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|
|Spanish Inquisition||16 C-18 C||350,000||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|
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
|China (Mao Soviets)3||1923-49||3,466,000||Yes|
|Turkey (Armenian Genocide)||1909-18||1,883,000||No|
Vox Day, in The Irrational Atheist, lists 22 atheistic regimes that committed 153,368,610 murders in the 20th century alone:
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)
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.
How do you know if a person is a Christian or not?
We cannot know for certain whether a person is or is not a true Christian (only God can makes such a determination).2 However, the Bible describes the nature of a person who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit3 (which happens at the point a person accept Jesus as Lord and Savior):
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
In addition, the true believer does what is right and demonstrates love toward others.4 Even non-believers can readily see who the true Christians are. Ultimately, the behavior of those who claim to be Christians but practice evil should not be a consideration in determining if the claims of Christ are true or not.
Yes, "Christians" have committed atrocities against other religious and non-religious people. However, atheists have committed far more atrocities than all religious groups combined. Even so, the key factor in these atrocities has been totalitarian power, rather than religion, which has resulted in these hundreds of millions of murders. The Bible says that people are evil (and the statistics on this page support this claim), but that they can become transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives of love, joy and peace.
- The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens
- STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 By R.J. Rummel
- Religion and War: Are Most Wars the Result of Religious Belief?
- Did God Commit Atrocities by Ordering the Killing of Entire Cities of People?
- Thou Shall Not Kill- Does God Violate His Own Commandment?
- A Loving God Would Not Send Billions of People to Hell, Would He?
- Why Would God "visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children unto the third and the fourth generation"?
- There is Too Much Evil and Suffering For God to Exist?
- Is it Possible for God to Provide 'Partial Free Will' and Eliminate All Evil?
- Did God Create Evil - Does the Bible Say So?
- Does the Bible Say God Repents From Doing Evil?
- 'People are Basically Good' - Proof to the Contrary
- If God is Jealous Doesn't That Make Him the Divine Hypocrite?
- The Professor Teaches About Evil and Christianity
- Hypocrites Defined: What About Hypocrisy in the Christian Church?
- Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews;
this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (John 3:4)
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-8)
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9)
Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:10-21)
- God judges based upon the intentions of an individual's heart, not just apparent actions. See God Tests the Hearts of People. It is only through faith that one can be completely justified (declared righteous) before God.
- The Holy Spirit of God comes to live in the body of those who have
confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior:
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:9).
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?" (James 4:5)
If the person has already been living a moral life, the change may be subtle, being primarily characterized by increased peace, joy, and patience. However, in those who have led immoral lives, the change is dramatic.
- This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
Last updated April 14, 2008