As of the early 21st Century, Christianity has approximately 2.2 billion adherent, representing about a quarter to a third of the world’s population and is the world’s largest religion; thus, based on the premise presented in the previous blog, Christianity can be considered one of the largest sources for justifying violence.
Though there are many differences of interpretation and opinion of the Bible on which Christianity is based, resulting in multiple divides in Christian faith into sub divisional religions, the set core of beliefs and ethics of this major religion has sparked and/or contributed to the outbreak of violence. So saying, the foundation of many of its subset religions, such as Protestantism has come at the cost of millions of lives. The division was more recently portrayed in the civil war in Northern Ireland, in which Scottish and Welsh Protestants were arriving in a predominantly Catholic country. Christianity is a religion in which historical reflection will portray internal division and war that has cost the lives of millions of individuals due to divergent interpretation of a book that speaks of necessary violence and sacrifice. Moreover, these bitter divisions have no real claim of vindication once taken into consideration the fact that all Christian faiths share the same set of core values; thus illustrating the reality that millions of lives were lost because of a deluded disagreement between like-minded individuals. This division is only brought about by religion and its blinded followers. Christianity, despite its supposed premise of compassion and acceptance, is widely considered the bloodiest faith and has the most turbulent influence on civilizations throughout historical recordings.
“Among the intellectual elite in the Western cultural milieu the contemporary coupling of religion and violence feeds most decisively on the memories of the wars that plagued Europe from the 1560s to the 1650s, in which religion was the burning motivation, the one that inspired fanatical devotion and the most vicious hatred.” – Miroslav Volf, Professor of Theology at Yale University
The relationship of Christianity and violence is the subject of controversy because on view is that Christianity advocates peace, love and compassion while it is also viewed as a violent religion. Throughout history, certain teachings from the Old Testament, the New Testament and Christian theology have been used to justify the use of force against conceived notions of heretics, sinners and external enemies. The need for justification is surely an example of the falsehoods represented by religion. This justification leads to a supposed clean conscience in which followers are eased into a false sense of complacency, believing that their use of violence to kill, cheat and steal are justified under the word of god. This belief has morphed into the just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin which holds that a violent conflict should meet philosophical, religious or political criteria. This sense of right and wrong is weaved around a fallible religion that justified the violence during the Inquisitions, Crusades, wars of religion and Antisemitism. To this list, cannot be forgotten the warrior pops, support for capital punishment, corporal punishment under the guise of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, justification of slavery, world-wide colonialism in the name of conversion to Christianity, the systemic violence of women subjected to men.
“The bible is easily one of the most violent religious books in existence. Blow for blow it outshines even Islam in sheer brutality and in the advocation of race based on mass genocide.” – Bhagwad Jal Park, Journalist
The root of violence in religion also includes a correlation between nationalistic violence and nationalistic conquest. In Ireland, although nationalism appears to be the motive behind the Catholic-Protestant conflict, at the heart of the problem exists a religious dispute that was sparked a year previous by the British encouragement of Protestants from Scotland and England to settle in the Catholic dominated Northern Irish counties. The result was tension between two peoples of different religious labels. Moreover, most of the activists of the IRA are strong members of the Catholic Church, whole those that oppose vociferously are Protestant ministers. Religion provided the resources for the violence, as well as the moral justification by allowing activists to believe that nationalism and religion are intrinsically related, and fighting for one was also fighting for another. This form of religious violence, that based on competition, can organize broader social boundaries and thus crystallize nationalist conflicts. In the West alone, evidence is apparent in the factions among the 5th Century Christian that sought to prevent opponents from venturing out of their monastic domains, skirmished among rival Protestant groups during the English civil war, and Protestant violence towards Catholics in the 19th century US. So saying, the above examples clearly establish the internal animosity between the different sects of Christianity, a bitter division that led to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 and costing almost 30,000 lives of French Huguenots.
“Religion can become a tool of conquest, both through cultural hegemony, and more materially, by settling and organizing populations in colonized territory. Even if religion is not directly involved in the exercise of violence to secure and control territory, to the degree that it sacralizes a political regime, it lends legitimacy to that regime and thus functionally support the regime violence.” – Michele Dilon, Handbook of the Sociology of Religion
The use of religion as a justification for violence, as tool for competition and conquest is prevalent throughout the ages, serving to scapegoat the minority and manipulate the masses towards an end presumably for the greater good of the religion. The Crusades was a stark example of Christianity’s apparent role in colonization, the abuse of foreign peoples and lands for the benefit of those opportunists able to rise through the religious bureaucracy. St. Bernard de Clairvaux promoted a fusion between military organization and religious order during the Crusades, arguing that a member of a crusading order serves his own interest in dying and Christ’s interest in killing. So saying, the Crusades and especially the Iberian reconquista provided the original template for subsequent European colonization. Roman Catholicism sanctions state violence, evident with the papal bulls that authorized Henry the Navigator to enslave peoples he encountered on his voyages to convert and combat the supposed infidel. This pattern of conquest continued throughout the Americas and soon religion became a subordinate partner for purposes of moral justification. In the spread of Portuguese and Spanish empires to the Americas, violence was the prerogative of this expansionary state, and conquest was first and foremost a military achievement.
“Curse the unbelievers, don’t let them live any longer, the evil-doers who turn away from God. For a godless man has no right to live if he hinders the godly. The sword is necessary to exterminate them if they resist, the ungodly have no right to live, save what the Elect choose to allow them. Now, go at them…it is time..the scoundrels are as dispirited as dogs. Take no notice of the lamentations of the godless! They will beg you, don’t be moved by pity. At them! At them!”- Thomas Muentzer
To illustrate the statistics related to killings in the name of Christianity, this paragraph will pool together the event and casualties. The Crusades, mainly from 1095-1272, killed more than 1 million innocent men, women and children, none of which were involved in combat. In 1209, Pope Innocent III called for a crusade to exterminate the Cathar people of France, mainly because they had different superstitious beliefs than his own. Estimated suggest that 200,000 women and children were butchered. During the Inquisition, another 350,000 were approximated to have been killed. During the witch-hunt, some estimated are as high as 1 million innocents, though some are range it around 100,000. The witch-hunts were perhaps Christianity’s worst crime, considering the ludicrous notions in which these individuals were accused of and then killed for. During the colonization of North and South America, 14 million natives were estimated to have been killed. Coupled with the slave trade that claimed the lives of an additional 17 million Africans, the bible’s words seem to have been christened in the blood of its victims.
“The Church started killing unbelievers as early as the 4th Century. The killing (often with torture) of heretics, church splinter groups, dissenters, atheists, agnostics, deists, pagans, infidels and unbelievers was supported by almost all mainstream Christian theology for over a thousand years, starting with the intolerant St. Augustine.” – Mark Humphry
In conjunction, the Christian faith has been plagued with internal divisions since its establishment, which goes to argue that if the religion cannot make peace with followers of a like-minded set of core beliefs then there is no hope of its compassion to religions such as Judaism and Islam. The development of antisemitism arose from the Christian faith, the first depiction of such discriminatory violence was taken by Pope Innocent III who believed that rampant disease and epidemics in medieval Christianity were caused maliciously by Jews, resulting in the burning of Jewish men, women and children. The later reformations represented by Martin Luther and John Calvin did not present the Jews with any relief, as both men were staunch anti-Semites. The thousand years of killing and prosecuting Jews did reach a climax, the rise in Christian led antisemitism led to the Holocaust. In the mid-20th Century the Roman Catholic church had a fundamental dislike of democracy and religious freedom, and was searching for an alternative. After coming to power in 1933, Hitler’s first foreign treaty of all was with Pope Pius VII in 1933, granting Hitler’s new regime international credibility and recognition. Hitler was baptized a Catholic and attended Catholic schools and churches in Austria. Hitler repeatedly wrote and said that he was on a divine mission from God to destroy the Jews. Moreover, during the series of invasions that marked the beginning years of World War II, the Catholic Church did support Hitler’s fight against Jewish Bolshevism and remained separate from state actions during the genocide of Jews at the concentration camps, aware of the atrocities.
“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by only a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they are and summoned men to fight against them and who was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. How terrific was the fight for the world against the Jewish poison.” – Adolf Hitler
The embroiled conflict between the Middle East and Christianity is evident to even the most arrogant and deluded person, considering the sequence of events succeeding the Crusades. Coupled together with Western imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa for purposes of exploitation and power all sanctified under interpretations of religious scriptures, the animosity between religious is evident. Rather than focusing solely on past examples, events beginning after World War II and on have supplied numerous examples of Christian violence. In Turkey, the country has been divided ethnically since its foundation after World War I, leaving a nation torn into regions by religious strife. The new Egypt has come under siege of religious conflict between the Coptic sect of Christianity and the predominantly Islamist majority of the nation. Moreover, British and US intervention in Iran before its transition under the Iranian Revolution and Hostage Crisis was source of major strife and tension because of Christian influence entering a Islamic nation. Lastly, animosity between the two religions was seen during the heightened controversy after a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Qur’an; which was later escalated by the burning of numerous copies of the holy book by American soldiers.