Things We Don’t Do In Church Anymore

Courtesy of Benjamin Kaplan, from Divided by Faith, who writes:

Churches were also practical structures. Not just places of worship, they were communal property with myriad uses.

Which, citing a study of churches in post-Reformation England, included:

In 1612 at Woburn, the curate baited a bear in church; 25 years later, also in Bedfordshire, there were cockfightings on three successive Shrove Tuesdays in Knottingly church, round the communion table. The minister and churchwardens were also present.

And for the poor pastor who needed some extra to make ends meet:

Gendulphus van Schagen, the impoverished pastor of Laar, a Flemish village, grew vegetables and raised hens, pigs, and doves in his churchyard. Parishioners complained to the archbishop only after his doves hit them with droppings during services and his hens laid eggs on the church’s altars.

Bear baiting and cockfighting! Around the altar! Now there’s a project for an enterprising pastoral intern!

Tolerance Versus Toleration

Ahh, I am back to the reading of serious books and commenting on them. I can see that in order to maintain sanity wherever I end up, it will have to be within spitting distance of a proper university library. By proper, I mean humanities.

I troll the new books at the seminary library, and occasionally find some gems. Last book I reviewed for Lew Rockwell, this book I’m not going to wait so long (like I had a running commentary on the Germany book, which I never did finish…) to comment on this one, DIVIDED BY FAITH: RELIGIOUS CONFLICT AND THE PRACTICE OF TOLERATION IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE by Benjamin Kaplan, an (an?) historian at University College in London and the University of Amsterdam.

Kaplan seeks to explain the rise of “tolerance” as an ideology in Europe more organically, from lived life rather than as an idea that arose out of nothing. One of the problems of doing intellectual history, or the history of ideas, is that it’s easy to focus on one or several important thinkers who created an idea out of whole cloth. For example, in dealing with what I call Revolutuionary Islam, is it easy (and necessary) to focus on Sayyed Qutb, Maulana Maududi and Abdullah Azzam as the influential creators and thinkers, but this ignores how the idea spread — newspaper editors, preachers, discussion groups, all spending time thinking, reflecting and talking about the ideas, mashing them together, creating a synthesis from which they acted (particularly in Afghanistan, where all these strains, plus others, came and were woven together). But it’s hard work trying to do that kind of social excavation, given that newspapers decay rather rapidly, and so much of this is done orally, in sermons and speeches and conversations. Kaplan is trying to do this for tolerance. Good for him. I’m 55 pages into this book and it’s absolutely fascinating reading.

Today’s topic — persecution. Kaplan has this to say about the role of coercion within the church:

Protestants and Catholics were both heirs to a heritage of Christian thought that legitimized persecution. Dating back to antiquity, that heritage had been shaped by one individual more than any other, the church father Augustine of Hippo. A reluctant persecutor, for years Augustine has counseled the church against resorting to force in its struggle with the Donatists, and to the end of his days he rejected applying torture or the death penalty to heretics. In his later writings, though, he offered a justification for lesser forms of coercion that became a fixed part of Catholic dogma and was taken over by Protestants as well. For Augustine, persecution was a form of tough love. “Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:14, [JPS Tanakh: Beat him with a rod and you will save him from the grave,” in reference to the training of a child]), he quoted. Like a father who chastised his son, a shepherd who drove wandering sheep back into the fold, of God who sent tribulations to his chosen people, the church persecuted the wayward for their own good. Skillful application of corrective discipline could return heretics to the church, outside which there was no salvation. Leaving heretics mired in error condemned them to damnation. The one was therefore an act of Christian love, the other of uncaring neglect. In 1582 a Calvinist synod phrased the argument thus: “Regarding Christian love, it does not consist in having to tolerate every person in his disbelief without speaking against it or punishing him … He too uses love who admonishes and instructs with soft and hard words, as the need demands … The Reformed church cannot exempt [a person] from God’s law nor teach anything else … or promise anyone freedom and salvation except those to whom God has promised them. Therefore, ministers do not neglect love in tolerating and admonishing where proper, and punishing in accord with God’s ordinance where it is necessary.” Augustine found support for this argument in various passages of scripture, most notably the parable of the banquet in the Gospel of Luke (14:15-24). Spurned by his invited guests, a householder welcomed the poor and maimed to his meal, and when there still remained room around the table he ordered his servants to “go out to the highways and hedges, and whomsoever ye shall find, compel them to come in.” The banquet Augustine compared to “the unity of the body of Christ,” the highways and hedges to “heresies and schisms.”

To be sure, Augustine conceded, no one could force a person to believe anything. This principle had been firmly established by earlier church fathers, among them Tertullian. Faith, the latter asserted, was an internal conviction that no coercion could generate. It was therefore “against the nature of religion to force religion.” Augustine argued that one could at least make heretics listen to the truth, ponder it, and reconsider their views. Many people remained mired in error out of custom, negligence, or obstinacy. Such persons needed to be “shaken up in a beneficial way by a law bringing upon them inconvenience in worldly things.” Persecution could serve a valid pastoral function by making people amenable to instruction. Although it could not convince of its own power, wrote Anglican theologian Jonas Proast in 1690, it could “bring men to consider those reasons and arguments which are proper and sufficient to convince them, but which, without being forced, they would not consider.”

I find it interesting that a bit of Proverbs (a book I don’t like anyway) about the training and disciplining of a child is applied to wayward members of the church. The idea that adults are somehow “children” in need of violent discipline when they stray, and need to be forced to consider ideas they might not otherwise, is pernicious. There is no end of evil this can be used for, especially when the “state” becomes the great family and whoever is sovereign over the state becomes daddy, and we that daddy’s children.

But what kind of love — and I mean real, honest, compassionate concern for the well being of others — that pretends to care so much that it will inflict pain and suffering in order to prevent an allegedly worse outcome: eternal damnation? There is a vast amount of confidence in one’s righteousness there, to inflict pain and suffering — even death — for such a cause. This isn’t love, not really. It’s sentimentality, the kind of emotion that leads the humanitarian to reach for the guillotine (to borrow from Isabel Paterson) when the intended recipients of help, aid and betterment refuse. Love gives, but it does not compel. Not ever.

(Remember, other adults in a community or society are not your children.)

But there’s one more thing. To inflict this kind of pain, to compel others, requires someone to do the compeling, to inflict the pain. It is all well and good for someone to ache over the misguidedness or suffering of others and propose a solution, but who will get their hands dirty? Who will turn the wheels on the rack? Who will shoulder the rifle? The liberal who aches to save Darfur will end up wanting to send some (perhaps many) soldiers to the place who have nothing but contempt — ugly, racist contempt — for the people they are saving (and shooting). In order for the church to compel, it must make common cause, must employ and cultivate and promote and protect, sadists, who live to be cruel, to turn the wheel, to shoulder the rifle and pull the trigger. That God uses all means possible does not mean we should. Sadists have enough job opportunities — as school teachers, police officers, spies, soldiers and the like — without the church also needing their skills and talents.