4 – The wars and other abuses
From a general perspective
Christianity and violence- the wars and other abuses.
Keith Parsons in ‘Why Not Christian’ said, “Christianity has a Janus-face. The Christian religion has inspired much of the world’s great art, literature, and music, still many of history’s most horrifying crimes were committed in the name of Christ. Christianity has comforted, uplifted, ennobled, and empowered. It has also degraded, persecuted and terrorized. Both the highest and purest love and the basest and cruelest fanaticism are legacies of Christianity. (…)
The Christian Bible bequeathed a legacy of cruelty; the Church wasted little time in acting on that legacy. The most notable examples of Christian warfare include the Crusades of the Middle Ages, directed mainly against the Muslim occupation of Palestine (though sometimes this was an excuse for purely political violence, such as the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204).
Even Christian historians such as Paul Johnson grow eloquent recounting the persecutions, pogroms, crusades, witch-hunts, inquisitions, and religious wars whereby countless persons were burned, butchered, tortured, or thrown into dungeons by God-fearing fanatics (Johnson, 1976) (…)
But haven’t Christians repented of their past evils and grown into a force for tolerance? Did not Pope John Paul II recently express sorrow for the Catholic Church’s past persecutions? In 1983 (350 years after the occurrence) the Church even repented its treatment of Galileo. Is this not (belated) progress?
When confronted with the “holy horrors” of Christian history, the standard apologetic line is that the perpetrators of such horrors were not acting in the “true spirit of Christ” or according to the “true” Gospel message. This line always rings hollow. It sounds like the strained apologetics of academic Marxists who admit the horrors of the Gulag but who deny that the Soviet Union was a true communist society.
One thing Marx and Jesus definitely had in common was their insistence that what matters is not abstract theory but how a scheme works out in practice. As Jesus said of false prophets “By their fruits shall ye know them (Matthew 7:15).” Communism may sound great on paper, but if every society that attempts to implement it becomes a totalitarian nightmare, so much for Marxist theory. When Poland suffered under General Jaruzelski, the Poles had a bitter joke: “Where does the true socialist society exist? On the moon.” The same may be said of the “true” Christian society. (…)
More fundamentally, the Christian concept of human nature is at odds with the aims of an open, democratic, and pluralistic society. Christianity insists that human nature is depraved, a beast that must be caged. Since humans are evil, they must be controlled by higher authority imposed from above. Christians talk about faith, hope, and love, but obedience is the prime Christian virtue (“There is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey” says the old hymn). Since submission to authority, whether human or divine, is the chief Christian duty, Christianity lends itself naturally to authoritarian political schemes. We should not forget that the Church supported Franco in Spain and King Leopold in the Congo. In short, the City of God does not run on democratic principles. (…)
To sum up the argument so far, the Christian Bible if full of atrocities ordered or committed by God. Christianity produced St. Francis, but it also produced Grand Inquisitor Torquemada and the authors of Malleus Malleficarum, the witch-hunter’s handbook. Christianity has preached hatred, soaked the earth with blood, and filled the mind with supernatural terrors. It seems clear that my first point is established: A rational, conscientious person may doubt the beneficial effects of Christian preaching and practice. A pragmatic apologetic based on the alleged good effects of Christianity therefore fails.
Of course, many Christians are as appalled by the “holy horrors” of Christian history as I am. (…) Further, there is no doubt that many ordinary people have found strength and inspiration in their Christian faith. So, can there be a sort of Christianity that preserves the good things while getting rid of the bad? I do not know. I do know that, as Voltaire, Paine, Ingersoll, Russell, and others showed, the “old time religion” was often very bad.
Forrest G. Wood put it more concisely: There are contradictions in every religion; but the missionary quality of Christianity magnifies the consequences of its contradictions. The history of Christianity may be the serene and saintly story of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Virgin Mary, St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr., leading nuns and clergymen in nonviolent resistance. But it is also the cruel and bloody story of crusaders and conquistadores, Pope Innocent II and Torquemada, the Salem witch trials and cross-burning Klansmen. “Kill a Commie for Christ!” bumper stickers shouted in the 1950’s (Wood, 1990, p. 26).
Apologists sometimes boast of Christian opposition to slavery. Many of the leading abolitionists were devout Christians. However, many equally devout Christians argued just as vehemently in defense of slavery. Wood, in his book The Arrogance of Faith, documents some of these pro-slavery arguments. (…)
Contemporary theologians would of course deny that the problem was Christianity per se, and charge that the pro-slavery apologists had twisted Christian doctrine. Notoriously, though, neither the Old or New Testaments contains an outright condemnation of slavery. Parts of the Bible tell us in great detail how we should live, right down to how we should wear our hair. Yet it omits to tell us that owning another human being is wrong. Of course, masters are admonished to treat their slaves well–and slaves are told to obey their masters. Abolitionists felt that slavery was ungodly, but there simply was no unequivocal scriptural support for their view.
What about the famous passage where Paul says that in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or master, male of female? This is a marvelous passage, but as Wood notes, for many Christians this means that others are equal only if they accept Christianity: ‘Modern churches have done as much as any philanthropic institution in the world to ameliorate hunger, poverty, disease, and ignorance, but the fact remains that most Christians have perceived the African, Indian, or any other nonbeliever as an equal–if they have done so at all–only after he has been converted. It was impossible for a missionary to accept the heathen for what he was and consider him an equal. That would have been real charity’ (Wood, 1990, p. 29).”
(Reprinted by permission. Source: Keith Parsons ‘Why Not Christian’, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/whynotchristian.html )
the Bible (Old Testament) is a violent book
Critics have also noted the prevalence of wars in the Bible, mainly the Old Testament that stays in contrast with the New Testament calling for believers to love their enemies (Matt. 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). In his bestselling book The God Desilusion, atheist Richard Dawkins refers to the God of the Old Testament as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.” Journalist Christopher Hitchens complains that the Old Testament contains a warrant for “indiscriminate massacre.”