Responding to the “Crimes of Christianity”; The Inquisition

“[What] we have today is worse than ignorance of the Bible. It is contempt for it. Just about anyone who quotes the Bible, let alone says it is the source of his or her values, is essentially regarded as a simpleton who is anti-science, anti-intellectual and sexist.” ~ Dennis Prager, Jewish thinker and nationally syndicated talk show host, from I’m Back, Here’s Where I’ve Been.
There is no question that Christianity in the West is under attack from some in the public square. While Christians are still able to worship as they choose and to follow their faith (as long as they do so in private), one would need to be blind to overlook the effort by some to turn the public perception of Christianity as being backwards, ignorant and responsible for hatred. For example, in May 2011 the Huffington Post, the left-leaning Internet website, published an article entitled If You’re a Christian, Muslim or Jew - You are Wrong by Cenk Uygur wherein Uygur expressed what I cannot doubt is the view of many people towards Christianity:
There is no damn Easter Bunny. There is no Jesus waiting to return. Moses never even existed. These were all convenient lies from the men of those times to gain power. Their actions were rational — they wanted to deceive their brethren so that they could amass power. I get their motivations. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand our motivations, thousands of years later, still following the conmen of yesteryear into our gory, bloody, violent end.
This misguided soul continues his rant ad nauseum for several more paragraphs. Of course, there is so much error in what he wrote that any Christian believer looking into the evidence could have a field day responding to each of his fanciful claims (and perhaps I will respond in such a way later). But I raise it here only to show that Christianity is under attack from people who want to marginalize it and claim that it is responsible for “gory, bloody, violent” things. Fortunately, there are voices out there who are seeking to correct this insane viewpoint.

One such voice is that of Michael P. Foley, an Associate Professor of Patristics in the Honors College at Baylor University and publisher of several books. His most recent book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Christianity, is addressed to the general reader and addresses some of the commonly accepted myths that Skeptics have been spreading for many years about Christianity. Last Friday, he published an article entitled 5 Myths About Christianity which takes a minuscule amount of information from the book and gives readers a taste of the truth about Christianity.

The five lies he addresses in his 5 Myths article are: (1) Biblical patriarchy is little more than a mask for men’s will to power; (2) Christians view the Bible as something which allows them to keep their power and privilege – it’s a product of its times; (3) Christianity is the Enemy of Science; (4) the Spanish Inquisition was a bloodbath motivated by religious fanaticism; and (5) Christianity promotes Victimhood Culture. Since the article is short and I don’t want to violate any copyright laws by quoting too extensively from it, I will just post his response to the fourth point about the Inquisition and encourage the readers to visit the link to his article to read each of his other points (or better yet, buy his book). On the Inquisition, Dr. Foley writes:
The Spanish Inquisition has become a favorite bludgeon to use against the Catholic Church in particular and against Christianity in general – to “prove” that Christians who care about sound doctrine are repressive, bloodthirsty, and insanely power-hungry. Reports of its atrocities are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, the methods of the Inquisitors were more human than those of any contemporary secular court. One historian has compared the level of brutality of the Spanish Inquisition’s interrogation methods to American police departments in the 1930s. Of the 44,701 Inquisition cases on record, only 2 percent involved the use of torture. The Spanish Inquisition never executed a single individual: as a Church tribunal, the most it could do was declare someone guilty of a capital crime and then hand him over to the State, which wielded the power to execute. In fact, Planned Parenthood kills more people every six days than the Spanish Inquisition did in 350 years.
Of course, the Christian Church has been hammered endlessly about the violence of the Inquisition. In fact, in my experience the most common arguments made by skeptics about violence generated by Christianity comes from four sources: (1) the Inquisition, (2) the Salem Witch Trials, (3) the Crusades, and (4) Slavery, so this is not an insignificant issue in the eyes of the general reading public. And make no mistake – while Dr. Foley does all of us the great service of pointing out that the claims about the Inquisition have been overblown, having two percent of the people being tortured is two percent too many. Nevertheless, Christians have provided solid responds to each of these issues, primarily rooted in the understanding that while these despicable acts were done in the name of Christianity, none of them are consistent with the teaching of Christ.

Christians acknowledge that we are all fallen and that we don’t live out our Christianity perfectly. Thus, despite our best efforts, we will always fail to live up to the high calling set before us. Having said that, not every act of evil done in the name of Christianity has been done by Christians or is a good representation of what Christianity is meant to be. There have been non-Christian people who have taken the mantle of Christianity and used it for evil (which is primarily what happened in the Crusades), in addition to the well-meaning Christian people who have engaged in evil out of ignorance or in utter rebellion to what the Bible really teaches (the primary cause of the other three). Both types of people have engaged in actions that have unjustly stained Christianity.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Foley alludes, the people who are accusing Christianity of evil and vile acts regularly turn a blind eye to the evil that has accompanied opposition to belief in God, i.e., atheism. Whether it is appreciated or not, the belief that there is no God (or gods) leads some (not all) people to the conclusion that what they do on this planet during their lives doesn’t matter, and such an attitude has led some people to unspeakable acts that can be directly linked to the lack of belief in God.

A recent book entitled Atheism Kills: The Dangers of a World Without God – and a Cause for Hope written by Barak Lurie, makes this case. The blurb to the book on Amazon reads:
In "Atheism Kills," Barak Lurie exposes the horrors of a world without God. Contrary to the mantra we’ve heard time and time again that religion is responsible for more deaths than anything else, it is in fact the absence of God which has killed—in obscene numbers. Ever since atheism first assumed government control in the French Revolution, it has done nothing but kill. Atheism has killed through its many deputies: progressivism, eugenics, fascism, and communism. Lurie shows that it was the godlessness in each of these ideologies that killed hundreds of millions. But atheism doesn’t just kill lives. It kills purpose, free will, beauty, compassion, a sense of the past and future, creativity, and freedom itself. Atheism offers only the horrors of chaos and totalitarianism.
Yes, evil acts have been done in the name of Christianity, but these evil acts have never been done consistently with the teachings of Jesus. To the extent that Christianity has been used to justify this evil, Christians should both acknowledge the evil but clarify that the great testimony of the church is that Jesus would not have blessed the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusades or slavery since they all run counter to his central teachings of love and forgiveness.

Moreover, Christians should never hate the individual spreading these untruths. Most espousing these views about the “crimes of Christianity” are merely parroting the misinformation that they have been taught by those who do hate and want to attack Christianity. Instead, Christians should respond in love by gently correcting.

But equally importantly, Christians need not feel defensive about these evils. Instead, they should stand firm on the ground of knowing that when a skeptic throws out criticisms like this, the skeptic is standing on moral ground that exists only because it was made firm by Christian teaching, and if the skeptic is an atheist, history confirms that he/she has no real moral foundation arising from his/her atheistic beliefs from which to accuse.

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