Saturday, June 4, 2016

Welcome back to the Dark Ages

Dear Hannah,

The Huffington Post has gone too far by calling Jesus transgender, but the Romans called Christians cannibals and to me getting called transgender is a step forward.  The problem with Christians isn't that they cross-dress but that they cross-count.  They think one is three and three is one and if you didn't agree with them in a whole millenium they'd kill you.  They think bread is body and grape juice is blood and if you didn't assert it they'd light you on fire*.  Whether this is better or worse than dressing up like a woman isn't a matter of opinion.  What the Huffington Post claims is kinder than what Christians have actually been.  No -- you don't call Jesus a she-male.  But beyond this you don't murder a good mathematician.

Thousand of people died for this after the reign of Constantine.  First the empire became officially Christian.  Next the army was mobilized against heretics.  The next thing you knew, St. Athanasius was an outlaw, Alexandria was besieged, women got raped, churches got sacked, and Christians got murdered by Christians.  The disagreement was sharp and the discussion was dull.  Was God of one or two substances?  Or was he both?  The answer was given at the point of a sword. 

Edward Gibbon notes in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that official Christendom's first decades were a fight between Arians and Catholics -- both of them Christians.  There were riots and rapes, exiles and assassinations; fist-fights and mayhem and overall devilry; and if there was any difference between the old pagan government and the new Christian one, it was that the pagans allowed metaphysics and the Christians would stab you over it.  New arguments were made for the eucharist.  They said that one thing could have all the aspects of one thing and actually be another thing; and that in the realm of the sacred it can walk and talk like a duck and end up being a dog.  The stumbling block here wasn't that you lacked faith in God.  It was that you had too much faith in the eyes that God gave you.

The same eyes that see an Adam's apple.  The same ears that hear a man's voice.  The things the entire Enlightenment was fought over -- the idea that what you saw was what you saw, and that if you just saw enough things you could make sense of your surroundings.  The opposite of what the transgenders want for us today.  They argue that what we see is irrelevant, and what we believe should be what they feel.  More importantly they believe that if we see and feel things differently we shouldn't be able to say it.  The transgenders are the Dark Ages and they're pretending to be the future.  And at this rate they might be -- at least until the Muslims take over.

But the free thinkers are convinced, against their own history, that the church is their enemy and the atheists are their friends -- that the people who believe in marriage and fertility and gender roles and everything a good Darwinist ought to believe in are the nutcases, and the people who don't believe in their own genitals are the truth-tellers.  Religion has been inseparably associated with a literal Genesis, and good scientists have been separated from our religionists.  We live in an age of tradition, not science.  The old alliance was one way and we continue to believe it's still that way.  And it isn't.  On this issue of individual expression, on liberty of conscience, on scientific fact, on the things the old freethinkers fought for, the Christians are the Voltaires and Lockes and Humes and the drag queens are the Dark Agers.  But God's children throw away an appeal to reason, and bank the rights of their children on a constitutional right to worship.  A shitty gamble on a fabulous pretense -- that anyone could worship in any way he wanted just because it was worship.

And so they lost freedom of speech.  So they lost freedom of thought.  They threw away the idea that every man could say what he wanted about himself and everyone else could judge him for it.  Instead they hide behind their pews and expect the idea of pews to save them.  They're wrong, and they'll find out that Christian religious liberty really only exists if the people running the government are freethinkers.  They banked their real rights on the idea that Moloch and Jesus and Mohammed were all equals -- and that anyone for one second had actually believed it.

Your father,

*Few could have imagined, when Jesus said He came to bring a sword instead of peace, that He was speaking just as much about the violence between Christians as about the persecution of the Christians by the unfaithful.  Little else could have been expected by any impartial and enlightened observer, despite the expectation of many (including Constantine's close spiritual advisor, the eloquent Lactantius) that the establishment of Christianity would lead to a golden era of virtue and tranquility.

A steady increase in the machinery of government, and the gradual erosion of civil liberties since Augustus, both for the purpose of finding and persecuting any political dissidents, were quickly transformed from instruments of political power into instruments for spiritual supremacy.  A land permeated by a kind of secret police; laws which permitted torture without any regard to citizenship or age or sex; and a jealous division of powers for the prevention of open rebellion, may have secured the throne from any rivals, but intimately associated the concept of government with the idea of oppression.  Furthering the abuses of tyrannical authority, the conversion of Constantine immediately gave the emperor an unusual amount of power in what was originally a kind of republican church government, the last remaining elements of independence in an almost thoroughly enervated society.

The organization of the church, as well as the relative virtue and vigilance of its members, was able to restrain the emperor in many cases from acts of undue tyranny, and their habitual resistance to their pagan overlords had trained them not only in the arts of civil disobedience, but also in the distinction between temporal and spiritual authority.   But the once-oppressed Christians were incapable of resisting the temptations of power that once belonged to their enemies, and instead of establishing an era of the toleration they had so recently requested, were content, like any other political faction, with the power of persecuting their enemies alongside differences of opinion in their brethren.

Toleration is always the request of those in subjection, and rarely the interest of those in political power; and if Jesus is to be taken seriously about the surprises of the Final Judgment, we might infer that a church run by Christians might have taken Christian charity seriously, but that a faction in a state of supremacy always attracts impostors; and that if anything is to be expected, it is an increase of tares at the expense of the proportion (and inevitably the power) of the wheat.   Sincere Christians are capable of making mistakes.  But I believe that Christians are more frequently disgraced not for their own sins, but for the many vices, crimes, and the willful ignorance of spiritual pretenders.

It's also worth noting that Paul, perhaps with the noblest intentions of a thoroughly Jewish theologian, whittled down his political theory to two points, one of them necessary, and the other one pernicious.  The first is that government is God's instrument for the persecution of evil and the support of the good.  The second is that every ruler, whatever his quality, is personally appointed by God.  With this as the foundation of Christian jurisprudence, it is difficult to expect anything other than spiritual tyranny, and any ruler other than an absolute despot.  The complexities of Christian theology and the generality of their morals facilitate a government interested in the minutest details, while the absolute authority of their leaders keeps anyone from open rebellion.  We can only be thankful that as this is the teaching of Scripture, the masses of the faithful are frequently just as regulated by their temporal interests as they are in their pursuit of the kingdom of heaven; and that Christians, while oftentimes claiming an absolute allegiance to their princes and an unconditional submission to the will of God, are usually capable of being goaded into acts of legitimate and manly violence.

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