Christianity – “Less Violent” than Islam?
I want to say before I get rolling on this that I no more endorse the religion of Islam than I do any other religion. I firmly believe that religion and fundamentalist extremism by religious adherents has been and continues to be the most destructive force in humanity.
With that said, I’m an American and consequently most of the apologetics and excuse-makers I meet are pro-Christian. For that reason, I’m focusing my attention in this article on the biggest lie told by Christians about Christianity – that it is somehow less encouraging of hate, evil, and violence than Islam.
This is a line typically trotted out by fundamentalist right-wing Christians who hope to justify their abject fear and hatred of Islam, which is born not only of their ignorance about that religion, but also about their own.
It happens that I was raised by parents who were Dutch Reformed and Pentecostal, and I've read the entire Bible cover-to-cover several times. I have three uncles who are ordained ministers in three different sects - Southern Baptist, Dutch Reformed, and Presbyterian - and for a while when I was a teenager I even did a bit of fire-and-brimstone breathing and testifying myself, including a stint in a really talented Christian metal band
That's why I'm not a Christian, you see. I can read, and I have read.
Now the typical argument for Christianity and against Islam tends to go like this: “Islamic terrorists exist because Islam teaches violence. Why look, it says right here to kill the non-believers! Christianity isn’t like that! Oh sure, there’s some pretty rough times in the Old Testament, but then Jesus came and rejected all that hateful stuff for love and tolerance. The very common Muslim terrorist exists as a fulfillment of Islam, but the very rare Christian terrorist exists as a contradiction to the teachings of Christianity.”
Checking The Source
Let's take a look at some of those teachings, shall we?
Apparently killing 70,000 people (1 Chronicles 21:9-14) isn't murder or terror, as long as you offer the choice between three years of famine, three months of slaughter by warfare, or three days of God-given plague and “the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.”
Wiping out 60 entire towns of men, women, and children also isn't murder or terror (Deuteronomy 3:1-7)
Slaughtering every living thing in the entire city of Jerusalem, also not murder or terror (Joshua 6:20-21).
Certainly killing nearly everyone in an entire city including all the males and all the women who aren't virgins, taking all 400 of the virgins to be raped and enslaved, and then heading out to a festival held in God's name to hide in the vineyards, wait for women to come out of the dance, and kidnap, enslave, and rape them isn't terror. (Judges 21:10-24)
Old testament death toll: 371,186 people killed directly by God and another 1,862,265 people murdered on His orders. (Here would be a good place to credit EvilBible.Com for saving me a lot of research time tracking down particular passages.)
But wait, there’s more!
Of course that’s just “death and destruction writ large,” this says nothing the “lesser evils” to be found in the “Good Book.”
Like protecting a couple of adult men from being homosexual propositions by offering your virgin daughters to the propositioning homosexuals as a replacement for the adult men they’re trying to hook up with. That's what Lot did to prove himself worthy of salvation from the destruction of Sodom. Then his daughters got him drunk and got knocked up by him, and that was okay too – so okay, in fact, that both of the sons of Lot, conceived with his daughters, became the founders of nations – the elder daughter fathered Moab (same one that the city in Utah is named after) and the younger fathered Ben-Ammi, founder of the Ammonites (Genesis 19).
In Exodus 13:2, God says "Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among Israelites, both man and beast, for it belongs to me."
Just in case you think ol’ Yahweh means something nice by that, he clarifies in Leviticus 27:28-29 "But nothing that a person owns and devotes to the LORD—whether a human being or an animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD. No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death."
How about raping a few hundred virgins? Numbers 31:7-18 will hook you right up!
And if you are one of those virgins, according to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 you must marry your rapist.
Back to the killin’!
But we were talking about murder and terror. Killing, and forcing people to act a certain way under the threat of violence. Yeah, not much of that in the Bible, God only says to kill people who don't listen to priests (Deuteronomy 17:12), witches (Exodus 22:18), gay men (Leviticus 20:13), fortunetellers (Leviticus 20:27), kids who hit their parents (Exodus 21:15), people who curse their parents (Proverbs 20:20, Leviticus 20:9), adulterers (that's anyone who has sex outside of marriage)(Leviticus 20:10), daughters of priests who have sex (or in some translations, only those who become prostitutes) (Leviticus 21:9), people who have sex with animals (Exodus 22:19), followers of other religions (Exodus 22:20), anyone who takes advantage of a widow or an orphan (Exodus 22:22), nonbelievers (2 Chronicles 15:13), and false prophets must be killed by their parents. (Zechariah 13:3).
If one person in your town worships another god, you die. (Deuteronomy 13:12-19) If you are not a virgin on your wedding night and you are female, you die (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). If your brother, son, daughter, wife, or best friend suggests you worship other gods, you must kill them. (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). If someone else (including you, of course) worships another god, death again (Deuteronomy 17:2-5). If you "blaspheme," you die (Leviticus 24:10-16). Hey, throw a few more false prophets on the fire! (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20). Whoops, can't forget the infidels and again, the gays – even if God makes you gay (Romans 1:24-32). Work on Sunday? DIE EVIL SINNER! (Exodus 31:12-15). Children teasing you? Kill them all, feed them to the bears! (2 Kings 2:23-24). You may have heard that curiosity killed a cat, but did you know it killed seventy Jewish guys for looking at the wrong thing (1 Samuel 6:19-20). Oh, remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Yeah, he got killed for trying to stop the Ark of the Covenant from falling on the ground. (2 Samuel 6:3-7)
Is your dad a sinner? Bye. (Isaiah 14:21). Or how about a whole ethnicity's children? (Hosea 9:11-16). Or everyone who doesn't have a magic marker spot on their forehead? (Ezekiel 9:5-7) Or all the first-born in an entire nation? "There was not a house where someone had not died." (Exodus 12:29-30) Old men? Young women? Sure thing! (Jeremiah 51:20-26) (That verse is kind of cute because God promises a victory for the Israelites against Babylon, and then a chapter later Babylon kicks the shit out of them.)
Are you the child of a sinner? (Leviticus 26:21-22) How about we rape some more people and kill some more babies? (Isaiah 13:15-18) How about your "brothers, friends, and neighbors?" (Exodus 32:26-29) and then let's wipe out 24,000 people who believe in the wrong god! (Numbers 25:1-9)
Don't want to kill? Tough, you *have* to (Jeremiah 48:10)
Jesus’ Cheat Codes
Oh, but the old testament doesn't matter, right? Except for the part where Peter (aka “Saint Peter”) kills two people for trying to keep some proceeds from the sale of their own land (Acts 5:1-11) and Jesus says to cut your junk off if you really want a fast track to heaven. (Matthew 19:12)
Jesus overrides the old testament, right? He says that old stuff doesn't matter, it's the new stuff that matters. Except for this:
"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:17)
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19)
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
and the part where Jesus reinforced the Mosaic law and chastized the people for “setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9-11)
God said the act of adultery was punishable by death. Jesus says merely looking with lust is the same thing and you should gouge your eyes out; better a part than the whole. Jesus adds eternity in hell to the punishment of death prescribed by Mosaic law. (Matthew 5:27-29)
Of course it’s all a matter of interpretation, right? Some scripture can be seen as just human meddling, silly rules that are no longer relevant in this modern era; surely we can reject some of these things? Not according to the disciples. Brother Timothy says "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Our old friend Saint Peter, the rock upon whom the Christian church is founded, had this to add: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Of course, you can choose to ignore all of these things…if you want to go to hell. Keep denying the reality of your own religion’s ugly history, if that’s the kind of coward you want to be…but don’t expect me or any other person familiar with scripture to respect you or your point of view as long as you persist in living a lie.
If you want to believe, believe. That’s your business, and whether I share your beliefs is irrelevant. But do not play dishonest and dishonorable word games to justify your paranoid hate of those who don’t believe the way you do. If you believe so much that Jesus is a peaceful, loving, happy God who just wants you to love other people and treat the world with respect, then act like it. Your faith and belief and piety mean nothing if the only time you adhere to them is when it’s convenient.
Neither is a “better” religion. Nor is any other option.
The bottom line is that any person can justify any behavior they want to justify with scripture, whether that scripture is Islamic or Christian or Mosaic or Vedic or anything else. Further, many people throughout history have used Christian scripture to justify hate, ignorance, and violence, just like lots of people have used Islamic or Mosaic or Vedic or whatever else.
Pretending that Brand A of plutonium is any less radioactive than Brand X just because you happen to use Brand A is intellectually dishonest, and that mentality continues to fuel fundamentalist justification for violence and stupidity every single day. Until believers of ALL sects start looking at themselves and their fellow believers and accepting their responsibility and complicity in this behavior, the ignorance and violence will continue - because it's always, always, ALWAYS "the other guy's fault." And "the other guy" always says the same thing, and both "guys" refuse to recognize that they're making the same arguments for themselves that they refuse to accept from the other.
Fundamentalist extremism thrives on convincing non-extremists to defend it.
When *that* ignorance stops, maybe we'll get somewhere.
Until then, we won't.
Your religion is not innocent.