The Christian Sword: Evil Christianity

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” — Jesus (Matthew 10:34)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.” — The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe, 1861

ire31This weekend I was at the Feast of Lights, and heard a wonderful presentation by Andras Arthan on the last remnants of indigenous religions in Europe. As Arthan pointed out, European indigenous cultures were wiped out or absorbed by the Christian cross, starting with the Romans and carried forward by the various kingdoms that were born of the empire’s collapse. The European indigenous cultures were the first to succumb to the worldwide scourge of Western imperialism and corporitism that continues today. Arthan was unambiguous in his indictment: Christianity is to blame for these atrocities. And it was clear that many in his audience agreed with him.

Our history as a species is soaked in the blood of innocent people, martyred and murdered. This did not begin with Christianity, but a terrible tale of slaughter was carried out under its flag. When the Roman Empire became Christian, paganism was declared illegal, with draconian punishments for those who refused to see the Light. Pagans were rounded up and converted at swordpoint, and those who refused to convert were sometimes laid in mass graves. Temples were burned or torn down, and sacred trees were toppled.

And that was just in the first hundred years. After the empire fell, its Christian progeny fought among each other — most of them vying, in the name of God, to inherit the glory of Rome. Crusades were launched, not only against the Muslims, but against the heathen peoples still clinging to their religion in Eastern Europe, and even against Constantinople, a Christian Orthodox city. Children were stolen away from their parents and reared as Christians. The Holy King of Nation A, champion of the One True Church, fought the blessed / accursed armies of the Holy King of Nation B, each urging their soldiers to smite the heretics with God’s own fury. And indigenous peoples from Ireland to Australia were butchered, rounded up, enslaved, re-educated, and re-acculturated, in the name of Jesus.

In the name of Jesus!

And oh, it doesn’t stop. I myself — raised Zen Buddhist in the Bible Belt — was forced to pray in a public school. Even today, children are taken away from parents because they ‘worship the devil’; the dead are still denied the right to be buried under their religious symbols; and all sorts of ungodly things are prohibited by law (certain kinds of marriage, certain kinds of sex, certain kinds of surgery and medicine, etc.). Under the Christian cross.

Put your sword back into its place;  for those who live by the sword, die by the sword. —Jesus; Matthew 26:52

Is Christianity to blame?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. — Jesus;  Matthew 5:5-9

Before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was outlawed, and its believers were sometimes persecuted, jailed, or killed. Why? Because they refused to worship the Emperor, and therefore they were a threat to the power of the empire. They broke the empire’s laws, gathered and demonstrated, and roused the rabble, all of it undermining imperial power.

I am a soldier of Christ; it is not lawful for me to fight. — Saint Martin of Tours

After Christianity became the official religion of the empire, paganism was outlawed, and its believers were sometimes persecuted, jailed, or killed. Why? Because they refused to believe that the emperor had been chosen by God, and therefore they were a threat to the power of the empire.

Empires really don’t give a damn what you believe, as long as you do what they say.

And so temples were burned or torn down, and sacred trees were toppled, not because they were pagan, but because they threatened the interwoven power structures of Church and Empire. After the empire fell, its Christian progeny fought among each other, wielding the name of God, but really lusting after the power and wealth and land of Rome. Crusades were launched, not to convert the heathen, but as an excuse to rape and plunder. And indigenous peoples from Ireland to Australia were butchered, rounded up, enslaved, re-educated, and re-acculturated, not to save their souls — just to grab their land and gold.

Pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, sloth: Christianity did not bring these evils into the world. Christianity is not an evil religion. Christians are not evil people.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” — Luke 6:27
“See that none render evil for evil to any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”  I Thessalonians 5:15

If you vilify the Christian cross, you’ve picked the wrong enemy. Even if Christianity were wiped from the globe — which would be horrible — temples would still be burned, trees would still be felled, armies would still clash, indigenes would still be murdered, and children still stolen, in the name of… in the name of any convenient excuse.

Today Christianity is still exploited by the rich and powerful. School prayer, Satanism, gay marriage, safe sex, and abortion are rallying cries, not because those oh-so-holy charismatic leaders believe in anything, but because they hunger for power. Christianity, twisted and sharpened unrecognizably from its original form, is just a handy sword.

Speaking as one who has never been Christian, but who has known many Christians and sometimes been treated poorly by them, I think the atrocities are more likely to stop if Christianity — the Christianity of peace, goodwill, and love for its enemies — is strengthened, not weakened.

http://www.christiansforpeace.org/

(Hat tip to Cat Chapin-Bishop of Quaker Pagan Reflections for inspiration, discussion, and overall awesomeness as a human being.)
ire23

Comments

  1. I was hoping you could explain why it would be such a “horrible” thing for Christianity to be “wiped from the globe”? (I’m assuming you mean Christianity and NOT Christians, because my problem isn’t with wondering why the extermination of people in general would be horrible but why the disappearance or removal of a religious system would be)

  2. Sure, Ray. I hate to see the disappearance of a healthy belief system in the same way I hate to see a language disappear. Encoded in a language, and a belief system, is a unique view of the world, a prism through which reality can be viewed (and filtered). In a way, destroying a language or a belief system is like destroying a whole universe.

    This is why I think it’s valuable to be ‘fluent’ in several belief systems, and be able to view the same facts through several different prisms of belief. It doesn’t make sense to search for the One Perfect Language that is better than all the others; nor does it make sense to search for the One Perfect Religion (or One Perfect Philosophy). Speak many languages; learn many religions. Languages, religions, and philosophies, encode parts of reality; each will only give you a partial view, and each partial view is beautiful and true in its own way. And thus diversity of language and belief is beyond price.

    Note I’ve carefully qualified the above as ‘healthy’ belief systems. I think certain beliefs (like racism) are toxic, morally wrong, and pragmatically hurtful. But I could be wrong about that. 🙂

  3. Note: I apologize up front for the blog-unfriendly length of this response. I’m still stuck in the 90’s. So I’ve broken everything up into three major chunks.

    Interesting. I definitely agree that languages (along with language systems) and beliefs (along with belief systems) are ways of “encoding” information, although, I don’t necessarily agree that systems are all that unique, at least in practice. I mean, the system of Christianity is distinct from Paganism, as a system. But once you consider how people interpret that system, use that system, etc., I think the unique-ness shifts to the individual. For me, that’s the whole point of developing a system for larger numbers of people because you standardize certain beliefs or rituals or whatever, which is what helps define that system. For example, it would be very difficult to call yourself a Christian if you wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the teachings passed off as Christ’s. And so the unique-ness actually starts with the individual who takes the system or the ideas of that system, and then turns it into something a little more personal. From the point of view of the prism, for example, the prism is doing the same thing each time a person holds it up to the light. That’s how it’s built and that’s all it can really do. But what a person sees, the unique experience of seeing through the prism and to a “new” view of the world, depends on the person: how they interpret what is seen, what changes they focus on that are produced by the prism, their ability to see, etc. And just because these “prisms” offer a “unique” perspective of the world it does not mean that they offer information or views that should be considered to be valuable. Of course that is up to the observer, but we should be very careful, especially when dealing with ideas and beliefs and reasons, to think that diversity equals betterness. I find discarding certain ideas or beliefs to be very useful at times simply because I’m mainly concerned with focusing on something else. So for example, if I’m reading a story from the Bible, as a person who obviously disagrees with most aspects of “religious” prisms, I try to find something in the story that I can use or that is useful to me, something that does not need the framework of religion in order to be applied. Most of the other ideas used to get those points across, however, I leave to the disciples of that religion, for the most part, because I prefer not to spend time dedicating or consecrating various things to a particular god. This brings up an idea that I think “prism” hopping fails to address much of the time: how to build a prism. While I might agree that it is definitely useful and worthwhile to try a prism on from time to time, to see things in ways that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise (and that does mean looking at prisms built with “racism” and “hate” and prisms that lack “morality”), I think that there still needs to be focus, a very strong focus, on learning to build a prism of your own (perhaps a prism unlike any other prism before that, a prism, itself, that changes). One of the problems, though, is that religious prisms in particular are very good at trying to convince the observer that there can be only one way of seeing the world. In addition, there is very little evidence that those religious prisms contain prompts for their “believers” to build unique prisms on their own. And why would these religions contain such messages? That would mean that at some point, the individual would start to grow at will, make changes to the system or the prism. Eventually, the old prism would be surpassed by a new prism, something different. And while the name may stay the same, the prism is almost entirely different, which tends to make those who benefit the most from the older versions of the prism/system a little feisty. So prism hopping may be a way for some to get started, a way of working with different views, but eventually I would hope that the individual intends to create their own prism.

  4. If you can learn to build and shape your own prism, then, you can find the “One Perfect Language” or the “One Perfect Religion/Philosophy” because it is perfect for you. And the reason that that “language” or “philosophy” is perfect for you is because it is you. We are not actually Pagan or Christian or Anarchist or Atheist because what we are transcends all that and one word, a single word!!!, could never encapsulate what it means to be. Perfection, then, does not have to mean flawless or signify a state that is unchanging/stagnant. I mean, how can a state of being that involves changing and creating at will NOT be flawless considering there is always the possibility to change or create something else? But one has to learn to become more and more aware of the self, of the state, of how to change in certain ways and what those changes mean, etc. And it doesn’t have to be a blissful-total-God-like awareness or ability to create, but simply a devotion to changing when necessary. Kind of like when Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how people who hold on to ideas so tightly they refuse to ever let that idea/belief go. But we have to learn when to let certain ideas go and when to keep them (wisdom perhaps?). So for me, then, a perfect state would entail having the ability to change, or create, at will after one learns to acknowledge when change is necessary. And notice how this makes no assumptions about “better” or “worse,” because at one point maybe what that person chooses to be or becomes, for whatever reason, is a state where certain aspects could and should be changed (so-called “bad” things).

  5. This idea of “better” or “worse,” though, brings up another concern I have with religious prisms: what is the quality of the ideas/beliefs being presented and do those ideas/beliefs have a negative affect on the people who use them? To start, you mentioned how religions “encode” information or unique views, but because a lot of what is contained in these belief systems is information I am going to focus primarily on the information aspect of things. And I’m also going to stick mainly to Christianity because I’m more familiar with that religion. Anyhoo, despite being a personal opinion, I think a person can make a very good argument for why religion-A is poor at encoding information. I mean I could easily say something like, “Phrenialogically speaking, the aforementioned subject ineluctably eluded my short-term mnemonic functions, resulting in an unaccountable cognition void.” But I think most people would agree that they’d prefer I say, “I forgot.” And I think religion definitely has a tendency, in my opinion, to put pieces of information in rather complex codes, or rather, unnecessarily complex codes. Perhaps a religion, for example, has as its main focus to get people to follow a love-ethic, an idea sometimes associated with Christianity. Then why “encode” the message the way they do using very intricate stories/mythologies to get that message across? I might be able to buy that those closer to the start of things actually enjoyed coming up with a mythology, because anyone who has written a story, especially one as fantastic as Christianity, knows how much fun it can be. Not to mention, stories are great ways of making certain ideas much more accessible to many people and are incredibly effective. But then why is it so important that people need to believe certain aspects of the story as opposed to ideas being presented by the storytellers? In addition, how does a love-ethic agree with contradictory evidence found in history and in their book the Bible? I mean, there are plenty of examples in both (history and the Bible) to counter the idea that a love-ethic is valued as a core for Christianity. These questions and questions like these, though, are very important to ask because otherwise when you continuously, or even just casually, stare through a prism associated with a given system, you are subject to seeing the world in a way that was intended by the person or people who built that prism. And depending on the code, perhaps you will then be conditioned to see things very narrowly or in ways that you wouldn’t have even have expected without a cautious examination of the prism itself. Now, while the stories can definitely be interesting and unique and even beautiful, I’m not going to say that I think they should be preserved in whole, or even in large chunks, over time. I actually think it’s natural for the story to change, or yes, even die, because that suggests, although it doesn’t prove, that perhaps newer people are starting to tell their own stories. And sure, a lot of the themes will come up again and again. That’s why Christianity cannot be credited with starting the idea of a “love-ethic,” because the love-ethic is really an idea or belief that is widely accessible outside of Christianity. Actually, most (I would probably say all) religions and systems are built, towards the core, on widely accessible ideas and beliefs that are entirely beyond the religion itself. So even if the religion “dies” or the story of that religion “dies,” we can’t even say that we lose what I consider to be the more important ideas and beliefs, because they can be found without the religion. As to the effectiveness of finding them on your own or through the religion, well that can be argued about for years. On top of that, even if the religion does die or get removed, I don’t think we can say we are even reducing our “options” (limiting diversity). Perhaps by letting the religion go and or getting rid of it, we could actually be expanding our options in a way. I mean, if you were a person traveling around and you were dedicated to traveling around all the time, you couldn’t possibly continue picking things up along the way without getting rid of things. If you tried that, you’d get nowhere fast because eventually you’d have too much stuff to carry around with you. So you’d either have to change lifestyles, or you could learn to take the things you felt you needed. For me, I’m not saying a person always has to be on the move or whatever, but I think we need to recognize that letting a thing go, or even getting rid of a thing, is necessary at times. Actually there’s a good quote from a little lady named Rose Tyler who says, “All things must come to dust. All things, everything must die.” And while I’m not saying to go around “killing” shit left and right, I do think we’ve given “Christianity,” as a system and religion, enough of our time. And I think it would be much healthier for everyone to move past the traditional ritual of passing on prisms to the next generation while ensuring that they make as few changes to the prism as possible.

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    Wow! Are you sure you don’t want to start your own blog, Ray?… 🙂

    Concerning your first comment. Should people create their own prisms? Yes, absolutely. In fact, as you point out, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Everyone who learns a system adds their own uniqueness to it. The same is true of language, in fact. This is why children make systematic errors when they’re learning a language — saying things like “keeped” — they’ve got their own grammars in their heads, and it doesn’t match what they’re hearing. Even most adults probably end up with grammars that overlap only 95% or less with others in the speech community; and of course there are also differences in the frequency of using certain words and grammatical constructions. And that’s language: the situation is much more fluid and open to “error” in religion. If the priest says to “live honorably”, that probably means something different to each person in the congregation, and yet they will all say they agree…

    So yes, people create their own prisms, unavoidably, unconsciously. I personally would prefer that they create them as consciously as possible, with care and artistry, and with input from ‘spirit’, however you want to think of that. I go into this in a little more depth here. Notably I am not really talking about prism ‘hopping’ but building up a collection of prisms. Obviously you will use some more than others in different situations, and if you find that one prism always always gives you ‘bad’ results you may be loath to use it and may even decide to unburden your pocket of it.

    It is also true that most large, established, modern religions, with their clergy intertwined with government and secular power structures, do not encourage heresy or apostasy. I think, though, that this is less a function of religion per se and more a function of government and secular power structures. For example, I have been given to understand that traditionally, the Catholic Church has not come down hard on heresy among its monks and nuns, because these individuals are literally ‘cloistered’ away and have little or no influence on the secular power of the church. There are some notorious exceptions, of course.

  7. Jeff Lilly says:

    Ray, regarding your second comment: I think we’re in basic agreement, but let me lay out some definitions and distinctions. Let’s distinguish between a list of beliefs (a fixed list of statements believed to be true) and a grammar of beliefs (a list of statements, plus some guidelines as to how to combine and / or modify the statements). There is a fixed list of beliefs in Catholicism, essentially (although I believe the upper echelons can add to or change the list). There is no fixed list of sentences of English; English has a list of statements (‘words’) and rules for expanding the list (eg borrowing from other languages) or combining elements of the list: this is English grammar. Given this, I think we’re in agreement that one’s personal beliefs should be a grammar, not a list: a set of statements you think are true, and some guidelines for when those statements might be modified or added to or tossed. In practice, I think, people do generally have ‘grammars’, though they will insist that they have ‘lists’. They just are unaware of the conditions under which they would feel compelled to change their beliefs.

    That said, it should be clear that the scope for change is not necessarily infinite. English may have an infinite number of sentences, but that doesn’t mean that any possible sequence of sounds is English. The grammar allows for a ‘bounded infinity’. Similarly, I think the belief systems we create (we humans, and we as individuals) are infinite, but bounded. I’ll take an example from music: in the tradition of, say, bebop, there is an infinite number of different ways a song may be played; but you can’t just play it any old way, or it won’t be that song, or bebop. 🙂

  8. Jeff Lilly says:

    Here I have to disagree. 🙂

    1. I don’t think religion puts things in unnecessarily complex codes. The complexity grows up over time, over generations, as I discussed in the ‘Innovation and Tradition’ article I linked to. And generally speaking, the complexity serves to give the religion depth and texture, to make it more accessible to people, and makes it more relevant to people’s lives. Religions may be, by and large, too complex to your taste, but to the connoisseur, the older and richer the religion, the sweeter the belief. 🙂

    2. Religions do indeed have some basic tenets in common, and these tenets are not dependent on the religions. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the religion is useless or superfluous. I can tell you “Love everybody, dammit” and it may have the same basic message as the Sermon on the Mount, but the sermon isn’t wasted verbiage. You can play the basic theme of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy on a flute, or you can get the entire orchestra involved. It’s presentation, depth, texture, art.

    3. I don’t think you can run out of room in your brain for beliefs. 🙂 What CAN happen — and often does — is that the religions you’re familiar with have contradictory statements in them, and then, in your own mind, you can either hold both beliefs simultaneously (or switch back and forth), or choose one over the other, or delete them both, or come up with a new one, etc. For example, I believe Jesus was the Son of God… but not the only Son of God. 🙂

    Finally, I agree that people shouldn’t try to pass their prisms to their children, but should offer them a selection of prisms, and teach them to hone their prism-forging skills. But from a practical standpoint, I think it’s too much to ask people to drop Christianity. I agree that institutionalized Christianity has systemic problems, but I suspect it’d be easier to fix those problems, keeping the good core of Christian belief, than get folks to drop it entirely and pick up some new system.

  9. Jeff, it’s nice to read another sane voice during these days of saber-rattling. Thank you for your post 🙂

  10. i’m a Christian teenager who choose to go to a Christian university and i’m doing a rather lengthy research paper about witchcraft. while looking around on the internet for sources, i stumbled on this blog! which is pretty neat!
    Jeff, i really agree with a lot of what you say! it is comforting to find level-headed people who aren’t either trying to shove a religion down your throat or straight up hating on one religion. i must agree that the “We’re Christians! Do what we say or you’re going to hell!”-card gets played (and has gotten played) WAYYYY too often or the whole let’s throw some scripture around thing “(Insert scripture here)– it’s in the Bible, SEE! I’m obviously right and you’re wrong” happens too frequently. and yes, there are a lot of people who claim to be Christians and do absolutely disgusting things. but just because a majority of us are crazy, way too close-minded and ignorant does mean that we all are. i promise, there is good yet in at least a few of us! i’m a fan of God but sometimes, i am NOT a fan of His fan club. we have indeed created an awful reputation.
    also! from what i have found about Paganism- it is really beautiful. and the number of similarities between different forms of Paganism and Christianity are really astounding when you think about it! there are definitely universal truths expressed in all religions.
    the bottom line is this- we are all human and should treat each other like we are. that’s what i think :]

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for coming by and commenting, Susie. 🙂 The simple fact of our common humanity, and the morality of reciprocal fairness that that implies, is definitely a powerful foundation for working and living together. If we forget that, and we begin to think that our religion, our culture, or our nation is somehow exceptional or better than the others, we’re led down a nasty path. You can recognize that your religion is best for you without thinking it’s best for everyone. 🙂 Best wishes and good luck!

  12. Maggie Jeziorowski says:

    Jeff, I was thinking about you today so I looked up your site to see what was going on in your life recently. Chris had pointed me to this site quite awhile ago. I never read much so I made some snap judgements as to what it was all about.

    Today I saw the title “The Christian Sword: Evil Christianity” in the sidebar and I ASSuMEd that you were attacking Christianity. Luckily, I took the time to read the whole essay and I think this is wonderful discourse that puts into words some thoughts that I’ve had since I was a child.

    I was raised Catholic and so was my husband. He is always bashing the Church for various reasons. I try to explain to him that most of these problems are human in nature rather than the principles of the religion. I agree that there are alot of Christians who are not very Christ like. Many protestants don’t consider Catholics as Christian. I am a Facebook “friend” with the mom of one of my daughter’s friends. She is Christian and she often makes a point of it on FB. I had to chuckle to read “I really wish when God said “love your neighbor,” he meant “neighbor” as in “normal, sane people” . . .not the doozies I am dealing with!”. Jesus’ whole point was that it’s easy to love, get along with, etc., those who are like-minded. The true test is to have patience with and be accepting of those who are different.

    I look forward to reading more on your site.

  13. Thanks for coming by and giving me a chance, Maggie. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the essay. My fiancée was raised Catholic, as well, and might still be Catholic if it were not for some of the dogma handed down by the Church these days. There is a lot to like about Catholicism, especially (I feel) its more mystical and contemplative side. For example, I particularly like the essays on the web site of Carl McColman. However, there’s a lot I don’t agree with as well (obviously — otherwise I’d be Catholic! 🙂 )

  14. Christianity has also done incredible good, e.g. Modern democracy, hospitals, art, modern science, etc. Unfortunately critics only usually see one side of the ledger

  15. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for your comment, James. I don’t agree that Christianity is responsible for modern democracy, hospitals, art (I assume you mean modern art?), and science. The foundations for all of these were laid in pre-Christian or non-Christian cultures. Democracy was practiced by pagan Greeks, Norse, and the Iroquois, among many others; the first institutions dedicated to healing were Egyptian temples; art has been around since the beginning of the species; and science arguably began with the Greeks and Muslims long before it was picked up in western Europe. Besides, democracy, hospitals, art and science are never even mentioned in the New Testament, so it’s quite a stretch to attribute them to Christian influence. Nevertheless I agree, there’s a lot of good stuff about Christianity, obviously. 🙂

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  1. […] Arguments Against Religion I: A Poor Return on Investment After my “Evil Christianity” post a few weeks back, I’ve continued to think about issues of religion and belief. […]

  2. […] but a sword” (is the Son of God himself not blessed? Or can some warmakers be blessed too? Or did Jesus mean something else entirely?); etc. There are various ways in which these conflicts can be resolved, but sometimes the logic […]

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