February 24, 2002
On the Fanaticism of Christians

Nearly everyone out there, that lives in the USA at least, has been confronted with examples of glassy eyed religious fanaticism in their daily lives. While the main flavor I'm familiar with is Christian, it exists in every religion and every area in the world where there are people that feel believing is at lot more fun than thinking. Because such folks nearly always neglect the mental (and, in the case of people like Tammy Baker, sometimes the physical) side of their being in favor of the spiritual, attempts at logical argument can lead you down extremely bizarre paths. When arguing once with a Christian fanatic, I had a conversation that went like this:

Fundie: "My faith is strong because God has revealed this knowledge to my heart. Anyone who has felt such a revelation cannot deny its truth. He revealed to me the bible is the word of God, requires no special interpretation, and cannot be wrong in any particular at all. It is the Truth."

Me: "So if God reveals to me in my heart that Evolution is fact, that it accurately describes how life as we know it reached the forms we see today, then that makes it the Truth too? Just as real and as accurate as yours?"

Fundie: "Of course it is! I'm so happy for you that you finally understand faith!"

It's no wonder they resort to bombs and guns so quickly.

But one of the things I've found in my studies is that Christians, in particular, have always been this way. The most interesting accounting of this fact comes to us from a Roman citizen known as Pliny the Younger. His father-in-law, Pliny the (wait for it!) Elder, was a pretty famous scientist who got himself broasted getting too close to Mt. Etna when it buried Pompeii. Why no formal last name? Junior and Senior weren't in broad use at the time, and they had to be told apart somehow I suppose.

Anyway, Pliny the Younger, who lived from about 62 A.D. to about 113 A.D. (less than two generations after Jesus died), was a Roman lawyer, just famous and rich enough to be popular but not so famous and rich as to be perceived dangerous (which was a quick way to get nailed to a stick and lit on fire so the emperor could read at night). He wrote dozens of letters over his career to folks both famous and unknown, at least to us. Eventually he was appointed proconsul, a sort of imperial watchdog, of a place called Pontus-Bythnia, on the south coast of the black sea in what is now Turkey, by the emperor Hadrian.

The letters were preserved and published after his death, and through no small miracle managed to make it through history to us. One of the most famous and interesting was his letter to Hadrian on the Christians in his province.

Remember that Jesus had only been executed about seventy years before. The last of the disciples had only just died off, and so there were still plenty of people who knew people who had talked directly to Jesus himself. It was a very, very new religion, and it puzzled the Romans of the time a great deal.

In Rome, as long as you paid your taxes and didn't piss on the emperor's statue, they didn't much care what you did inside your temple, church, or synagogue. They did require you to say that the emperor was more important to you than your own personal gods, at least in public. Because this wasn't all that far from the truth, seeing as how his representatives could separate you from your head with little justification and no warning, the vast majority of even religious people complied easily. But not the Christians.

The Christians were, to the Romans, extremely weird. Rumors got around that they married their brothers and sisters, drank blood and ate human flesh, and even stranger things (which only proves that the lady that buys and believes the Enquirer at the grocery checkout isn't all that different from your garden variety Roman citizen a full two thousand years ago). Because they wouldn't admit the holiness of the emperor, they were outlawed and became convenient targets any time something particularly weird or bad happened in the empire. There were quite a lot of Christians in Pontus-Bythnia when Pliny arrived and sort of took the place over. Hadrian trusted Pliny, and so he asked him to look into just what exactly made these people tick while he cleaned them out of the province.

Now I would again like to point out that the Romans at this point in time were more puzzled by than afraid of Christians. They separated Christians from the regular populace in the most basic way imaginable... they asked. If someone said "Christian? Christian?? Never heard of them!" then they were usually let go, even if they promptly crossed themselves as the legionaries left. The amazing thing was they managed to catch so many with this simple technique.

Now, from their perspective, this may not be as puzzling as it sounds. Fanaticism is a lot easier when your grandad actually walked with the savior himself ("I myself heard Jesus speak in a synagogue" "Synagogue? Lucky bastard. In my day we were so poor we didn't have any buildings, just a boat that we carted him back and forth on" "Boat? Lazy git. In my day Jesus had to walk across the bloody water to get to a mountain to preach" "Mountain?!? Old fart. In my day...").

So here we have Pliny interviewing Christians as they are brought in. When reading his letter, you can almost see the scene as he confronts a pair of young Christians standing wide-eyed before him in his office near the yard where they're industriously nailing people up as fast as they can find crossbars.

"So," he says, "you're Christians, right?"

The pair nod enthusiastically. "Oh yes, very much so, our savior is--"

"Yes yes yes I'm sure he's a wonderful gentleman, very well mannered. Pays his taxes, yes? Nevermind. Look. I want you two to understand something. We Romans are a very just lot. We don't go around hacking people's heads off willy-nilly. It's just bad policy. We especially don't want to execute anyone that isn't a Christian. In fact, we're so very concerned about this that anyone who tells us they aren't a Christian is quite free to go home. Do you understand me?" Polite nods. "Good. So, I'll ask", wink, "you again... you're Christians, right?"

The pair again nod enthusiastically and without blinking say "yes, very much yes, our savior--"

"Now hang on a minute", Pliny says, obviously getting frustrated with such enthusiastic hard-headedness. "Come over to this window and have a look. See those people out there?" Nods. "Those are the folks that told me they were Christians. Now getting nailed to a cross like that doesn't seem very pleasant, does it?" Heads shake. "Right. It can take days to die, and that's only if you get lucky and a vulture comes and plucks out something important. Quite unpleasant things happen to people who tell me they are Christian, wouldn't you agree?" More polite nods. "Okay", he says as he claps his hands and then rubs them together with a deep sigh, "I'm going to ask you this question one last time. All you have to do is say no. We're not going to follow you, we're not going to ask your mum if you lie, in fact I don't personally care what you do when you walk out these doors. Am I clear on this?" Even more polite nods. "Okay then. So I was wondering, just between you and me, are you two Christians?"

Again, even more polite enthusiastic nods, beautiful clear eyes, "oh yes, if you'd only read this pamphlet--"

"Yes, yes. Please hand it to the man on the left as you leave. Next?" (in the background: "Crucifixion? Good... first door on your left, down the stairs, and across the courtyard on your right.")

Luckily not all Christians were this forthcoming, and in what has to be one of the most unlikely turnarounds in history they ended up eventually ruling the entire world for about two hundred years.

Of course nowadays a lot of fundie wacks think they've returned to the time that simply saying you're a Christian results in immediate and punishing persecution, and they'll tell you this with a straight face and clear eyes.

Which just goes to show that fanaticism can rot even the most promising brains throughout history.

Posted by scott at February 24, 2002 11:09 AM

eMail this entry!

very monty pythonish :)

Posted by: Ellen on February 25, 2002 10:32 AM

US Christian Right suffocates Palestinian Christians:
Exodus of the
Palestinian Christians

Dear Sir
The Palestinian Christian is an endangered species. When the modern state of Israel was established there were about 400000 of us. Two years ago the number was down to 80000. Now it’s down to 60000. At that rate, in a few years there will be none of us left.
Palestinian Christians within Israel fare little better. On the face of it, their number has grown by 20000 since 1991. But this is misleading, for the census classification ‘Christian’ includes some 20000 recent non-Arab migrants from the former Soviet Union.

So why are Palestinian Christians abandoning their homeland?
We have lost hope, that’s why. We are treated as non-people. Few outside the Middle East even know we exist, and those who do, conveniently forget.
I refer, of course, to the American Religious Right. They see the modern Israel as a harbinger of the Second Coming, at which time Christians will go to Paradise, and all others (presumably including Jews) to Hell. To this end they lend military and moral support to Israel.
Even by the double-dealing standards of international diplomacy this is a breathtakingly cynical bargain. It is hard to know who is using whom more: the Christian Right for offering secular power in the expectation that the Jewish state will be destroyed by a greater spiritual one; or the Israeli Right for accepting their offer. What we do know is that both sides are abusing the Palestinians. Apparently we don’t enter into anyone’s calculations.
The views of the Israeli Right are well known: they want us gone.
Less well known are the views of the American Religious Right. Strangely, they find the liberation Iraqis from a vile dictator just, but do not find it unjust for us to be under military occupation for 38 long years. Said Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma): ‘God Appeared to Abraham and said: “I am giving you this land,”the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.’
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) was even more forthright: ’I'm content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank… I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.’
There is a phrase for this. Ethnic cleansing.
So why do American Christians stand by while their leaders advocate the expulsion of fellow Christians? Could it be that they do not know that the Holy Land has been a home to Christians since, well… since Christ?
Do not think I am asking for special treatment for Christians. Ethnic cleansing is evil whoever does it and to whomever it is done. Palestinian Christians: Anglican, Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Armenians, Baptists, Copts and Assyrians have been rubbing shoulders with each other and with other religions: Muslims, Jews, Druze and (most recently) Baha’is for centuries. We want to do so for centuries more. But we can’t if we are driven out by despair.
What we seek is support: material, moral, political and spiritual. As Palestinians we grieve for what we have lost, and few people (the Ashkenazi Jews are one) have lost more than us. But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends.

(Signed Prof. Abe W. Ata is a 9th generation Christian Palestinian born in Bethlehem.

Posted by: Abe Ata on April 18, 2004 07:56 AM

American Christian Fundamentalists betray teachings of Jesus and Palestinian Christians

One is struck by the indignity of the American Christian Right who conveniently drop from their memory tales of oppression experienced daily by their Palestinian Christian compatriots. Why conveniently you may ask?

And why has the influential Christian Right never been courageous to bat alongside their Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters - not in times of peace, not in war !

Thirty five years ago, one in five of the 'Arab' inhabitants of Palestine was Christian; now it is about 1 in 50. Once Bethlehem was 95% Christian; now Christians are a mere 15 per cent.

Why? What brought about this catastrophic decline!

On the face of it the answer is obvious. Christians are leaving Palestine for the same reason that any Palestinian leaves: they see no future. But this does not explain why they are more inclined to leave then their Muslim compatriots.
Part of the reason, it seems to me - a ninth generation Christian born in Bethlehem - is that Christian Palestinians are treated by the West as non-people. Few outside the Middle East know they exist. Another is the persistent denial of their plight by a frighteningly influential American Christian Right. Despite their worship, rejoicing, suffering in the name of Christ, self condemnation and belittlement and yet they were not given any thought by millions of so- called American fundamentalist Christians; particularly by those who have visited the Holy Land during the past few decades.

Wake up Rev Gary Bauer, Rev Gerry Falwell and other setters of religious agendas. We are bleeding in spirit and flesh. A few hundred thousand of us are not made to feel worthy of reference in your prayers, let alone receive the support which you rightfully gave South Africans, the East Timorese and others.

How will you account in Heaven for your apathy to your very brothers and sisters' suffering and conveniently opt to pray for those who need it least.

Your support to us is NO LONGER considered anti Semitic as a few unprincipled conditioned you to believe.. Jews have suffered as we did and we acknowledge this. You need no longer to wait for a Palestinian holocaust to happen before you disperse your support unequivocally ! It is enough that a million of us are now scattered around this globe Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Lutherans, Evangelical and Baptists - with no right of return !

Do let us know how, when or if you plan to address our outcry. When will you start lobbying for us in your Senate and Congress, without being made to feel guilty, ahead of our expiry date.

Bible Reference: The Holy Land was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, as mentioned every time in the Bible. These are the Palestinian Muslims, Christians, and Jews, who have been living in the land for thousands of years. The Bible never mentioned that God promised it to Jews. Anyone can be a Jew, but not anyone can be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. James Inhofe and Dick Armey and other blind supporters of Israel in the US are ignorant and do not know the difference between Jew, Israelite, and Israel.

Posted by: Abe Ata on May 13, 2004 07:04 AM
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