Blessed are the peacemakers?
February 21, 2007 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Has religion ever helped to end a war?

Ask Metafilter has already decided that while religion may help start some wars, it certainly is not the cause of all of them.

But what about the flipside -- ending wars? I can't think of a single example. I'm not talking about cases where, say, the Holy Roman Empire quelled a provincial disturbance with diplomacy. That's just statecraft with a religious hue.

I'm asking whether religion as religious belief has ever stopped a war, or even helped to end one. Such as, opposing sides recognizing the sinfulness of destroying the other. Or, some petty dispute being thrown into perspective by considering what the Almighty truly wants.
posted by brevity to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What about various religious entities practically decimating each others' land and people through attrition, indirectly helping to end a war?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:10 AM on February 21, 2007

Yes, and frequently, but not in the way you'd hope.

For instance, Constantine's embracing of Christianity recruited the persecuted Christian zealots to his banner, which decided the Civil War of 324 in his favor. It ended rather bloodily, but it did end quicker than it would have otherwise, thanks to religion. Playing the God card in some instances can bring in enough reinforcements to bring a quick, brutal end to a conflict.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:13 AM on February 21, 2007

Not in the way you mean. No side in a war has ever suddenly decided to "just get along." Not unless they've been defeated by the other side first.
posted by Dasein at 7:24 AM on February 21, 2007

Consider it in this way: If the state of belief affects the willingness to fight, and they're already fighting, a change of belief (either in form or depth) has to take affect for a belief to stop the fighting. So it's hard to imagine this happening, short of mass conversion. Religious wars end because the losing side's conversion is a part of the capitulation, but I don't think that's what you mean.

There are instances where battles halt for religious observation. Rules of conduct and humane treatment can stem from religious belief. Those are probably not what you are looking for either.
posted by ardgedee at 7:34 AM on February 21, 2007

Your question is perhaps a bit unfair because in cases where religion might end a war, it generally prevents the war beginning. Spotting wars that, for religious reasons, never happened is obviously difficult, but I'm sure it has happened - take, for example, the nascent conflict between Spain and Portugal in the New World, where both sides sought and accepted the arbitration of the Pope.
posted by Phanx at 7:36 AM on February 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well it didn't help stop a war, but it can be argued that the Vatican's intervention helped to broker an peaceful resolution of a territorial waters dispute betwen Argentina and Chile helped to avert a war. There was much more than that, including intervention by the Queen of England, the UN, and of course Argentina's military downfall after the Falklands war. But the Pope definitely brokered the final deal.

Wikipedia article
posted by xetere at 7:39 AM on February 21, 2007

The medieval Peace of God movement comes to mind.
posted by zamboni at 7:46 AM on February 21, 2007

Along the lines of what Phanx said, my first thought was Gandhi (isn't everyone's?).

There had been violent rebellions against British rule in the past, and during Gandhi's time both parts of the independence movement and the British used (sometimes particularly horrific) violence. But I think it's fair to say that Gandhi's religious/moral teachings provided a channel for the independence movement that a) mobilized the people, b) was ultimately successful, and c) changed what could have been a devastating sub-continent-wide war into a largely political movement with only isolated incidents of violence.

(I'm considering things like Amritsar "isolated incidents", not to detract from their severity, but because they were not the trigger for all-out war...)
posted by sarahkeebs at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2007

It didn't end the war, but it did suspend it for a few days: the Christmas Truce (I believe this has been written up on the Blue as well).
posted by adamrice at 8:20 AM on February 21, 2007

The Treaty of Westphalia was brokered by Rome in 1648.
posted by parmanparman at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2007

The Great Peace of the Six Nations Confederacy (who also known as the Iroquois) has a religious element to it. The oral tradition says that the Peace Maker was delivering a message from the Creator when he convinced the original five nations to agree to a peace treaty.
posted by teg at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2007

Legend has it that when the conquering emperor A┼Ťoka embraced the Buddha-dharma, he turned away from war and violence.
posted by Abiezer at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2007

A little off topic and just an opinion and it may sound a little trite, I think the question is more whether religion has been used as an excuse to start or stop a war. Wars have always existed and have always been about land, resources, and power. It's all conducted by people and religion is but one example of the gavlanizing agent, others more popularly used are race, language, culture, skin color, geography, nationalism, borders, ideology, etc. Whether or not religion, corporations, capitalism or communism, ideology, or any type of social construct are beneficial or detrimental, it's almost beside the point since it's all run and comprised of people that distinguish us vs. them and people suck. That said, there are good people and good social constructs too.

The reason I mention this is there's a kind of implicit loading to this very honest question. The loading has a soft implication that religion has been more bad than good and that this kind of abstract collective social system is responsible for wars and should be eliminated. Whether or not to eliminate it I can't say, but it's disappearance won't eliminate or dare I say even reduce the amount of war in the world.
posted by mikshir at 9:00 AM on February 21, 2007

On the possibility of preventing wars, one could argue that the quest for black civil rights in this country, which is still not over, could have become a much more violent conflict in the middle of the century -- possibly a guerilla war from either side -- without the religious left and its invocation of non-violent methods.

A more common claim that I don't really believe is that Pope John Paul and his political maneuvering was one of the principal causes of the end of the Cold War. Still, a great deal has been written about it and some people passionately believe it.
posted by ontic at 9:28 AM on February 21, 2007

I don't think it's an open question whether or not the Cold War was ended by Pope John Paul. Most social and economic scholars are able to explain how the arms race bankrupted the Soviet Union, and how at the same time, people were finally coming to realize that there was no hope for the co-opted communist dream. The U.S.S.R. was also falling hopelessly behind in technological (especially computer and communications) development, and its people were clamoring for Western culture - their cries were only made more fervent by Gorbachev's Glasnost and perestroika projects.
posted by gaiamark at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2007

If you're looking for something big and splashy - "Screw this bullshit! God told me to turn this sword into a plowshare!" - you probably won't find it, but I think a lot of religious people of various ilk would argue that God usually doesn't work that heavy-handedly, anyway.

How, for instance, can you possibly adequately argue that the opposition of pacifist Quakers to the Vietnam war didn't have some impact on American consciousness about that conflict?

(But I suspect that "Maybe the god-force works in mysterious, subtle ways in individuals who then in aggregate influence the outcome of geopolitical events" is not an answer you'd consider acceptable, huh?)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2007

Many of the foundational stories of early Islam deal with conflicts that ended better than they might have due to the influence of Muhammad and the religion he was advocating. Wikipedia has a good listing of Muhammad's campaigns, but the essential thread is that (i)war becomes imminent, (ii) fighting ensues, (iii) if victorious, the Muslim armies offer a better deal to their enemies and prisoners of war.

In some cases, fighting is avoided altogether, although one side still gets what it wants in the end. See Wikipedia on Conquest of Mecca.
posted by awenner at 11:29 AM on February 21, 2007

The seige of Jericho?
posted by pompomtom at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2007

In the Medieval era, fighting was not alllowed on Christian holidays, and it was then extended to feast days for Saints (which are pretty common but not widely known now). Since it was generally bad practice to fight when crops were in the ground the church cut attempted to limit war, or the impact of it. The church would also impose restrictions on weaponry (ie: crossbows were not permitted when fighting christians). It didn't exactly end medieval war but probably did reduce it...
posted by Deep Dish at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2007

In AD 542, Atilla the Hun (who was a Christian, by the way), was about to sack Rome. Pope Leo I came out of the city, found Atilla and persuaded him not to. We don't know what tactics Leo used, but he may have appealed to Atilla on religious grounds.

More info here.
posted by grumblebee at 2:22 PM on February 21, 2007

Dyslexia struck! That should be AD 452.
posted by grumblebee at 2:22 PM on February 21, 2007

Pope John Paul sent an envoy to encourage Peru and Ecuador to abide by a ceasefire agreement in 1995 (a bit of divine intervention in the name of peace). In addition, respect for the wishes of the Dalai Lama is widely credited with Tibetan nationalism's continued non-violence. The NYT had an interesting article to this effect called something like "The Dalai Lama's Restless Children".
posted by B-squared at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2007

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