By Fionn Shiner
A stir was caused recently after the Home Office refused asylum to a Christian convert from Iran. He said he converted to Christianity because it talks of “peace, forgiveness and kindness” whilst “in Islam there is violence, rage and revenge.”
Using passages from the bible from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus and Revelation as evidence, the Home Office case worker denied his application. They said: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion’.”
In the secular mind, Christianity is often seen as a religion of oppression. The crimes of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and the sex abuse crisis are immediately conjured at the sight of the cross.
But is this fair? Do the facts suggest that Christianity is peaceful or violent?
The Church’s charitable contributions to society are unrivalled, rooted in Jesus’ clear exhortations to help the poor. This includes soup kitchens and night shelters for the homeless, hospitals, shelters for domestic abuse, and a great deal more.
Worldwide the Catholic Church has more than 140,000 schools, 5,000 hospitals, 16,000 heath clinics and 10,000 orphanages. Caritas estimates that Catholic aid agencies spend between £2 billion to £4 billion a year on charitable courses throughout the world.
This doesn’t include the work that individual parishes do, which are hard to include on official statistics, as well as the many religious orders that contribute. It is not a huge stretch to conclude that works of charity targeted at the most vulnerable in society come from a peaceful religion rather than a violent one.
Further, Catholicism, and in particular St. John Paul II, played a pivotal role in bringing about the end of the Cold War. The Cold War threatened the entire globe: the USA and the USSR had enough nuclear weapons to obliterate humanity from our beautiful planet. Hardly peaceful.
Yet St. John Paul II, celebrating mass in his home country in 1979, inspired such fervour in the crowd that they began chanting: “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Poland was, at the time, an officially atheist country.
Poland, with its devout Catholic population, was always a difficult country to manage for the Soviets and the Pope’s visit inspired the Solidarity movement in Gdansk. The movement gathered steam throughout the 80s and the Soviet empire beginning to wobble. This culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, ten years after St. John Paul II’s message of peace.
It’s not just Catholics who have contributed to world peace, but other denominations of Christianity. Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize winner and spearhead of the American civil rights movement, was a devout protestant.
William Wilberforce, the famous slave abolitionist, was an evangelical Christian. It was not a surface level faith, but one that informed his political beliefs, ethics and actions. He said: “Let them [Christians] boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many, who bear the name of Christians, are ashamed of Him.”
Throughout the 19th and 20th Century, the eugenics movement, which said you could improve the human race by selective breeding, was opposed by Christian thinkers. Catholic journalist G.K. Chesterton wrote an entire book on the inhumane movement, calling it “Eugenics and Other Evils.” His good friend Hilaire Belloc was an outspoken critic too.
The saints are what Christians might call “religious extremists”: those who have applied the precepts of our demanding religion in every facet of their life. Thus, if Christianity were a violent religion we would expect the saints to be violent; if it were a peaceful religion we would expect them to be peaceful.
Regrettably, violence has been done in the name of Christianity but the saints – those who are held up as examples of the Christian life – are overwhelmingly peaceful. Would a religion “inconsistent” with peace produce St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger at Auschwitz?
The life of St. Paul also acts as evidence for Christianity’s peaceful nature. Before his conversion he violently persecuted Christians, after his conversion he didn’t. There is a clear demarcation in his life: before Christ violence, after Christ none.
If Christianity were not a peaceful religion, if it were violent, then surely his reign of violence and terror would have continued.
The final evidence for the peaceful nature of Christianity is the life of Christ. Whilst someone may deny Christ’s divinity, they cannot deny that Christians follow Christ. The clue is in the name. Therefore, even if one might say Christ didn’t live, or isn’t the Son of God, they cannot, in good conscience, say that Christians don’t follow His teachings as set out in the Gospel.
Therefore it follows that the example of Christ will provide the best clue as to whether Christianity is peaceful or not. Yes Christ sometimes spoke strongly, and yes he did say “I did not come to bring peace but a sword”. But his life was clearly a life of peace, the climax being His crucifixion, something He accepted humbly.
It would be boneheaded to deny that there have been instances of violence done in the name of Christianity, and chapters in the Church’s history to be ashamed of. Yet the actions done in the name of a religion do not necessarily reflect its true nature.
Christianity has brought peace to the world in a myriad of ways: outreach to the poor, the propagation of education, the insistence that each individual life has equal value because it was crafted by God.
It is tempting to categorise things in a swift, easy way in accordance with the zeitgeist. Yet, there is plenty of evidence that Christianity is, indeed, peaceful. Just look to the lives of the saints, and of Jesus Christ Himself, to see the true nature of Christianity.