Is Christianity Peaceful? Is Peacefulness a Measure for Truthfulness?

Believing, as I do, that all religions have a core of peace and love for all humanity, I asked some people of Christian and Muslim faith to talk to me about the ways in which those religions encourage peace. Not everyone agreed with my conclusion! David French wrote a post in response to my question to say that it was wrong to equate the amount a religion is peaceful with how true it is.

He says Christianity is not a religion of peace. That surprised me! From what I’ve heard about Jesus he seemed to be a very peaceful person, encouraging love and forgiveness. Here is David’s post:   http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frenchrevolution/2013/06/13/christianity-is-not-a-religion-of-peace-thank-god/ His conclusion is:

 While we eagerly await the ultimate peace of the Kingdom of Heaven, we live in the fallen, broken world. And I thank God that He has called and empowered men — in the right times and right places — to draw the sword to fight back against the worst and most vicious wrongdoers — to impose a measure of justice and, yes, peace on Earth.

I can see what he’s saying, but something about it made me feel very uncomfortable. I finally realized that it was the part about the vicious wrongdoers. How do we recognize them? This post makes me think that my people could be declared wrongdoers for not being Christian! No wonder Hindus feel defensive. I thought Christians who would attack or coerce Hindus were just plain wrong, but do they have support from mainstream Christians for this behavior? Maybe they do. Terrifying.

I was watching Django Unchained (amazing movie, btw) and as I saw the klansmen ride it made me think about this question. I err on the side of peace because it seems to be really easy to get the message from God wrong. Those kkk men believed that they were doing God’s work. They believed God wanted them to kill non-whites. They saw themselves as the righteous warriors holding back moral depravity for the sake of God. And how wrong they were. How terribly, terribly wrong.

How do we know who those vicious wrongdoers are?

I will not say that there is never a time for war. The Mahabharata does give us an example of how war is sometimes a necessity. Sometimes injustice is clear as day, but so, so rarely.

I think it’s like when you get in a fight on Facebook. Your brother-in-law says something you disagree with about, say, prayer in schools. And you point out all the ways he is wrong. Does he realize that you’re right? Change his tune? Agree with you? Of course not. He gets defensive and tells you why you’re wrong and pretty soon the conversation devolves into you both screaming at each other about what an idiot the other is. Sound familiar?

But if you can approach a person who you disagree with from a place of love, seeing them as yourself, maybe the argument could be approached differently. Maybe you say to him that you understand where he’s coming from and gently show your point of view without accusation.

I think those two approaches are the difference between war and peace.

It seems to me that war usually breaks out because of this defensiveness, because of the way we treat one another. The Mahabharata has more to say on this subject:

Krishna asks if everything possible has been done to prevent the war. The war is truly the very last resort. Not that we never get there, but we do everything in our power not to let it get to that point.

There are places where Krishna suggests that the real war is going on inside Arjuna. In a way the entire battle is a metaphor for our inner struggle as human beings. The most important thing is our inner landscape. Our motivations for what we do in the world are what counts. If it comes to a physical fight, we better be engaging in it without anger, passion, or revenge. If we must fight someone, I think it is done with sadness and supreme reluctance.

Gandhari says that when people prefer their own children to the children of others, that is when war is near. When we see all children as ours, all of humanity as our family, war becomes much harder to stomach. We find other ways because we want to protect those we love. If we love all of humanity, we work hard to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

Every guru I know (and even Jesus too) preaches over and over about peace and love for all. Loving others because they are your Self. I do think that peacefulness is a quality to respect and the truest measure of our spiritual life is how much we can love.

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • justinwhitaker

    Great post, Ambaa. I think it’s great – if not best – to look for and see a spark of common love and peace at the core of each religion. There are plenty of wonderful Christians who have seen this pacifism within Jesus’ teachings, as with great saints in other religions. I don’t see much good in the harm we do to others – in the name of religion or otherwise, or any connection to God therein. The fact is, as humans we are less than ideal and there will be plenty of teachers within each religion who embrace less-than-ideal values and claim them in the name of their faith.

    • Ambaa

      That’s how I see it. But wow, there is such an amazing diversity of opinions and beliefs in the world!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wakeupcall/ Tom Rapsas

    Hi Ambaa, I think that David French’s Old-Testament based view on Christianity, while popular in some circles on Patheos, is just one perspective of this religion–one that ignores the core teachings of Jesus as found in the Gospels. Positioning Christianity as the religion of war runs counter to everything Jesus taught us. There is another Christian perspective that for me is best exemplified by the Dallas-based minister Mark Lloyd Richardson who writes a blog called DreamPrayAct. His message is one of love and inclusion which can be seen in is most recent post on DOMA: http://dreamprayact.com/ Thanks. ~Tom

    • Ambaa

      I should definitely be reading that blog! That might help me move past my fear of Christianity!

  • Beth Smith

    I must agree with Mr. French’s assessment that Christianity is not, at its core, a peaceful religion. It is a religion of absolutes: absolute truth, absolute justice, and absolute obedience.
    Absolute Truth – there is literally only one ‘right and correct’ divine being and furthermore only one way to be able to interact with said being. John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Many Christians take this sentiment as a mandate to force people down their path. Charles Spurgeon, a British Baptist, once said “If people are walking down the path to hell, it is our Duty and Right to grab them about the knees and drag them from danger.”

    Absolute Justice – People get what they deserve according to the binary distinction of absolute truth. There are no ‘little sins’; a child shoplifting a candy bar from the store is equivalent to systematic genocide. James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law, but stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking the whole of the law.” (I personally see a whole other issue with the concept of justice and mercy co-existing, but that is a different ball of wax.) Because of the confluence of Absolute Truth and Absolute Justice, Christians (and Jews) can, and have, doled out wholesale slaughter because the opposing side “was not right with God”.

    Absolute Obedience – There is no negotiating. There is no haggling, no compromise, no alternative interpretations. God’s rule is perfectly True, perfectly Just and therefore must be perfectly obeyed. Rev. 17:14 “They who are against the Lamb, He will make war against them and overcome them because he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.” Christians can therefore be absolved of any wrongdoing in literally making war against non-Christians.
    By my measure, I agree with Mr. French. No, Christianity is not a religion of peace.
    Note 1: all the supporting verses are from the New Testament.
    Note 2: even if I had drawn from the OT (which I didn’t do on purpose), I point you to Matthew 5:18 “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law”

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful analysis.

    • Kevin Osborne

      “It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than for a camel to enter heaven.”
      We have all heard this platitude. But how many of us really understand it? I say camels should stay where they are, and rich men as well. But who am I?
      Then again, why misunderstand anything? Why not attempt to understand and let the camel chips fall where they may?
      As Yul Brynner said, is a puzzlement.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

    I would suggest that no religion is necessarily a religion of peace because religions don’t exist without the people who practice them. (I’m not saying that the object of belief doesn’t exist; I’m saying the practices and institutions of belief don’t exist without people.) So even though the teachings of Christ are probably peaceful ones (I believe they are), it is highly unlikely that all Christians will practice a peaceful Christianity. But even if many Christians practice a violent Christianity, Christianity isn’t therefore a violent religion, either. There are Christianities; there is no one Christianity. (This is must be true for all religions, I think.)
    Even a religion that is pretty violent, if you can think of one, would likely produce peaceful adherents eventually.

    • Ambaa

      And that’s really the thing I’m wondering about: “But even if many Christians practice a violent Christianity, Christianity isn’t therefore a violent religion, either.”

      I wonder if people perceive Jesus to be saying that they should not be peaceful. Someone posted quite a few Bible quotes that do suggest that on my Facebook page.

      • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

        I think the way we exercise our religion is quite dependent on our surrounding culture. We can’t just go back and blame the religion, whatever one it is. Westboro Baptist Church and the Metropolitan Community Church read the same Bible. Christianity can be used for great good (MLK Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Madeleine L’Engle) as well as indescribable evil (Spanish inquisition, missionaries who force conversions in India, WBC).

        There are elements of religions to be terrified of (particularly when said religion gets entwined with political power) but I don’t think it does us much good to concentrate on those things unless they’re presenting a clear and present danger, or some major injustice is being done that you simply cannot turn away from. Instead of concentrating on the evil in others, instead think of the good in yourself.

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

        What Andrea said. There’s exhortation to violence from the Bible, both OT and NT, but not from Jesus himself if I recall correctly. There’s some violent sounding stuff (“I bring a sword…”), but no actual call to arms. So do people perceive that Jesus claims we shouldn’t be peaceful? Sure. But I think it’s fair to say that’s a misreading. (Violence elsewhere in the Bible, though? Maybe not a misreading.) But Christianity is not identical to the Bible, whatever some folks might like.

      • Doug

        Jesus preached love, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he preached peace.

        “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

        This verse also doesn’t really mean what you think it means. I highly encourage you to read this blogpost. http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/youth/biblegeek/07.asp

        • Ambaa

          You make a good point that there may be a difference between “love” and “peace.”

        • Kevin Osborne

          Love is full attention out. Attention out constantly is a saint. Few of us are saints. We tend to have our own concerns that deny us sainthood.
          But the universe is constantly in motion, so peace as existence never happens. Nothing ever pauses for our pleasure. Jesus meant to bring us understanding of this fact. One can’t be human to see the entire.
          This is the sword. And it slays all.

  • HARRY

    I think your understanding of Mahabharata is some what different. You can’t bring Mahabharata in the same equation as a holy war because it wasn’t. It was a war about property dispute in a family and nothing else. There were variety of other factors which were involved but religion was not one of them.

    So far to my knowledge there are no religious books that indicates war which religion plays central part in when it comes to Hinduism. Because Hinduism does not convert people to it’s religion, so there are no conflict involving holy or religious wars. To say that there is one or more is a fallacy.

    Hinduism is a Dharmic religion which works on different concept compared to Christianity. Christianity is based on absolutes, truth, justice and obedience and it doesn’t compromise in any of this concept, where Hinduism runs on the Vedic teaching which disregard all the human flaws and accept you as who you are.

    The only way you would know the difference between two is when you have read both of the text from both of the religion and I think any good christian will never do this because it’s against it’s code of conduct ( Old T and New T ). So they depend their theory on here says from others. All you need to do is read both of the text and if you are half the brainy as an average human then you will know the difference between orange juice and mashed potato.

    Just to satisfy the PC is wrong when it is not the case, then you might as well call a night a Day.

  • Amanda

    As a progressive Christian who is centered around the ethics of the new testament as I see them lived out and preached in the life of the Christ, I completely disagree with the response that you received. And though that person has a right to hold those beliefs, I am offended at what I believe to be a misrepresentation of Christianity from him. I believe that our most accurate picture of God is in Jesus who is God incarnate and so what he said, taught, lived, believed supercedes the understanding in other parts of the bliblical text where the people seemed to believe that God condones violence. Jesus said that the ultimate law is love.

    • Ambaa

      That’s how I’ve always looked at it! I was quite surprised to find a Christian actually in praise of non-peace. Or that’s how I took his post, anyway.

    • Kevin Osborne

      Why are love and violence competitors?

  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    It is safer to be a Hindu in a Christian state like Georgia or South Carolina than to be a Christian in a Hindu state like Orissa or Andhra Pradesh. Therefore Christianity is more peaceable than Hinduism.

    • Ambaa

      A very interesting point!

      I think my post may be being misinterpreted or taken as criticism more than it was intended. Right now I’m not wondering whether members of each religion behave more or less peacefully, but whether the religions themselves encourage peace. (And French’s idea that it might be a GOOD thing when religions do not encourage peace).

      This is not in intended to be a criticism of Christianity, so I hope that it’s not coming across that way!

    • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

      I’m not sure if this is an example of Poe’s Law in action, or of You Fail Logic Forever.

      • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

        Have an epigram instead, then: The tree is known by its fruit.

  • Msironen

    What seems to be missing from this blog post is the operational definition of “truthfulness”.

    • Ambaa

      You’re right. I’m not sure I can give a workable definition of truth, to be honest!

  • Kevin Osborne

    God, the Great Consciousness, wants motion. If there is apparent peace war will result. If there is apparent war a desperate and comprehensive peace will soon attend. And withal, your personal understanding of the entire business is what counts.
    Einstein’s gravity observations mirror why this sort of stuff happens.
    The requisite for you is how aware you are of your existence.

    • Ambaa

      You make good points.

      This reminds me of how in Hinduism we say that the illusion of good and evil is what keeps the world moving.

      • Kevin Osborne

        I had not heard that one, thanks.


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