Monday, March 19, 2007

Enough of the Inquisition! Christianity and genocide

Some time ago, I was having lunch with a good friend. The conversation turned to Christianity, and he asked me what I thought of it. I mumbled though my sandwich some generally affirmative answer, and he responded with utter conviction: "But what about the Inquisition?" In his mind, this Christian-based atrocity (which executed three to thirty thousand people) constituted sure proof against the validity of Christianity.

Ugh... This fellow is a good friend, and he's very bright, but what a knuckleheaded thing to say.

The logic of this church-morality argument goes like this: The Christian Church should be perfect, and the Christian faith is invalid if the church displays a grievous moral failure, which it has done many, many times. This argument is inconsistent with Christian beliefs, let alone common sense, both of which hold that the Church is not perfect.

This argument is not apostasy, it's bad social science.

If one wanted to judge Christianity by participation in atrocities, one should compare the Church's participation in atrocities versus that of other religious and secular institutions. As data for this comparison, here's a list of the worst genocides of the last 100 years:

China (1960s, 1970s), 30 million dead
USSR (1920s, 1930s, 1940s), 2 0 million dead
Germany (1930s, 1940s), 11.4 million dead
Japan (1930s, 1940s), 10 million dead
Pakistan (1970s), 3.1 million dead
Sudan (1960s, present day), 2.8 million dead
Nigeria (1960s), 2 million dead
Afghanistan (1980s), 1.8 million dead
Cambodia (1970s), 1.7 million dead
Turkey (1910s, 1920s), 1.5 million dead
Indonesia (1970s, 1980s), 1.2 million dead
Rwanda (1990s), 1 million dead
India (1940s), 1 million dead
(Source: Barbara Harff, National Geographic, Jan 2006, p. 30)

Okay, I don't think that counting up atrocities is a useful way to judge religions, but if one is going to do so, at least do it accurately. From the above list, it appears that most of these terrible atrocities have been committed by governments or institutions rooted in belief systems other than Christianity. By the logic of this argument, then, Christianity is supported.


Jay Livingston said...

Christiantiy, communism, Nazism, etc. -- they are all ideologies. But I would distinguish between ideological slaughter waged against another country (as in wars, the crusades), and ideology-based killing of people in one's own land. The former is just using ideology/religion as the justification for conquest and plunder. The latter is more interesting because of the uncertainty it reveals. After all, it's not much of an advertisement for the strength of a belief if you have to kill anyone who might not accept it.

If someone disagrees with my idea that two plus two equals four, I'm not going to get very upset. But if I'm clinging to an idea that I'm much less certain about, I don't want to hear any disagreement.

Brad Wright said...

I agree that genocide is a poor way of advertising the strength of one's belief... whether within or without one's borders.