Christianity's Bloody Historyby Rit Nosotro
How true is the claim that Christianity has murdered more people in the name of their God and wiped out entire cultures than probably any other group in history.
On the historytour website1, someone posted this comment: "...Christianity has murdered more people in the name of their God and wiped out entire cultures than probably any other group in history." The author of this note offers very little background of him or herself, but simply calls Christianity, a glorified cult. Even though this author provides no proof or logical reasoning for his accusation, his statement does have a grain of truth in it. This essay will explore that grain of truth. More accurately, this essay will examine the reasons for the deaths caused by major world religions, especially Christianity, as well as forms of recent socialism and nationalism. In addition, this essay will respond to the above quoted comment.
However, first it is important to make one key observation. Communism, Nazism, and Fascism, the three key oppressive governments in World War II, all either claim to have no religion, or claim to have religion only when it serves their purposes. Thus, many people will say that to include these in a discussion on religious deaths would be erroneous. However, a key reason that these governments killed so many people was their lack of religion. Religion defines moral code for many people. Without it, how can one expect a nation to act morally? The number of deaths in Stalinist Soviet Russia is estimated at twenty million, and the deaths of the Second World War, primarily caused by the power-hungry nature of the three mentioned governments in Russia, Germany, and Italy respectively, is estimated at fifty million.2 All of these deaths are a result of immoral leaders controlling immoral governments.
In fact, morality is a key factor in examining the reasons for the multitudes of deaths caused by the religion over the course of history. Dictionary.com3 defines morality as "The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct." At the heart of every religion rests a moral code, a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct. This code defines how a follower should think and act. The moral code really defines what the religion stands for, and where its adherents should stand on certain issues. However, what makes this so difficult is how open to interpretation morality is. Every religion has "black and white" areas, with obvious answers to the questions that arise. Every religion also has "gray" areas as well, though. These areas are not so easily interpreted, and rarely, if ever agreed upon. Separate denominations of religions exist for this reason; people cannot agree on the interpretation of the Bible or of the Koran. The point is that one cannot really blame the misdeeds of the Catholic Church, for example, on all of Christianity, because most of the rest of Christianity disagrees with some of the Catholic doctrine. If the Catholic Church based its actions on some of that doctrine, then how can one say it is the Protestants fault? Naturally, this works the other way as well. If a Protestant denomination is based on faulty doctrine, one cannot lay the blame on the other denominations of Christianity for their actions based on that doctrine.
However, while important, this only serves to steer away those who wish to stereotype religions based on the acts of one denomination or one segment of that religion. Three key reasons exist for the deaths caused by religion. First, the death might be called for or condoned by the religion or the religion's God. Second, the perpetrator of the killing might have misinterpreted the religious text or instruction, either intentionally or unintentionally. And third, the perpetrator may not truly be an adherent to the religion, merely using it to further his own goals.
Perhaps the greatest example of the first reason lies in the Old Testament of the Bible. While not actually Christians, for Christianity did not exist until the coming of Christ, the Jews did and do follow the same God, and did so in their Exodus from Egypt, and while conquering and then living in the Promised Land. On their journey to this land, God ordered the Israelites to slaughter whole nations several times.4 Often, the Israelites obeyed, and destroyed every city, every man, woman, and child, and sometimes even left no living thing alive, not even livestock. Sometimes, the Israelites failed to kill following God's commandment, and each time they did this, God's wrath descended upon them, often killing thousands of their number. While it is true that this is before the coming of Christ, and thus the punishment for sin is quite different, the basic question remains: Why was it right for the Israelites to slaughter so many people? Taking that one step further, is it right for people to kill in the name of their god now, in the present day?
The answer to the former is yes, it was right for the Israelites to slaughter the people the God commanded them to. Firstly, because God told them to, and his word is above all else. Secondly, this was God's punishment upon unrighteous, ungodly people. God used the Israelites to carry out his punishment for the evil nations that occupied the land, and also to give the Israelites room to settle down and become a nation, not twelve tribes of wanderers. "...In all things God works for the good of those who love him..."5 As to the latter, the answer is that God no longer calls his followers to kill in his name. When Christ came to wash the sins of the world, he came in God's mercy, not in God's wrath. "...Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." Cleansing our sins is no longer a complex ritual of sacrifices as it was in the Old Testament, but a simple, sincere request for forgiveness, and the knowledge that Christ's love for us exceeds any human comprehension.
Misinterpretation of religious text, the second key reason, is best described by the many misdeeds of the Catholic Church. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are two prime examples of the Catholic Church misusing its power to further their own interests. While some Catholic leaders certainly thought they were carrying out God's instructions by launching the Crusades, many of the leaders were simply interested in wealth and power. At the time of the Crusades, the Muslims had already been beaten back from Western Europe, vanquished at the Battle of Tours in 732. However, the Catholic Church used the Muslim's conquering of the "Holy City", Jerusalem, to launch a series of campaigns that ended with many Muslims and Christians dead, and no real gain on either side. The fanatic lust for power and wealth led to a war that only hurt both sides, as war usually does. It is quite possible many did this with no malicious thoughts, and simply thought they were interpreting the Bible correctly. However, many other leaders certainly knew what they were doing, yet they fell into the dangerous trap of lusting for more power and more wealth, earthly things which do not last for long.6
During the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church used its laws on heresy to further its own goals. By defining heresy as anything against Catholic dogma, the Church could "purify" the people of Spain. This meant driving out or killing Jews, Protestants, and any non-believers. While this may sound only like a religious state trying to attain their idea of purification, there was an ulterior motive. Many of the people exiled or killed, especially Jews, were wealthy merchants and landowners. Upon their exile, their property became ownerless. By the law of the Inquisition, that land now belonged to the Church. Several thousand plots of good land and materials add up to a lot of wealth. Again, did some Spanish leaders think they were following God's laws? Probably, but it does not change the fact that they were wrong. This ties back to previous paragraphs; one cannot base the morality of a whole religion on one denomination. However, at the same time, each denomination is a different portrayal of the same or similar religion, and each denomination should understand that they carry great weight in influencing the opinion of their religion.
The third major reason, false expression of religious belief, has been touched upon in the previous two reasons. Those who fall into this category are those who intentionally disobeyed the law of God, or intentionally misinterpreted religious doctrine for their own purposes. Certainly many Christian leaders are culprits of this. Perhaps the Islamic terrorists of the 20th and now 21st century simply use the Koran as an excuse to act upon their hatred toward the West. Men are clever creatures, and, if only interested in self-gain, will take any opportunity to gain wealth and power that presents itself. This is all too frequent in every major religion.
These three points attempt only to explain the reasons for why so many deaths have been caused by the world's religions. Man's cruelty and evilness is really the root cause for all of them. Ever since the Fall of Man and the murdering of Abel by Cain, men seem to have thirsted for the blood of other men, and for more wealth and power. They will find any reason, any excuse for doing so. The listed reasons are the main ones for killing in the name of religion. Other "excuses" for killing have been used, such as Hitler's Aryan Supremacy excuse, which said that the Germans had to kill Jews and other minority groups because they were inferior to Aryans. This pattern of killing will continue until Christ returns and makes all things new in Him.
Finally, the accusation made by the author of the comment quoted at the beginning of this paper must be refuted. Sadly, no matter how hard some may try to say otherwise, every major world religion has been practically bathed in blood. From Christianity to Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism and to whatever other major religion one wishes to include, people have killed ruthlessly in the name of their god or gods and their religion. Professed Christians have murdered in the name of their god, however, so have professed Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Christians have taken Biblical teachings and warped and twisted them to fit their own needs, but so have adherents to all other religions. The same applies to less intentional infractions. Adherents to every religion have done it. To select Christianity out of all the other religions is like saying one nation is responsible for all the deaths caused in the World Wars, and is false. Thus, the author of the note is only partially correct. Christianity has killed many, many people in the name of their God, but this is true of all other religions too.
One may still use this fact, however, to make an argument for atheism, but this argument does not stand. For example, one could say that even if all the leaders who committed these acts of unbiblical violence were wrong, they still did it. They still represent Christianity, and how easily people become corrupted and evil in that religion. Thus, they should stick with atheism.
In his book Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century (1993) Zbigniew Brezezinski estimates that Communist oppression has killed sixty million people. Remember, Communism is the supreme atheistic government. These numbers are staggering, especially when compared to the Spanish Inquisition, which is estimated as causing about 32,000 deaths, and the Crusades, between one and five million. The same site with the above death tolls has a median estimation of seven and a half million, which is likely high. Lastly, Pitirim Sorokin estimated that in all the medieval wars in Europe, less than five hundred thousand Europeans were killed. Thus, even if one were to say that Christians were responsible for all the deaths caused in Europe amongst the hundreds of wars (and this, while certainly an exaggeration, is not too far-fetched, for the Catholic Church was directly involved in the majority of European wars), and the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition, and the Thirty Years War, at the median of the estimates given, it would turn out to be around 1/4 of the deaths caused by just Communism.7 Add, for example, the deaths caused by Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Italy, respectively. Or, perhaps, the number of deaths caused by abortion between 1920 and 2000, estimated by the same site to be between 500 and 850 million. You get totals far exceeding anything Christianity or any other religion has ever done.
These stats simply destroy the atheistic argument against religions based on the deaths caused by them. Quite frankly, atheistic governments and societies have killed far more people than any one religion, perhaps more than all the major religions combined. Thus, atheist's view that religious groups have killed more people than any other organization is not only false, but also hypocritical. Yet atheists constantly use the deaths caused by Christianity to accuse it of being made up of bloody, violent people, hypocritical in their teachings of love and kindness. "The problem with the atheistic worldview is that it chooses to leave much of the world out of its view."8 Left out is the tremendously positive impact Christian missionaries have consistently had in world history over the centuries.
However, there is still failure on the part of those who did not perpetrate the wrongs committed by so many Christians. Paul writes to the Church of Corinth "Expel the wicked man among you."9The failure to follow this command by all Christians for hundreds of years has directly led to the loss of faith in Christian doctrine, and the ascension of doubt, skepticism, and, ultimately, Atheism. In Matthew 7:16-20, the Bible says twice, "You shall know them [Christians] by their fruits." Too often have Christians displayed the fruits of the wicked, turning people away from Christianity. There is nothing Christians can do to change the past, thus, we must attempt to change the future by acting not for our own gain, but with love and kindness, for the glory of God.
4 Examples: Numbers. 21:1-3, 21-35, Deut. 2:32-37, Deut. 3:1-7, and many more
5 Romans 8:28
6 Luke 6:37
7 All stats from http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat8.htm#Abortions (some stats may be on different pages than others)
8 Cook, Evan. Private correspondence with author. May 14, 2013.
9 1 Corinthians 5:13 Related Essays
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