Are Christians called to desecrate other religions?

Hi everyone,

My name is Javier Plumey. I am a podcaster for the Hands and Feet Show, a Catholic podcast on SQPN.COM and an amateur blogger. I recently posted some comments on my blog about the desecration of the Eucharist by a University of Minnesota Morris professor. In response to that post I have received several interesting questions. The topic of the comments on the blog changed to a general topic of whether or not Christians are called to desecrate other religions. Rather than continuing that debate in the comments of my blog, I thought I would move it over here to get more expert opinions.

I have included below the last comment that I received from the blog and I have invited the person making the comments to this thread. Hopefully the person will show up so that we can continue the dialog here. Thanks! Here it the latest post (sent via email) since I closed comments on the post on my blog.

Dear Mr. Plumey,
My argument is relevant because you have argued that desecration is wrong. I am arguing that even your own scripture says that it is not always wrong. In fact, it is commanded sometimes.

 You state: **"The Bible does not endorse this and your references are simply taken out of context."**
 I am afraid that your statement involves a basic logical fallacy. I simply quoted the Bible, and it does include this command: "**you shall break down their altars..."

By definition, any divine command of the form “Do X” must be endorsing the action described as “X.” Is this not the way you would interpret “Honor your father and your mother…” in Exodus 20:12? Is this text not “endorsing” the act of honoring of your father and your mother?

 Since the command to break down altars is in the Bible, then, by definition, it is accurate to say "The Bible" endorses it just as you would say the Bible endorses the command to "Honor your father and your mother."

 You also don't explain how "context" changes anything?  Does context tell you the opposite-i.e., **"Don't break down their altars"**?  How? Why? 

 Moreover, you are actually out of touch with even Catholic biblical scholars. For example, Dr. John J. Collins, a respected Catholic biblical scholar and Yale professor, does not deny that desecration of other religions is endorsed in some parts of the Bible. Read his book, *Does the Bible Justify Violence?* (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

 Likewise, the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on "anathema," the name for the practice involved in Deuteronomy 7, admits such that such destruction is commanded: [](

“This is the sense of anathema in the following passage from Deuteronomy 7:26: “Neither shalt thou bring anything of the idol into thy house, lest thou become an anathema like it. Thou shalt detest it as dung, and shalt utterly abhor it as uncleanness and filth, because it is an anathema.” Nations, individuals, animals, and inanimate objects may become anathema, i.e. ****cursed and devoted to destruction. It was thus that the people inhabiting the Promised Land were anathematized as Moses says (Deuteronomy 7:1, 2): “When . . . the Lord thy God shall have delivered them to thee, thou shalt utterly destroy them.” When a people was anathematized by the Lord,** they were to be entirely exterminated**. Saul was rejected by God for having spared Agag, King of the Amalecites, amid the greater part of the booty (1 Samuel 15:9-23). Anyone who spared anything belonging to a man who had been declared anathema, became himself anathema.”

So, please be so kind as to answer this question:** Is desecrating the objects of another religion always wrong?**

It is important to have a clear answer from you because I don’t think the matter is as closed as you suggest. The deletion of the post from the UMN website does not mean host desecrations or
desecrations will disappear. This is a very hollow victory.

**And so the issue of why you seem to allow some desecrations (the ones endorsed by your religious scriptures), and not others, will remain alive.


One must be very careful in translating commands from the Old Testament into the New. Many Old Covenant commands were given only to produce a people, a nation righteous enough to provide a fertile ground for the coming of Jesus and his teaching. Once Jesus arrives and his Church is up and growing many such commands no longer hold. There are some in every generation, including clerics, who seem not to understand this. Did Jesus or the Early Church teach that the Christians of the first 3 centuries should hurl down the pagan temples and images? Did such things happen after the Christian Religion became the State Religion? Most assuredly, but more from political considerations than religious.

One must always remember the two greatest commandments, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, etc. and to love your neighbor as yourself.

If you don’t want others to desecrate your sacred objects you shouldn’t do the same to theirs.

It is one thing to as in the Old Testament to destroy pagan idols that have been place on Jewish altars and totally different thing to go into say a Hindu temple and destroy items in it.

I remember reading in the Bible about Paul going into pagan temples and noticing the altar to the unnamed God and telling people that he is here to preach the unnamed God, that he is the true God. Nothing mentions Paul going into these other temples and destroying them.

If his central question is “Is desecrating the objects of another religion always wrong?”, one must first recognize that to “desecrate” is to “de-sacralize” or, in a manner of speaking, to “make unholy” or to “violate the holiness of” something. While the Catholic Church is holy because God’s Spirit resides in it, one must question whether the same can be said about all other religions. And, in fact, the evidence suggests It does not. That which is holy is that which has God’s Spirit in or upon it. That which does not then, by definition, cannot be “desecrated”.

So a more appropriate question might be, “Is it always wrong to ‘harm’ the objects of other religions?” And the answer to that, as the Bible demonstrates, would be no, it is not always wrong. This said, this is not a license to “blow up” non-Catholic religious items at will. All sorts of issues must be taken into consideration and, thus, the general rule would be not to do so, whether those harming objects would be morally acceptable in and of itself or not.

That make sense?


It is not always wrong to desecrate the sacred objects of other religions (God having ordered it in the past, and God being incapable of evil), but the authority is God’s, not the Bible.

In other words, as noted, Christ has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is incompatible in the normal fashion with desecrating their sacred objects. If God commanded us to do so, that would be a different story.

The Bible is salvation history, and must be read as history is. One cannot simply take a passage from Genesis— “Let there be light”, say----and extrapolate from that that we must never let it get dark since the Bible “endorses” light.

This is akin to saying Shakespeare endorsed regicide in “Macbeth”.

I am afraid that your statement involves a basic logical fallacy. I simply quoted the Bible, and it does include this command: “you shall break down their altars…”

The bible also includes this command “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” The key to understanding it is, of course, by reading it in context: God said to Noah… Make yourself an ark…

Likewise the command for breaking down altars is found in Deut.7

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir’gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per’izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb’usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves… …you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Ashe’rim, and burn their graven images with fire.

So no, I’m not planning on breaking down altars or building an ark. :thumbsup:

Thanks for all of your responses. Unfortunately she didn’t feel the need to continue the discussion. As is always the case for someone who is just arguing for argument’s sake, I don’t think she had the stamina to continue her point of view. Thanks everyone.

St. Boniface chopped down a tree that the Germans worshipped and built a Church out of it. I think that’s cool and shows a lot of Christian guts.

We need more people who are willing to chop down the idols of pagan worship today.

This is a very good point. I’ve heard it said a few times before. It’s important to for Christians to approach the Old Testament THROUGH the light of the New Testament. The Old Testament bears out all of Christ’s teachings, but teachings that are not emphasized in the New Testament must be carefully approached. Some of the pre-Christian teachings were intended for people with much harder hearts, and deeply reduced level of appreciation for nuance. The authors of the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit to focus on the salient characteristics of our Father’s teachings through the Son, for different audiences. Sometimes Jewish, and sometimes pagan gentiles. The Son refered to the scriptures of the Old Testament where necessary, but being the Word of God made flesh, He was also able to refine many of His Old Testament concepts for the whole of His people, in ways more contemporary to their time, ability to comprehend, and the softening that had already occurred in man’s hearts up to that point.



Anathema does not have the same meaning today and in the N.T. as it did in the O.T. As is the case with many words throughout history they do not have the same meaning. If she had read the entire article in the Catholic Encyclopedia she would have found that out.

In the New Testament anathema no longer entails death, but the loss of goods or exclusion from the society of the faithful. St. Paul frequently uses this word in the latter sense. In the Epistle to the Romans (9:3) he says: “For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh”, i.e. “I should wish to be separated and rejected of Christ, if by that means I would procure the salvation of my brethren.” And again, using the word in the same sense, he says (Galatians 1:9): “If any one preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.” But he who is separated from God is united to the devil, which explains why St. Paul, instead of anathematizing, sometimes delivers a person over to Satan (1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Corinthians
Catholic Encyclopedia

So it basically is a seperation. The Church does not approve of the destruction or desecration of another religion and it is wrong for anyone to do so. It is simply not Christian to do such a thing.