Does Religion Cause War? (long)
Answer: The short answer is no; humans cause war – and justify that warfare using whatever reasons they can find including religion. Religion, if understood and practiced properly, removes the materialism and selfishness and greed that are generally the actual causes of war.
Here’s the long answer
Many people feel that the world would be better off without religion.
We can understand their sentiments when we consider that modern times
have seen large-scale violence in the name of religion. But is religion
the only cause of violence? If it were, then parts of the world
dominated by atheistic views should have been absolutely peaceful. But
history shows that violence has touched all parts of the world more or
less equally, independent of the theological beliefs of the people. In
fact, most of the wars throughout history, including World Wars I and
II, were fought for purely secular political, economic, or ideological
reasons; religion was not an issue at all.
Whenever wars were fought in the name of religion, the real issue was
the same: the increase of wealth and power. Religion was just a
convenient scapegoat for the powers that be to mask their grossly
materialistic motives. And even such “religious” violence has been only
a tiny fraction of the secular violence witnessed by the world in
Is Religion Dispensable?
The protest that religion leads to violence implies that religion is
bad and should be rejected. But can the human being do without
religion? The universally accepted goal of life is the quest for
happiness. When man neglects or rejects religion, consciously or
unconsciously his conception of his own self becomes “a lump of
chemicals that has by chance come alive.” The quest for happiness then
degenerates into a savage struggle for carnal enjoyment. Wealth, wine,
and women become the only goals of life. Such a conception of life is
individually frustrating and globally disastrous.
The fundamental need of the individual is love; everyone wants to love
and be loved. But in the material conception of life there can be no
such thing as real love. People put up a façade of love for another
person as long as they get sensual pleasure in return. When that stops,
they dispose of their object of “love” just as fast as they would dump
a broken TV.
In their heart of hearts, people know that no one loves them, no one
cares for them. Naturally they feel lonely, rejected, insecure, and
frustrated. These feelings are the root of stress, depression,
addictions, delinquency, hypertension, criminality, and even suicide.
Studies in psychology have confirmed that there is no better insurance
against self-destructive behavior (including drinking, substance abuse,
and suicide) than strong religious faith.
At a global level the rejection of religion leads to a setting wherein
love, ethics, morality, and selflessness become meaningless. Although
the anti-religionist may feebly urge the masses to “be good,” such an
appeal has no substance. “If the goal of life is to enjoy and I’m here
for who knows how long and there is no life after death, then why wait?
I should just enjoy. Beg, borrow, steal, or even kill, but enjoy.” By
making religion dispensable, we court global disaster.
The Vedic Definition of Religion
What is this mysterious phenomenon known as religion–a phenomenon that
causes millions of people to congregate annually at Jagannatha Puri,
Tirupati, Badrinath, Mecca, and the Vatican, braving the weather, the
crowds, and all the other troubles of a pilgrimage?
The Vedic texts of ancient India give an understanding of religion
quite different from the common understanding. (To avoid the negative
connotations the word religion inevitably brings, I’ll use the word
spirituality to designate the Vedic understanding of what is commonly
called religion. I’ll discuss the difference between the two terms
According to the Vedic texts, spirituality imparts the vision to see
the cosmos in the proper perspective and to live in harmony with it.
The basic teaching of the Vedic texts is that the cosmos is not just
matter; it has a spiritual dimension. The Bhagavad-gita (13.27) states,
“Know that whatever you see in existence, both the moving and the
nonmoving, is only a combination of the field of activities [matter]
and the knower of the field [spirit].” Modern scientific research in
fields such as past-life memories, near-death experiences (NDEs), and
consciousness studies also strongly suggests a spiritual part of our
being that continues to exist even after bodily death.
The Vedic texts explain that our real self is not material; a spiritual
particle called the atma, the soul, animates our material body. The
supreme spiritual being who animates the entire cosmos is called the
Paramatma, or the Supersoul. And the relationship between the two –the
soul and the Supersoul–is loving service, like the relationship
between a parent and a child. This loving relationship exists eternally
in the highest realm, called the spiritual world. The soul’s refusal to
harmonize with the will of the Supreme temporarily obscures the
relationship. The soul is then placed in the realm of matter, where we
all now reside.
The Vedic texts further explain that genuine spirituality is meant to
awaken us to our original spiritual identity through a harmony of
philosophy and religion, the two rails on which spirituality runs. The
philosophical aspect of spirituality involves the study and
understanding of matter, spirit, and the controller of both–the
Supreme Lord. And the religious aspect involves following rules and
regulations that bring about realization and experience of the
A Higher-Dimensional Science
We can note the striking similarity between this definition of
spirituality and the approach of modern science. Modern science
involves the formulation of hypotheses to explain the observable
phenomena within the universe (similar to the philosophical aspect of
spirituality). It also involves following rules that regulate the
laboratory environment to verify the validity of the hypotheses
(similar to the religious aspect of spirituality). Spirituality thus
constitutes a higher-dimensional science; it deals with realms of
reality higher than the mundane.
The spiritual scientist, by dint of systematic practice of both
philosophy and religion, understands the nature of the cosmos and
learns to live in harmony with it. Having realized his own identity as
an eternal spiritual being and his loving relationship with the Supreme
Being, a mature spiritual scientist sees all living beings as his
brothers. His vision of universal brotherhood leads him to spontaneous,
selfless, and holistic service to all living beings.
About such a spiritual welfare activist, the ˆsopanisad (Mantra 2)
states, “One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he
continuously goes on working in that way, for that work will not bind
him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.”
Thus genuine spirituality, far from being the cause of violence, is the
source of harmony–within and without. A true spiritualist is
self-satisfied and helps others become self-satisfied. There is no
question of violence in a society of self-satisfied persons.
The Real Cause of Violence
What then, from the Vedic perspective, is the cause of violence?
Imbalance occurs in the cosmic order when humankind lives in disharmony
with either of the energies of the cosmos. When the material concept of
life prevails over the spiritual, dharmasya glanih, the decline of
spirituality, results. Spirituality may decline when one neglects its
religious aspect, its philosophical aspect, or both. Srila Prabhupada
remarks, “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes
fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.”
And the absence of both religion and philosophy marks the degeneration
of the human species to the animal platform.
When humanity degenerates to the animal platform, the law of the
jungle–survival of the fittest–prevails. And just as peace is
impossible in a jungle, peace remains a utopian dream in the concrete
jungles of today, despite all sorts of “landmark summit meetings.”
Therefore violence is caused not by spirituality but by the perversion
of spirituality, which has divested the human being of his humanity. So
the way to restore peace is not by rejecting spirituality but by
reforming it. This will pave the way for humanity to once again develop
human qualities such as love, contentment, continence, selflessness,
and humility, which alone can engender lasting peace.
We can compare the defects that have crept into spirituality to a
cataract in the eye. To cure the eye, we must remove the cataract, not
pluck out the eye. Similarly, we have to arrest the decline in
spirituality, not reject spirituality itself. Just as plucking out the
eye causes blindness, rejecting spirituality will rob humanity of the
precious eyes of divine wisdom, resulting in disharmony and disaster.
The spiraling rates of crime and violence all over the globe give us a
glimpse of the anarchy in store if humanity continues to neglect
Correcting the Iron-Age Chaos
When cosmic disorder occurs, the Supreme Being descends to the material
realm to reestablish spirituality, by which humankind can once again
learn to live in harmony with the cosmos.
In the present age, dharmasya glanih prevails, since all the
aspirations and achievements of most of humankind are within the realm
of matter. Most people have no interest in philosophy. And those with
some interest pursue it mainly as a means to an academic career or for
intellectual growth and not as a zealous search for the Truth. Unable
to understand the truths of the cosmos, they mislead others.
Similarly, most people are not religiously inclined. The somewhat
religious are mostly ritualistic and mechanical in their religious
practices; they have little scientific understanding of what they are
doing or why. People often claim to be fighting to protect their
religion, but if questioned they don’t even know its fundamental
tenets. And even if they know them, they’re not interested in following
them. Such pseudo religionists are interested only in their own profit
and use religion as a tool to promote it. Thus the present age of iron
is characterized by an almost total decline in spirituality or a
perversion of it.
To correct the enormous disorder prevalent in the modern times, the
Supreme Being descends in a form that transcends all restrictions of
time and space. He descends in His holy names, which always stay with
us, irrespective of time, place, and circumstance. That is why we see
that the major religions of the world enjoin their followers to chant
the holy names of God. Chanting is the universal religion for the
current age. And among the innumerable names of God, the Vedic
scriptures assert that the most potent is the maha-mantra, “the great
chant for deliverance”: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The Supreme Being has also given a concise yet complete manual for the
present age in the form of the Bhagavad-gita, the essence of Vedic
wisdom. It is the ideal textbook for the aspiring spiritual scientist.
About the Bhagavad-gita, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I owed a
magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was
as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large,
serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another
age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions
which exercise us.”
A Call to My Fellow Youth of India
Eminent thinkers throughout the world, including leading scientists
such as Nobel Laureate Richard R. Ernst, peace workers such as Nobel
Laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez and Betty Williams, and spiritualists
such as Nobel Laureate the Dalai Lama, firmly believe that only a
synthesis of science and spirituality can lead the world out of the
present troubled times.
The youth of India have a unique position in the world. By virtue of
birth in the holy land of India, they inherit the priceless wealth of
spiritual knowledge expounded in the Vedic texts. And by virtue of
their education and training, they have developed the scientific spirit
of rational inquiry. Thus they are best suited to bring about the
much-needed synthesis of science and spirituality that thinkers all
over the world are searching for.
The late Professor Arthur Ellison, a mechanical and electrical
engineer, stated, “Surely the great and unique contribution that India
has made and must continue to make to the world’s progress is in the
field of religion–of truth and reality…. India can most certainly
help the West to find the spiritual way back towards reality, which is
essential for all real progress.”
Unfortunately, most young Indians today are enamored by the razzle-dazzle of Western culture–blue jeans, supermarkets, Big Macs, Disney “fun,” rock music, Hollywood movies, and the like. But before embracing Western culture, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to study the condition of those who have lived with it their whole lives? Statistics show that in the U.S.A. a thousand teenagers attempt suicide every day. Seventy percent of all high-school seniors have attempted or seriously
thought about suicide. Thirty-three percent of American adults have serious mental health problems. Psychiatry and psychology are the most lucrative professions in America, and among all professionals, the highest suicide rate is found among psychiatrists and psychologists.
Yet for most Indians, America is the land of their dreams. Srila Prabhupada would lament that modern Indians are sitting on jewels and begging for broken glass. Let the intelligent youth of India become selfless spiritual scientists dedicated to saving the world from its suicidal course. Let them, in the true spirit of science, study the theory of spirituality with all
seriousness and at the same time perform the experiment of mantra meditation. Those who take up this challenge will become living
spiritual scientists and will help usher in an era of peace, harmony,