CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Regina M. Schwartz, Ph.D. University of Virginia Professor of English, has written a book with a provocative title: The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism. While I have not had the pleasure of reading the book, the subtitle caught my attention. Historically speaking, there certainly has been a violent legacy within monotheistic religions, so to that extent the subtitle is not particularly interesting. The more interesting question, however, is whether monotheism necessarily leads to violence. In other words, is the violence inherent in monotheism?

Does it make a difference? I think so. For example, THOnline posted a letter on April 12 from a reader who opined that Christianity has a history of violence. After alleging that the Bible promotes violence in passages like Number 31 (about which, much could be said, but I will simply reference The Christian ThinkTank's insight-filled evaluation), the writer says:

The Bible has been used to justify a number of evil things, including slavery and genocide. The Bible continues to justify hatred and acts of violence. There are countless examples of Christian extremists using the Bible to justify violence against Jews and Muslims from the Crusades to the atrocities in Nazi Germany against Jews and others.


There is so much in error in this short paragraph that I could exhaust what little time I have responding to each error in turn. But rather than do that, I want to focus on the fact (which should be widely acknowledged by anyone who understands even a modicum about Christianity) that any Christian who supports slavery, genocide, violence against Jews and/or Muslims, or the Crusades is acting in clear contradiction to what the New Testament clearly teaches. (I won't dignify the idea that Christianity was somehow responsible for Nazi Germany's atrocities, and support that understanding by asking those who somehow imagine that Hitler was a Christian to visit the CADRE Hitler page.) Thus, in my view, anyone who argues that Christianity's legacy of violence is supported by Christian teachings -- rather than being merely the actions of people acting outside of Christian teaching -- simply has no idea about that which they speak.

But what if monotheism naturally leads to violence? Perhaps regardless of what Jesus taught, the Judeo-Christian tradition must lead to violence. Dr. Schwartz clearly thinks so. She apparently argues (according to Iain Provan, Marshall Shepherd Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College in Vancouver) that monotheism "leads inevitably from narrowness of thought and dogmatism, via violence, to war." Elsewhere, Dr. Schwartz is interviewed and makes the following response to the question, "[W]hy do you say this violence is a legacy of monotheism?"

Monotheism is a rich, complex concept with a multifaceted history. But one aspect of monotheism has been complicit with violence: the demand of allegiance to one principle, or one god, is accompanied by aggression to those who have other allegiances. Unfortunately, the injunction "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" turns into intolerance for other people who may have other gods, or principles, or beliefs. It says in Exodus, "Whoever is for the Lord come to me. . . . Gird on your sword, every man of you, and quarter the camp from gate to gate killing one his brother, another his friend, and another his neighbor." While organizing a people under one principle seems like an effective way to create a positive identity, it can also create destructiveness and division, insiders and outsiders.


This is very interesting, but I think that it proves nothing. Dr. Schwartz' alleged connection between monotheism and violence appears to be that the claim of allegiance to one thing precludes allegiance to others which raises distrust of others who do not share that allegiance. This distrust, when elevated, leads to violence. Okay, that's a fair observation, but I am not sure why monotheism should be singled out to receive special condemnation because what Dr. Schwartz claims can be true of anything that can give rise to an allegiance. Using Dr. Schwartz' argument, being patriotic towards one's country is inherently violent because it requires allegiance to one country and distrust of people in other countries which can lead to violence. Being a fan of Manchester United is inherently violent because it requires allegiance to one soccer (aka football) team at the expense of being a fan of other teams like Chelsea or AC Milan which could (and, in fact, has) led to violence. Heck, being a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes one allegiant to Captain America and Iron Man instead of those lesser characters in the DC Universe like Batman and the Flash which can, of course, lead to violence. So, what's so special about monotheism that it uniquely deserves to be mentioned as inherently violent?

It seems that there isn't anything that special about monotheism, and she admits as much in the interview cited above. In fact, in that same interview, after acknowledging that she doesn't have all of the answers, Dr. Schwartz notes, "The issue, to be precise, is not one versus many gods, but one defining principle versus many principles." Again, I don't disagree with this broad statement, but it certainly isn't the case that monotheism is any more likely to require violence than any other "defining principle." What appears to be different about monotheism is that Dr. Schwartz could point to important events in history used to support her thesis, but this doesn't actually make monotheism more inherently violent than any other "defining principle."

In fact, I would argue just the opposite. I do have a "defining principle" which is monotheistic -- Jesus died for my sins and calls on me to follow His teachings -- but that doesn't lead me to violence. In fact, it leads me away from violence because Jesus taught us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact, He told us to go even further and love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. If I do follow these teachings which are at the very central core of Christianity, then I won't be condoning evil things like slavery, genocide, hatred and/or violence. Monotheism, in the case of Christianity when practiced truly, leads to peace on the part of the Christians. It is those who have "defining principles" other than following Christ for whom I have much greater concern. Thus, I suggest that a monotheistic belief has much less to do with promoting violence than what that monotheistic belief teaches (coupled with the sincerity with which the belief is held).

With all due respect to Dr. Schwartz, the idea that monotheism is somehow inherently violent appears overstated. I could say that Dr. Schwartz is wrong, but I don't want to do so because that might suggest to her that I am accepting a "defining principle" that contradicts hers which could lead to violence. And while I wouldn't harm her because the God I follow in Christianity (the only true God, by the way) would not condone that type of response, I don't know enough about Dr. Schwartz to know whether her "defining principles" preclude violence in return. And that appears to be what really matters.


23 comments:

Insightful critique, BK. The idea that monotheism is violent because certain religious people have committed violence seems to me one of those atheistic talking points that gets repeated so often that people just kind of believe it.

I do have a "defining principle" which is monotheistic -- Jesus died for my sins and calls on me to follow His teachings -- but that doesn't lead me to violence. In fact, it leads me away from violence because Jesus taught us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact, He told us to go even further and love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Yes! I was often violently abusive (particularly after too many drinks) prior to my conversion to Christ, and not violent at all afterward. The Christian faith, as revealed in the New Testament and practiced by believers from the first century to the present, turns the "monotheism is violent" theme completely on its head.

such a silly idea that one God would lead tov more violence than many. You could say many gods would mean more opposing sides. Really I'm sure it makes no difference. ever heard of the Trojan war? We might think about the time period in the days of ancient Israel and what where their neighbors doing? The Assyrians and the Babylonians were not exactly peacenicks.

I won't dignify the idea that Christianity was somehow responsible for Nazi Germany's atrocities, and support that understanding by asking those who somehow imagine that Hitler was a Christian to visit the CADRE Hitler page.

Yet it is a historical fact. Hitler was a Catholic, and never renounced his religion. In 1941, Hitler reaffirmed his Catholicism, and declared that he would always remain one.

Here is a very interesting article that discusses the historical Christian origins of Nazi ideology, citing its philosophical underpinnings that go back to the mid 19th century.

that is Bs it's been disproved. no one has to say "I formally renounce" if they quite caring and quite living it and believe other thins they are not a Christian anymore. Hitler as a passionate occultist. It's well known that he thought Christianity made Germany weak.

im-skeptical, you say "here is an interesting article" but I don't see any link. I would be interested to see how the article makes the case in a way that explains how Nazi Germany can be Christian yet execute Christians and otherwise treat them so poorly as Time Magazine reported prior to the war and which I described in 2008 in a blogpost entitled Time Magazine article on Christians in Germany during World War II.

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sorry. The link here. Well worth a read.

Like the communists in Russia, the Nazis wanted to wipe out ideological opposition. They attempted to create their own Christian church to replace the established religious institutions in Germany. But the Catholic church kept a diplomatic presence throughout the entire Nazi regime, the pope remained silent about Nazi atrocities, and the papal nuncio was a committed fascist. The church played a major role in helping Nazis escape from Germany at the end of the war.

Ever since the time of the Nazis, there have been many Christians who are rightly horrified by the their actions, and who have made every effort to distance themselves from the Nazis. But that doesn't change the facts.
Sorry. The link here. Well worth a read.

I'm-skeptical, thanks for sharing the link. I will look it over, but I guess I'm curious about your answer to my question. I am asking how it is that Nazism could be Christian when the Nazis were clearly harming and arresting Christians. Your answer is that the Nazis wanted to wipe out "ideological opposition" and set up their own Christian church that was clearly different from the Christian church in existence in Germany (or there would not have been ideological opposition). So, doesn't that just confirm that the Nazis were not Christian?

What it confirms is that they were some kind of Christian, though certainly not orthodox.

There is no question that Germany, as a whole, remained Christian throughout the time of the Nazis - about 2/3 protestant and 1/3 Catholic. There were a few in the upper echelons who advocated some kind of Teutonic paganism/mysticism. That never caught on, and definitely was not favored by Hitler himself, who remained Catholic for his entire life. That's not to say that Hitler held traditional Catholic views.

However, it was traditional Christian animosity toward Jews that was widespread among Europeans for centuries, and was directly responsible for his antisemitism.

why doesn't it mean they were counterfeit Christians., you think Hi8tler is going to tell people he's a Christian and risk losing election. come on. And don't say No true Scotsman.

Oh, I agree that Hitler did not hold traditional Catholic views. In fact, I think that his views were decidedly un-Catholic. What fascinates me is the way that you make your case is convincing to you that Nazism and Hitler were somehow Christian, but they merely reinforce in my mind that they were not in any way Christian. At best, Nazism was a cult that adopted some of Christianity's teachings to make it palatable to the people, and Hitler was a person who either used the vocabulary of Christians to make a better appeal to the people, or was a person who believed he was a Christian but was the "lone wolf" type of Christian who develops his own theories outside of his church because he knows that no orthodox Christian church would accept his views as even remotely supportable by the Bible. (Wow, was that really all one sentence?) In a nutshell, using Christian language and mixing some Christian doctrine into a belief system does not make the belief system Christian. At best, that's what Nazism and Hitler did. No, Christianity was not responsible for Hitler or Nazism.

I may address your comment about Christian animosity towards Jews in more depth later, but for now I wouldn't disagree that there is some truth in that. It doesn't mean that it is something that Christ would have condoned and so it is also outside of Christianity.

I skimmed through the link and saw no mention of Nietzsche (though I could have missed it). Shirer and many other historians have documented how Hitler was deeply indebted to Nietzsche for Nazi social policy, hence the emphasis on value creation and the pitiless contempt for presumed weaker (inferior) races. Nietzsche, of course, was an atheist.

And don't say No true Scotsman

That is exactly what I will say.

At best, Nazism was a cult that adopted some of Christianity's teachings to make it palatable to the people, and Hitler was a person who either used the vocabulary of Christians to make a better appeal to the people, or was a person who believed he was a Christian but was the "lone wolf" type of Christian who develops his own theories outside of his church because he knows that no orthodox Christian church would accept his views as even remotely supportable by the Bible

So you didn't read the material I provided Nazi philosophical origins. Here's an article from Wikipedia that has a more succinct historical summary. You will note that these ideas were not those of a "lone wolf".

I skimmed through the link and saw no mention of Nietzsche

Yes, the ATHEIST Nietzsche was perhaps a minor influence in Hitler's philosophy. But Nazi ideology was not based primarily on his ideas.

No, I haven't read it yet, but I did start it. So far, it hasn't said anything that I haven't seen before, nor anything that has changed my opinion. I will read the whole thing, but I won't read the Wikipedia article since that website is notoriously unreliable when it cones to matters of religion.

Joe,

Of course Hitler wasn't the kind of Christian that you would accept as being a "true Christian". That's not the point. We're talking about documented history. The Deutsche Christen movement was real. Ludwig Schemann was real. As for your refutations, most of it comes from the Table Talk, which is known to be a historically unreliable source.

Okay, so I've now read much of the link, trying to give it time to develop. As I said before, Nazism is, at best, a cult. It is not Christian. Hitler's ideas were outside of Christian belief. He may have thought of himself as a Christian, but he accepted as true ideas and teachings that had nothing to do with the Bible.

It is much like if someone were to be raised in a family that supported the NRA and bought all of their children memberships, but when he became older he argued against gun safety while maintaining his NRA membership. In fact, he went even further and reasoned that the real way to protect gun rights was to murder all of the gun owners who also owned knives as not being consistent with "true" gun ownership and deserving of extinction. When other members of the NRA object to his absurd understanding of what they say, he imprisons and even executes them. I wouldn't call that person a real member of the NRA, and by the same token I wouldn't call Hitler a Christian in even the remotest sense.

BK,

Well I appreciate that you read it. I hope at least that you won't go blaming Nazi atrocities on atheism (like so many do).

It was interesting and had a lot of good information. However, I don't believe it came even close to making the case that Hitler or Nazism were Christian. I don't think that I have ever claimed that Nazi Germany was the result of atheism, so I don't think you need to worry about me making that claim. Thank you for sharing.

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