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Friday, January 20, 2012

Religious Violence

Some people have some strange hobbies. For example, Matthew White at Necrometrics.com apparently spends his time cataloging death tolls and body counts for various events throughout history. 

I've taken some numbers from this site because I was curious if the saying is true that "religion has caused more suffering and death than any other single cause in human history."

The site lists various scholarly estimates for each event. When possible, I've tried to select the most reliable sources, or have used the median, following the rule of thumb that the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, rather than with the outlying estimates. 

Here are the numbers for various religious tragedies throughout history:


Crusades: 3M
Biblical Atrocities1.283M
Spanish Inquisition: 341K (Including those tortured, not killed)
Witch Hunts: 60K (Including Europe)
9/11: 3,037 (Including 19 hijackers)
TOTAL: est. 10.828M

Now here's a few things with a higher death toll:


I point this out, not to be controversial, but only to provide an example of human violence which is clearly not religiously motivated. 

Since the origins Islam and Christianity, each religion has had 80M and 70M martyrs respectively, at the hands of:

  • Atheists: 31,689,000
  • Muslims 9,121,000
  • Ethnoreligionists: 7,469,000
  • Christians: 5,538,000
  • Quasi-religionists 2,712,000
  • Mahayana Buddhists: 1,651,000
  • Hindus: 676,000
  • Zoroastrians: 384,000

  • Smoking

    R. Peto, "Mortality from tobacco in developed countries: indirect estimation from national vital statistics" Lancet, 23 May 1992:

  • 1930-59: 11M
  • 1960s: 9M
  • 1970s: 13M
  • 1980s: 17M
  • 1990s: 21M
  • TOTAL (1930-1999): 71M tobacco-related deaths in developed countries. (US, Europe, USSR, Canada, Japan, Australia, NZ)

  • Capitalism 
    (unbridled corporate exploitation)

    Colonial El Niño Famines (1876-1900): 27M
    Colonial Slave Trade (1700-1850): 17.8M (Only counting the dead among the first generation of slaves brought from Africa. Subsequent generations would contribute additional premature or unnatural deaths.)
    Islamic Slave Trade: 19M
    Soviet Decommunization: 6M
    Kinshasa Congo: 3.8M 
    Amazonian Rubber Companies: 200K
    TOTAL: est. 73.8M

    If the number of people killed by some organization or phenomenon is a measure of its moral worth, than we could come to some strange conclusions about a host of other causes.

    I think, given enough information, an honest individual would come to agree that an organization's negative past is not necessarily a mark against it in the present.


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