Fundamentalism and Christianity
by Edward T. Babinski
Jonathan: Ed, I find your characterization of Kevin to be grotesque. The guy was sincere, honest and genuinely doubtful about what--if anything--he believed.
Ed: I'm sorry, I think I must be confusing my memory of Kevin with the person who was citing fundamentalist apologetics concering things like Sodom and Gommorah and the fall of the walls of Jericho and trying to reconvert everybody in here. THAT person seemed rather intent on regurgitating funda-gelical apologetics. If that wasn't Kevin, then I'm sorry for confusing him with someone else.
Most recently though, Kevin came at me all claws, then danced out of here, which reminded me all too much of similar encounters with a fellow at the Lion's Den discussion group. He'd listen to some unorthodox argument and then storm out, then come back meekly after his blood pressure calmed down, and tell us to forgive him for being such a bad witness to Jesus. None of us really thought he needed forgiveness so much as a course in courtesy, self control, or self awareness and maybe biofeedback or meditation classes, or better yet, leaving the fold. That guy took every question about the Bible or about Christianity and Christian history as a personal affront to himself.
Actually, I was aghast at Kevin's standard evangelical reply to the quotations from those historians that I shared. I also ran up a white flag to try and get in touch with him on a personal e-mail basis after he left the list, though I haven't heard back from him. If you'd like to see the restrained manner with which I responded to his last e-mail to me, I'd be happy to share it with you.
Jonathan: Just because his search didn't lead him to *your* logical conclusion doesn't mean he has ulterior motives as you suggest.
Ed: I don't have any "conclusions" other than the standard historical one, namely, taking the long view of Christian history, Christianity does not appear superior to other dogmatic mass movements in politics and religion.
Jonathan: To portray him as an evangelical fundamentalist is beyond inaccurate. It's absurd, IMO.
Ed: Based on his final lengthy reply to me, and the arguments he used, and the way he ran out of here, it would not appear as absurd to me as it does to you. I hope you will try to contact him at his personal e-mail address as I have done. Here's what I've sent Kevin thus far:
Ed: Kevin, If you'd allow me to explain myself, and also answer your final post to me, I'd be happy to do so.
Edward T. Babinski
I rec'd no answer, so I then sent...
I am not a monster, neither do I think you are one. Neither do I think that all Xns are monsters. Neither am I trying to wipe out Xnty, neither would I vote to outlaw religion. I invite people to leave the fold, yes, should they decide to do so, partly based on any information I may happen to share or discuss with them. I am also sure my attitude mirrors your own, which is to invite people to join Xnty should they so decide, partly based on any information you may happen to share or discuss with them.
I am of the opinion that Xnty has as many skeletons in its closet as every other dogmatically led mass movement in the past two thousand years, whether it be political or religious. And for that reason, I do not think Xnty superior to other religions or faiths or nonfaiths. That's all I was trying to point out. If you thought otherwise it was probably because I didn't mention anything good about Xnty, I leave it up to Xns to do that, and they do, on radio, in weekly sermon columns in the nation's newspapers, on Xn TV shows, in Xn book sections at Wall Mart, in Xn bookstores in malls, on billboards, on bright scrolling advertising marquees in front of mega-churches, across the land, etc.
I think there is a lot of material we can reach an agreement on in your e-mail to me if you will give us the chance to discuss it. I promise not to employ any sarcasm with you. And I invite you to discuss matters with me however you wish, in whatever words you wish, as I am not offended.
Again, no answer from Kevin, so I sent...
Here is a sample of how rationally and peacefully we can discuss matters. You may respond however you wish. But I think we can agree on much. If I have overstepped any bounds of civility below, please point it out to me.
Kevin: Christians in the Roman empire were subject to bloody persecutions (not government patronage) for the first three centuries yet continued to grow. "The blood of martyrs is seed", as Tertullian observed. This assertion also fails to account for Christianity existing in places where it has experienced persecution rather than government support, e.g. India, Sudan and China.
Ed: Estimates vary as to how much Christianity "continued to grow." Certainly it proved itself a faith capable of surviving, a faith which promised much to its adherents, and added an apocalyptic touch and flavor which competing religions lacked.
But the estimates I've read say that only ten to thirty percent of the Empire was "Christianized" by the time Constantine gained the Emperorship, and those Christians were divided amongst themselves. I've also read that there were more Mithraists than Christians in the Roman Empire at the time when Constantine first took power.
Tertullian's observation that "the blood of the matryrs is the seed of the church" does not take into account that Christians were disputing and decrying one another even during the Roman persecution period, so there never was any one "church." Even Tertullian was considered a heretic by "the church" that was later to become the "Catholic church." About 207, Tertullian joined the Montanists, an apocalyptic heretical group advocating rigorous asceticism. Within a short time he became a leader of his own party, called the Tertullianists. As you may know, Constantine outlawed "Montanists" along with many other rival (non-Catholic) Christian groups by issuing a special Edict (this special Edict was decreed after his Edict for "religious freedom." (If I am wrong about this, please correct me.)
Do you dispute that more Christians killed Christians (and pagans) during the three centuries following Constantine,than were killed during the preceding three centuries when the non-Christian Roman emperors were in power? Ramsay McMullen has a nice footnote in his latest book, _Christianity and Paganism from the Fourth to the Eighth Centuries_, that cites a wide number of references on this point.
As for "Christianity existing in places where it has experienced persecution," North Africa used to be a stronghold of Christianity and of famous Christians bishops, like Augustine and Ambrose among others. But via persecution, the Moslems took over North Africa. So Islam challenged Christianity and "won" the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Russia, parts of India, and parts of Indonesia, to become the most widespread non-Christian religion on earth, martyrs or no martyrs.
Also, Communism's expansion was more explosive than either Christianity's or Islam's, and even after the decline of Communist influence, it has left behind billions of "practical atheists" when it comes to religion.
In late medieval Japan a warlord reacted to attempts by Christian missionaries to convert the Japanese people. He killed, I think, ten thousand Christians (missionaries and their Japanese converts). And to this day, Japan remains a soil ill suited for Christian conversion, with 50% of the population remaining unbelievers in any kind of spirit, and the others mainly Buddhists/Shintoists, with Buddhist bookstores in each city (kind of like Zondervan books here in the U.S.). CHRISTIANTY TODAY magazine even ran an article that admitted these and other facts from history that disputed the notion that "the blood of martyrs was the seed of the church." The article cited that exact verse from Tertullian and admitted that it was not always so.
Neither does martydom prove the truth of anyone's beliefs, it merely demonstrates the lengths of passion with which they remain held. And there are a host of different beliefs that have passionate subscribers. In fact, most believers seem quite ready to die for their beliefs rather than live a long life quietly practicing them. There is something in man's make up that makes us want to share ideas and beliefs (not just Christian ones), and when affronted, risk all to continue to do so, rather than simply live our beliefs quietly by ourselves. It's the social instinct I suppose, and the fact that we are social creatures longing to touch one another's minds not just each other's bodies.
Speaking again of the universality of the phenomenon known as martyrdom, human beings have "suffered" at each other's hands for as long as human beings have had hands. "Suffering" for almost any conceivable reason, including "suffering for the Gospel," is therefore not unique. Throughout history and in fields of human endeavor as diverse as religion, politics, science, art, and education, great minds have suffered at the hands of little minds; great hearts and souls have suffered at the hands of the heartless and the soulless; obstinate hearts, minds and souls have suffered at the hands of equally obstinate hearts, minds and souls. Those inflicting the suffering often thought they were "right" to do so. And those experiencing it took succor in believing that their faith, or ideas, or actions, were "right."
Speaking of non-Christians who have suffered: Jews have suffered for over a thousand years at the hands of Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Moslems, and Germans. Which reminds me of the Jewish story of a rabbi facing the Inquisition, who was asked to deny his faith. He asked for time to think it over. The next morning he said, "I will not become a Catholic, but I have a last request - before I'm burnt at the stake my tongue should be cut out for not replying at once. To such a question 'No!' was the only answer."
Christian antisemitism has been the cause of much Jewish suffering over the past 1900 years. To understand the Biblical roots of antisemitism, I would suggest reading a book such as _Antisemitism in the New Testament_. It is of course a topic that you perhaps do not believe has any basis in the Bible as you understand it. Fine, I accept that you see things that way, but I do not necessarily agree that there is nothing in the Bible than cannot be understood in other ways, and has been understood in other ways by devout Christians other than yourself.
And what about the growth of the religion known as "Bahaism," despite fervent persecution? It began when the Persian holy man, Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) set out to reform Islam and bring people back to the worship of a purely spiritual God (not unlike how Jesus set out to reform the Judaism of his day). His movement caused much religious ferment. This led to his execution in 1850 by order of the Shah's chief minister and at the instigation of Muslim clerics who saw his movement as a threat to orthodox Islam. Besides Ali Muhammad, 20,000 of his followers were martyred for their beliefs. Yet the "Bahai" religion survived, and it has communities in 205 countries.
The early Mormons were persecuted by the "orthodox" Christian majority, and the founder of Mormonism was killed by a mob. Yet that religion continues to grow at a rate exceeding even the Southern Baptist Convention.
And what about agnostics, atheists, "heretical" Christians and "heretical" Muslims, all of whom have suffered at the hands of "orthodox" Christians and "orthodox" Muslims for daring to speak and publish their "blasphemous" or "heretical" ideas? Christians and Muslims have publicly burnt the books of their critics, so that even today, the words of Christianity's earliest critics only survive in the form of excerpts in the works of their Christian opponents. In colonial America, there were laws that made "blasphemy" or non-belief in the Trinity, crimes punishable by death. Even till the early 1900s, the authors of "blasphemous" literature in Great Britain and America could be put on trial, fined, and/or imprisoned for their "crime." Some Muslims still view "blasphemy and heresy" as crimes deserving the death penalty.
As I said above, human beings have "suffered" at each other's hands for as long as human beings have had hands. "Suffering" for almost any conceivable reason and belief is therefore not unique.
[More will follow in a similarly civil vein should you wish me to continue to reply to your letter. Please let me know.