Religious zealotry has been responsible for killing more people than any other thing. ~Chuck Hagel
Taken on its own, there are few sillier statements. If we can attribute the deaths of the French Revolution to liberalism, and I think we can, right there liberalism in France accounts for more deaths in the 18th century than religious conflict throughout the world in the same century. Liberalism would seem to fare better in the 19th For every extremely violent and extremely rare T’ai-P’ing Rebellion critics of religion can cite, defenders could point to ideologically-driven state-induced famines caused by collectivisation or nationalist genocides on the other. For every Thirty Years’ War on one side of the ledger, defenders of religion could invoke the secular and nationalist Thirty Years’ War of 1914-1945. In sheer numbers, “religious zealotry” at its worst usually cannot compete with the power and passion of revolutionary ideologies. (The death tolls from the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648 and the T’ai-P’ing Rebellion are as high as they are because of the famine and pestilence that resulted from constant, large-scale campaigning.) The point is not to cheer on religious zealotry as such, nor is it my purpose to ignore the atrocities of zealots, but rather I am trying to recognise that there are far more destructive and virulent ideas out there that have done and will continue to do more damage. This is not to dismiss the damage that religious zealotry can do, but to keep in perspective that there are worse things–and things that are responsible for killing more people–than that.
I am unfortunately reminded here of Dawkins, who rattled off a list of all the violence that would never have happened without religion, all the while failing to notice that most of the killing done throughout history was done for entirely different reasons. Predictably, Sullivan approves of this bakvas.