Monday, May 03, 2010

Christianity is evil

"When we cast our eyes towards the south-west of Europe, and behold extensive countries, once possessed by the most polished nations, the chosen seats of literature and the liberal arts; and now behold one universal waste of ignorance and barbarism, we have always been accustomed to ascribe the fatal change to the conquest of a band of Mahometan invaders... But with what shame must we acknowledge, that in Africa, Christianity and Mahometanism appear to have mutually interchanged characters-- Smith, the African Company's own agent in 1722, tells us, 'the discerning natives account it their greatest unhappiness that they were ever visited by the Europeans. They say that we Christians introduced the traffic of Slaves, and that 'before our coming they lived in peace.' But, say they, it is observable, that where ever Christianity comes, there come with it a sword, a gun, powder, and ball.'
The same picture may appear to claim still greater attention from the hand of Mr. Parke, whose visit is more recent, and whose knowledge of Africa is more extensive. Speaking of the Foulah nation, who are many of them professed Mahometans, he says, 'religious persecution is not known among them..."

"... we must abolish the Slave Trade before we attempt to diffuse among the Africans the lessons of peace and love; lest we are asked the same well-known question, and receive the same well-known reply, as the Spanish priest from the poor dying Peruvian, when the Spaniards in America were acting on the plan which is here advised of at once ravaging and converting: 'Are there to be any Europeans in the Heaven, where you wish me to secure a place?' Being told 'yes', 'Then it is no place for Peruvians.' "

William Wilberforce,
A letter on the abolition of the slave trade, 1807

This is a work by a great Christian apologist, in a passionate letter of Christian reasons to abolish the slave trade. William Wilberforce wrote it in 1807 to the "Freeholders and other inhabitants of Yorkshire" to urge Britain to outlaw slavery. In it, he basically says that Islam laid waste to the south-west of Europe. But that in Africa, "Christianity and Mahometanism appear to have mutually interchanged characters." One was an undeniable sociological evil in one place and time, and another is an undeniable sociological evil in another. So saith one of the great Christian apologists of Britain.

This is again a reference to Franklin Graham's "Islam is evil" approach to evangelism. One might just as well have equal anecdotal evidence that "Christianity is evil." That's the charge actually made by some atheists, based on equally flimsy logic. In this regard of sloppy attacks, the devout followers of Islam and Christianity might have more in common than opposition. Here's a checklist of questions I ask before blaming any religion, especially my own, for a social ill:
  • The real question is whether the the Koran and/or the Bible required these periods of brutality. Not whether some nut could find a few verses to support the brutality, but whether a comprehensive faithfulness to the whole text as authoritative really motivates one to be a brute.
  • If someone could point to a few verses which appear to give a "green light" to the outrage, is there even a single "red light" verse which says, "STOP!" ? (Like, "Love your enemies"?)
  • How are the Law portions of the text being used? Are the brutes using the "law" portions of the sacred texts only as a list of things that the "elect" get to do to their enemies, or as a demand for all humans to exercise restraint? (i.e., permission to slaughter your/God's enemies vs. a call to exercise restraint in advancing your interests.)
  • Who is advocating the brutality? Were all camps of traditionalists within the sect in favor of the brutality?
  • Were there any "social conscience traditionalists" (like Wilberforce, King, Romero, Bonhoeffer, John Paul II) within the sect in effect "spoiling the party" by complaining about the brutality?
  • Were those who complained about brutality appealing to either the literal demands of the sacred texts or to older authorities in the faith tradition? (This is opposed to attacking the text's authority, complete inspiration, accuracy, humanity, etc.)?
IMO, it is necessary to go through this kind of thought process in order to distinguish between "a jerk who happens to be of Religion X" and "the jerkiness inspired by Religion X."

My point is not that both religions are good, and therefore you ought to feel good about either. You should be a Christian because Jesus died for your sins, and you cannot earn merits with God based on your works. In my last post, I said it was "evil" for any religion to promise such merits. Furthermore, I suspect not only are there contemporary Christians whose religion brings the world "a sword, a gun, powder, and ball," but also there are mild-mannered, faithful Muslims who aren't out to kill us or oppress their women. (Bush, Blair, Colson, and Buckley, Jr., repeatedly insisted so after 9/11, didn't they?) You'll do little to achieve religious conversion of these mild-mannered folk-- or engender their strategic cooperation against the brutes of their own religion-- with the kind of broad brush that Graham paints with. Or by implying they are less faithful than the suicide bombers.

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