The Weaker Horse

A reader named Moiz sent us an email this morning that raised some interesting issues. I’ve bolded some items that may be worth discussing:

dear sir,

I do not know what the fuss is about considering the gung ho and forced conversions of the Christians and their missionaries during the few centuries before the 20th.

It was the result of Western colonialism that allowed Christian missionaries a free hand or rather they latched on to imperialists and traders of the west.

Now rather the things seems to be going the other way. Shame really. The weaker side gets it in the end.

wa salaam


gung ho and forced conversions of the Christians

There’s no denying that forcible conversion played a role in the spread of Christianity, particularly in Northern Europe. The historical record on such conversions is extensive.

But how crucial was forced conversion to the spread of Christianity? The first three or four centuries of Christian proselytizing occurred against the resistance of the political authorities, often under conditions of brutal oppression. How then does one explain the appeal of Christianity under those circumstances?

In contrast, Islam spread via coercion from its earliest days, following the example of Mohammed. Until Malaysia and Indonesia were proselytized five or six centuries after its founding, no significant Islamic expansion occurred peacefully. The Arabian Peninsula, Asia Minor, North Africa, Iberia, the Balkans, Persia, and the Mogul areas of India were all subdued and converted to Islam via unimaginable slaughter and destruction.

during the few centuries before the 20th

Where is the documentation for any mass forced conversions to Christianity in recent centuries, say from the 18th century onwards? Does any exist?

result of Western colonialism that allowed Christian missionaries a free hand… they latched on to imperialists

There is some truth to these assertions. European colonial expansion afforded a measure of protection to Christian missionaries who ventured far from home into what otherwise might have been dangerous locales.

They were also aided in their proselytizing by the manifest superiority of the Western colonizers they accompanied. Europeans were more powerful than their colonial subjects. They had more advanced technology, medicine, and agricultural methods. They were a confident and vigorous civilization.

They could only be perceived as the “strong horse”, and this fact helped persuade millions of colonized people to convert to the religion the newcomers brought with them.

Which brings us to the final point:

The weaker side gets it in the end

Yes, this is true. Osama bin Laden was correct: the West is now perceived as the “weaker horse”, and rightly so.

Until we reverse our cultural weakness — if indeed we ever do — we can expect that more people will convert into Islam than out of it.

10 thoughts on “The Weaker Horse

  1. Moiz, St Augustine said “Do not judge an ideology by its abuses”. I suggest you read both the New Testament and the Quran/Hadithes, and compare. Nowhere does Jesus call for any kind of force, neither in his teachings nor his example. Muhammad OTOH forced terrified people at sword point to convert or die.

    You can rehabilitate Christians who act unethically by proving that no such teachings exist that support their actions. But you cannot rehabilitate a muslim who forces conversion to Islam in the same way, because the Quran calls Muhammad a “role model”.

  2. My family includes three generations of Protestant Christian missionaries, some to Muslim countries. Forcing Christianity on people was never an option, and in fact, my family was opposed to using economic inducements to generate “rice Christians.” Most missionary work is in the form of education, community development, and medical care — all of which model positive “fruit” from Christian life. Muslims in Mecca never gained many followers, and it wasn’t until the jihad of Medina that their numbers grew dramatically. In the peaceful marketplace of ideas, Islam doesn’t stand a chance against Christianity. That is why proselytizing is forbidden in most Muslim countries. Ibn Ishaq records that there was an inscription in the Ka’ba about the time Muhammad was born which read,”He that soweth good shall reap joy; he that soweth evil shall reap sorrow; can you do evil and be rewarded with good? Nay, as grapes cannot be gathered from thorns.” (The Life of Muhammad, page 86) Finally, I would disagree that more people are converting into Islam than out of it. Aside from those who are born into Islam, the numbers are not growing. More people have left Islam in the past century than in the previous 1,300 years. That has the Islamists very worried.

  3. In the peaceful marketplace of ideas, Islam doesn’t stand a chance against Christianity. That is why proselytizing is forbidden in most Muslim countries


    And I agree with you that more people have left Islam, since the advent of the internet and increased literacy, than ever before.

  4. If we sit down with our collection of holy books: Bible, Koran, etc, we can prove quite clearly and easily
    1. that anything forced is against the teaching of the Christian Bible, but
    2. that the Koran requires the adherents of Islam to act in a brutal way.

  5. The premise of both the question and the response are fatally flawed. Yes, forced conversions to CHRISTENDOM occurred. But because salvation is by grace through faith, and because faith cannot be compelled, there were in fact no “forced conversions to Christianity.” It’s an impossibility.

    One CAN easily force conversions to Islam, however, as evidence of fidelity to Allah is all external and can (and often is) faked under coercion.

  6. “There’s no denying that forcible conversion played a role in the spread of Christianity, particularly in Northern Europe. The historical record on such conversions is extensive.”

    Please tell me where I can find these. I completed both a Bachelors and Masters in Cross Cultural Missions and have not struck any forced conversions. There were certainly instances of tribes being told by their Chief that “we are all Christians now as I have converted”, but forced conversions? Please pass on some links, thank you.

  7. Anon —

    I don’t have links. The most recent source was an actual printed book (how retro!), so you’ll have to buy it or borrow it from the library (like I did). It’s called The Vikings, and was written by Robert Ferguson. I reviewed it here last year. The author is an accomplished historian, and he documents his sources extensively.

    Much of Norway and Sweden were converted by force, as a by-product of various wars arising out of dynastic struggles etc. The same is true of Northern Germany, if I recall correctly.

    These are historical facts, and were recorded by Christian chroniclers afterwards. There’s no point in viewing them through the tinted prism of the present: those were the times.

  8. The practice of forced conversions most notably occurred among those Germanic/Nordic tribes that had only recently come to Christianity. But here is something I ran across while homeschooling my son in world history, that might be apropos to this discussion.

    Several of the barbarian tribes, Vandals notably, but also the Goths for a period, were Arian Christians, not Catholic Christians. I believe that the Saxons also engaged in forced conversions, but I never could determine if they were Arians or not.

    It seems that Arianism was a gateway for people of a pagan spirituality to transition to Trinitarian Christianity. The Arian Christians were not nice people. In fact, Saint Augustine died during the Vandal siege of Hippo. It’s no wonder that the Councils of Nicaea were so adamant in ridding the Christian faith of the scourge of Arianism.

    Makes me wonder if there are any spiritual/psychological parallels between Arian Christianity’s relationship to Germanic paganism with Islam’s relationship to the paganism of the Arabian tribes?

  9. @wildiris–

    There is so much I don’t know about what I call middle-early Xtianity. IOW, after Charlemagne…the various heresies took on a life of their own…sometimes. Now, in our age of relativity and tolerance, the idea of heresy is itself a form of heresy. Funny how that works.

    Are the Goths the same as the Visigoths, the ones who ‘settled’ Spain before Islam in turn overran them and made their churches into mosques? IIRC, the churches themselves were replacements for the earlier shrines…

    …Middle Eastern, No African and southern European Christian history are easier to follow.

    In the first case, much of the history was destroyed. The missions to India and China for example. Gregory’s vast library in Baghdad was destroyed. Countless scrolls used for kindling, etc.

    In Egypt, the Copts were overrun in the cities but left to their old ways in rural areas for a long time. They’re being mopped up now, though.

    No Africa’s Xtianity, the Aristolean one Augustine fought so hard to establish, was fraught with internecine battles until being largely extinguished by Islam. I think some of the Berbers in the mountains were left alone.

    But the European versions and conversions are harder for me to keep straight. I guess because they weren’t overrun until later…

    It takes a heap of sorting out, especially when Islam was so anxious to obliterate what came before…

  10. Dymphna. To make a complicated story short, the Goths migrated south as one tribe, but over time, branched into two groups, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Visigoths eventually ended up in what is now Spain, while the Ostrogoths continued to occupy the north and east regions of the Western Roman Empire. Wikipedia has a good, short and readable summary of the Goths.

    An interesting factoid we ran across in our history lessons was that the Franks were the only barbarian tribe that transitioned directly from paganism to Trinitarian Christianity. From this I’m tempted to assume that all of the other barbarian tribes went through a period when they were Arian Christians.

    What was it about Arianism that made it accessible to the pagan barbarian mind? I don’t have an answer. For those unfamiliar with the terms, Trinitarian Christians believe that Jesus was God, while Arian Christians believed that Jesus was just a son of God.

    The Vandals preceded the Visigoths to Spain, but they continued on, crossing over to North Africa, where they made life difficult for the Roman inhabitants there. Something I found interesting was that the descriptions of some of the ways the Arian Christian Vandals treated the native Catholic Christians was reminiscent of how the Muslims, two centuries later, would treat the native Christian population.

    The Gnostic thinking of the Greek world of that time produced a number of heresies that still plague the Christian faith to this day. For the first four centuries of Christianity, the Church had no institutional presence, so all of these heresies were able to flourish unimpeded. Only the Trinitarian form of Christianity has preserved itself through all of the last 20+ centuries. So, in the name of intellectual honesty, if anyone is inclined to criticize early Christianity, they need to specify which branch they are talking about.

    Here is an interesting note from my son’s homeschool history lessons. We are currently studying the early history of India. The Gupta Empire (320-600AD) was the culture that gave the world, among other things, the decimal numbering system with zero. India was the birthplace of Buddhism and was a dominantly Buddhist world up until around 600-700AD. At which point Hinduism made a comeback, eventually replacing Buddhism as India’s dominant religion. It makes me wonder if a civilization, such as the Gupta Empire, based on Buddhist principles was simply not able to culturally stand up to the onslaught of barbarians coming into India in those years, first the Hephthalites (White Huns) from the north and then the Muslims invading from the west.

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