Question 7: Does religion cause conflict?
Religious differences can cause, and have caused, all manner of conflict, violence and evil between humans on every level. There is no denying the fact.
Nevertheless, this by itself, proves very little about the rightness or wrongness of religious belief in general or about Christianity in particular. After all, countries frequently go to war in the name of justice and honour – but this does not mean that justice and honour are bad ideas. It is not uncommon for people to commit murder in the name of love – but this does not mean we should abandon the idea of love.
In reality, religious conflict tells us less about religion and more about human nature.
Humans are capable of turning on each other for all kinds of reasons: historical, racial, cultural and personal as well as religious. In fact some of the worst atrocities committed within the last century were carried out under régimes hostile to religion in the name of national and international socialism. In general, humans will fight about anything they feel strongly about from politics to carparking spaces. Religion simply provides a very good place to start a fight because so much hangs on which one is right.
The right question then is not, “does religion cause conflict?”, but rather, “can anything be done about human conflict?”
And here, God’s word, the Bible has some helpful things to say.
1. Humans fight because they have no faith.
At the heart of human violence and vindictiveness lies the conviction that we all have, that it is up to us to make our own way and create our own justice.
By rejecting God and trying to live our own way we have in effect become our own gods. The problem is that we must now compete with every other human who is also trying to be god. We fight and become more and more fragmented as we each try to establish our view of right and wrong and defend our own cause in this world.
2. Jesus Christ offers us a way back.
God has addressed the human problem by sending his son Jesus Christ to offer us reconciliation. Jesus urged us to turn aside from our rebellion and accept God’s forgiveness.
Jesus also gave us an example of trust in God by refusing to fight against those who were persecuting him (cf 1Peter2:21-24). In the end he was vindicated by God by being raised from the dead and given honour and authority to govern the world (see Philippians 2:3-11).
3. Christianity offers the beginnings of peace.
Christians are far from free of the human tendency to fight but there are signs of hope. Wherever Christianity has been preached faithfully there has been the beginning of reconciliation; whether between races classes or family members. Those who follow Jesus example know the truth of the Bible’s claim that:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28)
For more information:
- Read Is the New Testament History by Bp Paul Barnett