In the land of Wymran live two groups of people: The Schijka and the Joothuns. Both groups are profoundly religious. Their religions have a few things in common:

  • They are monotheistic
  • They are each centered around a unique holy book
  • They all believe in an afterlife
  • Their religious beliefs tell them to never commit violent crimes
  • Their entire society is based on religion - they live in theocracies

I am a member of a third religious group, the Gurfin, acting as an agent. I want to start a holy war between the two groups so that they will each weaken each other, making it possible for Gurfin to become the major power in the region without actually directly hurting anybody.

How can I convince both groups to start a holy war, even though both groups are strictly nonviolent, abhor war, and have not fought anyone since their inceptions?

Clarifications from comments:

  • The leading figures in each religion are council-like bodies
  • There is no magic
  • Each group has about 10,000 people

Also, people may be interested in my related question, Can there be a religious group that will not commit religious violence?.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ One wonders if this question actually belongs to history.SE $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu Definitely not. I'm not looking for examples from the past, and this is about a totally fictional world. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 20:52

9 Answers 9


There are several methods to accomplish anything and this situation is no exception but all the methods revolve around the same concept.

Dehumanize the opposing faction, make them a threat to your group's way of life and then utilize trickery to get a fight started.



  • The peoples are not hegemonic. Meaning more simply that each individual has his or her own beliefs that range on a scale compared to others of the same faith. This leads to fringe groups, factions and other differences within each religious group. This is important because radicals always seem to exist and in the face of external threat they can drive bad/violent choices.

    • Method one: Cloak and dagger violence.

    • This method is likely the quickest way to instigate conflict but it is also the method most likely to backfire.

    • In this scenario you attempt to frame each group for atrocities (blow up a hospital or a school or something similar) in turn. Start small, then have the other side retaliate in a slightly more violent fashion and so on until they are at war.

    • Method two: The rumor mill and engendering differences

    • This method is a bit more subtle. Start rumors about one faction and their religion that make it fundamentally opposed to core tenets of the other religion/culture. Start these stories and rumors going on in both nations, nothing will motivate a large group/people to violence like a threat to their way of life.

To be most effective it makes sense to use these methods in tandem, starting with method 2 and following on with method 1.

  • Method three: The Holy Grail. This one should be pretty obvious. Take an existing super holy artifact, and place it in the lands of the other nation. Stealing holy artifacts has been known to cause conflict... They may be peaceful, but they may also be territorial, but neither has had a reason to intervene before.
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    $\begingroup$ So basically, most of the same methods you use to make anyone engage in a war. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Apr 3, 2021 at 23:51

You could go for the same method employed by M in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: disguise yourself as a member of one religion and deface/destroy/steal some relics/artifacts/holy sites of the other religion, then do the reverse for the other religion. Make sure you spread the word that the holy things of one religion are being vandalized by members of the other religion.

Just make sure you aren't obvious about it. Leave some people alive to witness the events, rather than running around town shouting it at the top of your lungs. Let others do the work for you and word will spread faster. You'll need to make sure you can make a clean exit after the event. If you get caught during the vandalism or as the result of the following investigation, your plan is ruined (not to mention whatever might befall you).

Alternatively, you can hire some mercenaries to do the vandalism for you. It would be best to hire people from your own faith, so they have a vested interest in seeing the plan succeed. Mercenaries for hire may reveal the truth if they are caught, thus spoiling your plan, but adherents of your own religion intent on advancing the faith are more likely to keep up the ruse.

Of course, involving more people increases the chances of getting caught. If you do hire others to help you or vandalize on your behalf, try keep the number to the minimum needed to carry out the daily or weekly activities.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "making it possible for Gurfin to become the major power in the region without actually directly hurting anybody" It might be better to hire people to do this, if you want it to satisfy the criteria. It is generally safer to hire others to do your dirty work anyway. The best would be complete outsiders. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ I would have said basically the same thing as Frostfyre except I would have recommended desecration/destruction of sacred artifacts instead of assassinations. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez Ah, missed the part about not hurting anyone. Good catch. I'll tweak my answer when I have the time. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre, 2nd part, 1st paragraph: "Mercenaries...may reveal the truth...spoiling your plan", not necessarily. You could pretend to belong to the opposing religion, thus feeding the mercenaries false information $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T At which point you would need to hire separate mercenaries to vandalize each religion and hope they don't know each other. Nesting lies can make things dangerously complicated, but it can be helpful. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 13:37

I won't be original, but building violence between the two groups on small scale is probably the easiest to go. You probably should follow the following steps:

Stage 1: Insecurity

You need to stage some (apparently random) murders. They have to appear as random as possible, such that people would start to fear for themselves, and be suspicious of each other. You probably should include one or two feat with high impact: horrible killing of a (few) child(ren), for example, to make sure to get everyone's attention.

For that you need to get mercenaries, thiefs and killers to do it for you. You might want to impersonate some member of the Joothums while contacting those. In any case you should make sure they cannot link those to the Gurfans.

If you can, having economic problem at this stage would help. Issue with supplies, rumours of bad harvest, etc. People are usually more prone to fighting when the economy isn't good.

Stage 2: Religious Motives

While continuing your terror campaign, you should start to attack Schijka's members and offices. But still get on with the murders. The change should not be too obvious. Slowly, the ratio civilian/religious will move towards the religous. The main idea is to make people believe that a criminal group has been formed and that they are targeting the Schijka.

Depending on the importance of the Gurfans, you might want to attack your own church as well. If the 3 groups are equally important, you need to do it to let it clear where it comes from. If the Gurfans are a minority, you can spare it.

In any case, there should start to have some diplomatic discussions, with some Schijka (together with the Gurfans?) accusing the Joothums of harboring criminals. Due to their pacific nature, the Joothums will run some inquiries to see whether some of their extremists haven't gone crazy.

Stage 3: Rumors and Mass Control

You don't want the inquiries to proceed normally. So by spreading rumours, and placing a few agitators at strategic places, you should get the mob to attack isolated Joothums members. The mob does not have to comprise elements of any religion in particular at first, but as the attack on the churches intensifies, some members of the Schijka will join the revolt.

You have now built an insurrection. The main goal of that step is to avoid inquiries done effectively. Furthermore, by implying mobs, you reduces the chances of the elite to control the members of their faith.

Stage 4: Arming the Opponents

You should then proceed to provoke more and more mob furious attacks, on both side. At this stage, it is likely that the lowest members of the churches will get involved.

You might need to control yours. Kill all the members of your clergy who might take part in any mob gathering. Whereas you target the most pacific ones on the other churches.

To escalade the violence, you need to be able to supply weapons to both sides. That will increase the violence to a state of warfare. Stage mob attacks against the milicia/armies of the religions.

You want to set clear objectives. So you can get rumours/speakers that emphasize the differences between the churches, and even set a deshumanization of the members of the opposing church. This will increase the hate and help built something like a nationalism up. A few chocking events on either side would help. "They decapitated a 5-year old girl! They hanged a pregnant woman!" etc.

You might consider a staged discovery of the original criminal group at this point. You might get the actual perpretator killed, or not. But you should arrange that members of the Joothums are identified amongst them.

Stage 5: The Spark

At that point, the stage is ready for a fight. The religious groups hate each others, and violent demonstrations are organised by both sides. The time is probably ripe for a good-ol' spark.

There are several ways to do that. And you can see what suits the best, from the events and reactions before, but one idea could be to find a few motivated Schijkas, and help them intent to kill an important person from the Joothums church (yes, Franz-Ferdinand). You should help them such that they can really get close to their target, but not really escape, and that they can't link back to you. Whether they kill their target or not, is probably irrelevant. The main idea is to imply the highest members of the churches in what was, up to that point, a base-class insurection.

During the War

If everything goes "well", there should be an open war at that point. But you should not just sit and sip, but you should build your side, with at least the following points

  • make sure that no member of your church gets involved (from his side), so eliminate the more vindicative and protect the pacific,
  • continue to supply weapons and some assistance to both side: if they see you as their ally, or neutral but depends on you, they won't try to get you in the civil war,
  • organise the help to all victims/citizens. You can set up refuges or hospitals run by your Church. At the end of the war, you will be known as the pacific and reliable side.

What do you need to make all this?

There are a few things that should try to do prior to starting, but in particular you should have

  • a certain control of the economy,
  • an extensive spy network,
  • fanatic members of your side, who can be spared later (yes, SA),
  • financial ressources (weapons, to pay your spy, or corrupt a few people here and there),
  • little moral and ethic.

There's no such thing as a peaceful religion. Power corrupts. Regardless of whether the founder was a meek hermit preaching withdrawal from the world or a warlord with sword in hand, over the course of decades and centuries, religious figures in a position of authority will invariably self-select to often be power-hungry sociopaths. It's kind of an iron rule of history. Invariably they will attempt to use their religious power for political purposes, including violent ones, unless there is something even more powerful preventing them from doing so.

If you tell people that the members of the other religion's mere drawing of breath is a violent crime against the eternal souls of those people, you're pretty much set.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My only concern with this answer is that it presupposes you are talking about humans and human nature (in what I would agree are accurate terms...for the most part, there are exceptions to your rule) but the OP does not specify we are working with humans...so you are essentially ignoring the state of the world as described in the question based on your observations about religion on earth regarding humans, neither of which is relevant to the question being asked.. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 23:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Downvote away, but when the OP mentions people, I think people... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ What about the Jains? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 8:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You know what Serban you have a point...my reading may be too broad... $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 13:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ religion CANNOT be non-violent: some believers will always think that it is FOR YOUR OWN GOOD to convert you to right religion (or kill you while trying). Better than let you rot in hell for believing in false gods. Like I was surprised when some evangelicals strongly believe that Mahatma Gandhi will rot in hell, because he did not accepted Jesus as his savior. Seriously. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 15:12

Convice both religions that members of the opposite religion are not human.

Both religions may deplore acts of violence, but unless both also promote veganism or the like, they more than likely define acts of violence implicitly as those against humans. If you can make people believe that their enemies aren't really people, they can commit atrocious acts of violence more or less unquestionably.

I can think of two ways to accomplish this:

1. The other religion's people are witches.

This is probably the easier of the two to make work, especially if Wymran is not technologically advanced. Visit each theocracy posing as a traveler from a distant land. Claim you have recently passed through the other theocracy and were very disturbed by demonic practices you saw there. Find some passages of the other religion's holy book that would sound evil in the theocracy you're in with the right context, or flat out invent passages like "You must sacrifice the children of all non-believers" if the two theocracies are isolated enough from each other that this wouldn't be immediately dismissed. The idea is to plant the seed that the other religion worships a false god, which is really some sort of demon, and they forfeit their souls to him and are then possessed/no longer human.

Next, start committing heinous crimes that appear ritualistic, being careful not to get caught. Leave symbols from the other religion everywhere. Whenever possible, use any tricks at your disposal to give the crimes the appearance of a magical element. (These don't have to be incredible violations of physics. Conceal something explosive or flammable in a target's clothing to create the illusion of spontaneous combustion. Carefully drain a victim's blood and replace it with another liquid so their blood appears to have turned green. Even if a rational explanation is available, you should have rigged the circumstances enough that people jump to conclusions.)

Before too long things should snowball and you have a Salem Witch Trial situation, only there two opposing authorities on who the witches are, forcing them to settle the issue in battle rather than in court.

2. The other religion's people are aliens.

This one could be fun, but requires certain circumstances. For one, the existence of any significant amount of defectors from one religion to the other over time would be an obstacle. (Not an insurmountable one, but it would complicate things, and runs the risk of causing internal hunts for assimilated members rather than provoking an external conflict.) Secondly, Wymran must be advanced enough that the concept of an alien is widely understood but unsophisticated enough to be fooled by a good hoax, lacking the science to disprove it.

Next, fake the discovery of an ancient alien crash or landing site. Include in your discovery a manuscript in an alien language. After a little time has passed, claim to have translated it. Reveal it details the aliens' plan to disguise themselves as humans until their numbers grow large enough to destroy the human race and take over the planet.

Ideally, the crash site would be placed between the two theocracies, on the border between them if one exists. The alien manuscript should be kept "secure" (meaning secret), so that you can leak images to both sides mixing alien hieroglyphics with symbols from the other religion to confirm the link in their minds. Once there are alarmists on both sides, fake the test of an alien weapon. Dismantle a secluded structure at night and send up some green smoke at dawn. Investigators will find the place seemed to have disappeared at the molecular level, and the alien hieroglyphics will be left behind. Both sides will think the other side is on the verge of attacking, and when smaller fights occur due to panic, this will only appear more true.


Expanding on the idea that power corrupts, you only need to look at the history of Earth to see nominally peaceful religions embroiled in violent wars.

Perhaps the clearest example is the wars the Samurai undertook against Buddhist monasteries in the Middle Ages. The conflict here was between the Feudalistic Daimyo representing the Shogunate and the Buddhist monks over the nature of Japanese society and who ultimately was to rule.

These were not wishy washy monks either. Think of the will and iron self discipline shown by modern day Buddhist monks who choose to set themselves on fire to protest injustices, coupled to knowledge and intense training in martial arts (picked up when it became clear that they were in opposition to the armed forces of the Shogunate, the Daimyo's and their Samurai retainers). Since monasteries were natural fortresses due to their generally inaccessible locations, and the monks had support from the peasantry (think of modern day insurgencies, where the locals support the insurgents willingly or not, to the detriment of the government forces), the wars between the Shogunate and the Buddhists was pretty prolonged and bloody.

Since you want a holy war between the various religious factions, that is fairly easy to arrange as well, particularly if the religions are closely related (or even branches of the same religion). Much like family fights are often bitter and all consuming, religious quarrels over interpretations of elements of doctrine can also become quite violent and prolonged. The Catholic Church's first crusade wasn't against the Muslims in the Holy land, but rather the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) against "heretical" Christians in southern France. The 30 Years War destroyed the population and infrastructure of much of central Europe, over the question of should people and Princes worship in the Protestant manner or the Catholic one? The current wars in the Middle East pit the Salafist Sunni ISIS against the Shi'ite Persians of Iran as the major players, but even when ISIS burns out or is destroyed, the Shi'ites and Sunni's see each other as apostates to be destroyed.

So the power of religion to mobilize the minds and spirits of men can be channeled into surprising things: the same drive that builds monuments and cathedrals also drives armies of conquest.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ All well and good, except the first crusade in the Levant was a century before the Albeginsian crusade. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 1:17

Just War Theory

Developed by St. Augustine et al, Just War theory is an early form of the Laws of War which was common in Christendom up until (roughly) the American Civil War. One of its defining features is defense of the peace: if someone (or lots of someones) is committing atrocious acts, you have an ethical responsibility to stop them. For example, if a country is invading its neighbors and suppressing minorities, you should give it an attitude adjustment.

This concept especially applies to self-defense. While you should not attack others without provocation, you are free to fight back if they attack you and will not come to a diplomatic solution. In fact, you are expected to do so.

Just War Theory has one major disadvantage: as @JDługosz pointed out in a (since-deleted) answer, corrupt leaders can look at things... creatively to manufacture a Just Cause. Here's a few forms this commonly takes:


One point that several other people have mentioned is human nature. regardless of if you believe in a religion it would be foolish to deny the corrupting influence of power. This has manifested through history in the fact that often the leaders of a religion are often not the best examples of its tenets. Also, while the entire population of both sides may be peaceful, the leaders are corrupt enough to be manipulated. Also, their position gives them the authority needed to cause trouble.

So the plan could be this.

1) pursue the course of action other answeres have outlined, i.e., stirring up hate/conflict.

2) find a good reason - or one that sounds good - for conflict that is not religious in nature and make sure that those in power are aware of it

3) This may not be possible but if you can convince those in power that they are in personal danger there it much more chance of something happening

4) while all this is going on you must try to strengthen the legitimacy of the leaders, so that the population, stirred up against the other religion, is ready to follow orders that they may have misgivings about.

5) knock of anyone who tries to raise theological arguments to the actions of the leaders.

This way you play on the strength of people's belief, rather than just on their capacity for hatred. Seems like it would be more effective.

  • Go to some random place of the planet
  • Draw a large enough square on the ground
  • Pick 2 random folks with different religion
  • Tell each of them that this land is theirs
  • Let events unfold

Sure enough, there will be war.
Will they make it an holy war? Maybe yes, maybe no. Anyway, it will help your scheme all the same


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