It is often said that religion is one of the greatest causes of war in modern history. People have long been tribal, and they have long justified war by suggesting that they are fighting for some higher power rather than some lowly cause. With this in mind, that particular statement on religion and war is very general. It is possible to get more specific and understand the interplay between war and specific types of religion. Of particular interest are ecumenism and fundamentalism. These two different general forms of religion have shown different propensities over the years to lead to war faring. Most will recognize fundamentalism because of its association with radical Islam and various historical and modern wars.
Ecumenism, on the other hand, is all about the desire within religions to unite the various factions. It is about presenting a clear and unified face rather than having everything remain fragmented. (Ratzinger, 1988) The Reformation Wars in Europe during that period in history provide a good picture of how this, too, can lead to war (Benedict, 1999). Both of these extreme forms of religion, which reject nuance and pluralism, have a tendency to lead war, assuming the conditions are otherwise right to produce those sorts of struggles.
Fundamentalism has been seen in a number of different religious movements. It can be defined as a form of religion that has unwavering beliefs and irreducible doctrines (Holloway, 2017). It rejects nuance and interpretation, requiring people to adhere to a specific standard without any deviation. In short, when fundamentalist principles are applied, individuals are required to toe the line, and any person who falls outside of that particular view is thought to be a heretic, or worse. Christian fundamentalism has led to harsh interpretations of the Bible, including applying the Old Testament standards to the modern day in order to fight a culture battle against things like same-sex marriage. Islamic fundamentalism, on the other hand, has a long history that dates back at least to the seventh century. Today, it primarily manifests itself in Wahhabism, which is practiced in Saudi Arabia and other places (Crook, 2015).
There are many ways in which this type of religion can lead to war (Zavergiu, 2017). First, when one adheres to religious fundamentalism, they are empowered with the belief that they are the only ones who are correct on an issue as large as religion. This is impactful because it always leads to the belief that one is fighting on the side of right while enemies are on the side of evil. In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, this has led to a belief in the hard-line nature of jihad. Softer versions of Islam believe that jihad just refers to people doing their best to win over adherents to Islam. Fundamentalism, though, takes the concept of war very seriously. It suggests that war must be waged in the actual, physical sense, with men going off to fight a holy fight against people who are against God.
The best example of this, of course, comes from the global terrorist movement. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are both good examples of groups that use fundamentalism leading to war. In fact, the attackers on September 11th used radical fundamentalism to motivate their attacks throughout the training process and on the day of the crime. In a world where more countries are adherents of international human rights protocols, it becomes more likely this type of religion will lead to a conflict culminating eventually in a war.
Ecumenism is somewhat different, but it has the same kind of motivations. While fundamentalism is motivated by a desire to see one strict body of rules followed, ecumenism is all about bringing together a religion in complete unity. There have been many splits throughout history that have tested religious leaders. While it is normal now for Christianity to be divided into protestant and Catholic sides, this was not always the case. Martin Luther and his Reformation efforts helped to get the ball rolling. Power struggles and the religious connection to politics and power did not help much in this regard, as it produced a situation where different people and groups had incentives to choose one side over another. There is nothing in the seeking of unity for a religion that has to cause war.
This can be done peacefully. While religious fundamentalism will tend to make people view other religions as evil and against God, ecumenism tends to cause the view that adherents of other religions are just lost wanderers. However, give the way that human beings have behaved over time, ecumenism has been used as the impetus for war in some cases. The so-called “Radicals” of Martin Luther’s time were inspired by Reformation ideas to engage in the German Peasants War in the 16th century. They wanted to see Reformation ideas applied to all of society. In a world where religions and factions are often competing for the heart and soul of a community or society, it is routine for ecumenism to motivate this kind of violence. However, one must note that in each of the Reformation Wars, religion was only a partial motivator, as other elements were present, too. In fundamentalism, religion alone tends to be the primary motivation.
Ultimately fundamentalism and ecumenism both have the power to lead to war. They are both extreme and unrelenting version of religion that put people into simple categories and tend to lead to attacking outsiders. Fundamentalism seems to be enough on its own to promote war, while ecumenism tends to be the lighter fluid that enables more flames from already existing conflict in society.