What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? The Dark Side of Christian History II

When listening to atheists and other opponents of Christian faith, one would think that Christianity is the worst invention of human history. That viewpoint is certainly an exaggeration, but it will not do to completely ignore the dark side of Christian history. That story often begins with the Crusades to rescue Jerusalem and the surrounding territories from the Muslim Empire. While a certain leeway tends to be given for “just war,” the massacre which occurred in Jerusalem in 1099 seems excessive even by ancient, pagan standards. On July 15, 1099 the Crusader armies entered Jerusalem, breaching the walls in the Tower of David area, and quickly spread over the Old City. After defeating the defenders of the city, they slaughtered both Jews and Muslims, men, women and children in numbers estimated as high as 40,000. While such actions were not uncommon in more ancient times, the slaughter of innocent civilians is certainly contrary to Christian principles, whether or not done in the name of God. As the Crusades wore on, the quality of the Crusader armies decreased even further. They were often made up of the criminal elements of Europe. Bernard of Clairvaux, leading medieval cleric, commented that it was better for Europe to be rid of these elements. While they fought in the name of Christ, many or most Crusaders were Christians in name only.

A second major blot on the history of Christianity is anti-semitism, which reached its peak in supposedly Protestant Germany during World War II. It is odd that so much anti-semitism arose within Christianity, since Jesus Himself was a Jew. But the worst persecutions of Jews through the centuries have almost always been in AChristian@ Europe. Until recently, Jews treated much better in the Muslim lands than the Christian ones. Muslim leaders during World War II were politically sympathetic to the Axis powers and learned anti-semitism from the Nazis. That legacy remains in the Middle East to this day.

Another blot on the history of Christianity was the Spanish Inquisition (15th to 17th Century). If the church is necessary for salvation, as the medieval church taught, all disagreement with the church is dangerous and must be stamped out. The concept of an inquisition originated in the church’s wars against the Waldensees and the Albigenses in the 12th Century and beyond. But it reached its full flower during the reigns of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the same era as the voyages of Columbus to the New World. The purpose of the Inquisition was to identify “heretics” in Spain who had converted from Judaism and Islam to Christianity, particularly after such conversions became mandatory around 1500 AD. Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands were prosecuted and imprisoned, thousands were executed for various “heresies”.

A particular stain on Christian history is the numerous times when wars of religion were fought between so-called “Christian” powers. The first of these was the war between Catholics and the Huguenots in 16th Century France. It climaxed in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (August 23-24, 1572), when a combination of targeted assassinations and mob violence massacred tens of thousands of Protestant. Not long after, one of the longest and most brutal wars in human history was the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The war began as a battle between Catholic and Protestant states in central Europe, when the Holy Roman Emperor tried to enforce Catholicism on all states under his rule. The Emperor was supported by Spain and some smaller territories, but the Scandinavian countries entered the war on the Protestant side. When it seemed that Protestantism was about to be overthrown in central Europe, Catholic France, ironically, entered the war on the Protestant side. Including the military engagements and the resulting famine and disease, there were between five and ten million casualties.

More recently, the religious conflicts in the former Yugoslavia pitted Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims against each other, with massive brutality and cruelty perpetrated by all sides, particularly the two Christian sides. But lest one think that evangelical Protestantism is immune to such things, Rwanda, is not only a Protestant country (with a high percentage of Seventh-day Adventists), it is an evangelical Protestant countries. Yet neighbor on neighbor massacres claimed the lives of some 800,000 people in 1994 and many of these massacres occurred in the very churches where many sought refuge.

Those seeking evidence of Christian misdeeds do not have to look very hard in the annals of the history of the last two millennia. But the issues summarized here are not alone. There are many other evidences of Christianity’s “dark side.” To be continued.

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