Religious Tolerance

Christianity = Tolerance, Islam = Terror

In November 2002, Pat Robertson (leader of millions of American Christians, some claim) stated that Mohammed was a terrorist. (Robertson has also often said that the only true Christianity is the version he preaches.) The US Justice Department has an active program for detaining and/or exporting citizens of countries thought to be Muslim. Any tiny infraction of some law, or even a regulation just issued with little publicity, is considered adequate justification. Letters to the editor, even of National Geographic, demand cleansing the US of such foul elements.

Many of those letters contain phrases along the line that Jesus was a man of peace, that Christianity is tolerance. While the former can be argued (give or take an attack on money changers in the Temple), the latter is patently false. To claim any sort of tolerance in historical Christianity, with the exception of some fringe groups like Quakers, is to ignore history.

First, Islam. A map of the Middle East published by National Geographic in the October 2002 provides estimates of religious affiliation for sixteen officially recognized countries and territories in that region. Fifteen have a majority Muslim population. All (including Saudi Arabia) have significant Christian minorities. Those Christian communities are (outside of Saudia Arabia, a very modern invention) perfectly free to practice their religion. In many countries Christians are members of the political and economic elite. (For example the church in Damascus were St Paul was said to have been saved by being let down out of a window in a basket is still very much there - and still an active church.) And prior to 1948, most had substantial Jewish communities. (There are still many Jews living in Muslim countries. I knew many in Iran, some in Syria. Those who left after 1948 was rarely forced out - they were scared out by agents of the Israeli government from all the evidence.) If Islam is intolerance, how can this be? How could such communities continue to exist after Muslim rule for over 1,000 years? (Exception: Turkey has been completely under Muslim rule for about 500 years.) The answer is simple: mainstream Islam and Muslim governments do not persecute Christians or Jews. Those who preach such are a tiny minority.

What is the record of Christianity? "Crusade" and "Inquisition" summarize the high points.

"Crusade" is a word associated by most Americans with "Crusade for Christ," the holding of revival meetings such as popularized in the last 50 years by Billy Graham. However, the term until recently had a very different meaning. The term "crusade" (to carry the cross) was invented prior to 1000 AD. The first official crusade was against Christians in France - Christians who did not believe in the doctrine held by the Bishop of Rome (Pope). This was no friendly attempt at conversion, but rather a slaughter of all "wrong believers."

A century later "crusades" came to mean military expeditions to the Middle East, with the express intent of eliminating non-believers. When Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders in 1099, the population of the city was slaughtered. Muslim, Christian and Jew were treated with perfect equality. This type of crusade carried on for over 200 years, and included the sacking of Christian Constantinople by forces loyal to the Bishop of Rome.

Coincident with the Crusades was the birth and blossoming of the pogrom. Jewish communities had existed all over Europe from Roman times. Then a Bishop of Rome called them Christ killers. In many places such as Cologne most members of the ancient communities were killed by mobs, with the survivors banned from the city for centuries.

Following the expulsion of the Crusaders from the Middle East, another problem confronted the Christian Church in the west - the Reformation. At about the same time Ferdinand and Isabella finished the military expulsion of Islam from what is now called Spain. That was quickly followed by the ban on any form of worship except that prescribed by Rome - which soon became a ban on anybody whose ancestry included Islam or Judaism.

Rome proposed and Spain most vigorously enhanced the use of inquisition (literally questioning, but including torture) and execution for the enforcement of "right thinking." Uncounted thousands fled (including Jews to Istanbul, where they were welcomed by the Muslim government) and uncounted thousands were tortured and died. Things progressed to world war (from a European perspective) - the 30 Years War. Most of the fighting was in Germany, and death rates of 50 to 100% resulted in much of the country. These were Christians killed by Christians in the name of Christ.

Inhuman treatment in the name of Christ was by no means limited to the Church of Rome. In England for a period the punishment for being a Catholic was death. One Swiss Canton passed a law that any adult male wrong believer (Baptists in this case - the canton was Calvinist) who refused to reform would be arrested and sold as a galley slave to Venice. Some of my ancestors in New England were church minders. Their job was to identify people not appearing at church services. If friendly persuasion was not enough, there were other means of ensuring compliance.

The mass slaughter in 17th century Europe had a profound impact on those inventing a new country - the US - in the following century. Separation of church and state was written into the basic law. But even this did not stop mob action again Catholics (and a vigorous debate in 1960 about whether it was "safe" to have a "Papist" president), widespread discrimination against Jews (not allowed in many Miami Beach hotels early in my lifetime), the explicit ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, and at best the non-condemnation of thousands of lynchings in the South - lynchings that continued into my lifetime. (You can make the case that the death penalty in Texas and some other states is the continuation of such lynchings under another name. Why is such a high percentage Black, when most murders are committed by whites?)

Outside the US, Christian tolerance was often not the norm. In Spain, until 1978 "freedom of religion" meant freedom to be a Catholic. Nazi Germany, with the sometimes active assistance of some neighbors. attempted to eliminate Jews entirely. The slaughters in the former Yugoslavia of Catholics by Orthodox by Muslims by Orthodox by Catholics were not religious per se, but that the three groups were of different religions was the primary method for determining "us" from "them." Very recently a Christian bishop in Rwanda was a vocal proponent/instigator of a pogrom that killed over a half million. Australia and other countries have had programs to remove children from their indigenous parents, to ensure that they are given a proper "Christian" upbringing.

And today in the US we have calls for the elimination of Islam from our shores. Even President George W Bush said on 12 September 2001 that there would be a Crusade against those who were behind the attacks on 11 September. (He was immediately told to not use that word, and has not since. Yet some actions of our government seem to follow the theme anyhow.)

Today, most Christians, Muslims and Jews are against religious intolerance. We need to join forces to stop the small minorities in each religion that say that only they know the "truth," and who would use that "truth" to surpress or eliminate any who do not agree. The majority need to work together to ensure equal rights for all, regardless of religion or sex.

PS: The middle eastern country with the lowest percentage and nearly lowest number of Christians is Israel. The Zionist state has managed to eliminate most of the native Christians from the birthplace of Christianity. Paying Christian tourists and the foreign Christian groups who run the holy sites are of course welcomed as long as they do not make waves. (Perhaps this is simply the wheel coming full circle. The first claimed case of ethnic cleansing is in the book of Exodus - by the Jews as they entered the "promised land.")

last update 10 February 2003

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