Christian Violence

CHRISTIANITY AS AN INHERENTLY VIOLENT IDEOLOGY, or, “I’m never gonna be able to stop thinking this until I purge it from my neurons so strap in.”

I want to say before I get into this that the actual teachings of Christ as recorded in the Bible are not things I take issue with. I am all about embracing people who have been socially ostracized for whatever reason. I am all about caring for the poor and uplifting the downtrodden. I am extremely in favor of flipping tables and whipping/chasing out of a place of worship those who are taking advantage of it for their own profit. *Stares hard at megachurches* The unfortunate thing is that the pretty fucking legit teachings and stories about Jesus are embedded in texts that were written by people who were not entirely on board with these things, and often express us vs. them mentalities and feelings of moral superiority to their non-christian peers. These things are just as much a part of the backbone of Christianity as Jesus’s actual teachings and that should be acknowledged.

Now. Without further ado….

I’ve heard so much from Christian extremists on the right, including in the GOP, about how systems like socialism and communism are “inherently violent ideologies” while blithely ignoring the calls to violence in their own religious text and conveniently overlooking the long history of the Christian Church “converting by the sword,” slaughtering tens of thousands of people under the guise of witch hunts, and committing outright genocide as well as tacitly supporting others. The Christian Church continues to perpetuate violence in countries that are underdeveloped as the direct result of colonialism and Christian imperialism — witch hunts still occur in the global south, in particular in impoverished rural areas in Africa and South America that are commonly targeted by Christian missionaries. The violence of the Christian Church historically, all of which is supported by the Bible, far outweighs any supposed violence inherent in economic systems that intend to more equitably redistribute wealth.

It is additionally convenient that there are very few hard numbers to point to in terms of just how many lives have been stolen directly by the violence of Christianity. The church started its “conversion by the sword” almost as soon as it became the official religion in Rome, sweeping out across Europe and waging violent, bloody war against the communities they came across. Sure, there was also the establishing of trade routes and making deals with local leaders to contribute both to the process of conversion and the spread of Roman imperialism (to a certain extent, imperialism and Christianity have become so intertwined that it seems fairly useless to try to separate the two, as Christianity and it’s monotheism have been perhaps the most useful tools for the spread of empires since Rome). At the time that this conversion of Europe was happening, no records were being kept of how many people were killed in the process. But as it spread outward from Rome all the way to the British isles, and then continued to spread from there, it’s fair to assume the number of lives stolen was in the millions.

When the Americas were colonized, colonizers brought with them Christianity. Christianity was used as the dominant tool in demonizing indigenous peoples in the Americas, and in justifying the stealing of land, resources, as well as continuous Westward expansion. The parts of Christianity which demand conversion and the death of those deemed “witches” in any capacity justified these slaughters and thefts. The majority of indigenous people died from exposure to disease, but there is written evidence in the form of correspondence between the commander in chief of British forces in the 1760s, Jeffrey Amherst, and Col. Henry Bouquet, that there was at least one attempt to deliberately expose native peoples to smallpox as an act of biological warfare. Very Christian of them.

Then there’s the forced removal of native children from their families and relocation to boarding schools where they were often exposed to horrific physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. These schools were largely Christian and Christian-run, almost as though the pervasive view that those who don’t worship your god are lesser humans and must be “corrected” is an inherently violent worldview.

Long before those schools were established (though really we should probably call them “detainment/torture/conversion” centers, which reminds me that we should probably talk about modern conversion camps) there were widespread witch hysterias and hunts that, again, cost many thousands of lives. How many exactly? Well… Again, we don’t *really* know. The typical estimate Is 40 – 50 thousand killed in witch hunts during the height of witch hysteria, but there are reasons to believe that this number is rather conservative, including the fact that it doesn’t count deaths occurring prior to 1300 and after 1700, as well as general poor documentation depending on the location of the particular hunts/trials. Nonetheless, all of these tens of thousands of deaths were directly at the hands of the church.

Ugh… I’m actually not sure I have the energy to go into conversion camps, which employ psychological abuse tactics at the minimum and full blown torture at the worst; or ongoing imperialistic missionary tactics that prey on underprivileged and undereducated communities in the global south, creating extremist communities that are to this day replicating witch hunt hysterias which primarily target the disabled and the mentally ill. But just know that these things are happening, that they are horrifically violent, and they are actively ruining and ending lives as you read this.

Does that mean that all Christians are bad? Absolutely not — but the majority of Christians are neutral at best, and those who adhere primarily to the actual teachings of Jesus rather than the antagonistic context they are set into seem somewhat rare, especially as the ones who are explicitly hateful are the ones who currently have control of the national microphone and they are actively spreading their vitriol and recruiting more to their ranks. I greatly admire those Christians who live a rebellious life rooted in love for all of humanity and who reject the violent aspects of the theology. In the sociopolitical context of Jesus’s time, Jesus was subversive as fuck, to an extreme extent, and *that* is what the world needs. I wish there were more Christians like that.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this is an inherently violent ideology, as proven time and time again by history and ongoing abuses in disadvantaged areas. That violence and the very real danger it poses should not be ignored and disregarded just because it has been normalized by virtue of Christianity’s place as a dominant world religion.

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