Christianity and War


The history of Christianity is in its most pronounced traits, a history of war, - one single long war against both outer and inner enemies.

Wars fought on behalf of or under direct command of the Church, civil wars, offensive wars and wars fought against people with other views and beliefs than the official Church. The annihilation of whole peoples, like the Vandals and the Goths, the Indians in central and south America, and the slaughter of the Slavic peoples in the east, genocide of Jews and Moslems.
In the eyes of the church and its historians these peoples were just criminals trapped in the dark night of paganism, and for whom the Church spared no atrocity or means too cruel to secure their conversion. Those who did not convert were killed. If not Christian, your life was not worth much. There are not many among the peoples of the world who have not felt the Christian mission drive on their bodies. The Church’s way of thinking was: if you weren’t Christian, you couldn’t be considered to be human.

For the early Christians war duty was out of the question. Even killing in self-defence was not accepted. During the Jewish uprising against the Romans in 66-70 AD, the early Christian congregation in Jerusalem fled to Pell in Perea to avoid having to fight. During the Jewish Bar Kochba uprising in 131-136 AD, the Christian Jews refused to fight, leading to harsh persecutions from Bar Kochba and his followers (Deschner 1972). This pacifist attitude was however soon to change when Christianity rose to power and became state religion in the Roman Empire in the beginning of the fourth century.

Christianity now became both political and nationalistic. Already the church council in 314 AD condemned soldiers who surrendered their colours for religious reasons. Christian soldiers who laid down their weapons were swiftly excommunicated from the Church. St. Augustin argumented that war was in good accordance with the teachings of Jesus. The words of Jesus saying that they who live by the sword also shall die by the sword, meant according to St. Augustin, only for those who shed the blood of others without the consent of the authorities. A war authorised by the authorities was just, righteous and was fought to revenge an injustice, or to suppress another nation’s unbearable cockiness. According to St. Augustin, this also was justified for assault wars. One of Pope Gregor VII’s favorite saying was “Damned be he who protect his sword from blood”. Pope Julian II’s motto was “When the key of St. Peter don’t suffice, let his sword help me!” (Deschner).

Still, it was not with a clear conscience the Christian Church proclaimed wars. One Church Council after another forbade their priests to participate in wars. Penitence was prescribed for those who had shed blood on the battlefield, and popes were often used as peace negotiators. If the holy church sometimes condemned a war, it was usually because the war was damaging the Church’s own economical or political agendas. If the Church didn’t bother much to prevent wars that didn’t damage their own interests, they surely did their part on starting wars against its adversaries. The orthodox Christian teaching implicated that any deviation from the right faith was just reason for proclaiming war. With the help of the knighthood the Church turned into a veritable military state. War was considered as a divine judgement and victory a sure sign of Gods approval. This is a view with strong support in the Bible.
Around 900-1000 AD the Catholic Church was fully militarised, with its own army, navy and weapon smithies. The Church’s fighting capacity was sometimes the double of the profane warlords. Cardinals and bishops commanded whole armies in the east, west, north and south, and bloody feuds were constantly fought within the different perishes. The Church father Theodoret put it this way: ”The historic evidence teach us that war is more useful to us than peace”.

In medieval times the Church organised its own heavy armed religious campaigns, - the holy crusades. Pope Urban II instigated the first crusade in the end of the century. This very first crusade happened between 1096 and 1099 and mobilised a gigantic army from the whole of Europe. This huge army marched eastwards to “save” Jerusalem from the Moslems. Friday the 15.July 1099 the army attacked the holy city. The result was a complete slaughter, and according to the chronicles Gods holy soldiers massacred almost 70.000 people. “Through Gods wonderful and just judgement the crusaders waded in blood to their knees, - yes, even up to their horses saddles” the joyous and pious Raimond of Agiles tells us. And he goes on to tell us that after the slaughter the soldiers of Christ wept with joy and went to the Saviours grave to pray.
Those who fought in the crusades were guaranteed redemption for their sins, and those who died in this holy wars became martyrs automatically. The ticket to eternal salvation was secured.

The crusades were in reality nothing else than pure Roman Catholic Wars organised by the Pope. And the papal attitude was clean cut and clear: “…even when it’s only orphans, small children, widows and fugitives one was fighting against, the final victory over these diabolical people was certain.” The Christian motto of the Vendic crusade in 1147: “He who will not be baptised, shall die”.

Crusades are not something the Catholics enjoyed themselves with in medieval times, is something we also can find in modern times. The Vietnam War was declared as a crusade by the American bishops. Those same bishops also declared, in the second Vaticanum, that one should use the atomic bomb(!) against Vietnam to defend the Catholism there (Deschner 1986). Some "loving your enemies" and "turning the other cheek".

Christianity was further nationalized through Protestantism, and made into a day worker in the political society, serving the state. The original Christianity was very ethnic specific, only for God’s chosen people, the Jews. Jesus and later St. Paul softened Christianity on this issue and changed the ethnic exclusivity with a religious one. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew or a Greek, as long as you were a “citizen in the kingdom of Jesus”. (Gal 3,28; Joh 17,21; Rom 10,12; 1 Cor 12,13; Col 3,11) The early Christianity was indifferent to national borders. From being a exclusive Jewish sect mainly preaching the gospel to other Jews, Christianity started to expand beyond the Jewish society - to the heathens. St. Paul is the guy who should be credited for this, and the changing of Christianity towards a more political and nationalistic movement is also mainly due to Paul’s workings.
Paul encourage obedience to the authorities because the authorities are put there by God (Rom 13,1-5; Titus 3,1; 1 Tim 6,1; Heb 13,17; ). This view is only a logic consequence of the Christian very hierarchical teachings, with blind obedience to and faith the divine authority as the main condition for salvation. To preach something else than this, is undermining the elevated position and absolute authority of God. All leaders’ positions are dependent of authority over their subjects.

It is not correct to interpret Jesus as an early liberal hippie, as a bearded revolutionary fighter for social reforms, - and that Jesus’ teachings were a result of a acute social conscience based on equality and that all men have the same value. Though Jesus preaches that all men are equal before God in the afterlife, but in this earthly life it is a huge difference between the social classes. There are no signs of rebellion against the social order in Jesus’ teachings, or indications that ex. slavery is a diminution of human value (Mt 6,24; 18,21ff; 20,26-27; 21,33f; 22,1f; 24,45-51; Lk 16,13; ).
To the contrary, Jesus tells the oppressed to turn the other cheek, to pay their tax to the rulers (Mt 17,24-27; 22,15.22;), and to love himself (as the king of the Jews) more then their parents, sons or daughters (Mt 10,35-37; 19,29;). He is sent to earth exclusively to the lost sheep of the flock of Israel (Matt 15.24) and calls other peoples for “dogs” as in the story of the Canaanite woman (Mt 10,5-6; 15,24-26). He condemns heathens and publicans as of lesser people since they don’t believe in him as the true Messiah. (Mt. 18,17; 21,31;).

Jesus’ word that who is minor on earth shall be major in the afterlife (Mt 20,26-28; 23,11-12;) is of little consolation for the struggling lower classes. This may seem like a slightly unfair representation of Jesus’ teachings, which also contains some praiseworthy attitudes and good deeds like giving money to the poor, and encouraging a gentle and kind behaviour towards others. But it is easy to tell others to give away their earthly possessions when you self have none, and to preach repentance and salvation when yourself is pure as snow and without sin. On the other hand, to threaten people with eternal torture and pain to force people into submission and to demand blind faith as a requisite for their salvation is not some thing we can call a overwhelming positive or humane trait.

Tertullian said that a Christian rather should suffer like Daniel in the lions den, than to commit a sin against his religion, and that nothing is more alien to the Christian than the states’ affairs. This attitude towards the state changed dramatically when Christianity became the state religion in the fourth century. But it was first with Protestantism that state and church got really seriously close connected (intertwined). Now the church acknowledged the state right to wage war, and in the Protestant confessions the Anabaptists (Christian sect in the 16-century) were fiercely condemned because they saw war to be strictly prohibited for people of Christian faith. First, the Protestants held the view that the war had to be fair for Christians to participate in it, but this perspective was fast forgotten. Therefore the word “justa” (fair) in front of “bella” (war) soon entirely disappeared in the 37 th article in the official English confession text.

Among the Christian sects holding the view that war was not in accordance with the New Testament were the Anababtists, the Lollards and the Quakers. The early Christian sect the Essenes categorical condemned warfare, and the members of the sect were not allowed to make any kind of weapon. Centuries later the Christian Church even let their church bells be used for cannonball production. Pope Pius 12. (1876-1958) allowed even nuclear-, bacterial- and chemical warfare against what he called “criminals without consciousness”. (Deschner)

Voices of protests against war originated predominantly from a complete other quarter, and from people often in direct opposition to the most significant dogmas in the Christian theology – the French philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Even now in the second millennium AD, the fundamentalist Christian Bush administration is having their crusade against another religious nutcase and fundamentalist - Osama Bin Laden. Just as Bin Laden is having his personal crusade, or Jihad, against the "Christian world", because God wills it. How Iraq got tangled up in this mess seems a bit strange... Anyhow, it's just like the old medieval times when Christians and Muslims slaughtered each other over Jerusalem. The "war on terror" is fought with strong religious overtones, and both Bush and Bin Laden use religious arguments. And both claim that God is on their side and that God wills it!. Who are they to know?? When even the worlds only remaining superpower and foremost industrial country still is fighting wars on behalf of a mythical desert God, and using 2000 years old confused primitive and antiquated religious text as justification for murdering thousands, - even morons should understand that religion is evil. And it is fairly obvious why religion and state affairs should not be mixed. Religion and warfare have always been best buddies, and will always be.

All through history, wars have in almost every case had religious conflict as a very central part of their causes. Who said that religion is just a system of harmless delusions and abracadabra?

”Wherever there have been fought wars, where pillaging, burning and bloodshed have taken place, the holy church has participated.”

A. Øverland (norw. author)

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

Denis Diderot