Heart of Darkness:
Part One: “By This Sign We Prosper”
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord’s Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda
“Those Living In Darkness”
An article published in Sojourners magazine online in January of this year (2009) begins:
If you read Christian mission journals and textbooks from the 1980s, Rwanda is often held up as a model of evangelization in Africa. Nowhere else on the continent was Christianity so well received. Church growth was unprecedented. Seminarians in the United States studied Rwanda, asking how they might use similar strategies elsewhere to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those living in darkness.
Yet in 1994 an unimaginable darkness descended on Rwanda. The most Christianized country in Africa became the site of its worst genocide. Christians killed other Christians, often in the same churches where they had worshiped together. Accordingly, this is not a story about something that happened to a strange people in a faraway place. It happened among the body of Christ, of which we are members. Rwanda is a lot closer to Rome and Washington, D.C., than most of us care to think.
The article, titled The Pattern of this World , was written by Emmanuel M. Katongole and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Katongole is a Catholic priest, a leader of the “Christian social ethics movement”, the author of A Future for Africa, and a professor of theology at Duke University. Wilson-Hartgrove describes himself as a “New Monastic” and a “Christian Peacemaker”, and in addition he is also a Baptist Associate Minister, and a Director of the School for Conversion. For their part, the self-proclaimed “mission” of the publication Sojourners “is to articulate the biblical call to social justice“, and they identify themselves as “Christians for Justice and Peace.” What we have here, then, is a somewhat updated version of a very old story.
The dichotomy between true and false religion is only one way of formulating the Mosaic distinction. It is just as common, or even more so, to pose this distinction in broader (or at least vaguer) terms, as an ultimate metaphysical struggle between all that is good and pure and all that is evil and polluted. This metaphysical struggle is often then concretized as a very real-world (if batman-esque) struggle for justice and against injustice. In fact, in the popular imagination the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh (the lead roles in the drama of the Mosaic Distinction in its classical version) is most likely to be seen primarily in terms of justice (Moses) and injustice (Pharaoh), and only secondarily, if at all, in religious terms.
Most people who listen, for example, to the words to Go Down Moses, or who hear references to Pharaoh in a Sunday Sermon, probably never even consider that Pharaoh might have had a religion at all! Here is how the populist, Progressive, anti-imperialist, bimetallist, prohibitionist, and evangelist (not to mention Secretary of State and three-time Presidential candidate) William Jennings Bryan spoke of Pharaoh in his 1923 book Famous Figures of the Old Testament:
Pharaoh set succeeding despots an example which they have not been slow to follow. When the Israelites complained of the severity of their overseers their tasks were increased. “Bricks without straw” has passed into the language of all nations as the most forcible description of requirements that are excessive, and the result is ever the same. Instead of silencing complaint, increased severity furnishes the stimulus necessary to deliverance. Cruelty brings about a reaction that counts in the final conflict and gives victory to the right.
Bryan obviously could have cared less about any theological disputation between the ancient, inclusive polytheism of the Egyptians and the new, radically intolerant monotheism of Moses. In Bryan’s view, Pharaoh was simply a cruel despot and the Israelites were the innocent victims of injustice and oppression. Why, religion had nothing to do with it!
If one goes to Sojourners’ “Active Alerts” page you’ll see a laundry list of “calls for action” that could be straight off of MoveOn’s website or any similar bunch leftish do-gooders. That’s because the Sojourners crowd don’t really see themselves as the proponents of a particular religious point of view so much as the self-appointed protectors of all that is right, and the selfless guardians and wannabe saviors of all “those who live in darkness.” While those that they oppose are simply wicked and despotic, whether we are talking about old Pharaoh or his modern day henchmen like Glenn Beck.
(Parenthetically it is worth mentioning that Christian activists occasionally, or possibly even often, end up supporting legitimate causes and opposing things and people that are unquestionably odious. In this Christians are just like their evil twins, the Communists. They both excel at exploiting real issues and manipulating genuine grievances to advance their own agendas, and this should not be news to anyone.)
There is, however, something new and interesting about the more modern, “progressive” version of the Mosaic distinction: Pharaoh is now a Christian! While this might seem odd if looked at objectively and rationally, in fact nothing could be more pleasing to the Christians than a mental universe which has been so thoroughly monopolized by them that they have to play the parts of the bad guys, too! The primordial struggle between Light and Darkness is thereby reduced to a battle between the good Christians and the bad ones.
Good Prophets, not to be confused with Bad Emperors
Before attempting to understand how Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove’s try to explain away the role of Christianity in the Rwandan genocide, lets take a look at another outspoken Christian progressive activist and his version of the good Christians versus bad Christians routine. Cornel West has posited a protracted internal struggle within Christianity between what he calls the “prophetic” and “Constantinian” strains of the religion. The idea of prophetic Christianity is not new, in fact it harkens back (obviously) to the Prophets of the Old Testament who arose long before Jesus came along (and whose prophecies early Christians relied on heavily in response to Pagan and Jewish critiques). Lets first look at the meaning of “prophetic” Christianity, by which West intends to indicate the good, “real” Christianity, before turning our attention to those bad “Constantinian” Christians.
The word “prophet” is used in a variety of ways in the books of the Old Testament, but its most straightforward usage is to designate a series of historical and semihistorical persons from the period immediately preceding the establishment of the Israelite monarchy up through and after the Babylonian captivity. In contrast to these Prophets, Moses is not a historical figure at all, nor is the “Exodus” a historical event. There is no direct (and vanishingly little indirect) evidence for the story of Moses and Pharaoh, at least in anything like the form in which they are known to Jews, Christians and Muslims (and anyone else who uncritically accepts the bed-time stories of the monotheists as actual history). But the Jewish people do have an actual history, and an archaeology as well. And according to that which can be historically and archaeologically documented, the Israelites were native to Canaan/Palestine, and their indigenous religion was comprised of worshipping Gods and Goddesses such as El, Baal, Asherath, etc, just as their neighbors did.
Over time, among one sub-group of Canaanites, the qualities and identities of the many Deities they worshipped congealed into a single Deity, an old war God name Yaweh (who may have originally been just one of seventy children of a husband-wife team Supreme Deities named El and Asherah). But even such monolatry and/or henotheism, which is not yet monotheism, is not present in the oldest books of the Old Testament, where other Gods besides Yahweh are acknowledged as real and independently existing. Proponents of this monotheizing trend very likely remained a distinct minority among Israelites during much of their early history (that is, history properly speaking).
Among the most prominent spokespersons for this (possibly minority) monotheizing (and eventually fully monotheistic) view were the so-called “Prophets”. Let’s look at just one of these Prophets: Isaiah. Mark Smith, in the final chapter of his The Origins of Biblical Monotheism, refers to chapters 40-55 of the Book of Isaiah (these chapters together are also sometimes referred to separately as “Second Isaiah”) as “the parade example of biblical monotheism”. This passage marks a clear transition from mere monolatrous henotheistic preliminaries to genuine full-throated monotheism. Here is how Smith puts it:
Yahweh becomes more than the god above all other gods: the existence of other gods is denied and the two images central to the “Second Isaiah’s” presentation of Yahweh, the warrior-king and the creator, are melded and scored in the text to counter the perceived reality of other deities and therefore the putative stupidity of cultic devotion to their images …. Yahweh is not just the god of Israel (both land and people), but of all lands and nations.
This is the true “prophetic tradition”. It’s core message is that of unvarnished religious bigotry: all other Gods besides Yahweh are imaginary, and those who do not worship Yahweh are fools. The intrinsic intolerance of this religious vision is well expressed by the sneering, accusatory, apocalyptic style of “Second Isaiah”, a style that would be right at home on Glenn Beck’s show or the 700 Club.
“Second Isaiah” attempts to identify polytheism and the worship of idols with outsiders and foreigners. The message is clear: any Israelites who does not worship the One True God are not true Israelites, they are followers of foreign beliefs and practices! The research of Mark Smith and many other contemporary scholars shows this to be nothing less than a lie. The people who are being called upon to recognize one and only one God historically worshipped a great many Goddesses and Gods, just like everyone else. It was now demanded that they reject their own spiritual traditions while simultaneously rejecting those of all their neighbors (with whom they had been more or less co-religionists up to this time).
Here are what Smith identifies as the “longest string of monotheistic statements” in Isaiah, 45:5-7, 14, 18, 21:
I am Lord and there is none else;
Beside me, there is no other god.
I engird you, though you have not known me,
So that they may know, from east to west,
That there is none but me.
I am the Lord and there is none else …
Surely God is in you and there is none else,
There are no other gods …
I am Yahweh, and there is none else …
Am I not Yahweh?
And there are no other gods besides Me;
A just god and savior —
There is none besides Me.
“Second Isaiah” is especially noted for the mockery, scorn and ridicule directed at the sacred images central to the religious traditions of polytheistic “foreigners”. Mark Smith shows that the author of “Second Isaiah” had detailed knowledge of the rituals of “washing the mouth” and “opening the mouth” of a sacred image. Before such rituals were completed the image was not yet truly sacred, but afterwards it is a representation of the Gods. Smith quotes a primary source to the effect that: “Without mouth opening this image does not smell incense, eat food, or drink water.” And then Smith himself adds that “In short, the image in the ritual represents the god as recipient of the cult.” [p. 184] The author of “Second Isaiah” revels in the task of sneeringly deconstructing these rituals in a way very reminiscent to the manner in which New Atheist phillistines hoot and howl about Francis Collins famous vision of three waterfalls. Some things, like the ugly face of intolerance, never really change.
So much for the prophetic tradition.
A Crisis in Christianity? Really? Since When?
Cornel West talked about his idea of Constantinian versus prophetic Christianity in a 2004 interview with Eduardo Medieta in Logos, “a journal of modern society & culture”. West stated that then president George W. Bush “is the exemplar of Constantinian Christianity and imperial America.”:
Constantinian Christianity has deep roots in America and so does imperialism. There is also a prophetic Christianity and a deep democratic tradition in America that cut against both of these, but they have always been in some ways weaker even though they made a difference in the making of the country….
I think that any time you have religious conflict you also have something else going on in addition to the clash of religion. There’s always a social dimension, an economic dimension, and a personal dimension going on. I think right now we’re experiencing a profound crisis of Christian identity in the country. There has always been a strong fundamentalist evangelical presence in the country that was highly suspicious of modern modes of skepticism, secularism, and criticism. Ironically, since Martin Luther King Jr., the Christian right began to learn lessons in terms of political organization and using their clout to bring power and pressure to bear because they saw the Civil Rights movement doing it on the other side of the ideological line. So they actually learned from brother Martin, the Jerry Farwells, and others and then received, of course, unbelievable economic support from many corporate elites. And it became clear that if there was going to be a realignment of American politics—a kind of Southernization of American politics using racially loaded terms, from busing to crime to welfare to prisons and so forth, to realign the American public—then the Christian right could be a major organized pillar for this. They were, in fact, brought in in a significant way to do that, and not simply because the elites themselves were Christians. Sometimes it was outright manipulation because you’ve got Machiavellian calculations going on at the highest levels of certain deeply conservative circles.
So you end up with not just Constantinian Christianity, but the Christian Right being a fundamental pillar for imperial America. Look at the relation of the Christian Right and conservative Jews in America. This is what is intriguing about the Mel Gibson film, you see, because you get the erosion of that. People know that anti-Semitism has always been part and parcel of the Christian right’s perspective and all of a sudden you get an alliance with conservative Jews defending Israel, based almost on blind faith, and now they discover, my god, our allies are anti-Semites! You don’t say. I could have told you that a long time ago. Pat Robertson has publicly said things far more Anti-Semitic than most. How is he going to be your ally? Well, because he supports Israel! Well, I thought that coalitions had something more substantive to them than merely a stance. The same is true with cutting back on domestic policy when it comes to social services, healthcare, jobs, education and so on. No, it’s pro-defense, no it’s pro-imperial expansion. The Christian Right, right now, is both powerful and dangerous and yet we know—and this is something we don’t like talking about in the academy—that if 72% of Americans view themselves as not just Christians, but believe in Jesus Christ son of God, then the fight for democracy in America is partly a fight for democratic possibilities in the American Christian tradition. If you lose the latter, you can forget the former. You can come up with the most sophisticated theories of democracy in the world, but if you’re not affecting the climate on the ground in such a way that certain Christians can think dem-o-cra-tic-ly and proceed politically under a radical democratic vision, then we’re not going to get anywhere. In fact, you end up just giving more and more over to the Christian Right and Christian centrists.
Cornel West is a brilliant man and, in my opinion, among the very few Americans who actually deserves to be called an intellectual. America is not a nation that produces what it has no use for, and one of the things that it has very little use for is intellectuals. And he is not just an intellectual, but very much a Christian intellectual. For all of its idiocies and deeply rooted irrationality, Christianity has proven to be, somehow, perfectly compatible with intelligence, even very high intelligence. But how surprising is that, really?
After all, weren’t there brilliant Nazi intellectuals? Wasn’t Robespierre a gifted student of the classics and an earnest admirer of Cicero and Cato long before he advocated “virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent.”? And wasn’t Abimael Guzman a philosophy professor before he led Shining Path in a murderous rampage, killing an estimated 35,000 of his fellow Peruvians, many of them specifically targeted precisely because they were members of rival leftist groups? I guess it just shows to go ya, as I learned to say as a sprout back in Indiana.
And like any true intellectual tied to a deeply irrational ideology, West sometimes outsmarts himself. In particular, West doesn’t appear to appreciate the precariousness of the position he places himself, indeed, all of Christendom, in when he traces the problems with Christianity, as he sees them, all the way back to Constantine. In doing so he has taken us dangerously close to the purported origins of Christianity itself.
In a previous post, specifically on Constantine, I discussed the “persistent misconception” that so-called “early” Christianity
was not only not intolerant, but that it was, as a matter of fact, a positively egalitarian social movement that was primarily based among the poor, slaves and women — whose rights and well being it championed. According to this fairy tale version of early Christian history, it was only after Christians gained political power (that is, from the time of Constantine onward) that they became Great Big Meanies.
But please don’t take my word for it. Classical historian and scholar of early Christianity Eric Francis Osborn compares the tolerance of ancient Paganism with the intolerance of early (that is, pre-Constantinian) Christians like this:
For Clement, paganism was the sordid scene of many gods and unspeakable mysteries, with some residual gleans of light from the universal Logos. For Justin and Tertullian, it was the world of good order and a promise of justice, compromised by the power of demons. The pagan gods were deceitful demons, hostile to Christians, who knew the truth about them. For Irenaeus, paganism hardly mattered; there were too many troubles [“heresies” and “heretics”] at home and too much to defend and declare. He thanked Rome for peace and safe travel (haer. 4.30.3). The pagan world was marked by exuberant variety, the ‘shapeless profusion of polytheism’, where all were tolerated and reverence for the past ensured that none was lost.
[The Emergence of Christian Theology, Eric Francis Osborn, p. 8]
It should come as no surprise that Clement (late first century), Justin (100-165), Tertulian (ca 160 – ca 220), and Irenaeus (late second century), were carrying on the proud tradition of exclusive, intolerant monotheism that can be traced back (at least) to Isaiah. And all of this a century or more before Constantine’s vision of the cross.
But Cornel West, like Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove, would like us to believe that there is now (now!) an internal crisis facing Christianity. But when did this crisis first confront Christianity? Certainly the institution of African Slavery posed such a crisis? And the native american genocide. And the Inquisition. And the witch-hunts. Implicitly acknowledging just this point, West comes only too close to the truth by admitting that whatever crisis there might be in Christianity today has it’s roots in the (very) early history of that religion, not in recent events in american or world politics. And really, for anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see, once you have traced things all the way back to Constantine there is no justification, whatsoever, for stopping there.
But surely if we go back far enough, or look hard enough, there simply has to be an idyllic, humane, “progressive” Christianity of the past, untainted by all this conquering, colonizing and slave-trading, doesn’t there? Well, the conquest of the New World was immediately preceded by the happy period of European History that many scholars now refer to, after R.I. More’s book of the same title, as a Persecuting Society. Oh my, that doesn’t sound promising at all, does it? But let’s push on … surely we’ll find the original, good Christianity we’ve all heard so much about if only we keep the faith. Seek and ye shall find!
Well, one of the central, defining features of the medieval “persecuting society” was the hunting and killing of heretics, witches and Pagans. But it turns out that this was not some newfangled Christian innovation in the High Middle Ages. The Orthodox Church Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were already dealing murderously with those they saw as their religious enemies: Pagans, Jews and Christian heretics. And if we go all the way back to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, we have, as already noted, the sneeringly intolerant likes of Clement, Justin, Tertulian, Irenaeus and that whole bunch.
In summary: history provides exactly as much evidence for some time in the past of Christianity when violent intolerance was not an essential feature of the religion, as it does evidence for Moses parting the Red Sea.
Who Corrupted Whom?
Cornel West & Co. would have us believe that it was the acquisition of state power that corrupted the “body of Christ”. In fact, however, it was the other way around. Prior to Constantine the Roman state defended religious diversity and tolerance. Dozens, if not hundreds, of religions coexisted side by side throughout the Roman world. And far from imposing its own religion, the Roman state served as a means for Egyptian, Greek, Asiatic and other religions (including Christianity and Judaism, btw!) to be spread far and wide. Ireneaus himself remarked that “through [Roman] instrumentality the world is at peace, and we walk on the highways without fear, and sail where we will.” [Against Heresies IV.xxx.3] The Roman state also fostered and subsidized competing schools of philosophy, indeed: “We witness, in the course of these centuries, the the rediscovery of Aristotelianism, the final resurgence of Epicureanism, the rebirth of Pyrrhonism, a revival of Cynicism, the rebirth of Pythagoreanism, and, especially, a renewal of Platonism.” [A History of Ancient Philosophy: The Schools of the Imperial Age, Gionanni Reale, John R. Catan, p. xvii]
The following passage from J.B. Bury’s History of the Late Roman Empire has already been quoted in this blog, but it bears repeating at this point:
The purpose of the official cults in the pagan State [that is, Rome prior to Constantine] was to secure the protection of the deities; these were liberal and tolerant lords who raised no objection to other forms of worship; and toleration was therefore a principle of the State. But the god of the new official religion was a jealous master; he had said, “thou shalt have none other gods before me,” and idolatry was an offence to him; how could his protection and favour be expected in a state in which idolatry was permitted? Intolerance was a duty, and the first business of a patriotic ruler was to take measures to extirpate the errors of paganism.
But it is not enough to simply acknowledge that toleration was the rule prior to 324, and that from then onward the state was increasingly transformed into what it had not been before: an instrument for the forcible imposition of a single monolithic religion on all those under it’s power. It must be emphasized that the Christian Emperors did not foist this power on a resistant, or even hesitant, Church. Rather the Church, for the next two centuries, consistently complained that that the state was not doing enough to persecute heretics and Pagans.
In fact, much of the state’s culpability in the persecution of Paganism (and heresy) during the fourth and fifth centuries did not amount to an active role in persecution so much as the inaction of the state in the face of mob violence orchestrated by the Church. Here is how Peter Brown, who is certainly no anti-Christian propagandist, describes the situation in northern Africa in the early fifth century: “
the Bishops in Africa had provoked the destruction of the old ways. Public Paganism had been suppressed: the great temples were closed; the statues broken up, often by Christian mobs; the proud inscriptions … used to pave public highways.
[Augustine of Hippo, p. 185]
Brown is here addressing the issue of anti-Pagan violence around the year 410 AD. This was not some new phenomenon, as evidenced the fact that over 20 years previously the Pagan orator Libanius had composed his famous declamation For the Temples (Pro Templis), in which he pleads to the Christian Emperor Theodosius on behalf of those few remaining Pagan temples that had not yet fallen prey to the monk-led mobs. But Christian-on-Christian violence was also rife in northern Africa during this period. Here is how Michael Gaddis describes the fate of one Donatist “heretic” in the year 347:
Isaac, a [Donatist] Christian of Carthage, had publicly confessed his faith and defied the authority of the persecuting magistrates. The enraged proconsul immediately had him seized and put to the torture. Scourged, beaten, his joints broken, his sides torn by iron claws, Isaac wore down the strength of his torturers with the endurance given him by Christ. His spirit rejoiced even as his body suffered.
[There is no Crime For Those Who Have Christ, p. 103]
According to Ramsay MacMullen at the very least there were 25,000 Christians murdered by their fellow Christians between the years 325 and 550 because of “credal differences” (see his Voting About God in Early Church Councils, especially chapter five The Violent Element).
And here is another passage from Bury, this time focusing on the relative lack of enthusiasm, up until the reign of Justinian in 529, on the part of the state for direct involvement in persecution. It is only after over two full centuries of Christian rule that the state finally succumbed completely to the intolerance of the Church!
… throughout the fifth century the severe laws against paganism were not very strictly enforced. So long as there was no open scandal, men could still believe in the old religions and disseminate anti-Christian doctrine. This comparatively tolerant attitude of the State terminated with the accession of Justinian, who had firmly resolved to realise the conception of an empire in which there should be no differences of religious opinion. Paganism was already dying slowly, and it seemed no difficult task to extinguish it entirely. There were two distinct forms in which it survived. In a few outlying places, and in some wild districts where the work of conversion had been imperfectly done, the population still indulged with impunity in heathen practices. To suppress these was a matter of administration, reinforced by missionary zeal; no new laws were required. A more serious problem was presented by the Hellenism which prevailed widely enough among the educated classes, and consequently in the State-service itself. To cope with this Justinian saw that there was need not only of new administrative rigour, but of new legislation….
Not long after his accession, he reaffirmed the penalties which previous Emperors had enacted against the pagans, and forbade all donations or legacies for the purpose of maintaining “Hellenic impiety,” while in the same constitution he enjoined upon all the civil authorities and the bishops, in Constantinople and in the provinces, to inquire into cases of pagan superstition. This law was soon followed by another which made it illegal for any persons “infected with the madness of the unholy Hellenes” to teach any subject, and thereby under the pretext of education corrupt the souls of their pupils.
The persecution began with an inquisition at Constantinople. Many persons of the highest position were accused and condemned. Their property was confiscated, and some may have been put to death; one committed suicide. Among those who were involved were Thomas the Quaestor and Phocas, son of Craterus. But Phocas, a patrician of whose estimable character we have a portrait drawn by a contemporary, was speedily pardoned, for, as we saw, he was appointed Praetorian Prefect of the East after the Nika riot.
Some of the accused escaped by pretending to embrace the Christian faith, but we are told that “not long afterwards they were convicted of offering libations and sacrifices and other unholy practices.” There was, in fact, a second inquisition in A.D. 546.
A revealing incident is the sacking of a Jewish synagogue in Callinicum (on the Euphrates river) by a Christian mob led by their local Bishop in the year 388 (this is discussed by historian Charles Freeman in his 381 AD, see especially chapter five, The Assault on Paganism). The Emperor Theodosius recommended to the local officials that the Bishop be required to personally finance the restoration of the synagogue. The famous Bishop Ambrose (of Milan) intervened and sought to convince Theodosius that his recommendation amounted to asking the obviously very devout Bishop to betray his Christian faith by materially supported Judaism. After receiving this spiritual advice the emperor withdrew his previous instructions.
By that time Theodosius had already gone further than any previous Emperor in terms of decisively supporting orthodox Nicene Christianity against all competing “heresies”. But like all of his Christian predecessors, Theodosius was still concerned about the maintenance of order and civil peace, and he was also averse to openly attacking ancient, which inevitably meant non-Christian, traditions. In 382, for example, Theodosius had resisted calls, from Christians, for the closure of the great Pagan temple at Edessa:
Theodosius had replied pragmatically that because of its great artistic value, it should remain open. Yet his moderation was soon undermined by his more hotheaded Christian officals. The praetorian prefect of the east, a fellow Spaniard, Maternus Cynergius, was particular ruthless, and appears to have destroyed Edessa and its treasures. His vandalism unleashed the agression of others, notably bands of fanatical monks who delighted in the destruction of shrines.
[381 AD, Charles Freeman, p. 119]
As late as 386, Theodosius was willing to appoint Pagans to oversee the remaining Pagan sacred sites, as well as other important positions. In fact, when Cynergius, the fanatical Christian praetorian prefect responsible for the desecration at Edessa, died, Theodosius replaced him with a Pagan, Tatianus, whose son, Proclus, also a Pagan, was appointed the prefect of Constantinople (this is also discussed by Freeman in 381 AD, see especially chapter five, The Assault on Paganism). By 391 Theodosius had finally been convinced by Ambrose and other Christian counselors to dramatically increase, at least on paper, the legal proscriptions against Paganism. But for more than a century to follow the Church would continue to be disappointed at the unwillingness of the State to enforce these measures with sufficient ruthlessness.
From Samaria to Rwanda
Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove choose to end their Sojourners article on Rwanda by citing the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (from the Gospel of John) as evidence that intolerance is part of “the pattern of this world”, and that Christianity offers an escape from that pattern. The obvious dilemma is that the perpetrators of the violence in Rwanda were themselves Christians, and not only that, but “missionary Christianity helped create the divisions that led to genocide.”
To resolve this apparent paradox, Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove mold their argument around the claim that there is a “crisis in Western Christianity” and that we need
a new kind of Christian identity for the global body of Christ. The church’s mission is to be a new community that bears witness to the fact that in Christ there is a new identity—a unique people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
As the authors point out, the sharp distinction between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda was a direct result of European colonization of Rwanda, and, in particular, was exacerbated by missionary run schools and by the Church generally:
Instead of softening the divisions between Hutu and Tutsi, the church in Rwanda amplified, intensified, and radiated them. The church played a central role in the development of a society where the Tutsi minority ruled a Hutu majority.
At first the European colonialists, including the missionaries, had tended to favor the Tutsis, whom they hoped to groom as a Europeanized elite who would serve as privileged proxies eager to do the bidding of their colonial masters (thus allowing white hands to remain relatively clean). A major problem with this plan was that those who were (artifically) designated as “Tutsis” tended to be far more resistant to Christianity than the “Hutus”. In the 1950’s the missionaries suddenly discovered that the “Tutsis”, a ruling class more or less invented by Europeans, were the oppressors of the poor Christian Hutus! Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove describe what happened next:
Eventually there was a “social revolution” in which Hutus took over the Rwandan government and ultimately gained independence from Belgian rule. Much of the energy for this revolution came from Catholic priests and their Hutu students. What followed in 1959 was the first ever large-scale massacre — 20,000 Tutsis were killed.
The authors point out that during this period, the Church adopted anti-colonialist rhetoric, while simultaneously continuing to exacerbate the artificial “racial categories” that were not only a product of the colonial system, but were, by design, a central part of the social machinery for perpetuating colonialism. It never appears to dawn on Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove that they are engaging in precisely the same kind of inconsistency by focusing on certain colonial legacies while desperately trying to finesse the issue that is the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the deep historical relationship between violent intolerance and Christianity qua Christianity.
Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove are able to dance around this issue in large part because they seem to know very little about the early history of their own religion. They don’t realize, for example, that Judaism during the time of Jesus (that is, the religion professed and practiced by Jesus and all of his disciples) was already a universalist religion that engaged in proselytism throughout the Roman world (and beyond), and that converts were welcomed, regardless of their “ethnicity”. Instead, they try to paint Judaism as an ethnically based religion conforming to and perpetuating the “pattern of this world”.
Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove’s mischaracterization of the Judaism of Jesus’ time (that is, the Judaism of Jesus) as a xenophobic religion that preached hostility to “inferior mixed-breeds” is a breathtaking oversimplification of Jewish-Samaritan relations. Worse, though, is the fact that rather than making an honest assessment of the history of their own religion, these two modern Christians insist on a self-serving circular argument. Starting from the unquestioned assertion that Christianity is, in essence (and, apparently, unlike Judaism and Paganism), a tolerant and peaceful religion, all acts of violence and intolerance are automatically ascribed to “the pattern of this world”. Never mind the mind boggling contradiction involved in the fact that Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove have included Judaism, the actual religion of Jesus, in this “pattern”. And never mind the fact that such a “pattern” is not to be found in Pagan religions, and, in particular, did not exist in the Roman world prior to the “triumph” of Christianity (except precisely among those who had already embraced some form of monotheism). In fact the truth is that violent, systemic religious intolerance is historically only found wherever we find monotheism, from Akhenaten’s Atenism, to the Mosaic distinction of Judaism, to Christianity, to Islam. This is the Pattern of Monotheism.