don’t know makes sense.