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March 11, 2007
Christianity and American way of life (updated)
I think Mr. Warshawsky's essay today, while obviously well-intentioned, if so widely off the mark in terms of realistic assessment of the influence of Christianity in America that an opposing voice is clearly in order.
Let's examine Christian influence without fulsome apologetics - it doesn't do anybody any good to veer off the factual basis in discussion, and resorting to unjustifiable statements like
First of all, atrocities caused by Hitler, Stalin and Mao were caused not by their atheism - but by the perception that they discovered the ultimate Truth. Once Truth gets into one's head, violent suppression of dissidents is not far off - whether this Truth be religious or not. This quote from my site (on which I call those in possession of such Truth "idolaters") explains that sort of violence in the following way:
Second of all, Christianity went through such periods just as did other religions. Let's not white-wash frightful and bloody Christian-on-Christian crusades - like those against Albigensians and Hussites - which were inspired not by atheism but by deep-felt piety (very much like the one animating today's non-atheistic - and in fact, very pious - Shias and Sunnis, who blow each other up with a gusto); let us not overlook the True-faith-upholding Inquisition established in the aftermath of Albigensian crusade, and the horrible wars of religion that ravaged Europe in the wake of the Reformation. History teaches us that both the atheists and the believers in God are equally capable of inflicting unendurable suffering.
And yet, Mr. Warshawsky is right in praising Christianity for its key role in the formation of this county. But that role was so benign not because of the magnanimous spirit of tolerance of other religions exhibited by the dominant Christianity, as he would have us believe when he tells us that
The fact that any and all religions can be openly practiced in America is an outcome of the phenomenon that was very different - and, in fact, exactly opposite - to Christian tolerance; it grew out of Christian intolerance to Christians, and of the oppressed Christians' desire to put an end to it.
This is not as confusing as it sounds. Before the reformation, there was only one Church and only one Christianity, Catholicism - all other ones being successfully suppressed. Reformation - the split of Christendom into the Catholics and the Evangelicals - broke not only the Pope's monopoly on creed but, far more importantly, on his ability to enforce it, because allegiances of those wielding secular power split too. Many powerful princes and communities - first in Germany, but later in Switzerland, Low countries, Sweden, England and France - also took the reformist's side. The split of Christendom into two roughly equal centers of power resulted in wars that were horrifying - far exceeding in bloodshed and misery the present-day's dust-off between Shiahs and Sunnis in Iraq - and taught the European and, later, American Christians that sticking one's Truth, no matter how obviously True, down the neighbor's throat is not going to do anybody any good.
Moreover, the logic of evangelicalism with its stress on coming to God through personal acceptance of Christ, and realization that only the few were really intended to be saved, meant that religious coercion not only didn't make any sense theologically, but was in fact an ultimate act of irreligion. Hence, John Milton could react to the attempt to institute licensing of clergy in the Cromwellian England by describing such clergymen as "hireling wolves whose Gospel is their maw" and appealing to Oliver Cromwell to thwart the efforts of those who "threaten to bind our souls with secular chains." Conscience that was free on any coercion - and hence, free speech and free exercise of religion - were to become the gateways to God.
American Christians got this notion from their English puritan fore-fathers, who came to this conclusion in the crucible of the English Civil war of mid-seventeenth-century. Around 1640 there was a clash between two opposing, intolerant, ayatollah-style forces: Anglican church under heavy-handed Archbishop Laud, and the equally narrow-minded Scottish Presbyterians, a clash which left the puritan non-conformists squeezed in the middle and harassed by both sides, developing in the process a notion of separation of church and state, and producing in Roger Williams a brilliant advocate of the idea that the matters of religion should better be left to each individual alone. The separation of church and state which ensures our freedom to believe just as we see fit was, thus, not an act of generosity on the part of Christians towards non-Christians as Mr. Warshawsky would have us believe, but a vital necessity, effected by the Evangelicals and for the Evangelicals.
And it is this separation of church and state - that in effect outlaws the very notion of "True Faith" which bedevils today's Moslems and causes them to resort to violence - is the main legacy of Christians in America and, being enshrined in the first amendment of the US constitution by the very religious, very Christian, very conservative yet very clear-minded founding fathers, is Christianity's chief contribution to American way of life, and an enduring symbol of the fact that the religious can overcome narrow-mindedness and not be the brainless, intolerant, monomaniacal, homicidal and suicidal idolatrous two-legged creatures like those populating present day's Moslem Middle East.
Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of "The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly." His blog is at http://www.rootoutterrorism.com
Some crucial points in response to Mr. Nitrist's rebuttal of Mr. Warshawsky's article "Atheists, Conservatives and Christianity". First, his history of the reformation is leaving out the critical point that, up until the reformation there already existed a form of separation of church and state (or a balance of power). The pope and Holy Roman Emperor (or monarchs) checked each other. Politics and religion were separated in theory if not always in practice. When the reformers established their "state" religions, there followed the beginnings of a religio-nationalist (as opposed to theological) ideology, which degraded rapidly into the wars and persecutions of the various christian factions (states).
It was nationalism more than religion that fueled the bloodshed. As Mr. Nitrist points out later, it was warring factions in America that led to the American model of separation of chruch and state. To emphasize, it was American ingenuity (how many countless times this would thrust us forward) that found an answer to the problem, and how the more sweet it was that is was rectified by the American versions of these denominations. American know-how finally got it right. It was fueled by christians treating other christians in a truly "christian" way. This, in my opinion, is the true christian heritage of this country the Mr. Warshawsky speaks of.
John Marcangelo, Chicago IL