Religious Terrorism: Killing in the Name of God


Terrorism is broadly defined as the use of violent and often deadly force aimed at innocent civilians in order to create fear, resulting in social disorder and paralysis. There are several obvious examples of terroristic acts, such as hijacking planes, shooting and bombing non-combatants (innocent men, women and children); beheading them; kidnapping or holding them hostage.

Terrorism is usually associated with the political, religious or ideological goals of either individuals or groups, such as religious organizations and governments. In this article, I shall be discussing religious terrorism.

The Crusades as an Example of Religious Terrorism

The Crusades, wars fought in the name of Jesus Christ against Islam, were examples of religious terrorism. To this day, they remain an embarrassment to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, namely, the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia (Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 1991) says that there were eight major Crusades, beginning from about 1095 and ending around 1270 C.E.

The purpose of the Crusades was to drive out the Muslims from Palestine, the Holy Land. For their part, the popes wanted to make Palestine a Christian kingdom. But, ultimately, their attempts failed, because Catholics lost the religious wars. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the Crusades.

Catholics killed Muslims in the name of Jesus and Muslims killed Catholics in the name of Allah. Is it not a contradiction to Christianity for a Catholic to say, in effect, to a Muslim, “I love Jesus but I will kill you.” Similarly, is it not a contradiction to Islam to say, in effect, to a Christian, I love Allah but I will kill you.”

Latin Christians Killing Greek Christians

In 1204, the merchants in Venice helped to finance the Fourth Crusade. The Crusaders were headed to Egypt. They took a detour through Constantinople (modern day Istanbul in northern Turkey). It was adorned with works of art from ancient Greece and masterpieces of exquisite craftsmanship.

However, the Crusaders, especially those from Venice, pillaged the city of Constantinople, carrying off both sacred and secular treasures of art for their own towns and churches. In his article “The Great Divorce,” Mark Galli says, “Mobs of soldiers rushed down the streets and through the houses. They snatched everything that glittered and destroyed whatever they could not carry – neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. Estates and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. They paused only to murder or to rape or to break open wine-cellars for refreshment. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Bleeding women and children lay dying in the streets.”

Alongside the already existing Greek patriarchs or bishops in Antioch and Jerusalem, the Crusaders set up rival Latin or Roman Catholic patriarchs. In his book The Orthodox Church (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981), Orthodox historian John Meyendorff notes that with the approval of Pope Innocent III, Thomas Morosini, a patriarch from Venice, was installed on the throne of the patriarch of Constantinople.

Orthodox scholar Timothy Ware, in his book The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1964) comments, “What shocked the Greeks more than anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege of the Crusades. How could men who had especially dedicated themselves to God’s service treat the things of God in such a way?”

Greek Christians Killing Latin Christians

However, earlier, in 1182 C.E., Greek or Orthodox Christians massacred Latin or Roman Catholic Christians in Constantinople, killing thousands of them: young and old, priests and monks. Children and unborn children were cut out of the wombs of their mothers and killed. The corpses of Christians were exhumed and treated disgracefully. The Western Christians who did not die were sold as slaves by the Greeks to the Turkish people.

Both Western and Eastern Christians, the Latins and the Greeks, were wrong for killing each other, because Jesus never taught his followers lex talionis, that is, the “law of retaliation,” “an eye for an eye.” No matter what justification may be offered for such killings, they are clearly wrong and deserve categorical and unequivocal condemnation by believers and non-believers.

An Apology for Christianity

Critics of the Christian religion are right when they say that the Crusades were wrong. However, the Crusades do not prove that there is no God. Nor do they demonstrate that the Christian religion itself is evil. However, the Crusades do teach that believers in Jesus have the potential to be evil — just as much as anyone else. Believers are — to borrow a phrase from the Reformers or early Protestants — simul justus et peccator or “at the same time, just and sinner.”

The On-Going Need for Reformation

Just as governments, corporations and politicians can be morally corrupt, so can churches. When that happens, they need to be purified or corrected, with a change in leadership. To hide or deny moral corruption in the church, when it is actually there, is to bring the Christian religion into further disrepute, thus driving away from the Christian faith anyone who might be interested in examining the claims of the New Testament.