We hear it all the time, and it is often from the lips of the new atheists, but they aren’t the exclusive voice here. “Religion causes more war and suffering than atheism does.” Jeffrey Burton Russell, in his book, Exposing Myths about Christianity, takes this claim on.
He opens with this: “It is deliberate disinformation” (55).
How do you respond to this accusation against the Christian faith?
The claim is that war and violence are essential to religion; the claim is that if we eliminated religion we’d eliminate much of war and violence. The true face of Christianity, the claim is, can be found in the Old Testament battles and in the crusades (usually uninformed) and the inquisitions and the 30 Years War … Rwanda … Sri Lanka … Ireland.
When Christians counter-claim that atheists were violent, the atheist response is: “it wasn’t their atheism that made them vicious” (57). In fact, these atheistic regimes “were determined to destroy religion for the simple reason that they knew it competed with their own claims to total authority and power” (57). “Violent ideological programs of all sorts have something in common: they whip up hatred and indignation, they repress differing opinions, they strive to annihilate opposition, and they look for scapegoats to dehumanize people” (57).
So Russell makes this counterclaim: “The antitheist argument boils down to this: a Christian who does evil does so because he or she is a Christian; an atheist who does evil does so despite being an atheist. The absolute reverse could be argued, but either way it’s nothing but spin” (58).
He concludes: “The solution is to put Christ above the world and love above power” (58).
1. Yes, it works both ways. The atheist can’t excuse Lenin or Stalin or Mao Zedong or Pol Pot if he/she wants to point to the crusades or the inquisitions or Calvin’s contribution to burning of heretics. If we want to count numbers, atheism is not going to win this one. Atheists need to be more evenhanded on this argument.
2. The problem is that the standard of morality for the follower of Jesus makes the vicious wars of Christendom inexcusable and unconscionable. You can’t read the Sermon on the Mount, at least Matthew 5, and then go to war. The atheist critique of Christianity is spot-on, so long as it sticks to genuine facts and doesn’t start calling Hitler a Christian. Christendom, and it really gets it start with that war-mongering Constantine, failed Jesus. The crusades, and here is an old crusader pub in Nottingham, failed Jesus. The inquisition… etc … failed Jesus. We need to repent and ask for forgiveness and begin anew.
3. Pointing out the atheist’s problem in order to minimize “our” problem is bad form. We need to repent and pledge to work for a better expression for the body of Christ.