Secularism: The belief that religion should have no place in civil affairs.
Modern Western Secularism: The banning of Christianity from as much of modern life as possible.
“Is it not most interesting that every human government which has resulted from the overturning of the authority of the Church has also been cruel, despotic and willing to kill with impunity?
A man I worked with back in the 1960s used to say, “Religion? It has caused more violence and suffering than anything else in history!”
It became somewhat fashionable during the 20th century to claim that the most wicked governments in human history were governments with a religious (usually a Christian) agenda. This claim – totally unsubstantiated by the facts – started to be heard everywhere, especially, of course, among liberals and socialists, and atheists often threw this claim at believers. Indeed, even in this early 21st century, Richard Dawkins still uses this outdated (and now well disproven) argument – not the only outdated and now discredited argument which Dawkins uses against Christianity!
The true facts are rather different, indeed, quite dramatically different. I want to give five or six examples which amount to very powerful evidence that it is God-denying Secularism which has caused more violence and suffering than anything else in history.
1. The French Republic.
It is sometimes forgotten that the French revolution held a very strong anti-church and anti-clerical agenda (apart from its more obvious anti-aristocratic motivation). The early revolutionaries set out to destroy Christianity in France because they felt that it had protected the French monarchy. Thousands of believers, including many priests, were killed in the process. In all, post-revolution, the French murdered about one million of their own people; often this was without trial or after a ‘trial’ which can only be called cruel, shambolic and cynical in the extreme. The revolutionaries may have considered the French monarchy somewhat unresponsive and uncaring towards the masses (in fact, the French king had refused to use force against his opponents), but this would prove ‘small fry’ compared to the wholesale slaughter which followed that revolution. Indeed, in the end the guillotine could not handle the multitudes accounted worthy for slaughter, and mass drowning was employed as a tool of execution. No historian worthy of his salt doubts that many thousands died as a result of that revolution simply because they were the victims of envy, greed and jealousy!
For a period of about 20 years following the actual revolution per se, scores continued to be settled in a most brutal and blood thirsty manner with many deaths and with the rule of law often being an utter sham. The interesting thing about this particular example is that here is an example of a society which overturned not only the rule of the aristocracy but of the church also. As already briefly outlined, the revolution held a strongly anti-Christian and anti-clerical agenda. Today it is often claimed that the French Republic was the first truly modern government and “the first truly liberal government” – actually, in many senses, that is perfectly true, but does this not tell us rather a lot about Liberalism and Secularism? After all, this period of French history was also totalitarian, despotic, frequently highly lawless, raging as it did with a hatred of fairness and justice and a callous disregard for the dignity of human life?
Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) was one of the chief architects of the French Revolution and the infamous ‘reign of terror’ which followed it. He had absorbed all the leftist, man-centred concepts of the Enlightenment and was influenced by arch-atheist Voltaire and also by Rousseau. He hated organised religion and wanted to replace worship of the Christian God with acknowledgement of the Deist ‘god’ (in which God continued to reign supreme but in complete isolation from Mankind to whom He had delegated full moral authority and autonomy). Robespierre was instrumental in the blood-letting and wholesale brutality of the ‘reign of terror,’ and even had many fellow revolutionaries executed for being ‘too moderate.’ As his vanity, persecution-complex and megalomania grew, he himself, ironically, was betrayed, finally going to the guillotine in 1794. The first five years of the ‘Reign of Terror’ ended then, but historians are in error when claiming that that ‘reign’ only lasted for five years – 10-15 years is closer to the mark.
Is it not most interesting that every human government which has resulted from the overturning of the authority of the Church has also been cruel, despotic and willing to kill with impunity?
Moreover, it was this revolution which would later encourage people like Marx and Lenin and, yes, Hitler and Stalin too in their evil designs. How come? Because what happened in France around 1789 showed these 19th and 20th century demagogues and despots how a formerly stable society could be radically – and quite rapidly – changed by the will of the masses when those masses are fed a continual diet of the ideologically appropriate philosophy; the message of France was: get the propaganda right, then find a way of feeding that to the masses and anything becomes possible! Late 18th century France was their ‘blueprint.’ In France, eventually, it was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who restored the traditional French respect for Christianity, and French Roman Catholicism again started to become a force, but not the force it had once been.
Finally the ‘Concordat’ of 1801 was agreed. This agreement was between France and Pope Pius VII and it included:
- A declaration that “Catholicism was the religion of the great majority of the French” but not the official state religion, thus maintaining religious freedom, in particular with respect to Protestants.
- The Church was to be free to exercise its worship in public in accordance with police regulations that the Government deems necessary for the public peace. The authority to determine if a public religious observance would violate the public peace, resided with each mayor who had the power to prohibit a public ceremony if he considered it a threat to peace his commune.
- The Papacy had the right to depose bishops, but this made little difference, because the French government still nominated them.
- The state would pay clerical salaries and the clergy swore an oath of allegiance to the state.
- The Catholic Church gave up all its claims to Church lands that were confiscated after 1790.
- Sunday was reestablished as a “festival,” effective from Easter Sunday, 18 April 1802. The rest of the French Republican Calendar, which had been abolished, was not replaced by the traditional Gregorian Calendar until 1 January 1806.
2. Nazism, Communism and Marxism.
In the 20th century alone, more people were slaughtered under Secularist God-denying governments, and in the name of secularist ideologies, such as Nazism and Communism, than in all the documented religious persecutions within western history combined!
Most people know that Hitler was responsible for the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews alone (apart, that is, from the other groups of Slavs, Poles etc., which his henchmen slaughtered on a vast scale). What is probably far less well-known is that as many as 110-118 million people have been killed by Communism alone – in eastern Europe, Africa, Central and South America and in southeast Asia.
Regarding communist Russia, rarely, if ever, has a regime taken the lives of so many of its own people. Mark Weber has compiled some horrifying statistics and several paragraphs here are based on Mark’s extensive research:
Citing newly-available Soviet KGB documents, historian Dmitri Volkogonov, head of a special Russian parliamentary commission, recently concluded that “from 1929 to 1952 21.5 million [Soviet] people were repressed. Of these a third were shot, the rest sentenced to imprisonment, where many also died.” (Cited by historian Robert Conquest in a review/article in The New York Review of Books, Sept. 23, 1993, p. 27).
Olga Shatunovskaya, a member of the Soviet Commission of Party Control, and head of a special commission during the 1960s appointed by premier Khrushchev, has similarly concluded: “From January 1, 1935 to June 22, 1941, 19,840,000 enemies of the people were arrested. Of these, seven million were shot in prison, and a majority of the others died in camp.” These figures were also found in the papers of Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan.
Robert Conquest, the distinguished specialist of Soviet history, recently summed up the grim record of Soviet “repression” of it own people: (Review/article by Robert Conquest in The New York Review of Books, Sept. 23, 1993, p. 27); In the “Great Terror” years of 1937-1938 alone, Conquest has calculated, approximately one million were shot by the Soviet secret police, and another two million perished in Soviet camps. R. Conquest, The Great Terror [New York: Oxford, 1990], pp. 485-486. Conquest has estimated that 13.5 to 14 million people perished in the collectivization (“dekulakization”) campaign and forced famine of 1929-1933. (R. Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow. New York: Oxford, 1986, pp. 301-307).
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the post-1934 death toll was well over ten million. To this should be added the victims of the 1930-1933 famine, the gulag deportations, and other anti-peasant campaigns, amounting to another ten million plus. The total is thus in the range of what the Russians now refer to as “The Twenty Million.”
A few other scholars have given significantly higher estimates. Russian professor Igor Bestuzhev-Lada, writing in a 1988 issue of the Moscow weekly Nedelya, suggested that during the Stalin era alone (1935-1953), as many as 50 million people were killed, condemned to camps from which they never emerged, or lost their lives as a direct result of the brutal “dekulakization” campaign against the peasantry. “Soviets admit Stalin killed 50 million,” The Sunday Times, London, April 17, 1988; R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, has recently calculated that 61.9 million people were systematically killed by the Soviet Communist regime from 1917 to 1987. (R. J. Rummel, Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917. Transaction, 1990).
In China, the destruction has been imagination-defying (the true figures for the governmentally-caused famines of the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’ and ‘Great Leap Forward,’ for example, are only just emerging and historians have been stunned. Anything from twenty to forty million people perished in China).
Statistics historian R.J. Rummel’s estimates are as follows:
I. TRANSFORMATION AND THE NATIONALIST STRUGGLE, 1900 TO SEPTEMBER 1949.
2. 105,000 Victims: Dynastic and Republican China.
3. 632,000 Victims: Warlord China.
4. 2,724,000 Victims: The Nationalist Period.
5. 10,216,000 Victims: The Sino-Japanese War.
6. 3,949,000 Victims: Japanese Mass Murder in China.
7. 4,968,000 Victims: The Civil War.
II. THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA.
8. The People’s Republic of China: Overview.
9. 8,427,000 Victims: The Totalization Period.
10.7,474,000 Victims: Collectivization and “The Great Leap Forward.”
11. 10,729,000 Victims: The Great Famine and Retrenchment Period.
12. 7,731,000 Victims: The “Cultural Revolution.”
13. 874,000 Victims: Liberalization.
R.J. Rummel’s ‘China’s Bloody Century’ is here.
These figures, if accurate, amount to something like 54 million people in China alone!
Obviously some of the above incredible figures are pre-communism but the figures do show the appalling wastage of human life in that vast land. Obviously, none of these outrageous figures are in any sense attributable to Christianity, or indeed to any other organised religion!
What of the Khmer Rouge? These Communists caused carnage and havoc in the Cambodia of the 1970s. It has been estimated that due to their activities a full one fifth of Cambodia’s population of that period was lost! This was about 2 million people, although some have claimed higher figures than this.
Neither can we ignore the horrific Rwandan Genocide of 1993-94. The figures for those killed are somewhere between 500,000 and one million people (probably the second figure is closest). Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered in their tens of thousands, mainly by two Hutu militia groups, one known as the MRND (‘National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development’) and the Impuzamugambi (“Those who have the same goal”), the latter group being especially committed to genocide. These were secularist, ‘democratic,’ leftist-type movements of Marxist origin. Sadly, among the slaughtered were a very large number of churchgoing Christians.
So we start to learn that in the 20th century alone, many more have been killed by God-denying Secularist movements and governments than ever died in religious conflicts. Some, though, will still want more examples and comparisons before being convinced…
3. The Spanish Inquisition – A Comparison.
What of The Spanish Inquisition? It has been claimed that this was one of the greatest evils in European history and this could certainly be called an act of Christianity, at least in an organised, institutionalised sense. But what is the truth? I am not going to apologize for things carried out in Roman Catholic countries and one cannot excuse torture, but I think we should always strive for the truth. Many of us have long suspected that some of the figures quoted somewhat hysterically for this “Christian outrage” may have been wildly exaggerated. Now two books give us much greater information and careful analysis; Henry Kamen’s The Spanish Inquisition and The Inquisition, edited by Brenda Stalcup. In referring to these sources, J.P. Holding writes this,
‘Kamen reports that the threat of the Spanish Inquisition has been particularly overblown. Without minimizing the atrocities that were committed, it is nevertheless a fact that many skeptical sites (relying at times on Helen Ellerbee, a notoriously unreliable source) frame the Spanish Inquisition particularly as one might elsewhere frame Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Kamen [K60, 203] notes that, “Taking into account all the tribunals of Spain up to about 1530, it is unlikely that more than two thousand people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition… for most of its existence that Inquisition was far from being a juggernaut of death either in intention or in capability.” By Kamen’s estimate, for example, “it would seem that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fewer than three people a year were executed in the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru, certainly a lower rate than in any provincial court of justice in Spain or anywhere else in Europe.” [K203]. This was weighted against people of Jewish and Muslim origin, but let it never be said that the numbers themselves are anything to be flabbergasted about. It is also notable that the impetus for the Inquisition in Spain came first not from the church, but from the king and queen of Spain who asked for an Inquisition to be conducted.’
‘Stalcup notes that the Catholic Church (CC) in the Dark Ages “was the one stable institution that provided leadership and order” and quotes historian Bernard Hamilton as saying that “as the sole vehicle of a more civilized tradition in a barbarous world” the CC “became involved in social and political activities which formed no part of its essential mission, but which it alone was qualified to discharge.”  With the exception of a few Jews and Muslims, all people in Western Europe depended on the CC for meaning and survival. Any undermining of this social construct was a threat to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the whole. (Kamen likewise says of the Spanish variation, “It fulfilled a role…that no other institution fulfilled.” [K82]) (Quoted from ‘Were You Expecting It?’ by J.P. Holding. The full article is here.).
There is no doubt that certain points here are never taken into account when one hears discussions of the ‘Inquisition,’ yet atheists and liberals love to throw in this actually very poor example of“Christian injustices.” I’m afraid that not only the cults and sects, but we Protestants too have often been guilty of making exaggerated claims about the Inquisition – but we should not exaggerate these things. It seems, then, that despite the horror which any discussion of this topic raises in some people, the truth is probably that as few as two thousand people were ever executed due to the Inquisition. Even if we double that figure it remains an absolutely tiny figure in comparison with the many millions who have died as a result of Communism, especially in China.
4. ‘Witch-hunting’ – A Comparison.
Many liberals and atheists have had enormous fun with this one! Some of their claims of the numbers involved have frankly bordered on the lunatic. Many modern historical revisionists appear to see this as a sort of ‘suppression of women’s rights’ issue, the general idea being that thousands of witch-hunters spent their entire lives searching for poor, confused women because they were just sadistic bullies who loved to see women being put to death! Moreover these modern writers always operate from the modernist assumption that there is no world of the supernatural. Such people are almost invariably atheists, holding no concept of God, or of Satan. But, as regarding the numbers, Philip Sampson has pointed out,
‘In recent years…scholars have studied witchcraft more carefully. The picture which emerges is not the one we have been led to expect. As long ago as 1928, Montague Summers called the belief that witches went to the stake in England, “a popular and fast-grounded, if erroneous, opinion” of the “ignorant,” best suited to the “romanticist and story book”‘ (Philip J. Sampson, Six Modern Myths, p 133).
Today a picture is often painted of ignorant and superstitious churchmen who were finally put out of their ‘witch-hunting’ work endeavours by the brave and clever scientists of the Enlightenment; this, of course, is pure hokum, truly a modernist myth if ever there was one. Fact is: Many have always believed that witches with supernatural powers exist even if tiny in mumbers. Even today in England we have ‘white witches’ and ‘black witches’ (nothing to do with race, the terms refer to severity of doctrine). I am informed (by an informant who came from that background) that witch covens are especially strong in a band stretching across southern England from Cornwall in the west to the New Forest in Hampshire in the east! Yes, an absolutely tiny group no doubt but a fact nevertheless. This is worth pointing out since those who use this issue to attack Christianity always proceed on the assumption that witches cannot possibly be a reality, and that this whole matter was just something somehow dreamed up by hateful fundamentalist, persecuting religious misogynists.
The actual quoted numbers of women executed as witches have been placed well and truly within fantasyland by writers like Carl Sagan, bristling with a hatred of Christianity and a desire to belittle us wherever possible. Sagan has quoted over ten million (Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, p116), as has M. Daly (Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p183, 208). But such figures are absurd and lack any sort of historical credibility, indeed, one only arrives at such silly figures by insisting on being purely emotional and rejecting all wise historical counsel. As Sampson has pointed out,
‘More recent estimates put the number of executions at about 150 to 300 people per year throughout all of Europe and North America…Over a period of about three hundred years this amounts to between 40,000 and 100,000 people.” (Sampson, p138).
Of course, one does not wish to excuse outrage where outrage really occurred, but it is high time that some of the ludicrous figures quoted by some who simply want to discredit Christianity were challenged. Some have even called the burning of witches a “holocaust” – again, this emotive talk is fully without any foundation. The suggested numbers, though lamentable, are not of holocaust proportions! Indeed, if some of the suggested figures of people like Sagan were true, even today Europe would suffer from a serious lack of women and would never have built up present population levels!
I myself have looked into the same facts and figures which are available, though often hard to track down, and my estimate would be lower than that of Philip J. Sampson, perhaps – in absolute total – between 25,000 and 80,000 – very lamentable but, don’t forget, this is for a period of perhaps 350 years and covering the entirety of Europe and north America. Meanwhile Sagan’s “ten million” should be regarded as sheer fantasy and fiction!
5. The Crusades – A Comparison.
This is a newish objection to Christianity but nowadays it always seems to come up and I don’t think I should leave it out. Recently some very naive liberal Christians were saying that relations between Christianity and Islam might improve if Christians apologised for the “death and destruction” of the Crusades. Once again, in no time, distortion came into the picture with “many millions” being quoted as the likely figure of deaths caused by the Crusades – but what is the truth?
The Crusades originally had the goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule and were launched in response to a call from the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire for help against the expansion of the Muslim Turks into Anatolia. There were nine principal ‘crusades’ (and several more minor ones) covering a period from 1095-1272, however, several were very brief with the Eighth Crusade lasting less than a year and the Fourth Crusade lasting just two years. As the Crusades progressed, however, they often seem to have been motivated more by politics and greed than by true religious reason and it is doubtful whether ‘Christianity’ itself should be held responsible for some of the dreadful things which happened, especially when plainly political papal power used ‘crusades’ to attack Eastern Orthodoxy (the Fourth Crusade)! Indeed, the common perception that the ‘crusades’ were all about Christians attacking Muslims is totally incorrect; perhaps only two or three of the crusades were more major conflagrations and involved attacking Muslims on a large scale.
A total figure of 9 million deaths has been cited for all of the crusades – but it is very debatable how much Christianity can truly be held accountable for this when a particular crusade was clearly political; also, ‘soldiers of fortune’ joined some of the expeditions and raped, pillaged and torched villages along route in total defiance of orders: can that ever be considered a Christian responsibility? In some terrible cases Muslim women were mercilessly exterminated by the victorious “Christians” – but was this typical behaviour? No. The evidence is strong that mercy also played a large part in many of the campaigns; unfortunately, however, war always has, and always will, lead to unjustifiable excesses. I think we must concede that something from 8 to as many as 11 million people probably did die during the crusades but when we narrow this down to the plainly religiouscrusades intent on recapturing the Holy Land (which we surely should) this might well be reduced to something up to 7 to 9 million. This, of course, while deeply regrettable, would be tiny compared to the carnage of perhaps 54 million people in China during a period of less than 100 years, but it remains a lamentable fact and we can’t deny that.
6. The Second World War.
Some have given the Second World War as an example of Christian outrages resulting in millions of deaths perpetrated by one group of Christians upon another, but this is a very poor example which can be very quickly refuted. Let us look at this:
The claim is that both Great Britain and the United States on the one hand and Germany on the other hand were “Christian nations.” However this is simply untrue. The Nazi party had negated the authority of the German Lutheran Church and the sincere, godly pastors (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer) were imprisoned if they did not agree to support Hitler. Thereafter the Nazis embarked on their reign of bloodshed, terror and genocide.
Hitler and Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels made a determined effort to replace the great respect which the German people had held for Lutheran Christianity with another ideology and another philosophy. Respect for pagan, teutonic and and nordic mythtologies started to be actively encouraged, this coupled with the stress on atheistic ‘survival of the fittest’ Darwinism.
So, in embarking on their evil and doomed path, the Germany of 1939-1945 cannot – by any stretch of the imagination – be considered as a “Christian nation.” However, it was two Christian nations in particular, Great Britain and the United States (plus several other ‘Christian nation’ allies, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand) which were determined to stand up to Hitler’s despotism! – So this is actually a very strong argument for the moral integrity of Christianity! It was, perhaps, the world’s two major Christian nations which felt that Hitler could not be allowed to get away with his hideous outrages forever and that some national sacrifices were necessary in order to defeat him!
We have not here even considered the great non-religious conquering warlords of earlier times, including Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun, but there were several others too. These conquerors presided over the slaughter of untold millions. How many died as the result of their campaigns? 7 million? That sounds much too low. 20 million? 45 million? Nobody knows for sure. But what we should by now clearly be able to see from our brief study is that the oft-heard 20th century claim (still upheld by people like Richard Dawkins), that Christianity and organised religion in general have caused more violence and suffering than anything else in human history, is not only defeated but defeated with some ease. Indeed we have learned that it is Secular human governments, whether pre-Christian or motivated by Communism, Nazism or Liberalism (the French Republic), which have unleashed untold human suffering upon this planet – much of this occurring within the 20th century alone. Incidentally, of that huge portion of this death and destruction which took place in the 20th century, a large part is directly attributable to the influence of Charles Darwin and Darwinism, a major atheistic influence.
Secularism (in its many forms) when adopted by human government is a mass-killer!