What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?
When people say how horrible Christians are, they are usually atheists or agnostics. Well, since they are in control in the world and have been for many years, let’s take a look at how many they have killed. And, as far as the wars that are going on now, such as in the Middle East in recent years, you can’t blame that on Christians. As those in power are NOT Christian even if they claim they go to church. Some of the soldiers may be Christian but that doesn’t mean they cause the wars.
by Rich Deem
Many atheists claim that religion is evil and, as such, cannot be from God. It is true that there are many examples of evil committed in the name of Christianity. In the past, those who disagreed with “official” church doctrine, such as Galileo were persecuted or killed. Many other Christians were brought before the Inquisition because they were teaching from the Bible instead of from “officially sanctioned” Roman Catholic Church materials. In addition, the Crusades resulted in “holy” wars between “Christians,” Jews, and Moslems. In more modern times, wars have been fought between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. However, common to all this violence was an underlying struggle for power. Today, some people kill abortionists in the name of God. Are these people unwilling pawns of religion or using religion to justify their own evil agendas?
History of human atrocities
Therefore, I absolutely agree with atheists and others who say that many atrocious things have been done in the name of God, and even in the name of Christianity. However, these atrocities were not perpetrated by God, but by evil human beings. If we look at the history of democide (which includes genocide, politicide, and mass murder, but not war-dead) prior to the 20th century, we find that millions of people were killed by people groups who wanted the other people groups eliminated. Note that these numbers do not include those killed through wars.
Selected Pre-20th Century Democide and Totals1
China 221 B.C.-19 C. 33,519,0004 No
Mongols 14 C-15 C 29,927,000 No
Slavery of Africans 1451-1870 17,267,000 No
Amer-Indians 16 C-19 C 13,778,000 No
Thirty Years War 1618-1648 5,750,000 No
In India 13 C-1 9 C 4,511,0005 No
In Iran 5 C-19 C 2,000,0004,5 No
Ottoman Empire 12 C-19 C 2,000,0005 No
In Japan 1570-19 C 1,500,0005 No
In Russia 10 C-19 C 1,007,0005 No
Christian Crusades 1095-1272 1,000,000 Yes
Aztecs Centuries 1,000,0006 Yes
Spanish Inquisition 16 C-18 C 350,000 Yes
French Revolution 1793-1794 263,000 No
Albigensian Crusade 1208-1249 200,000 Yes
Witch Hunts 15 C-17 C 100,000 Yes
Total For All Cases pre-20 C 133,147,000 2,650,000
Hypothetical Total 30 C B.C.-19 C A.D. 625,716,0007
International war-related dead 30 C B.C.-19 C A.D. 40,457,0008
Plague dead (Black Death) 541 A.D.-1912 102,070,0009
1.Adopted from STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE.
2.Unless otherwise noted, years and centuries are A.D.
3.Unless otherwise noted, these are a best guess estimate in a low to high range.
4.Excludes democide in China by Mongols.
5.An absolute low.
6.A very speculative absolute low.
7.From STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE.. Calculated from the 20th century democide rate and the population for each century since 30 B.C.
8.From table STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE. Total undoubtedly inflated by democide.
9.A minimum: includes plague dead in circa 541-542 A.D.; 1346-1771 in Europe; 1771 in Moscow; 1894 in Hong Kong; and 1898-1912 in India. From Duplaix (1988, p. 677-678).
What percentage of these killings were due to religious democide? It is less than 3% of the totals. The surprising thing is that these killings occurred during a period of time when virtually all the peoples of the world were involved in some sort of religion. Here is the data for the 20th century:
20th Century Democide1
U.S.S.R. 1917-87 61,911,000 Yes
China (PRC) 1949-87 35,236,000 Yes
Germans killed by the atheists 1933-45 10,946,000 No
China (KMT) 1928-49 10,075,000 No
Japan 1936-45 5,964,000 No
China (Mao Soviets)3 1923-49 3,466,000 Yes
Cambodia 1975-79 2,035,000 Yes
Turkey (Armenian Genocide) 1909-18 1,883,000 No
Vietnam 1945-87 1,670,000 Yes
Poland 1945-48 1,585,000 Yes
Pakistan 1958-87 1,503,000 No
Yugoslavia (Tito) 1944-87 1,072,000 Yes
North Korea 1948-87 1,663,000 Yes
Mexico 1900-20 1,417,000 No
Russia 1900-17 1,066,000 Yes
China (Warlords) 1917-49 910,000 No
Turkey (Ataturk) 1919-23 878,000 No
United Kingdom 1900-87 816,000 No
Portugal (Dictatorship) 1926-82 741,000 No
Indonesia 1965-87 729,000 No
LESSER MURDERERS 1900-87 2,792,000 ?
WORLD TOTAL 1900-87 169,202,000 107,047,000
1.From STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE.
2.Includes genocide, politicide, and mass murder; excludes war-dead. These are probable mid-estimates in low to high ranges. Figures may not sum due to round off.
Vox Day, in The Irrational Atheist, lists 22 atheistic regimes that committed 153,368,610 murders in the 20th century alone:
Murders by Atheists (20th Century)
Afghanistan 1978-1992 1,750,000
Albania 1944-1985 100,000
Angola 1975-2002 125,000
Bulgaria 1944-1989 222,000
China/PRC 1923-2007 76,702,000
Cuba 1959-1992 73,000
Czechoslovakia 1948-1968 65,000
Ethiopia 1974-1991 1,343,610
France 1793-1794 40,000
Greece 1946-1949 20,000
Hungary 1948-1989 27,000
Kampuchea/Cambodia 1973-1991 2,627,000
Laos 1975-2007 93,000
Mongolia 1926-2007 100,000
Mozambique 1975-1990 118,000
North Korea 1948-2007 3,163,000
Poland 1945-1948 1,607,000
Romania 1948-1987 438,000
Spain (Republic) 1936-1939 102,000
U.S.S.R. 1917-1987 61,911,000
Vietnam 1945-2007 1,670,000
Yugoslavia 1944-1980 1,072,000
Democide by governments results from concentrate power base
Figure 1. Percentage of democide based upon type of government control.
What percentage of this democide was due to religious conflict? It turns out that religious democide doesn’t even make the top 20 (although I am sure there is some in the “lesser murderers” category. Still, the total religious killings is less than 2%. In fact, the top two killers were specifically atheistic states (which had never existed before in human history). Should atheism be blamed for more than 50% of the atrocities committed during the 20th century? The answer of course is No! If one examines the nature of the regimes that committed these atrocities (even the religious ones), the key factor is absolute power (see Figure 1, right). According to Professor R.J. Rummel, in the 1816-2005 period there were 205 wars between non-democracies, 166 wars between non-democracies and democracies, and 0 wars between democracies. Lord Acton’s warning that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” seems to be more than just a trite saying.
What about Christians who commit evil?
Jesus Himself addressed the issue of “Christians,” performing evil deeds in a rather chilling prophecy:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matthew 7:22-23)
The Myth of Religious Violence One should note that Jesus said that “many” people who think they are His followers will be rejected by Jesus when at the judgment when they attempt to claim that they are His disciples. Not all who claim the name of Jesus are actually His disciples. My guess is that in even the best of Christian churches only about half of the people have been truly born again (see John chapter 3).1 Christianity should be judged on the basis of what Jesus said and did, not on the basis of the actions of people who merely claim to be Christians. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs details the deaths of Christians who were killed because of their faith in Christ, in many cases by people claiming to be Christians.