Letters and Replies: Jesus and Violence

Craig Biddle answers a letter about whether Jesus calls for violence against unbelievers.

To the Editor:

I greatly appreciated Craig Biddle’s article on the Ground Zero mosque, which treated the issue with a depth and completeness that has been lacking in public conversations. I do, however, take issue with one sentence in the article. As part of his argument for the inherently violent nature of religion, Biddle writes, “in the New Testament, Jesus says, ‘Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me’ (Luke 19:27).” While Biddle’s criticism of religion in the article is generally well reasoned, using this verse from the Bible to insinuate that Jesus commanded his disciples to commit murder is a cheap shot. This verse is part of a parable that Jesus is telling to his disciples. The words are those of a character in the parable, not a command of Jesus. Jesus is no more guilty of commanding his disciples to commit murder here than Biddle is by quoting this passage.

Jason Eriksen
Corona, California

Craig Biddle replies:

Mr. Eriksen is correct that the quoted verse is part of a parable, namely the Parable of the Pounds, that Jesus told his disciples. Jesus frequently taught by means of parables; in fact, the method was central to his teaching. And his parables, like all parables, are not meant to be taken literally; they are meant to be interpreted.

In the Parable of the Pounds, Jesus tells of a man who was to be king, his servants, and his subjects. After becoming king, the man praises and rewards some of his servants for having obeyed his orders, chastises and punishes one of his servants for disobeying his orders, and then orders his servants to round up the subjects who did not want him to be king and kill them in front of him: “Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

Now, one could take this parable as a threat about the stakes of Judgment Day, or one could take it as an (indirect) injunction for Jesus’ followers to kill those who refuse to accept their proper king as their king. I take it as the latter—as have countless Christians throughout history, which is part of the reason why they have killed so many people who refused to accept Christ as their Savior.

This meaning of the parable dovetails with other statements from Jesus, such as, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), and “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). The latter of these is also both a warning and an incitement: Following the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Such verses fueled the burnings of “heretics” and “witches” throughout the Dark and Middle Ages, and on through the Salem Witch Trials. (The fact that such statements contradict other statements in the Bible does not negate the existence or meaning of the statements; it simply shows that the Bible makes no sense.)

Either Jesus’ parables are to be interpreted or they are not. If they are, then historical and acted-upon interpretations are on the table. If they are not to be interpreted—if they are just to be taken as pointless, inconsequential stories with no meaning beyond their literal meaning—then Christianity loses most of its content.

More important than the content of the scriptures, however, is the method demanded by all religions, including Christianity. Acceptance of ideas on the basis of faith necessarily leads to force. As I wrote in my article,

there is no such thing as a “religion of peace”—and this point goes deeper than the content of religious scriptures. Even if the scriptures of a particular religion called for nothing but loving one’s enemies, the fact would remain that the fundamental requirement of religion is faith—the acceptance of ideas in support of which there is no evidence—and faith leads ultimately to force.

Man’s only means of settling disputes and disagreements peacefully is reason. When and to the extent that someone claims to have a means of knowledge other than reason—whether faith or ESP or any other form of “just knowing”—he abandons man’s only means of settling disputes peacefully and concedes that matters of right and wrong will have to be settled by force. If a man takes the position “I know that I should beat my wife, because I have faith that this is true,” he thereby eliminates the possibility that anyone, including his wife, can explain to him why this precept is false and evil. Having decided to accept the idea apart from evidence and in defiance of logic, he has, by his own choice, made himself impervious to reason and thus the equivalent of a wild animal—who might or might not attack at any moment. The fact that such a self-demoted animal retains the ability to spread his creed and use weapons makes him all the more dangerous.

Regardless of anyone’s interpretation of a given religious parable or scripture, religions—all religions—are philosophies of force.

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