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By Norris Burkes, Feb 27, 2022

As Russia invades Ukraine, I’m reminded of the warning Jesus expressed in Matthew 24:6 that the end of days will be filled with “wars and rumors of wars.” 

I wish the invasion was only a rumor, but it’s clearly a reality.

The only consolation I have is — and it’s a shallow one — so far this isn’t a conflict likely to be blamed on religion. 

I say that because it seems that whenever war is contemplated, religion is accused of providing the kindling.  

There’s always someone who resurrects the tired logic by claiming, “There’s been more killing perpetrated in the name of religion than for any other cause.”

I wish I had the column-writing skills to react to this statement as well as Rabbi Alan Lurie who writes that “… an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict.”

As proof, he references the “Encyclopedia of Wars” by authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, who documented the history of recorded warfare in their 2004 three-volume set.

The rabbi concludes, “From their list of 1,763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. 

While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.”

Of course, these calculations really depend on how one defines the word “religion.”

If “religion” can be defined loosely as “a zealous system of beliefs and values,” then you’d have to include the genocidal maniacs of the world who’ve made a religion of power. 

Now is it just me, or do others see this “zealous belief” definition as a fit for Mr. Putin?

Because if you think that shoe fits, then you’d also need to count the anti-religious fervor of Hitler in Europe, Stalin in Russia, Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia. These men worshiped at the maniacal shrine of greed, in the church of xenophobia and in the temple of hedonism.

Include their efforts and you’d be hard-pressed to accurately count the hundreds of millions of people killed in the last 75 years alone. While these men weren’t religious per se, they became expert practitioners of intolerance.

Sometimes in these discussions, I’m tempted to inject a slight correction and reword the premise to say: there have been more people killed in the name of intolerance — not religion — than any other thing.

But if you’re still among those who want to believe that religion is somehow responsible for the increased level of violence, then I’d like to prescribe the writings of historian and New York Times bestselling author Reza Aslan.

In response to a question put to him by CNN, Aslan made the point that “religion only becomes violent when you bring violence into it.”

He said, “If you’re a violent person, then your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. 

People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, and the ways that they see their communities.”

Nevertheless, if you insist that we’re being drawn into a war about religion, check out Aslan’s book, “How to Win a Cosmic War.” In addressing the question, “How do you win a religious war?” he gives the best answer I’ve read yet:

“By refusing to fight in one.”


Contact Chaplain Norris at or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.