Sometimes, I can’t help myself.
I mean, people make spurious claims and ridiculous accusations against God, Christians, “the Church”, etc., all the time. Usually, I let it go. Can’t be constantly getting into long, drawn-out internet debates ALL the time, after all. But, sometimes, I just have to say something. And, so it went the other day, when a FB friend of a FB friend, amidst generally mocking comments, claimed that Christians were responsible for “lots of mass murders.”
Of course, I had my suspicions about what she was referring to. There are some nasty stains on Christianity’s record. But, I also know that what many people think they know about such things as The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, etc., often suffer from misunderstanding and exaggeration. So, wanting some clarification before engaging on the facts, I made the following comment,
“M____ said, ‘[Christians] definitely have been responsible for lots of mass murders, going back as far as, oh say the first century AD.’ That’s quite an accusation and I’m curious what you have in mind. Care to be more specific?”
Without getting into specifics, I received some condescending remarks from another person, whom I’ll refer to as “K____”, making clear that, among other things, I was an uninformed idiot for even questioning such an obvious fact of history. The next day, M____, whose comment I had originally addressed, responded with a couple of good-size posts. They were long on explaining the joys of religious independence (and why she was a much better thinker after having abandoned the “fundamentalist” Christianity of her youth) and short on specific facts; but, at least she began with this:
“Yeh, I have specific examples, too numerous to mention Christopher. But I’m sure you know of what I speak, the Roman Catholic Church is a great example, Christian wars, crusades, inquisitions, individuals tortured and murdered…. [T]he entire histories of Europe, UK, Africa, are littered with examples of genocide and mass murders in the name of Christianity, and then you have the modern day mass murderers and serial killers that profess Christianity as their motivation, perhaps the most recent notable example would be Anders Breivik who killed all those people in Norway.”
She also went on about the Holocaust and how Hitler was “a good Christian, feted by the Roman Catholic Clergy”. And, so, we were off to the races….
I have to insert here that both of these women fancied themselves quite humorous with their derisive tone. M____ also made a point of saying that she reads (“A LOT”). I mention this, so you will understand my opening remark below. (Normally, I’d refrain from returning their sarcasm, but I figured these two might actually appreciate/respect it, and I felt I could make it clear it was in a playful tone.) More importantly, though, I tried to remain respectful throughout my response, presenting several historical facts that demonstrated how the “evils of Christianity” are often mischaracterized, while not trying to whitewash every example of violence done in the name of Christ and/or the Church. Hopefully, I was somewhat successful.
“Oh, my! You’re a riot! How will I ever compete with such wit?! Ooh, and you read books, too? I’m in trouble…. ;>
Thanks for responding, M____. I apologize if my question came across as ‘slightly argumentative’. I was honestly seeking clarification with, at most, a ‘slightly challenging’ tone. And, to be clear, I was not ‘personally offended’ by your comments, despite your not-so-subtle impugning of my faith, etc. But, I do find it, uh,… irksome(?) to see/hear a group to which I strongly identify being continually and unfairly slandered. Sometimes, I feel a need to speak up. I’m sure, if tables were turned and it was an affinity group of yours being ridiculed and accused of terrible things, you would be annoyed, too.
You touched on a lot of things in that first response — fodder for many different discussions (e.g., moral standards, reliability of the Bible, fundamentalism, etc.). (Btw, I fully agree that ‘what is legal is not always moral, and what is illegal is often nonsense, or irrelevant depending on circumstance.’) But, let’s stick to the original topic.
I’m not going to try to address every possible example, but I’ll hit a few of the usual culprits:
You initially stated that Christians have been committing mass murder since the first century AD. This is patently false. Christians were a tiny minority who were heavily persecuted by Jew and Gentile alike (e.g., by Emperors Nero and Diocletian), at least until the 4th century. As far as war goes, most early Christians were pacifists. Even after Christian ‘Just War theory’ began to be developed by the likes of Ambrose and Augustine, massacre, looting, and other forms of uncontrolled & vengeful violence were *not* justified.
The Crusades: These are often characterized as a bunch of bloodthirsty, bigoted, Christian zealots off on a… ahem… holy jihad, slaughtering innocent Muslims and Jews. But, this is a distorted picture. Yes, various popes helped in the recruitment efforts, riling up the troops and promising absolution and such. And, yes, there was plenty of overzealousness in the attitudes and behaviors of many crusaders. I can’t and won’t try to excuse this. On the other hand, the crusades were often quite justifiable and not solely of a religious nature. For example, if you start by looking at the First Crusade, it appears to be the first of many waves of aggression by the Christian West against the Islamic East. But, it was the Muslims that started it. From its inception, Islam promoted conversion through conquest. From the time of Muhammad’s first razzia, Christians’ wars against Islam were either in defense of Christendom or to liberate and reconquer lands that were rightfully theirs.
What about that exaggeration I mentioned? Here’s an example. According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, eminent historian of the Crusades, ‘Recent work on the sack of Jerusalem in July 1099… is leading some historians to look at the evidence again. We know it to be a myth that the crusaders targeted the Jewish community in Jerusalem. We also know that the figure for the Muslim dead, which used to range from ten to seventy thousand on the basis of accounts written long after the event, ought to be revised downward. A contemporary Muslim source has been discovered that puts the number at three thousand. Three thousand men and women is still a lot of people, of course, but it is low enough to make one wonder why the Western eyewitnesses, who gloried in generalized descriptions of slaughter, felt the need to portray a bloodbath.'”
So much for the opening salvo! Tomorrow, I’ll continue with my responses on The Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, Hitler, and a few others. See ya then!
* Many thanks to Greg Koukl, Vincent Carroll & David Shiflett, Newsweek, World Book Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana.