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.

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  • Mae Smith

    The numbers above are way too low. For example, the Chinese the figures have often been quoted as 75-80 million and the USSR as 50 million. Perhaps you all ought to look at different sources.

  • Bill S.

    Your reaction seems tone deaf.

    One shouldn’t point to the antics of Genghis Khan to defend one’s associations with the Khmer Rouge. Moreover, if you were a Stalinist or a Nazi, the mass exterminations of Russia or Germany would probably also strike your friend as a forceful concern.

  • Brad is right, though, that the condemnation-by-Inquisition argument seems to assume that Christianity ought to be perfect, whereas communism, fascism, and nationalism need not be held to the same standard.

    I think the more persuasive answer to the Inquisition argument, though, is to show the many instances in which Christians as Christians, and the church as church, prevented worse atrocities. Bartolome de las Casas and Martin Luther King, Jr. serve as two good reminders.

  • Jerry

    Interesting post Brad! I would have wanted to see which religions are associated with each national toll – the Catholic Church was the state religion where the Inquisition took place, whereas some of the nations listed here are not associated with the religion that I normally think of with that nation. China in the 1960s is not a Buddhist government killing people who are not Buddhist, or unorthodox Buddhist. The USSR was clearly not Orthodox when it was killing millions. So this raises the thorny issue of whether secular fascism is a religion when many of them seem (on paper) to be anti-religion.

  • Bill S., I think you may misunderstand the argument. It is not that the Inquisition is excusable because other people have done worse, it is that poor behavior on the part of some people who are part of (or at least consider themselves to be a part of) a particular belief system cannot be used to discredit the truth of the belief system itself. This is especially true when the example given pales in comparison to atrocities committed by other groups.

    And your counter example of Brad’s friend objecting to someone being a Stalinist also misses the point. To be consistent, Brad’s friend would object to someone being an atheist on account of Stalin’s atrocities. To be clear, if Brad’s friend had asked, “What do you think of atheism?” and followed it by, “But what about Stalin?” then he would be being consistent with this particular line of thought. Of course Stalin’s behavior has no reflection whatsoever on the truth or falsity of atheism as a belief system.

    If we are judging belief systems on whether or not they are good for the world, rather than whether they are true, then at least this line of logic is somewhat applicable. And in exploring this we come to the other point: that though even killing one person is obviously one too many, if we are going to compare atrocities then Christianity falls on the tamer side of the spectrum.

  • Ok so the Judeo Inquisition is a genocide of people who opposed Xianity because they knew what that religion is mainly about. These people spiritual and occult knowledge and Xianity`s Inquisition killed them to maintain the enslavement of the world.

    Christianity=tool/program to remove ancient spiritual/occult/astral knowledge. Not only did they destroy humanity with that, but they took material from religions that preceded them and so hideously corrupted it. Now hardly anyone knows what Satanism and other religions that are older than Xianity are really about. All Xians don`t even know what their so called “religion” is truly about.