"Convert or Die!"

By John W. Loftus

I just watched the first episode of the PBS special, The Secret Files of the Inquisition. The second episode is on next week (5/16/07), and I highly recommend you watch it. One inquisitor, who went on to become Pope Benedict, told a Jew under interrogation, “convert or die!” These three words echoed down into villages and homes for two centuries. That’s two whole centuries. There was no escape from the power of the church since it reigned exclusively, even over the very ideas people entertained.

At the beginning of the 14th century the church was losing power because it was unwilling to change. The people did not have access to the Bible (nor was there a printed Bible). They were simply to believe what the church taught. Furthermore, the Sunday masses were done in Latin, which people couldn’t understand. So it gave rise to many ideas about religious truth, including a heretical group called “The Good Men.” Instead of addressing these disputes civilly the Church set out to stamp out heresy, violently and forcefully.

The angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas had previously argued that heresy was a "leavening influence" upon the minds of the weak, and as such, heretics should be killed. Since heretical ideas could inflict the greatest possible harm upon other human beings, it was the greatest crime of all. Heretical ideas could send people to an eternally conscious torment in hell. So logic demands that the church must get rid of this heretical leavening influence. It was indeed the greatest crime of them all, given this logic. So, “convert or die!”

Christians today say the church of the Inquisition was wrong, just like they say the Christians who justified American slavery were wrong. And that’s correct. They were wrong. But not for the reasons today’s Christians think. Today's Christians think the Christians of the past were wrong because they misinterpreted the Bible. But the truth is that these former Christians were wrong to believe the Bible in the first place. They were wrong to believe the Bible at all. Today’s Christians cherry-pick from out of the Bible what they want to believe. Today’s Christians have developed a more civilized ethical consciousness, and they read that consciousness back into the Bible rather than adopting what the plain sense and logic of the Bible dictates.

Here are some Bible verses to support the logic of killing heretics:

From Exodus 22:
You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.
Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.

From Numbers 25:
2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the LORD’s anger was kindled agai nst Israel. 4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the LORD, in order that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you shall kill any of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” 6 Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8 he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly.

From Deuteronomy 13:
If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, “Let us follow other gods” (whom you have not known) “and let us serve them,” 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. 4 The LORD your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast. 5 But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the LORD your God—who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery—to turn you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 6 If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son orb your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness. 12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the LORD your God is giving you to live in, 13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you, 15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword

From Deuteronomy 17:
2 If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, and transgresses his covenant 3 by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden— 4 and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

How much clearer can the Bible be?

I understand how today's Christians gerrymander around the logical conclusion of these texts. They say these Bible passages don't apply under the New Covenant. But if that's so, then why wasn't God clear about this such that Aquinas and two centuries of theologians got it wrong, causing such torment and misery? Can God effectively communicate to us, or not? Doesn't he know us well enough to do so? It seems that the logic of Aquinas is impeccable, based upon these texts, or an omniscient God needs some basic lessons in communication, or, God isn't a good God.

That being said, I see no moral reason whatsoever for these texts to demand the death of heretics in the first place, even under the Old Covenant. Such commands are reprehensible, coming from an all loving God. But even if they can be justified under the Old Covenant, which they cannot, why didn't God (Jesus or the Apostles) specifically say, "Thou shalt not kill people if they don't believe the gospel (KJV)," and say it as often as needed? If that was the case, and if you were God, wouldn't YOU do the decent thing here? It just appears the Bible was written by superstitious and barbaric people that reflected their primitive notions about God, that's all. And it best explains what we see in the Bible.

“Convert or die!”

What horrible words to hear! How is this different from militant Muslims?

“Convert or die!”


The broken record I keep hearing from Christians is that I cannot presume to judge God, or that I have no objective moral stanadard to say that the church did wrong. But what I'm doing is simply taking the present day ethical notions that both Christians and skeptics have and asking why the Bible is so barbaric? I'm saying such notions show me that kind of God doesn't exist. I'm not judging God. I don't think he exists. I'm asking whether such a God exists. I'm asking whether the Bible reflects the will of a good God, and my conclusion is BASED UPON THE ETHICAL NOTIONS OF CHRISTIANS THEMSELVES. I can justify my ethical notions, but that's a separate issue. I'm asking how Christians can justify these texts in the Bible and the logic that follows, if they believe a good God exists.


Nvrgoingbkeither said...

It really bothers me that this website seems to have gone commercial instead of why i was drawn here in the first place. I was drawn because of a sense of beloning i first felt and because of how my wife (nvrgoingbk) told me this website was concerned and caring since i have been visiting i have wrote 2 or 3 post and not seen one i don't knock this post but i pour my heart out into my posts namely the most recent (I WONDERED WHERE GOD WAS) and i never get the chance too see them do what their meant too do and that is help and inspire so if someone reads this tell me what is up i don't want to change sites but i will because this is'nt a commercial circus it's supposed too have roots of a sort.

Unknown said...

Gone commercial? How has it gone commercial? Doesnt seem very commercial to me. If you don't like the blog, what about just the forums? -Vixentrox-

Anonymous said...

I have been fascinated with the inquisition, witch burnings, et al for many years. Thanks for the review/heads up about this PBS program.

nvrgoingbkeither: is a teevee plug to PBS commercial? I've been pleased with the overall balance of topics on this site. If you have posted articles and haven't seen them, have you contacted the webmaster?


Nvrgoingbk said...

Great points made John. I have often wondered myself just why Christians think they have evolved so significantly from the Roman church. Modern Christians STILL have the same mindset, which is: CONVERT OR DIE! They are no longer sentencing us to the torture rack, but they make sure to scare the Hell right into people by warning them that God will sentence them to it.

Regarding their morals: CHristians morals have evolved over the last two thousand years as more and more people have grown tired of discrimination. It was the Christian forefathers, influenced by the religion of Europe, that caused them to set forth laws that prohibited women and blacks from voting. It was the religious right of our country who kept black men and women tethered to their slave masters, and it is the religious right of today that perpetuates hatred of homosexuals.

As societies views have changed, the Christian's have. As you said, the fact of the matter is that in their Bible (handbook of what to do and not to do) their God AND their savior are recorded as being in support of this discrimination. When the laws change, the Christians act as though they were the ones at the forefront of that particular civil right movement, when in fact, they are the ones who have been continually opposed to any change. Once society begins to really change their minds about the conditions of the world and puts an end to discrimination, intolerance, and injustice, the CHristian realizes we were right and runs to his bible to try to find scripture that says God was actually trying to say that all along.

The Biblical passages you referred to are only but a few of the dispicable commandments and laws set forth by the Hebrew war god that the Israelites decided upon to be their one and only god out of the many they believed in. Is it any wonder then, that his laws require so much blood and retribution?

One of the commandments states, "Thou shall not steal," yet we know that God and/or MOses continually commanded the Israelites to plunder other cities. Another commandment states "Thou shall not commit adultery," yet we see Yahweh in support of men having multiple wives and concubines, and yet Christians and Jews have found a way to justify this as well.

It is not only in the modern church that we see hypocrisy reign. Throughout the entire Bible, "God" continually contradicts his own laws, but what is the Jew's or CHristian's response? "Well, you have to understand that those nations were just evil, blah, blah, blah," or whatever other excuse they choose to utilize in their never-ending attempt to arue that their God is good.

Anonymous said...

Nvrgoingbk, exactly. Exactly!

Anonymous said...

"The Biblical passages you referred to are only but a few of the dispicable commandments and laws set forth by the Hebrew war god that the Israelites decided upon to be their one and only god out of the many they believed in."

Been browsing your website and was drawn to this,as an opportunity to open discussion. I believe that too many times Christians and non christians talk about each other instead of with each other. I believe your understanding of the Scriptures is kind of skewed. This is easy to understand because most Christians don't understand how the scriptures are supposed to be used. The bottom line is that the Scriptures are for the Church not for those out side. What I mean is that interpreting them is not simpy a matter of look and read. Christianity is an evolving and changing faith. It just changes and evolves slower than those "outside" want it to. There are a lot of things written in the Old Testament that simply don't apply to the Church. They are important, they are God inspired, and God breathed, but they don't apply. It's somewhat misleading to think that just because you found a few verses that are "dispicable" it does't follow that the way you read those verses is the way the Church reads them. Now I know you probably don't really "get" what I'm talking about but hopefully that's where "comunication"comes in

Nvrgoingbk said...

Well Mike, how else would you interpret such scripture then? If they don't apply, then why did the Nicene council include them? And if the church can just cherry pick which passages should apply to them, then how is the Bible relevant at all?

The problem is that the church holds up the Bible as the inerrant "Word of God", but then clears its throat when they are confronted with the disgusting decrees set forth by their "loving God". When confronted, they do exactly as you have here, and claim that those laws were OT laws and do not apply to the church today. So again: WHY INCLUDE THEM AT ALL?

The truth of the matter is that Jesus claimed that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it and that not one tittle of the law would pass away. Christians love to claim that the OT laws don't apply to them any longer, but make a big stink over the Ten Commandments being taken down from in front of a government building. You Christians CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. There is no room for grey in your holy text. You are either under the law or you aren't. You are saved by grace through faith ALONE, or you are to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling".

The only time your God had a problem with slavery, is when his precious Jews were the ones tethered to shackles. The only time your God has a problem with murder is when it is inflicted upon one of "his people", otherwise He commands it. The only time He has a problem with adultery is if a woman commits it or a man is sleeping with another man's wife (property). A Hebrew man could have as many wives and concubines as he wanted and was still considered "righteous". The only time God has a problem with stealing is if the Jews' posessions were plundered, otherwise, he commands the plundering of whole cities. The only time baby killing is abhored by God, is when Christians are bombing or picketing abortion clinics, yet they revere their Holy scriptures which contain commandments set forth by their God to kill living, breathing children and dash them upon rocks. What a frightful way to die!

Believe me, Mike, I do "get it". I get it better than you, because I have lived on both sides of religion, and have studied to "show myself approved". As I have been known to say before and will do so again now: I have done the sniff test, and your religion, your God, and your scriptures STINK. We here at Exchristian are not in the dark regarding what your Bible contains. We are not "misunderstanding". We are not ignorant and unlearned. We are well aquainted with the excuses used to explain away the glaring contradictions in your "loving" God's nature.

Christianity was never supposed to be an evolving faith. Truth does not evolve, my friend. Truth is truth is truth, and if your religion is truth, then it would, as God claims, "changeth not". The reason Christianity has "evolved" at all is the same reason ALL religion evolves: because superstitious myths can not self sustain. They HAVE to evolve or they would loose adherents. Christians can not even agree to the tenets of their own faith. People within the same congregation argue over doctrine, and there are some 30+ thousand denominations around the world according to the Barna Research Group. How the FUCK then can you still defend your scriptures when they are so obviously flawed that your faithful followers can not even agree on how best to apply them to their lives?

Anonymous said...

Mike brown wrote:

...most Christians don't understand how the scriptures are supposed to be used.

Mike, what you're saying is most Christians don't know how to follow their own rulebook. Don't you think that is an incredibly serious problem? If a politician decided to pick and choose which laws to obey would you think that's OK? Shouldn't Christians get their house in order before they start trying to "save" the rest of us? You're basically saying Christianity is broken, so how do you go about fixing it?

MikeG said...

John, if you are the JL who co-authored the Unholy Trinity, kudos on your having taken the time to dig up and sift through the dirt and put together an indictment of the Vatican regarding at least some of their many crimes against humanity. I've put together the Papacy Uncovered website, which coincidentally PBS included on their Inquisition page. I have to admit that Unholy Trinity sits as yet unread on my shelf amongst many other good books that someday, as time permits, I will get around to reading. Nevertheless I believe that I may have cherry-picked a quote or a few out of it to use on the Papacy Uncovered site on a page dealing with the Croatian Holocaust.

I think that it is necessary to look beyond the common Christian understanding of the Bible as the "infallible, inerrant Word of God", and see it as it is in a greater degree of understanding. It is a collection of Hebrew or Jewish cultural folklore throughout which is woven a very good and upright code of moral conduct which differentiates between what is allowed and expected on the one hand, and what is forbidden and will not be tolerated on the other. It is the moral code of the Jews, and is a very good one at that. The passages you cherry-pick out of the Old Testament seemingly to denigrate it are merely expressions of the seriousness with which violations of the moral code will be dealt. In other words, the things which are forbidden are forbidden for a reason, and to engage in them carries a severe penalty; just as to forsake them and to walk in the good ways of obedience and uprightness brings blessings. All societies and civilizations have moral codes which include both rewards and penalties.

As far as whether or not God exists, and the Christian concept of God, I can only say that my personal experience leaves me no doubt but that there is a spiritual dimension to life in which man can interact with spiritual power far beyond his fleshly existence. I have personally had many such experiences. But the essence underlying this is by its nature inexpressible. The scriptures, both Old and New Testaments (as well as other various scriptures), are but mens' efforts to express this inexpressible, and to impart the knowledge of the unknowable to future generations.

Nvrgoingbk said...

Mike G, while I appreciate the points you made regarding there being moral lessons to be learned in the Bible as in many religious texts, I also find moral lessons within the pages of my daughter's "Junie B. Jones" paperbacks. The moral lessons to be learned are not any more superior to those of the Buddhist religion, and yet you do not find such despicable commandments to murder, rape, plunder and enslave in the Annalects of Buddha.

A rational adult is able to look at the Jewish/Christian scriptures and discern those things which you mentioned and understand such violent commandments to be metaphorical or primative ways of expressing the inexpressible or dealing with "sin" or misconduct in the way they knew how to back then. Thank God we no longer sentence people to the torture rack or dash our enemies babies upon the rocks. Now we just bomb them and use threat of nuclear war to keep our enemies in line (sarcasm is being heavily employed right now).

The problem, as I see it with such scriptures is that less evolved minds take the text literally or try to justify it. The problem is that they use such material to justify them discriminating against other races, sexes or religious backgrounds. The problem is that such primitive thinking is then passed down to their children who then go on to perpetuate it for generations to come, and so we never really evolve as quickly or successfully as a species, because we are continuing to allow superstitious fears and judgments to hinder our growth.

THAT, my friend is the problem.

The moral commandments and lessons to be found within religious texts are nothing more but mankind's common sense. Across borders you will find similar moral codes of conduct. We do not need to attach a fictitious, blood thirsty, vindictive God to such common sense. Threats of divine retribution have NEVER been successful at controlling the populace. There is more sin and corruption found behind the walls of religion then any where else. Some 90% of criminals profess to be Christians with only a tiny fraction of Athiests to compare. My husband spent 8 years total in prison and only met ONE Athiest among any fellow inmate he had EVER met. What does that say to you, my friend?

MikeG said...


While there surely are people who are of a baser nature who think that they find some justification in the scriptures for indulging their passions and prejudices, I think that these people are far fewer in number in comparison to the many who are moved to the higher purposes by the same scriptures.

As for your implication that the Christian faith promotes criminality, I think it is more a subjective viewpoint that you've chosen to hold rather than an objective view that can be supported by the facts. The claim that 90% of criminals profess to be Christians is more of the same.

And I doubt that your daughter's Junie B. Jones paperbacks rise to the level of quality instruction in the matters of life and death, right and wrong, etc., that the scriptures provide.

The fact remains that those who choose to see only those passages of scripture that can be taken out of context and viewed in a negative light, while ignoring the many passages that move the heart and soul to uprightness and virtue, only show their own personal proclivity or willingness to lean in that direction.

I prefer to keep my focus on the good and the upright, and understand the whole in its proper context.

Nvrgoingbk said...

Hi Mike.

I'm grateful for the diaglouge. It's rare that a Christian is willing to partake of a good-natured debate.

While I understand your point of view (it was once mine), I can not justify any amount of Biblical sympathy.

Buddhist texts NOWHERE condone violence or war. Here is a quote from the Buddha himself: "Victory creates hatred. Defeat creates suffering. The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat... Anger creates anger... He who kills will be killed. He who wins will be defeated... Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge... The wise seek neither victory nor defeat."

Certainly there have been kings and armies that have fought to preserve a Buddhist state or nationalism, etc. they have NEVER been able to quote Buddhist scripture to justify their actions, because no such textual justification exists.

Now, let me say that I am not a Buddhist evangelist. I am simply holding up their text as a comparative example of why the Bible and all of its vindictive commandments is not a necessity in promoting morality. Morality, as I said before, can be observed across national borders, despite religious creed. Fundamental religion promotes discrimination. PERIOD. We DO NOT need the threat of Hell and punishment to lead us to moral living. Ghandi led a nation to its knees, Rosa Parks changed the nation's thinking by refusing to move, and Martin Luther King brought and end to primitive beliefs by his WORDS and refusal to lower himself to violence. Ghandi was most certainly NOT a Christian and yet he is esteemed as a highly moral human being. WHY do you suppose?

There are tribes of people found deep within the jungle that possess no canonized moral code, and yet can be observed as being tender and peaceful societies. Secular law is often even more human and upright than fundamental religious law.

I have to run for now, but if you'd like to continue this "conversation", feel free to email me at Tiffanieradcliffe@yahoo.com

MikeG said...


But yet I have read stories in the news in the very recent past of Buddhist monks practicing violence. I don't recall the specific details—only that it happened.

And to present some balance, you have the teachings of Christ to "love your enemies", forgive, turn the other cheek, overcome evil with good, blessed are the peacemakers, and the list could go on and on and on. And out of the Old Testament, avenge not yourselves, love your neighbor as yourself, feed the widows and orphans, give to the poor, defend the weak and fatherless, and the list could go on there as well.

And so, for you to imply that the Bible or the Christian faith promotes vindictiveness and discrimination really seems to arise out of discrimination in your own heart.

And of course truth isn't the exclusive domain of Christians, though some may think it is. Truth is truth wherever it is found. And just because someone else happens to speak something that is true or good, doesn't thereby lower the Christian faith or the Bible in my estimation.

And I'm not sure what you mean when you say 'Biblical sympathy', but whatever it is, I'm neither looking for it nor asking for it. I simply posted some of my own views, to which you chose to respond.

Nvrgoingbk said...

Mike G,

My point regarding Buddhism was not to plead the case that ALL Buddhists are nonviolent. My point was that the Buddhist text does not ANYWHERE promote violence or retribution, and yet it's adherents do not need the threat of eternal torture to apply its moral advice to their lives.
Buddhists who commit violence will never be able to find justification for it in their "holy" text, but Christians and Jews do all the time.

Regardless of Jesus' high moral standards, he also preached a doctrine of divine retribution simply for not believing in him. And his ideas and philospophies were not unique to him. Buddha coined the whole "Golden Rule" long before Jesus supposedly did.

The Christian/Jewish texts do not hold the monopoly on moral standards, and if the same moral code or an even higher one can be found within our own conscience, I fail to see the usefulness of perpetuating some superstitious belief in the Bible, when it contains such grotesque commands and decrees that one has to sift through the shit to find the pearls.

MikeG said...


I believe that there is much more of pearls than of dung in the text; but I suppose it may just be in the eye of the beholder. See it as you please.

Anonymous said...

NVRGgoing wrote:
The problem is that the church holds up the Bible as the inerrant "Word of God"

I think you need to check your sources. Yes much of AMERICAN Christianity esp evangelicals (of which I am not but I am sympathetic) hold to inerrancy but the church historically has held to biblical AUTHORITY. I believe I will take you up on your offer to discuss things further. This is ot in an attempt to "convert" you so much as actually dialogue and communicate.

Yes, the church will call the sriptures
"an instruction guide" but that is a simplistic description. The scriptures really are NOT simply open and read, for one they are a COLLECTION of books not just a single book. Finally, God does deal with people differently. Your contention that Truth does not change, is a testament to your clingling to an out moded view of Truth. As the church has been contending for quite a while and modern philosphy has told us, truth as an object does not exist. Truth is relational. I would love to discuss this further.


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