Yesterday, I posted the beginning of a FB exchange I had with a couple women who were, uh, “skeptical” of Christianity’s truth claims and were accusing Christians of many atrocities through the centuries. You know… the usual stuff. I asked for examples to clarify what they had in mind and, once I finally got a few, I did some research and responded the next day with several posts, in which I tried to — not excuse every bad thing “Christians” had ever done, but — explain (using historical facts) how the Christian record is not nearly as bad as it is often portrayed.
I’ve already answered the charge of Christians committing “lots of mass murders, going back as far as, oh say the first century AD,” as well as a bit on the Crusades. The following explanations are from my follow-up posts. (I think there were 7, in all.) Mind you, I have slightly emended the text, mostly to incorporate a correction and additional details on the Salem Witch Trials, which I had posted shortly after the originals.
“The Spanish Inquisition: Beginning in 1480, this is possibly the most notorious example of religious oppression in all of Christian history. Victims were fellow-Christians (deemed heretics), especially those who had converted from Judaism & Islam. It’s a huge, black mark on Christianity. But, as bad as it was, given the holocaust-like legend that has grown up around it, a little perspective is needed. According to expert Henry Kamen, ‘In rounded terms, it is likely that over three-quarters of all those who perished under the Inquisition in the three centuries of its existence, did so in the first half-century…. Taking into account all the tribunals of Spain up to about 1530, it is unlikely that more than two thousand people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition…. [I]t would seem that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fewer than three people a year were executed by the Inquisition in the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru, certainly a lower rate than in any provincial court of justice in Spain or anywhere else in Europe.’
For further comparison, consider what was going on in the Aztec Empire at the time. Travelers from Spain reported seeing over 100,000 skulls of victims just in Tenochtitlan. More conservative estimates put Aztec butchery — where people were brutally sacrificed on an altar and eaten, their skins worn by priests – at several thousand executions per year.
Back to the Inquisition… The Catholic Church wasn’t even fully behind it. It was actually introduced by King Ferdinand, probably to somehow consolidate his power. An alarmed Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull charging that the ‘Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and salvation of souls, but by lust for wealth, and that many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics… setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many.’ Unfortunately, the king bullied Sixtus into submission. But, Kamen says, ‘The next half-century or so witnessed several attempts by Rome to interfere in questions of jurisdiction and to reform abuses that might give the Inquisition a bad name.’ (Too late for that.)
The Salem Witch Trials: The Puritans get a really bad rap for this one, ‘cuz it’s ‘common knowledge’ that hundreds, maybe thousands, of witches (professing or merely accused) were drowned, hanged, or burned at the stake. But, the fact is, Puritans in general wouldn’t have the stomach for such a thing. Those instances of persecution of alleged witches were uncharacteristic of Puritan behavior and a source of embarrassment for Puritan leadership. Everyone of the time believed in witches, sure. But, the Salem Court ignored Cotton Mather’s advice that ‘spectral evidence’ (i.e., the devil supposedly taking on human form) not be used as the basis for convictions. In The Story of the Salem Witch Trials, Bryan LeBeau relates that ‘some of the most effective opposition’ to the trials came from the ministers of Massachusetts. When the deeply concerned Massachusetts General Court called for a fast and a ‘convocation of minsters’ to advise on ‘the right way as to the witchcraft,’ fourteen prominent Puritan leaders again condemned the use of spectral evidence. Mather went so far as to say, ‘[I]t were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.’ (He would’ve been a great spokesman for the Innocence Project!)
So, how many actually died as a result of the infamous Salem Witch Trials? Thousands? Hundreds? No. Thirty-five, before it was stopped… by Christians. Sixteen were executed in New England prior to the ‘official’ trials. Between June and September of 1692, another 19 were hanged and around 150 imprisoned. Of course, it’s tragic when even a handful of lives are taken unjustly. Just because the numbers are small doesn’t mean no injustice was done. But, an accurate accounting is needed to put things in proper perspective. [Note: Governor William Phipps dissolved the court in September 1692. The colony's leading minister ended the witch hunt in 1693 and those that remained in prison were released. The judge who presided over the controversial trials publicly confessed his guilt in 1697. In 1711 the colony's legislatures annulled the convictions and made reparation to the heirs of the victims.]
IRA, et al: Many conflicts that appear at first glance to be religious in nature are actually political or cultural wars that divide along religious lines. The strife in Northern Ireland is not a theological dispute about Catholicism vs Protestantism, per se. It’s a cultural power struggle between two groups of people. Similarly, a lot of the stuff that goes on in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is based on ethnic hostilities, not genuine religious differences. I’m less familiar with the tribal wars in Africa, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of that is also primarily political/cultural, often involving old tribal rivalries. (Except, maybe, when militant Muslims try the ol’ convert-by-conquest and kill-the-stubborn-infidels bit.)”
I should add that the religious leaders in these areas typically denounce this stuff.
“Whackos: To imply that the occasional mass murderer or serial killer (e.g., Anders Breivik) — psychopaths and sociopaths — is at all representative of true Christianity is just ridiculous. They can rant and rave about God and (mis)quote Bible verses and use religious-sounding language, but that doesn’t make them Christians. And then you throw out the Hitler card? Really? Are you serious? If you only read his propaganda book, Mein Kampf, you might think he was favorable to Christianity. But, here’s a sampling of how he really felt:
“Christianity is an invention of sick brains…The war will be over one day. I shall then consider that my life’s final task will be to solve the religious problem.” [Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 142-4]
“So it’s not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a struggle with the Churches. The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death.” — Adolf Hitler, 14 October 1941.
“The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity.” [Hitler's Table Talk, p. 6-7]
“Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.” [p. 51]
If anything, Hitler held/pushed some odd mix of secularism and Teutonic Neopaganism. *Not* Christianity of any kind.
Now, just to be clear, in case you missed it earlier, I am acknowledging that *some* “Christians” have done some pretty awful things over the years. Those *are* historical facts. But, oppression and bloodshed are not taught as religious duty within orthodox Christianity, nor are they the logical application of anything clearly taught by Jesus or the Apostles. (This is as opposed to, say, jihadist Muslims, who have a very good argument that they are just following their founder’s lead.) Violence done in the name of Christ, then, can’t be blamed on Him. Similarly, when misguided or so-called Christians violate the written instructions left to them on how to live/behave, the blame must be left squarely on those doing the violating. The fault is not Christ’s, nor does it disprove the Truth of His message.
As someone once said, ‘You cannot fault a religion for the crimes of its heretics.’
You said that you want to be balanced and fair about including those religions responsible for bloodshed, so don’t forget the Hindus, Buddhists, pagans & animists of various sorts (e.g., aforementioned Aztecs, Mayans, Goths). But, when it comes to this, the worst ideology of all, by far, is atheism. Yes, that’s right. As Dennis Prager has noted, “In this century alone, more innocent people have been murdered, tortured, and enslaved by secular ideologies — nazism and communism — than by all religions in history.”
Grab an older copy of the Guinness Book of World Records and you’ll discover the horrific record of carnage by institutionalized atheism: ‘The greatest massacre ever imputed by the government of one sovereign against another is the 26.3 million Chinese killed during the regime of Mao Zedong between 1949 and May 1965. The Walker Report published by the U.S. Senate Committee of the Judiciary in July 1971 placed… the total death toll in China since 1949 between 32.25 and 61.7 million.’ In the USSR, Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn estimated that state repression and terrorism took over 66 million lives from 1917 to 1959 under Lenin, Stalin, & Khrushchev. The Nazi regime under Hitler, of course, murdered 6 million Jews and at least another 4 million others (i.e., blacks, gypsies, homosexuals, elderly, disabled, etc.) The worst per capita genocide happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. According to Guinness, ‘More than one-third of the eight million Khmers were killed between April 17, 1975 and January 1979.’ The greatest evil does not result from people zealous for God. It results when people are convinced that there isn’t any God they need to answer to.
OK, I guess I’m done.”
To be fair, I’ll finish here by saying that, just as M____ made clear that she was “not suggesting that all Christians have mass murder, genocide or killing in general on the mind,” I also do not mean to imply that all atheists gravitate to such bloodthirsty thoughts or endeavors.
There you have it — my attempt at mitigating against some of the unfair charges leveled at “Christians” (genuine & not) for extreme violence, bloodshed, and mass murder. Not comprehensive, obviously, but hopefully enough to get some people to take another look at Christianity’s true record. To that end, one really needs to look at all the positive things done in the name of Christ — education, abolition, acts of mercy, etc. (Maybe another post?)
As for M____ and K____, it has been a week and I never got a response from either of them. Maybe they were overwhelmed and didn’t know how to respond? Maybe they ignored it all and went on to less challenging posts? Maybe they’re still researching and compiling a retort? Who knows? But, hopefully I made my point and maybe, just maybe, someone will think twice before buying into the typical slanders against Christians and Christianity.
* Many thanks to Greg Koukl, Vincent Carroll & David Shiflett, Newsweek, World Book Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana.