Friday, 24 April 2015

Control by Terror: The historical Christian church's worst sin and corruption (and a constant temptation for individual Christians)

It is a gross distortion, often based upon wildly-inaccurate information, to suppose that Christianity is distinctive and best characterised by terror phenomena such as 'the Inquisition' or witch-hunting or heretic-burning.

A gross distortion because we always must ask 'compared with what?'

Other similarly large and long-lasting religions are as bad or worse; and the atheistic Leftist regimes of the Twentieth Century - such as the USSR Communism under Lenin and Stalin, National Socialism under Hitler, Chinese  under Mao - attain a scale and thoroughness of terror and torment far beyond anything Christianity attained even it its worst.

So comparatively, Christianity is much better than most.


Nonetheless, Christianity certainly does - in some times and places and persons, become corrupted into a fear-based religion.

And when this happens, it is particularly striking and shocking, because Christianity has (or, ought-to-have) at its heart a conception of God that is the purest and most complete essence of uncompromising Love.

Insofar as this is not the case, just so far has Christianity been misunderstood or misrepresented.


Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, the use of threats, the induction of fear, and in general the psycho-social manipulation of people by motivating them to escape negative consequences, is a constant temptation for Christianity; and a thing which is prone to corrupt even the most devout Christians.

The problem is that negative Christianity may be very effective, in a this-worldly sense; very effective at inducing obedience and empowering the church. So it requires exceptional self-discipline on the part of both individuals and institutions not to fall into threatening people with Hellfire.

It is very easy for people to cross the line between informing people of what you believe may be the terrible consequences of their actions; and taking a delight in terrorizing them.

Yet any suspicion of someone taking delight in terrorization, or using Christian doctrine to attain personal, social or political goals is immensely damaging to the reputation of real Christianity.

Indeed, so shocking and discordant is this tendency, and so widespread has been this abuse, that it has probably been a significant cause of - on the one hand - apostasy from Christianity and the secularization of Western societies; and on the other hand the widespread evolution of the phenomenon of 'Liberal Christianity'; which is distorted, inaccurate, dishonest, ineffectual, and has ended-up inverting real Christianity and becoming actively pro-secular and anti-Christian in most essentials.


My point is that in the modern situation of the Culture War, a situation where Christians have had war unilaterally declared upon them both by secular Leftism and the other major rival religion, the temptation is to put Christian (or specific denominational) solidarity above the need to denounce the abuse of Christianity and its degeneration into a religion of hatred and terror.

Christians ought not to be hesitant about denouncing and distancing themselves from any real and genuine examples of either historical or modern instances of 'inquisition', 'witch-hunting' or heretic-burning type behaviour among self-identified Christians - from the gloating or threatening use of negative, punitive consequentialism ... indeed from anything which goes against the prime directive of our God being understood as above everything else a God of Love.


If there is, or appears to be, any conflict between Love and what is (apparently) advocated by scripture, tradition, church leadership, theology or any other source of guidance; then we must assume that there has been a misunderstanding somewhere, or some mistake or abuse.

After all, nobody is perfect, no church is perfect, sins and errors are everywhere abundant. Indeed, as I said, this particular sin is so tempting, and there is such a fine line between honesty and exploitation, that everyone will cross that line from time to time.

Every Christian will sometimes need to admit this sin, and to repent it.

But we must not put ourselves into a position of defending the indefensible. Solidarity above Love may be expedient for the immediate situation, but it is inevitably wicked and lethal to real Christianity over the longer run.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"Other similarly large and long-lasting religions are as bad or worse."

Well, there's only one other religion that could reasonably be described as "similarly large," and I know better than to say anything more specific about that one.

As for the other long-lasting religions of the modern world (Hinduism, Rabbinic Judaism, Buddhism), I don't think it's really true to say they have been "as bad or worse" than Christianity at its worst. Certainly, though, many long-lasting but now-extinct religions (the Aztec and Carthaginian religions spring to mind) have been many times worse than any modern religion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I am always aware that most civilizations kept and have left no record of their horrors, except sometimes archaeological (and Christian misdeeds would not show-up in archaeology). By contrast, I live in the single best-documented country in the whole world - so every bad the English have ever done in the past 1000 years is thoroughly recorded! (By contrast, much less is known of the Scots, Welsh and Irish - it is a specifically English thing).

However, comparison wasn't really the point except to say that anyone who regards Christianity is The Worst religion (a view that has been mainstream among Western intellectuals for more than two centuries) must be specifically prejudiced against Christianity (which is, of course, the case - speaking as previously having been a representative exemplar of that view).

This I call the Anything But Christianity perspective; which is the usual one among secularists and Leftists generally, New Age spiritual seekers and scholars in Religious Studies.