It is Time for Peaceful Christians to Speak Up for Coexistence

According to the Religious Right, Islam is the enemy, and ISIL, or ISIS as it is often called, is a manifestation of all the hate and intolerance inherent in the world’s second largest religion. When President Obama says that ISIL is not Islam, the Religious Right quakes in outrage. Islam is the enemy! Sarah Palin thunders as she tries to remember which state she is in.

But while Religious Right figures are quick to assign religion and religious bigotry to ISIL, they are blind to their own. And while they lambast the Qur’an as the source of much of this intolerance, they ignore the cries of their own god to smite the unbeliever.

Historian Ramsay MacMullen pointed out, in speaking of the later Roman Empire, “Christian readiness for action carried to no matter what extremes has not always received the acknowledgment it deserves in modern accounts of the period.”[1]

It is interesting that people should have so difficult a time imagining a repressive and intolerance Christianity when there are so many examples of it in our own time. I am speaking not only of the largely Protestant Religious Right, but of the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI, who said “truth” trumps tolerance.

Brigitte Gabriel told the Values Voter Summit that “millions of Muslims are aspiring suicide bombers.” Rick Santorum is very forgiving of the Christian holy war against Islam and warns us not to hate on the Crusades, but is quick to condemn Isalmic Jihad, telling us that “you don’t have any Baptist ministers going on jihad.”

But that’s a matter of degree. Words, not only bombs, can be a form of violence.


Santorum told the Daily Beast the other day that Christianity has set aside the whole conversion “by the sword” routine and discovered that “religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and that persuasion is the way to spread the faith.”

But this is the same Rick Santorum who doesn’t believe in separation of church and state, who attended an event that told non-Christians to get out of America and who told Puerto Ricans that they must speak English if they want to be Americans.

The Baptist may not be holding a bomb or a gun, but he is more than happy to deprive non-Christians, and even non-Baptists, of their religious freedom, and Santorum himself has said that mainline Protestants are not really Christians at all.

“Saint” Augustine was one of the leading voices against religious tolerance in Late Antiquity, a leading proponent of coercion. Needless to say, Augustine’s “City of God” contained only Christians, and that the same must be said of the later Shining City on the Hill.

For Augustine, Peter Brown relates,

It was a prophetic truth that the church should be diffused among all nations…it was a prophetic truth on exactly the same level that the kings of the Earth should serve Christ in fear and trembling; that the gods of the Nations should be uprooted from the face of the Earth, and that what had been sung, centuries before by King David, should now become manifest, as a public command, in the repression of pagans, Jews and heretics throughout the Roman Empire.[2]

He had justification from no less than another saint, Paul of Tarsus, who wrote in Rom. 1:18-32 says that Pagans are guilty for violating what they know to be true of God. As Ramsay MacMullen has duly noted, “The urge to destroy paganism physically was not a post-Constantinian development.”[3] The urge to destroy Islam dates from its own inception in the seventh century.

Even the language of Christianity reflected this hostility, and from the very earliest days, referring to pagan deities as idols and as daimones (demons) and not as gods at all. Augustine was as bloodthirsty as the rest of his ilk: “God who speaks truth has both predicted that the images of the many, the false gods, are to be overthrown, and commands that it be done.”[4]

And Augustine was right: the Old Testament commands precisely that.

The ways “in which Christianity differed from the general context of opinion around it,” MacMullen says, “was the antagonism inherent in the antagonism of God toward all other supernatural powers, of God toward every man or woman who refused allegiance, and…of those who granted their allegiance toward all the remaining stubborn unbelievers.”[5]

As Arnaldo Momigliano notes, “if there were men who recommended tolerance and peaceful coexistence of Christians and pagans, they were rapidly crowded out.”[6] Certainly, by 384 when the Pagan senator Symmachus directed just this appeal to St. Jerome, it was refused. As MacMullen observes, by that point “it was really too late to speak of toleration.”[7]


We know this with a certainty because Origen admits that Celsus remarked on it, how the Pagan scholar expressed the amazement of polytheists at the “murderous intolerance” of Christianity.[8] This is a murderous intolerance we have seen for ourselves, and are exposed to daily, even as Religious Right figures complain they are being presented as hate peddlers and extremists.

But what is more extreme than religious intolerance unless it is murder in a god’s name?

Thomas Jefferson was pointing toward centuries of Christian intolerance when he wrote, “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”[9]

According to one scholar, Christian intolerance has consumed “at least a million people per century” over the past two millennia.[10] This is a staggering bill to have been paid by not only the world’s other religions, but by fellow Christians, who were as often as not victims of their own religion.

But Islam, we are told, is the enemy. From a historical perspective, this claim does not hold water unless all religions which hold claim to some capital-T Truth are also held accountable. And yes, I am looking at Christianity.

Moderate Christians can say the Religious Right does not speak for them, and that it is not, in any case, really Christianity at all. But if the Religious Right is not really Christianity, then it is up to the real Christians to do more than remain silent on the matter, as has so often happened in history when the silent (and peaceful) majority is confronted by a hateful and violent minority.

As Momigliano said, “if there were men who recommended tolerance and peaceful coexistence of Christians and pagans, they [are] rapidly crowded out.” This, while the opportunity still exists, would be a good time for those peaceful Christians to speak up.


[1] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 15.
[2] Peter Brown, “St. Augustine’s Attitude to Religious Coercion,” JRS

54 (1964), 110.
[3] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 159 n. 6.
[4] Augustine, Ep. 91.3.
[5] MacMullen (1984), 19.
[6] Arnaldo Momigliano, “Pagan and Christian Historiography in the Fourth Century A.D.” in A. Momigliano (ed), The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), 80.
[7] MacMullen (1997), 12.
[8] Origen, C. Cel. 3.10 and 12. See also Ammianus 22.5.4.
[9] Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia, Query XVII, The Different Religions Received into the State” The Works of Thomas Jeffersion, Paul L. Ford, ed. (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. IV: 296.
[10] Gerd Lüdemann, The Acts of the Apostles, 383.

View Comments

  • every religion has a true God. All true God's. The only true God's. Every belief system, whether it is a belief in a deity or a belief that there is no deity declares itself to be true.

    This can only foster one thing. Hate, death, suspicion, cruelty and just about anything else you can name. Under no circumstances does it reach for the commonality of life that we all share.

    The constant grasping for power in the name of a deity brings this world absolutely nothing. It brings wealth to those in power, and it brings hardship, stress and the promise of horror if you do not follow.

    Fortunately, it is my belief that in the end, religion will be the death of itself

    • Addendum:
      I do disagree with your belief that religion will be the death of itself.

      In my judgment, Organized Religion would stop at nothing! to preserve and grow itself. It never has. It never will. And there will always be a multitude of sheep to thumbs-up its sordid depredations, and fill its pews.

      • Probably very true. But I think in time, people will see what it is and forsake it. Leaving it to be a minor cog in the wheel

    • This line in the 3rd paragraph tells all Shiva.
      "constant grasping for power in the name of deity"
      It's always about power, and threat.

    • You are incorrect stating that all religions believe they are right and have the only truth, unless you are claiming that merely choosing to believe in something automatically denies everyone else's belief. I am a neo- Pagan, a Witch, and a modern Druid. There are many different religions, personal beliefs, and spiritual practices under the umbrella of Paganism, among them Wicca (of several denominations), Witchcraft, Asatru, Druidry (also several denominations), and many more, as well as eclectic which implies you made up your own recipe of personal practice. To us there are an infinite number of paths to the top of the mountain and all are valid, be it mono, duo, poly, pan, heno, or non-theist (atheist). It works and no one wants to convert or kill anyone else, not even intolerant non-Pagans.

  • I would have chosen a different picture for Christian Peaceful Co-Existence. Those two are the absolute worst example.

  • The secular laws in our country are the only thing that separates us from becoming another country where radical religious beliefs allow for murder of innocents.

  • While I respect the angst expressed by my sister naming herself "Shiva," I have to respectfully disagree with the statement. (Not every "religion" has a "true god" only one claims it - The Book)
    Religion has nothing to do with the perpetuation of hate on which humanity feeds. Humans have been blaming "religion" since they jumped out of the trees in the Rift valley and began to slaughter with abandon. Easy excuse - blame it on anything but "me and mine" - well, until "mine" decides to cross "me."
    ISIS has no more to do with religion than US' 5 yr old's pathetic warhawk dick-waving; or Obama's neocon "might equals right" for the glory of his master's (MIC) pleasure or Palinite NPD.
    Religion gets used to rally those too stupid to look beyond their own image of despicable diseased form - the false flag of self-adoration.
    Dogmatic deification is no more than self-adoration in denial of truth-Exceptionalist Bloodlust is bloodlust no matter how it's disguised.

  • There is only one God and there is only one Kingdom of God which is joy, peace and righteousness made possible through the death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus who makes us understand that a man must be born of the Spirit because flesh and blood cannot inherit His Kingdom. Repentance from sin, receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and following Him daily in obedience to His will and word, living in a state of loving submission to His purpose of conforming His children to the perfect, sinless Image of Christ is our only way of entering His Kingdom. Don't be deceived. There is no sin in the Kingdom of God and never shall be. If a man sows to the flesh he will reap only death and corruption. If he sows to the Holy Spirit, he will reap eternal life and the precious blood of Jesus will cleanse from all sin. Today is the day of salvation. If you are aware of your sin, don't let your foolish pride harden your heart. Why would you die? Turn to the marvelous light of His grace and liv...

    • Yeah yeah, and the Hindus have true gods, Islam has a true god and 1000's of religions that have went and will come will have true gods.

      If you lived in India you would be telling us about the joys of the Hindu gods.

    • You obviously have quite a bit more bible & religion than I have, however, doesn't the so called "good book" also say there are many rooms in my father's house and many paths that lead to the gates of heaven? Even if the gate itself is narrow.

      We do need to agree to disagree about different religions, except when it comes to the Extremists. People need to respect other "religious gods".

      It is only by chance are you born/baptized a Christian. It is only fate that your soul wasn't born in a Middle Easter Muslim who is praying for Death to America.

      Unfortunately, if the masses cannot control the extremists, I am afraid that their extremism or our fear of them will kill everyone.

      As mother nature gives us more storms, the ocean's rise, the mountains spew ash and the ground quakes more fiercely --- fate will put a nuke under the control of an extremist (theirs or ours, it won't matter) at some point in the next generation.

      Then all the various God's will ...

  • Religious coexistence in the US is only made possible by our laws. At the heart of both Christianity and Islam is the belief they are the Master Religion and proselytizing is ingrained in their teachings. By their very nature coexistence is not a viable option. The so called moderates in both these religions really aren't religious in the first place but rather blindly following tradition.

  • CBS bans "Unabashed Atheist" ad
    Here are words deemed too offensive by CBS, to be spoken by Ron Reagan:

    Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.

  • "Santorum told the Daily Beast the other day that Christianity has set aside the whole conversion “by the sword” routine..."

    Really? Then what about the extremists inside and outside our military, who promoted military bibles, who pushed for troops to convert to their faith and to see their missions as a "fight for Jesus", and who required troops to attend prayer meetings, services, etc.? I seem to recall them being mighty upset on several occasions when judges ruled this was wrong, and when the Pentagon said likewise and changed policies on it.

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