Sunday, September 20, 2015

Orthocuban on Islam and Christian conquests, if we no true Scotsman ourselves away from the harm Chrisians of the past have done we become like the scribes and Pharisees

Fr Ernesto at Orthocuban has taken to blogging about a propensity for American Christians (i.e. the ones in the United States) to broadbrush Islam as an inherently violent religion while skipping past the Christians who took up Crusades (and other crusades) during the last thousand years.

For the last couple of years, since the rise of ISIS, the social media have been filled with accusations about how Islam has always been violent, and has killed incredible numbers of people and caused mass migrations, etc. The main argument has been that Islam has only been quiescent, and that any apparent peaceful interlude is just that, an interlude. We in the West, of course, are completely innocent and have never engaged in any such behavior as Christians. The problem is that there is absolutely no historical veracity to such statements.
Note, there is truth in saying that Islam was engaged in conquest for several centuries. The lack of truth is in trying to claim that Christians were not involved in any parallel set of happenings, which mark our history in close to the same way in which the Muslim conquests mark their history. That claim is only possible if you posit a definition of Christianity that is distinctly American but also distinctly false and inaccurate. The definition of Christianity that is posited is a distinctly pietistic American definition, but it is also a particularly disingenuous one. The definition is disingenuous because it counters any example that one could give about Christian misbehavior simply by saying that they were not “true” Christians, or did not “truly” understand the Gospel. This is convenient because even if something is the main belief of a Christian people and doctrinally supported by the particular Christian group, one can always dismiss the example by saying that if they were “true” Christians, then they would have never done or believed that. A secondary approach is simply to point out that that group was not part of your group, and to then claim that the entire group was mistaken, even if it were the dominant denomination of entire countries.
In other words, we're getting a lot of "no true Scotsman" defenses, which may be the endless temptation of our age on the internet.  We want to make certain that "our" team has no atrocities that we should be ashamed of or, failing that, we want to make sure that whoever we don't like has worse atrocities that reflect their ideals while our ideals assure our righteousness.
Although here, I take the liberty of pointing something out.  Ernesto wrote:
The doctrine of Manifest Destiny takes over quickly. Calvinist predestination is applied to expansionist politics, and it becomes clear that God intended the American nation to expand from sea to shining sea.
Calvinist predestination was an important variable but as Mark Noll put it in America's God, there was an optimism about the American mission even among Catholics.  It was also possible to have an optimism about the expansion of the white race even among those who asserted a universal atonement and insisted on synergist soteriology.  No, not Eastern Orthodoxy, Wesleyan theology, literally.  In a somewhat inexplicable way Ray Ortlund quotes John Wesley about the greatness of what could be done with a hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God and what ... ?

“No, Aleck, no!  The danger of ruin to Methodism does not lie here.  It springs from quite a different quarter.  Our preachers, many of them, are fallen.  They are not spiritual.  They are not alive to God.  They are soft, enervated, fearful of shame, toil, hardship. . . . Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.” [emphasis adeed]
John Wesley, writing at age 87 to Alexander Mather, quoted in Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley (London, 1871), III:632.

For folks who might (with some cause) doubt the accuracy of a new Calvinist Gospel Coalition quote attributed to a Wesley  ...

and the Anglo-centric approach isn't that hard to suss out on the Wesleyan team when it was occasionally explicitly stated.
 We have not any extraordinary displays of the power of God. America is the young child of God and providence, set upon the lap, dandled upon the knees, pressed to the consolating breasts of mercies in ----. But we are not as thankful as we ought to be. The --- of the church I wish to make the cause of---. I stand in such a situation, and relation for the state of the ministry and people. I may have a thousand letters of information in a year, while swiftly moving through the continent every year.
The time certainly is drawing near when universal peace shall bless the earth: when distracted Europe, superstitious Asia, blind Africa, and America shall more abundantly see the salvation of our God. Oh let us be much in prayer. [emphasis added]

Clearly the last thing Methodists anchored in a Wesleyan approach to soteriology and sanctification would be likely to say they had was a Calvinist predestinarian motivation for Manifest Destiny. We're talking about the pioneer bishop of Methodism in the United States here.

What Calvinists and Arminians often had in common in the United States, despite their substantial differences on the subject of predestination as a matter of salvation for individual believers, was something called postmillennialism.  Postmillenialism comes in a variety of flavors, not all of them as dominionistic/theonomistic as might be presumed.  Still, as Jeffrey Burton Russell spelled out in Order and Dissent in the Middle Ages, the Catholic church came down against premillennial and postmillennial lenses for interpreting history.  Sure, we could suggest that institutional religion would be against millennialist views taken up by revolutionaries seeking a rationale for seizing power but when we look at how Manifest Destiny played out it's not entirely difficult to see that whether Arminian or Calvinist once you presume God is on the side of the white race and that you're obliged to convert everyone else to your way of thinking formal distinctions in soteriology can become moot.

Over the last few years I've soaked up the Book of Judges and what the Book of Judges forces a Christian to remember is that no matter what team you think you're on the atrocities of people described as famous people of faith in Hebrews 11 is part of your church heritage.  None of us can "no true Scotsman" the judges out of the canon that we all accept as Christians.  Whether Presbyterian (me) or Orthodox (Fr. Ernesto) it looks like we both agree on this concluding observation.

By refusing to see our history and distancing ourselves from our Christian ancestors, and by claiming that they were not truly Christian, we commit the identical error that the scribes and Pharisees committed. Lord, have mercy.

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