Who Started the Myth that Christianity Starts Wars?

I saw this quote on another blog today: "in fact, most wars and hate have been created throughout time by Christianity." It seems like I've been seeing this repeated a lot in the last year, and I often hear the quote attributed to Elton John (though I haven't found this quote associated with him on Google).

I call it a myth, because it's difficult to find support for the statement. Certainly, leaders have used religion to incite people to fight in a war, but what wars have been fought because of Christianity? This isn't trying to be a complete list of all wars, but it's the ones I can think of as I sit and type this evening.

  • Current Iraqi war. Maybe it's a fight over oil, maybe Bush wanted to finish the job from the 1st Gulf War, but there's no case that Bush started it because of religion.
  • Afghan war against the Taliban.After Bin Laden's attack on New York City, this was a revenge war, not a war started because of Christianity.
  • Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, and other wars in Africa. I don't know enough about them to say that they aren't religous wars started by Islam, but they don't look to be Christian-started wars. In
  • Serbia fighting in Bosnia, Kosovo, .... That looks like a racial war, not a religious one, as Serbia wanted land and influence for Serbs. Not started by Christianity
  • Indian-Pakistani conflicts. Looks more like a territorial fight over Kashmir, but I don't know how much religion is behind it. But not started by Christianity.
  • 1st Gulf War. Started by Saddam Hussein trying to create a greater Iraq, in the image of the Babylonian Empire, and this gave him land and more oil. Not started by Christianity.
  • 6-Day War and ongoing conflicts in Palestine, Syria. Ah, we have wars that are clearly religious in nature, but none of them are started by Christianity.
  • Vietnam. Political ideological war fought over power and influence, not started by Christianity.
  • Korean War. Also a political ideological war fought over power and influence, not started by Christianity.
  • Greek-Turkish war. I don't remember it so well, but it seemed like an ethnic fight as each wanted to make sure their countrymen on Cyprus were protected. Not started by Christianity.
  • Chinese Civil War was communist ideology fighting ... Chiang Kai-shek's pro-Business ideology. Religion and Christianity weren't involved.
  • World War II. There were lots of factors, but the Nazis gained power by blaming the German Depression on the Treaty of Versailles and the Jews. But wasn't it fueled more by personal ambition of the dictators, who really didn't have any religious ties? Not started by Christianity.
  • Spanish Civil War. This was a Fascist vs. Loyalist fight after the monarchy collapsed -- if I remember it right. The church and the army and Russia supported the Loyalist government, but the rebels who started the war weren't fighting for religious reasons. Not started by Christianity.
  • Italian/Ethiopian war. This was Mussolini trying to act like the new Caesar. Not started by Christianity.
  • Cuban Civil War, Nicaraguan War, Honduran War, Columbian War. These were all conflicts to help Business. Not started by Christianity.
  • Oh, I forgot about the Falkland Islands. No religious overtones there, just posturing. Not started by Christianity.
  • Russo-Japanese war. This was a war between Russia and Japan over rival ambitions to control Manchuria and Koria. Not started by Christianity.
  • The War of the Pacific.Here's my favorite one: a war between Chile and the Bolivian and Pervian alliance over Fertilizer (specifically guano). Not started by Christianity -- not even remotely!

Okay enough with all of the regional wars that I don't remember much about anyway. Let's hit the better-known ones (to Americans) that are mostly in Europe, since that's where Christianity would be on trial.

  • World War I. I kind of remember that it blew up because of treaties and was started because of ethnic divisions in the Balkans. Not started by Christianity.
  • Russian Revolution was a response to the Romanov dynasty and then another civil war when the new government wouldn't abandon World War I.
  • Spanish-American war. I don't remember any religion involved in this one. I do remember a story about Hearst using the conflict to sell newspapers and pushing McKinley into acting against Spain. Not started by Christianity.
  • American Civil War. The South seceded because they saw the central government increasingly controlled by the anti-slave forces, and they were convinced that they would be forced to give up slaves. To them, the slaves were valuable property that their economy was based on, just as other states' were based on factory machines. The north invaded to prevent the split. But one might be able to make a case that Christianity was involved. Christians in the north believed that slavery was an abomination, and Jesus would never return while slavery was being practiced, and Christians had pressed for the abolishment of slavery. So this one's a toss-up whether it was started by Christianity. And even if you want to lay this war at Christianity's feet, I'd have to argue that Christianity gets positive credit on this one.
  • War of 1812. This was a side effect of the British-French battle and came when the US declared war against the British in reaction to British actions against American ships. Not started by Christianity.
  • American-Indian Wars. These were wars as Americans looked to expand and take more of the best land for themselves, as well as the British saw America as a long-term threat and supported/persuaded the Indian tribes to fight to keep America's size in check. So not started by Christianity.
  • Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon wanted to own Europe -- he sure wasn't fighting to promote religion. Not started by Christianity.
  • French Revolution and American Revolution. Democratic ideals vs. a monarchy. Not started by Christianity.
  • 1600s and 1700s in Central Europe, there were continuing wars to gain land and power. Treaties and alliances seemed pretty temporal and based more on who was weak and strong than religion. Even countries/regions that were both Catholic would be fighting if it gave one an advantage. And, early on, even though Popes were involved, the Pope was more like a European military ruler and not like we think of them today. Not started by Christianity.
  • Spanish and British war (and other Spanish involvements). Okay, Phillip II was violently anti-Protestant and got involved in disastrous wars to fight Protestantism. Started by Christianity.
  • Lots of wars going on in Europe in the first half of the 2nd millenium, but it's hard to say that any were started by Christianity since most of Europe was Catholic. The Moors fighting what became Spain is likely religion-based, but I don't remember how those wars started.
  • The Crusades. There were several Crusades, but really only the first one had any fighting in the Middle East, if I recall. According to the history I remember, the Muslims permitted pilgrimages to Palestine, but they'd started harassing pilgrims. The Pope was weak but figured that he could gain prestige and influence if he would lead some type of popular movement like a war against the Muslims. Another reason was that churches and monasteries were getting destroyed during fights in Europe, so this would move that aggression somewhere else. The Kings supported it because they didn't go -- but they sent Barons and other nobles who were causing trouble back home for them. So even the Crusades, though popularly regarded as a Christian Holy War, were started by impious motives. Not started by Christianity (but fueled by Christianity).
  • Persian-Greek wars.
  • Mongol invasion.
  • Before that, during the time of the Roman Empire, it sure didn't expand for any religious reasons, and the Barbarians (Huns, Vikings, Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks) who invaded it weren't driven by religion. Not started by Christianity.
  • And before that ... well, there wasn't any Christianity, was there?

So overall, I'd say that most wars are started as a method to secure fortune and land and influence. Christianity as a source for war is barely a blip. In fact, I'll leave this as an exercise to the reader, but when you think of the tenets of Christianity and all of the powerful people who have been influenced by it, Christianity has had an overall positive effect on the world (especially considering the greedy, selfish, and hateful state that seems to be mankind's nature and which is opposite what Christianity promotes). Gotta wonder how many wars have been averted because a ruler was acting like a Christian.