There has been a small debate recently over at Daily Pundit over whether Christianity has some of the same seeds that can spring into irrational violence as Islam. I agree with those who say that it does but that Christianity as currently practiced is obviously not the stark threat to civilized life as is currently-practiced Islam.
Of course, individual practitioners of either religion can be all over the map with respect to how well they live their lives and interact with others. I’ve been to Indonesia twice, pre-9/11 and post-9/11, and have met many Muslims who are friendly and good. Surely there are many anti-terrorist Muslims, even if they’re not always as vocal in their anti-terrorism as we would prefer. It’s just that for whatever historical and cultural reasons, it’s much less likely these days, notwithstanding the occasional lunatic gunning down doctors at abortion clinics, to see Christian preachers advocating decapitation of cartoonists who draw cartoons offensive to Christian sentiments.
But this difference in contemporary temperament doesn’t mean that the actual doctrines of Christianity are or always have been thoroughly sane and mellow.
It’s been pointed out that what constitutes a particular religion tends to shift as interpretations shift. Yet the original and still-consulted scripture and all its specific passages are still there, saying, if we’re lucky, “It’s a good thing you don’t pay that much attention to me these days, or, if you do, that you go way out of your way to pretend I mean something different from what I do mean.”
For example, according to the Bible, isn’t God himself a murderer and mass-murderer? Cf., for evidence, Genesis:
6:13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
6:14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch…. [There follow details of exactly what dimensions the ark must be.]
6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
In another place, God instructs Abraham to make a sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. It turns out to be one of those just-a-test things, but God clearly states that Abraham was doing the right thing to obey him and would have been morally right to actually kill his own son as a sacrifice, on God’s say-so alone.
22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou
hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
I wonder what tossing a baseball around with the old man is like after you have learned that he was willing to murder you on some maniacal deity’s say-so.
Religions often teach that if the gods command it, it’s okay ethically: morality springs from deistic say-so alone, no matter how ugly and vicious the commandment may be. This is a precept which, although it has of course been used to inculcate some norms that do make practical sense independently, actually wipes out ethics. It means that whoever is strongest trumps…that the ability to impose one’s will alone actually determines what is “ethical,” by fiat. Gods, being gods and having special powers that humans don’t, are the strongest; so you’re pious, and good, if you fear the gods and submit. The omnipotent-type gods hold all the cards, and clearly feel no need of logical defense of their actions.
At least Plato, for all his faults, knew enough to ask whether piety and justice are the same thing.
So yes, I’d say there is something vicious in Christianity that is something like the something-vicious in the religion based on it. Fortunately, the worst aspects of Christianity have been largely tempered and de-fanged by civilizing ideas, institutions and cultural habits in a way that the worst aspects of Islam apparently have not been.
David M. Brown is the publisher of TheWebzine.com, a general-interest Internet magazine. He also runs the blog for the Laissez Faire Books site, where he recently talked about the refusal of Piggly Wiggly customers to be fingerprinted.