Heretics threaten our entrenched utopia!

An online test I found recently served as a reminder of the horrors of Communism, highlighting as it did the primary role of Vladimir Lenin in paving the way for the vast slaughters of Stalin and Mao.

For the many years when the slaughter was ongoing, people who should have known better lived in a state of denial, either looking the other way, or flat-out refusing to believe the obvious. (Or, in the case of some, like Walter Duranty, actively enabling the atrocities by authoritative lying in respectable journals.) But even after Stalin's crimes were exposed, many leftists and sympathetic intellectuals, while conceding Stalin's crimes (sometimes called "mistakes"), nonetheless clung tenaciously to the delusion that Lenin was an altogether different sort of guy. That "if only Lenin had known" what was coming and been able to prevent it, things would somehow have been different.

It is of course, beyond any dispute that the difference between Lenin and Stalin was not really in the moral sense; both made use of murder, torture, and terror. Stalin vastly increased the number of people killed, and he made sure that everyone now lived under terror -- not even excepting Communists.

Yet there remains a hesitancy to condemn Lenin, for it is believed that to condemn Lenin comes pretty close to condemning Communism.

As a pure theory, Communism has never killed anyone. Only when it is applied do people die.

Doctrines and ideologies are always that way. No one has ever been killed by a mere idea.

The same can be said about religion. Ideas about God or gods, even writings said to be direct orders from God, do not kill anyone. It is when men put them into practice that people die.

I have a serious problem with anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, being killed in furtherance of an idea, an opinion, or a belief.

Yet all too often doctrines are arrived at by killing. People who dissent or disagree are killed for their disagreement, or for their resistance to the "doctrine." There is something so odious, so completely immoral, about killing people to win an argument that I sometimes wonder whether the positions taken by those who prevailed by murder and torture shouldn't be declared inherently immoral. Islam, which believes in killing people, derives power from the killing that has been done in the name of "Allah" and thus the "doctrine" -- blood-soaked as it is -- becomes more powerful the more people are killed.

Doctrines which are a product of murder, torture, and killing are, to my mind, not the products of free thought, and I believe they should at the very least be subjected to the strictest possible scrutiny.

Does that include Christianity? To the extent to which the doctrines of this otherwise gentle, genuinely peaceful religion were achieved by killing, I would say yes. Resoundingly.

That is all the more compelling because if killing can be done in the name of Christianity (of all possible ideas or religions), if people can be compelled to accept Christian doctrines because of murder, then Christianity would not be the religion of hope it claims to be. Man would be the worse off for it. Christians have a higher moral duty than Communists or Muslims to see to it that excesses in the name of Christianity be addressed.

Most of the time, people who examine the excesses of Christianity focus on such things as the Inquisition or the Crusades. This strikes me as similar to leftist intellectuals who are willing to admit to Stalinist excesses but want to leave it there.

My research has convinced me that the road to the Inquisition was paved by the early Roman Christians. They tortured and killed "heretics," "witches," Jews, and homosexuals. They invented a doctrine of Christian intolerance without which the Inquisition would never have been possible. They are to Christianity as Lenin was to Communism.

The analogy ends there, of course, because there is no moral equivalency between Christianity and Communism. Certainly not in theory.

That's because Communists are supposed to kill people for their beliefs, and Christians are not. If anything, Christians are supposed to do the opposite. So, not only is there no moral equivalency in theory, there should be no analogy in practice.

That is what makes this comparison particularly distasteful for me to make.

But the fact remains that in light of early Christian history, the Inquisition and the Crusades cannot be said to be moral aberrations. Constantine, Athanasius, Tertullian, Theodosius, and countless others, laid the road which inexorably led to Torquemada.

I don't know how the numbers compare, and I have to hope that the Communists killed more people. But it isn't about numbers. And when two competent and reputable historians make statements like these, people should take notice:

Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in two years [A.D. 342-343, during the Arian controversy] than by all the persecutions of Christians under the Romans during the previous three hundred years.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith
In the century opened by the Peace of the Church [after the first Christian Roman Emperor began his rule], more Christians died for their faith at the hands of fellow Christians than had died before in all the persecutions.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
To the extent that religious doctrines were the product of murder, torture, and tyranny, such doctrines are blood-soaked, and should be regarded with suspicion. Honest thinking does not require the killing of people in order to prevail.

If you have to kill someone to win an argument, that does not make your argument right. That people were killed in order to "settle" an argument does not render the conclusion right.

In my view, it makes those who champion the winning position suspect -- particularly if their argument is based on the "conservative" idea that settled and older ideas are superior, that passage of time legitimizes brutal methods of coercion.

Ideas and doctrines are not rendered morally superior by application of force. You'd think Christians would have already known that, but history shows the folly of that assumption.

With the above in mind, I want to return to my discussion of logic, and epistemic conservatism:

Epistemic conservatism dictates that belief in the existence of evil be abandoned before belief in the existence of God, for it is less entrenched.
Ideas and beliefs can become entrenched in a variety of ways, including the use of lethal force. The Trinity alone supplies a perfect example:
The origins of the Trinity doctrine are appalling. Like most historic issues pertaining to Christianity, there was much deceit and bloodshed. Many lives were lost before 'Trinitarianism' was finally adopted.

As many Christians know, the word "trinity" does not appear in the Bible. It doesn't because it is a doctrine which evolved in early Christianity. It was a manipulated, bloody and deadly process before it finally arrived as an 'accepted' doctrine of the church.

Eventually, there will come a point in the life of any tyrannical system where the murderers and torturers are sufficiently satisfied (perhaps exhausted) that their position has prevailed that they'll loosen up a bit. Perhaps even get soft in their old age. Or die. Or run out of dissenters to kill.

I do not doubt that even the Nazi regime, had it been allowed to live on and "mellow" with age, would have grown more liberal and less murderous. With no more Jews to kill, it would increasingly have been argued that the Jewish position was defeated. Some "liberals" might have even come along and argued that the Jews weren't so bad after all. At this point, would epistemic conservatives be heard to say that the question had been settled long ago, and it was part of an entrenched idea that the Jews had been bad (and therefore lost)?

Years ago, I attended a large dinner to honor elderly Communists. There were people in their eighties and nineties who proudly recalled things like the Palmer Raids, and John Reed. A huge banner across one side of the room proclaimed, "IT'S A GRAND OLD STRUGGLE!" While it is true that Communism did not prevail, suppose it had. Would the fact of its "entrenchment" make supporting it a duty of epistemic conservatives?


In our standard agreed-upon history of the 20th century, communism still stands morally above fascism, even though communism lasted much longer and killed many more.
Forgive me, but wouldn't the fact that Communism "lasted longer and killed many more" be an argument in its favor under the epistemic conservative theory of entrenchment?

Or is Communism too "new" to be considered "entrenched"? (Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, and died in 1883. And Walter Duranty has been dead for a long time....) If Communism is too new, then how far are we to back up? How are epistemic conservatives to handle Christianity versus Islam? One is older, but the other is more entrenched. Paganism is older than either one, and its vestiges in culture are more entrenched than any religion offered since.

I still can't shake the conviction that if people have to be killed to establish ideas, those ideas are rendered suspect -- even if the ideas were intended to create an earthly or heavenly utopia.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that the utopians are right and the heretics are wrong, without the heretics, how could there be freedom?

What sort of utopia is that?

Hell itself might seem preferable:

The Indian chief Hatuey fled with his people but was captured and burned alive. As "they were tying him to the stake a Franciscan friar urged him to take Jesus to his heart so that his soul might go to heaven, rather than descend into hell. Hatuey replied that if heaven was where the Christians went, he would rather go to hell."

UPDATE: Steven Malcolm Anderson mentioned the death of Hypatia in the comments below, and I think readers would do well to read this account of the horrible death of this enlightened and cultured woman -- at the hands of a Christian "saint" in AD 400. The death of Hypatia has been called "the death of the classical world." Similarly, the Communists are said to have demonstrated their true nature by executing the Czar and his family. Why is the latter generally disavowed as wrong, but not the former?


Once again, I hope readers will realize that I am NOT saying that there is a moral equivalency between Communism and Christianity! Read this account for an idea of what happened in our lifetimes to countless millions of people. I share Dean Esmay's assessment of Communism.

Christianity, however, is supposed to adhere to a much higher standard. So, what is to be done when Christians behave like Communists?

UPDATE: For me, rationalizations like this just don't cut it:

We are killing to build a world in which no one will ever kill. We accept criminality for ourselves in order that the earth may at last be full of innocent people.
How naive evil can be made to sound!

posted by Eric on 01.11.04 at 02:40 PM


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Tracked on January 21, 2004 10:13 PM


That Holocausts of Communism test was extremely informative, quite an eye opener. Dean Esmay has been posting a lot on the horrors of Communism this past week. The Commies must be really squirming. In my opinion, Communists should be held in the same contempt as Nazis. Ideas have consequeneces.

I have yet to see a Christian apologist deal adequately with the murder of Hypatia in 415 AD. She was a beautiful and intelligent (the two go together) aristocrat, mathematician, and philosopher in Alexandria when a mob of Christians led by St. Cyril of Alexandria set upon her, tore her from her chariot, flayed her alive, and dismembered and burnt her.
Christians usually explain these atrocities by invoking Original Sin, "Christians aren't perfect just forgiven" (not by me), the Seven Deadly Sins, etc.. However, St. Cyril of Alexandria wasn't some backslider who got drunk on Saturday night or was in it for the money, he was CANONIZED AS A SAINT BY THE CHURCH. And this was pretty early in the history of the church, too, in or very close to the "pristine" period of the martyrs before the church was allegedly corrupted by worldly influences. Hmmm.... And the murderers of 9/11 weren't in it for the money either, they did it for Allah.

Christianity is supposed to make people better, they turn to Jesus as their Lord and PERSONAL Savior, they get "born again" in the Holy Spirit, they are then "under construction". I'm sure that works for some, but in so many other cases, from St. Cyril to Santorum, it makes people _worse_. And I don't believe for a moment that they would have been even worse if they had been Pagans, any more than I believe Stalin would have been worse as a capitalist. I think it largely comes down to Monotheism vs, Polytheism. The ancient Polytheists belived there were many Gods and Goddesses, so each to his or her own, live and let live (as long as you pay tribute to the Empire, etc., I've not saying the Old Order didn't have its problems), while Monotheists such as Christians and Muslims believe there is only one God so everyone on the planet has to be converted to that One True God or else burn in Hell. (Judaism is a bit different as it started out with the idea that there is only one God _for the Jews_, and that basic attitude has remained, so Jews don't proselytize the way Christians and Muslims do.)

Steven Malcolm Anderson   ·  January 11, 2004 6:22 PM

Thanks Steven!

I was just reading about Hypatia earlier. The details of these "founding atrocities" are truly awful to contemplate -- and contaminate the religious doctrines promulgated by those who committed them. That is why, I suspect, they will never be addressed. While I know that no one can undo what was done 1500 years ago, what bothers me is that when people invoke "tradition" as a reason to uphold doctrines "settled" by murder and torture, they ratify what was done. Until renounced, the murders of Hypatia and the others remain officially condoned as Christian policy. (And as religious precedents for maniacs who might want to "revive" "Original" "Christianity".)

The difference between a "martyr" and a "heretic" depends, of course, on who's writing the martyrology....

Eric Scheie   ·  January 11, 2004 7:00 PM

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