Corruptio Optimi Pessima

You’re right of course that there’s no Byzantine Empire. But as to whether it should, or shouldn’t, serve as a model for “a truly Christian society”—a pointer to the pattern “laid up in the heavens” (Republic, 592b)—that’s a larger issue. Surely Byzantium and the Carolingian Empire were in many important (I don’t say “all”) ways a much closer approximation to the Kingdom of God than the modern secular state. It wasn’t for nothing that Plato found democracy to be the second worst polis.

You’re also right when you say that “it’s impossible to find anything even close to the same justification for violence in the New Testament that one finds in the Koran”, though let’s be sure to add at once that “Muslims” who endeavor to rationalize terrorism on the basis of Koranic texts are able to do so only by taking those texts out of historical context and only by disregarding the all but unanimous consensus of the ‘ulam?’ concerning the principles of jihad and just war.

Be that as it may, I want to caution you to be very careful that you don’t end up comparing apples and oranges. Two points in particular come to mind:

1. If one is looking for scriptural justifications for violence, the Old Testament is surely at least as good a choice as the Holy Koran. To suppose that Allah is a “different” God, or a “false picture” of God—I’m referring here to your letter—is therefore to agree implicitly with the early heretic Marcion. It’s to say in effect that the God of the Old Testament is not really the Father of Jesus and hence that all New Testament allusions to the Old need expurgation. If I recall correctly, Marcion’s canon was limited to a highly edited Gospel of Luke and a few of Paul’s Epistles, likewise redacted with a view to eliminating even the most passing of references to the Bad God. This of course is not the Orthodox Christian position. On the contrary we see the Hebrew Bible as a preparatio evangelii, and we read it—when necessary—allegorically and anagogically, turning those Babylonian babies (Psalm 137:9) into demons, etc.

2. Here’s a more important point, though. You say that the New Testament is “significantly more pacific” than the Koran and that it thus lends itself far less readily to a “culture of violence”. Fair enough. But here again it’s apples and oranges. The worm in the Christian apple isn’t a tendency toward excessive rigor or force; it’s a tendency toward excessive tolerance—a tolerance no longer understood as simply patient forbearance in the face of undoubted error or sin, but now misidentified with mere mushy-mindedness and a perverse refusal to admit that sin even exists. There are many factors at work here, of course, but clearly one important cause of this refusal is the fact that an increasing number of Christians are content to focus on the command to “judge not” (Matthew 7:1) while forgetting that “I came not to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Sitting in my university office surrounded by many of the mushy-minded persuasion, I must confess there are days when I rather long for a return of the Byzantine army! And when the occasional brawl breaks out on the Holy Mountain and the monks at Esphigmenou start taking their semantra to the heads of the modernists, I can’t help but think that on some level they’re more “authentically Christian” than all the smiling ecumenists.

Needless to say, I’m not recommending violence, and I’m certainly not applauding the Muslim terrorists; they’ve clearly turned their scriptures to their own egos’ ends. My point is simply to remind you that it’s possible to misuse the Christian scriptures, too. What one gets as a consequence is that much-vaunted modern virtue called “being nice”, which practically speaking has become indistinguishable from the most cancerous forms of relativism. Corruptio optimi pessima. The Christian “equivalent” of the Wahhabist madrasahs or terrorist cells isn’t to be found in the basement of the isolated anti-abortionist bomber. It’s in the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and other liberal Protestant bodies. In Islam you get terrorists; in Christianity, Laodiceans, whom we are told God will “spew out of his mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

A closing question to ponder: Which would you say is the more lamentable? The thousands of bodies that have been killed by the terrorists, or the thousands—more likely millions—of souls that are being killed by the relativists?

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