On secular violence

Karen Armstrong takes to task every taxi driver who tells her “religion causes all the wars”.



Karen Armstrong takes to task every taxi driver who tells her “religion causes all the wars”.


Well, you know, I get sick of getting into a London taxi and there comes a moment when the taxi driver will say what do I do for a living, and I tell him I write about religion, and then he will intone this sentence, which is repeating it like a kind of mantra: Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.
Utter nonsense! The two world wars were not fought for religion but for secular nationalism. The Nazi Holocaust, the Stalin gulag, has been hideous. Nationalism, which replaced religion, and has replaced religion, in many countries in the modern West, has an incurable appetite for violence. The French revolutionaries, when they created the first secular state in Europe, by suppressing Catholicism, as they thought, almost immediately introduced a new religion of the nation. And at the time, when they were slaughtering – in the name of the secular state – 17,000 men, women, and children who were publicly beheaded in one single year, they were also extolling in religious … quasi-religious festivals the glory of La France.

Now, very early, the British historian Lord Acton, in the late 19th century, said that nationalism had a fatal flaw. He said that the emphasis on ethnicity, culture, and language that is in the nation-state would be very dangerous for people who did not fit the national profile. And he said that in some circumstances, such a minority could be enslaved or even exterminated. And it was not long after that before the atheistic Young Turks massacred over a million Armenians in order to create a purely Turkic state. The Nazi Holocaust is again another instance of this.

So secularism and nationalism have its own violence. Violence will out – it’ll take … if people don’t want to have it articulated religiously anymore, they’ll do it with secular ideologies too.