Whenever I start writing about morality or the existence of evil, I almost always get an email (or two) from people who point to the historic actions of alleged “Christians”. For many skeptics, Christianity is the source of much evil in the past (i.e. the Crusades and the Inquisition). For this reason, some skeptics point to “Christian” evil as evidence against the existence of a good Christian God. While history may include examples of “Christian” groups committing evil upon those with whom they disagreed, a fair examination will also reveal Christians were not alone in this sort of behavior. Groups holding virtually every worldview, from theists to atheists, have been mutually guilty of evil behavior. Atheists point to the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition when making a case against Christians, theists point to the atheistic regimes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung when making a case against atheists. Death statistics are often debated in an effort to argue which groups were more violent, but all this seems to miss the point. The common denominator in these violent human groups was not worldview; it was the presence of humans.
History has demonstrated a human predisposition toward violence. Regardless of worldview, humans will try to find a way to justify their evil actions. The question is not which group is more violent but which worldview most authorizes and accommodates this violence. Christians who commit horrific evil toward other humans actually have to act in opposition to the teaching of their Master, Jesus Christ. The Gospels repeatedly demonstrate that Jesus came to “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79), and Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44). Christians who have committed atrocities over the ages have had to do so in rebellion; they ignored or were ignorant of the teachings of Jesus.
But in an atheistic worldview (where humans are not specially designed in the image of God), there is little or no reason why any of us should feel compelled to treat other people with the respect that Jesus taught his followers to have for their enemies. If the world is simply filled with species and groups competing for the same resources, and if history belongs to those species and groups who are best suited for survival and reproduction, why should we be concerned with those groups who are not “fit” enough to survive? History is filled with examples of one population group replacing another in the natural struggle for resources. If atheism is true, and survival and reproduction are the only true concerns, then the struggle for resources authorizes and justifies human violence. Unlike Christians, atheists can commit genocide without ignoring their worldview; atheists have the freedom to eliminate competing groups as a faithful expression of their worldview.
God has given us the freedom to follow our own nature or to follow the teaching of Jesus. Christians who have committed atrocities over the ages have simply submitted to their natural inclination rather than to the foundational teaching of the Christian Worldview:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is listening to the words of Christ (Matthew 7:21). Those of us who have identified ourselves as Christians, yet have perpetrated evil, are willfully resisting or rejecting the words of Jesus.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith.