The Religion Card

Among the zillions of people who irritate me, those who play the “religion card” are near the top of the list. Whenever violent behavior comes up — e.g., in the aftermath of the slaughter in Orlando, the claim is made and remade that religion is the root of most of the violence of

  • the human race
  • modern times

They believe (or claim to believe) that human beings would stop being violent, and stop killing each other in massive numbers, if religion were somehow stamped out. I find it hard to credit these people with significant intelligence.

I was reading about ancient Carthage, and branched out to consider the history of the Roman civilization, both Republic and Empire, which lasted roughly 800 years.

One reason often advanced for the longevity of the Roman civilization is that the Romans didn’t care a whit about the religion of the vanquished. As long as taxes were paid, and civil order maintained, the conquered country could do pretty much as it pleased, including worship. That may be, but the Romans were far from pacific overlords.

Looking just at the major wars of the Roman conquests, the Romans killed around 6.3 million people in those wars. If you run out the numbers, the Roman armies killed, on average, more than 10,000 people a year to maintain their imperial control for the purely rational purposes of tribute and resources. And that number includes only the deaths from major wars: not from the dozens of “brush fire” rebellions, in which whole villages might be razed, and inhabitants slaughtered.

The siege of Carthage is famous, of course. The Roman army besieged the city for two years; breached the outer wall, and for several days fought house to house against the remaining inhabitants. In the end, a total of 350,000 Carthaginians were dead from fighting, disease, and starvation. The remaining 50,000 were sold into slavery. The interior of the city was burned, and the walls pulled down.

And not a whisper of religious motivation. Carthage and Roman were are war over money. Carthage had it, and wouldn’t give it to Rome.

The moral lesson should be obvious. Gold, glory, and power have always been the driving force behind the most brutal civilizations, from Sennacherib to Stalin. Religiously motivated “warriors of God,” past and present, can’t hold a candle before the blinding lamp of nationalism, resources, and political control. Less naive people understand that religious justification can be a convenient social cloak for dastardly deeds, but its absence in no way impedes the death march.  They don’t play the religion card. They may irritate me in other ways, though.

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