Saturday, August 21, 2010

John Dickson on the Spanish Inquisition and the North Ireland Conflict

John Dickson is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I just finished Life of Jesus which is due out any day now. In one of the chapters he covers the now common complaint from the New Atheists that Christianity inherently perpetuates violence. He looks at two events in particular: the Spanish Inquisition and the North Ireland conflict. Here’s how he puts it:
“The Spanish Inquisition is often thought to be Christianity at its most bloodthirsty with hundreds of thousands of heretics killed (trawl the Internet and you will even find estimates of a million or more). However, it is 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year. Of course, one a year-one ever-is too much, but the figure hardly sustains the monstrous narratives we often hear. Or take the iconic Northern Ireland conflict. The thirty-year ‘troubles’ led to the deaths of fewer than 4,000 people. Again, one death ‘in the name of Christ’ is a blasphemy, but how did the Northern Ireland conflict ever come to symbolize the ferocity of the church? Compare it with the thoroughly secular French Revolution. As many people were executed in the name of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ in a single year of the Revolution (the ‘Terror’ of September 1793-July 1794) as were killed in the entire three decades of the ‘troubles.’ And I am still in favour of liberty, equality and fraternity.
And this is my second problem with the complaint of Hitchens and others. The violence of Christendom is dwarfed by that of non-religious causes, such as World War I (8,000,000 deaths) and World War II (35,000,000 deaths). Then there is the very awkward fact that the twentieth century’s three great atheistic regimes were hotbeds of unrestrained violence. Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic project killed at least 20,000,000 people, which is more people each week than the Spanish Inquisition killed in its entire 350-year history. Pol Pot, another avowed atheist, is known to have slaughtered 2,000,000 people out of a population of 8,000,000. I must emphasize that this is not to claim that atheists are more violent than Christians. It simply underlines that violence is a perennial human problem, not a specifically religious one. And those like Christopher Hitchens who suggest that these communist regimes were quasi-religious in their zeal and so provide further evidence of the pernicious effect of religion have abandoned sincere investigation into the problem and settled upon crass anti-religious apologetics. Better to state the obvious: religion or irreligion can inspire hatred.” (68-69)
Amen and amen!

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