Murder in the Name of Religion

By James A. Haught | Summer 1990
Free Inquiry


When you think of saints, you envision stained-glass pictures of piety. But the truth can be horribly different. Consider Pope Pius V:

When he was Grand Inquisitor, he sent Catholic troops to kill 2,000 Waldensian Protestants in Calabria in southern Italy.

After becoming pope, he sent Catholic troops to kill Huguenot Protestants in France. He ordered the commander to execute every prisoner taken.

Pius also launched the final crusade against the Muslims, sending a Christian naval armada to slaughter thousands in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

And he intensified the Roman Inquisition, torturing and burning Catholics whose beliefs varied from official dogma.

After his death, he was canonized a saint. He still is venerated by the church.

It is as if Adolf Hitler were elevated to sainthood.

Or consider Saint Dominic, the king of torture. He founded the Dominican order, whose priests were judges of the Inquisition. They presided while screaming victims were twisted and ripped on fiendish pain machines until they confessed to thinking unorthodox thoughts. Then the Dominicans led the broken “heretics” in grand processions to the stake.

The priests also tortured thousands of women into confessing they were witches who had sex with Satan, changed themselves into animals, flew through the sky, caused storms, and the like. The “witches” also were burned for their confessions.

Or consider Saint Cyril, whose monks and followers beat to death the great woman scientist, Hypatia, director of the Alexandria Library, for her scientific approach to nature.

Or Saint Pedro Arbries, a Spanish inquisitor who tortured and burned former Jews for harboring their old beliefs. An ex-Jew assassinated him, and he was canonized as a martyr.

I was a newspaper church columnist for many years. Endlessly, I heard ministers proclaim that religion instills love and compassion in believers. It’s a universal message. Meanwhile, back at the paper, our headlines said:

“Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs Massacre Each Other in India”
“Protestant Gunmen Kill Catholics in Belfast, and Vice Versa”
“Shi’ites in Iran Hang Baha’i Teens Who Won’t Convert”
“Christian Snipers Pin Down Muslim Machine-Gunners in Beirut”
“Hands and Feet Chopped Off Under Islamic Law in Sudan”

Politicians always call religion a mighty force for good. President Reagan labeled it “the bedrock of moral order.” They say it builds brotherhood.

But Christians killed 3 million Jews during Europe’s centuries of religious persecution, before Hitler secularized the process.

And the Reformation wars pitted Catholics and Protestants in a ghastly century of slaughter.

And the Third World today still sufferes bloodbaths caused by religious tribalism.

There’s a tinge of the Twilight Zone in the constant declarations that religion creates love, when opposite results are everywhere.

Did religion make Saint Pius V loving as he killed Waldensians, Huguenots, Muslims and nonconforming Catholics?

Did it make the Ayatollah Khomeini compassionate as he ordered the hanging of Baha’is and demanded the assassination of a “blaspheming” British writer?

Did it make the Aztecs affectionate as they sacrificed and skinned maidens to appease a feathered serpent god?

Did it make brotherhood in Lebanon, where religious tribes wreak endless warfare?

Religion always is hailed as the cure for the world’s evils. But, too often, it’s the problem, not the solution.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. His website is

Holy Horrors
By James A. Haught
Prometheus Books (30 May 2002)
ISBN-10: 1573927783
ISBN-13: 978-1573927789

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