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Violence and Religion

Religions tend to arouse deep passions, strong convictions and assumptions of righteousness that justify entitlements of power to impose their views on others.  Most conquer territory by a combination of coercion and conversion forcing the indigenous inhabitants, as part of their hegemony, to adhere to their teachings and practices - Catholics in South America, Protestants in North America and Africa, Muslims in North Africa and in the Balkans, later India and Afghanistan and the Hindus vied the Buddhists for hegemony in the Orient.

Yeats maintained the fact that over 200 babies were killed in Bethlehem; an attempt to eliminate the baby Jesus – the “King of the Jews” and the brutality of his eventual crucifixion gave rise to a violent age.  From The Second Coming,  the lines: That twenty centuries of stony sleep/Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, are perplexing; appear accusatory.  Yeats, as many others sees Christianity as a malign force in supressing open minded scientific inquiry by its demands of faith – the scholastic logic of Don Scotus that prefers a priori thinking.  The “nightmare” could refer to the blood soaked Holy Wars that ravaged the Western World from the time of the Innocents of Bethlehem through to the First WW.   

T.S. Eliot, too twice refers to "Christ the tiger"  instead of "Christ the Lamb"  in his poem Gerontion. 

Muslims and Christians purport to be based on the peace teachings of Jesus Christ and Mohammed, while Hindus and Buddhists, espouse non-violence, but much of history belies that.  First Christians were brutally persecuted by the Jews, then fed to the lions for Roman entertainment. Nero used them as scapegoats, blaming them for the fire he started so he could rebuilt Rome in his image. Despite this, the Church grew stronger and spread widely throughout the Roman Empire.  Constantine eventually accepted their ideas, finding it useful to improve his image and soon began to persecute others.  Christ advocated "do unto others as you would have them do to you", but most religions learned to,"do as they did to you". 

Yeats. In “Songs from a Play”  contrasts the reaction to the violent death of Dionysus to that of Christ’s death.

I saw a staring virgin stand/

Where holy Dionysus died,

And tear the heart out of his side,

And lay the heart, upon her hand

And bear that beating heart away;

And then did all the Muses sing

Of Magnus Annus at the spring,

As though God’s death were but a play.

The Greeks celebrated the death of their god with a Drama Festival each year at Athens. Some of the greatest art of the classical world originated from these festivals of tragedy. In contrast Christ’s death brought anguish and breakdown.   Greek historians claim that Christians  rejected empirical science in favour of dogmatic faith.  Christians soon gained a closed mind reputation to investigative methods with an aggressive attack on intellectuals.  

Christ came from a poor marginalised people, illegal rebels, who threatened the power of Rome. Oppressed with extreme violence,  early Christians preached a gospel of peace, non violence and social justice.  Once the Church became allied with the state through Constantine, these outlaws morphed into exalted oppressors, disconnecting themselves from that message and the disadvantaged  to one of bulwark coercive power.  Church and State became one.  Constantine appointed church officials to all his administrative offices, citizens were given tax breaks for converting. The Church was granted tax free status.  The Church in turn based its system of hierarchies on the Roman Army.  

This power structure negates Christ's message of the power of pacifism and love.  This power structure has justified many atrocities through the past two thousand years.  Former Cardinal George Pell used it to justify his utterly callous disregard for all victims of sexual abuse by priests.  He informed Christine Foster that her conscience had no influence on him as he was only guided by Rome.  She described his sociopathic lack of empathy as utter arrogance and hypocrisy. 

No one can deny that Christianity has a profound influence on Western Civilisation. It has produced some of the great Art, Architecture, Music and Literature of the world.  

Girolamo Savonarola was a complex and conflicted fiery Florentine Friar who preached against art as a contributing factor to the spread of vice and spiritual decay – particularly overt same sex activity prevalent in Enrique’s court in Sergovia. His prophetic fire and brimstone preaching exhorted the masses to reject the secular materialism and corruption ot Rodrigo Borgia’s Papacy.  He was known for the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.

His attacks on the openly dissolute Papacy of Alexander VI found many adherents throughout Europe, including Queen Isabella from 1492.  The Pope tried to appease him by offering to make him a Cardinal, which he rejected. 

With the death of Lorenzo de’Medici in 1496, Florence was hit by drought and starvation, which Savonarola attributed to the sybaritic ways of the Church.  He instituted the Bonfires of the Vanities, where all were bring and burn all objects that represented human vices and luxuries – rich clothing, mirrors, playing cards, paintings and books – representing the sensuality of the Italian Renaissance.

Pope Alexander initially ignored him, then ex-communicated him but finally called on the Church: “this little worm had to be put to death”.  He was charged with the serious crime of Heresy.

Despite Savonarola’s appeals to various crowns of Europe to convene a council to overthrow an openly corrupt Papacy, it was Savonarola who faced an Inquisition, He was tortured, confessed that” his sermons were acts of pride for personal glory” and having given the Church what it needed, was hanged and his body burned.  Even his supporters abandoned him as Florentines threw gun powder on the fire to make the blaze hotter.  Dissenters seldom prosper.

The Christian message of hope, brotherly love,  tolerance, monotheism and social harmony enhanced societies.  Its social welfare and disaster relief gives hope to many.  However, many principles became more “honored in the breach than the observance”. Most religions profess belief in non-violence, yet the Church, first a victim became a perpetrator, converting the whole Roman Empire coercively into a Christian hegemony.  

Who knows the precise date that the first Christian killed another Christian because they had a different belief?  Though there may have been previous instances, once Constantine converted, attributing his success over the Eastern Empire through a vision of Christ,  he proclaims the Edict of Milan, 313, ending the persecution. Later Christianity became the mandatory religion of the Roman Empire.  Soon hair splitting on doctrinal matters emerged.  Constantine foresaw the demise of Rome so began the shift of most of the Roman Empire’s power to the East, the metropolis Byzantium – which he renamed Constantinople.  Because it was out of reach of the marauding barbarians and virtually impregnable, it became a strong and extremely rich outpost of Western Civilisation including Christianity for another 1000 years.

Constantine's Council of Nicaea in 325 resolves the main doctrinal disputes by issuing the Nicene Creed declaring one statement of faith, that Christ was both man and divine; born of a woman but immaculately conceived.  This temporarily put an end to internecine disputes..

The rise and rise of Muslim began in the 7th C. mainly because Christianity had become weakened by the fall of Rome by the Goths, Visigoths and other barbaric tribes of North eastern regions of Europe and Asia.  Early Muslims were exemplary in many ways.  Accepting traditional Hebrew beliefs, Christ as a prophet, they continued his philanthropic caring and kindness to each other and others.  They, like the Jews  believed in personal cleanliness, devout, tolerant and believed in respecting the equality of women.  Initially both Jews and Christians felt very safe living under Muslim rule.  Homosexuality was openly tolerated.   As the West went into decline, the Muslim world flourished.  The astrolabe was created for Jaafar, son of the Abbasid caliph al-Muktafi, in Baghdad in the 10th century AD.  The teachings of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and the other great thinkers and scientists of Greece fell into obscurity west of Constantinople and north of Morocco.  In Baghdad, however - the now war-shattered capital of Iraq, then the seat of the Abbasid caliphate - there rose a remarkable institution known as the House of Wisdom.  With Europe into its so-called Dark Ages, the Islamic world was entering its Golden Age. The House of Wisdom, between the 8th and 13th centuries, attracted Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars from throughout the known world to study and translate the tracts that had underpinned modern thought to that time into Arabic.  Every important and available book and paper known to exist was collected for translation from Greek, Latin, Persian, Indian and even Chinese sources.

By the 9th century, the House of Wisdom contained the world’s largest library, and up to 500  scholars worked feverishly on their own discoveries.  The idea that the Earth was round, its circumference measurable, was no stranger here. Physicians investigated the causes of infection. The number zero, invented as a useful concept in India, reached Baghdad somewhere around AD 770 and became a crucial element in mathematics. Without zero there would never have been a computer, let alone Google. 

The pleasure of harnessing knowledge spread rapidly across Arab North Africa, through refined cities like Fez, and beyond.

Meanwhile, in AD 711, those Muslims known in the West as Moors began pouring across the Strait of Gibraltar and took over the Iberian Peninsula. By AD 1000, most of what we now know as Spain was occupied by the Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba.

Eventually the Spaniards conquered Cordoba and plonked a cathedral in the heart of its main mosque.  With the city of Cordoba at its centre, here rose the most enlightened and cultured area of Europe.

Cordoba, with its magnificent Mezquita (mosque) spreading over 2½ serene hectares, was a world centre of learning. Its main library, one of more than 70 in the city of half a million inhabitants, was said to contain 400,000 books. Christians and Jews were permitted to live in relative peace alongside the Moors, contributing to the cultural vibrancy of Andalusia.  It took about 600 years for this to degenerate.  

The Goths, though Christianised, were considered barbarians because they had little centralized organized governments, lack of the rule of law and “might is right” attitude; the weak had no protection.  Islam spread rapidly in the Middle East, across Northern Africa and across the narrow straits into Spain. Islam at first appeared to be quite tolerant of other religions inhabiting their lands. 

In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by Christians had reached new levels of intensity. In 391, Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all pagan temples.  The Serapeum of the Great Library was destroyed, possibly effecting the final destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

Early Christians began persecuting many innocent people who rejected their beliefs for sorcery; as wizards, warlocks or witches.    The first recorded victim was Hypatia, a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Eastern Roman Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy. She was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 ADS because of sorcery and witchcraft.

According to Val Badham The habit of scientists to offend the “common sense” standards of their times with research has historically proven quite dangerous. Rhazes, the medical pioneer of ninth century Baghdad, was beaten blind with his own compendium by a priest. The humanist Michael Servetus, a 16th century physician credited with discovering pulmonary circulation, was tortured and burned along with his books on the shores of Lake Geneva at the personal behest of John Calvin.  In the 17th century, Galileo spent his last years under house arrest, forced by the church to recant the heretical belief that the earth orbited the sun.  It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic Church finally acknowledged that Galileo may have been right.

These were the precise experiences abjured by the proponents of the 18th century Enlightenment – a historical movement defined by its spirit of unrestricted inquiry, freedom and liberalism.

French nobles assisted the Spanish in the Reconquista in a 400 year battle to consolidate the power of the Catholic Monarchs.  This was done by brutal conquest.  St James was canonised as "the "Moor Slayer"  because he appeared in a vision to help destroy the Moors.

Mary Jo Anderson writes in the Catholic World Report, Jan. 2, 2019: "  Charlemange, the warrior emperor was to liberate the roadway that ran to St James' tomb. In Galicia, James’ burial crypt had been rediscovered in 813 and a small chapel was built (by Bishop Teodomir) to protect it. Myth or miracle, a rout now known as the Battle of Clavijo was fought in the year 844  by desperate Christians with their backs against the mountains, led by Ramiro I of Asturias. Suddenly, there appeared a heavenly horseman, sword aloft, who slew every Muslim in his path: Santiago Matamoros. Inspired by their champion, the faithful began the reconquest of Spain.

Seven hundred years later Queen Isabella finally recovered all of Spain from Muslim rule. She immediately pawned her jewels to finance Christopher Columbus. Isabella, who built hospitals for pilgrims along the Camino, knew that Christianity must evangelize any lands beyond the horizon, lest Mohammed’s forces domine the world.  Today’s politically correct agenda overlooks Isabella’s urgent hope. But there is confirmation of her intent in a letter from Columbus to an official “Treat the Natives with the utmost kindness. Protect them from all wrong and insult…and ever bear in mind that their majesties are more desirous of the conversion of natives than any riches to be derived from them.”  This was short lived as the Spanish Conquistadors spread the Catholic faith throughout the Americas by the sword.

Under attack by the barbaric Lombards, Pope Adrian also sought the assistance of Charlemagne's armies to regain the power of Christian forces. Pope Leo declares Charlemagne a "defender of the faith" and the first Holy Roman Emperor.

If you are looking for suspects, you need go no further than the Crusades, especially the first and the fourth.  A series of Crusades allowed the Popes to raise and control huge armies used to fight all opponents of the Church.  It was Pope Urban II. in 1194, responding to Alexis of Constantinople cries for help against expanding Islam who becomes the main culprit. In a rousing speech, instilling imaginative power, Urban called for violence against the infidel in the name of Christ, for the one true religion, amidst prayers for peace .   Through this act of piety Urban raised an army of 40,000 crusaders to destroy all enemies of Christ. His first, most infamous  atrocity was to go north to the Rhineland to destroy the Jews.  Only then did they proceed to retake Jerusalem in 1099, in one of the most violent and bloody raids in history, involving mass rapes of women and murders of children and destruction of many towns.  Decrees went out excluding Muslims from living in Christian lands.  Muslim temples were transformed back into Cathedrals.

In contrast, when Saladin reclaims Jerusalem in 1187, he proclaims a a policy of co-existence; The Holy Sepulchral of Jerusalem must remain open to all religions.  In 2014, Pope Francis II's visit to Jerusalem he aplolgises for previous violence and intolerance.

Before we get too doey eyed about the sanctity of the Muslims, we should consider its aggressive expansion under the Ottoman Turks.  They learned the lesson that religion can be spread by blood and iron more effectively than by simple evangelism.

By the late 16th century the Turks began to spread Islam by predation with the objective of world hegemony.  It became a perpetual war machine with all out military operations and expansion threatening the Mediterranean sea ports.  As Christians nations had demonstrated the greatest motivating force for soldiers was booty, including capturing human fodder for other conquests and women as sex slaves.  Continuous Holy War (gaza) became the norm. (Turkish Historian Halil Inalcik)   

It is worth noting that both the Moors in Spain and later Saladin in Jerusalem tolerated the Jews and Christians under a policy of co-existence.  It was Queen Isabella who expelled Jews and Muslims and later Pope Urban III's exclusionary policy waged a war against the Jews of Rhineland and refused to allow Muslims to live in Christian controlled territories.  Isabella was reacting to the barbaric spread of Islam by the Ottoman Empire, whose soldiers were motivated by promises of virgins and pillage. Urban also called for violence to restore Christianity in Europe and the Middle East.  Saladin appears much more chivalric. 

Many periods in the history of mankind demonstrate man’s barbaric inhumanity to their fellow human beings. The period known as the Middle Ages stands out as one of the most violent, blood soaked eras in history. This epoch, lasting roughly 1,000 years, from the 5th century to the 15th, was a time of great inequality and brutality in much of Europe.

What really sets this time apart is the ghoulish inventiveness that gave rise to a plethora of torture methods. There were many grounds for torture during the Middle Ages -- religious fervor and criminal punishment come to mind -- but why would a person take the time to invent a device designed to maim?

Most crusades and later wars were perpetrated with licenced killing, looting and the rape and slavery of women.  Pope Innocent III set the terms promised in the Crusades against Islam -- remission of sins and unrestricted looting.

Once the Catholic Church began its resurgence in Spain and later in Rome, and the Italian city states of Florence, Milan and Venice regained their power, fierce rivalry surfaced between the Roman Catholic Church of Rome and its eastern counterpart of Greek Orthodox Church of Constantinople.  Instead of focusing their energy and resources combating the rise and spread of the Muslims; the Ottoman Empire, the Christian church bickered amongst itself about petty small time heresies.  Christians have been killing each other for centuries because of intolerance and the power of the Church over the people was unlimited.  Individuals had no basic rights.  Once denounced as a heretic or an unorthodox thinker - you were more or less condemned to a painful, torturing and excruciating death after implicating your loved ones.  If you were rich, or offended anyone, you were likely to dobbed in simply to confiscate your property or for reprisal.

Inquisitions, originating in southern France about 1200, devised at least ten ingenious devices to torture your neighbors - it wasn't enough just to confiscate their property and kill them.

Partly retribution, but largely as an incentive to soldiers, the abasement of women became a hallmark of all war booty.  From barbaric raids by hordes of Vikings, Mongolians, to Christian attacks on each other, or on Muslims, or Muslims on Christian, or Hindus on Muslims, rape has become an integral reward for risking your life in conquest.  Mary Jo Anderson writes: By 800, Christians had been backed into the northernmost region of Spain by the Moors and a humiliating tribute of a 100 virgins per year was demanded of local governors.

Noted political philosopher Fr. James Schall, SJ, summarized the tumult: “He addressed an issue that did, to be sure, come to world attention because of Islamic militancy. This issue was stated succinctly: ‘Is it reasonable, or does God will, to spread one’s religion by violence?’ This was a question asked by practically everyone in the world who thought of the implications of “suicide bombings,” or about the earlier holy wars — jihad — in Islamic history, wars largely, though not exclusively, against Christian lands. The issue is the deliberate choice of violent means as the proper way to propagate a religion, together with a theological justification to do so.”

When the Roman Crusaders were welcomed into Constantinople, they betrayed their hosts by raping and killing Greek Orthodox Nuns in the Cathedral of Haigia Sophia. When Russian troops began their advance into Hitler’s Germany, Officers stood leisurely by as their troops took turns raping any German women they came across.  War sanctions man’s bloody sadistic brutality. Women usually bore the brunt of men's violence.  Soldiers were repeatedly rewarded with promises of booty and sexual conquest.  Recurring motifs of the debasement of women first - stripped naked to parade in victory marches, and as sexual slaves to lust filled and sex starved soldiers.  In April 1947, in the Punjab, a large group of Muslim women was stripped naked, paraded through the streets, then raped by a Sikh mob.

The Fourth Crusade

In the early summer of 2001, the Pope made a historic visit to Greece, and was met with thousands of angry demonstrators holding signs, yelling epithets. The Greeks were angry about something that had happened eight hundred years ago: The Fourth Crusade had stopped off in Constantinople, sacked the city, and weakened it for the later overthrow by the Turks. And they’re angry today, eight hundred years later. 

The fourth Crusade, of the 11th Century, was actually spawned spontaneously by a group of knights on a whim following the euphoria of a successful tournament. To prepare themselves, they engaged in a few practice runs or if you will some “curtain raisers” including the ones above and below.  Another one began as one of the darkest, bloody and brutal periods in Medieval Europe.  First they dealt with the Cathars in Southern France.  An estimated 200,000 to one million people died during the twenty year campaign, which began in earnest in Béziers in July 1209. After assembling the papal troops, these marched to Béziers, where they ordered that 222 people, suspected of being Cathars, were handed over to them by the citizens of the town. When this was refused, the papal troops decided to attack. One of the crusaders asked their leader, the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury, how to distinguish between the 222 heretics and the thousands of faithful Catholics that lived in the city. “Kill them all,” was the abbot’s alleged reply. “God will recognise his own!” The number of dead that day was between 7000 and 20,000, the latter figure being the one quoted when Arnaud-Amaury reported back to the Pope.

Pope Innocent III supported the Fourth Crusade, which led to the wild sacking of Constantinople, “the most unspeakable of the many outrages in the whole hideous history of the Crusades.”   The Roman Catholics, after being welcomed into the city, in order to demonstrate their superiority attacked and slaughtered hundreds of their Greek Orthodox brethren.  Drunken Roman Crusaders rampaged the Haigia Sophia, raped the Greek nuns and trashed the Church smearing the walls and floors with carnage and blood. 

The Greek Orthodox Church believes this weakened Constantinople, allowing the Turks to eventually overrun the city in 1453.  It was one of the few fortress cities to survive the Persian invaders and the Muslim hegemony of the Ottoman empire the longest.

By this time, the Crusaders had spent their blood lust, had little zeal, energy or resources left to fight the Muslims. 

The cause of this intra-faith feuding stems from conflicting claims of religious supremacy and doctrinal issues. The western Catholics based in Rome had suffered the indignity of subjugation by barbarian invasions, while the eastern thrived under the Classical Byzantine tradition, retaining its orthodoxy.  The western Roman centred Church felt the eastern Orthodox could contribute more financial support to the Crusaders. 

The Thirty Years War in Germany, 1618 - 48, left central Europe devastated, as did the Irish Protestant Catholic conflict.  Religious and ethnic tensions between the Rhohingya Muslims and the Rhahine Buddhists, accused of attempted genocide, do little to foster faith in the power of religion to provide world peace.  Perhaps because organised Religions tend to appeal to partisan passions rather than the intellect.  Unyielding loyalty to sectarian religion is elevated over reason.

Editing In progress


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