“… a demand for unlimited revenge …. is what Nietzsche says is the very basis for the violence of nihilism.”George Grant, Time as History. University of Toronto Press, 1995. p. 49.
“What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don’t let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery.”Galatians 5, verse 1, Complete Jewish Bible, trans. David Stern, 1998
For Vladimir Putin in March 2022, unlimited revenge on the West and the nasty world that has laid Mother Russia low since 1991 would be ultimate freedom. In that world, no blame or guilt lies on him or the band of ultra-rich oligarchs who have helped engineer Russia’s economic plight and political isolation. All is the fault of the Western Devil and its corrupt democratic tradition which dares raise the common masses to the level of full and equal citizenship (at least according to constitutional law) with the elites. If he can only get revenge by nihilistic total destruction including even of his own Motherland, he says he is prepared to venture it.
The West does bear some blame in this whole dreadful business on several counts. First, it sells a bogus dream of Utopia to itself and to outsiders wishing they could get in on the great prosperity train. Second, it engineers the game so that it is very hard to actually get in on anything like near-equal terms with the players already at the table. New players are expected to arrive with huge sums ready to ante to even sit in the game.
Beneath the West’s self-indulgent neon exterior, its cornerstone was once upon a time reputed to be Jesus and his first followers, notably Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul. Although the West has largely turned a deaf ear to its deep roots in Christianity, the ideal of freedom we are struggling to recover and renew stems directly from that source. Most Westerners no longer understand much of anything that that original call to freedom was really about-and it certainly wasn’t money or sitting on top of the power heap.
If Enlightenment disciples are miffed by my failure to extoll John Locke, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, and all the other noted philosophes, sorry to give offence, but Jesus and Paul trump them all when we go to the main taproot of the West’s soul. Once upon a time the West was boldly called “Christendom” in open recognition of this historic fact. Even the esteemed original philosophes of the 17th and 18th Centuries did not ignore their debt to the Nazarene, although their modern disciples tend to conveniently ignore (either deliberately or in actual ignorance of) that fact.
In his letter to the Galatians, before the resounding declaration on freedom quoted above, Saul-Paul had said, “… with the Messiah [Jesus] … there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus], you are all one.” (Chapter 4, verse 27-28) Two thousand years ago, Paul, basing his understanding on the life and teaching of Yeshua/Jesus himself, declared that when you enter the community of Jesus’ family of followers, the major factors that create injustice, inequality, oppression, and all their concomitant evils are eliminated in God’s eyes, and are also meant to be erased lin actual practice here in this world among the ekklesia.
No one will deny that, over the last almost 2000 years, the Christian ekklesia (a word badly translated from Greek into English as “Church” but which really connotes the assembly of all citizens who belong to the united community) has too often failed to live by these most basic principles. If the Christian ekklesia had substantially succeeded, I venture to say that the world we now live in would not be on the brink of World War Three, and would never have known Numbers One or Two either. But here we are.
The detractors of Christianity are zealous in their denigration of the long, difficult history of the uneasy symbiosis of Church and State in the West, perhaps rightly laying most of the blame at the door of the Church for the eventual divorce. However, secularist decrying of the “hypocrisy” of Church, Christian theology, and weak-willed Christians has grown old, tired, and as hypocritical as we are told the Churchified leadership of bygone ages always were denounced as being.
For the last two hundred years, the secular order, i.e., the “non-religious” social, economic, and political leaders claiming to operate and direct society and culture according the best Enlightenment principles, has held the reins across the West. They may still nod “Goodday, eh” at the Church occasionally in order not to scare too many regular folks off with their impiety. But the kingdom, the power and the glory have been theirs now for long enough to test the fruit of the new King-tree.
So let’s be completely honest about the historical record since 1789 and the French Revolution, the date when this new age of science and reason and ineluctable progress that was proclaimed to be ushered in by getting the Christians out of the way.
The record of war and revolution and mayhem and slaughter has not diminished in the least. In fact, it has been multiplied exponentially. Observe:
- French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815 – estimated 5-10 million dead;
- 19th Century Revolts and Revolutions (1824-30, 1830-1, 1848, 1861-65 [US Civil War], 1871) and wars of national unification (Italy and Germany) – 3-4 million dead
- Colonial expansionist conquests, massacres, and rivalry wars of the 19th C – 3-5 million dead
- Pre-World War 1 conflicts in the 20th C – 3 million dead
- World War 1, 1914-1918 – estimates vary wildly from 20-40 million dead, including famine and starvation directly related to this hecatomb
- Russian Revolution and later Sovietization – 10 million dead
- Stalinist purges – Gulag – 20-30 million dead
- World War 2 – 60-80 million dead (no real way to know given the immensity of scale and unaccounted massacres and slaughters)
- Korean War – 2-3 million dead
- Vietnam War – 3-4 million dead
- Chinese Civil War and Communist purges, Maoist “Cultural Revolution” – 40-60 million dead
- Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – 1.5 million dead
- etc., etc.
All the most terrible internecine wars of 1300 years of Christendom from circa 384 CE (when the Roman Empire became officially “Christian”) to the end of the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1648, the last European “War of Religion”, cannot even hold a candle to the appalling record of the last two hundred years since the effectual demise of Christendom and its replacement with government according to illuminati principles (as in lighted up by the great light of scientific, rational truth, not as some sort of secret elite society controlling everything) issuing from Enlightenment standards of elevating human society. Christendom at least faintly attempted to use Christian principles to direct national and international concerns. Today we have Machiavellian Realpolitik in its place, with no residue of honour and mutual recognition of a higher duty before the Maker to blunt the worst instincts in the souls of power-mad power-brokers.
To compare apples with apples, let us take the two darkest chapters in Christendom’s war-waging – the Crusades between 1096 CE and about 1300 CE – and the Wars of Religion between 1530 and 1648. There is no way to know with any real accuracy how many died in the multiple crusades launched by Medieval Europeans under Christ’s banner with the professed aim of reclaiming the Holy Land (Israel-Palestine) from Islam. It is fashionable to condemn these attacks on the Islamic world as unprovoked. It is forgotten that Islam seized those lands after conquering them by naked aggression against Christian States. Untold millions died in those Muslim wars of conquest between 634 CE and 1080 CE. The best guestimate is that the Christian drive to retake those lands probably cost another 3-4 million lives over the course of two hundred years.
In the Thirty Years War and other European Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation, another 10 million or so died in what amounted to a Western Christian Civil War. If we generously round all this up to 20 million or so Christians massacring one another or Muslims and Jews as heretics over the course of about 1400 years, it does not take a mathematical genius to calculate whether Christendom or Enlightenment Secularism with its toll of around 200 million (10 times as many) in one seventh the time has the greatest bloodlust and blood-guilt.
I am not advocating a return to an old Christendom. I am not excusing crimes against humanity perpetrated by leaders misusing Christ’s name. We do not need more religious judgmentalism and sectarianism. This discussion is not even about Christianity being superior to Enlightenment principles for building a just and compassionate society. I suspect we need both. It seems that when the two shun and despise each other, we end up in a terrible place. What we are both aiming for, so we say, is rediscovering the real sources of our ideals of freedom, and finding a sure foundation upon which to renew them.
Let us not falsely claim that we can be scientific about this. Let us have the courage to face our history and our real-life experience and find reconciliation and renewal together. Christians at their best have gifted the world with enormous benefits in compassion for the poor, the sick, the infirm, the oppressed, law reforms to care for the helpless and defenseless, education and health-care. The achievements of Christians and the ekklesia in these primary areas of building a real caring, compassionate culture and society far outstrip anything done by secular sources, setting aside direct government intervention. Even that has been largely done at the insistence and inspiration of the Ekklesia and voters inspired by the infinite compassion of Jesus.
But we also need the Enlightenment at its best to temper misbegotten religious zeal and spiritualized fanaticism and hold the Ekklesia and leaders, whether secular or Christian, at all levels and in all walks accountable. The Enlightenment points us to intelligent discovery of truth through God’s gifts of reason and science, based on the Creator’s order in Nature. However, these are crippled when separated from the Creator’s wisdom as to their true nature and purpose.