APOLOGETICS – Religion and Violence
The increasing incidence of religious violence in society has brought this issue to the forefront of apologetic debate. Sceptics argue that religion promotes hatred and violence, and that this negates any claims of truth or moral virtue. They also point to the supposed violence perpetrated in the name of Christianity throughout history, claiming that Christianity is no better than any other religion in this regard.
Firstly, let us agree that the killing of innocent people is evil. Any decent human being would regard the taking of life based upon hatred and prejudice as morally repugnant. Those who kill in the name of their religion are morally sick. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the religion itself is false, particularly if the religion specifically teaches a code of morality that opposes such killing. In that case, an individual who kills in the name of their religion is acting contrary to that religion, and cannot be regarded as representing the religion. More about this later.
SUPPOSED CHRISTIAN KILLING THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Sceptics claim the following statistics regarding Christian killing:
|Peasants Revolt (Germany)||250,000|
|Northern Island Conflict||4,000|
|Old Testament Killing||2,000,000|
The Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries were no more a religious conflict than was the second world war. The crusades were the attempt by the western world to liberate cities and nations who had been invaded and subjugated by a cruel invading army. For 500 years leading up to this, the nation of Islam had engaged in a massive campaign of military expansion, invading new lands, killing millions of people, dislocating millions more from their homes and cities, and torturing and raping civilians. For centuries leading up to the Crusades, these subjugated nations had cried out to the western nations to deliver them from this oppression. Finally, in the 11th century, the Kings of England, Spain and France, with the blessing of the Pope in Rome, raised an army to drive out the invaders and liberate the people who were in bondage. (Their campaign was only moderately successful.)
Exactly the same thing occurred in the Second World War, with the western allies rising up to drive back the invading German army. No one claims that the second world war was a religious war. Why, then, are the crusades cited as a religious war? No doubt, the reason lies in the clearer religious distinctions between the two opposing sides. Yet several important points need to be made here.
Firstly, the vast majority of those fighting in the western armies were not Christians in the Biblical sense; they simply came from supposedly Christian nations. Similarly, western allies fighting in the second world war came from “Christian” nations, but those who were Christians in the Biblical sense were a small minority.
Secondly, although sceptics rightly point out that some soldiers in the western armies in the crusades committed atrocities such as the rape and murder of civilians, it has to be stressed that the vast majority of those fighting in the western armies were not Christians, and these atrocities clearly do not represent the teachings of Christianity. In the same way, the atrocities sometimes committed by allied soldiers in the two world wars and in Vietnam and other conflicts were almost certainly not committed by Christian soldiers and, once again, those atrocities do not represent the teachings of the Christian faith, even though those soldiers came from supposedly Christian nations.
Thirdly, while the religious distinctions between the opposing armies in the crusades were clear, the primary motivation for the western offensive was humanitarian rather than religious. It wasn’t a case of “We don’t like your religion so we are going to kill you”. The crusades were mounted in order to liberate millions of people who had been dispossessed and subjugated, and to drive out an evil, oppressive regime. It is vital that we understand that the crusades were a response to an unlawful, unjust military invasion, and did not represent the western forces initiating an invasion.
Conclusion: The crusades do not deserve to be called a religious war. The crusades were a conflict between East and West; between an unlawful aggressor and a liberator. It was a noble cause, in the same way that the Allied response to Hitler was a noble cause.The religious difference between the opposing forces, while probably adding further impetus to the conflict, was not the primary driving force for the conflict. The vast majority of those fighting in the western armies were not Christians and cannot be said to represent the teachings of Christianity.
THE PEASANTS REVOLT (Germany, 1524-1525)
Sceptics sometimes claim that the rebellion by German peasants in the 16th century is an example of Christian killing. This is so far fetched that it barely deserves a response. The Peasants Revolt was the beginning of the Reformation that swept through Europe. The revolt was, essentially, serfs and peasants rising up against their feudal lords, angry at socio-economic inequity and tired of high taxes and oppressive living conditions. While they may have found some inspiration from Martin Luther’s bold stand against the Catholic Church, it was not doctrinal or religious issues that concerned them. The other point to make here is that the estimated 250,000 who died were largely the peasants themselves, killed at the hands of the German Emperor’s army as it sought to quell the uprising. There is absolutely no basis for claiming this conflict as an example of Christian killing.
THE INQUISITIONS (15th and 16th Centuries)
Sceptics love to point to the inquisitions, particularly the Spanish Inquisition, as prime examples of Christian killing. Yet, the popular understanding of the inquisitions is largely mythological. Here are some facts:
- Wikipedia states, “The Spanish Inquisition is often stated in popular literature and history as an example of Catholic intolerance and repression. Modern historians have tended to question earlier accounts concerning the severity of the Inquisition. Henry Kamen asserts that the ‘myth’ of the all-powerful, torture-mad inquisition is largely an invention of nineteenth century Protestant authors with an agenda to discredit the Papacy. Although records are incomplete, about 150,000 persons were charged with crimes by the Inquisition and about 3,000 were executed.”
- The superstitious witch hunts, often attributed to the inquisition, were conducted by secular magistrates, not by the church.
- The Inquisition was originally welcomed to bring order to Europe in order to clarify orthodox doctrine.
- The Church courts of the Inquisition were extremely fair compared to their secular counterparts at the time.
- During the 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition, between 3,000-5,000 people were sentenced to death (about 1 per month).
- The Church executed no one; these death penalties were ordered and carried out by secular magistrates.
NORTHERN IRELAND CONFLICT
The ongoing hatred and violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland is a blight on the name of Christianity. Yet, two things need to be said here. Firstly, the conflict runs much deeper than issues of religion. The delineation between Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland is not simply a denominational classification, but a political affiliation regarding one’s allegiance or opposition to English rule. At its heart, the Protestant / Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland is a political one, rather than religious. Secondly, allegiance to either the Protestant or Catholic cause does not necessarily indicate that a person is a Christian. In Northern Ireland, one’s identity as either a Protestant or Catholic is an indication f one’s history, heritage and political affiliation, rather than a personal commitment to Christ as Lord and Saviour. Thirdly, it must also be stressed that those who perpetrate violence in the midst of this conflict are flagrantly disobeying the direct moral teachings of Christianity, and cannot, in any way, be said to represent the Christian faith.
Given an understanding of the true nature of these conflicts, our understanding of true Christian killings looks more like this:
|Peasants Revolt (Germany)|
|Northern Island Conflict|
|Old Testament Killing||2,000,000|
KILLING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
It is undeniable that God ordered the killing of various groups of people in the Old Testament. (I have been overly generous in the above estimation of 2 million people – it may have been considerably less than this).The most significant example of God-ordained killing is his instructions to the Jewish nation, as they entered the promised land of Canaan. These instructions varied from city to city. In some instances God’s instruction was for the Jews to “drive the inhabitants from the land”. At other times God specifically ordered that the inhabitants of a city be “destroyed“. What are we to make of this?
Dr. Andrew Shead, professor of Old Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, writes, “The Mosaic accounts indicate that total annihilation of the Canaanites was not what God directed, but total destruction of them in terms of military victory, resulting in their complete eviction from the land. This is inferred from passages that subsequently warn the Israelites not to adopt their religious practices or intermarry with them (Josh 23:12-13). Verbs of expulsion are more commonly used than verbs of killing to describe the conquest (Lev 18:24-28; Num 33:51-56; 2 Kings 16:3). Many Canaanites were neither killed nor expelled (2 Sam 24:7; 1 Kings 9:15-23). Additionally, Mosaic ethics outline more humane treatment for non-combatant enemies (Exod 22:24).”
Furthermore, it is important that we understand that God was not driving the former inhabitants out, or killing them, simply because they were an inconvenience for the Jews who wished to inhabit the land. The Canaanites had come under God’s judgment for their many atrocities, including centuries of human sacrifice (usually children), witchcraft, immorality, torture, genocide and idolatory. (“It is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out …” Deut 9:4-6). Ancient literature indicates the depth of the depravity of the Canaanites and surrounding nations (cited in “Archaeology and The History Of Israel”, 1968, and also “Is God A Moral Monster?” by Paul Copan).
One has to consider the issue of whether a certain point is reached where the evil perpetrated by individuals or groups of people is so serious that they have forfeited the right to live. The issue of capital punishment is a contentious one. Yet there are nations today, such as America, who utilise the death penalty in cases of extreme crimes. The executions ordered by God in the Old Testament were of this nature. They were always, and only, ordained in cases where the crimes committed were so heinous as to warrant the ultimate penalty.
Yet despite their wickedness, Canaanites who turned in repentance to follow the God of Israel were forgiven and enfolded into Israel (EG: Rahab and her family, Josh 6:25). At no point in the Bible were the Israelites directed by God to kill anyone simply because they did not worship Yahweh. In fact, the scriptures indicate that God is patient, not desiring the death of a sinner, but that all should turn to him in repentance (Ezek 33:11). This is very different from the teaching of some other religions, which teach that those who refuse to convert should be killed, and who view such killing as blessed by their god.
Islam has historically spread by means of military conquest. Consider the following statistics:
|Conquest of India||80,000,000|
|Conquest of Africa||120,000,000|
|Conquest of Middle East||60,000,000|
|Conquest of Asia||10,000,000|
|Muslims Killing Muslims (since 1948)||11,000,000|
|Killing of Algerians||1,500,000|
|Killing of Armenians||1,500,000|
|Killing of Bangladeshis||3,000,000|
|Killing of Greeks||1,000,000|
|Assyrians, Ugandans, Kurds, Darfurians etc||1,500,000|
KILLINGS BY SECULAR REGIMES
For those who argue that they prefer atheism to Christianity or to any form of religion, consider the following statistics indicating deaths brought about at the hands of secular, atheistic regimes:
|Nazi killing of Jews||6,000,000|
|Nazi killing of Gypsies, Disabled and Minority Ethic Groups||9,000,000|
|Communist China’s Purges||72,000,000|
|Cambodian Genocide (Pol Pot)||2,000,000|
|Estimated abortions sanctioned by secular governments||1,000,000,000|
Michael Coulter, editor of “The Sunday Age”, Melbourne’s leading Sunday Newspaper, wrote an editorial in 2012 in which he attacked Christianity specifically, and religion generally, arguing that Christianity has no credibility because of all the killing that has been perpetrated in its name. He wrote, “The question I can’t escape is why so many people prefer the realm of faith, the realm of the Inquisition, to the realm of secular reason.”
I would respond to that kind of uninformed opinion by asking such a person what bizarre form of mathematics he is employing to reach that conclusion! The statistics speak for themselves.
Of course, we do not want to degenerate to the level of saying, “The religion or philosophy that kills the least amount of people is the winner!”. That would be simplistic and offensive. But those who want to denigrate Christianity by making sweeping generalisations citing wildly inaccurate statistics need to be challenged with the facts.
Christianity is a religion of peace. It is founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, who taught that we should love our neighbour and, even, love our enemies. He taught that we should turn the other cheek, rather than retaliate. Any religion must be defined by its founder and by its subsequent accepted body of orthodox dogma. Anyone who perpetrates violence against innocent people in the name of Christianity, is not a Christian. Christianity cannot be judged on the actions of fanatics whose behaviour is antithetical to the core teachings of Christ.
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