Not All Ideologies That Justify Treating Others Poorly Are Religious

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It would be fair to say there are many things about Christianity that bother me. One that ranks high is how Christians have justified atrocities committed against non-Christians. Isn't any worldview that accomplishes that mission so well worth critical examination?

The Crusades were a "holy" war against Muslims. The only justification needed was that the Muslims had different religious beliefs. The burning of heretics and "witches" was necessary for the same reason. What of the genocidal manifest destiny inflicted on native Americans? They were "savages" who refused Jesus. Slavery? Weren't they better off as slaves than worshiping false gods? Modern-day gay-bashing? They are an abomination, and this god needs humans to do its dirty work.

Christianity Is What Christians Do

Again and again, Christians use their Christian beliefs to justify atrocities. The "but they aren't real Christians" claim falls apart, refuted by history. At some level, don't we have to acknowledge that Christianity is what Christians do? Based on their history, Christians do atrocities. Christians do murder, torture, and even genocide.

They do all these things while using Christianity to justify their actions. They've often claimed that their actions were what their god wanted. This has helped them eradicate the sort of guilt that might get in the way.

But why allow "a few bad apples" to taint the whole of Christianity? That isn't what I'm suggesting. This is not a problem of bad apples, and we have far more than a few. It is hard to take an honest look at the history of Christianity and not see some problems. For every Christian abolitionist, we find someone who used Christianity to justify slavery.

The use of Christianity to justify horrible things isn't limited to our past either. We have many vivid examples of it happening now. Consider Christian Nationalism in the United States today. Whatever else it is, it is difficult to argue that it has no connection to Christianity. It is yet another use of Christianity to justify the unjustifiable.

Christianity Is Not the Only Offender

If Christianity was unique in these respects, we could condemn it and move on. We don't have that luxury, though. Christianity is not the only worldview that justifies bad behavior. It is not the only worldview that shields bad actors from guilt. It isn't even the only worldview that leads to dehumanization.

Plenty of other religions do these things. So do some ideologies that are not overtly religious. Finding ways to get people to do horrible things without guilt is always in someone's interest.

One claim one hears on the political left is that persons of color cannot be racist against whites. The reasoning behind this emphasizes "punching up." In essence, whites are oppressors at the helm of long-standing structural racism. The oppressed must rise up and do whatever is necessary. Is it any wonder that some whites have expressed concern about such an ideology?

Much like Christianity, this ideology excuses racism based on the target. If whites are the target, it is not racism. Twitter rants that would be racist if directed elsewhere are okay if the targets are white. And like Christianity, this ideology sometimes promotes such behavior. It might even be a noble effort to right past wrongs or promote social justice.

We Don't Seem to Want to Treat "Them" Well

In the abstract, many would agree that the world would be better if we could learn to treat one another better. We know "we" deserve better, but what about "them?" They should be nicer to us, but we're entitled to be less nice to them. After all, they are flawed in some important way. If only we could convince ourselves that they deserve whatever harm we'd like to deliver to them.

It is easy to get caught up in questions like whether someone with a history of racist tweets should be rewarded with a job at The New York Times. These are questions we could ask. There may be a more fundamental question. Why are we so determined to create ideologies to justify our mistreatment of others? Why do so few of us seem to recognize how dangerous this is?

Christianity may indeed be a problem, but it is far from the only problem. We have developed plenty of other ways to justify treating others as we'd like to treat them.

I don't have any simple answers for how we overcome our tendency to justify our poor treatment of others. I'll suggest that discussing it is a place to start. It might be harder to hide that way. We often justify our mistreatment of others without realizing what we are doing. Calling attention to it could make it more difficult to sustain. If we were more intentional, we'd be less likely to descend into our darker tendencies.