Western Scriptures: To kill for God

One of the most urgent questions in our contemporary world is if there’s a just war as such. The doctrine of just war is often discussed through the prism of religion and the concept of religious war.

Most people have at least once heard the expression that religion causes war. For example, the large-scale military companies, which have been repeatedly held in the Middle East and North Africa in the name of Islam, are well-known. Huge territories formerly belonging to the Islamic world were captured during the crusades, organized in the name of God. A lot of blood was spilled in wars between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. Thousands of Jews were killed under the guise of religious believes. In 1948 Mohandas K. Gandhi was assassinated; in 1959 the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka was killed by the Buddhist monk. In India an implacable struggle between Hindus and Muslims is held. In Sri Lanka the confrontation between the Buddhists and Hindus continues. Today we can observe constant clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland (Copan 63).

The notion of holy war as such was mainly formed when the first crusades began. According to the estimations of some historians, the number of people who took part in the crusades reached almost 100 000. It is clear, that members of the campaigns had both religious and sordid motives (Riley-Smith 54).

Speaking of the religious reasons of the crusades, we should first say about the ideology of holy war, arising among the Christians in the 11th century. Originally, Christianity was an entirely peaceful religion; and at first, the community of early Christians

did not accept people, who did military service. Later, a Christian who killed a man during war actions for some time expelled from the community of his co-religionists. But gradually, the war became a part of people’s lives and a matter of not just non-sinful, but of a noble character, a deed in the name of God. In the 9th ”“ 10th centuries Charlemagne was considered an ideal Christian monarch; and then the legends telling about his struggle with the Saracens appeared (such as “The Song of Roland”).

It could also be mentioned that the ideology of war in the name of Christ appeared with the invasion of the Germans in Europe and their Christianization. The Germans, in contrast to the educated Greeks and Romans, were people spending all their life in wars, which, consequently, were their usual occupation.

It is quite natural that as neophytes in religion they were ready to do the best for it, and the best in their understanding was the war in the name of their God, which was not lingering to start as soon as there appeared an excuse. This explains, why the call to rise and struggle against “pagans” (that’s how the Muslims were called) to reconquest the Holy Land, Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher found support among the population of Europe (Riley-Smith 128).

Another religious reason for the Crusades is of course the invasion of Seljuk Turks into the Asia Minor in the 10th ”“ 11th centuries. They embraced Islam, but, unlike the Arabs, who were tolerant to the Jews and Christians, they oppressed the Jews, who lived in the Holy Land, and Christian pilgrims. They occupied the territory of the Caliphate, and Asia Minor, which belonged to the Byzantine Empire. The situation was intolerable and the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos had to appeal to Pope Urban II for help.

Pope, of course, happily agreed. It was an opportunity for him to overmaster the Eastern Church. The church split just 40 years before in 1054, and consequently Urban II had


the chance to reconcile the schismatics, uniting the church.

At the Council of Clermont in 1095 he said that it was necessary to rescue the brothers who lived in the East as quickly as possible, because a Persian tribe of the Turks invaded Romagna (Byzantine Empire) and reached the Mediterranean Sea up to the Bosporus. Occupying more and more Christian lands, they defeated the Christians in battles, killed and captured many of them, destroyed churches, devastated the realm of God. Pope said that in case of further inaction, the faithful ones would suffer even worse (Riley-Smith 96).

It should be marked that in addition to all abovementioned, some theologians were expecting the Second Coming in 1100 and it was a natural desire to establish a kingdom in the Holy Land with the center in the city of Jesus – Jerusalem, to prepare everything to His rule. In this regard, the interesting fact is that the first ruler of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Boulogne, refused to accept the crown, saying that he was only the Vicar of Christ, who would be the true king.

The concept of holy war existed among the Christians at the time of the first Crusade, and moreover, such a war was considered a noble deed bringing a man to the salvation. At the Council of Clermont Pope Urban II promised those who joined the Crusade, that if any man went to war and ended his life stricken by death, whether on land or at sea or in a battle against the pagans, would be absolved from his sins by God (Riley-Smith 74).

Crusades to Palestine led to the crusading movement that arose throughout Europe. Moreover, in the time of the first Crusades three of the strongest religious knight Orders were formed: Order of Saint John (Hospitallers), of Temple (Templars) and the Teutonic Order, which fought in the name of God for many centuries thereafter.


The Crusades led to the enforcement of Reconquista in Spain, in addition, the Orders, which appeared in the Holy Land, took part in it. Crusading movement existed in other parts of Europe. Teutons, united with the Order of the Sword, completely annihilated the Prussians, and long continued war with Lithuania and Russia. Even the fourth Crusade, which was not against Muslims, but against the Byzantine Christians, was called a holy war; and the capture of Constantinople in 1204 was considered as a great deed in the name of Christ (Riley-Smith 211).

So, does the religion lead to violence and religious wars? Let’s consider a few observations.

On the one hand, the statements of some researchers that monotheism has brought violence into the Western civilization, and that violence is not peculiar for non-Western religions (Schwartz 95), are at least naive and superficial.

On the other hand, atheistic ideology led to blood sheddings in the 20th century. It is surprising that religion is blamed for the violence, leaving unattended the destruction of millions of human lives under the guide of the so-called atheist believes of Stalin or Mao Zedong (Copan 117).

Thus, we should first understand the fundamental principles of religion itself, and not judge it from only one point of view. We should answer the question of how consistent is the call to draw the sword in the name of Christ and “defend” Christianity with what Jesus Himself claimed. The same question applies to Islam, and Hinduism.

Consequently, when it comes to violence we should speak not about religion as such, but about a certain mindset aimed at the use of ideology or “religious cover” in order to control people and limit their freedom. Anything that violates the freedom of conscience,

religion or human rights, should be regarded as a wrong action. Sometimes this means punishing those who profess the same religious beliefs, with the difference that for the sake of promoting their religious system, they resort to violence.

The Christian church is not a theocracy. Ideally, the believers should live within their states, seeking to bring good to their nation.

Sometimes they can be called to defend their country (or another country in need of assistance) from enemy attack (Copan 148).

The Old Testament supports self-protection (up to the murder to protect one’s life). The police and the law are necessary to preserve order in society. The Bible clearly states that the crime should be punished. John speaks of how Jesus drove out the sellers from the temple. Jesus’ words do not refer to how the state should be governed; it is rather about relationships, the Disciples of Christ should keep to. (For example, the government should punish the criminals. “Forgive your enemies” does not apply to the justice system and does not mean that criminals should be released.)

The words “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” do not mean that a child should not protect himself if the other guys at school beat him. And it does not mean that if we see a woman being raped, we should not defend her. When on the order of the High Priest Jesus was hit on the cheek, he did not “turn to him the other”. On the contrary, he said: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” (John 18: 23, King James Bible)

In contrast to the common views, the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek imply a personal insult, not related to an act of physical violence. In other words, Jesus meant the following: if you are offended, be ready to be offended again. In Jesus’ time and even now in the Middle East a slap on the right cheek is considered a particularly humiliating insult. In Lamentations 3:30 such insult is meant in words: “He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach” (King James Bible).

Jesus does not say: “Do not defend yourself when you are attacked.” He does not say: “Do not defend a woman being raped” or “Do not defend your country when it is attacked by the enemy.” Jesus did not refute the legal principle of “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He was against the misuse of this principle to justify violence or revenge (Copan 225).

Some researchers believe that there are strong biblical arguments in defense of just war as a last resort to restore peace. State rulers should (if they rule properly) maintain order and punish the criminals. God gives them that right, as written in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:14 (King James Bible). Despite the fact that the war cannot be pleasant, and leads to killing of innocent people, the Judeo-Christian tradition openly recognizes the real threat of human self-centeredness and sinfulness, because of which it is necessary to use force to stop the spread of evil and violence.

During the Second World War, C.S. Lewis wrote that war is very controversial. It certainly brings evil and aggression, but if we ignore the violence, not trying to stop it, we will bring people even worse harm (Lewis 39).

Lewis also argued that the pacifist society will not long be pacifist. In a liberal society the number of pacifists can be either large enough to declare the country a militaristic or not. Pacifism of this kind may very soon result in its disappearance (Lewis 172).

Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed. It did not mean merely the keepers of the peace, but he talked about those who deliberately seeks reconciliation between conflicting parties. Jesus showed by His life and death what the apostle Paul later wrote: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (King James Bible).

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