Religious Cruelty (We become what we worship)

by Thomas B. Thayer, Gerry Beauchemin

The teaching of eternal punishment creates a cruel and revengeful spirit – and this is illustrated from history. Our view of God affects our character; we become what we worship. This article is based on chapter  seven of “The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment” by Thomas B. Thayer, written in 1855.  In it I weave Thayer’s thoughts with mine to bring the essence of his critical message for our time.

It makes no difference which faith or religion we may subscribe to. If our religion has a dark side to it, and we sincerely believe in it, it will also birth a dark side in us. If we believe in an unmerciful and mean God, we too will take on a similar character. If we believe that the God of the Bible dislikes or hates any particular class of persons, so will we. And if God torments sinners in the fire of hell forever after they die, we will be OK with that. The past and present of religious history attests to this. “The temper and practice of a people is determined by the spirit of their religion and their gods” wrote Thayer.

The non-Christian religions of the world, even in their worst forms, have not exceeded the savage and terrible descriptions that Christians have held about God. He has been portrayed as having a “cold and malignant purpose for millions of human beings, inflicting horrible, never-ending pains on His helpless children.” Language is inadequate to adequately express this revolting fact.

Thayer quotes Dr. Benson, an eminent minister of his day, in a sermon on hell. Benson claimed that God is present in hell as an “unfathomable sea of liquid fire” and that He exerts all his power to make his victims suffer to the maximum degree possible. He attempts to describe the unlimited duration of this pain with grains of sand and drops of water, each equivalent to a million ages.

How does such an extreme and horrific belief affect us as believers? It hardens and brutalizes our hearts along with our affections. It makes us cruel. Thayer presents historical examples of this. Tertullian said, “How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many kings and false gods…groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness…liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against Christians.” All that would be needed for this mean spirited man to unleash his fury on innocent victims would be the political power to do so.

Have you heard of the 13th century Catholic crusades against the Albigenses? They were a gentle and virtuous people, a community of Christians who suffered one of the darkest and bloodiest persecutions in human history. They were labeled as heretics for believing certain doctrines that the Christian church, at that time, rejected. Throughout this barbaric slaughter could be heard the ruthless cry of the Catholic priests, “It is for the glory of God!” A brutal band of “Christian” warriors, sanctioned by the Church, believed they were doing God’s will! They rushed forward to their bloody work with the “ferocity of tigers and the joy of a Tertullian.”

Catholic monks urged the faithful to this diabolical work, teaching them that persecuting heretics would bring them favor with God – even salvation. Sound familiar? They instigated waves of new fanatics each year. Defamed as the outcasts of the human race, the Albigenses were viewed as objects of divine hatred and vengeance. It was said that “no devotional exercise, no prayer or praise, no act of charity or mercy, was half so acceptable to God as the murder of a heretic.” The more zealous people were for God, the more they tortured and killed. “Most frightfully did they do the work of religious butchery and cruelty.” Women, children and the aged were not spared. And whenever they felt any pity for their victims, they saw it as a sin needing absolution from a priest.

These persecutors were not content with merely killing their victims. “De Montfort on one occasion seized a hundred prisoners, cut off their noses, tore out their eyes, and sent them with a one-eyed man as a guide to the neighboring castles to announce to the inhabitants what they might expect when taken. Often, as a matter of amusement, they subjected their victims to the most dreadful tortures, and rejoiced in their wild cries of agony.” How hardened and fiendish had these “servants of God” become. This is incontestable evidence that humans naturally emulate the god they admire and worship.

Another example is the massacre of St. Bartholomew, in Paris. The number killed in this slaughter is estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000 souls. Even children of ten or twelve were taught to kill infants by cutting their throats. But what is most insidious about this event was how the news was received by the church in Rome. The courier was welcomed with celebration and a jubilee was published. The whole country gave thanks to God, lighting bonfires throughout the city as an expression of joy. All this was done in the name of Christ – an offering to God!

The “Inquisitions” are another example of how religion incited human cruelty, and again, by Christians killing Christians. It is difficult to put into words how cruel they were. They inflicted as much pain as was physically possible without killing their victims, preserving their life merely to extend the duration of their torture. These religious warriors served a hateful God, one who tortures His enemies forever in a fiery hell – a fate infinitely worse than any torture inflicted by these persecutors.

The horror of this is magnified when you learn that these atrocities were not committed merely by priests and soldiers, but it enjoined the participation of all believers. It spread over the whole social life of the populace. “Informers were encouraged, heretics were hunted, private hatred took its revenge, and the most malignant passions of the corrupt heart were roused into action in the service of God and the church. Even the most tender ties of affection and the most holy relations of life, were crushed beneath the iron heel of religious zeal. Husbands betrayed their wives, parents their children, and sisters their brothers.” In so doing they congratulated themselves on their fidelity to God. The power of a savage religion succeeded to “crush every kindly feeling, every emotion of love and pity, and to train its followers to cruelty and blood.”

You may be thinking, “This was only among ‘Catholics’ during the dark ages.” Not so! This spirit of cruelty had, and has, no bounds. In fact, Jesus rebuked His disciples for it. (Read Luke 9:51-56). John Calvin’s persecution of a fellow believer (Servetus) and Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, all stem from this same spirit and attitude. Thayer writes, “And the history of the Puritans…, of the Dissenters of England, of the Covenanters of Scotland… discovers also the same faith; shorn of its power, to be sure, by the progress of society and civil institutions, but, with a change of circumstances, ready at any time to seize the dagger or the torch, and spring forth to the work of death.”

Over 150 years ago, Thayer concluded, “We cannot blind ourselves to these facts. The cruel butcheries of the past, the dungeon, the rack, the fagot, the bloody scourge falling upon the back of the meekly suffering Quaker, the cry of agony, the unheeded prayer for mercy… Christians are subject to the same law which governs other men…belief in a ferocious god and an endless hell have done their legitimate work in the Christian’s heart. Like the Aztec of America, and the Norseman of Europe, he has partaken of the spirit of his deity. Queen Mary of England defended her bloody persecutions by appealing to the supposed example of the Deity: “As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell, there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the divine vengeance by burning them on earth.”

This same spirit is clearly seen in our day. Let us not forget 9/11. No one who honestly studies church and world history, or is conscious of world events can deny this reality. Just this past week, on Christmas day 2011, religious zealots in Nigeria bombed a Catholic Church killing twenty-five Christians in the act of worshipping God. How many were severely injured? This spirit of religious terrorism is not exclusive to any single religion or belief system, but is possible to anyone who has a flawed concept of God, even for you and I.

What kind of God do you love, admire, and worship? What kind of a person are you becoming? Do you love hateful people and believe that God can always change them as you believe He has changed you? Or have you written some sinners off as going to hell, who will be rejected by God forever? After all, if God will reject the vast majority of the human race forever, what’s to compel you to continue to be loving and patient with the worse sinners you know? Since you believe God’s patience will certainly run out with them, why shouldn’t yours, especially since you have far less patience than God?

In conclusion, however we understand God to be, this is how we will be. It cannot be otherwise. History and the present world prove it. If God’s attitude towards those against Him is to torment or torture them forever, a similar attitude will flow out from the hearts of His admirers. We become what we worship.

I believe in a God of infinite love and mercy, a God who never gives up on anyone – ever! He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety–nine sheep to find the one that is lost. If you believe in this God, then this is how you will be. Many people have called and emailed me testifying to this very truth. They have experienced a depth of love and patience for difficult to love people, such that they have never known before. How can we argue against such fruit? By our fruits we shall be known, said our Lord.

Here’s an example:

“Thank you Gerry for writing – it is truly encouraging and wonderful to hear all your stories of how liberating it is to learn more about our God. My husband and I see people so differently now – knowing that God will not give up on the ‘vilest offender’ helps us to hope, love and pray for them more….Jean”

Dear friend, I challenge you to listen to the still small voice of God speaking to your heart. God is a Father over all His human children and would never punish us forever in any fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. May He open your eyes!

I invite you to read “Hope Beyond Hell – The Righteous Purpose of God’s Judgment.”It presents a compelling Biblical case supporting a God of infinite, unfailing love. Read it free at or on

For references to quotes and to read the original chapter on which this article is based, scroll down to chapter 7 (VII) at this link:
“The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment.” by Thomas B. Thayer Published 1855



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