IVP - Andy Unedited - 160 Million

July 29, 2009

160 Million

I was with a group of friends recently when another common myth of western civilization was trotted out as if it were gospel. "We all know religion has caused more violence and death than anything else."

"Well, actually, that's not true," I ventured.

Heads turned. Mouths gaped. The planet itself seemed to wobble on its axis. "What facts do you have to support that?" said the historian in the group, eyebrow arched.

"Well, take the twentieth century. Over one hundred million people died for political reasons."

"How'd you come up with that figure?" my historian friend asked.

"Start with fifty million who died in World War II. Another twenty million in World War I. Stalin took another twenty million at least. Mao another twenty or thirty million. Pol Pot two million. A million in Rwanda. A million Armenians."

"Hmm," he said. "I guess so."

Actually, I understated the figure. It's somewhere between160 and 190 million--and almost all for political, not religious, reasons. Ideology in the twentieth century was a much more deadly force than religion ever was. Fascism, communism and racially motivated genocide all went on rampages of horrific proportions.

If even one person is killed because of religious motivation, that is one too many. But religion doesn't cause wars the way people think it does. Even wiki.answers got it right. Religion is often used as an excuse or as a tool of cynical politicians to justify actions and whip up fury in the masses. Meic Pierce gives a more nuanced answer in the same direction. What is clear, in any case, is that people in the twentieth century should not have been fearing religion but largely atheistic ideologies instead.

Yet why do intelligent, educated people, like my historian friend, not know the basic statistics? Where do these myths come from? There are many possible answers, but certainly one of the founding fathers of ideological megadeath had it right:

"A lie told often enough becomes truth."
Vladimir Lenin

Posted by Andy Le Peau at July 29, 2009 7:27 AM Bookmark and Share


Excellent! Thank you Andy for a concise, clear answer to this bit of mythology.

Comment by: Mary Bosco at July 29, 2009 12:27 PM

Given your 160-190 million self-correction, how do the numbers break down (in order to now reach the larger total)?

Comment by: Jadell at July 30, 2009 11:31 AM

Great point. This helps dispel an enduring myth about Christianity.

Here's another take on the same issue:


Comment by: brad wright at July 30, 2009 3:59 PM

Great post.

Comment by: K T Cat at August 11, 2009 8:26 AM

If you follow some of the links in the blog, you'll see a couple versions of how various people have added up the numbers to come up with totals ranging from 160 to 190 million.

Comment by: Andy Le Peau at August 11, 2009 9:38 AM

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.