Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Christianity a Peaceful Religion?

Is Christianity the religion of peace? Christianity's founder is on record as saying, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Even if Jesus Christ meant an ideological conflict, it's interesting to note that Christian-majority countries have been the undisputed volume leaders when it comes to killing human beings over the last 250 years--at least compared to every other religion. Think WWI, WWII, Vietnam (including My Lai), Iraq (including "The Kill Team"), the Holocaust, etc.

The Old Testament is even more brutal:

Deuteronomy, Ch 7: "and when the LORD, your God, delivers them up to you and you defeat them, you shall doom them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy...But this is how you must deal with them: Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, chop down their sacred poles, and destroy their idols by fire. For you are a people sacred to the LORD, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own...The LORD will remove all sickness from you; he will not afflict you with any of the malignant diseases that you know from Egypt, but will leave them with all your enemies...The images of their gods you shall destroy by fire. Do not covet the silver or gold on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it; for it is an abomination to the LORD, your God."  (See also Psalm 137.)

From Jesus Christ, full quote: "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. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

Obviously, being related somehow to the most number of killings in the last 250 years doesn't mean Christianity or Christians are more violent in general. Everyone should know the difference between causation and correlation. This is why I find it interesting that some Americans and American media outlets associate violence with Islam. I saw a more substantial "conversation" on the issue of religion and violence on Facebook, which I am copying below. The first person is responding to a comment about why Americans sometimes associate Islam with violence.

Facebook Debate

MNA: Some random thoughts... I'm generalizing, and "us" does not necessarily include "me." Radical Islamic fundamentalists have said "Death to America" and some people have chosen to take that personally and as a threat to their very well-being. When threatened, people don't always act rationally or accurately judge how serious that threat may really be. Some of it might be the media coverage - much as we are made to believe that things that kill 10 children a year are "dangerous" it's hard to not perceive the Islamic world as dangerous when we see stories of stonings of women accused of adultery, of honor killings and acid attacks. I think we like to believe that we have moved on and become more experienced and civilized... that confronted with the same situations, we would not behave in the same way. Seeing Muslims acting in vengeful ways straight out of the Bible doesn't make us view Muslims as equally "enlightened."

AC: "
You" seem to be saying that it is reasonable for Christians and atheists to feel threatened by the actions of a small minority of Muslims acting barbarically. You then argue that Christians would not act the same way when confronted with the same situations, citing acid attacks and capital punishment. You allege that Christians have "moved on" and become more "civilized."

Acid attacks have happened in America, too--look up Bethany Storro, who, according to various reports, covered her face in acid and blamed it on a black person. I've also heard of acid attacks happening in several high schools in America. Is it rational to believe that America is an evil place because of isolated incidents? Of course not, but your words reveal a certain kind of bias based on selective application of general principles.

Also, America, like Middle Eastern countries, has capital punishment. It's hard to see electrocution as somehow better than stoning, but to the extent there is a difference, it is one of degree, not substance. Your comments seem to prove that human beings tend to think in terms of "us vs. them"--even when substantively, there is little difference between us and them. As a result, realists believe that only power convinces stronger nations to be "civilized." This might be what leads leads Iran and other countries to desire nuclear weapons, i.e., a realistic, rational policy of preservation.

But I'm not done yet. I have two words for you and anyone else who thinks Christian nations are civilized or somehow more civilized than other countries and nationalities: Abu Ghraib.

Let me now flip your statements as an academic exercise: Muslims would like to think that Christians are civilized and enlightened people, but when faced with Abu Ghraib, are Muslims and Muslim-majority countries justified in feeling threatened by Christians? The statistical record does indicate that Christian-majority countries have been highly predisposed to war and mass killings in the last 200 years. Taken together with Abu Ghraib and the 2003 invasion of Iraq based on a false allegation involving WMDs, are Muslim nations not justified in being concerned about their survival?

Overall, your comments indicate a selective memory and a willingness to attribute terrible things to Muslims but not to Christians. But my intent is not to single you out. My point is that human beings have a natural tendency to make people who look and act different from them into "The Other." Realists recognize this innate tendency to believe one's own people to be more civilized than "the Other," which sometimes causes tension and major misunderstandings.

MNA: Umm, I said "I think we like to believe" - I did not say we were right in thinking so, or that it is true. I think almost everyone thinks themselves morally superior to others, until put in a position where they have to make hard choices. Then it has nothing to do with race, color, creed or religion - only content of character as to how we rise to the occasion (or don't). There is no bias here, except yours perhaps ;) I think your entire argument was based around Muslims being somehow morally superior, their values leading them to be more peaceable. Speaking of peaceable...it's merely for "protection" that Iran seeks nuclear weapons? That might seem more plausible if they would stop denying the Holocaust and praying for Israel to be wiped off the map.

AC: Iran's president is a moron--let's agree on that right off the bat. However, his point seems to be that Israel emphasizes the Holocaust as a way of making its country's citizens into victims, which then allows them to victimize Palestinians and Muslims in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere (i.e., 2006 Lebanon War). (Most people intuitively believe that if you're a victim, you cannot be an oppressor or aggressor--see battered wife self-defense theory, etc.)

Thus, Iran's president's goal is to de-legitimize the Holocaust so he can paint Israel as an oppressor of Muslims, which is a stupid, grotesque, and ignorant way of approaching the situation. Even so, statements denying the number of deaths in the Holocaust--though unbelievably stupid and grotesque--say nothing about the likelihood of future attacks against Israel. (You seem to be forgetting that it was Christians that killed the Jews in the Holocaust, not Muslims.) Also, an isolated comment about wiping Israel off the map was stated in the passive voice, i.e., similar to saying that you hope that jerk across the street who's been beating up your brother dies soon. So you still lack objective evidence of any intent by Iran to attack Israel, which would be suicide for Iran, a country that's existed for 3000+ years. In other words, you seem to believe that a 3,000 years old civilization led by a Ph.D. civil engineer wants to commit suicide, even though Iran has a record of protecting Jews (see the story of Esther).

Also, Iran has never done to the Jews what America did to Muslims in Abu Ghraib. Based on your line of reasoning, we should believe that America's nuclear weapons are not for self-defense or peaceful purposes post-Abu-Ghraib and Iraq. If Iran ever rounded up the Jews in Iran and tortured them, your line of reasoning might make more sense, but in the absence of widespread human rights abuses against Jews within Iran, your line of reasoning appears based on prejudice and isolated statements rather than facts. Again, it was mostly Christians who rounded up the Jews in Germany and the Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is also interesting that you fail to mention that in the last 200 years, Israelis have killed more Muslims than Iranians have killed Jews--and yet, despite the historical record, you believe Iran has less credibility than Israel when it comes to wanting protection, even though Israel has nuclear weapons and subjects Muslims in the Gaza Strip to daily human rights abuses, while Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons and does not commit daily human rights abuses against its Jewish residents.

In any case, hasn't your selective memory and reasoning proven my point? That no matter how educated or intelligent a person, he or she is a product of his/her environment and is easily led to accept theories based more on prejudice of the "Other" than facts, logic, and history? We are the country that invaded Iraq for no justifiable reason. Modern history shows that countries, especially Muslim-majority countries, not part of the elite or that do not share a sufficient number of characteristics with the power elite should seek the strongest protection possible as a means of self-defense. Is that not a reasonable conclusion based on the record post-Iraq and post-Abu Ghraib? Or do you think it's illogical for Iran to want protection when it sees what a Christian-majority nation did to Iraq and in Abu Ghraib?

Bonus: according Jewish journalist Roger Cohen, "Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran -- its sophistication and culture -- than all the inflammatory rhetoric. That may be because I'm a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran." More here.

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