MOVE OVER, GEORGE: CHRIST IS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF:
RELATIVE VIOLENCE IN ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho (ngier∂uidaho.edu)
For draft chapters on a book on the origins of
religious violence click here
See discussion on this column
To view images go to
I’m writing a book on the origins
of religious violence and my thesis is that there has been far more religiously
motivated violence in the Abrahamic religions�Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam�than the Asian religions. A corollary is that current
Buddhist and Hindu fundamentalist violence is the result of these militants
taking over a Euro-American view of religious exclusivity.
A person on our
local list-serve Vision2020 had this to say about relative violence in Islam and
Christianity: "Up to the eleventh century Islam had a sizable lead. From 1095 to
1291 the Church picked up the pace and nosed ahead. It was neck and neck till
1834 and the end of the Spanish Inquisition. After that Allah’s chosen made it
no contest." There are more than a few problems with this summary history.
not possibly have had any sort of lead before the 11th Century because
Christianity had a very good head start. Under Theodosius I, being a pagan was
a capital crime, and even Christians were arrested if they practiced even the
most minor of pagan practices.
25, 390, Theodosius ordered the slaughter of 7,000 pagans in Thessalonica. The
British historian Hugh Trevor Roper called Theodosius "the first Spanish
Inquisitor," and "the Christian monarch who introduced the world to religious
Ambrose, who baptized St. Augustine, made Theodosius do penance for the
atrocities at Thessalonica, but he still proclaimed that "Christ was now at the
head of the [Roman] legions." This reminds me of the sign outside a
fundamentalist church in L.A., right after the invasion of Iraq: "Christ is our
Commander-in-Chief." I’m assuming that our born-again president would have to
agree with this demotion.
Under Muslim rule Jews and Christians were generally asked to offer a special tax, not
their heads. The slaughter of 4,000 Jews in Muslim Granada in 1066 was the exception rather
than the rule, and Jews generally had much better lives in Muslim Spain than anywhere else
in Christian Europe.
In 1099, men, women, and children were slaughtered indiscriminately
when Christian forces captured Jerusalem. An eyewitness reported that
the Crusaders "rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed,
it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be
filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long
from their blasphemies." When Saladin retook the city in 1187,
Christians were only required to pay a ransom and then free to return
home. Some of Saladin’s officers paid for those who could not afford it,
and about 7,000 others were sold into slavery.
In Muslim India Buddhist and Hindus were, incredibly enough, declared "People of the
Book", and the tax on non-Muslims was only sporadically enforced and even more infre–
quently collected. Most of the ancestors of Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh (especially here), India,
Indonesia, and Malaysia freely converted to Islam. Areas in India where forced conversions
were attempted are now the places where one finds the fewest Muslims per capita.
Some Mughal emperors ordered the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples, but
local resistance and intimidated Mughal functionaries meant that relatively few temples were
liquidated. Early Christian emperors were much more successful in destroying pagan temples,
including the one in Alexandria that housed the finest library in the ancient world.
Curiously, the Vision2020 post above ended Christian atrocities in 1834,
but during the Taiping Rebellion, Chinese Christian armies, led by Hong
Xiuquan, were responsible for killing at least 20 million people between
1852-1864. I would hazard a guess that more Daoist, Buddhist, and
Confucian temples were destroyed by the Taipings in 12 years than 600
years of Muslim rule in India.
Hong Xiuquan, Leader of the Taiping Christians
Some have claimed that the Taipings were not really Christians, but that is simply not
the case. They took great pains to eliminate Chinese religious influences; they enforced the
10 Commandments at the point of a sword; and they followed the Bible very carefully,
including the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.
Short of Osama bin Laden getting several nukes and using them, and the Sudan
government wiping out all of its Christians and animists, militant Muslims have
a long way to go to match the historical Christian kill rate.