Often I hear people reject Christianity because of the violence that Christians have wrought throughout human history.
But what if conflict is not actually caused by “religion” at all? People start wars (hello President Trump and Kim Jong-un). Violence is a human problem that inflicts both the religious and the irreligious.
My focus in this blog…is specifically Christianity. Why? Because I’m a Christian. And because I view it as a unique faith system. Only Christianity reveals the God who is seeking people out personally to save them. I won’t speak for other religious belief systems…I will speak for Christianity.
At the outset, I’m convinced that no violence is acceptable for a Christian. I am NOT going to attempt to justify or defend past atrocities committed by Christians. I will say that I think Christian people suffer the same tendency TOWARDS violence as other human beings. We all have hearts that need changing. BUT – there is hope.
What’s my argument proposing that conflict is not particularly caused by Christianity?
First – Christianity’s Critics Exaggerate Past Christian Violence
Christianity’s critics exaggerate the past in order to misrepresent the behaviour of violent, misguided Christians from the past.
John Dickson has researched two sad but specific examples of Christian violence over the last 600 years.
1 The Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition)
Setup to coerce people into Catholicism, it began in the 15th century and lasted for 350 years. It is commonly claimed that hundreds of thousands of heretics were killed during this period. The facts paint a different picture.
“in its 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year.”
That’s 18 deaths a year too many…I agree! But a lot less than the hundreds of thousands that are often claimed.
2 The Crusades
A popular notion blames the crusades during the Middle Ages on the Christian church. Someone who was alive around that time – Martin Luther – had this to say about that notion:
“there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”
In other words, the exaggeration here is on the level of genuine, believing Christians who were actually involved in this violence.
3 The Northern Ireland Troubles
This thirty year conflict, beginning in 1968, was sectarian and claimed the lives of less than 4,000 people…though many more were injured physically and psychologically over this time. The BBC history website reports, “During the Troubles, the scale of the killings perpetrated by all sides – republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.”
Having personally lived through this time, and known people caught up in it, it was terrible in so many senses. And 133 deaths a year were too many.
Second – Secular Conflict is Worse than Religious Violence Yet this Fact is Downplayed
Let’s bring a bit of perspective here.
1 The French Revolution
The secular French Revolution between September 1793 and July 1794 happened in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.
“As many people were executed…in a single year of the Revolution…as were killed in the entire three decades of the [Northern Ireland] ‘troubles’”.
The French Revolution was a bloodbath.
2 Secular 20th Century Wars
World War 1 (the war to end all wars) caused an estimated 8,000,000 deaths.
World War 2 was much worse; 35,000,000 deaths.
Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic regime killed at least 20,000,000 people. This means more people died under Stalin each and every week…than died as a result of the entire 350 year history of the Spanish Inquisition.
Atheist Paul Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge, “led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention centre, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived.”
I would suggest that the results of purely secular conflicts are downplayed because they are so much MORE bloodthirsty than the historical religious ones.
Third – Violence is Not Particular to Christianity. It is a common Human Problem
These figures are both tragic and mind boggling. But they paint an obvious picture.
BOTH religion and irreligion can inspire violence. Yet the irreligious violence tends to be MUCH MORE SEVERE than the violence from Christians.
Christian violence is a sad historical fact. So is secular violence – which is much worse than the Christian violence.
This points to my thesis that – I don’t think conflict is particularly caused by Christianity. Violence is a human problem; we all are affected. The problem is the human heart….not Christianity or Christian belief.
YET – there is STILL HOPE for Humankind
The hope will not appear if mankind succeeds in stamping out Christianity (as some have suggested). The hope comes when we become more true to the life and teachings of Jesus. Why?
Imagine a committed atheist who is convinced that there’s no God and we live in a cold merciless universe… the product of the blind forces of physics..
If I [as a Christian] try to put myself in that position, then I make an interesting observation. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, the atheist’s decision to love is nothing more than a personal preference. Surely because there is no God, and therefore no ultimate accountability for our actions, then ANY kind of life is logically compatible with the atheist worldview?
While the atheist can live how he pleases, no such free choice lies before the Christian. We are commanded to love like Jesus loves. “when Christians love, they do so in full accordance with their worldview that begins with the love of God and the inherent value of his much loved creatures.” A hate filled Christian is indeed a historical fact…but it is also a clear logical DEFIANCE of the Christian worldview. A hate filled Christian makes no logical sense.
So where is the hope I referred to earlier?
Christianity doesn’t provoke war; it brings peace to all people. Eternal peace between us and God.
The solution for violent Christianity is REAL Christianity.
The solution for a violent world is not no religion…where love is logically nothing more than a lifestyle choice. The solution is REAL Christianity; loving and following Jesus Christ in a fuller and more devoted way.
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Jesus Christ (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)
“The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion…The more Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and the more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be.” – Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian)
“But why so many words when I can say it in one sentence, and in a sentence very appropriate for a Jew. Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only in words and songs but, rather, foremost in your deeds.” – Albert Einstein (deist)
 John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 68.
 Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from http://www.lutherdansk.dk/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror1.htm, accessed 4th January 2018.
 BBC History, “The Troubles 1968 – 1998”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles, accessed May 5th 2015.
 John Dickson, 69.
 History, Pol Pot, History, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot, accessed May 5th 2015.
 John Dickson, 70.