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.