Responding to Phillip Adams

Phillip Adams’ column in The Weekend Australian this weekend warrants a response.  It’s entitled Killers for Christ and contains a litany of instances of violence perpetrated by Christians.  Adams then (rightly in my opinion) points out that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s links with ‘historic’ and ‘contemporary Christian fundamentalism’ are irrefutable.  Adams’ column finishes with this sentence:

We cannot be surprised if, once in a while, an individual, or an entire nation, see Christianity in the militant terms of Onward Christian Soldiers and massacre or invasion as their sacred duty. Christians must speak out against such madness. Jesus would want it.

No argument from me there, Phillip, I completely agree.  Murder in the name of Christ is always a reprehensible betrayal of Christ’s message, and Christians have at times dramatically failed throughout history to be faithful to their Master’s teaching on this matter.

But the implication of Adams’ column is that Christians might find speaking out against violence and massacres difficult to do.  Just to reassure those who think this might be true, here is a line from Pope Benedict XVI’s statement at the news of the Norwegian atrocity:

Let us pray for the victims, for the wounded and for their loved ones. To all, I wish to repeat the urgent call to abandon the way of hate forever and to flee from the logic of evil.

A couple of other points really do need to be made.  Firstly, I don’t think that Christians should ever attempt the indefensible, and it is undeniable that Christians throughout history have been guilty of murder and violence.  And it is also true that at various points in history, that violence has been sanctioned by the leadership of the Church rather than condemned.  These are all shameful episodes in the Church’s history.

Adams notes that Christians worked for the abolition of slavery and the end to apartheid.  What he fails to mention is that church leaders also roundly condemned the invasion of Iraq, and that Christians also denounced the Holocaust and the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The tenor of Adams’ article is that Christianity is somehow a religion of violence rather than of peace.  Adams states,

the religion based on the peaceful, forgiving teaching of Jesus has been, and remains, more militant than Islam. For millennia Christians have been slaughtering Jews, Muslims, Hindus and each other – in the millions.

I think that attempting to compare whether atheistic regimes, Muslims or Christians have been guilty of more atrocities is macabre. The truth of the matter is that people have been slaughtering each other for millennia, and the perpetrators have been people of every religion and those professing no religion.  To argue that the faith with the smallest body count against its name is somehow superior is an abhorrent conversation.

Violence in the name of Christianity will always be contrary to Christian faith, and a betrayal of the message of Jesus.  While I would want to strongly affirm that millions of Muslims are peaceful, good people who would repudiate violence as firmly as I would, it is a matter of historical record that Muhammad had recourse to violence to further his religious goals.  While the majority of atheists no doubt similarly reject violence the major proponents of atheistic regimes in the twentieth century also possess blood-stained hands.

I think Adams is right: due to some of the regrettable episodes in history we sadly cannot be surprised if an individual chooses to draw upon those episodes to cast Christianity in militant terms.  But to draw such a conclusion will always involve a misinterpretation of Christianity.  Christians have no trouble rejecting such recourse to violence, and we have no trouble saying so.

Posted on August 7, 2011, in Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I think you’re exactly right, Chris. But I’m going to go a little further (and be a bit controversial) and say that I perceive fundamentalism (within any religion) to be the issue. As soon as things are viewed in the frame of black/white or wrong/right, a desire to express that view overtakes the desire to try to understand another’s point of view. Judgement supercedes empathy and the stage is set for tyranny and violence.

  2. SeenButNotHeard

    Don’t fall into Pillip Adams logic trap. He claims he knows what it means to be Christian and even goes so far as to speak for Jesus, yet his whole attack is anti-christian. Some points need clarification
    1. What is a Christian?
    2. What is religion?
    3. Can one be Christian without being Catholic?
    4. Can one be religious without being Christian?

    Answer these questions and you will find that one can be Religious and even claim to represent the Church (as Phillip tries to do) without ever knowing Jesus.
    Phillip is about as much of a Christian as Anders, which is to say neither man knows who Jesus really is.

  3. Phillip Adams is a known Atheist. Why should I care what he thinks?

  4. You should care about what he thinks because he is a member of the community in which you live. He is a human being and he has as much right as you do to hold his opinion and to share it. This kind of an opinion: “if you aren’t with us, you don’t count” is (in my opinion) the reason that people are leaving the Catholic church in droves.

    Thanks otherwise Chris for a very thought provoking blog.

  5. I don’t know. I can’t condone the excesses of war (war crimes) and war in itself is always regrettable, obviously b/c of the loss of life, but I’m one of those Catholics who thinks the crusades, for example, may have been required. I mean, the Church does teach just war theory and the main reason to be against war in the present day is b/c the degree of violence is so extreme as not to be able to be contained by just war theory. The excesses of the crusades were abominable, to be sure.

    There is something not quite right enough about pacifists for them to be permitted to govern and in the Age of Faith, they were not permitted to govern (according to GK Chesterton).

  6. SeenButNotHeard makes some important points too.

  7. christianshame

    Interesting article, and you’ve brought up something that’s quite disturbing. “Muhammad had recourse to violence to further his religious goals”. Great excuse for the Muslims.

    What’s the Catholic’s excuse?

    While we’re at it – What’s the excuse for (continual) covering up of child abuse by priests? What’s the excuse for treating sections of the community as second class citizens (so brilliantly demonstrated by 3 cents’ comment) e.g. homosexuals?

    Bravo for rejecting violence. Slow clap. You guys are just zooming into the 21st century!

  8. Actually, Christians should be the last people to have any illusions abotu human nature and its capacity for violence and evil. That is what the much-derided and neglected teaching on original sin is all about. Our liberation from it was bought at the terrible rpice of the murder of the Son of God and is still a work in progress in us.

    And when we aim for self-directed perfection the violence goes up exponentially. The neo-atheist exaltation of ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The Territorial Imperative’ provides a justification for it. And there is nothing ‘progressive’ about Social Darwinism. Books expounding those ideas (by Dawkins and Ardrey) were manifestos for young Thatcherites in the UK and, whether they know it or not, underpin the political ands social views of the so-called ‘Christian’ right in the US.

  9. christianshame, I have no idea what the 21st century has to do with it, since right and wrong are timeless. Also, I don’t know of anyone who excuses or condones clerical abuse or its cover up. Finally, we do not treat homosexuals like second class citizens.

  10. “the religion based on the peaceful, forgiving teaching of Jesus has been, and remains, more militant than Islam”

    Fr Chris, I take your point about this kind of thing being macabre, but I’d just like to note that I don’t think Adams’ statement above is tenable. Really. What does he base this on?

  11. I’m one of those Catholics who thinks the crusades, for example, may have been required. I mean, the Church does teach just war theory and the main reason to be against war in the present day is b/c the degree of violence is so extreme as not to be able to be contained by just war theory.

    The main reason to be against war in the present day is because it is evil.

    “the religion based on the peaceful, forgiving teaching of Jesus has been, and remains, more militant than Islam”

    Fr Chris, I take your point about this kind of thing being macabre, but I’d just like to note that I don’t think Adams’ statement above is tenable. Really. What does he base this on?

    Without even getting into the 20th and 21st century wars started by professed Christians in the name of their “values”, I’d guess that one of the things Adams bases this statement on is the fact that there are still Christians who maintain that the crusades were not just acceptable, but required.

  12. One of the many lies of lie of the left is that “nothing was ever achieved by violence,” but the redemption of mankind was achieved by horrendous violence against God Himself.

    Noting that sometimes wars are necessary (I mean, in defence) does not in any way explain Adams’ remark that Christianity is more militant than Islam. That is what I dispute, Veronica, and you have not demonstrated that Adams is right.

  13. Thank you, Fr. Chris, for an insightful response to that article.

    I think there is an important difference between what Christianity teaches and holds to be true (as held by the Church) and what certain individuals who claim to be Christians hold to be true.
    Christianity has ALWAYS taught love above all else, forgiveness, integrity, turn-the-other-cheek, mercy, justice…(the list could go on for ever).
    Just because wayward individuals claim their abhorrent actions in the name of Christianity doesn’t mean they are a true representation of what the Church holds to be right or true.

    Middle ground is so often hard to find because sometimes individuals both ‘from within’ the faith and from outside the faith tend to misrepresent what the Church really teaches. So let’s look to what She says, rather than waste our time arguing ‘facts’ that aren’t even true.

    In response to some of the responses:
    1. It is true that the ‘just war’ concept is taught but it must be made clear that a ‘just war’ only applies to a defence against an unjust aggressor and as such even the amount of defence which could be justified must be rigorously understood for there to be any justification or understood ‘requirement’ of violence. When used loosely, terms like this may be damaging to useful, healthy or effective discussions.

    2. In relation to the “(continual) covering up of child abuse by priests?” As a Catholic myself, I cannot express the deep wounds it causes when we hear of certain clergy acting in such an evil way. As a member of the faith, I can say it hurts all of us (albiet in different ways) when abuse happens. Let alone by the hands of individuals who should be some of the most trustworthy. But please don’t include all clergy as perpetrators or cover-up conspirators. I personally know (more than I can count) stunningly good, compassionate, pure and holy priests and clergymen and they certainly don’t deserve to be tarred with such a brutal, all-encompassing accusation. It would be just as ignorant to make the very general remark that ‘teachers are also child abusers’ simply because there have (devastatingly) been instances of child abuse by some members of the profession. I’m sure we can all see how this would also be an unfair, wrong and unjust statement.

    The default hatred directed against the Church in Her entirety, in the name of such situations, also fails to provide very sound arguments. Not because the instances aren’t important or have become irrelevant (they will always rightfully be significant to the victims and all those affected by them) but because it couldn’t be more clear that the Church as a whole simply doesn’t stand for such atrocities. I find it remarkable it is She who is hated for the abuse and cover-up conspiracies when She isn’t guilty of them. It simply isn’t logical. She cries out against them again and again.

    3. As for the ‘second-class citizens’ comment – the Church does no such thing. Again, I’m sorry to say, some individuals may be ignorant or uneducated on the Church’s pastoral response to (eg. people who experience same-sex tendencies or orientation) but I’d suggest you read a little more of what She really teaches about human sexuality, lest you look like a fool for making a comment about something you perhaps don’t really have a clear understanding of.

    And so you see there is sometimes a very significant difference between what the Church teaches and what some individuals believe. As individuals, we human beings constantly get it wrong. We miss the mark in so many ways when it comes to being good and doing the right thing. Some claim Christian status for their beliefs or actions when they clearly speak otherwise, but neither these people or their actions have changed the Church’s position against evil, violence, murder, war, abuse…
    It is the Church who guides us all back to the right path. For centuries it has been the Church who has been constant in showing the way back from destruction and chaos to freedom, life and love.

    I too stand defiantly against evil but none of us (from within or from the outside) should engage in arguments that are unnecessarily sarcastic, or which misrepresent the Church. She has always held that any action that is evil or abusive is inherently wrong and should absolutely be avoided. She has only ever taught goodness and truth and love. She is one with Christ. His ways are Her ways. The more truth we know about Christ, the more we know how it is we should live and act and have our being, for it is in Him that our souls find rest and we find our true freedom.

  14. Anders acted for many reasons, Darwinism, environmentalism, anti-multiculturalism and most of all he was fearful of a Muslim state. He never once claimed to be acting for, or in the name of Christ. He was only identified as being a Christian by his Facebook status after the massacre. If he had been wearing a knights Templar uniform and singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ one might be able to take what Philip Adams writes more seriously.

    As for Adams, he draws a long bow to link so many acts of violence in the past 2000 years to a belief in Jesus. I’m quite astonished there has not been more if the Jesus he refers to is so militant. Rather, Adams would do well to look at the violence perpetrated by adherents of his own belief system; atheists such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot spring to mind and that’s only in the past 100 years.

    I agree with 3 cents. Adams is a hypocrite.

  15. Veronica says, “the main reason to be against war in the present day is because it is evil.” Incorrect.

    In fact one might even agree with Edmund Burke “all that is necessary for evil to triumph today is for good men to do nothing.”

    If one takes the time to learn the history of the Crusades one might agree that good men did something during a time when evil would otherwise have triumphed.

    It is beyond tragic that the virtues of generations past are being called into question by those who benefit from them most.

  16. Anders acted for many reasons, Darwinism, environmentalism, anti-multiculturalism and most of all he was fearful of a Muslim state. He never once claimed to be acting for, or in the name of Christ. He was only identified as being a Christian by his Facebook status after the massacre. If he had been wearing a knights Templar uniform and singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ one might be able to take what Philip Adams writes more seriously.

    Quotation from his manifesto: “I am 100% Christian”

    I don’t think that he acted in a Christ-like manner, but anyone who denies that this man is a member of the Christian religion had better also say the same for Islamic terrorists who do not live by the dictates of the Koran.

    Also, lol@Darwinism and environmentalism. I bet the gays had something to do with it too, eh?

    As for the ‘second-class citizens’ comment – the Church does no such thing. Again, I’m sorry to say, some individuals may be ignorant or uneducated on the Church’s pastoral response to (eg. people who experience same-sex tendencies or orientation) but I’d suggest you read a little more of what She really teaches about human sexuality, lest you look like a fool for making a comment about something you perhaps don’t really have a clear understanding of.

    I’ll remember next time someone tells me how hurt they are by the hatred they’ve had directed at them to tell them that they are ignorant and should read up on the Catechism. What fools they are.

    If one takes the time to learn the history of the Crusades one might agree that good men did something during a time when evil would otherwise have triumphed.

    People were murdered. Evil *did* triumph.

    It is beyond tragic that the virtues of generations past are being called into question by those who benefit from them most

    Well, I think being murdered is a greater tragedy than questioning the church. I’d suggest another thing that is “beyond tragic” is that so many people today are effectively told to choose between their conscience, reading of the scriptures and understanding of a God who abhors violence, and membership of a church that appears interested in defending its reputation above all else.

    Chris, you sometimes give voice to questions about why so many people have left the institutional church. There are many reasons, but one is this: many of us can not stand being part of a group that condones or even supports violence, elevation of privilege for ourselves, marginalisation of people who aren’t like us, and material wealth on an obscene scale in the name of glorifying God*. We love Jesus, but the tension between what we understand of him and what Christian culture often propogates is suffocating. For some, the tension is unbearable so they either have to leave the church or leave Jesus. If it comes to that, I’d prefer the former.

    *I know what the official teachings are. I mean what we actually say and do.

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