Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Does Religion Poison Everything?

“Religion poisons everything.”
This is the mantra of modern-day atheism and has been immortalized in the title of Christopher Hitchens’ book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Some common manifestations of this argument against religions go as follows:

“Countless atrocities have been committed in the name of God/religion.”

“More wars have been waged, and lives lost, in the name of God/religion than any other ideal.”

“Religion/the Bible is responsible for such intolerance and hate.”

I’m sure that if you have been anywhere near the conflict between theism and atheism you have heard some form of one or all of these statements. What I would like to do, among other things, in addressing these arguments, is to lay out before you the actual numbers associated with wars, deaths and atrocities, from both sides, plus talk a little bit about tolerance and intolerance. This information will span a few posts. So, without any further ado…

Deaths and Wars in the Name of Christianity – I am giving the least favorable numbers I could find without actually using those which are fudged or speculated

The Crusades 1095-1291 AD

There is much controversy over the actual number of lives lost during the Crusades. The figures coming from reliable sources in the conservative camp land at about 200,000 casualties; but in order to hold the attention of those who trust the liberal numbers let’s be generous and just say that 1.5 million people died in the Crusades, which spanned nearly 200 years. That’s roughly 7,500 per year, or 626 per month. This will be important later.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834 AD

Out of the 125,000 trials only about 1,200 – 2,000 people were actually sentenced to death. That’s about 10 people per year - less than one per month. More children die from bicycle related accidents in the US per year than at the hands of the inquisitors. Bikes must be evil. I am going to start an anti-bike website… no! I am going to be an abikist. Because bikes seem to be responsible for so much death I am going to stop believing in them. That’s logical.

The Witch Trials 1400-1800 AD

Because of the era in which we live where it’s super cool and totally “in” to be a witch, I thought I would include a short description of this strange phenomenon called the Witch Trials or the Witch Hunt. During this 400 year period people were actually really creeped out by witches, and it was definitely neither cool nor “in” to be a witch, in fact even someone calling you a witch could get you killed in any of several unpleasant ways. So how many people were executed for being witches during this period of 400 years? Between 50 and 60 thousand. That would be about 150 per year, or about 12 per month.

Grand Total: 1,562,000 - or, 1 million 562 thousand, over about a 600 year period. That ends up at about 640 per month, which is definitely not good.

Wow, people claiming to be Christians really have been responsible for many, many deaths. Does that mean that Christianity is false?


Unlike the founder of the world’s fastest growing religion our Founder never commanded His followers to kill those who would not convert. In fact, He actually taught us to love our enemies. So, any deaths in His Name, were not truly in His Name. Murdering innocent people and saying that you are doing it for Jesus is like killing cows in the name of Gandhi. You can claim to be someone’s follower but your actions will speak louder than your words… unless you are a Christian.

You can claim to be a disciple of Gandhi if you like, but if you are an open carnivore everyone will know you are a faker. No one will point the finger at Gandhi or Hinduism; they will call you a liar.

For Christians however, the actions of people centuries ago who were clearly not following Jesus’ teachings on murder or His command to love your enemies somehow implicate Jesus and Christianity as a whole. 

This argument against Christianity, in light of the above, is blatantly fallacious. It is a tactic which God-haters of all stripes, but especially atheists, have been using as a “proof” that Christianity is false for decades now (possibly centuries).

So, other than the obvious fact that pragmatic approaches to discovering truth never hold up on their own merit, there is also the issue we already discussed that the people who were responsible for the aforementioned atrocities were clearly going against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Any murders committed in His Name were done against His commands, and thus were not truly in His Name. They certainly were not pleasing to Him. I mean, come on! When the “bad guys” arrived in the garden to haul Jesus off to a mock trial where He would be sentenced to an excruciating death for claiming to be God, which He is, Peter drew his sword and lopped off some guy named Malchus’ ear.

What did Jesus do? Did He also charge into battle with twelve legions of angels and decimate His would-be captors? If there was ever a time for retaliation this was it.

What was His response? Big surprise, He put back Malchus’ ear, good as new, and then basically tells Peter that those who live by the sword will likewise die by it.

Jesus clearly did not teach nor did He endorse killing for religious purposes.

This argument centering on religious wars is just plain bad; however, I am going to, for the sake of argument, play by these rules for my next entry on the topic of atheism. If you thought so-called “Christians” were bloodthirsty just wait ‘til you see the casualties of the atheistic worldview…
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