Obama ‘ignorant’ over Inquisition
The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue is spitting tacks over Barack Obama’s reminder this week that ‘during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ’.
Demanding an apology from the President, Donohue said his “ignorance is astounding”, and sought to defend Catholic Church’s role in the Crusades and distanced it from the Inquisition.
Donohue claimed that the Crusades were:
A defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages … and regarding the other fable, the Inquisition, the Catholic Church had almost nothing to do with it.
The Church saw heretics as lost sheep who needed to be brought back into the fold. By contrast, secular authorities saw heresy as treason; anyone who questioned royal authority, or who challenged the idea that kingship was God-given, was guilty of a capital offense. It was they –not the Church – who burned the heretics. Indeed, secular authorities blasted the Church for its weak role in the Inquisition.
This is breathtaking, given the fact that Pope Paul II made a sweeping apology for 2,000 years of violence, persecution and blunders by the Catholic Church, and Cardinal Ratzinger, later to become Pope, confessed to the sins of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s predecessor, the Inquisition, and said:
Even men of the church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel.
Donohue’s rant was one of many that followed a private meeting Obama had with Muslim leaders, and words he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.
According to Alternet’s Zaid Jilani:
The meeting set off predictable angry reactions from the political right, with Fox News’ Sean Hannity even saying he wished Obama had demanded that the leaders publicly denounce radical Islam.
Obama further raised the hackles of the Christian right when he said at the National Prayer Breakfast that no religion has a monopoly on violence, saying, ‘And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. Slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ’.
The reaction to these comments was apoplectic. Rush Limbaugh called it an ‘insult’ to Christianity; the Tea Party News Network said Obama threw ‘Christians under the bus’; the Daily Caller surmised that Obama’s remarks were designed to ‘curb’ criticism of Islam.
All of these critics failed to engage with the substance of what Obama was saying. The President was not attacking Christianity, he was simply noting that just as ISIS may be using the name of Islam to rally followers to its violent agenda, extremists within the Christian faith have done the same thing historically. Violence has been in the mainstream of Christianity throughout history.
If anything, Obama didn’t go far enough in his remarks. Christianist violence isn’t a relic of the Crusades; it continues today, and in many of its forms is just as violent as what we are seeing from ISIS.
He then lists a whole bunch of Christian atrocities, including genocide against Muslim Bosnians by Serbian Orthodox Christians, and refers to a 2013 study by a Middle East historian:
Juan Cole decided to compare the body counts between violence committed by Christians and that committed by Muslims in the 20th century. He found that Muslim violence has claimed the lives of around 2 million people, mostly during the Iran-Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan, while violence by Christians claimed the lives of close to 100 million people.
None of this is to argue that Christians are uniquely violent; that would be as wrong-headed as the Fox News argument about Islam’s insidiousness. It is just to point out that any large organization with enough people in it is capable of succumbing to tribalism, to the idea that our group is ‘good’ and other groups are ‘bad’ and should be feared, or disenfranchised, or even killed.
That’s as true of Christianity as it is Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or any large-scale ideology or religion. President Obama wasn’t wrong; if anything, he understated his case.