Christians on High Horses

HHsA recent comment by the U.S. president led me to wonder:  What’s the difference between a modern ISIS terrorist and a Christian Crusader from 1000 years ago or an Inquisition interrogator from 500 years ago, from the point of view of their victims?

The answer: not much.

Now what’s the difference between those two above and a modern Christian, whose faith has spent the last 500 years ridding itself of crusades and inquisitions, whose faith has undergone massive social and cultural reformations when the Age of Enlightenment contributed to the secularization of European democracies and the founding of the secular democracy of the United States, events which liberated Christianity from being a tool of the State, a liberation that allowed Christianity to completely restructure itself from a political force at the command of kings to a growing and still-emerging body of Christ who take their inspiration from the actual teachings of Jesus – how would modern Christianity compare to the Dark Ages church that was more a political force than a spiritual one?

The difference would be something like the mother of Coptic Christian brothers who were beheaded by ISIS expressing her forgiveness for her son’s murderers and hoping for their killers’ salvation; it would be calls for prayer rather than calls for revenge in response to the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, it would be the universal condemnation by the Christian community of hate and provocation that occasionally arises among them by those claiming to act in the name of Christ.

Christianity remains at or near the top of the worlds fastest growing religions, and it has successfully transformed itself into one of the world’s more pacifistic and also among the most generous of religions for global foreign aid.  Much has changed since the days the president was referring to. That Christianity existed in another time, another place, for an entirely different purpose and with a polar opposite reason for existence than the Christianity we know today.

So I don’t know if protesting the violent slaughter of those who will not convert to the perpetrators’ religion means that Christians are on a high horse of some kind.  I believe that everyone is protesting these acts of violence regardless of their spiritual tradition, and I believe that most reasonable people also accept the perpetrators’ own stated rationale for committing those acts.

Clearly the president is as horrified by this violence as everyone else is.  But the comment about being on a high horse about it made no sense at all to me, and I find that I cannot resist a brief response.

2 thoughts on “Christians on High Horses

  1. Steve Price

    Christianity began as a grassroots rebuke of Colonialism, Imperial violence, intolerance and hatred. In 300 or so years, the Imperial Empire co-opted Christianity for its purposes. Since then there have been polar opposite concepts of what “true Christianity” is. American Christians, perhaps more than European Christians find themselves often supporting both the Imperial Christianity and the pacifist communitarian empathic Christianity that is more Christlike, by my reading of the Gospels. We have both forms of our faith with us at all times, and often vacillate between them. But the main thrust of your essay, that highlights the Reformation within historic Christianity, and its “salvation” from the horrors of Inquisition and Empire by the grace of the Enlightenment is right on, and ironic. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire and other intellectual leaders of the Enlightenment were not actually Christian at all, or hardly so. They could not be, given the Christianity on offer in their day was a form of “Barbarism” as Tom Paine wrote. His Age of Reason caused him to be denounced from pulpits across American and his return to America was not as a beloved Founding Father but as a social outcast. In our time, Christianity is actively being used to support racism, murder, homophobia, theft of the labor of working people and other crimes against America. But as you correctly point out, other Christians can and do loudly protest this as a perversion of the teachings of Christ. I hear more and more Muslims speaking out in the same way, calling for condemnation of those who would use the name of Allah, or The Prophet, or Scripture to justify murder and sexism and intolerance. Islam is now at a crossroad. We will not live long enough to see the ultimate path it takes, but let us pray that it is reformed in a way that the phrase, “Allah, the All Merciful” will not sound as a revolting mockery.

    1. notanist Post author

      By Colonialism I assume you’re referring to Roman colonization of Israel, and 300 years later Rome adopting Christianity as its state religion. ? In those three centuries Christianity had spread like wildfire through the Roman empire, and some were realizing that some of its basic tenets could be very useful.

      Christianity was the perfect religion for slaves and the lower classes. “The last shall be first”, spiritual reward for humility and self-sacrifice, hope for the poorest, carry that coat the extra mile, and most importantly for Rome, praise for submission to earthly authority as a means for earning a heavenly reward. All this was great stuff for the Roman rulers, adherents to a religion that taught these values were a lot less like to revolt or cause the state any trouble, and in retrospect it seems surprising that it took them 300 years to adapt as their own and take control of it.

      That said, the theme of this blog is evolution. All things evolve over time, biologically, societally, technologically, spiritually, and individually as we mature (or “evolve” from children to adults) over the course of a lifetime. Religions are no different, they evolve also. Catholicism and Protestantism are both evolving right in front of our eyes and have been taking big steps in their growth and evolution just in the past century. Failure to grasp that growth and transformation was my objection to the comparison of modern Christianity to the Crusaders.

      The Deists had a major hand in founding this country, and given that many of the initial settlers in the U.S. were fleeing religious oppression in Europe, these founders wisely kept government out of religion altogether, and vice versa. So this post was basically a frustrated rant to point out that comparing modern Christianity to the Crusaders was divisive, ill-informed, and lacking insight into what Christianity has become and the direction in which it is evolving.


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