Monday, January 18, 2016

OUP Blog: "Religious belief, fundamentalism, and intolerance"

By Desmond M. Clarke. Check it out here. A taste:
When Calvin endorsed the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553, he justified his decision by appeal to (1) the certainty of his own religious faith and (2) the obligation of civil authorities to protect the citizens of Geneva from what he classified as heresy. Théodore de Bèze later defended that rationale in a lengthy Treatise in 1560.
When the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine subsequently considered how the Catholic Church should treat heretics, he invoked Calvin’s principle; he quoted Bèze to show that the state must support the eradication of heresy and, if necessary, execute those whom the Roman church classified as heretics (i.e. Calvinists!).
The two Christian churches were symmetrically intolerant of each other. They each appealed to the certainty of their own (incompatible) religious beliefs and to a political theory based on their common reading of the Bible. There followed, in France, decades of religious wars, which petered out only with victory for the majority church at the end of the century.
Two centuries later, a biassed Catholic court in Toulouse sentenced an innocent Huguenot shopkeeper, Jean Calas, to torture on the wheel and public execution. He was accused of murdering his son to prevent him becoming a Catholic, although the son had taken his own life. This monstrous miscarriage of justice prompted Voltaire to write A Treatise on Toleration (1763), in which he pleaded with the civil authorities and the Catholic citizens of France to cease persecuting their Christian fellow citizens. For Voltaire, religious persecution was absurd, and it was inconsistent with the Christian command to love God and one’s neighbour.
The logic of intolerance has been remarkably consistent over many centuries, within different churches and cultures. ...

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

L'affaire de Calas really not a good example of much.

But there are weighty reasons to doubt the father's innocence (Barthélemy). Voltaire cannot be considered an impartial historian of the case, owing to his preconceived desire to present a strong indictment against the Catholic Church, rather than to state the facts in their true light. The responsibility of the condemnation in no way rested with the ecclesiastical authorities, and the penalty was inflicted not for a mere religious offence, but for murder alleged to have been committed for a religious motive.

As for Michael Servetus, yes, "tolerance" of heresy became necessary as the spread of "Protestantism" fostered the multiplicity of heresies exponentially and pluralism became the only alternative to war and civil upheaval. But as you note, the persecution of heresy was not for personal conscience and private belief as much as the evangelization of it was seen as a threat to public order, which is why it was punished by the state, not the church, as a civil crime.

And of course, when Voltaire's spawn held their own "reformation," they proved that intolerance--indeed murder--is a universal human thing, not merely the province of religion. The butcher's bill for modern nonreligious [indeed anti-religious] utopianisms such as the French Revolution, Nazism and Communism far outstrips that of Christianity.

Given the growth of militant anti-Catholicism in the West, these two books are highly recommended. The authors prepare us for what lies ahead if this juggernaut proceeds unchecked. In western France in the 1790s a similar state of affairs led to the persecution of the Church under color of law, and then when Catholic peasants in Vendée dared to resist this persecution, the ruling atheists ordered the entire population of that region to be exterminated — men, women, and children. They sent out the army in “infernal columns” to “depopulate the Vendée.” Secher says the minimum number of casualties is around 118,000, while Davies thinks the number is closer to 250,000. The genocide of the Vendeans is not well known outside of France, but it truly deserves to be. It teaches a valuable lesson, that visceral hatred of Catholicism, left unchecked, can turn to genocide.

Eerily enough, those who carried out the genocide in Vendée gave glimpses of that perverse mentality later found among the Nazis. They cast women and children into ovens, made use of human skin for clothing, and burned women to collect their fat. The gruesome details of these atrocities are attested facts. Indeed, the atrocities were often recorded by agents of the government.

The suffering and death of the Catholics in Vendée was not in vain. They achieved a glorious victory. In the end, because of their heroic example, the anti-Catholic persecution of the 1790s was a failure. The Church in France was supposed to have been eradicated. Instead, she rose to new life. As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In 1801, when Napoleon granted freedom of worship to all the Catholics of France, it was seen as the victory of the Vendée.