At the New Republic John Gray reviews “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” by Karen Armstrong
In this write up there is not so much a defense of religion per se but an attempt to challenge a common notion. It has been spoken as incontrovertible fact that “religion is responsible for more wars than anything else.” To question this “truth” you must be a moron. And the current violence brought about by radical Islam adds to our suspicions. This sometimes leads secular atheists to lump all religions together. Some have even compared Christians to radical jihadists. The answer? If we could just use reason and get rid of religious superstition, the world would finally be a safe place.
Gray takes this notion to task. The whole article is worth reading. But here are a few paragraphs worth quoting.
Some have offered that humanistic rationalists are the champions of equality, while religious folks are the source of imperialist oppression. Gray writes:
“The Renaissance is just one of several secular icons that Armstrong demolishes. Nothing is more commonplace than to read that Renaissance thinkers introduced a novel understanding of universal humanity. But Renaissance humanists were actually less sympathetic to the plight of indigenous peoples such as the Mesoamericans who had been violently subjugated than churchmen such as the Dominicans, who condemned the predatory behavior of the conquistadores. “The philosophy of human rights,” Armstrong notes, “did not apply to all human beings.” In some ways, modern conceptions of rights were more inhuman than medieval religion. One of the founders of liberalism, John Locke, found it intolerable that the “wild woods and uncultivated waste of America be left to nature, without any improvement, tillage and husbandry.” Involved in his own right in the colonization of the Carolinas, Locke “argued that the native ‘kings’ of America had no legal jurisdiction or right of ownership of their land.”
People often highlight several points in the history of the Christian church as events which reveal its true colors. The Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, bombed-out abortion clinics, etc. While I agree these things are horrible, and really no defense can be made to try to justify or dismiss them, two things can be said about these kinds of events. First, It is not accurate to say that these represent either the mainstream of the Christian faith, or an accurate representation of the teaching of the New Testament.
But Gray (quoting Armstrong) brings up another point. If we are just doing a body count, we should be far more worried about secularism than we are about religion when it comes to violence and oppression. He says:
“The Spanish Inquisition is a notorious example of the violence of religion. There can be no doubt that it entailed hideous cruelty, not least to Jews who had converted to Christianity, often in order to save their lives, but who were suspected of secretly practising their faith and consequently, in some cases, burnt. Yet in strictly quantitative terms, the Inquisition pales in comparison to later frenzies of secular violence. Recent estimates of the numbers who were executed during the first 20 years of the Inquisition—“the most violent period in its long history,” according to Armstrong—range from 1,500 to 2,000 people. By contrast, about a quarter of a million people were killed in the Vendée (out of a population of roughly 800,000) when a peasant rebellion against the French Revolution was put down by republican armies in 1794. And some 17,000 men, women, and children were guillotined in the purge that ended in July that year, including the man who had designed the new revolutionary calendar. It is indisputable that this mass slaughter had a religious dimension. In 1793 a Goddess of Reason was enthroned on the high altar at Notre Dame Cathedral; revolutionary leaders made great use of terms such as “credo,” “sacrament,” and “sermon” in their speeches. As Armstrong puts it, “No sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion than they invented another.”
Read the whole thing here.
Of course, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the 262 million people killed by their own governments- which were mostly acting on their politicized atheist beliefs. Read more on “democide” from the university of Hawaii site here.