LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) — Television host Bill Maher's aversion to religion is well-known, but he still surprised some observers last Friday by criticizing "Jesus freaks" and then alleging that all wars throughout history have been caused by religion.
Maher's attack on Christianity and other religions came in the final minutes of his HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher," and began with him condemning the views of Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, whose Seventh Day Adventism was the focus.
Maher referenced the history of the Seventh Day Adventist church and what is known as the "Great Disappointment" – a time when early leader William Miller wrongly predicted that Jesus would return in 1844.
"You know what my great disappointment is?" Maher asked. "That I live in a country where four out of ten people believe we're living in End Times. And that the stupid media never asks Jesus freaks running for office two questions: Do you believe the world is ending soon? And: Is that a bad thing? Because I'm the opposite of an End Timer. I'm a spend timer. I want to spend as much time as I can on this planet, and I want some planet left for the children and grandchildren who are always kicking the back of my airplane seat."
Maher concluded, "Ben Carson says he could, quote, "feel God's fingers" pushing him to be president. You know what? Tell God to keep his fingers to himself. Because we know where those fingers have been: in every war in human history from the ones he started in the Old Testament to the one that just played out in Paris."
His comments were first reported by Newsbusters.org.
Maher was the writer and star of the 2008 anti-religion documentary "Religulous," and he has described himself not as an atheist but as an agnostic. But whatever label he chooses, he is wrong about his charge that religion causes all or even most wars, studies show.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released a report in 2014 that analyzed 35 armed conflicts from the previous year and found that religion played a primary role only in a minority of them.
"Nearly two thirds of conflicts in 2013 had among their main cause opposition to a particular government, or opposition to the economic, ideological, political or social system of a state," the report read. "... [A]lthough religion is a factor in conflict it is not the major factor, albeit 14 percent did have the religion and the specific establishment of an Islamic state as driving causes. Notably, religion alone was not the sole cause of conflict for any armed conflicts in 2013."
When studying all wars in recorded history, the percentage of conflicts driven by religion falls even further.
Robin Schumacher, a writer for the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, wrote an article in which he examined all 1,763 wars that were listed in the three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars.
"Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature, which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars," Schumacher wrote. "However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%. That means that all faiths combined – minus Islam – have caused less than 4% of all of humanity's wars and violent conflicts. Further, they played no motivating role in the major wars that have resulted in the most loss of life."
The data, he added, "puts a serious dent" into arguments by atheist author Sam Harris that religion is "the most prolific source of violence in our history," said Schumacher, who added that the truth actually is the opposite of what Harris argued.
"[N]on-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind's wars. Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God," Schumacher wrote.
Schumacher listed a series of dictators who were non-religious and caused millions of deaths:
- Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000
- Mao Zedong - 37,828,000
- Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000
- Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000
- Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000
- Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000
- Pol Pot - 2,397,000
"In the end, the evidence shows that the atheists are quite wrong about the wars they claim to so desperately despise," Schumacher wrote. "Sin is the #1 cause of war and violence, not religion, and certainly not Christianity."