Thursday, December 27, 2007

True Christians?

I recently read a review of Dinesh D'Souza's latest book, What's So Great About Christianity? The reviewer, David Klinghoffer, is an observant Jew, an that fact caused him to raise a few penetrating questions regarding Christianity's complicated history with Jews and the Jewish faith. Specifically, he questions D'Souza's perceived minimization and or revisionism regarding the Inquisition and the Crusades. Apparently D' Souza argues that the Crusades were defensive wars against Islamic aggression and that the Inquisition only killed 2,000 people over its 350-year existence, a number which compares quite favorably with those killed on behalf of other religions (e.g., Islamists killed more people than that on one day in 2001, while atheist National Socialists and Communists killed some 100 million+ between 1920 and 1990). Klinghoffer regards such arguments as a bit disingenuous and unconvincing at best.

Moreover, Klinghoffer objects strongly to the idea that D'Souza can dismiss as "not true Christians" some of the people who have committed horrible atrocities despite their profession of faith.

How should a Christian respond to such charges? Permit me to suggest the following:
  1. The Crusades are a response, not an attack. Islam conquered all of the Middle East, all of North Africa, nearly all of Spain and was advancing into what is now Turkey by c. 750 AD. All of these areas had been overwhelmingly Christian since at least the time of Constantine (c. 320), with many having a predominantly Christian population well before then. Anyone who has witnessed the slow-motion genocide of Darfur and Southern Sudan in recent years and noted the parallels to Islam's historic spread by the sword can't escape wondering whether armed resistance wouldn't be a better practical policy than helplessly waiting for one's murderers to arrive. After all, the armed resistance of Southern Sudan has won peace, a measure of independence, and freedom from the death, rape, and mutilation that used to be a feature of daily life, while the people of Darfur mostly wait helplessly. While this says nothing about the theological issues at hand, mass slaughter of non-Muslims does at least tempt a normal person to want to respond in kind and at least try to protect one's co-religionists. Which is what occurred, beginning with the 1st Crusade in 1095, after 400 years of Islamic aggression.
  2. The Crusades were a rational response, but a disaster for the Church. While I think the Crusades were understandable, given the circumstances, I still think that they were an immeasurable tragedy. In the Crusades, Christians internalized the values of their attackers-that war could be "holy," that death while engaged in holy war was an automatic ticket to heaven, and that possession of earthly territory and power was the kind of Kingdom our King had in mind. These attitudes led to the slaughter of Jews and peaceful fellow Christians in Constantinople while on the way to "holy war" in the Middle East. I think the big reason why this transition was so easily made had to do with the "Christianization" of the Roman Empire under Constantine, which was also a huge disaster for the Church.
  3. The union of Church and State makes it especially necessary to distinguish true from false Christians. Many sections of the NT (indeed some whole books, such as James) spend significant energy exhorting people about the fact that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. When Christianity became the culture and enforced by the power of the State, then this pre-existing reality became even more acute, because officially at least, everyone was a Christian. But this is clearly not true from any fair comparison of the actual lives of some "Christians" and the NT, any more than it is true that everyone in ancient Israel was a true worshiper of YHWH (else why all the denunciations of idolatry by the prophets?). Thus, I find it not only convenient (Klinghoffer's accusation), but also highly likely that those who murdered peaceful Jews and fellow Christians were no more like authentic Christians than a soy burger is to the real thing (That is, while there are superficial similarities, the real thing is distinct in all the ways that really matter).
  4. While Christians get blamed for European anti-Semitism, that's not Jesus. Anti-Semitism is one of the ugliest sins that some Christians (among them notably, Martin Luther) have fallen into. Yet I wonder whether such feelings of hatred are more of a pre-existing cultural phenomenon than they are a feature of Christianity as such. The reason I think that may be the case is that while Christianity is virtually nonexistent in most of Europe, anti-Semitism is on the rise there and is regarded as respectable within large segments of European society (usually cloaked in the veil of anti-Zionism). Moreover, America is the most philo-Semitic country other than Israel that has ever existed even though roughly 25%-35% of its population is Christian. How can this be if Christians are to bear the blame for European pogroms? Finally, the greatest slaughter of Jews in history came not through the Church (or even those claiming association with Her), but from those who adopted Nietzschean atheist philosophy and Marxist economics (i.e., the National Socialists or Nazis), a phenomenon which could not occur until the Church was dying out.

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Joe, that was an excellent commentary on the Crusades. I will certainly put it to use!