The new atheists are fond of claiming that all the wars in the world have been caused by religion, yet when you challenge them to name the wars waged in the name of religion, they stumble over themselves at a loss to name more than one war: the Crusades.Some occasionally add the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland, which while some claim to be a conflict between Protestants and Catholics, in reality, was a war of political ideology, rather than religious differences.
That said, it concerns me that the idea that religion leads to violence seems to have become a truism in our culture -- not because the facts support such a claim, but because it has been said so often.
The Bible tells us, "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15 16, ESV).
So allow me to set the record straight.
The two biggest black eyes on the Christian church are the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. Regarding the Crusades, in all fairness we must remember that the church's response came only after 462 years of Muslim aggression, as they "spread the true faith among the infidels by means of Jihad or Holy war," according to Robert C. Walton's "Chronological and Background Charts of Church History."
The bloodshed began in 633 A.D. but the church didn't step in until 1095 A.D. Their goal was to protect the Christian pilgrims who were being forced at the point of the sword to either convert to Islam or die. This effort was carried on from 1095 A.D. to 1291 A.D.
Was it right for the church to do this? I have to say no. When Muslims spread their faith through violence, unfortunately they do so in full compliance with their religious founder; when Christians resort to violence, we do so in total disobedience to Christ.
The Christian is called to love their enemies, not slaughter them. The Crusades were a major departure from the revealed faith and, in my opinion, the church was totally out of line when they launched this effort.
The Spanish Inquisition is another departure from the revealed faith that enemies of the church make much ado over. During the 350 years of its reign of terror, it is estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 people were killed.
One death in the name of Christ is too many, but when one looks at the facts here, we are talking an average of 17 deaths a year during this aberration. Atheists have a right to complain about this, but let's not do it as if this is the norm; it is not.
Furthermore, let me state that the four totally atheistic regimes that have existed in history have an abysmal record of wanton slaughter. Stalin is said to have killed 20 million of his own people (that's more deaths a week than the total of the Spanish Inquisition). Mao Tse-Tung is said to have murdered 60 million of his own people and Pol Pot murdered a full 25 percent of the population that came under his rule.
So to decry religion as evil on the basis of those times when the church itself departed radically from the teachings of her founder is disingenuous if you are going to ignore the atrocities of atheistic regimes, which by the way have no moral basis from which to deviate, so when they act with murderous force they are acting from within a system that permits such barbarity.
Yes, the church should be criticized for those times we do not act like the church, but let's not take the exceptions and make them the rule. More good has been accomplished world-wide in the name of Christ than has been accomplished by any other religious or non-religious group.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit www.gatewaycommunity.org