While the Normans were quite tolerant of religious difference as long as their rule wasn’t challenged, Christianity has never been known for this virtue. The roots of Christian intolerance are found in the Old Testament.
Jehovah, the Old Testament God promised military victory for the nations that believed in Him, not happiness. His morality was primarily based upon a rigid belief system, which did not include religious freedom. His solutions were regularly based upon punishment and vengeance due to intolerance rather than flexibility and inclusion. There are many notable examples. He barred Adam and Eve from Paradise with an angel holding a flaming sword after they had disobeyed him only once. He flooded the world after the presumably corrupt people didn’t listen to Noah. Was everyone guilty? Did everyone hear Noah’s warning? The Canaanites were not even given a chance at conversion before the Jews overwhelmed their culture and destroyed their cities.
Further during the time of Moses Jehovah put it in the mind of the Pharaoh to disobey Him so that He could punish the Egyptians indiscriminately, although it was only the Pharaoh who had insisted on restraining the Israelites. George Bush Jr. and Sr. took their clue from this Biblical story in their punishment of the Iraqi, Afghani, Panamanian, etc. civilians for the ‘sins’ of their leaders.
In addition to be vengeful Jehovah was also jealous – demanding that his followers only worship Him and none other. Due to this jealousy Jehovah punished the Jews from time to time for becoming too assimilated with local tribes - cursing them with death, destruction, and displacement if they disobeyed. To this day the pattern continues. Present day Israel displaces millions of native Palestinians and is blessed by being constantly at a state of military readiness. Terrorism is a way of life rather than something to be read about in a paper thousands of miles away. The Chosen People. Boy, I hope he doesn’t choose me.
Despite Jehovah’s internal intolerance and rigidity in terms of His Chosen People the unified religious nation-state is not Old Testament. Although there are many rules against intermarriage with the Gentiles, the Jews of ancient times were relatively tolerant of other religions. The Gentiles could worship whom they wanted as long as the Jews themselves only worshipped Jehovah, the One True God.
Although the Israelites couldn’t worship other gods, they coexisted easily with other cultures. In fact most of the great civilizations of the world, including Greece, pre-Christian Rome, China, India and the Empire of the Central Asia Steppes, tolerated the followers of any religion as long as they respected the political system of the Emperor.
However the Christian nations, role modeling after the Jewish tribes, demanded that all citizens belong to the same religion. This nation of these ‘true believers’ must worship Him in the exact same fashion or they, as the enemy, must be enslaved or exterminated.
We are not speaking of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. His teachings and practices exhibited an incredible tolerance for all classes of society, including the hated tax collectors, children, and women. Christianity as it came to be practiced was diametrically opposed to this inclusion and acceptance. What can be expected from the religions of The Book, i.e., Judaism and Christianity? They begin with a god, who promises them a land that is already occupied by another culture, calling it the Promised Land. Jehovah God: “Throw out the Canaanites to claim what I have promised you. Employ the great military leaders, the Messiahs, that I gave you to vanquish the indigenous culture. Don’t rape and pillage. Just conquer and settle. It is your divine right.” The Euro-American colonial powers adopted the exact same mentality to justify their exploitation of indigenous cultures.
While the Jews were relatively tolerant of others cultures as long as they didn’t occupy the Promised Land, the Christians weren’t. Why? For this answer let’s examine their earliest manifestation as an established institution. In 312AD Constantine I (280-337AD) defeated the closest claimant to his throne at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, firmly establishing himself as the new Emperor of Rome. Prior to this crucial confrontation he had a dream of a cross on top of the sun. He led his troops into battle under the sign of the Christian crucifix, his vision, with the motto “Under this sign shall you win.”
This victory convinced him to first tolerate and then establish Christianity as the sole religion of Rome. In 314, two years after becoming Emperor his council banned Donatism, an alternate Christian sect in North Africa. Its followers were ruthlessly exterminated and their head priestess was publicly raped. An auspicious beginning. In 325, eleven years later, at the Counsel of Nicaea his commission established the Trinity as the only acceptable belief system to combat the so-called heresy of Arianism, which held that Jesus, while special, was not equal to God, for logical reasons. Evidently the Roman Catholic Church had already become so politically entrenched that they would not brook any challenge to their supremacy. This rigid interpretation of the New Testament enabled the Empire to suppress alternate sects of Christianity – establishing a trend that was to endure unto the present day.
So because Constantine wins a battle after a dream the Empire converts en masse to Christianity. This had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus and everything to do with omenology. Then Constantine centralizes and merges the amazing Roman bureaucracy with the Church to establish both political and religious control of his far-flung Empire. Tightening details he established orthodoxy against the tolerance of heterodoxy with the Council of Nicaea to differentiate Us from Them. Of course once this was firmly established it was easier to destroy Them.
Although Constantine began as the Augustus of the Western Roman Empire, he defeated the Eastern Augustus to become the sole Emperor in 324 CE. Ironically shortly after he abandoned Rome to the barbarians and moved the capital east to Anatolia, where he built a new capitol at Byzantium, renaming the city Constantinople in his honor. The barbarians were the Germanic tribes that eventually conquered all of Europe from the Romans. Their leaders eventually became the hereditary ruling class – the military aristocracy with their supposedly royal blood. Further his departure from Rome set up the eventual Christian Schism between Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholicism – the East ruled by those from the Roman and Greek traditions – the West ruled by those from the Germanic and Nordic traditions. It was at this time that many of the seeds for the vicious wars for supremacy were planted.
The Seed of Europe
Continuing on. Although the Roman Empire was Christian it had moved East and become the Byzantine Empire of the Greeks. The invading, marauding, conquering Germanic tribes had not yet converted. However the raiders, who were intent on ruling, had to adopt the Roman bureaucratic institutions to maintain order in the territories they conquered. And with that came the bishopric organization of the Church. Indeed even when the Romans left, the Church remained – crossing political boundaries even at this early date, as it was the educated priests who preserved the rich literary tradition of the Roman Empire, although ruled by illiterate barbarians.
Another conquering Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, was a good example of one of these early religious conversions for political reasons. After being assimilated by their sophisticated Gallo-Roman subjects they were absorbed by yet another Germanic tribe, the ascendant Franks. Their pagan ruler, Clovis, married a Burgundian princess to lay claims to their kingdom. As a Roman Catholic, she baptized their first-born son. He died in infancy turning Clovis back to his gods. Then, after losing a major battle to the untamed Allamani, Clovis faced extermination. With nothing to lose he converted to his wife’s religion and won the battle of Tolbiac in 496 (God’s Crucible, David Lewis, 2008, p.140). Because of the military power of the unseen hand of the Christian War God Clovis’ Franks converted en masse to Roman Catholicism with their bishopric system of organization and education (indoctrination?).
As opposed to the other Germanic tribes the Franks allowed intermarriage with the indigenous Celts and Romans as long as the children were baptized Catholic. This strategy infused the citizens of the nascent country with a sense of nationalism, independent of racial origin. Alternately the Ostrogoths, the Germanic tribe who conquered Spain, remained separate from their subjects due to the ban on intermarriage. This rendered them particularly vulnerable when the Muslim Moors invaded, as their citizens abandoned their cruel overlords to embrace the tolerant Muslim religion. An entirely different rival greeted the Moors when they crossed the Pyrenees to invade France. Presumably because of the inclusivity of Clovis the Franks had a sense of national identity worth defending from attack. Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandfather, tapped into this energy to successfully defend his country from the Moorish invaders at the famous battle of Tours. (As mentioned this instituted the European feudal system with its Christian knights.) As such Clovis’s conversion to Roman Catholicism was the seed beginning of the newly emergent Holy Roman Empire in the West, as it paved the way for Charlemagne’s coronation as the Emperor by the Roman Catholic Pope in 800 CE. However it had nothing to do with the teachings and life of Jesus and everything to do with the efficacy of the Biblical Jehovah, as a patriarchal War God.
Charlemagne followed in the direct footsteps of his tolerant Christian forefathers – campaigning against the Germanic tribes in Northern Europe, who still worshipped Nature via trees – forcing them to convert or else face extermination. After years filled with many bloody battles he finally subjugated the rebellious cultures, forcing the citizens to convert at the point of the sword. Note the contrast with his contemporaries, the Moors in Spain, who were thriving due to the contribution of the Jewish and Christian communities who were allowed to coexist alongside the Muslims. Indeed this Moorish era in Spain is considered a Golden Age of culture and learning.
Eventually, due in part to Charlemagne’s efforts, the Roman Catholic Church with its hierarchy - which the Norse so appreciated for its ability to control the masses - had completely taken over Western Europe. The Pope was so powerful that he humbled kings through excommunication. Then came the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. Religion and politics had become so intertwined that to change religions, one had to change countries. Indeed if the leaders of a country converted to Protestantism or remained Catholic, the rest of their populace had to follow. Entire countries would become Protestant or remain Catholic, not just parts. These changes remain in place today. Jews were forced to convert, immigrate or perish. Pogroms against the Jews occurred periodically.
When an entire country changed religion it was frequently a political conversion - just like the Romans and Franks. The kings furthest away from the power of the Pope were most likely to revolt. The countries closer were unable to. The German princedoms and Switzerland went Lutheran and Calvin, as much for religious doctrinal reasons as to get out from under the thumb of the Pope. In England, this conversion to Protestantism had nothing to do with belief. References to the supremacy of the Pope were deleted. Otherwise the hymn and prayer books remained the same. The primary difference was that the church revenues went to the King of England, instead of going to the Pope. In a similar fashion the spread of Buddhism in the East was facilitated by the political rulers desire to get out from under the thumb of the Brahmins, who institutionalized their superiority in the caste system.
The Catholic Church with its Pope reacted violently to the Protestant reformation - not because they wanted to save any souls, but because they were faced with major losses of revenue and power. The Inquisition was instigated to prevent the further erosion of the Catholic power base. The countries that remained Catholic had powerful Bishopric systems that held sway over the people with the help of the power structure. Anyone who talked of any other interpretation of the Bible was treated as a heretic because of the threat to the Papal revenue.
Modern day America is in a similar position with our doctrine of democracy. We claim a holy war in the name of democracy when in fact our motives are almost entirely economic. More on this later.
However it was the American Revolution that finally broke the stranglehold of the extended Christian Church on religious tolerance. Ever since Constantine’s Council of Nicea in 325CE, which created orthodoxy and heresy, until 1776, when the US declared their independence from England, the citizens of each European country could only belong to one kind of Christian Church. Any other religious manifestation, Biblically based or other, was ruthlessly suppressed as heresy. In fact even though the monolithic Christian Church bifurcated first into two with the Great Schism and then into multiple branches with the Protestant Reformation, each of these branches maintained the same rigid stance: one nation and one religion. Every citizen was required to belong to the exact same sect of Christianity – with the exact same interpretation of the Bible –whether Catholic, Lutheran or Eastern Orthodox.
So how did the American colonies break away from this millennia and half long tradition?
Each of these rigid Christian sects escaped to the New World, the Americas, in the hopes of establishing another nation under their God. But then faced with a hostile environment and a common oppressor, they overlooked their differences and joined forces. Having experience the cultural freedom of multiple nationalities mixing and trading in this brand new environment – where cooperation was mandatory for survival, they learned to get along with foreigners because everyone was a foreigner. Of course after the Revolution they joined together as a loose knit Christian nation to suppress the Native American culture and to enslave Africans. But at least they were tolerant of each other – actually celebrating religious diversity, albeit in a strictly Christian context. German Mennonites, Scottish Presbyterians, and English Puritans, to name but a few, worked together towards a common goal - survival in this strange new world, where a man’s merit was based upon industry and initiative rather than nationality, social class or religion.
The American’s successful break with European traditions provided inspiration to the under classes of the world, including the monumental French Revolution, which occurred in 1789 just a few years after the USA had broken free of England. The immediate vitality of the American experiment as witnessed the country’s ability to defend itself from attack just 20 years later in the War of 1812 with the British, inspired the Europeans to eventually embrace religious tolerance also.
We Americans are so proud of our religious freedom that we consider it a basic human right – something that every country should have. Unfortunately the Masters of War use this pride to manipulate public opinion - tricking the country into waging war. Instead of religious and political freedom we are instead suppressing human rights in the name of global profits. We are exporting ruthless capitalism, although it goes under the name of free enterprise. However there is nothing free about it.
Despite our global behavior I for one am incredibly grateful that I have the freedom to express myself – (as long as not too many people listen to me). Indeed during the Era of Religious Intolerance, which lasted nearly 1500 years, the authorities would have labeled these work as heresy and I would have been burned at the stake - as these words challenge and attack the historical intolerance of the Christian church.
While institutional Christianity has always been violently intolerant, the Viking conquerors easily accommodated any belief system, in this case the Roman Catholic Church.
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