This is a common assertion, but, as we discovered in the first part of this series (Everyone, Atheists included, is religious), the statement, “Religion causes wars and therefore religion is bad,” has a fundamental problem. We discovered that anyone who wants to make any sort of moral reasoning must be religious, regardless if they want to admit it. Thus, religion causes wars, because people start wars, regardless of their worldview or religion.
However, most times when people make the statement that religion causes wars, they are referring to one of the main religions such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Since we are now discussing Christianity, the question we should ask is, “Does Christianity cause less or more violence and wars than other religions or worldviews?”
[Discussion: Does Christianity cause more violence and wars than other worldviews?]
It is true that when a religion or worldview tells its followers they have the “truth”, it can lead them to feel superior compared to those who believe differently. This can spiral into oppression and violence. However, remember what we have already covered: Not everyone who claims to be Christian is a Christian, and those who are lack perfection.
Even so, the violence and injustices that have been are being committed in the name of Christianity must be unequivocally condemned. There is no excuse for it. The most common references I hear about Christian violence are the crusades and the inquisition. In the inquisition, from 1478 to 1834, between 3,000 and 5,000 people were killed.
The crusades were wars between Christians and Muslims that lasted from 1095 to 1291, during which 1.7 million people were killed. Now, compare this to another military campaign that happened about the same time in history: During the 13th century, nearly 5% of the world’s population died because of Mongol military campaigns—not mention the mass slaughter of civilians in Baghdad wherein 600,000 were killed in a month. The deathtolls of the inquisition and crusades, significant and sad as they were, paled in comparison to the number of deaths caused by non-Christian worldviews around the same time.
Now, you might think in the past people were simply barbaric, and if there were more modern societies without religion, everyone could have lived in peace and harmony. On the contrary, it appears the grossest acts of violence in the modern age have been inspired by secularism and atheism:
The deathtolls from these four irreligious examples amount to more than 35 million dead, and note how these deaths were mostly internal killings, not wars between nations. In the 20th century, the greatest violence and intolerance was ironically practiced by those who believed religion causes it.7 Religions do cause violence, because people, even Christians, are sinners and violent. Yet, the most violent and intolerant religion or worldview of the 20th century seems to have been atheism.
[Discussion: All these societies were rational and secular, yet produced massive violence and intolerance towards their own. Why?]
In a sad way, this is somehow logical. As we remember from the first part of this series (Everyone, Atheists included, is religious), if one is irreligious, doesn’t believe in the innate value of human beings, and we are here via evolution—survival of the fittest—why not help nature advance by eradicating those who are a drain on society, either mentally due to their beliefs or physically due to their conditions. Who’s prove that wrong?
Furthermore, as Alister McGrath points out in his book, The Dawkins Delusion8, when a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcend alternatives, which become quasi-divine authorities that none are permitted to challenge. All ideals— divine, transcendent, human, or invented—are capable of being abused. That’s human nature. It seems deep within human nature, there is a sinister and dark impulse which will express itself regardless of the belief system of any particular society.
What then is the answer? The answer is not to abandon Christianity, but to embrace it more fully. As mentioned earlier, the issue with fanatics and imperfect Christians is not their over-religiousness, but their lack of religion. Christianity has with-in itself the inherent command for self-correction and the formula for peace.
[Discussion: What does the Bible say about how Christians ought to live among each other and non-Christians?]
Those who follow Christianity’s teachings accurately are peacemakers. Christianity commands us to honor everyone, even those of different faiths. Just look at Jesus and his apostles.
During their time, Israel was under hostile Roman occupation. Jesus and the Apostles must have told their followers to resist and fight, right? No, absolutely not!
For example, when the Romans came to arrest Jesus and Peter wanted to start fighting with them, what did Jesus say? “Go for it, Peter. Teach them a lesson. I’ll back you up!” No, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword.9 Furthermore, some years later, Peter wrote that Christians should behave so non-Christians will recognize their good behavior:
1 Peter 2:12-17: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Yes, that is the pagan Roman emperor Peter is commanding Christians to honor—the same emperor who was persecuting Christians. Do you think if people obey these writings of Peter, they would be troublemakers and violent oppressors? Is that how Jesus and his apostles were?
Do they sound like people who would start inquisitions and crusades in the name of their religion? Do they sound like people who, based on their beliefs and teachings, would mock, shame, and abuse others who don’t share their beliefs? No, because Christians who follow the teachings of the Bible are less likely to have any kind of superiority complex compared those of many other religions and worldviews.
[Discussion: Why are Christians who follow the teachings of the Bible less likely to have any kind of superiority complex compared to those of many other religions and worldviews?]
Unlike most other religions in the world that say you must do something to merit God’s approval, Christianity teaches that God’s approval doesn’t come to those who are somehow better than others. On the contrary, Rom. 3:23 teaches that all have fallen short of the glory of God and deserve eternal punishment for our crimes (sins) against him. However, due to Jesus’s having volunteered to suffer our punishment, we can approach a holy god with our crimes against him cleared. Our salvation has nothing to do with our own awesomeness or accomplishments, which could have led to some feeling of superiority. Instead, our salvation depends upon the grace and mercy of God which is available to those who admit their crimes against him, repent, and plead for his salvation.
How will I, a vile sinner, who was on his way to eternal punishment, turn around and feel superior to others? Did God save me, because I was good? No. He saved me because I was bad, but he was merciful. He offers this same mercy to you, too. If you have never repented of your sins, repent. Today can be the day of your salvation!
Maybe you are a Christian already. At least, you thought and hoped you were, but some sin has distanced you from God. You feel ashamed. You’re doing self-inflicted penance or trying to get your life sorted before approaching God again.
Stop that nonsense. Your thinking is faulty and not biblical. Does the Bible say when you became saved, you also became perfect and stopped sinning?
Does it say that you stopped needing God’s mercy and grace? After you were saved, is it up to you to keep your “good status” before God by your good works? Do you think you’re somehow better than the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews—none of whom had very good [good is overused (22 times in this document). Your vocabulary is more extensive.] track records—David and even Samson included?
Yes, that’s right, even Samson is listed in the heroes of faith. Do you think God wouldn’t accept you back into his presence because you committed the same sin for the thousandth time? Do you think Jesus commanded Peter to forgive someone an unlimited number of times10, but God wouldn’t be ready to forgive you 1,000 or even 10,000 times if need be? God didn’t only cover your past sins when you became saved, but also your present plus future sins. He saved you, is saving you, and will keep you saved.
Christian: Stop running from God and confess your sin—for the ten-thousandth time if need be. Admit your weakness—that you need his grace every day —and run to him. As the wicked prodigal son’s father saw him returning home from the distance11, likewise God—your father—will see you coming home and run to meet you with an embrace of joy and eternal love.
For those of you battling persistent and addictive sins, I urge you to find a fellow believer to whom you could safely confess your struggle and from whom you could get encouragement. Don’t live your Christian life alone—it was not meant to be so.12 If you have nobody, then email even me. Additionally, I highly recommend the book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, by John Freeman, about the struggles of addictive sexual sins, although the content applies to any recurring or addictive sin.
Dear reader, may the Lord strengthen, encourage, and draw you closer to him.
[Discussion: Any comments, questions, reactions, or further insight into the content covered?]
8 5. Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, p. 81. As seen in Keller, Timothy, The Reason for God (p. xvi), Kindle Edition.
9 Matt. 26:52
10 Matt. 18:22
11 Luke 15:11-32
12 Proverbs 27:17