150. Old Enemies

There are times when a man has to stand up and defend his country. That is the flip side to yesterday’s post criticizing boot camps.

Today we face Islamic extremists who would destroy us. We can bemoan the our mistakes in Iraq, but we have to move forward from where we are. Wishful thinking is of no value in this issue. We call them fanatics. That’s an accurate description, but it is not useful. It’s just another word like evil, enemy, or barbarian – just another word that means THEM, as opposed to US.

If we are going to understand Islamic terrorists in order to defeat them, we have to find the inner fanatic in our own culture, so we can start to see the world through their eyes. Today we will revisit a time when Christians were killing each other over doctrine. Tomorrow, we’ll compare that to Islam.

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Trying to compress two thousand years of Christian history into a few hundred words borders on the burlesque, but let’s try. Christianity began with Jesus, who did not write the Bible. Fundamentalists like my people believe that it was written by his immediate followers under the infallible inspiration of God, but textual evidence suggests that it was actually written hundreds of years later.

In any case, by the third century there were hundreds of “books” to chose from. The Church chose some and discarded many in order to create the Bible. This gives some validity to the Catholic notion that the word of the Church is more important than the Bible, or at least others’ interpretations of the Bible.

Within the Roman empire, Christianity went from persecuted, to allowed, to the official religion of the state. Then along came Martin Luther. He was not the first to question the Church, but he was the first one to live through the encounter, because of changes in world politics which pitted proto-German rulers against Rome and provided him with a sanctuary.

The dam broke and here came a vast flood of new denominations, each anti-Catholic and each disputing with its fellow Protestants. For protection, many of these denominations sought the protection of secular leaders. Protection from outside enemies soon moved toward forced conversions within an area. The Dutch and Swiss became largely Calvinist, many Germanic states became Lutheran, Ireland remained Catholic at the core, although under increasing pressure from their English conquerors, France and Spain remained Catholic, England became the realm of the Church of England, and Scotland fell under a particularly Knox-ious form of Calvinism.

From 1618 through 1648 the Thirty Years War decimated Europe as country after country fought to see which form of Christianity would prevail, cementing the notion of one realm, one ruler, one religion. The notion of individual choice in religion was crushed under the boots of Kings and generals. This era provided every denomination with myths of how THEY were trying to destroy OUR beliefs. That WE were also trying to destroy THEIR beliefs tends to be forgotten.

The English Civil War, also called the War of the Three Kingdoms, came hard on the heels of the Thirty Years War. American notions of religious freedom were born out of the horrors of a conflict where various interpretations of God’s Truth were enforced at sword point, and partisan armies swept the land. The American answer to all this was the separation of church and state, found in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .

There is a bit of cynicism in this. Instead of insisting that God’s will be done, Americans have learned that the man in power rarely understands God’s will.

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