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The Crusades: Wanton Religious Violence?

gb-starkThe Crusades are often cited as the prime example of the evils of religion and of Christianity specifically. The picture is often painted of an innocent world on which Christians came in violent fervor, raping and pillaging as they went. But this picture of the Crusades is inaccurate on a number of levels. Here, I’ll explore the historical context of the Crusades with an eye towards seeing why they occurred. I’ll wrap it up with a discussion on violence and religion.

The Historical Context of the Crusades

The Crusades were not just some bubbling up of violence latent within all religions. Instead, they were part of a history of conquest across the Asian and European continents. Prior to the Crusades, there was a sweeping conquest by the Muslims of territory formerly possessed by various Christian nations.

Muslim invasions had pressed in on all sides. Rodney Stark, in his extremely important work on the Crusades, God’s Battalions, notes the conquests which had pressed in on Europe from all sides. After surveying a number of Muslim conquests, he notes:

Many critics of the Crusades would seem to suppose that after the Muslims had overrun a major portion of Christendom, they should have been ignored or forgiven… This outlook is certainly unrealistic and probably insincere. Not only had the Byzantines lost most of their empire, the enemy was at their gates… (32-33)

Prior to the Crusades, it is absolutely essential to note that the invaders were, quite literally, at the gates. Constantinople was threatened in the East, and Spain was overthrown in the West. Europe was under assault. The map below illustrates the situation in the time during and before the Crusades well.

The question of the Crusades must be understood within this historical setting: much of the land which European countries had controlled had been taken, by force. Furthermore, those who had taken these lands were knocking on the very gates of Europe, having already crossed into Europe in many places. Stark’s words, therefore, seem to ring true: is it really genuine to assume that these invaders should have been ignored or forgiven? Is that the reality of “secular” nations? It seems to me the very fact that so much land had been lost, as well as so much wealth, would lead many to war for “secular” reasons rather than religious reasons.


Regarding the beginning of the Crusades, Stark writes:

[T]hat’s when it all [The Crusades] started–in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt, and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. (9)

So the Crusades were not unprovoked mass murders of innocents. But they were indeed quite brutal, and involved no small amount of very un-Christian activities. Raping and pillaging has no part in the Christian worldview. But Stark once again has a sobering point: war was hell. “[I]t was a brutal and intolerant age” (29). The criticism of brutality equally applies to both sides, but it is also equally anachronistic about the realities of that time. This is not to say that the horrors which occurred were not awful; it is to say that to criticize the Crusaders or Muslims as though they were doing something extraordinarily brutal for their time period is extremely short-sighted.

The Crusades as a Polemic Device

The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. Like virtually any part of human history, both good and evil intentions and outcomes were involved. To view the Crusades as either an entirely evil affair showing how religion is ultimately prone to violence or as a benevolent attempt by loving people to liberate lands that were rightfully theirs is to grossly oversimplify the historical reality. Unfortunately, modern looks at the Crusades have largely leaned towards the former of these positions, without any acknowledgement of the historical context as noted above.

Instead, the Crusades were a complex of historical events which were often brutal, often provoked, and never motivated for just one reason. To say that the Crusades are a typical example of the violence of religion is, frankly, ahistorical. Was religion involved? Yes. Were there even “religious reasons” involved in the motivations for the Crusades? Clearly. But the general movement with recent attacks on Christianity has been to argue that the Crusades were purely religious instances of religious brutality. The historical perspective provided above provides evidence against that limited perspective.

The Crusades have been used as a kind of polemic device against Christianity. Whenever it is argued that Christianity is reasonable, someone inevitably brings up this historical period. Readers will note that this historical perspective has not attempted to explain away the Crusades. Instead, I have argued for the notion that these events were historically complex, involving a number of factors beyond purely war for the sake of a faith.

As Keith Ward has noted:

It is… beyond dispute that the Crusades were a major disaster… The Crusades can be seen as justified defense… but their conduct and continuance rapidly became unjustifiable on any Christian principles. (68-69, Is Religion Dangerous? cited below)

The point is simple: there were many motivations behind the Crusades, some of them justified. Yet in carrying out the Crusades, many horrible actions were taken which were unjustifiable. Does this somehow disprove Christianity? Not on Christianity’s own principles, on which we expect to see people acting as sinner-saints in the process of sanctification.

Crusade The Taking of BeirutReligious and Secular Violence

Apart from the historical outline given here, there is another, equally important point: the dichotomy between religious violence and secular violence is simply a myth. The reason for this is because human actions are far more complex in their motivations than a simple dichotomy of one or the other reason. In our everyday experience, we know that the decisions we make are very rarely made for only one reason.

Oddly, Stark is able to note that “many historians have urged entirely material, secular explanations for the early Muslim conquests…” (13). This, in contrast to the many historians and new atheists who continue to press that the Crusades were entirely religious in their provocations. The unfortunate truth this reveals is the very human tendency to simplify history beyond the point of breaking. Human actions, particularly corporate human actions, have extremely complex motivations behind them. They are not all-or-nothing affairs which happen due to one reason or another. Very often we make decisions for a combination of reasons of differing strengths, weighing options against each other whether we realize it or not.

By utilizing the Crusades as a rhetorical device–a polemic weapon–many have done damage to the historical events themselves. Worse, they have engaged in faulty reasoning and attacked the religious other due to their own emotional hatred. The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. They were affairs of human history. To forget that is to drown them in a sea of obfuscation. Let us get beyond simple polemical attacks on the “other.” Let us instead engage in honest history and dialogue with our neighbors.


The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy– I explore the notion that religion is violent and argue that one of the major difficulties with this notion is that the distinction between secular/religious is a myth.

For an interesting exploration of some aspects of Muslim Philosophy, see my book review: The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

Essential reading: Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Pacifism, Matthew 5, and “Turning the other cheek”– Glenn Andrew Peoples discusses pacifism in the Christian tradition and some of the arguments in its favor. Ultimately, he finds these arguments wanting.


Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Keith Ward, Is Religion Dangerous? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Image Credit:

The image of the map is from this page with free resources for instructors. I do not claim credit for this image, nor do I claim that the makers of this resource in any way endorse this post.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts: 11/09/2012

I have featured literary apologetics, apologetics to Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, geocreationism, and more. Check out the posts. Let me know what you liked. Come back for more.

Elves, Orcs, and Freaks: The Shared Authorial Vision of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor– Garret Johnson has written a very interesting look into the works of Tolkien and O’Connor. He notes that they viewed fiction as reality from a different outlook. It’s a fascinating post, and there is a second part, which can be viewed here.

An Encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness– It is easy for Christians to slam their doors on those who come door-to-door. What if, instead, we engaged them? This post is a model for engagement and provides some ways forward to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Day After: My Thoughts on the Presidential Election– Michael Licona, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, one of the best books I’ve read on the resurrection of Jesus, offers his thoughts after the election.

Human Footprints in Dinosaur Footprints– Over at GeoCreationism (a highly recommended site), Mike addresses the notion that human and dinosaur footprints have been found together or side by side. Some argue that this supports young earth creationism. Mike explores the paleontological evidence.

Meet the Multiverse– Edgar Andrews, author of what I think is the best introduction to Christian apologetics with a scientific emphasis, Who Made God?, explores the notion of the multiverse and whether it offers a challenge to the Fine Tuning argument for the existence of God. Regarding said argument, I’ve written on it in my post on the teleological argument.

Did Jesus Claim to be Divine? (Answering Islam)– I found this look at answering Muslim objections to the deity of Christ refreshing. It offers an essentially presuppositional approach, which I have found to be very useful when engaging with Muslims. Check it out.

Really Recommended Posts 10/12/12

Another great run around the internet today. I noticed that this edition of Really Recommended Posts has a lot on Christianity and Science, Islam, and religious or activist violence. Abortion, biochemistry, the Qur’an, violence in Islam, Mitt Romney, and more are all featured. Check out the posts. If you like them, let me know.

Cataloging the Historical Anachronisms in the Qur’an– Does the Qur’an potray accurately the period that it purports to describe in historical narrative? It does not seem so. Check out some of the anachronisms which crept in.

New peer-reviewed paper in Nature falsifies Darwinian junk DNA prediction– Darwinian Evolution has long used the notion of “junk DNA” as confirmation of its naturalistic processes. However, recent study has confirmed one of the predictions of the Intelligent Design movement: this supposed junk DNA would prove to be useful. I don’t claim to be a scientist at all, but I find this very intriguing. Check out the article.

Hey Atheists, Just Shut Up Please [LANGUAGE WARNING]- I found this article very interesting. An atheist discusses how people can tend to hate the “other” in their over-enthusiastic attempts to refute them. I was pleased with the article in general, but be aware that there is some strong language there. I myself have written about how religion is often used as a mechanism to hate the “religious other.”

Would a Romney presidency boost Mormonism?– Some Christians have come out saying they are afraid to vote for Romney because it would boost Mormonism. A pastor responds briefly to these claims.

Why Abolition Must be Non-Violent– The Abolish Human Abortion blog discusses why we in the pro-life movement must not resort to violence. The struggle is between worldviews, and pro-life persons cannot say they are pro-life while using violence.

Modern Muslims Who Choose the Path of Violence– Nabeel Qureshi discusses violence in Islam and the fact that Islam is not monolithic. The important thing to think about is how and when Islam turns violent. As I have emphasized elsewhere, religion and violence must be analyzed empirically, not with a mind towards demonizing the religious “other.”

Yes, the media does deliberately misrepresent and demonize creationists– Readers of my blog know I do not hold to a young-earth position. However, like Glenn Andrew Peoples I am still offended when the media blatantly misrepresents my Christian brothers and sisters. Check out this thoughtful post.

The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy

The myth of religious violence should finally be seen for what it is: an important part of the folklore of Western societies. It does not identify any facts about the world, but rather authorizes certain arrangements of power in the modern West… The myth also helps identify Others and enemies, both internal and external, who threaten the social order and who provide the requisite villains against which the nation-state is said to protect us. (William Cavanaugh, 226, cited below)

I recently discussed a phenomenal work by William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence. It has forced me to rethink a number of issues. The fact of the matter is that although that which we generally term “religious” often may be involved in violence, the categories of “secular” and “religious” are themselves social constructs which have been used in the West to stigmatize the religious Other.

The Myth Played Out

The religious other is said to be violent. Religions cause violence due to their scary propensity to link with irrationality, absolutism, and divisive. Religion caused wars and chaos. Religious persons engaged in wars for God over nothing but minute doctrinal differences raged across the time of the reformation and at other times as well. The rise of the secular nation-state and the squelching of religion in the public square allowed for the cessation of violence and for man to live in peace. Such goes the myth of religious violence. Cavanaugh refers to this myth as a “creation myth” of the nation-state (123).

Notice the themes that run through any discussion of religion and violence. The general theme is that religion causes division through doctrinal matters. Because person A believes x and person B believes y, they argue, Furthermore, because neither x nor y has sufficient rational grounds for A and B to resolve the issue, they must fight in order to determine is right. After all, religion deals with absolutes. A and B square off about salvation–their eternal souls are at stake!

Often, religious persons are tempted to come back and counter that those who are non-religious are often violent too. However, this is itself a reaction to the same factors that drive the notion of religious violence. Namely, the myth of religious violence is used to stigmatize the Other. It constructs temporary categories of “religious” and “secular,” groups people based upon that, and then delegates the worst types of violence to that which is called religious. The myth is part of the justification for the nation-state and nationalism. The Nation is that which protects us from the Others in our own society. Without the protection of the State, we would turn to violence to try to subjugate others for our own purposes. Therefore, the State becomes a sacred object. Its symbols become cultic objects, and we ritualize specific aspects of the State. After all, the Nation is our savior from violence of religion. People will willingly lay their lives down in the name of their country, but for their religion? Certainly not! The State is worth dying for because it defends all people, but a religion is an internalized, personal object.

Thus, those things deemed religious are stigmatized and forced into the personal sphere, while those deemed secular are allowed for public debate. As such, specific aspects of a person’s worldview are forcibly separated and parsed. The religious person is expected to act “secular” when it comes to the public sphere, but is allowed to do whatever he wishes in the private realm. The problems quickly become clear.

Religion as a Myth

Religion itself is a social construct. I have seen this personally in a number of works dealing with “religion.” Rarely do authors attempt anything more than a working definition, and even then the definitions do little to outline real differences between that which is “secular” and that which is “religion.” The definitions are either extremely vague or too specific.

A survey of literature on religion shows that this problem is pervasive. The problem is with the notion of religion itself as a category that can somehow cordon off that which is secular. It may be much more useful to speak simply of ideologies or worldviews. Thus, a side-by-side comparison of differing worldviews can indeed be made. There is no fast and hard distinction between secular and religious, for such a distinction is nothing but arbitrary.

How does one define religion in such a way that Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam all somehow fit while Marxism, Communism, Nationalism, and the like do not? It seems an impossible task. Some who read my site may notice that I frequently file things under “philosophy of religion” [including this post!]. I’m not suggesting that “religion” is an entirely useless word. What I’m suggesting here is that we must admit that the category is a construction, pure and simple. When I use “religion,” I use it pragmatically to review to an arbitrarily dilineated set of worldviews. Ultimately, “philosophy of religion” is a philosophy of worldviews: putting them side by side for comparison.

By challenging the reigning paradigm of religion as a real, transcultural, category we may thus turn to the question of violence, rationality, and the like as an empirical, philosophical, and existential study. By stripping away the prejudices that come up when someone uses the word “religious” or “secular,” we may focus upon the actual data at hand. Regarding the question of violence, we can ask questions like: “In what circumstances will worldview turn to violence?” or “Is worldview more prone to violence than others?” As such, extremism like that of Marxism which has killed untold millions with an atheistic paradigm can be set up alongside extremism like that of Islamicism. Thus, categories outside of “religion” can be used to analyze these cases. Surely divisiveness, absolutism, and irrationality are involved in both cases? What causes them to arise? How do we slow that tide? How do we reason with the Other?

The category “religion” is a construct of the person utilizing it. As such, it can be wielded as a weapon. And, I charge, that is exactly what the category “religion” has been used for.

Controlling the Other

Those who argue that religion causes violence are, in particular, wielding the phrase as a weapon. The religious Other is irrational, violent, and to be feared. It is “us” or “them.”  One can observe this in the literature. Some endorse violence against specific religions just because they assume that the myth of religious violence will apply to the view at large.

It is this kind of mentality that the construct of religion perpetuates. It is the Other which we must fear. We, who are rational, need to fear the irrational Other. The Other causes violence, they cannot be reasoned with, and they want absolutist control over society.

The key to this discussion is that the notion of a hard line between “secular” and “religious” is a social construct. The notion of religion is indeed a construction.

The myth of religion is therefore one step towards the myth of religious violence. The key is to construct a “religious other” who is irrational, divisive, and dangerous. Thus, we can feel free to stigmatize and fear this Other. We need to make sure that the Other does not threaten us, and indeed part of this may be to use violence against the Other. After all, they are incapable of reasoning and will not listen to our sound arguments. The only thing they are capable of understanding is violence, which they have used to try to subjugate us to their views.

It is in this way that the myth is used most dangerously. The religious other is a fearsome enemy, one who must be avoided and perhaps even destroyed in order to prevent one’s own destruction. By perpetuating the notion of religion as a transcultural, transhistorical, real entity distinct from that which is secular, the possibility is made to make the religious other the enemy, while glorifying those categories which one decides are not religious. It undermines the empirical study of the way violence comes about on particular worldviews.

An Alternative Way Forward

Rather than using the category of “religion” in order to stigmatize, I suggest that we instead discuss “worldviews.” In this way, all worldviews are on the same plain. Violence may arise in certain worldviews more easily than others, whether it is nationalism or a particular worldview which is deemed “religious.” It may be extremely difficult to avoid using the term “religion” so I will not even attempt to do so. The category is a construction, so it can be used as a useful fiction. Because it is indeed a temporal, cultural distinction, I can use “religion” in a meaningful sense so far as when I say it people will tend to think of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and the like.

However, it is just as important to focus upon all worldviews, not those which are somewhat arbitrarily deemed “religious,” when discussing truth claims. As such, it is important to avoid the secular/religious distinction and instead focus upon factual debate and discussion over the coherence of particular views. By doing so, we can advance the discussion about worldviews while avoiding the use of the myth of “religion” to stigmatize the other.


Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T.  Cavanaugh– I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.


William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (New York: Oxford, 2009).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 9/21/12

There are so many fantastic posts out there it has been hard for me to keep up. I actually have another RRP scheduled with all the backlogged posts I’ve run into. Let me know which posts you’ve enjoyed. I feature here a diverse spread of posts. The necessity of apologetics, atheism, the Gospel of Barnabas (!?), young earth creationism, and resisting sin are all featured. Check ’em!

Sarah Geis provides pointers for constructive debate and disagreement– A creative look at how to debate constructively by showing how not to do so.

Why Apologetics Should Be A Requirement For Every Pastor– Fellow Christians, I hope this post convicts you like it convicted me. We need to be doing apologetics. We owe it to our youths, we owe it to the adults in our congregations, and we owe it to ourselves.

Born Atheists?– Yes, you have heard it somewhere. We’re all born atheists. Really? What is that even supposed to mean? I found this post really excellent and it got me thinking. Check it out.

What is the Gospel of Barnabas?– Some Muslims have been claiming that the so-called Gospel of Barnabas falsifies the Christian doctrine of the Son of God. It is not, however, a serious threat. Check out this post to get some great historical information on this attempt to refute Christianity.

Atheism, Agnosticism, and the New Atheists– It never gets old. What does “atheist” mean? Don’t atheists just believe in one fewer god than believers? I’ve written about this topic myself. Check out this great post on the subject.

A Young Earth Chronometer?– One of my favorite websites has recently taken an intense three-part look at the claim that the amount of salt in the ocean is evidence for a young earth. I highly, heartily recommend the site itself to all my readers, Naturalis Historia.

How to Start a Preemptive Strike on a Sinful Inclination– Another one of my favorite and highly recommended sites, No Apologies Allowed, posted this thought-provoking comic about resisting sin.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons

Everyone has their own truth.

What’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me.

All religious backgrounds have a piece of the puzzle.

All roads lead to the same goal.

Pluralism is rampant in our society. People want to affirm everyone’s belief. Tolerance is the buzzword. Few want to talk about the differences in worldviews. It’s easier to affirm everyone’s beliefs as having a place in the interchange of ideas.

Pluralism is the position that all religions are true. This can be qualified in a number of ways. Often, the views are not well-thought out and amount to little more than saying that all ways get to heaven. However, there are thoughtful pluralists with highly developed structures for affirming their professed pluralism. For example, John Hick, a well known proponent of pluralism, writes:

[T]he Transcendent in ‘its’ inner nature is beyond human description or comprehension… it is ineffable or, as I would rather say, transcategorical, beyond the scope of our human concepts. It is to this ultimate transcategorical reality that the religions are oriented and to which they are human responses. (Hick, 163, cited below)

Thus, for Hick and most other pluralists, all religions are oriented towards some kind of Ultimate or Transcendent, from which they derive all of their beliefs. Thus, these pluralists can affirm the notion that all religions are “true” in a qualified sense.

The problem with pluralistic claims is that in their gusto to affirm all religions as true, what they’ve actually done is said that all religions are false. Again, Hick realizes a problem inherent in qualifying religions–and specifically Christianity–such that they can all be true. The problem is that some claim to have stated actual truths about  transcendent reality. In other words, when a theologian claims that God is Triune, they are making a claim about objective reality. But Hick’s proposed solution is to simply place such theological claims into the reports of experiences about the “Real”: “according to our hypothesis, the different traditions are not reporting experiences of the Real in itself, but of its different manifestations within human consciousness” (171, cited below). Unfortunately for pluralists, what this has done is create what I find to be the real problem for pluralists.

The problem is that the pluralist is the only one whose claims about the Real/Transcendent are true.

The presumption of pluralism is that it assumes the invalidity of all religious claims. Only the pluralist can see that all religious claims to exclusivity are false. The exclusive claims of individual religions are dismissed offhand. After all, if all ways are true, then none can be exclusive.

Again, look at the reasoning from Hick: the claims of theologians are not actually claims about the Real itself. Rather, the claims of the theologian apply only to the Real-as-experienced in human consciousness. In other words, those making truth claims about individual religions are only expressing claims about their own subjective experience of an objective reality: the Real.

Thus, the pluralist undermines the truth claims of all religions, while simultaneously trying to affirm them. Only the pluralist is able to look beyond the truth claims of religion and see that when the Muslim claims that Allah is the only God, he is mistakenly reporting his experience as opposed to a claim about reality. Only the pluralist can see that the Christian who claims that Jesus is the only savior, she is only reporting her conscious experience of the Real. The Buddhist who says there is no God is similarly mistaken: perhaps there is? Who knows? Only the pluralist can see that all of these contradictory claims about religious reality are in fact merely the reports of conscious experience of a supra-reality: one which stands above all religions and is the true religion.

The bottom line is that the pluralist has become the exclusivist. Only the pluralist knows the true way. Thus, their system must collapse in on itself. It either relegates all religious claims to become mere reports of human consciousness and thus affirms itself as the only true religion, or it must affirm blatantly contradictory claims like “God exists” and “There is no God” or “Shiva is a god, Vishnu is a god, etc.” and “There is no God but Allah.” The pluralist has presumed much.

If all ways are true, then none are. Pluralism has failed.


Can we evaluate worldviews?– I discuss how to evaluate rival worldviews and outline some criteria by which to do it.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions– I outline a vision for Christians interacting with believers of other faiths. Integral to this approach is understanding others’ beliefs.


John Hick, The New Frontier of Science and Religion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William Cavanaugh

William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence (hereafter MRV) examines the oft-perpetuated notion that religion causes violence. Cavanaugh levels an attack against this notion that comes in two primary directions: 1) He argues that “ideologies and institutions labeled ‘secular’ can be just as violent as those labeled ‘religious'”; 2) He argues that the “twin categories of religious and secular” are constructs which are used to “provide secular social orders with a stock character, the religious fanatic, to serve as enemy” (3-5).

Violence in the name of…

Cavanaugh first turns to the analysis of violence. He argues that rather than just declaring “religion” violent, people should engage in an empirical study. In analyzing various “ideologies, practices, and institutions” like “Islam, Marxism, capitalism, Christianity, nationalism, Confucianism, secularism, Hinduism…” “A careful examination of the varieties of each [worldview] and the empirical conditions under which each does in fact support violence is helpful and necessary. What is not helpful is to divide the above list into religious and secular phenomena and then claim that the former are more prone to violence… such a division is arbitrary and unsustainable on either theoretical or empirical grounds” (16).

Next, Cavanaugh analyzes three ways that religion is supposed to be tied intrinsically to violence. These are that “religion causes violence because it is (1) absolutist, (2) divisive, and (3) insufficiently rational” (17-18). MRV follows several important thinkers who argue from each camp. Cavanaugh concludes that:

[T]here is no doubt that, under certain circumstances, particular construals of Islam or Christianity contribute to violence… Where the above arguments [about the intrinsic ties of religion to violence]–and others like them–fail is in trying to separate a category called religion with a peculiar tendency toward violence from a putatively secular reality that is less prone to violence. There is no reason to suppose that so-called secular ideologies such as nationalism, patriotism, capitalism, Marxism, and liberalism are any less prone to be absolutist, divisive, and irrational than belief in, for example, the biblical God (54-55).

The Myth of Religion

In a very real sense, MRV could just as easily be titled The Myth of Religion. Cavanaugh argues extensively for the conclusion that “Within the west, religion was invented as a transhistorical and transcultural impulse embedded in the human heart, essentially distinct from the public business of government and economic life” (120).

The attempt to define “religion” has “nothing close to agreement among scholars…” (57). In fact, “[t]here is a significant and growing body of scholars… who have been exploring the ways that the very category religion has been constructed in different times and different places… Religion is a constructed category, not a neutral descriptor of a reality that is simply out there in the world” (58). Following Jonathan Z. Smith, Cavanaugh states, “religion is not simply found, but invented. The term religion has been used in different times and places by different people according to different interests” (58).

Cavanaugh argues towards these conclusion through multiple lines of evidence. First, the concept of religion itself is different across different times and places. The Western notion of religion is not mirrored in other cultures (61). Yet even in the west, the concept of what denoted “religion” evolved. The concept was used simply to mean “worship” in the past (63). Through the medieval period, religion basically just meant “rites” or “piety”: religion was “not a universal genus of which Christianity is a particular species” (64-65).

Thus, religion was “invented in the West.” Now it has come to mean a “universal genus of which the various religions are species” (69). Part of this development was due to a need in the Reformation to demarcate differences between the varying schools of thought (72ff). When moderns use the concept religion in a universal fashion, such as Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) did, the problem “is that it is unfalsifiable. In constructing an a priori religion in the minds of all people, Herbert [and those like him] has made his theory impervious to empirical evidence. All evidence is seen and interpreted through the lens of his religious view a priori” (77). “There was a time when religion, as modern people use the term, was not, and then it was invented” (81).

MRV then outlines two ways to define religion, either through a substantavist–one which focuses on the content of religion–or functionalist–which focuses on how a practice functions–approach. The problem with a substantivist definition is that “even if one were able to come up with a coherent, transhistorical, and transcultural definition of religion which would include things like Christianity and Confucianism and Buddhism and exclude things like Marxism and nationalism and capitalism, it would not tell us anything worthwhile about the cuases of violence. Indeed, to exclude [the latter three] a priori from an investigation of violence in the service of ideology in fact distorts the results of any such study” (105). Functionalist definitions fare slightly better because they define religion in such a way that “‘if it looks like a religion and acts like a religion, then it is a religion'” (109). This approach is capable of including things like the American Civil Religion.

Thus, Cavanaugh states that “there is no transhistorical or transcultural concept of religion. Religion has a history, and what counts as religion and what does not in any given context depends on different configurations of power and authority… the attempt to say that there is a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion that is separable from secular phenomena is itself  part of a particular configuration of power, that of the modern, liberal nation-state as it developed in the West (59).

What does this mean for violence and religion? Cavanaugh proposes a test:

The crucial test, however, is what people do with their bodies. It is clear that, among those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States, there are very few who would be willing to kill in the name of the Christian God, whereas the willingness, under certain circumstances, to kill and die for the nation in war is generally taken for granted (122).

The Creation Myth of the Wars of Religion

The story goes that, after the Protestant Reformation divided Christendom along religious lines, Catholics and Protestants began killing each other for holding to different doctrines. The wars of religion… demonstrated to the West the inherent danger of public religion. The solution to the problem lay in the rise of the modern state, in which religious loyalties were marginalized and the state secured a monopoly on the means of violence…

This story is more than just a prominent example of the myth of religious violence. It has a foundational importance for the secular West, because it explains the origin of its way of life and its system of governance. It is a creation myth for modernity (123).

Following the lines of thinking of Voltaire, John Locke, and others, Cavanaugh argues that the myth of religious violence is perpetuated in order to marginalize that which is considered religious and give rise to the nation-state. According to this myth, “All theological religions are to be tolerated, provided they do not interfere with the obligations of citizens to the state…” (129). The myth is that religion is divisive and that they “fight over doctrines or ‘religious creeds'” so that “the state steps in to make peace” (130).

Cavanaugh shows that this myth is indeed false. The “wars of religion” had any number of motivating factors. The use of this story is not so much to tell a truth as it is a means by which to legitimize the nation-state. He argues towards these conclusions by showing that many “wars of religion” were in fact wars of economy, wars of power structures, and the like. He notes four primary factors for this myth to work: that combatants were motivated by religious difference, that the primary cause of war was religion, that religious causes are analytically separable from political, economic, and social causes at the time of the wars, and that the rise of the modern state was not a cause of the wars (141-142). He then analyzes each of these in turn based upon the historical record and shows that these all fail to account for the actual history of the “wars of religion.” In fact, the opposite is true in each case (142-177).

“We must conclude that the myth of the wars of religion is finally incredible, which is to say, false” (177).

The Uses of the Myth

Perhaps the most challenging and paradigm-shifting portion of the book is that which focuses upon the uses of the myth of religious violence. Cavanaugh argues that the myth is so perpetuated because of its usefulness.

First, he analyzes the use of the myth in building the “wall of separation” between church and state. He examines a number of supreme courses and how the myth of religious violence was used to favor the constructed notion of “secular” over that of “religious” (183ff).

The myth of religious violence is used to create a religious “other” which can then be exploited, coerced, and denigrated. “[R]eligion–or more precisely, religion in public–is what the liberal nation-state saves us from” (192). History is revised in order to show how religion is that which causes violence, while the secular nation-state is that toward which we should turn for salvation.

Oddly, it is permitted, encouraged, and sometimes even required to give devotion to the nation state, while this is not religious. “We are all Americans, and devotional exercises [the pledge of allegiance, venerating of the flag, etc.] meant to instill love of our country are unitive, not divisive. Such exercises, however, are not religion. Patriotism, in this world view, is defined over against public religion. To allow that patriotism might be a type of religion and might carry its own dangers of violence would threaten the very basis of our social order” (192).

On a functionalist definition of religion, however, nationalism counts as religion. “American religion” has “saints (the founding fathers)… shrines (Independence Hall)… relics (the Liberty Bell)… holy scriptures (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution)… martyrs (Lincoln)… inquisition (school boards that enforce patriotism)…” and various religious festivals (Flag Day, the Fourth of July) (117). Nationalism is prevalent in many countries. Religion is privatized, secular nationalism is standardized and enforced. Not only that, but “Only the nation-state may kill” (118).

Again, Cavanaugh’s point ties into his earlier discussion: the ties to violence must be an empirical study based upon ideologies, not one based upon constructed categories of religious and secular. These categories are faulty in-and-of themselves. Furthermore, they undermine the possibility of the empirical study of violence. Nationalism and secularism–ideologies in other words–can be every bit as violent as some ideologies called “religion.”

The myth is also used to hide possible “secular” causes for war. Al Qaeda is specifically religious, and the West is all too happy to use this to ignore the fact that its own mistakes in installing regimes in the Middle East has caused the rise of absolutist, controlling states (202ff).

Worst of all, the myth of religious violence has been used to carry out violence against the religious other. Those who perpetuate this myth often use it in order to legitimize violence against the religious person, who, after all, is irrational and incapable of reason due to their religious beliefs. Sam Harris is a prime example of this notion. He argues that “There are other ideologies with which to expunge the last vapors of reasonableness from a society’s discourse, but Islam is undoubtedly one of the best we’ve got” (HarrisThe End of Faith, 136, quoted in Cavanaugh, 214). Furthermore, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them… Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of peaceful means of persuasion while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others” (Ibid, 52-53, quoted in MRV 213). Notice how this works: the religious other is that which is unreasonable and violent; in order to stop their violence, it may be ethical to kill them for their beliefs. Harris is not the only one who perpetuates this ideology. Cavanaugh cites a number of other thinkers who have utilized the myth of religious violence in this fashion.

Killing for religion is bad, killing for the state is often good (219). As Cavanaugh states, “The myth of religious violence thus becomes a justification for the use of violence. We will have peace once we have bombed the Muslims into being reasonable” (215). This analysis of violence again plays off the myth of religious violence: “Violence labeled religious is always irrational, particularly virulent, and reprehensible. Violence labeled secular, on the other hand, no matter how regrettable, is often necessary and sometimes even praiseworthy for the job it does defending us from religious violence” (216).

Violence feeds on the need for enemies, the need to separate us from them. Such binary ways of dividing the world make the world understandable for us, but they also make the world unlivable for many. Doing away with the myth of religious violence is one way of resisting such binaries, and, perhaps, turning some enemies into friends (230).


It is rare that one comes across a book that forces them to rethink just about everything they have thought about a specific issue. William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence is one of those books which will challenge readers on every level of the discussion. It has an extremely broad scope, but argues convincingly and with a depth that seems almost indefeasible.

The myth of religious suffers a number of serious defects. It assumes an unwarranted division between the constructed categories of “religious” and “secular,” it oversimplifies the justification for violence, it is a clear example of a creation myth used for the founding of the nation state, and most alarmingly it is used to justify violence against the religious other.

The myth of religious violence may live on on the popular level, but Cavanaugh has dealt its death blow. Whether it takes 50 years or never happens, the myth has been destroyed.

The review has been lengthy, but that is due to the importance of this topic. I will be expanding on and elaborating Cavanaugh’s ideas over the course of the next 1-2 months. Check back here, where I will post links to future posts, or be sure to follow the blog to catch the posts over the coming weeks.

Finally, I want to say that this book was a gift from an anonymous donor from this site and I must say Thank you, you have been a huge blessing! It was so delightful to receive a book out of the blue, and to have it be so fantastic was another reward.


William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (New York: Oxford, 2009).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 9/1/12

I am constantly delighted by the great quality of posts by my brothers and sisters in Christ. This week, I have provided a choice selection. The topics range from politics (the doctrine of peace through strength) to young earth creationism to presuppositional apologetics and Islam and beyond. I even linked to three of my favorite songs, to give a slightly different feel this go-round.

As always, please let me know what you liked!


The Natural Historian writes about Isaac Newton’s thoughts on the Mosaic account of creation. Check out this excellent quote:

Attempts to bring explanations for the physical origins of the geographic features of the earth into conformity with a six day creation and a universal flood has never yielded a unified view of how to interpret the data… [T]he application of that traditional view [young earth creationism] to an understanding of the physical creation and the origin of the earth has never accomplished a satisfying nor widely accepted result.

Refuting Islam: Philosophical Analysis– Mike Robinson uses presuppositional apologetics to evaluate Islam and argues that Islam is founded upon a logical fallacy.

Of Jesus, the  Woman Caught in Adultery, Public Morality, The Law…– A fantastic and lengthy post on Christianity in the public square, legislating morality, and some specific moral issues. Recommended if you enjoy political discussion and the interaction of faith with politics.

What is the Doctrine of Peace Through Strength?– Wintery Knight weighs in on a national defense policy of peace through strength. This isn’t directly related to Christian apologetics, but I found it interesting, and Wintery Knight is a master of discussing Christianity in the public square. Check out the rest of his site. A choice quote from the article on peace through strength:

The way to stop most wars is to make dictators believe that you have the means and the will to stop their aggression.

The Ring Makes All the Difference: A Word to the Wise on Cohabitation– Does marriage make a difference? Should we do trial runs of living together first? What does sociology say about these issues? Check out this informative article.

Some of My Favorite Music–  Here are some links to songs by three of my favorite artists. Yes, they range wildly in genre. I like some Christian rap- like Lecrae; I like Christian Metal like Demon Hunter (my favorite band) and I love some Christian Blues too, check out the Glenn Kaiser Band.

Book Review: “The Closing of the Muslim Mind” by Robert Reilly

One can tell from the outset that Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mindwill be highly controversial. The title alone will spark anger and conflict. Yet when one gets to the content of the book, what will be found therein is a thought-provoking discussion about the consequences of particular beliefs.

The central point of the book is “the story of how Islam grappled with the role of reason after its conquests exposed it to Hellenic thought and how the side of reason ultimately lost in the ensuing, deadly struggle” (1). Reilly contrasts this with how the West dealt with some of the same issues: “The radical voluntaraism (God as pure will) and occasionalism (no cause and effect in the natural order) found in them [Muslim theologians in the 9th-12th centuries] were not seen to any significant extent in the West until… David Hume began writing in the eighteenth century. By that time the recognition of reality had become firmly enough established to withstand the assault… Unfortunately, this was not true in Sunni Islam, where these views arrived much earlier” (7).

Reilly maps out the history of the development of Muslim thought. Initially, once Islam came into contact with western philosophy, there was a great amount of interplay (11ff). One early struggle was between man’s free will and fate. This struggle was over the meaning of key verses in the Qur’an as well as a debate over whether the Qur’an is temporal or eternal and uncreated. The notion that the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated, in turn, restricted rationality from evaluating the meaning therein (19).

The development of Muslim reflection on the Qur’an and Allah’s will led to the replacement of reason with rationality (45-46). Similarly, because the Qur’an was Allah’s will, and it did not explicitly endorse kalam (a branch of Muslim philosophy and theology), this rational discourse was to be abandoned (47). Furthermore, this entailed the destruction of the notion of the “autonomy of reason.” Only within the structures of revelation could reason operate effectively (48).

Furthermore, creation itself has no inherent reason. Each moment is merely a “second-to-second manifestation of God’s will” (51). While one may be tempted to say Christianity is exactly like this (and some branches may indeed hold to this teaching), there is an important distinction between the two views, for on the Christian view of God, God’s action is driven by His nature, and so He will operate within His promises as well as within the boundaries He has set for himself. God, on most Christian views, is inherently rational and so will operate in rational ways. So while creation indeed subsists moment-by-moment because of the will of God, God does not arbitrarily change His will (56ff). On the Muslim view, Reilly argues, God’s will is absolute (as opposed to His nature) and so there is absolute voluntarism. At any time, Allah could will that which before Allah did not will (51-53). Furthermore, one cannot say one “knows” God because God is pure will. As pure will, there is no reason for any particular action, and so God is inherently unknowable (54ff).

Another consequence of viewing God as pure will is that good and evil are essentially vacuous terms. “If Allah is pure will, good and evil are only conventions of Allah’s–some things are halal (permitted/lawful) and others are haram (forbidden/unlawful), simply because He says so and for no reasons in themselves” (70). Allah is therefore above morality and the problem of evil is made meaningless, for evil is merely that which God forbids. Essentially, the system is voluntaristic theism (71ff).

Reilly argues that these theological positions have had dire consequences for Islam in the political realm as well. These positions undermine the inherent worth of human beings and posit the primacy of power over reason (128); democracy is the answer to a question the Muslim world has not asked (130), for if God is pure will, then His regents on earth are operating merely under his whims, and can be just as arbitrary in their decisions (131); “Man’s only responsibility is to obey” (131); finally, “there is no ontological foundation for equal human rights in Islam, which formally divides men and women, believer and unbeliever, freeman and slave” (133).

The consequences reach farther, however, and touch the sciences as well. For if Allah’s will is that which causes all things, then to say that there are “natural” explanations is to insult Allah. Instead of saying that hydrogen and oxygen yield water, people are instructed to say “when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together… by the will of Allah water was created…” (142). Of course, the denial of secondary causation touches upon more pragmatic areas of life as well. After all, if Allah wants something to happen, then it will; if not, then it won’t.

Reilly presents a number of contemporary sources demonstrating how these aspects have been radically undermined in the Muslim world, where often anything can pass as a news story and anything can be stated as true (147ff). Furthermore, the Muslim world trends towards underdevelopment and illiteracy. Reilly maintains that some of this is due to the consequences of the theological views outlined above.

Historically, the dilemma within Islam over reason vs. voluntarism came to a head when the Muslim conquests began to be turned back. When defeats happened, Muslims had to ask why it was that they were losing when, presumably, Allah desired them to win (165ff). Some viewed it as a consequence of the stagnation of science and intellectual development in the Muslim world. Others, however, viewed it as a need to go back to the roots of Islam and become even more radical. The world, therefore, according to Reilly, is faced with a crisis: can reason be re-introduced into the Muslim theology and trickle down into every aspect of life, thus freeing the Muslim world from the shackles of voluntarism? Or, will Islam continue down its path and overemphasize the radical occasionalism of nature and God, while undermining reason? Such is the crisis.

It is striking how well Reilly has supported his theses with quotes from the writings of various Muslim  theologians and philosophers. Throughout the work, he quotes numerous scholars from both modern and ancient sources. What these quotes reveal is that his points are not found in a vaccuum–rather, the notion that the absolute, determinating, arbitrary will of Allah underlies everything that happens does indeed undermine rationality.

It is interesting here to reflect briefly upon the notion that some of these same themes are found within certain branches of Christianity. Whenever God’s will is placed as the ultimate source of all activity on earth (voluntarism/occasionalism) rather than as a providential will which guides such activity, reason and rationality can be jettisoned just as easily as they were in the development of Muslim thought. Similarly, if Scripture is seen as above any kind of rational inquiry to determine its meaning, one can replace man’s cognitive abilities with blind faith. Reilly’s book can therefore serve as much a warning for Christians engaging in doctrinal reflection as it is a call to Muslims to restore rationality to their faith.

Reilly’s work, The Closing of the Muslim Mind should be seen as required reading for those interested in interfacing with the Muslim faith. Reilly ties together compelling chains of thought which have led to the current Muslim crisis and demonstrates how current thinking is a result of the past. It is a thoroughly researched book and those opposed to his conclusions will be hard-pressed to show the cracks in his theses. I highly recommend this work. Once one gets past the title, which may be seen as  inflammatory by some, Reilly presents well-reasoned, compelling, historically grounded argument about how the theology of Islam has led to the destruction of its intellectual capacity.

Robert Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions

Christian Apologists seem to only rarely focus upon world religions. Perhaps that is because many Christian apologists feel uncomfortable interacting with other religions. It is easy to be weighed down by fears that one might say something wrong and be deemed either ignorant or bigoted. It may also be simply that Christian apologists don’t feel they have the expertise do operate in this area. It is my goal in this post to paint in broad strokes and provide areas of development for Christian apologetics and theology regarding world religions. Because I’m painting in broad strokes, I’ll be raising many questions I’ll leave unanswered for now. I’ve included links at the end of the post for those interested in reading more.

A Vision for Christian Apologetics and World Religions

It has been said that evangelicalism needs a theology of religions. What does the existence of other religions mean? Do they have truths? How do we interact with them? These questions must be addressed by Christians who desire to explore the reality of their faith. Christian apologists, in particular, must be learned enough to know what position they take on these issues before they seek to defend their faith.

The study of another religion should not be done superficially. It is a good start to have a general volume on “world religions” and then read each religion’s respective section, but it is not nearly enough for the Christian apologist to do if the apologist desires to interact with believers from these other religions. A study of another religion, particularly for those interested in witnessing to them, must be more in-depth. The holy book(s) of the other religion is(are) necessary reading. But one cannot stop there. Few religions are based upon one book. Christians can readily acknowledge this, having had much thought and belief defined through tradition, apostolic and patristic. Similarly, when a Christian studies another religion, he or she must be willing to delve into the religion, to understand it from an insider’s perspective.

It is not enough for the apologist to read books about other religions, seeking to find fast and easy ways to refute them. Rather, the Christian apologist must engage with believers of other faith, acknowledging shared truths where they exist and seeking to understand the differences. Certainly, apologists must know the areas of weakness in other religions so that they can point these out as they debate and dialog on the religions. What I’m suggesting is that this cannot be the only thing Christians know about other religions. They must not be satisfied merely by knowing a series of arguments against those from other religions. Rather, they must be willing and able to engage with those in other religions.

Thus, this vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions is a vision not just of debate but of dialog; a vision of give-and-take. The Gospel will not be heard where it is beat into people. It will not be heard where the only avenues for its witness are arguments. Paul wrote,

Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. (1 Corinthians 9:19)

The attitude of the apologist is a servant’s heart–one that seeks to understand. In understanding, he or she will win many. Thus, when apologists approach another religion, they must understand that religion enough to engage with those who believe it and who live it. The Christian apologist must not deceive, but rather seek to understand. In understanding, Christians will understand more about their own faith, and be better able to spread it to those of other faiths.

There are five major things to keep in mind when doing apologetics regarding world religions:

  1. Know what the other believes. Never assume you know their faith as much as they do.
  2. Read their book. Nothing will open up avenues for discussion as much as the knowledge that you have read the books they find holy.
  3. Know Christianity. If you don’t know what you yourself believe, how are you to share that with others? As you engage with people of other faiths, you must continue to learn about your own faith and its answers to the questions others pose.
  4. Preach the Gospel. The goal should not only be to rebut the others assertions and beliefs. It should be to guide the other towards Christ crucified and the salvation provided for by God.
  5. Build a Genuine Relationship. It isn’t enough to simply engage in dialog; one must show they are interested in what the other has to say and what they believe. They must also be more than an occasional debate partner; they must build a relationship and become a friend. I’m not suggesting deception here, the relationship must be genuine. By showing a Christlike life to others, we can show them the intimate joys of Christianity.

Going forward, it is time to turn to a method for Christian Apologists to learn about other religions.

Studying a Religion: A Method of Learning for Christian Apologists

  • Read general discussions about the religion. A book on world religions is a good place to start, but be aware that these are, by necessity, generalized.
  • Read what other Christians have said about the religion. Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan is a simply phenomenal resource which surveys the world religions from a Christian perspective.
  • Read the holy books of the religion with which you are going to interact. If you wish to engage a Muslim, read the Quran. If you want to interact with a Taoist, read the Tao Te Ching. As you read these books, keep in mind that you will find truths in other religions due to God’s natural revelation to all people.
  • Seek out believers from the religion, and engage with them in discussion. Ask them what they believe, but don’t allow your questions to be that general. Instead, focus on specifics. For example, “If I were seeking to learn more about your religion and beliefs, how would I go about doing so?”; “What is[are] your favorite passage[s] from your holy book, and why?” Questions like these will show them you’re not seeking to attack but to understand.
  • Read web sites dedicated to explaining other religions to those seeking. In this way, you will get a basic introduction to the religion while also viewing it from an insider’s perspective.
  • Read other Christians who have engaged these religions in dialog and mission work.
  • Consider responses from scholars within the religion to Christians working in that field. Be familiar with arguments for and against the positions you seek to put forward.
  • Above all, read God’s word. Only by being familiar with the Bible will one become an effective apologist and missionary. Jesus’ words will draw people from all backgrounds, and the Bible’s richness and truth will gain a hearing from all nations.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive. It merely provides avenues for research.

What to do with the knowledge?

Christians must engage with those of other faiths. Seek out those who are willing to discuss their faith with you. You will find that many interesting discussions will follow and you will learn much about yourself and Christianity in the process. Never stop seeking truth. All truth is from God. If someone from another faith says something which challenges you, seek the answer. There are thousands of years of Christian writing out there just waiting to be tapped. Not only that, but simple searches online will turn up innumerable apologetic resources. Do not let the discussions turn into debates only. Debates are good when there is an audience of people who may be swayed one way or the other, but in individual conversation, your goal should be to spread the Gospel, not to win an argument.

Become a prayer warrior. Do not let a day go by where you do not pray for those with whom you are engaged in discussions about the faith.

Tap your fellow resources. There are many other Christians working in the areas of religions, and they are willing to help. Do not be afraid to ask for it when needed.


The vision for Christian apologetics and world religions I’ve put forth here is admittedly vague, but I hope it will provide a way forward for those interested in dialog with those of other faiths. This vision has followed five primary thoughts: know the other’s faith, read their book, know Christianity, preach the Gospel, and build a genuine relationship. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian it is your duty to spread the Gospel. Do not let yourself come in its way.


Some argue that there is no real way to tell whether any religions are true. That is not the case. There are some very real ways to determine truth in a religious paradigm. Check out this post: “Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.”

What about the truth found in other religion? How do we relate that to Christianity? Kenneth Samples is an amazing writer in this area. Check out this post in which he provides a way forward for thinking about other religions from a Biblical perspective: “Thinking Biblically About the World’s Religions.”

I highly recommend Winfried Corduan’s book Neighboring Faiths.

What about some of those unanswered questions–what about the unevangelized? This is matter of considerable debate and there are numerous books on the topic. I would recommend “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” for an introduction to these views. For those wanting to explore inclusivism further, see No Other Name by John Sanders. Those interested in exclusivism/particularlism, see Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald Nash.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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