The Guardian’s Andrew Brown: ‘The most warlike religion in the world is Buddhism’

Andrew Brown, the editor of ‘Comment is Free’ Belief, asks the following question in an April 25th post: Why are religion and violence now so closely linked?

Whilst Brown devotes much of his column to a relatively interesting broader examination of secular and religious ideologies and the question of how, particularly, we should understand religious-based violence, he makes the following extraordinary claim in his introductory paragraph:

It’s a commonplace that wars and religions are closely associated. Since about 1945 there has been an increasing tendency for wars to be fought along religious, as well as ethnic, economic and cultural lines, though I don’t think many people realise that the most warlike religion in the modern world, measured by the proportion of countries at war where it has a significant following, is actually Buddhism.

That’s right – Buddhism!

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Brown provides no source to back up his claim. And, whilst there are multiple ways to refute his characterization of Buddhism, we can begin by looking at the countries around the world currently involved in wars and noting that very few, in fact, have significant Buddhist populations.

However, you can also look at his crude – if not bizarre – methodology.

The implicit empirical basis of Brown’s argument – that the most violent religion can be determined by the proportion of countries at war where there is a signficant population of that faith’s adherents – is one which imputes correlation, if not outright causation, without even the most rudimentary analysis of the political, cultural and social factors at play in such conflicts.   

For instance, China has a very large Buddhist population, and also has experienced a Muslim (Uighur) insurgency.  Though the conflict has nothing to do with the nation’s Buddhists, it seems that – by Brown’s logic – this demonstrates an example of Buddhism’s warlike character.

Additionally, Nepal  - which, though largely Hindu – has a significant Buddhist population and has also been battling a bloody Maoist insurgency. Again, applying Brown’s logic, does the fact that there’s been years of war and the presence of a large number of Buddhists in the country indicate that there’s a correlation between the two?  

We could provide additional examples which undermine his facile thesis, but a careful reading of Brown’s entire post, however, may suggest that his comment concerning the ‘war-like character of Buddhism’ was a throwaway line meant to obscure his true narrative objective, which is evident in his concluding paragraph:

…this isn’t a score card. Human beings are so wonderfully imaginative and creative that we will always find ways to hate and dehumanise one another, irrespective of (a)theologies

Yes, and polemicists at the Guardian “are so wonderfully imaginative and creative” in finding ways to obfuscate the most obvious truth of our day, that not all religions generate the same number of adherents who use their faith tradition to justify the desire to commit violence to achieve political ends.