TIA Tuesday: Hitler, the Crusades, and the Spanish InquisitionSeptember 23, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
After the breathless and and almost hypoxic hysteria of Chapter 11, Chapter 12 of TIA comes as a welcome respite, a breath of sanity in the book thus far. Vox has a tremendous enthusiasm for history, and even a commendable command of the subject, so long as he is not trying to use it to score some partisan point or other. He brings this enthusiasm to his consideration of three historical topics that, in some sense, are related to the writings of the New Atheists, though as Vox points out, the New Atheists haven’t had a lot to say about them. It’s purely Vox’s own interest, plus a bit of a nod to typical atheist/believer dialogs, that leads him to spend time on the subject.
This is Vox Day we’re talking about, of course, so even this relatively mild discussion has its own special character. He manages to avoid blaming Hitler on the atheists, but he spends far more time trying to convince us that Hitler was a non-Christian than he spends acknowledging that Hitler was, indeed, a theist, albeit a neopagan one. And yes, the Spanish Inquisition did torture and kill people, but not nearly as many as you might suppose, and in fact was such a model of restraint and objectivity (for the time) that it almost seems that Vox wouldn’t mind seeing it revived again. There is no doubt that he thinks we need to revive the Crusades, since he comes right out and says it’s the West’s only real hope of resisting the Muslim onslaught.
There are a few details that Vox rather glosses over. Concerning Hitler, for example, Vox alludes briefly to the fact that some writers see a link between Christianity and the German death camps, but avoids any overt mention of Luther’s notorious anti-Semitism or the role of the German churches in helping to foster a general attitude of antipathy and suspicion towards Jews (and atheists, homosexuals, and other minorities as well). While it would be nice to say that these things are mere cultural and even secular manifestations, one does not need to skim very far through the New Testament before one discovers a certain deeply-rooted and enduring animosity between those who followed Jesus and those who (the Bible tells us) rejected him. Nor can it be denied that historic Judaism, rooted in the Old Testament, is a large part of what gave the Jews their distinctive, exclusionary ethnic identity. While many secular and political factors were also involved, one cannot reasonably deny that, in the Nazi concentration camps, the chasm between guards and prisoners was a canyon eroded away by centuries of religious tradition.
Vox is conscientious enough to concede that Christians can learn certain lessons from the Holocaust, not the least of which is that Christians can be fooled, even to the point of supporting atrocities (in case the past seven years hadn’t made that clear already). The larger question, though, is why this particular weakness should exist among Christians who allegedly possess not only God’s eternal and absolute moral standards, but the wisdom, strength, and guidance of His indwelling Holy Spirit as well. If the moral quality of Christians’ real life behavior is truly dependent on the individual moral strength and wisdom of the (mortal) Christians themselves, why should credit for their good deeds (and only their good deeds) go to God? It is their own moral strength that makes the difference, and their own wisdom which lends them as much or as little insight as they manage to possess. Is it so wrong, then, to conclude that Christians are only human, and are not some special class of supernaturally inspired and enabled servants of an Almighty?
But I digress. On to that splendid and wonderful era known as The Spanish Inquisition. Vox has discovered that this infamous period of Spanish history is actually not as bad as has traditionally been thought. The people running the show were actually surprisingly even-handed, honest, and objective jurists and investigators, who acquitted more people than they executed. And, though it’s true that the Inquisitors did use torture, Vox excuses them on the grounds that everybody was using torture back then (which is quite a statement coming from a guy who calls atheists “moral parasites” just because they live lives as upright as their godly neighbors).
Vox found out all these good things about the Inquisition because he read an article in The Guardian about some research that has recently been released by the Vatican. Yes, if you want accurate, first-hand information about abuses and atrocities, who better to ask than the successors of the ones responsible for committing the abuses and atrocities? Everybody always believes the sob-stories the victims tell, but what about giving the perpetrators a chance to tell their side, eh? As other Catholic sites will tell you, the “Black Legend” of Inquisition atrocities was just so much Protestant propaganda, spread by poorer and less-powerful neighbors of Spain who were jealous of Spanish prosperity (and who, by the way, were cruelly toasting tens of thousands of “witches” in sham trials that never would have stood up to the rigorous judicial standards of a real Inquisition).
Well, seriously, I expect that legends of Inquisition atrocities may indeed be exaggerated, though I suspect an impartial investigation will find the real Inquisition was not nearly as mild and rosy as Vox and the Vatican would want to paint it either. Reducing the Inquisition to a mere body count, however, fails to truly convey what was so fundamentally wrong about the government putting people on trial for not being sincere enough about the beliefs they professed to have. It’s bad enough that you could be condemned to death for not being Christian enough, but one of the documented abuses of the Inquisition was the ease with which you could be sent up for trial without even any evidence against you.
The atmosphere of fear and—dare I say it?—terrorism was so bad that many Christian converts would simply flee rather than stay in the same town as the Inquisition, regardless of the lost of property, profession, and personal connections. And this is how Christians were treating each other, in the Body of Christ. Small wonder that critics would indeed use the Inquisition as evidence against the claim that Christianity was somehow uniquely distinguished as a superior and/or divinely-enabled religion.
That said, though, the witch trials were very likely much worse, and were certainly more widespread, and it’s rather surprising that Vox forgot to mention them. Instead, he turns next to the Crusades, the textbook case of why mixing church and state is bad for the state and even worse for the church. Here is where Vox really shines, and if you read no other part of TIA, you might want to take a quick look at Vox’s historical review of the sad, sordid story of the Christian war against the Muslims (and/or each other). It’s a very good, if cursory summary, and manages to convey the tremendous irony of the tragedies that resulted from the “noble” effort to “free” the land where Jesus’ feet once trod.
It is indeed a gloomy and almost absurd history, but what is even more astonishing than the obstinate and derelict maraudings of the Crusades is the fact that Vox seriously proposes that we should bring them back.
But although the Crusades will likely remain the model of Christian holy war for the foreseeable future, the reason that they are no longer at the forefront of atheist attacks on Christianity is because it is difficult, and growing increasingly harder, to shake a disapproving finger at the actions of men who were faced with the challenge of a militant and expanding Ummah at their borders. Overconfident due to its success in running roughshod over a wealth-sapped Western Christianity, modern secular society is simply not conceptually suited to dealing with a faith of the sword…
A better answer can be found in the Crusades, in the very failures pinpointed by Runciman. It is faith, but combined with wisdom this time, that can provide what was once Christendom with the spirit that it needs to survive and allow the civilization that it spawned centuries ago to thrive again.
Vox doesn’t have a specific plan for eliminating the Muslim threat to Western civilization, but it seems to involve converting all Muslims to Christianity (since Christians never have wars against each other).
The battle is already being waged, by men such as Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, who leads the fast-growing Anglican Church in Africa, and whose answer to the violent and unprovoked attacks on Christians in his country is as simple as it is astonishingly effective: “Make the church grow.”
Speaking of not being “conceptually suited to dealing with a faith of the sword”…
It should go without saying that Vox’s “solution” is really just a shallow attempt to claim that Christianity is the solution to all the world’s problems, without actually grappling with the problems themselves. As even a casual student of Islam knows, converting Muslims to Christianity is itself a provocation, in Muslim eyes at least. Calling their reprisals “unprovoked attacks” merely demonstrates an unwillingness to acknowledge the issues involved and to admit responsibility for one’s own role in the conflict. Nor does Vox spell out exactly what role the military would play in his Crusades.
In Chapter 5, Vox spends a good bit of time exploring all the secular factors that also contribute to wars between religious groups—factors such as poverty, competition for resources, threats to national and ethnic identity, and plain old ambition. These factors also play a significant role in the conflict between the Islamic nations and the Western world, and would not go away just by converting everybody to Roman Catholicism, I mean Lutheranism, I mean Anglicanism, I mean Mormonism, erm, well you get the idea.
Vox’s answer to the Muslim “problem” is simply a matter of burying his head in the sand of his own wishful fantasies about a world where God really does show up to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s not the world we live in, however, because if it were, there wouldn’t even be any Muslims to worry about. A God who really and truly interacted with His people would, by that very interaction, give His religion an advantage that other, non-divine religions would not be able to compete with. Ongoing competition between religions requires that they all be about equally matched, which means they must all be equally the product of human superstition, imagination, and politics. For this reason, it is unrealistic (and possibly suicidal) to launch a new Crusade whose success would depend on the power of a non-existent God.