Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Root Causes of Religious Atrocities


The following document was found on the website: http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/consequence.html and is NOT an original or creative work by David Pass.


We have seen that simply claiming that Christians are good people and good people don't commit atrocities is logically flawed. However before going through the unpleasant task of chronicling the horrible consequences of Christianity, it is important to look at one more defense often heard from believers. The defense is normally stated as such:

While it may be true that some Christians committed horrible acts, they did this in spite of the teachings of Christianity. True Christianity would not have advocated such horrible actions and atrocities.

Note how the defense now has shifted from what constitute a real Christian to what constitute true Christianity. Here we will see how the acts of intolerance and atrocities are direct consequences of the Christian theological paradigm.[a]
Monotheism, the belief in one exclusive god, is fundamentally intolerant.
It is fundamental to Christian theology that God and his purpose are, in the final analysis, inscrutable to finite human minds. However his commandments must be followed.
Finally, ethics and morality are ultimately rooted in God's commandments, not in a reasoned analysis.
These three tenets, when applied singularly or as a cocktail, are largely responsible for the atrocities and horror we will be looking at.
The Particularism and Exclusivity of Monotheism
In his book One True God: The Historical Consequences of Monotheism,[1] the University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark, postulated that the root causes of intolerance seen in monotheistic religions are the exclusiveness and particularism that are embedded within it's very definition.
Monotheism, by it's very nature, is the antithesis of polytheism. Note that polytheism is the belief in many non-exclusive deities. A person can go to one temple to ask a favour from the goddess of love and go to another the next day asking for help with money issues from the god of wealth. Polytheistic deities offer specialized services and are thus, by their very nature, non-exclusive. Thus there is never a need for adherents to a certain deity in polytheism to actively sought the overthrow or suppression of other gods.
Monotheism, however, is the belief that there exists only one god. All other gods are, by definition, either false or attempts by the devil to fool their adherents. Embedded within this belief is an automatic contempt for polytheistic gods. This tells us why monotheism will always be intolerant of polytheism.
Furthermore, in defining the attributes of their one God, include the concept of immutability, that God does not change. Thus the God of the monotheists comunicates only one consistent message. In this sense, monotheism is also particularistic. Not only is there only one god, there is only one true message and only one true religion. This leads to both internal and external conflicts.
In trying to find and understand the one true message,theologians read and interpret scriptures. Yet this is the very cause of heresy. For heresy, by definition, is an interpretation of the same message in a method different from the group which ultimately won the battle (and the right to call their interpretation "orthodoxy"). All monotheistic religions show this tendency to splinter. In first century Judaism we find such factions as the Essenses, the Pharisees and the Sadducess. The Jewish Talmud noted that there were twenty four different factions altogether. In Islam we have the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Sufis. In Christianity we have from the earliest days various groups such as the Gnostics, the Patripassians, Sabellianism, Dynamic Monarchainism and Arians. Even today we find Christianity splintering into more than 20,000 denominations.
Obviously if monotheistic beliefs could not even reconcile themselves with factions who share the same scripture (but a different interpretation of it), their attitude towards other monotheistic religions with different scriptures are even worse. For if God is said to convey only one consistent message, competing sacred scriptures, with different and sometimes contradictory messages, cannot be reconciled within a particular monotheistic paradigm. Classic examples of these are the various crusades between Christendom and Islam.
For Christianity we find proof of this intolerance within the Christian scripture itself.
While intolerance plays a major role in the historical horrors perpetrated by Christians and Christianity, two more tenets of Christian theology are required to make the cocktail really explosive.
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The Inscrutibility of God's Mind
Another basic tenet of many monotheistic religion, including Christianity, is that God is all wise and his wisdom is impenetrable to the human mind.[b] This idea, that God's wisdom is beyond human comprehension is dramatically emphasised in the book of Job. For this is what the author had God rhetorically asking Job:

Job 38:4-5; 16-18 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?Tell me, if you have understanding.Who determined its measurements-surely you know!...Have you entered into the springs of the sea,or walked in the recesses of the deep?Have the gates of death been revealed to you,or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?Declare, if you know all this.

With the advent of modern science of technology the passage sounds dated to us, but the message to believers in the past must have been clear: who are you to question god's wisdom?
The message was well understood by Christian theologians. Martin Luther (1483-1546), for instance, asserted that if God asked him to go to the field and eat corn, he would do it no matter how ludicrous it would seem.[2]
Luther's Catholic rival, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), has the same teaching. He thought that founder of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, in his book Rules For Thinking Within The Church taught a simple rule for believers to follow when their reason contradicts their faith: "If the church should have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appear white, we ought in like manner pronounce it black." [3]
Thus whether god is speaking through the bible or through the church, his commandments are not to be questioned but to be followed.
This is the second item of the explosive cocktail. Now we go to the final one.
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God's Commandment as The Ultimate Moral Yardstick
Although Christians do believe that some moral values are "built-in" to the human psyche (see for instance Romans 1:19,20; 2:14,15); in the final analysis, an act is moral or ethical only because god commands it. This is clearly stated in the the section of Moral Law in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

The Scripture...taken as a whole, is our rule, our only rule, of faith and practice, and as a revelation of God's will, is binding on the consciences of all Christian men.[4]

We know from the Bible that god has commanded actions which under any circumstances would be considered barbaric and rivalling the achievements of Hitler and Stalin. One case to point is the commandment for the Israelites to slaughter the inhabitants of Canaan who were then living in the land promised to the former. Let us see these passages:

Exodus 23:23-24 "When my angel goes before you, and brings you in to the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Per'izzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces."



Deuteronomy 20:10-17 "When you draw near a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labour for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its male to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemy, which the Lord God has given to you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. In the cities of these people that the Lord your God gives you an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amoriotes, the Canaanites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded."

This commandment, of course, was faithfully carried out by Joshua. The story of this genocide is given in Joshua chapters 1 to 12. Below are a few sample passages:

The Conquest of JerichoJoshua 6:16-17; 20-21 Joshua said to the people, "Shout! for the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction..."...So the people shouted and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys.



The Conquest of AiJoshua 8:18-25 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand." And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and took it; and they made haste to set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven; and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers. And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and smote the men of Ai. And the others came forth from the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side; and Israel smote them, until there was left none that survived or escaped. But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua. When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand, all the people of Ai.

It is interesting to hear the comments of the Illustrated Bible Dictionary on the massacre of the Canaanites:

It is enough that Joshua clearly knew this was the will of God, who employs his terrible agencies, famine, pestilence, and war, in the righteous government of the world. The Canaanites had sunk into a state of immorality so foul and degrading that they had to be rooted out of the land with the edge of the sword. "The Israelite's sword, in its bloodiest executiuons, wrought a work of mercy for all countries of the earth to the very end of the world."[5]

Notice then the actions of Joshua are justified because it was the will of God. Nevermind that the Canaanites were considered "immoral" simply because they worshipped other gods (e.g. Numbers 33:52, Deuternonomy 7:4-5).
This is the third element of our cocktail. We will now see how these elements work whether singularly or mixed together.
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The Consequences of the "Cocktail"
We shall now see how all these three elements (intolerance, inscrutibility of God's wisdom and the definition of morality as what is commanded by God) were the underlying causes for many horrible acts perpertrated by Christians throughout history.

That this intolerance leads many times to the killing or massacre of the opposition, makes perfect sense for the believers. For wasn't Joshua commanded to kill the Canaanites because they were of other religions?
The second and third elements of the cocktail when mixed together had also resulted in much suffering.
The perpetuation of slavery in Christendom until faily recent times was due largely to the fact that the Bible did not condemn slavery. Thus it was never considered immoral to own slaves.
The subordinate position of women in Christendom was rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the church fathers (who were merely following through on the Bible's teachings on this).
The medieval witch hunt which resulted in the death of an estimated two million people was the result of a consistent application of the two principles above in intepreting Galatians 5:19 and Exodus 22:8.
The case of Dr. Simpson and the resistance of the Scottish clergy to the use of anesthesia during childbirth is another example of how Christian morality is not premised on the reduction of human pain and suffering but on what the Bible (hence God) commands.
It is clear therefore, that the atrocities and injustices above were committed, not in spite of Christianity, but because of it.

Religious Atrocities Throughout History:


The Pagans and the Early Christians

We saw in the previous chapter how the early Christians, before the religion came into ascendency under Constantine (c274-337), never showed any tolerance towards the pagan religions; they insulted these religions at any chance they get. When Constantine became the sole Roman Emperor in 323, Christianity was made the official religion of the empire. With full official backing, the early church, no longer satisfied with simply spitting at idols, turned with full force towards the pagan and persecuted them.
After Constantine's death in 337, two of his sons, Constantius (d.361) and Constans (d.350) took over the leadership of the empire. Constans, who ruled the western provinces was, like his father, a Christian. In 341, he decreed that all pagan worship and sacrifices should cease; warning those who persisted with the threat of the death penalty.
When Constans was killed in 350, his brother became the sole emperor of the whole empire three years later. Constantius, also a Christian, was as intolerant as his brother. He decreed that all pagan temples in the empire be closed. He warned that anyone who dared to still offer sacrifices of worship in these temples was to be put to death. Similarly, any governor who refused to carry out this decree was also to be punished.
Although the anti-pagan decrees of Constans and Constantius never seemed to have been enforced, it was a first step towards suppression of paganism. Lay Christians, particularly in the eastern half of the empire, took it upon themselves to destroy and plunder the temples. The decrees, which made worship in the temples illegal, allowed the Christians to do so with legal impunity. [1]
It was not just the Christian emperors and lay Christians who persecuted the pagans. Their theologians and prominent ecclesiastics joined in the orgy of hatred. One such example is St. Ambrose (c339-397), Bishop of Milan. When Gratian (359-383) became Roman emperor in 375, Ambrose, who was one of his educators, persuaded him to further suppress paganism. The emperor willingly obliged: he confiscated the properties of the pagan temples; seized the properties of the vestal virgins and the pagan priests, and removed the statue of the Goddess of Victory from the Roman Senate. [2]
When Gratian delegated the government of the eastern half of the empire to Theodosius (c346-395) in 379, the situation became worse for the pagans. Theodosius prohibited all forms of pagan worship and permitted the temples to be robbed, plundered and destroyed by "monks and other enterprising Christians." [3]
A good example of how the early Christians treated the pagans is the case of the philosopher Hypathia of Alexandria. Hypathia was the daughter of the mathematician Theon. She was certainly one of the most learned individual of her time. She taught and elucidated Greek mathematics and philosophy. She lectured widely in Athens and Alexandria. But her popularity and her intelligence, coupled with her lack of interest in Christianity, irritated the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril (d.444). Acting in the interest of their patriarch, the Alexandrian monks murdered Hypathia in the year 415. [4] The cruelty of the method of her murder can be seen by the description of it by Gibbon:
On a fatal day, in the holy season of Lent, Hypathia was torn from her chariot, stripped naked, dragged to the church, and inhumanly butchered by the hands of Peter the Reader and a troop of savage and merciless fanatics; her flesh was scrapped from her bones with sharp oyster shells, and her quivering limbs were delivered to the flames. The just progress of inquiry and punishment was stopped by seasonable gifts; but the murder of Hypathia has imprinted an indelible strain on the character and religion of Cyril of Alexandria. [5]
It should be mentioned that, for his relentless defence of orthodoxy and, as an obvious corollary, his zealous destruction of heretics and infidels (such as Hypathia), Cyril is considered a saint by the Christian church.
In the year 416, a law was passed to bar pagans from public employment. [6] All this was done to coerce pagans to convert to Christianity. Paganism therefore disappeared from the world for two reasons: the relentless persecution by Christians and the assimilation of pagan ideas into Christianity. [a]

The Persecution of Heretics

One would expect from a religion that, at least ostensibly, preaches forgiveness and universal love, would, upon ascendency to temporal power, have brought forth universal peace and, at least, the believers would be able to live in harmony with one another. However, such was not the case.
The need to keep to the one true faith and to avoid deviant teachings led these Christians to disagree with one another as to who were the orthodoxes and who were the innovators or heretics. The warning of Jesus, "He who is not with me is against me", must have rung through the ears of believers as they refined their teachings and argued with each other over hair-splitting differences in their theologies.
Some Christians may try to claim that this tendency to argue over small differences could not have scriptural support. But it does. The saying of Jesus given below clearly emphasized the importance of knowing the exact faith:
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Hence, upon gaining ascendency in the fourth century, Christianity broke into almost a hundred different sects or factions. (Augustine [354-430] during his lifetime estimated that there were eighty eight different Christian sects). [1] These, as we have seen, included: the Athanasians, who held that Jesus was of one substance (homoousion) with the Father; the Arians who did not accept Jesus' equality to the Father; the semi-Arians who held that Jesus was of "similar" substance (homooiusion) with the Father; the Nestorians who believed that Jesus had two distinct nature, one divine and one human; and the Donatists who objected to the appointment of a certain bishop to the see of Carthage. Anxious to spread what they believe to be the truth, the narrow path to heaven, they zealously persecuted one another. The passage below, taken from A History of European Morals (1877) by the historian William Lecky (1838-1903), captures the fanaticism of that era:
If we consider the actual history of the Church since Constantine, we shall find no justification for the popular theory that beneath its influence the narrow spirit of patriotism faded into a wide and cosmopolitan philanthropy. A real though somewhat languid feeling of universal brotherhood had already been created in the world by the universality of the Roman Empire. In the new faith the range of genuine sympathy was strictly limited by the creed. According to popular belief, all who differed from the teaching of the orthodox lived under the hatred of the Almighty and were destined after death for an eternity of anguish ... The eighty or ninety sects into which Christianity speedily divided, hated one another with the intensity that extorted the wonder of Julian and the ridicule of the pagans in Alexandria, and the fierce riots and persecution that hatred produced appeared in every page of ecclesiastical history ... The Donatists, having separated from the orthodox simply on the question of the validity of the consecration of a certain bishop, declared that all who adopted the orthodox view must be damned, refused to perform their rites in orthodox churches which they had seized till they had burnt the altar and scraped the wood, beat multitudes to death with clubs, blinded others by anointing their eyes with lime, filled Africa, during nearly two centuries, with war and desolation, and contributed largely to its final ruin. The childish almost unintelligible quarrels between the Homoiousians and the Homoousians ... filled the world with riot and hatred. The Catholics tell ... how three thousand people perished in the riots that convulsed Constantinople when the Arian bishop Macedonius superseded the Athanasian Paul ... In Ephesus, during the contest between St. Cyril and the Nestorians, the cathedral itself was the theater of a fierce and bloody conflict ... Later, when the monophysite controversy was at its height, the palace of the emperor at Constantinople was blockaded, the churches were besieged, and the streets commanded by furious bands of contending monks. [2]
The above passage showed that the early Christians were far from the ostensible ideal of Christianity: love, forgiveness and charity. They persecuted pagans and other Christians alike. Jesus was undoubtedly correct when he said:
Matthew 10:34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."
It was a sword that slaughtered pagans and Christians. Truly it was not peace that the new religion brought, but hatred and intolerance.


The Crusades


The Crusades is the name given to a series of military expeditions, which spanned the eleventh to the thirteenth century, organized by western Christendom to recover the holy land of Palestine from the Muslims.
The First Crusade
The Second Crusade
The Third Crusade
The Fourth Crusade
The Childrens Crusade
As the reader can see from these accounts the attorcities commiitted on the Christian side were anything but "Christian". The total number of deaths due to the crusades had been estimated at around nine million, at least half of which were Christians. [1] Many of these were simply innocent civilians caught in the carnage.
The term "crusade" had somehow, ironically, sunk into the western psyche as a "good" thing. The word when used, has a positive connotation: for example, praises are sung for a "crusading politician" for attempting to eradicate, say, the drug abuse problems in the inner cities. Yet we can see that the crusades, torn from the myths western Christendom had endowed them with, were prime examples of religious cruelty. The crusades brought forth the true character of the Christians: intolerant, unforgiving and with an utter lack of respect for human life. No trace of the much touted "Christian" virtues of love and forgiveness can be seen in these campaigns.

The First Crusade
When Jerusalem first fell to the Arab Muslims in 638, [2] Christian pilgrims were given more or less free access to the holy land. However things took a turn for the worse when the city fell to the Seljuks (Muslim Turks) in 1071.[3] The Seljuks were less tolerant of Christian pilgrims than the Arabs. When stories of cruelties inflicted by the Seljuks on the pilgrims began to circulate in Europe, preparations began to be made to recapture the holy land. [4]
In 1095, Pope Urban II (c1042-1099) proclaimed the First Crusade (1095-1099) at the Council of Clermont. One of the main objective of this crusade was to secure the free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.
The initial force was led by the "unwashed priest" Peter the Hermit (c1050-1115). His "army" consisted mainly of French and German peasants, drawn to the cause by the pope's promise of indulgences. [a] This, they take to mean the freedom to commit any sin they like. They lost no time in taking advantage of these indulgences. On their way through Europe to the holy land, they massacred, tortured and plundered any Jew they could find. [b] They stole and robbed whenever they felt like it. For those places who tried to defend themselves against this pillage, Peter's answer was war. In one such battle in Yugoslavia, the crusaders slaughtered 4,000 of the local residents who dared to fight back.
Many of Peter's men died before they even reach Asia. Many more were sold as slaves to pay for food for the rest. In the end only seven thousand managed to reach Asiatic soil. When they finally encountered the Turks in Nicaea, the ensuing battle was a mismatch. The Christian army was routed. About four thousand of them were killed in the battle. All in all, a total of 300,000 Christians died during this march led by Peter the Hermit. [5]
A more organized force followed, led by Godfrey of Bouillon (c1060-1100). This army successfully defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum in 1097. Antioch was captured in 1098 and Jerusalem fell in 1099, thus founding the Christian kingdom of Palestine. While the military campaign was a success, the behavior of the Christian army certainly did not win them any new converts.
When the crusaders were attacking Antioch, they used the heads of slain Turks as ammunition for their primitive cannons. Apart from using the heads as ammunition, about three hundred head were placed on stakes in front of the city to demoralize the defenders of the city. The crusaders finally broke through and slaughtered the inhabitants.
Then another Muslim army arrived and besieged the now "Christian" city. After a long seige, something strange happened. Convinced that God was on their side (apparently one of the crusaders, enlightened by numerous visions, found the holy lance that pierced Jesus side during the crucifixion [John 19:34]), surged out from the city to kill the infidels. The Muslims, in panic, fled, leaving their tents and wives behind. The Muslim women were mercilessly exterminated by the victorious Christians. [6]
Their behavior was worse during the siege of Marra. The Christian army resorted to cannibalism; digging up corpses for their own consumption. When they finally entered the city, all adults were murdered, even those who had paid the Christian leader, Bohemond (c1052-1111), large sums of money to spare their lives. The children were sold to the slave market at Antioch. [7]
If Bohemond was cruel, Godfrey's conquest of Jerusalem was barbaric. The crusaders forced their way into Jerusalem on the 15th of July 1099. For the next two days there was ensued a continuous massacre by them of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, both Muslims and Jews. The carnage is preserved for posterity by many eye-witness account. Given below is one taken from Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks):
The defenders fled along the walls and through the city, and our men pursued them killing and cutting them down as far as Solomon's Temple, where there was such a massacre that our men were wading ankle deep in blood ... Then the crusaders rushed around the whole city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and looting the housing that were full of costly things. Then, rejoicing and weeping from excess of happiness, they all came to worship and give thanks at the sepulchre of our saviour Jesus. Next morning, they went cautiously up the temple roof and attacked the Saracens, both men and women [who had taken refuge there], cutting off their heads with drawn swords ... Our leaders then gave orders that all the Saracen corpses should be thrown outside the city because of the stench, for almost the whole city was full of dead bodies ... such a slaughter of pagans had never been seen or heard of, for they were burned in pyres like pyramids, and none save God alone knows how many they were. [8]
Another eyewitness account, by Raymond of Aguiles, not only corroborates the above account but conveys a sense of his own religious ecstasy at experiencing such a complete and total Christian victory:
Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shoot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted ... in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgement of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. [9]
A total of about 40,000 Muslims were killed in that two-day massacre of Jerusalem. [10] The Jews were murdered along with the Muslims, many were huddled into the synagogues and burned alive. [11] Thus was Jerusalem saved by the Christians from infidel hands. [c]
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The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade (1147-1148) was called by Pope Eugenius III (d.1153) after the Turks recaptured Edessa in 1144. [12] It was preached by the renowned St. Bernard (1090-1153), the abbot of Clairvaux. To Bernard war against infidels was not only justified but holy: "Indeed whether a man dies in bed or in battle, no doubt the death of his saints will be precious in God's sight, but if in battle certainly his death will be more precious." [13] To this abbot, the only workable solution in meeting the challenge of the infidels, or pagans as he called them, was a merciless war: "... it is better to massacre then so that their sword is no longer suspended over the heads of the just." [14] For Bernard, to kill an infidel constitutes a holy act for he said: "The Christian glorifies in the death of a pagan because thereby Christ himself is glorified." [15]
The crusading armies were led by the German Emperor, Conrad III and the French King Louis VII. The German emperor was envious of the eastern half of Christendom, the Byzantines. His army pillaged and plundered with gay abandon once they reach Byzantine territory. On one occasion, when two of his crusaders were killed, a whole monastery of Greek monks were murdered in revenge. The German army, exhausted by the journey and their plundering and looting, was annihilated by the Turks when they reached Dorylaeum in Asia Minor. [16]
The French contingent took the brainless but pious route (legend has it that it was used by Charlemagne himself to reach the holy land) to the Holy Land. The route was long and difficult. When the army reached Attalia, a decision was reached: due to the lack of available ships to the holy land, only the mounted knights and noblemen would sail. The rest, the infantry, the accompanying pilgrims and their wives and children were left to fend for themselves. Betrayed by their Christian lords these people suffered three kinds of fate: their were either killed by the Turks, starved to death or sold into slavery. [17]
Militarily the second crusade was a complete fiasco for the Christians. Upon reaching the holy land, the crusaders started a siege on Damascus. The siege was ill planned and badly executed. The crusaders suffered heavy losses and achieved nothing. [18]
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The Third Crusades
The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched when the Muslims, under Saladin (1138-1193) recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. The Christian armies were led by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I (1123-1190), the kings of France, Philip II (1165-1223) and England, Richard I (1157-1199). Due to internal rivalries, they were unable to capture Jerusalem. Richard managed to capture Acre in 1191 and to secure an agreement with Saladin which gave Christian pilgrims free access to Jerusalem. [19]
An event which happened in Acre should be documented here. After capturing Acre, Richard found the cost of keeping 2700 Muslim prisoners of war, which included women and children, too heavy a burden for him to bear. He had them all taken out of the Acre city walls and murdered in cold blood. [20] The crusaders then cut open the corpses to look for swollen gems. The chronicler Ambroise , wrote with exulted: "They were slaughtered, every one. For this be the Creator blessed!" [21]
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The Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) was not fought against the Muslims, instead, the crusaders sacked Constantinople, the capital of eastern Christendom! The crusaders, who had always looked at the Greek Christians with envy and a sense of inferiority, attacked Constantinople on the 6th of April 1201. Ten days later the city defences fell and the crusaders marched in. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius III (c1180-1222) was deposed and the city was ransacked by the crusaders and the Venetian merchants who prompted the expedition. They rushed through the streets, killing, maiming, looting and raping. Even the nuns were not spared; they were raped in their convents. To add insult to injury, the crusaders enthroned a prostitute at the seat of the Patriarch. The enormous wealth of the city was plundered by the crusaders and the Venetian merchants.
Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), far from condemning the behavior of the crusaders, rejoiced over this victory over the Eastern Church which had so far refused to accept the primacy of his office. The sack of Constantinople was a crime that was to remain in the memory of the Eastern Orthodox Churches for as long as they exist. [22]
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The Children's Crusade
The remaining four crusades were largely unsuccessful. However another crusade worth mentioning was the so-called Children's Crusade (1212). A group of about 30,000 French and German children, led by the boy Stephen, marched through France with the intention of recapturing Jerusalem. Most of the children died in the march and only about 5,000 made it to Marseille. The children were then promised by the merchants there that they would be shipped free of charge to the holy land. The unscrupulous merchants actually shipped the children to Algiers and Alexandria where they were sold as slaves. [23]
With the fall of the last Christian city in the holy land, Acre in 1291, the era of the crusades came to an end.


The Inquisition


The Inquisition goes down in history as one of the most horrible crime against humanity. To begin the story of the Inquisition, we must begin at the beginning, with the Albigensian heresy.
The Albigenses, also called Cathari ("Pure Ones"), was a heretical Christian sect which had a large following in southern France, mainly in the regions of Toulouse and Languedoc, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Their name is taken from a city in Southern France called Albi. They rejected all church sacraments and believed that matter is intrinsically evil (a la the Gnostics). Jesus, they taught was an angel with a phantom body; he did not really suffer on the cross. The importance they attached to Jesus was to his teachings not his death and resurrection. Unusual for a Christian sect, the Albigenses were strictly pacifist and non-violent. They were also tolerant of other beliefs. [1]
The Albigenses were condemned by Church councils starting from 1165. At first Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) sent in the Dominican monks to try to convince the Albigenses, by public debate, of the error of their ways. But they were unsuccessful and the region remain firmly under the Albigensian heresy. With both the condemnation of the council and the public debates of the Dominicans unsuccessful, the pope decided to play his trump card: the sword. In 1209 Pope Innocent III initiated the campaign known as the Albigensian crusade. Like the crusades against the Muslims the pope offered indulgences to all its participants. This brought about twenty thousand eager Christians, knights and peasants, from all over Europe.
The Albigensian crusade was to outdo all the atrocities of the past: for the first time a pope was sanctioning a holy war against other Christians. The crusaders attacked all the towns where the heresy was strong. An example of the senseless slaughter that took place can be taken from the storming of the city of Bezeirs. The papal appointee Arnald Almaric, Abbot of Cliteaux, was asked during the siege how he planned to distinguish the believers from the heretics in the city. His answer was spine-chilling: "Kill all, God will know his own." The killing, in many cases was not done instantly, the victims were first blinded, mutilated, dragged behind horses and used for target practice. By Arnald's own account, about 15,000 men, women and children were slaughtered there. Some chroniclers estimated the figure to be closer to 50,000. [2]
The papal legates tried to outdo each other in the level of cruelty imposed on the Albigenses. One of them, Simon of Montfont was truly a crusader in the traditional mould. In his piety he prayed to his God before every battle. The chronicler Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay described one of Simon's prayer:
Having prayed at length and with great devotion, he grasped the sword hanging by his side and laid it on the altar, saying, "O good Lord, O Gentle Jesus! You have chosen me to wage your wars in spite of my unworthiness. It is from your altar that I receive my arms today, so that in the moment of fighting your battles I may receive my weapons from you." [3]
Divinely inspired, Simon captured one Albigensian stronghold after another. He used torture as a method of slowly killing his victims before burning them. As for those whose live he decided to spare, he had their eyes torn out. The crusade lasted for more than twenty years and the estimated casualty was about one million dead. [4]
This wholesale massacre almost completely destroyed the nascent civilization of a brilliant people. [5]
Almost was not enough for the pious Christian bishops. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX (c1148-1241) established the Inquisition or, more formally, The Congregation of the Holy Office. Its aim was simple, to seek out and eradicate the Albigensian heretics. Gregory entrusted the Inquisition to the Dominican monks. As an ecclesiastical court, with a "secular arm" for administering the death penalty, the Inquisition wielded immense power. Accusations can be made anonymously, which made the task of the defence all the more difficult. If a person accused of heresy refused to confess, he will be tried before an Inquisitor, who will generally be assisted by some members of the clergy and the lay community. The ultimate penalty was burning at the stake. Other penalties included imprisonment and confiscation of property. [6]
In 1251 Pope Innocent IV (d.1254) authorized the use of torture in the Inquisition to abstract confession from the accused. The tremendously added to the efficacy of the whole process. The methods of torture used must be described for its horror to be appreciated. Given below is a summary, by the Swiss historian Walter Nigg, of the torture used the Inquisition:
The thumbscrew was usually the first to be applied. The fingers were placed in clamps and the screws turned until the blood spurted out and the bones were crushed. The defendant might be placed on the iron torture chair, the seat of which consisted of sharpened iron nails that could be heated red hot from below. There were the so-called "boots" which were employed to crush the shinbones. Another favorite torture was the dislocation of the limbs on the rack or the wheel on which the heretic, bound hand and foot, was drawn up and down while the body was weighted with stones. So that the tortures would not be disturbed by the shrieking of the victim, his mouth was stuffed with cloth. Three- and four-hour sessions of torture were nothing unusual. During the procedures the instruments were frequently sprinkled with holy water. [7]
Some people, unaccustomed to associating religion- or religious people- with atrocities, would tend to assume that these inquisitors acted against their religious beliefs and were, very probably, vandals and hooligans; and certainly not virtuous. But that would be a gross mistake; they were ruthless precisely because of their deep faith; as the ex-priest, Peter de Rosa clearly testifies:
The most frightening of the inquisitors were the incorruptible ones; they tortured purely and simply for the love of God. They had no financial interest...they acted solely for the good of the cause. The very asceticism of most of these pious God-fearing Dominicans made them pathologically harsh. Used to pain themselves, they had a spiritual yearning to inflict pain on others. The screams of their victims were a kind of theological music to their ears, a proof that Satan was taking a pasting. They also rejoiced like children at the pope’s benevolence towards them; he gave them the same indulgences he gave the knights who went to the crusades. [8]
The Inquisition was extremely successful in southern France. By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Albigensian heresy there was extirpated. The Inquisition continued to ruthlessly hunt down the remainder throughout Europe. By the fourteenth century, the Albigenses had ceased to exist, a powerful testament to the strength of the Inquisition. [9]
After the success with the Albigenses, the Inquisition was used on other heresies. Pope Innocent VIII (d.1492) used the tribunal against witchcraft and Pope Paul III (1468-1549) used it against the Italian Protestants in 1542.
The Inquisition, in the form of the Congregation of the Holy Office, continued to operate until well into the nineteenth centuries. As late as 1766 we still hear of the atrocities of the tribunal. In that case, a young Frenchman, Chevalier de la Barre was arrested for singing blasphemous songs and for wearing his hat while a church procession passed. He had his tongue torn out, his ears and his right hand cut off and was sentenced to death by hanging. The great Enlightenment thinker Voltaire (1694-1778) pleaded to the court to spare the boy's life, he appealed to the parliament in Paris. The clergy demanded death by the stake, the parliament in a fit of Christian charity refused and substituted a quicker form of the death penalty. On the 1st of July 1766 Chevalier de La Barre was decapitated. [10]
The Inquisition was finally suppressed in France in 1772. [11] The final curtain on the atrocities of the Inquisition fell in 1834 when the Spanish Inquisition was finally abolished. [12]
Although the Congregation of the Holy Office (which was the final court of appeal for heresy trials) no longer exists today, it is replaced by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It seems that while the atrocities had stopped, the basic principles had not stopped. It was this congregation that deprived Hans Kung of his academic post in 1979 when he challenged the doctrine of papal infallibility. Similar methods, of depriving scholars of their livelihood, are used on all dissenters.

The Spanish Inquisition


The Spanish Inquisition was an independent state tribunal modelled after the medieval institution. It was formally announced by Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) in a papal bull in 1478. This inquisition was controlled by King Ferdinand (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella (1451-1504). The original intention of the Spanish inquisition was to hunt out relapsed converts from Islam and Judaism. To carry out the task, Ferdinand and Isabella appointed a Dominican monk, Tomas de Torquemada (c1420-1498) as the Inquisitor General. [1]
With Torquemada appointed, the Spanish Inquisition began to operate in 1480. To this monk, an act of faith (auto de fe) was the public burning of heretics and their books. In the first few years of this inquisition and in Castile alone, around two thousand people were burned at public autos de fe. Within twelve years, at least thirteen thousand people had been executed by the Inquisition. The total number of people who died at the stake over five centuries- the Spanish Inquisition was only suppressed in 1834- was difficult the say with certainty. The historian Llorente, who had free access to the archives of the Spanish Inquisition said that in Spain alone more than thirty one thousand people died at the stake and another two hundred and ninety thousand condemned to other forms of punishments. [2]
The methods of the Spanish Inquisition, like all forms of Christian religious trials, were the negation of every principle of justice known to man. The inquisition, like the pope, acquired an aura of infallibility. Anyone accused must somehow be guilty and the method of trial reflected that belief. Anonymous accusations, even by idiots and criminals, were allowed. False informers were never punished. The accused is, for all purposes, condemned before the trial began. [3] All this coupled with the fact that the accused were normally tortured until they confessed, means that it was very seldom that anyone could escape the inquisition unscathed. [4] No age group was spared the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Records showed that women as old as ninety and girls as young as thirteen were either tortured or burnt. [5]
Torquemada's hatred of relapsed Jews was exceeded only by his hostility to the unconverted ones. He badly wanted to expel all Jews from Spain. The Jews, however, not being Christians were outside the jurisdiction of the inquisition. So he used his power of persuasion to convince Queen Isabella to banish them. A traditional tale on this was that the Jews offered thirty thousand ducats to the Queen to let them remain in Spain. When Torquemada found out about this, he confronted the Queen with a crucifix and exclaimed: "Judas sold his God for thirty pieces of silver - you are about to sell him for thirty thousand!" Whatever the case may be as to the historical authenticity of this tradition, the fact was that in 1492 Jews were finally forced to leave Spain. They were given the choice of converting to Christianity or to leave the country within three months. About one hundred and fifty thousand Jews chose exile. Many of them died on the voyage out of Spain; thousands were captured by pirates and sold to slavery; thousands more died of starvation, disease and drowning. [6]
It should never be forgotten that the target of the inquisition as much to destroy books and new ideas as it was to burn heretics. In Salamanca, for example, near the end of the fifteenth century, more than sixteen thousand books were burned in a single auto de fe. The Spanish Inquisition also had its own Index of Prohibited Books. It was first published in 1551 and continuously updated to keep up with the growth in writings branded heretical. Apart from the appalling loss of innocent lives, the other main effect of the inquisition was to stripped the country of any intellectual diversity. As one contemporary Spanish in exile put it: "Our country is a land of ... barbarism; down there one cannot produce any culture without being suspected of heresy, error and Judaism. Thus silence was imposed on the learned." For the next few centuries, while the rest of Europe was slowly awakened by the influence the Enlightenment, Spain was to remain stagnant. [7]


The Wars of Religion


The basic intolerance of the Christian religion is revealed not only in persecutions of heretics, dissenters and witches. Religious wars was another popular outlet for this intolerance. Following the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Europe was the stage for many religious wars, most of them between Catholics and Protestants. [1]
In Belgium and Holland the fighting was between Catholic troops loyal to Phillip II (1527-1598) of Spain and the Protestants.
In France it was between the Catholic and the Calvanist (Huguenots).
In central Europe, there erupted the Thirty Years War between the Catholic League and the Protestant Union. This war was paritularly bloody, with death toll estimates reaching as high as fourteen million.
While all the other religious wars had ended, one still lingers; in Northern Ireland. The historic massacres of the Catholics by Protestant England, the most famous one being the one led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), still influences the situation in Ireland today.

Belgium and Holland
In Belgium and Holland the war was between the Catholic troops, loyal to the Spanish King, Philip II (1527-1598) and the Protestants. Obsessed with the idea of eliminating Protestantism in his two northern possessions, Philip, imposed the inquisition on Belgium and Holland. The Protestants rebelled. In Phillip’s attempts to crush this rebellion two incidents stand out. [2]
The first incident was the battle at Antwerp in 1576. The Protestant army was constructing a ditch an rampart-in anticipation of the Spanish onslaught-when they were attacked. The well armed Spanish troops easily overran the Protestant garrison within a single day. But that was not enough. Phillip’s men went on a ten day rampage of murder, rape, torture and pillage. At the end of this period, about eight thousand innocent civilians were murdered. [3]
Three years later, another atrocity by the Catholic Spanish on the Dutch Protestants were committed; this time in the town of Maastricht. The Spaniards, led by Prince Alexander Farnese overran Maastricht on June 29th, 1576. Immediately, they set about butchering the population. On the first day alone, four thousand people were murdered. By the third day, only a fragment of the population remains, the rest had either been murdered, committed suicide or fled for their lives. Amidst all these carnage, the Christian Prince, Farnese, went into the local Church and gave thanks to God for the achievement of his troops. [4]
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France
The French wars of religion broke out in 1562 between the Catholics and the Calvinists, called the Huguenots. The two adversaries fought a total of eight wars which finally ended in 1593 when the Huguenot leader, Henry of Navarre (d.1610) publicly proclaimed his conversion to Roman Catholicism and ascended to the French throne.
The wars showed how meaningless all talk of "Christian love" is. All that can be seen was Christian vengeance and Christian atrocity. An eyewitness report revealed the atrocities committed by both sides:
It would be impossible to tell you what barbarous cruelties were committed by both sides. When the Huguenot is master, he ruins the images and demolishes the sepulchres and tombs. On the other hand, the Catholic kills, murders, and drowns all those whom he knows to be of that sect, until the river overflows with them. [5]
It should not be taken that the Huguenots did not kill or maim any Catholics and only concerned themselves with destroying idols and Catholic ornaments. They hunted priests like animals, one Huguenot captain was even reputed to have worn a necklace made out of priests' ears! [6]
It was during the course of these wars that there occurred an event that has gone down in history as a testament of Christian intolerance; it was called St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. It was 1572, ten years on and after three wars, there was still no clear winner emerging from them. The French Queen, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), was worried that Paris was infested with Huguenots. She masterminded a plan with her son, Charles. A marriage was arranged between Margaret of Valois, the queen's daughter and the Huguenot, Henry of Navarre. The idea was to use the occasion to lure the military leader of the Huguenot, Gaspard Coligny (1519-1572) to Paris where he can be assassinated.
Many Huguenots were invited to Paris in for the wedding. The wedding ceremony took place on the 18th of August 1572. At the dawn of the 24th, St. Bartholomew's Day, the bell of the Palace of Justice rang, signaling to the conspirators to begin the slaughter. The Parisians surprised the Huguenots in their sleep and a wholesale slaughter of the Protestants ensued. [7]
Huguenots on Paris were shot, drowned, hanged and butchered by fanatical Catholics. Nowhere were they safe. They were killed in their beds, shot on the rooftops, and hunted down wherever they sought safety...Women and children were stripped, dragged through the streets and thrown into the Seine. A basketful of babies was also thrown into the river, and pregnant women had their throats cut. [8]
In Paris alone about 4,000 Huguenots were slain. The Franciscan monks in Paris, who had been preaching to Catholics to kill heretics in order to attain salvation, must have been pleased. The massacre was not just confined to the city of Paris but was initiated throughout the provinces. In fact, the slaughter continued in the provinces until October. Estimates of the total Protestant dead had been placed at around seventy- to a hundred thousand.
The head of the slain Coligny was sent to Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585). The Roman bishop was overjoyed by such a complete victory of Catholicism. He and the college of cardinals had a special thanksgiving mass said. For the more earthly celebrations, he ordered salvos to be fired from the Castel St. Angelo and a medal struck to commemorate the occasion. The design of the medal consist of the profile of Gregory XIII on one side and a representation of an angel of God slaughtering the protestants on the other. Wanting to preserve the joy of the moment for posterity, he commissioned the painter Giorgio Vasari to paint scenes of the slaughter on the walls of Sala Regia in the Vatican. [9]
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The Thirty Years War
The most bloody of the religious wars was without doubt the Thirty Years War. It was called such because it lasted thirty years, from 1618 to 1648. It all started when the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II (1578-1648), tried to suppress Protestantism in his empire. The Protestants resisted and formed the Protestant Union. The Catholics in their turn, formed the Catholic League.
At first, the Protestant army was no match for the Catholics. A large scale slaughter of the Protestants ensued. Things would have ended there had Ferdinand been satisfied with what he had accomplished. But this victory in battle was not enough, he wanted to eradicate Protestantism completely from his land. He outlawed the religion and initiated cruel and systematic persecutions of Protestants. The Protestants appealed for foreign help. Eventually Denmark, Sweden and France joined the war. With this the war entered a phase where the more or less evenly match forces could not achieve much except slaughter one another. [10]
An example of the cruelty which was characteristics of the German religious wars, can be seen in the massacres of the Protestants of Magdeburg. The city who had a population of thirty thousand, was almost completely Protestant. After the a six month siege the Catholic forces managed, on May 20th 1631, to over-run the city. [11] The description of the carnage by Brain Bailey, from his excellent book Massacres, is given below:
The enraged Catholic League troops then set about annihilating Magdeburg...Children were thrown into flames and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church. No one was spared, regardless of age or sex, and twenty-five thousand of the city’s population were either massacred or burnt to death...[Count von] Tilly [1559-1632; commander of the Catholic forces] held a solemn mass in the cathedral [of Magdeburg] and boasted that no such great victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. [12]
The loss of life in this war was tremendous. It reduced the population of Germany, according to conservative estimates by at least a third; this put the death toll at six million. Some estimates put the number as high as fourteen million. Peace was finally negotiated in Westphalia in 1648. The positive contribution of this peace was that it finally secularized the western politicians. After this, the pope no longer wielded the secular power that his predecessors had enjoyed. The power of the religion to do harm was reduced tremendously. [13]
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Ireland
France and Germany were not the only two countries in Europe that experience religious civil wars. The British Isles saw numerous battles between the Anglican monarch of England, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and the Catholic rulers of Scotland, Mary of Lorraine and Mary Stuart (1542-1587), during the sixteenth century. [14]
Perhaps the most famous religious war that Protestant England took part in was the “war”-it was more of a massacre-with Catholic Ireland. It all began when Henry VIII (1491-1547), upon severing his ties with the papacy, closed down more than six hundred monasteries and convents in Catholic Ireland in an effort to “anglicanize” the Irish. He also proclaimed himself, in 1541, King of Ireland. This was followed by Elizabeth I’s (1533-1603), unsuccessful attempts to unify all of Ireland under Protestantism. Although all of Ireland was conquered by the time Elizabeth died, the Irish remain hostile to English rule and stayed fiercely Catholic. During the reign of James I (1566-1625), Presbyterian Scots were “planted” into the northern part of Ireland called Ulster. The idea was to create a stable class of Protestant land owners that would keep the Catholics in check. [15]
Deprived of their land, the Irish Catholics of Ulster became even more resentful of Protestant rule. Finally in 1641, they rebelled and a few thousand Protestants, many of them Scottish settlers, were murdered. The numbers murdered during the rebellion was purposely and greatly exaggerated back in England, in order to justify the ferocity of any future retribution. Figures of up to two hundred thousand were mentioned. [16]
Retribution to this rebellion could not be immediate as England was undergoing a civil war between the royalist on one side and the parliamentarians on the other. In the end the parliamentarians won and finally in 1649 King Charles I (1600-1649) was executed. This left the country free to avenge the Irish and the task of quelling the rebellion was taken up by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), a devout Puritan. His army, called “Ironsides” were known for their religious zeal; and often carried Bibles and sang hymns. Cromwell would normally delay any planned attack until after he has lead his troops in prayer. [17]
In August of 1649, he set sail for Dublin. Upon arrival he marched his 12,000 strong troops to Drogedah, a town north of Dublin situated at the mouth of the River Boyne. The Irish garrison at Drogedah was only two to three thousand. When the Irish troops refused to surrender, Cromwell had the army’s guns bombard the walls of the town and when the walls came down his troops charged in. Refusing to take any prisoners, Cromwell’s men murdered the whole garrison. About one thousand unarmed civilians of Drogedah were also indiscriminately slaughtered by his men. Cromwell specifically ordered that all Catholic priests in the town were to be executed. A task his men joyfully carried out. In total, about four thousand people died at Drogedah that day: 11th September 1649. Cromwell himself assessed the massacre as “ a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches.” [18]
Even worse than the massacre of Drogedah was the one inflicted by Cromwell’s troops in Wexford a month later. Unlike the former, the leader of the Irish garrison had already surrendered and negotiations were under way when what Cromwell described as “an unexpected providence” took place. Somehow his troops managed to gain access to the town and began their indiscriminate slaughter. Once again, civilians were not spared. Women were put to the sword. Priests and monks were murdered. All in all, a total of two thousand Irish soldiers and 1,500 civilians were murdered in Wexford by Cromwell’s men. Throughout the whole incident Cromwell never made any attempt to stop the slaughter. [19]
Back in England there was general rejoicing and 30th October 1649 was proclaimed as a day of thanksgiving. The Protestant ministers there gave thanks to God. Cromwell returned home to England as a hero. [20] The modern problem of Northern Ireland is rooted in these events in the seventeenth century. Another gift to the modern world from the Christian religion.


Anti-Semitism
We have seen, in passing, Christian persecution of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. This was part of a more general, and deeply imbedded, Christian hatred of the Jews.
This anti-semitism is rooted in the New Testament
The Church Fathers preached this theology of hatred of the Jews.
When Christains gained political control, Jews slowly lost their civils liberties and on many occasions were slaughtered and murdered.
This Christian hatred of Jews is, in a very large part, responsible for the Holocaust.
We find anti-semitism alive in well in the fundamentalist sects of Christianity today.

The New Testament Roots of Anti-Semitism
This hatred can be traced directly to the New Testament. The gospel of John, for instance, very often refers to the enemies of Jesus simply as "the Jews". One example:
John 5:16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
In another passage Jesus is said to have called "the Jews" sons of Satan:
John 8:44-47 "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."
But the worst condemnation of the Jews came from the episode, in the gospel of Matthew, of Jesus' trial before Pilate. Pilate, unable to find Jesus guilty of any crime washes his hands and proclaims himself innocent of Jesus' blood. Whereon the Jews insisted on Jesus' execution and supposedly said:
Matthew 27:25 "His blood be on us, and on our children."
There is probably no other sentence, in the history of mankind, that has been directly responsible for so much atrocities and suffering. As we shall see, Christians throughout history has used this passage to justify their Jewish pogroms. Yet, as we have noted earlier, the whole episode was merely the invention of the author of the gospel!
From the very beginnings of the Gentile church, the Jews had always been treated with suspicion. For being the supposed chosen people of God, the Jews had inexplicably, to the Christians at least, rejected his own Son.[a] The destruction of Jerusalem probably served to confirm to the Christians that God's wrath was on the Jews. The gospels were written after this event, and after anti-semitism had already taken root. As we saw in elsewhere in this website, the gospels shifted the responsibility for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews. It was to have profound consequences on the Christian conception of the Jew.
Thus from the earliest times the Christians considered the Jews to be the slayers of Jesus. The passage in Matthew above convinced them that the Jews accepted responsibility for Jesus' death.

The Church Fathers and Anti-Semitism
The early church fathers were passionate haters of Jews. St. John Chrysostom (c345-407) had this to say regarding the Jewish synagogue: "Let anyone call it a brothel, home of vice, refuge of the devil, citadel of Satan, corruption of souls, abyss of corruption and all mischief - whatever he may say, it will be less than what it has deserved." [1]
St. Jerome (c342-420) called the Jews "vipers" and "cursors of Christians". [2]
St. Ambrose (340-397) went down in history as a Christian who stood up for Christians against the emperor. The whole episode that gave rise to this reputation was not in the least bit flattering. In the year 388, a Jewish synagogue in Kallinikan, a town in by the Euphrates, was burned by Christians. Emperor Theodosius I (346-395) ordered the synagogue to be rebuilt at the expense of the Christian bishop. This was a fair ruling, for it was the bishop who instigated the burning of the synagogue in the first place. This, however, did not seem fair for Ambrose. He protested: "I declare that I set fire to the synagogue, indeed, that I gave them the command to do this, so that there be no place left where Christ is denied ... What is more important, the nation of order or the interests of religion?" He added, "Who cares if a synagogue - home of insanity and unbelief - is destroyed?" During a mass in which the emperor was present, Ambrose, who was the celebrant, interrupted the service and directly addressed the emperor, saying that he would not continue with the mass until the order to rebuild the synagogue is revoked. The emperor gave in and the Christian arsonists got off scot free.
St. Augustine (354-430), certainly the most influential Christian theologian (outside of Paul in the New Testament) likened to Jews to Cain. The first person in the Bible to commit murder (he slew Abel). When the Jews slew Jesus, like Cain, they were condemned to wander unhappily. In his Contra Judaeos, Augustine expounded his theology of the Jews being a wandering, homeless and rejected people. They were, according to him, accursed of God for committing the heinous crime of murdering Jesus and were, therefore irrevocably carnal, faithless and unable to accept the true teachings of God as revealed in the Catholic Church.[3]
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The Persecution of Jews

in Christendom

With the conversion of the Roman emperors, the Roman Empire began to enact anti-semitic laws. Emperor Constantine (c274-337) imposed penalties on converts to Judaism and on Christians who married Jews. The Emperor Theodosius II (410-450) forbade Jews to hold any public office or to build any new synagogues. [4] The Emperor Justinian I (483-565) known for his "Code of Justinian" which was the authoritative statement of Roman Law, loss his sense of justice when dealing with Jews. He too, legislated anti-semitic laws. Under Justinian, the Jews lost many of their civil liberties. Their freedom to practice religion was also drastically reduced. He even encouraged the barbarian rulers to persecute the Jews. [5]
The Christian public persecuted Jews at every available opportunity and for the flimsiest of reasons. Thus during the crusades, the Christians who did not make the trip to the holy land, felt that killing Jews at home would be their contribution to the crusade. [6]
The crusaders themselves felt that it was their duty to kill some Jews before they leave for the holy land. Thus, Peter the Hermit (c1050-1115) killed hundreds of Jews in the Rhineland before leaving for the first crusade in 1096. At about the same time, another crusader Count Emich of Leiningen systematically attacked the Jewish communities in the German cities of Worms, Speyer, Mainz, Regensburg, Cologne, Trier and Metz. He believed that slaughtering the infidels that lived amongst Christians was a primary religious duty. True to his Christian spirit of charity, he gave the Jews two options: baptism or death. While some submitted to baptism, most Jews chose death. Emich and his men killed thousands of defenceless men, women and children. All traces of Jewish culture in these cities, the synagogues, the Torah and the Talmud scrolls, were completely destroyed. [7]
Another flimsy excuse for persecution of Jews came in 1144 when a young boy was found dead near Norwich in England. Rumors began to circulate that he was murdered by the Jews who used his blood for ritualistic purposes. The rumor was further fueled by the writings of a monk, Thomas of Monmouth, who alleged that the Jews, as a matter of routine, sacrificed children.
The whole of Christian Europe went into a murderous frenzy. In 1171, thirty eight Jews in France were burned to death for the (false) charge of throwing a Christian child into a river. In 1255, eighteen Jews were tortured and hanged in England for allegedly murdering an eight year old boy and using his blood for religious rites. In 1285, one hundred and eighty Jews were burned in Munich, purely on a rumor that they bled a child to death in the synagogue. In 1294, at Bern, Switzerland, Jews were killed or expelled because of the ritual murder rumor. In 1475, at Trent, Italy, almost all the Jews of the city were tortured and burned after a rumor started to spread that a boy named Simon was murdered by them. Spain, busy with the Inquisition, took time off to kill Jews on such rumors as well. It is worth noting that a commission set up to investigate the matter concluded in 1759 that no Jew was ever involved in the ritual sacrifice of children. All the executions were based on nothing more than myths. [8]
Another ridiculous myth that resulted in the death of many Jews was that of host-nailing. The equally ridiculous doctrine of Transubstantiation, which teaches that the host wafer during the mass was actually transformed into the body of Jesus, was the basis of the myth. In the thirteenth century, some Christians started spreading the rumor that the Jews, ever so evil, wanted to crucify Christ all over again. The Jews, they alleged, stole the wafers and drove nails through them. (It never occurred to these dim-witted Christians that the Jews, not being Christians, do not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation and driving nails trough wafers would have held no meaning for them.) Again Jews were slaughtered all over Europe. The slaughter started in 1243, when Jews were burned at the stake in Belitz Germany, for host-nailing. In Nuremberg, in 1298, six hundred and twenty eight Jews were killed for the same offence. While in Deggendorf, Bavaria. the entire Jewish community was burned for host-nailing. In 1370, in Brussels, hundreds of Jews (some estimates put it as high as five hundred) were tortured and mutilated for this alleged offence. The persecution of Jews for host-nailing continued until the late eighteenth century. [9]
The Jews were generally blamed for any calamity that befall Christians. One such case was the fourteenth century bubonic plague, more popularly known as the "Black Death". The disease plagued Europe for three years, from 1347 to 1349, causing the death of nearly half of Europe's population. The Jews, leading generally more hygienic lives than their Christian neighbors, were less liable to be infected. Rumors began circulating that it was the Jews who were responsible for the plague; by poisoning the wells. Again the Jews throughout Europe were hunted down and murdered. The historian Philip Ziegler estimated that there were three hundred and fifty separate massacres of Jews by Christians during the three years of the Black Death. At least twenty thousand Jews were murdered. [10]
Orthodox Christians were also guilty of anti-semitism. In one such outbreak, during the mid seventeenth century, a Ukrainian officer, Bogdan Chmielnicki preached a holy war against the Catholics and the Jews. His support from Orthodox priests and peasants alike, was overwhelming. He, and his holy army, first attacked Jews in the Ukraine. When the Jews fled into Poland he pursued them there. An estimated one hundred thousand Jews were killed. [11]
The Eastern Orthodox Christians were equally susceptible to ridiculous rumors as their Western Catholic counterparts. In 1801, one hundred and twenty eight Jews were murdered by Christians who stormed the Jewish quarter in Romania, after rumors began spreading that the Jews were drinking Christian blood in their rituals. [12]
While the Christian laymen were busy killing Jews, the leaders of the church were making rules to institutionalized their hatred of these infidels. The Lateran Councils of 1179 and 1216 and the papal decretals of Pope Gregory IX (c1148-1241) pushed the Jews further away from the mainstream of European society. Jews were forced to wear a distinctive clothing which separates them from the Christians. They were not allowed to appear in the streets on Christian holidays lest they contaminate the occasion. The Jews were also forbidden to own land and were excluded from all kinds of occupations except pawnbroking and moneylending. They were also ordered to be confined in a separate part of town, which later became known as the ghetto. [13]
The Christian countries, unable to tolerate the Jews started expelling them. Thus Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306 and from Spain in 1492. [14]
Through all these, the theologians, and other Christian leaders, were busy refining and elaborating this anti-semitism. Thus, Pope Gregory IX, wearing his theological hat, decreed the Talmud a book as heinous as the Koran. The medieval theologian Albert Magnus (c1200-1280) was an active destroyer and suppressor of Jewish scholarship. Albert was one of the leaders of a commission that sanctioned the burning of two hundred and forty wagon loads of the Talmud in 1242. Pope Innocent IV, justified the burning as being due to the Jewish "fabrications about the most blessed virgin." King Louis IX of France (1214-1270), who was eventually canonized as Saint Louis, declared that should any Jew insult the Christian faith, the Christian should thrust his sword into the Jew's body "as far as the sword can go." [15]
Martin Luther, as we saw elsewhere, was an ardent anti-semite. He suggested that Jewish synagogues should be set on fire, that the Jewish holy books should destroyed, that they should be relieved of the property, deprived of safe conduct and that their rabbis should be forbidden to teach.
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The Holocaust


Thanks to Christianity, anti-semitism became entrenched in the European psyche. Thus Adolph Hitler skilfully tapped that energy of hatred when he took over power in Germany in 1933. He blamed the Jews for all the ills Germany was in; from the humiliating treaty of the Versailles to the mounting unemployment. Under the Nazi regime, the Jews lost their jobs and the citizenship, had their synagogues burned down and were finally herded into concentration camps. Hitler had a "final solution" to the Jewish problem: a complete extermination of the race. Judging by the results, he almost succeeded. Out of the nine million Jews that were living in Europe at the outbreak of the second world war in 1939, six million were murdered, most of them in the Nazi extermination camps. [16]
That Christianity is at least partly to blame for the Holocaust cannot be denied. As the theologian Clark Williamson admits:
Hitler's pogrom, for all its distinctiveness, is the zenith of a long Christian heritage of teaching and practice against Jews ... Christian anti-Judaism promoted the Nazi cause in several ways. It led the Nazis to focus initially on the Jews and created attitudes which permitted them to carry out their extermination program with little resistance. It made possible for Christians to justify either assisting or not opposing the Nazi efforts. Christian anti-Judaism is profoundly incriminated in the Final Solution.[italics mine-PT] [17]
In fact, according to historian Dagobert Runes, Hitler's methods were actually modelled on the Christian one:
Everything Hitler did to the Jews, all the horrible, unspeakable misdeeds, had already been done to the smitten people before by the Christian churches ... The isolation of the Jews into ghetto camps, the wearing of the yellow spot, the burning of Jewish books and finally, the burning of the people - Hitler learned it all from the church. However, the church burned Jewish women and children alive, while Hitler granted them a quicker death, choking them first with gas. [18]
A reader who has read this section on anti-semitism will not fail to agree with Dr. Runes conclusions.
Not only was Christian past incriminated in the Holocaust, the contemporary Christian churches were guilty as well. While there were some cries of outrage, on the whole Hitler's anti-semitic policies were not objected to by the Christian churches in Germany. Given below is a frank admission by the Catholic archbishop, Thomas Roberts:
The overwhelming impression left on me by a careful study of Dr. Gordon Zahn's "German Catholics and Hitler's Wars" is not so much shock at finding Hitler echoed all over the signatures of great Catholic names; it is more the realization that nationalism, mass hysteria, and above all fear, paralyzed Christian judgement ... The factual evidence seems overwhelming that German Catholics generally - bishops, clergy, people - supported the Hitler war effort. [19]
The Protestant churches in Nazi Germany had a similar record. Given below is the an excerpt from a declaration made by the leaders of the German Evangelical Church in 1941:
The National Socialist leaders of Germany have provided indisputable documentary evidence that the Jews are responsible for this war in its world wide magnitude. They have therefore ... taken the necessary steps ... to ensure that the life of the German nation is protected against Judaism.
As members of that same German nation, the undersigned leaders of the German Evangelical Church stand in the forefront of this historical struggle to defend our country, because of which it has been necessary for the national police to issue a statement to the effect that the Jews are the enemies of the German nation and of the world, just as it has been necessary for Luther to demand, on the basis of his bitter experience, that the severest measures be taken against the Jews and that they should be expelled from all German countries. [20]
One character that needs to be mentioned in connection with Hitler is Pope Pius XII (1876-1958). While it was true that the Vatican gave refuge to about five thousand Jews escaping from the Nazi persecution, it was also true that the pope knew about the atrocities the Nazi's were perpetrating on the Jews and that he did not voice any condemnation. [21] As Barrie Ruth Strauss said in her book The Catholic Church:
the lost chance to provide the world with a firm moral stand clouds the reign of Pope Pius XII. [22]
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), after all the Christian mistreatment of Jews throughout history, had the audacity to suggest that Jews will only be forgiven if they reject the generation that killed Jesus! [23]

Modern Fundamentalism and Anti-Semitism
Nowadays mainstream Christian churches have toned down on their anti-semitism, the fundamentalist evangelical churches remain as blatantly anti-Jew as ever. Like their spiritual fathers, these Christians read the New Testament as an inerrant work, and swallowed the anti-semitic elements in it wholesale.
One such example is Bailey Smith, President of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early eighties, who made the comment that, "God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." [24] It is no wonder that American Jews are vary of this resurgence of the religious right. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President of the American Hebrew Congregations said recently that it was "no coincidence that the rise of right-wing Christian fundamentalism has been accompanied by the most serious outbreak of anti-semitism in America since world war II." [25]
After all this it cannot be denied that anti-semitism is an inherent part of Christianity, as theologian Robert Wilken admits:
Christian anti-semitism grew out of the Bible, i.e. the New Testament, as it was understood and interpreted by Christians over centuries. The roots of Christian anti-semitism need be traced no further than Christianity itself, Christians have been anti-semitic because they are Christians. They thought of themselves as the people of God, the true Israel, who have been faithful to the inheritance of ancient Israel. Judaism, in the Christian view, had no reason to exist once Christianity came into being. We must learn ... to live with the unpleasant fact that anti-semitism is a part of what it has meant historically to be a Christian, and is still part of what it means to be a Christian. [26]

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