Christian Apologies Necessary and Needed
July 28, 1999
The new trend in Christian religiousness seems to be the apology. Organizers of the Reconciliation Walk are seeking atonement for the past atrocities of the church, notably the inquisition and the witch hunts. The current trend is to apologize for the medieval crusades when all of Christendom was determined to reclaim the holy land from the Muslims. Those Christians engaged in reconciliation should be applauded for their efforts and encouraged to continue to examine the role of the church in history. It is only by recognizing and acknowledging the role and responsibility of the Church that Christians are able to reconcile the role of the church with the rest of humanity in the future. This historical perspective is an excellent start to this realization.
While being sorry for past actions of the church is commendable, however, some apologists have the notion that humanity should somehow forgive and forget the atrocities committed by the church for the enforcement of scriptural interpretation. The problem is not in forgiving. We should. The problem is that in their apology, they are making excuses and placing blame. Instead of coming out and just admitting that the Church has committed past wrongs and to pledge that it will never happen again, the apologists instead make excuses for the lack of divine governance during these tragic escapades.
Three excuses emerge here: 1) The perpetrators of these crimes against humanity were not using true scripture but a selfish interpretation to achieve earthly goals; 2) Satan caused the church to sin in God's name;* and, 3) the perpetrators were not real, true Christians.
However, not only were the Christian perpetrators of past crimes convinced that they were scriptural and divinely guided, in both idea and action, but they used the Bible and scriptural references therein to reinforce and act upon their common conviction of the honesty, value, and righteousness of their work. They carried out their duties with dispatch and efficiency. Their records show a meticulous detail for procedure and Biblical "fairness" as they carried out their divine commandments to purify the earth of infidels, heretics, witches, heathens, and intellectuals. One only has to read the history of any one of these events to discern immediately the piety of the collective mind that instituted these venues of righteousness.
That Satan celebrated one of his greatest triumphs by making the church sin in God's name is one of the most ridiculous (and bizarre) suggestions that Christians could ever come up with. It is exactly this type of nonsense that throws doubt on the sincerity of their actions. How are we to know when Satan might do this again? Indeed, if he is capable of deceiving the church once surely he can do it again. And again and again. Moreover, how do we know it is not Satan deceiving us with this apology? They should apologize for this excuse alone.
The idea that these people were not "true Christians" is just not acceptable. More and more today we hear this argument. The "they weren't true Christians" argument questions the sincerity and makes an apology shallow and empty. Maybe compared to a proclaimed modern standard of compassionate Christianity, this may be true, but one cannot simply make this type of comparison. The true error in this thinking is clear especially in modern democracies where blasphemy, nonbelief, and witchcraft are no longer crimes. If they were, this compassionate Christianity could soon deteriorate into just as oppressive an institution as its inquisitional predecessors. The evidence is quite clear from countries that are theocracies such as Iran, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, that this can indeed happen in our modern world. Even the ranting and raving of the radical religious right in the U.S. should be cause for concern because these people believe that they are the real, true Christians with the "real" interpretation of Scripture. This is confusing. It appears that there are two types of Christians: the true Christians and the not-true Christians. The problem here is, it's the true Christians who do the dividing.
This is the same dangerous thinking that led to the crusades, inquisitions, and witch hunts in the first place. Just the fact that many real Christians are bent on defending the Church's actions in committing these atrocities is evidence that there will be no unilateral, unconditional, unequivocal apology ever forthcoming from the Christian community as a whole. If they all cannot be united in the condemnation of these past senseless acts because of what they may or may not believe, then how do we know it is indeed true Christianity that are now offering the apology? We should not be deceived and instead remain vigilant. The church is very capable of reverting back to barbarism should they achieve the political and ecclesiastical power they once had.
We should forgive. It is the right to do. However, the Christian community needs to quit making excuses and placing blame but squarely take responsibility and shoulder that burden as part of their religious historical legacy. These atrocities should not be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a few empty words about how regrettable these horrific acts were. As with the Holocaust we should never, ever forget these events that took so many lives in the name of religion. Neither should we allow the church to sweep this legacy under the altar of a new religious order or conscience. We should forgive, but never forget.
Click here for an index of past features.
[James Still assisted in the preparation of this article.]