Which is Worse, Islam or Christianity?

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Atheism, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Islam, Religion
Tags: , , ,

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities,  it’s only natural that many people will conclude that Islam is inherently worse than Christianity. But is it? Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for its enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners (“paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations).

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

Currently, Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to terrorize abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648)  for religiously motivated (Catholics vs. Protestants)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze  attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

* * *

(During this coming week we’ll put up posts on the reasons for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and sane ways of dealing with it — and what’s likely to happen instead.)

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Comments
  1. Over the last two thousand odd years, atrocities have occurred due to the beliefs of followers of both religions. Both have bad elements and extremists that twist the teachings into something that goes against mainstream thinking.

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  2. Take a look at Christ in the gospels. He never hurt anyone. The atrocities you mention are not fundamental New Testament Christian beliefs. They are abuses of those beliefs for the sake of selfish power. Atrocities are however a fundamental doctrine of Islamic belief and not an abuse of it. The Islamic moderates deviate from Islamic fundamentals of doctrine.
    It is not subject to evolution by culture.
    You are confusing Fundamental doctrines of Christian Biblical doctrine with abuses of it.

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    • Unless I’m mistaken, the Old Testament is still part of the Bible, and Jesus said he wouldn’t change one jot or tittle of it. The point remains that there are plenty of passages in the Bible (see, especially, Leviticus) that are direct commands to commit murder and mayhem. The more literally believers take the Bible or Koran, the more likely they are to follow the horrendous commands in them. Decent people pick and choose the passages that are humane; fanatics pick the passages that serve to justify their being vicious to others.

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  3. Jim says:

    I have to take issue with this. We could argue all day about whether Christianity or Islam has the highest body count but that’s missing the point.

    Islam is fairly prevalent in third world countries that are either being exploited by the west directly or ruled by dictators enabled by the west. These are people who have crap lives and religion is literally the only thing they have of their own. When some elitist asshole in Paris makes a cartoon mocking the only thing that helps them keep their sanity, big surprise, someone is going to get violent.

    Free speech is a fine luxury in our world. We don’t usually get shelled on the way to work or school. Most of us don’t get arrested and tortured or beheaded for saying the wrong thing. Sadly, there are a lot of people that don’t live in our sort of world.

    As for slavery, we still have that in the US, it’s called the for-profit prison industry and the war-on-drugs. We lock up black and hispanic people for selling drugs and use them to make license plates or whatever for pennies an hour.

    For the record, I’m absolutely not defending murderous actions, genital mutilation, burkhas, etc., just pointing out there’s a lot of blame to go around.

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    • There’s no argument that Muslims have gotten screwed by the western imperial powers, especially over the last century. But that doesn’t excuse cold-blooded murder. And Islam provides the rationale for that murder.

      And, frankly, it’s in extremely poor taste to refer to murder victims as “elitist asshole[s].” First off, how do you know that they were elitists? Or were you just slinging mud? This comment says a hell of a lot more about you than about them.

      And, gosh, I never realized that free speech is a “luxury.” Some of us consider it absolutely essential to human freedom, to human dignity. You very evidently don’t. Without getting into a long discussion about why free speech is absolutely necessary, there’s no more to be said here. I value free speech very highly. You very evidently don’t.

      Your comment about slavery in the U.S. penal system is odd, presenting info on it as if it were something I hadn’t mentioned. As anyone can see, I very deliberately pointed out its existence in the section on slavery in this piece. You’re evidently playing the old false-dichotomy game, trying to excuse enslavement of innocents by Muslim fanatics (who justify it with their “sacred” scripture) by saying that the situation in the U.S. is worse. Any decent person would oppose slavery always and everywhere–not attempt to let some slavers off the hook by pointing at other slavers and saying “they’re worse.”

      After reading your comments, I feel like going and taking a shower.

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  4. […] Which is Worse, Islam or Christianity? […]

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