The Tragic Story of Christianity: How a Pacifist Religion Was Hijacked by Rabid Warmongering Elites
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From time to time, I read about condemnations of religion coming from non-religious groups, especially concerning the all-too-common violence perpetrated in the name of religious gods. Indeed there is plenty to condemn.
Altogether too many religions sects of both major and minor religions, despite verbally professing a desire for peace and justice in the world, are actually pro-war, pro-homicide and pro-violence in practice (or they may be silent on the subject, which is, according to moral theology, the same as being pro-violence).
Obvious examples include those portions of the three major war-justifying religions of the world: fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity.
I use the term fundamentalist in the sense that the religious person, who ascribes to a fundamentalist point of view, believes, among other dogmatic belief, that their scriptures are inerrant and thus they can find passages in their holy books that justify homicidal violence against their perceived or fingered enemies, while simultaneously ignoring the numerous contradictory passages that forbid violence and homicide and instead prescribe love, hospitality, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Behind the scenes, of course, there are hidden elites — amoral, politically and financially motivated operatives who are embedded in these religious organizations — who, through the strength of their political power, can easily manipulate the followers into clamoring for war, not against their enemies, but rather against the enemies of the ruling elites: the politicians, the financiers and the other exploiters of natural resources.
And so nonviolent portions of the various religions – and they are there, albeit often hidden and censored – can be erroneously painted with the same brush that justifiably condemns the hypocrisy and the violence.
It is certainly true that the Catholic Church endorsed and/or orchestrated the genocide of the Crusades, the Inquisition and many wars of colonization and exploitation — with the origins of these atrocities in fundamentalist interpretations of “holy” scripture.
But I do have to take exception to the blanket condemnation of the entirety of the religion by pointing out one reality — that the original form of Christianity, the church of the first generation after Jesus and even most of the first three centuries was a religion of pacifists, oppressed women, orphans, those forced into prostitution, despised people of all stripes and others of those called “the least.”
Though this history has long since been forgotten or ignored, the earliest followers of Jesus rejected violence, tried to return good for evil, fed the hungry, did acts of mercy and unconditional love and tried to make friends out of their enemies (by caring for them, feeding them, praying for them and certainly refusing to kill them or pay for somebody else to kill them).
Practicality of Nonviolence
It was a hugely successful ethical stance to take. It could be described as an act of divine genius. And it made tremendous practical sense. One bit of evidence of the practicality of gospel nonviolence is the fact that in the first couple of centuries, no early Christian male ever acquired combat-induced PTSD or the soul-destruction that always accompanies that reality.
And no early Christian ever felt depressed, ashamed, guilty or suicidal about killing, plundering or raping innocent unarmed women and children in wartime. The earliest Christians took seriously Jesus’s clear command to love and befriend their enemies, and – despite brutal Roman persecutions – the religion survived; indeed, it thrived.
In fact, by 300 CE, it had grown into one of the largest religions in the empire, at which point the emperor Constantine (who was a worshipper of the Sun god until his deathbed baptism into the “faith”) co-opted the church by stopping the persecutions and granting it power, property and prestige, thus seducing it into becoming the obedient and increasingly dependent state church whose master was the brutal, often satanic Roman Empire and its army generals.