By James Haught
For millennia, it was considered normal for strong tribes to conquer, pillage and subjugate weaker ones.
After Macedonia annexed Ancient Greece, Alexander the Great launched a conquest machine that dominated much of the known world.
Soon afterward, the Roman Empire spread via military force as far as the British Isles.
After Islam developed, holy warriors spread the faith into Asia and across North Africa, up into France.
Then the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan entered Europe as far as Poland.
War became more religious when Christian Crusades attacked Muslims in the Holy Land — and scores of Catholic-Protestant wars erupted in the Counter-Reformation, even to Scotland’s Jacobite uprisings in the 1700s.
Napoleon waged armed conquest as far as Moscow, killing millions for no real gain.
Hitler did likewise, with the same result.
But now, strangely — wonderfully — warfare has almost vanished from the world. No nations are attacking each other. All that remains are a few local uprisings, mostly by hidden Muslim fanatics using terrorism in a futile attempt to create a holy Caliphate. (If they ever get nuclear devices, the story of war could change hideously.)
The end of warfare is a long-sought goal of secular humanism, the progressive struggle to improve life for all people without resort to supernatural religion. What changed in civilization? Why was war once common (and horrible), but now virtually gone? What brought this magnificent improvement?
In his landmark book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker showed how violence of all sorts dropped incredibly — from a global war death rate of 300 per year per 100,000 during World War II to less than one in the 21st century. Human values and beliefs — the patriotic sense of “glory” in war by “heroes” — seems to be altered.
I wonder: Does the rapid erasure of war have any connection to the rapid erasure of religion, which swept western civilization at the same time? Does the relentless advance of human logic — the intelligent, practical, sensible, beneficial, scientific mindset — factor into these profound changes?
Millions have lost belief in magical gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies, etc. Are such people less inclined to plunge into murderous war? I don’t know. Just asking. I hope researchers inquire.
Correlation isn’t causation. When two trends happen together, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one caused the other.
All we can say is that two gigantic phenomena are occurring: War is dying and religion is dying. Hallelujah on both counts.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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Image Credit: James Haught.