Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Toleration Conquered the West

Have you ever considered why separation of church and state evolved, why we are more religiously tolerant today than in the past?

At one time, church and state intertwined and tolerance was a minority opinion. Even prior to establishment of a Constitutional Republic in the United States, there was quite a bit of church-state entanglement. The results were often bloody and always nasty. Even when only Protestant Christians had their rights respected, they frequently and repeatedly turned on one another even to the point of killing people for being the wrong kind of Protestant Christian. There was never a Judeo-Christian heritage, because the colonies routinely excluded Jews and Catholics from having legal rights and some colonies refused to allow either to settle there.

 Bloody persecution of Christians, by Christians, in the colonies, was mild in comparison to the centuries of bloodshed in Europe over which form of Christianity should be imposed on everyone. Martin Luther explained: “In a country there must be one preaching only allowed.” Other forms of preaching were considered rebellion and Luther spoke of how to deal with such matters: “Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly and openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel.” While the bloody history of Catholicism is well known, mainly due to publishing efforts of Protestants, the genocidal impulse in Protestantism has not been so duly noted.

Luther is a good example of Protestant intolerance. In 1525 he said Catholic mass should be forcibly suppressed as blasphemy. In 1530, he said Anabaptists should be put to death. In 1536, he said Jews should be forced out of the country. His view was that the State should enforce Christian teaching, more particularly Luther’s teachings, by force. “The public authority is bound to repress blasphemy, false doctrine and heresy, and to inflict corporal punishment on those that support such things.”

Many people today have no idea that Europe was plunged into a series of wars, over a period of about 150 years, all between competing sects of Christians intent on wiping out other forms of Christianity. The last such major war was the Thirty Years’ War, from 1618-1648. Direct and indirect casualties in the war amounted to between 15% and 30% of all Germans. In Czech areas, population declined by about one-third as a result of the war and as a result of diseases spread because of the conflict. It is thought that Swedish armies destroyed as many as one-third of all towns in Germany. Estimates are that this period of Christian conflict resulted in the deaths of 7 million people. R.J. Rummel estimates the death toll higher, at 11.5 million. An objective look at the history of Christian conflicts caused Prof. Perez Zagorin to conclude: “Of all the great world religions past and present, Christianity has been by far the most intolerant.” Even Aquinas, held up as an advocate of reason, said that if the state executed forgers it could “with much more justice” take heretics and “immediately upon conviction, be not only excommunicate but also put to death.” Zagorin says: “None of the Protestant churches—neither the Lutheran Evangelical, The Zwinglian, the Calvinist Reformed nor the Anglican—were tolerant or acknowledged any freedom to dissent.” [How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, Princeton University Press, 2003.]