Is Christianity a Violent Faith?

Is Christianity a Violent Faith? September 10, 2017

The execution of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Obtained through Creative Commons.
The execution of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Obtained through Creative Commons.

If people want to call Islam a “violent faith,” then they need to apply the same label to Christianity and other religions.

Although now some of its worst actors have been exiled, the Trump White House is still full of people who believe that Islam is a fundamentally violent and backward faith. Trump himself said that “Islam hates us,” and one of his senior aides, Stephen Miller, authored the Muslim Travel Ban and once helped sponsor “Islamofascism Awareness Weeks” on college campuses. What’s more, whenever there is a terrorist attack linked to a jihadist, Trump constantly evokes the motif of the “civilized world” fighting against barbarians.

But while Trump & Co. constantly cast Islam as a “barbaric” faith, they can only honestly do so if they ascribe barbarism to Christianity as well. Christians have justified immoral practices just as Islamic radicals have. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Take the practice of honor killings. Among the members of the Islamophobic outrage machine, murders of women who “dishonor” their families are constantly cited as evidence of the irredeemable nature of Islam. But while honor killings are indeed a horrible practice that needs to be fiercely combatted, it would be a mistake to say that they are solely practiced among Muslims. For example, in her book Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family, author Karen Tintori relates how her great-uncles viciously murdered her great-aunt for eloping and “dishonoring” the family, detailing how they cut off her hands and feet, weighted her body with cement, and then drowned her in the Detroit River.

Honor killings like the one Tintori recounts are far from rare among Christians. Just this year, a Christian man in Israel killed his daughter for maintaining a relationship with a Muslim man. Last year, a Pakistani Christian was charged with killing his sister because he disapproved of her marriage plans. In Italy until 1981, the legal code specifically allowed for increased leniency for men who performed honor killings. Even in the U.S. and other common law (and predominantly Christian) countries, a “heat-of-passion” defense can be raised in cases where a person murders their spouse after discovering them engaged in adultery.

It’s not just with honor killings that “Christian barbarity” is evident – terrorism has also been a common phenomenon among supposed followers of Christ. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a Catholic who received Last Rites before his execution. Norwegian Anders Breivik justified his rampages in Oslo and Utoya Island by citing threats to “Christian Europe.” Catholics and Protestants engaged in protracted campaigns of religiously motivated violence during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.”  And let’s not forget the numerous abortion clinic attacks perpetrated by Christian fundamentalists convinced that they are doing “God’s work.”

If one delves back further in history, more evidence of the “barbarism” of Christianity begins to emerge. Look to the Salem witch trials of the 1600s, where 20 people were executed for their supposed involvement in the occult. Both Catholic and Protestant clergymen tortured and killed supposed heretics in Europe – in Geneva, John Calvin had Spanish theologian Michael Servetus burned at the stake for his views, and of course, we all know of the horrible excesses of the Inquisition in both Spain and its New World possessions.

So do I think that Christianity is inherently barbaric? It may surprise you, given the arguments I’ve just laid out, but no. What I do think is that all faiths have passages in their canons that can be torn from context to justify horrible brutality. Christians do it. Muslims do it. Jews do it. Even Buddhists do it (see the current anti-Muslim genocide being perpetrated by Buddhists in Myanmar).

That’s why Trump et. al.’s demonization of Islam is so ridiculous. Do people who subscribe to Islam perpetrate violent acts? Yes. But that’s no reason to malign an entire faith and subject its adherents to persecution. And if it is, then millions of Christians (and yes, Mormons) should line up for their fair share of condemnation.

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