I’m re-reading Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life for the first time since my undergraduate days, and I came across these arresting lines:
“A human soul is worth all the universe, someone — I know not whom — has said and said magnificently. A human soul, mind you! Not a human life. Not this life. And it happens that the less a man believes in the soul — that is to say in his conscious immortality, personal and concrete — the more he will exaggerate the worth of this poor transitory life. This is the source from which springs all that effeminate, sentimental ebullition against war.”
So, if I am reading that correctly, atheists will be more likely to be against war and the religious will be more likely to be for it.
Filling in the gaps: Atheists do not believe in a soul that survives bodily death, so they don’t believe in an afterlife, so they believe this life is all there is, so they believe this life is most important, so they will be more opposed to life-threatening things like war.
And conversely: Theists believe that they have souls that survive bodily death, so they believe in an immortal afterlife, so they believe that this temporary physical life is less important than the afterlife, so they don’t care as much about physical death, so they are more willing to go to war.
Note that opposition to war is described as “effeminate” — implying that real men favor war.
Note also that this was published in 1913, just before the Great War harvested many souls.
Of course there are other facets of religion that may increase or lessen warlikeness. But focus only on this one for now — the belief or not in the immortality of the soul. Is Unamuno correct to argue that that belief is directly relevant to one’s willingness to die in war?
Source: Chapter 1 of Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life (1913). A Project Gutenberg version is online here.