What about bad things done by the Church?
Our Creation magazine is dedicated to defending the truth of the Bible, especially as it concerns creation by Jesus Christ. In particular, two main logically independent issues that CMI addresses are:
- Is creation right?
- Why does it matter?
This article mainly addresses point 2. In the past, we have frequently supported this point by showing that Christianity has been the most powerful force for good in history.1
This includes motivating charity, education, abolition of slavery,2 and science.3 The evidence is so strong that even some high-profile atheists have conceded that biblical Christianity drove the Salvation Army’s charity and one even proclaimed, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.” 4 Similarly, T.H. Huxley (1825–1895), the famous agnostic known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, advocated teaching the Bible to children for its great morality, and insisted on this for his own children.5
The vital difference
About the only response that anti-Christians can give is that the history of the church has not always been good. The most important issue in reply is this:
Atrocities in the name of Christ are inconsistent with real Christianity, which is revealed in the Bible; atrocities in the name of atheism are consistent with it.
Note that we are NOT claiming that all atheists are always ‘evil’ or can never do good things, but that atheism provides no basis for judging right from wrong.
Evolutionist Jaron Lanier showed the problem, saying, “There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.”
In reply, the leading atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins affirmed, “All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.”6
So here we have a leading atheist admitting that evolution provides no basis for morality. Instead, he and his fellow atheists have needed to borrow from Christian concepts of sanctity of life and charity. Similarly, the Jewish libertarian columnist Jeff Jacoby gave a lucid summary of the argument:
“Can people be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good? Sure. There have always been kind and ethical nonbelievers. But how many of them reason their way to kindness and ethics, and how many simply reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised?
“In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. …
“For in a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees ‘Thou shalt not murder.’ It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone. One might reason instead—as Lenin and Stalin and Mao reasoned—that there is nothing wrong with murdering human beings by the millions if doing so advances the Marxist cause. Or one might reason from observing nature that the way of the world is for the strong to devour the weak—or that natural selection favors the survival of the fittest by any means necessary, including the killing of the less fit.
“It may seem obvious to us today that human life is precious and that the weakest among us deserve special protection. Would we think so absent a moral tradition stretching back to Sinai? It seemed obvious in classical antiquity that sickly babies should be killed. …
“Reason is not enough. Only if there is a God who forbids murder is murder definitively evil.”7
Therefore, the corrective for faulty application of Christianity is not atheism but correct (biblical) application of Christianity.
Given the reasoning above, it should be no surprise that the atrocities committed in the name of Christ are not only an aberration, but pale compared to the monstrous atrocities committed by atheists for atheistic reasons. Some specific well-known cases in each category will now be addressed.
The Inquisition is certainly a black spot; biblical Christianity, from a human standpoint, tells people to come freely to Christ, not be forced to profess Christ because of threats. But the Inquisition also must be put into perspective, both compared with the numbers and the culture of the time. Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834): historians such as Henry Kamen estimate between 1,500 and 4,000 people were executed for heresy,8 out of Spain’s 6–10 million total population. So at most 0.05% of Spain’s population was killed. While this is nevertheless deplorable, it means that the Inquisition’s rate of executing people was lower than that of the state of Texas today, while atheist Stalin often killed that many before breakfast (so to speak). Furthermore, Inquisition trials were often fairer and more lenient than their secular counterparts—indeed, some criminals uttered heresies precisely so they would be transferred to the Inquisition courts.
Salem witch trials
This was a travesty of paranoia and mass hysteria in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. However, they killed fewer than 25 people, far short of the “perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions” that the late antitheist Carl Sagan (1934–1996) claimed. Further, they were stopped when Christians protested at the travesty of justice in the unfair trials and how they violated all biblical standards of evidence.9 Even a trial proponent, the Puritan minister Increase Mather (1639–1723), opposed the ‘spectral evidence’, i.e. from dreams and visions, instead of the biblically required plurality of eyewitnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). He also made the statement that has now become a vital part of Western justice, “It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that One Innocent Person should be Condemned.”10
While many people attack Christianity for the Crusades, an increasing number of historians regard them as a belated response to four centuries of Islamic aggression that had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world.11
The Muslims quickly conquered the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal) well before the Crusades. They would have almost certainly conquered Europe were it not for the King of the Franks, Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne. In the Battle of Tours (ad 732), Martel’s infantry army stood firm against Muslim cavalry, and repulsed their repeated charges while inflicting enormous casualties. The Muslim leader Abd-er Rahman was killed. Afterwards, the remains of the shattered army retreated back across the Pyrenées, and never returned.
Also, just think about the historic centres of Christianity, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and the rest of North Africa—they are now Muslim lands, converted at the point of the sword. And after the crusades, the Muslim Turks conquered the ancient land of Asia Minor, the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, the site of many of his missionary journeys and home of the Seven Churches of the book of Revelation. Furthermore, when they conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, some 800 years after its founding, they turned Hagia Sophia (‘Holy Wisdom’), the world’s biggest Christian church at the time, and the centre of Eastern Orthodoxy, into a mosque.
In this, they were following the example of Muhammad himself. Evangelist Lowell Lundstrom (1939–2012) observed, “During Muhammad’s ten years in Medina, he planned 65 military campaigns and raids, and he personally led 27 of them.”12 In Sura 66:9, the Koran affirms, “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.” Historian Sir Steven Runciman notes, “Unlike Christianity, which preached a peace that it never achieved, Islam unashamedly came with the sword.”13
Even Richard Dawkins recently admitted:
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”14
So, in a similar note to the main teaching of this article, while atrocities committed in the name of Christ, such as during the Crusades, were inconsistent with the teachings of Christ (such as “Do not murder”), the atrocities committed by Muslims are consistent with Muhammad’s teachings and actions.15
It’s important to note that religion had nothing to do with the vast majority of wars, e.g. Hutu–Tutsi war in Rwanda, Falklands War, Vietnam and Korean Wars, WW2, WW1, Gran Chaco War in South America, Russo-Japanese War, Spanish–American War, Franco-Prussian War, Crimean War, US Civil War, Napoleonic wars, Wars of the Roses, Mongol wars, Gallic War, Punic wars, Peloponnesian War, Assyrian wars …
When Islamic or atheistic atrocities are announced, the secular media almost invariably resort to moral equivalence with claimed Christian terrorists. Let’s address a few of them.
Regarding the IRA (Irish Republican Army), Rev. Dr Mark Durie, a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, points out the truth:
“The example of the IRA, so often cited as Christian terrorists, illustrates the Christian position, because the IRA’s ideology was predominantly Marxist and atheistic. IRA terrorists found no inspiration in the teachings of Christ.”16
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber who killed 168 people and wounded over 680, has often been called a “Christian terrorist”. But he was an agnostic to the end. In fact, his final pre-execution public statement was William Ernest Henley’s strongly humanist poem Invictus (1875). This starts, “I thank whatever gods may be/ for my unconquerable soul,” and finishes, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”17 Such defiant rejection of his Creator is hardly the mark of any Christian, good or otherwise.
Also, the news media were quick to label the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik as a Christian. But Breivik specifically denied that he was a religious Christian, caring nothing for God and Christ:
“If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.”18
He could not be more wrong.
Hypocrites in the Church
Jesus reserved some of his strongest criticism for the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. But He in no way condemned the righteousness that they stood for in public. Matthew 23:1–3 records:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practise and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practise.”
Thus the charge of hypocrisy was not an attack on the morality they preached but on their failure to live up to it. He actually told His followers to be even more righteous than the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).
We are upset by hypocrisy precisely because we recognize that something intrinsically good has been debased and let down by the hypocrite’s failure to meet the very standard he proclaimed. Hence the saying, “Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue.”
This atheist criticism amounts to preferring that we both say and do the wrong thing rather than say the right thing but do the wrong thing.19
Atrocities committed in Christ’s name pale in comparison to the record-breaking tens of millions killed by atheistic regimes just last century. This was thoroughly documented by Rudolph Rummel (b. 1932), Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, who coined the term democide, meaning ‘murder of a people by their government’:20 77 million in Communist China, 62 million in the Soviet Gulag State, 21 million non-battle killings by the Nazis (including 6 million Jews, ⅓ of all Jews in Europe), 2 million murdered in the Khmer Rouge killing fields. This is many times more deaths than all ‘religious’ wars put together in all centuries of human history, and this is just for the 20th century!
We have previously documented the evolutionary basis for the Holocaust.21 This included eugenics, which was so Darwinian that non-creationist Denis Sewell documented:
“[In the] years leading up to the First World War, the eugenics movement looked like a Darwin family business. … Darwin’s son Leonard replaced his cousin Galton as chairman of the national Eugenics Society in 1911. In the same year an offshoot of the society was formed in Cambridge. Among its leading members were three more of Charles Darwin’s sons, Horace, Francis and George.”22
Professing Christians who committed atrocities were acting inconsistently with the teachings of Christianity. Conversely, evolutionists who committed atrocities were acting consistently with evolution.
The term ‘atrocity’ has meaning only under a Judeo-Christian worldview; it has no meaning in an evolutionary philosophy.
The horrors of atheistic atrocities in the 20th century alone dwarf all the ‘Christian’ atrocities in all centuries combined.
References and notes
- Sarfati, J., What good is Christianity? Creation 29(4):6, 2007; creation.com/christianity-good. Return to text.
- Anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce: Christian hero, Creation 29(4):12–15, 2007; creation.com/wilberforce. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Why does science work at all? Creation 31(3):12–14, 2009; creation.com/whyscience. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Atheists credit the Gospel: Two high-profile atheists concede that to get practical help to the poor and liberate them from poverty you need Christianity’s teaching about man’s place in the Universe, Creation 32(4):48–49, 2010; creation.com/atheists-credit-christianity. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Huxley, Morality and the Bible, Creation 34(4):40–42, 2012. Return to text.
- Evolution: The dissent of Darwin, Psychology Today 30(1):62, Jan–Feb 1997. Return to text.
- Jacoby, J., Created by God to Be Good, Patriot Post, 15 November 2010. Return to text.
- Kamen, H., The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, Yale University Press, 1999. Return to text.
- D’Souza, D., What’s So Great About Christianity? p. 207, Regnery, Washington DC, 2007; see review by Cosner, L., J. Creation 22(2):32–35, 2008; creation.com/dsouza. Return to text.
- Mather, I., Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts, Infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime, September 1692. Return to text.
- Spencer, R., The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades), Regnery Press, 2005; Spencer, R., Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, Regnery Publishing, 2007; Stark, R., God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, HarperOne, 2009. Return to text.
- Lowell Lundstrom, The Muslims are Coming (Sisseton, SD: Lowell Lundstrom Ministries, 1980), p. 37. Lundstrom served for ten years as president and chancellor of Trinity Bible College, in Ellendale, North Dakota. Return to text.
- Quoted in Lundstrom, Ref. 12, p. 37. Return to text.
- Cited in: Gledhill, R., Scandal and schism leave Christians praying for a ‘new Reformation’, The Times (UK), 6 April 2010. Return to text.
- See J. Sarfati, Unfair to Islam? creation.com/islamunfair, 2008. Return to text.
- Durie, M., Creed of the sword, The Australian, 23 September 2006. Return to text.
- Gallagher, M., Timothy McVeigh, Christian terrorist, Townhall.com, 28 October 2002. Return to text.
- See also Bergman, J., “Anders Breivik—Social Darwinism leads to mass murder”, J. Creation 26(1):48–53, 2012; Sarfati, J., Norway terrorist: more media mendacity, creation.com/breivik, 11 August 2011 Return to text.
- Wieland, C., The Haggard tragedy: “Christianity must be wrong because of all the hypocrites in the church!” creation.com/haggard, 9 November 2006. Return to text.
- Rummel, R.J., Death by Government, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994; hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM. Return to text.
- Weikart, R., From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, USA, 2004; see review creation.com/weikart. Return to text.
- Sewell, D., The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics, p. 54, Picador, London, 2009; see also review, Bergman, J, J. Creation 25(1):19–21, 2011. Return to text.
Thank-you Jonathan for a very important and insightful article.
I find Richard Dawkin's admission as you have quoted revealing. Indeed even Christopher Hitchens expressed similar sentiments as these when discussing Islam. The benevolent influence and importance of our Judeo-Christian heritage cannot be taken lightly.
Amen! "Christian Terrorist" is a prime example of an oxymoron.
Should European witch trials be categorized as part of the Inquisition? I've heard some people admit that the witch trials in Massachusetts were indeed small and short-lived compared to most other atrocities committed in human (even just American) history, but they claim European witch trials were more numerous and deadly (including actual witch burning). Were those occurrences during the Inquisition? If they cannot be considered part of the estimates provided in this article for the Inquisition, how widespread and deadly were they? I'm guessing those were overestimated, too, but I wonder if that was what Carl Sagan was referring to in his estimate.
Lots of misinformation still exists about witch trials and the inquisitions. The Kamen book cited is probably the best source. Another one is by a specialist in the Middle Ages and Renaissance history and science whom I have cited elsewhere, Dr James Hannam, in his Frequently Asked Questions about the Inquisition:
What was the inquisition’s attitude towards witch trials?
It would be a mistake to lay the blame for witch trials at the feet of Protestants. The pope Innocent VIII started the ball rolling with his bull Summis desiderantes affectibus that linked witchcraft to heresy and the German Dominican inquisitors used it as the basis for their Malleus Maleficarum. Catholic France and Cologne were every bit as active in witch hunts as Protestant Germany and Scotland. It is ironic therefore that witch hunts were rare in Italy and Spain where the inquisition was most largely responsible for carrying them out. This was in part because the inquisition was always more lenient than secular authorities and less likely to impose the death penalty. To common people this rather lessened the attraction of reporting neighbours for vindictive reasons. Also, the inquisition had higher standards of evidence which tended to disregard the confessions of witches incriminating each other and inquisitors were markedly sceptical about some of the more fantastic stories of broomsticks and devils. The most famous case involved the release of 1,500 alleged witches held by the Spanish inquisition after an investigation by an inquisitor uncovered massive flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence. [Emphasis added]
(Sources: pages 260 – 1, Rodney Stark For the Glory of God Princeton 2003; page 113, Peters; see also: Gustav Henningsen The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (1609-1614), 1980 and Brian P Levack The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe Harlow 1995)
Please consider a clarification to Dr. Sarfati's great article, What About Bad Things Done By The Church?
This correction addresses a minor point and only strengthens the article's overall argument. The Bible's requirement of multiple witnesses for capital punishment does not require multiple eyewitnesses. Physical and circumstantial evidence, motive and opportunity, can also be "witnesses." Multiple "witnesses" is the standard not only for executions, but also for filing any criminal charge and for any guilty verdict, even for a minor crime. "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter [any guilty verdict] shall be established" (Deut. 19:15). So this requirement of multiple witnesses, physical or otherwise, applies across the board, even regarding the hearing of an accusation against an elder in the church (1 Tim. 5:19).
The Bible even describes a capital case where there were not two or three eyewitnesses, yet for the rapist who attacked a woman alone in the wilderness, upon conviction God commanded his execution (Deut. 22:25-27). The physical evidence in the "Ark of the Testimony" was a witness to Israel and Jesus' witnesses included miracles and the Scriptures. Words alone offered on one's behalf are not credible. But Jesus offered the voice of His Father and the Baptist's voice. And He said, "the very works that I do bear witness of Me" and "the Scriptures... testify of Me" (John 5:36-39). No one "saw" Jesus come down from heaven. But His miracles and the Scriptures provided the confirming witnesses.
Finally, covetousness is not itself a crime, but Jesus' teaching implies that unjust anger leads to unjust action, which is why motive itself is relevant.
I Corinthian 1 :21.The Bible aptly predicted that the World in its own wisdom (Science/Evolution) would not know God. And how apt has these Prophetic Declaration been fulfilled in our own lifetime?
Reading CMI article any day is a blessing to me as a Christian. Your well researched articles answers most of what troubles any average Christians.
The Muslim world would forever refer to Christians as Crusaders and the world has bought the lies. Crusade was a battle to retake what was originally stolen but how many people knows this truth.
Muslims and Arabs worldwide would tell you Jerusalem belongs to the Arabs. Their Koran said their Prophet went to heaven when he touched the Wall of Solomon, now the question is "is Solomon an Arab King? Wars would cease when truths are made known, that's what CMI is doing and we are blessed by the truth your article reveals daily.
The Jehovah Witnesses ( so-called) print lies that denigrates Christians using the Crusaders and IRA as Christians terrorists! Articles like this will always open the eyes of fellow believers!
My prayer is that your articles would always continue to reach millions who seek first to know the truth and Christians who are ignorant of historical facts.
The good LORD whose battle you have chosen to fight rewards you abundantly.
As your article points out, the facts surrounding some initiatives in the past have been distorted and, although some degree of evil was evident, not all was evil.
To this end, it would be in the interest of justice that the history of South Africa is put in perspective, especially in terms of the moral point of view.