“It is a fact that religion was the motivator of only 7% of all of histories wars.”
This kind of thing gets said all the time, but it seems pretty darn difficult to me to prove this so specifically. I told Paige, I would love love love to see how that statistic was made. Has somebody actually got a list of every war in the history of mankind? And then counted them all up? Decided what’s a ‘war’ and what’s… a skirmish/conflict/police action? And THEN decided whether religion was the deciding motivator or cause? Because frankly, I have to admit, I’m hugely skeptical of this.
There’s no such thing as historical consensus. Professional historians spend their lives arguing over causality. No historian is going to say THIS war was motivated by religion, and THIS war wasn’t. They might say religion was A motivator. But I think it’d be completely impossible to make a list of every ‘war’ ever, and then comprehensively go through them and decide absolutely whether religion was the motivator for each. Isn’t going to happen.
That isn’t a fact that I could believe without seeing some serious evidence to back it up.
In response, Paige linked me to a 1400 encyclopedia on war and American society, but couldn’t give me a specific citation, so I was left to wonder… was this is a statistic directly stated in the book somewhere? That book could very well be a valid and worthwhile source, I’m not questioning its historical accuracy, because I’ve never read it. But surely you understand the immensely complicated nature of causation? You can’t just read a list of wars on a chart somewhere and decide that war A was caused by religion and war B wasn’t. Or take the word of whoever made the chart.
Historians spend a lot of time trying to work through the nuance of these wars… E.H. Carr, a pretty well known historian, wrote in the 1960s that the main job of historians is to decide on causes, and then rank them in order of importance. Obviously, then, (if you believe this to be the main task of historians, which quite a lot of historians disagree with) the causes, and their relative importance, are up to the individual historian to discern and argue for. Does the linked Encyclopedia argue that there exists consensus among historians over the cause of every war? If it does, it’s wrong. Completely and absolutely.
I can’t think of any war to my knowledge that has ONE cause. Events like those tend to be big, complicated, nuanced things, with multiple possible causes, both religious and non-religious… the only way any of this classification would even make sense is if one said something like x% of wars were in some way related to religious issues.
I’m pretty confident I could list you 150 wars that have religion among their causes. I’m pretty sure I could list you twice as many. The problem with doing so is that it’d be impossible to decide whether it’s THE cause.
I could say X war had religion as one of its causes, and so was caused, in part, by religion, and thus deserves to be counted. Then, you’d be free to tell me you disagree, and that you don’t think religion was a prime cause. In order to actually come up with some idea of how many wars in human history have been “religious” we have to decide two things:
1) – what is a war? Do we count the French Wars of Religion, say, as one 30 year long war? Or many wars? If we’re going for a statistic, that kind of thing is very important to decide upon before hand. We also need to decide what is required to be a “war” and what’s going to instead be classified as something else – a conflict/police action/internal dispute/revolution/etc. That’s also going to be important.
2) – does having religion among the causes for a war make it a “religious” war? A lot of historians will argue it’s basically impossible to rank causes to any event. Take a look at this article. Causation is HARD. The author of that, Michael Stanford, basically argues that it isn’t even worth trying to decide cause for events, because they can’t be accurately discerned. Even historians who agree that causation can be discerned often suggest that it isn’t really possible to rank them. In “Historical Causation: Is One Thing More Important Than Another?,” S.H. Rigby says ranking causes is impossible. If cause A and cause B (say, A = religion and B = politics, if you want) both can be identified as causes, are you going to decide one was 40% responsible and one was 60% responsible? What does that mean? That if A hadn’t existed, the event would have had a 40% chance of not happening? That’s going too deeply into counter-factuals to be accurate to any degree.
So essentially, we need to decide the parameters of this discussion, something Paige adamantly refused to do. So, I’m putting the question to you, dear readers:
do you think it’s possible to come up with a statistic for how many wars in human history were “religious” wars?
If you were to do so, how would you define “war” and how would you decide whether or not to classify it as a religious conflict?