Body Counts: The Dark Side of Christian History

By Volf, Miroslav | The Christian Century, April 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

Body Counts: The Dark Side of Christian History


Volf, Miroslav, The Christian Century


WITH ITS LONG coastline, rugged mountains and haunting sand dunes, Oman is truly a paradise for desert lovers, hikers and boaters alike. Muscat, the capital city, is a gem--its arched white buildings and flat roofs squeezed between blue waters of the ocean and black rocks of the mountains.

I was traveling with my sons, and at one point Nathaniel remarked, "Dad, this was the best vacation we ever had!" I thought of the sea turtle laying eggs and covering them with its flippers, of my sons frolicking in the Wadi Tiwi's clear waters and sliding down the long slopes of sand dunes, of hundreds of dolphins surrounding our boat, of the red snapper my younger son, Aaron, caught. I agreed with Nathaniel.

Call me an egghead, but what I remember most from the Oman experience is a booklet with an ominous title: Body Count (2009). Its subtitle tells a fuller story: A Quantitative Review of Political Violence Across World Civilizations. For Christians, the surprise comes when author Naveed Sheikh concludes that "the Christian civilization emerges as the most violent and genocidal in the world history." Compared to Islam, Christianity is a clear winner: 31.94 million deaths (by Muslims) to 177.94 million deaths (by Christians).

I'm not convinced that the numbers are correct. For instance, Sheikh describes Nazi genocides (16.31 million dead) as Christian. One might as well call communists Christians. Similarly, the author is silent about the long, brutal and bloody march of Ottoman Turks through the Christian lands in the 14th to 17th centuries, from Asia Minor all the way to the Alps. It will be important for those competent in world history to carefully examine this body count. But even if we slash the numbers on the Christian side and add some to the Muslim side, the scale of violence committed by Christians throughout history is mind-numbing.

I read the booklet about the body count on a beach near Muscat. A short distance to the north, across the Gulf of Oman, is Iran. Tensions with Iran have been escalating over the past few years, and a peaceful resolution doesn't seem to be in sight. On Oman's western border is Yemen, a base of operation for al-Qaeda and now a potential target of a Western attack. To the northeast is Pakistan, and on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan as well as in Afghanistan itself a full-blown war is going on. To the north, of course, is Iraq.

Consider this: If we apply the criteria for just war that great Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas have developed (conceding for a moment that the more stringent demands of Jesus to "turn the other cheek" don't apply to world affairs), we must conclude that the war in Iraq is unjust (as I argued in this magazine before the Iraq war started); the war in Afghanistan is unjust (and serious injustice is being committed in the course of waging it--for example, by the use of drones); a war against Iran would be unjust; a war against Yemen would be unjust.

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