Weak-minded Arguments For Christianity by William Sierichs, Jr. (November 1999)

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s comments on religion–which he called a “sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers”–have aroused the wrath of legions of the devout. The venom of the usual Religious Reich goose-steppers is to be expected. But other, more mainstream, Christians have also counterattacked.

One such effort was an Oct. 5, 1999, column by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who berated Ventura by invoking many Christian leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the members of the Solidarity trade union in Poland, and various Christians who have fought for human rights, pointing out they were not weak-minded. Unfortunately, Dionne cherry-picks the best of Christianity and ignores the worst, by far the majority. I’ll point out some of the gaps.

Although black and white clergy were among the marchers against segregation, a large number of white clergy were defenders of segregation. Segregation itself was a continuation of slavery, both being the product of racism, which in turn was a product of Christianity.

It was a fundamental Christian belief, expressed in the Scriptures and repeated by later Christians, that all pagans serve Satan and that Christians had a right to protect themselves against corruption by pagans and a duty to save the pagans if possible from eternal damnation and torture. These beliefs led them to slaughter or enslave millions of European pagans in centuries of crusades, until all of Europe was Christianized.

We know this today because Christian clergymen proudly wrote lengthy chronicles describing in nauseating detail the atrocities Christians committed in forcing pagan conversions.

When 15th-century Christians discovered new lands full of pagans, they did to Africans and American Indians exactly what they did to European pagans, only with one difference. For centuries, Christian artwork had depicted Satan and his demons as black. In Christian literature, Satan was described as black, even specifically as an African, such as in Athanasius’ Life of Saint Anthony and the medieval best-seller Voyage of Brendan. Not surprisingly, Christians decided that Africans and Indians were a lot closer to Satan than white-skinned Europeans and acted accordingly to protect themselves from the “pollution” of contact with dark-skinned peoples. Read historian Forrest G. Wood’s The Arrogance of Faith for an in-depth exploration of the Christian origin of racism, slavery and segregation.

That’s why defenders of slavery in the antebellum South repeatedly use the Bible and refer to Christian concepts in their arguments. Read The Ideology of Slavery, which reprints slavery defenses, edited by Drew Gilpin Faust, to see how devoutly Christian the defenders were. Defenders correctly note that the Bible repeatedly condones slavery, even commands it at times, and never condemns it. Even the Tenth Commandment condones slavery; so much for the Commandments as a source of moral virtue. Also read Proslavery, by Larry E. Tise, pages 116-120, for surveys showing the overwhelmingly Christian character of slavery defenses. In one survey of pro-slavery tracts, clergymen wrote more than half.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, it’s no surprise that Sunday morning became the most segregated time of the week. Nor is it surprising that it was agnostics and atheists in various liberal movements who spoke out first against segregation and racism. That’s one reason that white segregationists–clergy included–labeled the civil-rights workers “communists,” a word they considered synonymous with atheism.

Dionne also cites theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer, who suffered for his opposition to the Nazis.

Germany before Hitler’s rise was a Christian nation. The majority of its citizens were Christians, mostly Protestants. Hitler came to power only through the support of millions of German Christians, including many Protestant and Catholic clergy. He was reared as a Christian himself and invoked God, Jesus and Christianity in his speeches and in Mein Kampf. You can question whether he was still really a Christian in the 1930s, but his hatred of Jews–like the anti-Semitism of millions of his supporters–was based solely in Christianity.

It was Christianity, beginning with the Scriptures, that preached that the Jews were servants of Satan, just like pagans. It was Christians who tortured and killed countless Jews over the centuries. While Jews were tolerated at times and places in Christian Europe, their position was always precarious. They were forcibly converted by the Byzantines, Visigoths and the victorious Spanish and Portuguese Christians of 1492. They were driven from England and France at various times. Christians slaughtered Jews out of sheer hatred in the First Crusade, during the Black Death, and many times simply because a “blood libel” or a host-nailing accusation put Christians in the mood for a pogrom. In the 19th century, Christian political parties in Germany, Austria, Hungary and other countries fought ferociously against granting equal civil rights to Jews. In France, the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus was framed as a spy by conservative Christians, some of whom never acknowledged his innocence; a few later collaborated with the Nazis.

Whatever the other sources of Nazism may be, its racism and anti-Semitism are solely the product of Christian beliefs and Christian history. Christianity bears sole guilt for the Holocaust. The few liberal Christians who opposed Hitler cannot reduce the massive guilt of Christianity as a whole for its role in Nazi crimes, which included destroying freethought and atheist organizations in Germany because they opposed Hitler.

Like Christianity, communism did not tolerate dissent–imprisoning, torturing and killing anyone who opposed it. Since czarist Russia was a Christian nation, by law as well as by majority belief, I wonder where the Russian communists got the idea of totalitarianism? If Russia had been a liberal democracy, based on the principles that the atheistic Enlightenment gave to the West, the Solidarity union would not have been needed and would never have been formed because the Soviet Union would never have been born. I’ve noticed that since Poland was freed, quite a few Solidarity members have supported the attempts to turn Poland into a Roman Catholic theocracy, with other religions excluded. We know what horrors that would bring.

Dionne asks if Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin were “weak-minded”?

In one sense, certainly not. They were ruthless religious fanatics who supported the repression of all dissent against Christianity–specifically, the version that they and their supporters believed in. Repression began as soon as the Christians gained control of the Roman Empire; Constantine jailed or suppressed Christian bishops who supported Arius. In 385 C.E., the dissident (i.e., “heretic”) Priscillian and his followers were executed for heresy. In the 5th century Augustine provided the Church with an ideological foundation for repression. Augustine gave the Church a fig leaf of arguments to cover its naked crimes. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas supported the execution of heretics. Luther rails against his opponents in numerous works and supported killing and book burning. Calvin let his deeds speak for themselves, instituting a theocracy in Geneva and sending the theologian Michael Servetus to the stake, among other victims.

It’s true that Mother Teresa helped people in the slums of India. But much of her reputation is simply Christian propaganda and the kind of shameless celebrity-mongering that the modern media are all too fond of. As Christopher Hitchens documents, Mother Teresa collected millions of dollars under the pretense of helping the poor, but actually spent only pennies on the dollar of her income, saving the rest for her movement. Poor people dying of lingering, agonizing illnesses got aspirin and a cot to die on, when her movement could easily have afforded good medicine, powerful painkillers and modern facilities. Mother Teresa also didn’t care where her money came from; she hobnobbed with dictators who squeezed money from their desperate subjects and bought her good name for their benefit. And Charles Keating’s victims never recovered the money he gave her.

More importantly, the biggest cause of India’s problem is the size of its population. Population control through family planning and contraceptives is urgent there, yet Mother Teresa fought against these vital programs. Indian humanists despised her.

Dionne cites the alleged benefits of Catholic education. The Catholic school system in this country was founded in part because of the bigotry of the Protestant majority, who made many public schools into Protestant-propaganda organs. Catholics who protested were brutalized in various ways–an antiCatholic riot in 1843 in Philadelphia, stirred by the school dispute, left 13 people dead; a teacher whipped a boy in 1859 for refusing to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments–a Christian jury acquitted the teacher of criminal charges.

For centuries, Christianity required that all education conform to official Christian doctrine. The Christian Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed the Neoplatonist Academy of Athens in 532, seized its endowment for the benefit of Christians and prohibited the teaching of anything except Christian doctrines in schools. That ban was copied in every Christian-controlled society and was not lifted until the passage of our First Amendment. Small wonder the Religious Reich hates the First Amendment and has tried repeatedly, through its congressional puppets, to run it through a shredder.

Dionne also notes that “we are one of the most religiously observant countries in the world.” Yes, and we’re one of the most violent societies as well. The most Christian region of the country, the South, has the worst record of criminal violence, not to mention the highest regional rates of poverty, illiteracy, out-of-wedlock births and sexually transmitted diseases. If Christianity were beneficial to society, the South would be a far better place. If Christianity is as influential as Dionne claims, then Christianity has to share in the blame for these problems.

By contrast, nonChristian Japan is one of the least violent societies today. In Western Europe, where atheism is much stronger, the level of violence also is much lower. Massacres in schools, churches and office buildings are far fewer.

One exception in Europe is Yugoslavia, where devout Roman Catholics in Croatia and Orthodox Catholics in Serbia have been slaughtering each other–and a lot of Muslims in between them–for much of the decade.

Another European exception is Northern Ireland, where Protestants and Roman Catholics have slaughtered each other by the thousands for centuries, ever since two 12th-century popes supported King Henry II of England in his invasion of Ireland because the Irish were not the right kind of Christians.

E.J. Dionne’s problem seems to be that an education by nuns and monks simply leaves you ignorant or deceived about the history and nature of Christianity. A proper, secular education would teach that Christianity has been a source of bigotry, discrimination, repression and endless violence because Christians did indeed consider it their duty “to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business.”

Tough-minded people, such as freethinkers, are willing to live with the doubts and uncertainties of life, particularly as represented in the probing skepticism of science and philosophy, and feel no need to kill anyone for disagreeing with them or challenging their ideas.

Bill Sierichs, a native of Virginia, is a graduate of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he lives. He is a copy editor on The Advocate, the daily newspaper, and previously worked as a reporter, copy editor and columnist on newspapers in Jackson, Mississippi; Monroe, Louisiana; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Texarkana, Texas. He has won journalism awards for investigative reporting and news writing in Louisiana, and editorial columns in Arkansas and Texas. He is working on a book titled “The Christian Origin of Totalitarianism,” from which he drew material for this article.

Freedom From Religion Foundation