The columnist Richard Cohen scolds the “arrogance” of
certain common attitudes, which he sums up as “My way is the
best way. My country is the best country. My religion is the true religion.” Having
implicitly condemned Jesus Christ as arrogant, he omits, for some reason,
the attitude that “My people is the Chosen People.”
Well, when you profess a religion, aren’t you saying you believe
it to be the true religion? Why else would you adhere to it?
In The Spectator of London, another Jewish writer, Samuel Brittan,
makes a more general assault on religion — and Christianity in
particular — in an essay titled bluntly “Religion Is Bad
for You.” He begins with this curious observation: “I cannot
help noticing how in the operas of Verdi the religious characters are
nearly always the most punitive and vengeful.” The world of Verdi’s
operas is not exactly a microcosm of the real world, and even at that
Mr. Brittan offers only two examples: Aida and Don
that for a scientific sampling?
An anthropologist might as well argue: “The Italians are an
extremely violent people — always stabbing each other. I cannot
help noticing that in the operas of Verdi ... ” At that point
he would be drowned out by laughter.
Brittan cites the usual jejune examples — the Spanish Inquisition,
the Crusades, the Irish troubles. He even uses Christ’s figurative
saying “I came not to send peace, but a sword” as if it
were a call to violence — never mind his injunction to turn the
other cheek and his warning that he who lives by the sword will die
by the sword.
Yes, there have been violent episodes in Christian history, which,
after all, spans two millennia. But Christian culture has always honored
its martyrs far above its warriors. It takes a lot of careful editing
to reduce the Christian era to one of nonstop violence.
Consider the infamous “Dark Ages” — from the fall
of the Roman Empire to the high Middle Ages. During this period, Christianity
gradually spread over Europe and quietly eliminated and mitigated most
of the everyday barbarisms of the Classical world: abortion, infanticide,
slavery, pederasty, divorce, crucifixion (once a common punishment
for petty crimes).
Some of these practices have lately made a comeback in the name of “progress,” but
the fact remains that the so-called Dark Ages were an era of unparalleled
moral reform. Christianity raised the moral standards of a continent;
we may, if we choose, congratulate ourselves on lowering those standards
again, but to speak as if Christianity’s chief historical effect
had been to increase violence and cruelty is sheer nonsense — and
malicious nonsense at that.
Under the influence of Christ over these millennia, countless people
have lived pious lives that didn’t make headlines — or “history.” Even
their vices have been tempered by shame at falling short of Christ’s
precept and example. Any Catholic who has repeatedly confessed the
same sins, only to fall again repeatedly, knows how ineradicable human
frailty is. We would be much worse without Christianity; but we wouldn’t
People who give Christianity no credit for improving civilization
nevertheless blame it for all the evils it failed to eradicate. To
hear its critics, you’d think it had invented torture, persecution,
and other survivals from the pre-Christian world.
This inconsistency becomes amusing when the critics profess shock
at the “bad popes.” Notoriously licentious popes like Alexander
VI would have created no scandal in a pagan world.
What pagan ruler was ever disgraced for taking mistresses and favoring
his bastard sons? None. Such behavior was entirely routine before Christianity
set new standards. Does anyone call Julius Caesar a hypocrite for owning
slaves, or a mass murderer for conquering foreign countries? On the
contrary, such pagans are still judged by the standards of their times
and honored as heroes. We credit them with making “history,” and
the Cohens and Brittans don’t point to the corpses, widows, and
orphans they left in their wake as proof of the rottenness of paganism,
let alone of the danger of letting paganism return.
Christian hypocrisy is bad enough. But let’s not overlook hypocrisy
among the critics of Christianity.
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on April 11, 2000.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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