Is Christianity less inclined to violence than other religions and ideologies?
No one but Jesus Christ and genuine Christian faith is capable of quelling the violence in the nature of man. Only the Christian gospel is capable of mastering human violence, because it does so from within.
Pantheistic religion can’t quell the violence of human nature because it is incapable of defining good or evil. For Pantheism, everything that exists is an aspect of God. Violence, vengeance, and destruction are just as truly expressions of the divine will as are peace, forgiveness, and restoration. If evil can’t be defined, no stand can be taken against it. 1
Unlike pantheism, ideologies and nationalism are capable of defining “good” and “evil”, but rather than subduing the natural violence of mankind they encourage and channel it. Nationalism channels violence against “evil” national “enemies.” Ideologies set up categories to define who is “good” and who is “evil” and channel violence against the “evil.” (Communism, for example, defined the “working class” as “good” and landowners, business owners, and investors as “evil.” Unregulated capitalism declares anyone or anything “evil” that interferes with the accumulation of wealth.)
Monotheistic religions (including historical perversions of Christianity) also channel violence rather than suppressing it. Like nationalism and secular ideologies monotheistic religions set particular criteria for defining people as “good” or “bad”. Sometimes their members are defined more by ethnicity than religious dogma and adherence to creed or ritual. In other cases membership is based on assent to a particular set of doctrinal beliefs and participation in a defined pattern of religious behavior. Whether membership is determined by birth, creed, or ritual, people deeply committed to monotheistic religions view themselves as God’s chosen and non-members as heathen or infidels. Monotheistic religions are naturally theocratic and incompatible with separation of church and state, tending to establish strict legal codes that govern even insignificant details of life. Historically, whenever a monotheistic religions holds political power it treats non-members as second-class citizens at best, and often subjects them to full-scale persecution.
The hostility of monotheistic religions towards non-members isn’t coincidental. The core beliefs of every monotheistic religion except New Testament Christianity include the express goal of conquering and ruling the world. 3
Whether their worldview is dominated by nationalism, pantheism, monotheism, or some ideology, the natural inclination of human beings is to resolve the tension of social and personal struggle, suffering and sin by identifying other groups as scapegoats. 4 Genuine Christianity doesn’t look to birth, creed, or behavior for deliverance. Christianity looks to Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the moral law and fully paid its penalty, thus removing its curse. He was the perfect “Lamb of God” (Genesis 22:8; John 1:29; Revelation 7:17; 21:23; Hebrews 4:15; 9:28) who forever removed the need for a scapegoat. He obliterated the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-14) with its guilt, fear, self-righteousness, and compulsion to treat outsiders as scapegoats and restored our relationship with God.
Based on the life and works of Jesus Christ, the gospel incorporates the moral law but transcends it. It offers a response to sin and conflict that doesn’t place the blame on others. It doesn’t define righteousness entirely on the basis of birth or outer works of loyalty or ritual. It sets the highest standards for moral purity (Matthew 5:48) at the same time as it declares that all people—including Christians—are sinners, worthy of condemnation and incapable of saving themselves. In Christ God provided a means of redemption from violence, offering us forgiveness and a means of living on a plane higher than that of our fallen nature. (Romans 5:20-21)
The only alternative to imposing an unjust order on a society by means of government violence is a society that bases its values and laws upon its model of a holy God who rewards good and punishes evil within a context of mercy and grace. A society founded on the gospel is the only society capable of defending truth and justice without scapegoating others. This is the kind of society that fulfills God’s original purposes for Israel. This is the kind of society that followers of Christ should strive to build.
- The cult of Thuggee, worshipers of the Hindu goddess Kali, provide a vivid illustration of the problem. The following information is from a Wikipedia article on the Thuggee cult.
Thuggee (or tuggee) (from the Sanskrit root sthag (Pali, thak), to conceal, mainly applied to fraudulent concealment) was an Indian cult worshiping Kali whose members were known as Thugs. It was allegedly a hereditary cult with both Muslim and Hindu members that practiced large-scale robbery and murder of travelers by strangulation. Induction was typically passed from father to son, with the women of the household being kept ignorant of the cult activity.
The Thugs were a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins, who in gangs of 10 to 200 traveled in various guises through India, wormed themselves into the confidence of wayfarers of the wealthier class. When a favorable opportunity arose, the Thug strangled his victim by throwing a handkerchief or noose around the neck, and then plundered and buried him. All this was done according to certain ancient and rigidly prescribed forms and after the performance of special religious rites, in which the consecration of the pickax and the sacrifice of sugar formed a prominent part. From their using the noose as an instrument of murder they were also frequently called Phansigars, or “noose-operators.”…
The will of the goddess by whose command and in whose honor they followed their calling was revealed to them through a very complicated system of omens. In obedience to these, they often traveled hundreds of miles in company with, or in the wake of, their intended victims before a safe opportunity presented itself for executing their design; and, when the deed was done, rites were performed in the deity’s honor, and a significant portion of the spoils was set apart for her.
The fraternity also possessed a jargon of their own (Ramasi), as well as certain signs by which its members recognized each other in the remotest parts of India. Even those who from age or infirmities could no longer take an active part in the ritual murder continued to aid the cause as watchers, spies, or dressers of food. Because of their thorough organization, the secrecy and security of their operation, and the religious pretext in which they shrouded their murders, they were recognized as a regular tax-paying profession and continued for centuries to practice their craft, free of inquiry from Hindu or Muslim rulers.
Both of the sects into which they were divided by the Nerbudda river laid claim to antiquity. While the northern, however, did not trace their origin further back than the period of the early Muslim kings of Delhi, the southern fraction not only claimed an earlier and purer descent, but adhered also with greater strictness to the rules of their profession.
The earliest authenticated mention of the Thugs is found in the following passage of Ziau-d din Barni’s History of Firoz Shah (written about 1356):
“In the reign of that sultan [about 1290], some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighborhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighborhood of Delhi any more.” (Sir HM Elliot’s History of India, iii. 141).
Thuggee was suppressed by the British rulers of India in the 1830s, due largely to the efforts of William Sleeman, who started an extensive campaign involving profiling, intelligence, and executions. A police organization known as the Thuggee and Dacoity Department was established within the Government of India and remained in existence until 1904 when it was replaced by the Central Criminal Intelligence Department. The defeat of the Thugs played a part in securing Indian loyalty to the British Raj.
According to the Guinness Book of Records the Thuggee cult was responsible for approximately 2,000,000 deaths.
The story of Thuggee was popularized by books such as Philip Meadows Taylor’s novel Confessions of a Thug, 1839, leading to the word “thug” entering the English language. John Masters’ novel The Deceivers also deals with the subject. A more recent book is George Bruce, The Stranglers: The cult of Thuggee and its overthrow in British India (1968). The two most popular depictions of the cult in film are the 1939 film, Gunga Din and the 1984 Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Both films have the heroes fighting secret revivals of the cult to prevent them resuming their reigns of terror. (Wikipedia) Back To Article
- Respecting their tendency to legislate lifestyle and morality, it difficult to distinguish between monotheistic religions and ideologies like secular humanism. Although “non-religious”, secular humanism, communism, and other ideologies can be just as demanding and inflexible in establishing a required set of behavioral standards and religions. For example, it is hard to imagine a more stifling and inhuman existence than that demanded by the atheistic ruling classes in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s 1984. Many thinkers today are acutely aware of similar autocratic, legalistic, and profoundly inhuman tendencies in modern “politically correct” liberal “humanism”. Back To Article
- In sharp contrast, there is absolutely no basis in the New Testament for a Christian agenda to conquer the world though political and military power or to politically force people of other religions to bow to Christ. See the ATQ article, Why Is New Testament Christianity Opposed to War? Back To Article
- See the ATQ article, What Is the Underlying Cause of Violence? Back To Article