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    When fanatic Christians massacred while Islam was tolerant

    For a period of hundreds of years the vast world of Islam was more advanced and tolerant of religious faiths while intolerant Christian fanatics massacred millions and committed atrocities whose horror has never been exceeded.

    I was reminded of this in re-reading, for a review in a web site called Goodreads, a book that holds lessons for our times. Here is my review.

    Eric Hoffer’s classic “The True Believer,” which I reviewed March 11, gave me some insight into the fanaticism driving the religious violence and terrorism that is tearing apart so much of the world.

    “The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300 – 1564,” volume six of Will Durrant’s massive and monumental 10-volume “The Story of Civilization,” reminds me that, until very recent times, the violence, atrocities, and bloodshed committed under the name of Christianity were every bit as violent and atrocious as that committed by the fanatic fringe of Islam today. And for centuries, the Islamic world was a more tolerant and advanced society than Christendom.

    Christian intolerance and violence was far from limited to the infamous Spanish Inquisitions of the Catholic Church. Protestants, too, even in North America, burned witches and heretics. Martin Luther, in leading the Reformation, wound up preaching violence. “It were better that every bishop were murdered… than one soul should be destroyed… for the sake of their worthless trumpery,” he wrote of priests who inflamed a peasants’ revolt in Germany.  “If they will not hear God’s word, but rage and rave with bannings and burning, killings and every evil, what do they deserve better than a strong uprising which will sweep them from the earth? And we should smile did it happen.”

    An estimated 130,000 were killed in battles and massacres during the two-year revolt, with 50,000 left homeless; a minor episode of the many in which millions perished under the Christian banner.

    Of the Catholics, Luther wrote that there was “no remedy” but to attack by the sword “these masters of perdition… this sink of the Roman Sodom… and wash our hands in their blood.” As for Jews, he urged whoever could to “throw brimstone and pitch” and “hurl hell fire at them… Let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land.”

    We recoil at today’s Islamic atrocities but could anything be worse than the fate of Jean Lecleric, a French wool-carder who called the Pope Antichrist in 1526? “His right hand was cut off, his nose was torn away, his nipples plucked with pincers, his head was bound with a band of red-hot iron, and he was burned alive.”

    Durant calls Calvin, who followed Luther and inspired the witch-burning Puritans, “The man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honoured history of nonsense.” As preacher, professor of theology, administrator of churches, and guardian of public morals, Calvin ruled Geneva with such severity that women who wore the wrong type of hat were jailed. In one year under his administration, 58 Catholics and heretics were executed, 14 witches were burned at the stake, and 76 others were banished from the city. When a citizen called Calvin a “gross hypocrite,” against whom the people would rise up, he was tortured every day for 30 days before he was nailed to a stake and his head cut off.

    “It is hard for us, pigeon-holed in Christendom, to realize that from the eighth to the thirteenth century, Islam was culturally, politically, and militarily superior to Europe,” Durant writes. This, mind you, in a book that was published more than half a century ago.

    Islam was not exactly without violence. In the 16th century, Suleiman captured half of Hungary, burning and pillaging and driving 100,000 Christian captives to slavery in Constantinople. Yet earlier, when the Moors conquered Spain, Christians and Jews were left free to practice their religion, as decreed by Islamic law. When Christians in turn regained control, they showed no such tolerance or mercy. One hundred thousand Moors who refused to convert to Christianity were exiled to suffer shipwrecks, starvation, robbery, rape, disease and massacres. Nothing in this period, however, matched the fury of the European crusaders who sought to convert Islamic infidels by slaughtering as many as two million.

    The tolerance that the Moors granted Christians and Jews in Spain, prevailed in much of Islam during much of the five centuries referred to by Durant. For example, in present-day Iran, at Oran, then a city exceeded in size by only three European cities, the ruling dynasty protected the religious freedom of Jews and Christians for three centuries.

    “A supreme and unchangeable faith is a deadly enemy to the human mind,” Durant summarizes.

    The Christian world is right, of course, to condemn and seek to suppress the terror, atrocities and bloodshed of fanatics of whatever religion. But we need to be mindful of our own bloody history, less we become as intolerant as our forebears.

    TAGS Christianity, Islam, Jews, Religion, Reformation, Massacres, Sectarianism, Religious Persecution, Crucifixion, Crusades, Protestants, Catholicism, Heretics, Witches, Torture, Atrocities, Burning at the stake, Intolerance, Martin Luther, John Calvin.

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