Part 8 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency Agency on the Planet?

Part 8 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency Agency on the Planet?

David Langness
David Langness

Outlawing Holy War

In this series of articles we’ve cited and studied the groundbreaking recent book When Religion Becomes Evil, by Dr. Charles Kimball, which lists five major causes of problematic religious conflict and violence: absolute truth claims; blind obedience; establishing the ideal time (or triumphalism); and “the end justifies any means”.  In this essay, we’ll consider what Kimball calls the worst religious evil of all – holy war:

…more wars have been waged, more people killed, and more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history… Declaring war “holy” is a sure sign of a corrupt religion.  In fact, at the center of authentic religion one always finds the promise of peace, both an inner peace for the adherent and a requirement to seek peaceful coexistence with the rest of creation. – p. 156.

Many westerners associate the idea of holy or religious war solely with Islam – but that is a serious historical mistake.  The Arabic word jihad, which many in the West believe means holy war, actually is literally translated as to strive or to struggle to do the right thing.  Islam certainly spread initially “by the sword,” as expansionist wars conquered territory and converted populations – but several other faiths did the same thing during that dark and contentious period in history. Unfortunately, in today’s usage by extremists, the word jihad has come to be known as denoting only an armed struggle against others of different faiths.

crusader knightThe historical record, however, shows that Christianity itself waged many if not most holy wars.  The church recognized warriors who fought in the name of God as the Milites Christi, the warriors (or knights) of Christ. Those “holy warriors” and their armies fought the Crusades, a 200-year-long series of pitched and bloody military battles against the Moslems.  Later the Church launched Crusades against other religious targets, including the Albigensian Crusade against the gnostic Cathars in Southern France, and the Northern Crusades to conquer and convert the Baltic countries.  To justify these violent excursions, in 1095 the Catholic Pope, Urban the Second, issued a papal decree that completely contravened the teachings of Christ and raised the level of “acceptable Christian” war from bellum justum (“just war”), to bellum sacrum (“holy war”).  

Kimball says that this long record of mutual hostility and violent savagery has corrupted the heart of Christianity and Islam:

Both Christians and Muslims claim that peace lies at the heart of their religions.  Both Christianity and Islam, however, have a long and checkered history in which their respective adherents fought for causes declared holy.  Many of those conflicts, moreover, involved fighting each other.  Not only are these the two largest and most geographically dispersed religious communities, they also head the list of those who have corrupted the heart of their religion by linking it confidently to war. – p. 157.

Much of the current corruption in religion, the Baha’i writings say, comes directly from its leaders, those who seek power and wield violence in complete contravention of their Faith’s original message of peace:

In these days truthfulness and sincerity are sorely afflicted in the clutches of falsehood, and justice is tormented by the scourge of injustice. The smoke of corruption hath enveloped the whole world in such wise that naught can be seen in any direction save regiments of soldiers and nothing is heard from any land but the clashing of swords. We beseech God, the True One, to strengthen the wielders of His power in that which will rehabilitate the world and bring tranquility to the nations. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 39.

westborobaptistchildAt the conclusion of his book, Dr. Kimball agrees:

Like those generations who have gone before us, we, too, must look deep into our traditions for the wisdom and resources that support peacemaking rather than war, reconciliation rather than retaliation.  But we must do this in a global context. – p. 189.

For Baha’is, global unity is the prerequisite for global peace and worldwide harmony between the great Faiths. Toward that end, the Baha’i Faith conclusively and definitively bans holy war:

Beware lest ye shed the blood of any one. Unsheathe the sword of your tongue from the scabbard of utterance, for therewith ye can conquer the citadels of men’s hearts. We have abolished the law to wage holy war against each other. God’s mercy hath, verily, encompassed all created things, if ye do but understand. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 24.

In the next and final installment in this series, we’ll look at the Baha’i teachings and how they explain, in a logical and understandable way, why religion becomes corrupt; why it inevitably declines; and why it must be renewed.


Next:  Why Religion Becomes Corrupt, and How to Fix It

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10 thoughts on “Part 8 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency Agency on the Planet?

  1. Good of you to mention that Catholics waged crusades also against other targets besides Muslims. In the land of my birth, which is now the Czech Republic, the Catholics sent crusaders against fellow Christians, the Hussites, who had rebelled against the Catholics after the Catholic execution of the preacher Jan Hus by burning him at the stake, for alleged heresy. Those were very unsuccessful crusades, but the Hussites were finally undone by a civil war against the Utraquists, who were basically slightly reformed Catholics.

    1. They also targeted the Armenian Christians in part because they looked alien. Even then, Christians tended to forget that all Christians did not look or even worship in the same way.

      My personal take on the idea of heresy is that the first time the Church hated other Christians for divergent beliefs (for sometimes as slender a rationale as whether Christ was one with the Father in spirit, in essence, in energy, or in will) the covenant Christ made with His disciples was broken and that institution ceased to be connected to the True Vine. There is no reason that Christ sanctions for suspending what He, Himself, emphasizes as the most weighty commandments.

      Christians were bidden to love each other, their neighbors, and their enemies. There is no wiggle room in that sequence of commandments whatsoever.

      1. I did not even know they targeted Armenian Christians. Maybe because the Armenians were Monophysites (believing Christ has one nature, both divine and human, instead of two natures)? Terrible. Thanks for the info.

  2. David, I do find it interesting that only a handful of churches and mosques are peace churches and peace mosques.

    Peace churches are a collection of various churches while peace mosques seem to be limited to only Ahmadi ones. Regardless, the heart of Christianity, Islam, or any religion is belief rather than peace or war or any other concept. Said peace groups are globally in the minority among Christians and Muslims. More millitaristic groups are mainstream, so if they say peace is at the core, they mean it in an Orwellian sense.

    For Christians, it’s the issue of which if any of the laws of Moses aren’t abrogated or not by the law of Christ or not. For Muslims, it is more about which verses of the Quran abrogate which ones because the Quran abrogating all other scripture is pretty much a universal given. Violence, cruelty, and intolerance are all in the source texts. Religious people like to put up a saintly front while using the more good parts of their scriptures as PR, but militancy and evil are present in the source texts.

    “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” Deutronomy 20:16-18

    “So Joshua [Moses’ successor] conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord, God of Israel had commanded.” Joshua 10:40

    “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:34

    “Fight them [non-Muslims] until there is no persecution and the religion is God’s entirely.” Quran 8:39

    Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. Quran 9:5

    Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled. Quran 9:29

    “You have had a good example in God’s Messenger.” Quran 33:21

    “We [Muslims] disbelieve in you [non-Muslims], and between us and you enmity has shown itself, and hatred for ever until you believe in God alone.” Quran 60:4

    “I have been commanded to wage war against mankind until they testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and that they establish prostration prayer, and pay the alms-tax [i.e., convert to Islam]. If they do so, their blood and property are protected.” Sahih Bukhari/Muslim

    Convert or die offensive jihad is based on the several verses above as well as numerous examples from Muhammad given the 33:21 reference. Even given the historical roots of the verses they only tell us the why not the what, the verses themselves are the what and even the how. An example would be how music, art, poverty, etc are banned under Sharia. Some poets apparently mocked Muhammad according to various Hadith and Sirat, so he had them assassinated. So now, all poetry and such is banned. To assume that the response was proportionate to the problem is clearly denied by the source texts. A third option of tribute paying was added for Jews and Christians.

    Expeditions of Muhammad are good examples of this. Raiding caravans unprovoked, killing poets, kill a whole tribe because a few of their members stripped a woman naked, surprise attacks based on what they thought some tribes might be doing, attacking tribes just because Gabriel said to do so, raiding tribes for no reason whatsoever, a cycle of violence started because of Mulims assiassinating people which led to revenge killings and revenge for said revenge, telling Jews and Chrsitian to either convert or pay tribute, revenge killings, to force Jews and Christians to send all their property and wealth, revenge killings for deaths of Mulims which a tribe did in self defense, attacking polytheists for believing in more than one god, to demand conversion of tribes to Islam or else, to divert attention from the Conquest of Mecca, to conquer Mecca, to destroy idols (like al-Uzza, Suwa, Manat, Yaguth, al-Qullus, al-Lat, Wadd, Dhul Khalasa, etc,) as well as destroy their temples while forcibly converting the tribes who worshipped them, to forcibly “invite” tribes to Islam, to destroy a self defense alliance of tribes who resisted being forcibly converted to Islam, telling the people of Narjan to not be neutral in the Muslim versus Pagan holy and to be forced to pick a side, etc. It’s long because there were dozens of military expeditions of Muhammad in sources texts like the Islamic trilogy (Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah).

    Conversion to Islam was an automatic get of jail free card so to speak and refusing to convert even if one was peaceful in their dealings with the Mulsims or surrendered was still grounds for being killed unless one converted.

    1. Stephen, while I am against wars to convert or kill unbelievers, or to conquer and subjugate countries, I am certainly against pacifism. Countries need to be able to defend themselves or their friends against any aggression by imperialists. Look at countries facing Hitler in the thirties. Let’s suppose those countries would have been dominated by peace churches, like what you like. Then they would have just surrendered to Hitler without fight, and Hitler would have soon dominated most of the world, including America. The Jews in America would have been murdered just like they were in Nazi-occupied Europe. There would be no democratic countries left anywhere, since Hitler would have taken over all of them, and finally just faced imperialist Japan with its empire in Asia. No, pacifism is foolish and dangerous.
      So I am opposed to all peace churches, no matter which, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Amish, Mennonite, Brethren churches, Quakers etc. Just foolishness. Thankfully some churches which started as pacifist churches, later got wisdom and abandoned pacifism, like Seventh Day Adventists, Advent Christian Church, some Pentecostal churches etc. Even a few Mennonites and Quakers are now in our armed forces, especially in those Mennonite or Quaker denominations that are less strict about it.

      1. Tom, actually the answer to WWII is WWI actually. If America had let the Central Powers win, none of that stuff would have happened. Thus, nullifying your point. I’d recommend foreign policy books by Ron Paul, Justin Raimondo, Ivan Eland, among others I can’t think up off the top of my head. Andrew Bacevich and Patrick Buchanan are good authors as well.

        Also, the Nazis taking over the world is an absurd alternative timeline among historians. The Reich would have collapsed in on itself anyway.

        1. Had the Central Powers won, then the Austria-Hungary Empire would have continued, with continued oppression of minorities like the Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Ukrainians, Slovenians, and maybe even continued favoring of the Catholic church, like my grandfather had to pretend to be Catholic, so he could continue to teach kids and try to influence the kids against the Austrian occupiers. Non-Catholics were not allowed to be teachers. But instead now the nations I have mentioned are independent republics, with freedom of religion. Sure Ukraine has problems with Russia nowadays, but one can’t expect the world to be perfect.
          And why would the Third Reich have collapsed in on itself after having taken over part of the world? Due to war with Japan? Even had Japan conquered the Third Reich, it would not have been a very happy future, the Japanese government of that time was not very nice. Though I would say, that had most Christians been pacifist, then the Third Reich would have had a much easier time conquering half of the world while Japan would have still struggled against China, etc., definitely non-pacifist countries there in Asia, not being Christian, except for Philippines. So then the Third Reich would have been in a much stronger position against Japan, would have been the main superpower, and with that it could have conquered the whole world. Now you might argue that Japan had quite an easy time conquering countries like Vietnam, Malaya and Indonesia, but the reason is they were occupied by European Christian countries like France and Netherlands. Had those countries been dominated by pacifists, they would not have conquered those parts of Asia, and so places like Vietnam and Indonesia would have been strong Buddhist or Muslim countries, much harder for the Japanese to conquer, even if for instance Indonesia were several countries, they could have united in a common struggle against Japan, Muslims against those Japanese infidels. Meanwhile Nazi Germany would have controlled the whole Christian pacifist world, with Nazi ideology triumphant over weak Christianity. Terrible.

          1. Actually, neither the Central Powers or Allies were really that much different from each other.

            Unlike the sequel, the good-versus-evil battle was far less obvious; almost all the countries initially involved were motivated by a combination of Darwinian paranoia, self-interest, greed, and genuine ideological conviction. All sides played on xenophobia and nationalistic fervor to get their populaces’ support, imposed limitations on civilian rights as well as conscription, and showed themselves willing to stomach appalling losses over increasing discontent. The Central Powers/Allies were a nasty lot, who did things like impose extremely nasty measures in the areas they occupied and violated several agreements regarding the rules of war that they were party to, as well as giving the Bolsheviks the leg up they needed to seize power, and the use of genocide to “Germanify” or “Turkify” several regions under their control. Much of this, ironically, contributed to their defeat. While the Entente were a bit better, they still included an absolute Tsarist Russian and Serbian monarchies, both of which ruled without the consent of its’ people as absolutely as the Central Powers ever did, sanctioned and supported the terrorist attacks that sparked the war, tried to keep power by a system of state terrorism, Secret Police, and (in the case of the Russian government) indulged in anti-Semitic paranoia up and including Pogroms. The Western Allies were as close to the knights in shining armor as this war allowed, but that didn’t stop them from deciding to launch air strikes against civilian targets (though on a tiny scale that paled in comparison to its use in the sequel), continued the blockade of Germany and her allies until the Treaty of Versailles was signed (though they allowed food through once they’d agreed to the 11th November Armistice and this was largely intended to stop armaments from flowing to the Freikorps occupying large chunks of Eastern Europe), used poison gas (just like the Central Powers, even though they waited until afterwards), and smuggled war materials in neutral ships. Nobody descended to the level Those Wacky Nazis did, but the failure to prosecute war criminals after the war doubtless didn’t discourage such practices.

            While most of the major powers involved were monarchies (with the French Republic being a notable exception), the Entente came across as relatively more democratic ( compared to the Central Powers in general. By the time America entered the war, this had more or less turned into a battle between a bright new world of democracy and the old order. The Entente had the two Western Allies—Britain and France—who were of course democracies, later joined by the United States (a prototypical modern democratic republic), and counted as allies Italy (a democratic constitutional monarchy) and a number of more-or-less democratic smaller states (e.g. Greece). However, Tsarist Russia, one of the original core three Entente Powers, was probably the single most autocratic regime involved in the war. In contrast, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire had developing constitutional monarchies, with the actual monarch having some power but not nearly as much as the Tsar. Yes, you heard us right: Germany’s Reichstag was well-established and had substantive power (all laws required its assent at least in theory); Austria-Hungary’s parliamentary order was shaky despite being about as old as the German, but elected politicians could easily shout the Emperor down if they ever stopped shouting at (and fighting) each other (which of course they hardly ever did); and the Ottoman Empire’s Parliamentary regime was new, but the more-or-less elected government (it was led by the “Young Turks”, who weren’t above a bit of vote-rigging to get their way) ran everything and the Sultan couldn’t really be bothered to exercise his theoretical powers. Russia technically had its State Duma, but it had laughable influence and even volunteered to dissolve itself when war broke out in 1914, handing whatever paltry authority it had to the Tsar. In other words: the Entente included the most extreme governments of democratic/autocratic axis, with the Central Powers being in the middle. This ironically changed as the war forced the Tsar to make numerous concessions before the autocratic regime fell apart and the US entered the war, while the Central Powers gradually saw their governments taken over by a defacto military dictatorship that was ideologically tied to the idea of absolute monarchy.

            Tom, on World War II, lots of sources, European and American, say the Soviet Union would still have won even without American help. Americans, Brits, and Russians still to this day like to argue about who could have won the war with other one or both of the other two. The Warsaw Pact may have been bigger, including France, Japan, and various other conquered Axis territories, but the Axis Powers would still have been defeated.

          2. Stephen, of course you could be right that Stalin could have defeated Hitler without American help. But had Western Europe and America been dominated by pacifists rather as it really was, then Hitler would have easily conquered countries like France, Britain and even America, and then been able to invade the Soviet Union fresh, not having been weakened by fighting, having the rich resources of Britain and America, and their industry, available for the benefit of the German army, and in that case Hitler would have been able to defeat the Soviet Union. Now of course if somehow Stalin were able to defeat Hitler even in that case, then Stalin would have then taken America from Hitler, and your kids would be learning Russian in school and Marxist Leninist propaganda, as I learned in school in the former Czechoslovakia. Russian was a required subject starting in fourth grade, and we had Marxist Leninist propaganda starting already in first grade. And my father was purged from his engineering job due to his class origin (his father had been a big land owner), and due to having a brother in the West, either sin would have been enough to be fired, so his engineering degree became useless and he had to become a watchman, we started living in poverty. And I would not have been admitted to academic high school, had we not escaped after the Soviet invasion of 1968 and followed my father’s brother to America.
            So if you happen to have bad class origin, like a business owner or something, you too would not have been able to go to high school and you would be some factory worker or something like that, without the wonderful education that you clearly got. So be thankful America was not dominated by peace churches. Of course Stalin had no patience with pacifists, they were more likely to go into the Gulag than normal non-pacifist Christians like Orthodox, Catholic or Lutherans. Stalin wanted a huge army.

    2. “ O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” – (Qur’an 49:13)

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