Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Christianity more violent?

Some liberal Quakers attack institutional Christianity for its violence.

The Christian Church has a history of using violence: the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Thirty Year's War come to mind as just a few examples.

But is Christianity more violent than other religions?

After the attack of 9/11, the dalai lama was asked if Islam were inherently a violent religion. He responded that all religions are inherently violent.

I don't always --or often--agree with the dalai lama, but in this case I believe he was right. All religions are inherently violent. Why? Because people are inherently violent.

I have met elements in Quakerism who tell a story that goes somewhat as follows: Buddhists are pure and peace loving but Christians are blood thirsty and violent. Native American spirituality is pure and womanist and earth loving, while Christianity is full of rape and pillage.

As for Buddhism, we need to look no further than Sri Lanka to find prominent Buddhist monks mired in violence. In Japan, Buddhist monks have been discredited since World War II for getting into bed with a fanatical, pro-War government. People rightly questioned why a religion ostensibly dedicated to non-violence supported a reactionary political party that led the country into an extremely bloody war.

Muslims have perpetrated many acts of violence. Hindus hardly have a clean record either: For starters, Pakistan was created to give Muslims a safe haven from the Hindus who were slaughtering them. Native Americans also perpetrated their share of violence-- Woolman, for example, was not naive enough to think he was necessarily heading into a warm, womanist, eco-friendly embrace when he visited Indian territory. More on his mind were stories of Native Americans pulling out their enemies' intestines and using them to tie them to trees until they died. More up to the minute, a recent Salon article reviews a book about a Midwestern Indian civilization that practiced large scale human sacrifice. (Of course, I don't forget that all major religions have perpetrated great acts of compassion, love and mercy.)

So why do Christians get particularly villifiied for violence? Part of it is mindset: We live in a predominately Christian culture so we look more closely at its failings. Also, Christianity is still the largest world religion,even though it is losing ground to Islam. A glance at shows 33 percent of the world's population to be Christian, 21 percent Muslim, 16 percent no religion, 14 percent Hindu and six percent Buddhist. If Christians have, in fact, been more violent, could it be because there have been more of them? Is it possible that for all the deplorable acts, Christians have even been proportionally less violent? (For example, the very bloody 20th century was led in violence by non-Christian regimes such as Stalin's.) Or at least can we agree that Christians have been, proportionally, no more violent than any other group?


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Diane,

As a follower of Jesus and a Friend, I wish I could agree with you--that Christians are no less violent or even somewhat less violent than other humans, but I don't think history bears that out. I just finished reading a number of Christian biographies including Cromwell, and two of John Calvin, and a biography of Stonewall Jackson. In his private life Jackson was caring, enjoyed playing with children, etc. (as did other killers in the Twentieth Century), but when fighting for his kin and group he was ruthless and he gave Jesus and God all the glory for his killing success. As did countless other Christians. Martin Luther even said "a prince can gain Heaven easier by spilling blood than by praying.":-(

The scandal of Christianity isn't that it is violent, but that it claims to give humans a new nature, but then they kill millions for God.

THERE in my opinion is the scourge of Christianity: Jesus founded his movement on peacemaking, even his foundation sermon commanding we love our enemies. And Jesus and Paul emphasize that when one becomes a disciple of Jesus (is born again), he is a new creation. However, with a few exceptions, if we look at Christian history, we see countless slaughters from about the time of Constantine to the twentieth century all in the name of Jesus:-(

Even in my own time all the Christians I knew, (except a former missionary and a Mennonite family I had met at Youth for Christ) strongly supported the Vietnam War and thought it was my duty to go and kill.

Allegedly, (according to the text at Quaker Universal Fellowship), even George Fox urged Cromwell forward in his killings:-(

After all these years, I still can't understand this.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Ted M. Gossard said...

I think you bring up an excellent point. All people of all creeds are violent, because people by nature are violent.

I also think that somehow Jesus' teaching on the Sermon of the Mount has in one way or another been regulated to a place where it had no impact whatsoever on Christians' civil life. I'm stating the obvious especially so, here. But as Daniel just mentioned it, it is incongruous, or at least a curiosity just why that is so. Theologies in one way or another seem to be responsible for this, so that Christians are not left with the teaching of Jesus on this important point.

Maybe that's why we Christians who believe in a pacifist stance need to make more out of this. I tend not to want to go there, because honestly, I'm around Christians, none of who are pacifist, and there's not one church among the peace churches here in Grand Rapids (Michigan).

You make me think and wonder on this.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm wrong on that! I just found a Friends Church website for Grand Rapids. I only think of Mennonites and there are a number of other peace denominations.

I do like the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are members, and one can be a pacifist there, and be open about it, and accepted.

There ARE pacifists you can find everywhere, maybe like "charismatics" in all kinds of churches? In the Missionary denomination there is at least one outstanding professor who is a pacifist. Here's his weblink:

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the comment --sorry about the belated response -- but I can't help but think a world without the ameliorating ethic of Christianity would have been even worse ... of course, the violence of Christians has been horrific, there is not doubt about that.


I will go to that link!