One of the reasons people often give for condemning “religion” is that it is responsible for starting lots of wars and causing many deaths; the “crusades” are often mentioned by way of example. With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to try and find a few figures and see whether this grievance is supported by the data and, accordingly, a quick internet seach was performed to see what figures have been published for people killed by various groups or killed in particular conflicts.
The figures tabulated below are simply those that are quoted by other people in other articles published in the internet. As will be seen, precise figures are not really available and there is considerable variation between the lower and upper estimates for any given conflict. Different people no doubt count deaths in different ways, perhaps including only those actually killed in battle or perhaps extending the count to include those who died from starvation or from diseases that were consequences (side effects) of the battle.
This study does not pretend to be scientific or reliable or authorative and you'd be daft to start quoting it. Think of it as being merely a hint of something worthy of further consideration. If these matters particularly interest you then you really should go and do your own, more meticulous, research. The occasions included in the table below were chosen on the somewhat spurious grounds of being the ones that I could remember at the time I was doing the study.
One thing however is clear: The people who condem the Christian faith because of a few bloody episodes in history probably need to find a better excuse for their disbelief.
|During the Crusades||Between 50K and a few hundreds of K||This seems to be the conflict (or set of conflicts) that most people refer to when condemning religion for the deaths it causes. It is worth remembering that this, the most well known religiously motivated killing session took place over a period of many decades, almost a thousand years ago. Additionally even the Crusades had a territorial aspect to them and were not only religious; the Muslim armies were seeking to spread out from the middle-east and had already conquered various regions. The Christian crusades were, in part, a response to the territiorial ambitions of the Muslims.|
|Protestant & catholic conflicts in Europe in the 15XXs and 16XXs.||a few hundreds of K and upwards.||Reliable figures seem hard to come by. These wars were also only partly religious — they were also wars about land and power and politics generally, and religion was possibly an aggravating factor rather than a cause or justification.|
|By the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia||Between 1M and 2M||Does this include those who starved to death or is this figure only for those actually executed or killed in battle?|
|By the Nazis in Germany||Between 6M and 17M||These figures count only those allegedly killed by way of ideological persecution within Germany and conquered states and not those that died in the 1939-1945 European war that arose from Nazi ideology in Germany and opposition to it outside Germany. The war deaths are, as always, difficult to estimate but the estimates available are for tens of millions of civilians and soldiers.|
|By the Stalinst party in the Soviet Union||Between 3M and 60M||Figures vary widely and do not include the soldiers killed in combat with the Germans. The two most popular estimates seems to be between 20 and 30 million, or between 40 and 50 million. The estimates from archive records favour a low figure (3 or 4 million) while anecdotal evidence seems to favour the higher figures.|
|By the Chinese revolution initiated by Chairman Mao||Between 30M and 60M||The Chinese government in 2003(?) reckoned that about 30 million people died in the famine caused by the “great leap forward”. Additionally it is estimated that at least ten million died in labour camps and at least another ten million were executed.|
|Communist purges in North Korea||c 1.5M|
|Communist purges in Viet'nam||circa 1M|
|Genocide in Rwanda||c 1M|
|Civil war in Ethiopia, late 20th century||c 1.5M|
|By acts of abortion, throughout the world.||c. 500M in 20th century.||Abortion is not, of course, a war but it is a death. Presumably some of these abortions were necessary in order to save the mother's life but no figures were found to quantify the number of such “life saving” abortions.|
|(West) Pakistan's invasion of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) in 1971||Between 200K and 3M.||The deaths in this conflict were quite possibly increased and aggravated by the religious dimension to the conflict since at the time many of the population of Bangladesh were Hindus; a belief system generally despised by muslims and the islamization of Bangladesh was, apparently, a goal of the invasion.|
Everybody has a philosophy of some sort, even if they don't call it a philosophy. The person who does not have a well defined, carefully considered philosophy has merely an ill-defined and careless philosophy. Every person's choices and actions are determined to a great extent by the philosophy that they hold.
Using the above, crude, figures as the basis of an opion it seems very clear that those people who subscribed to various forms of atheistic, socialistic and humanistic philosophies have been responsible for more than 95% of all the carnage that has been recorded in history. The number of people killed in so-called religious conflicts is tiny compared to the number of people killed as a result of leaders pursuing atheistic and socialist ideologies.
Furthermore the atheistic philosophy of those who consider themselves liberal, modern, humanistic and compassionate has been responsible, through the slaughter of the unborn, for more deaths in 100 years than have been caused by all of the world's tyrants and despots throughout the entire 5000 years of recorded history.
Some people might object that one cannot compare the act of aborting an unborn child with acts committed in military conflict but this opinion misses the point entirely: The exact method and circumstances of the killing are not what is being investigated, what we are considering is whether a philosophy leads to killings or not. The fascist and communist despots who sent gypsies, jews, cripples, the mentally deranged to concentration camps, ghettos, firing squads and gas chambers thought that what they were doing was morally right and frequently denied the humanity of those they killed. Those who took part in the crusades thought that what they were doing was morally right. And those who participate in the slaughter of the unborn think that what they are doing is morally right and frequently deny the humanity of the lives they extinguish. Thus we see that the killers in each case claim to be acting in the best interests of some higher good and often deny that those they kill share a common humanity with their killers. Yet in each case there were those who disagreed with the killers and thought that the killing was evil and that those who were died were fully human. The questions therefore reduce to two things: How many people are killed by the adherents of a particular philosophy and which, if any, of the philosophies comes closest to a true understanding of what is good?
Regardless of how you arrive at your definition of good and bad, it is clear that throughout human history, the majority of killings have been performed, and continue to be performed, by those who deny that there is any God to whom they will one day have to give an account.
Once again the fashionable “wisdom” fails to tally with the facts. It seems that the atheists and humanists need to find a better excuse for denying God. Furthermore it would be better for themselves, and safer for everybody else, that they start to acknowledge God.