I recently finished reading the book Constantine’s Sword – The Church and the Jews, laying out the historical account of Christian antisemitism and how that seeded a ground of separation and hate that made the Holocaust possible, if not inevitable. The author, James Carroll, is a liberal Catholic theologian who feels that his Church has to fully acknowledge its culpability and atone for its sins for the institution to continue as a vibrant faith community into the 21st century. With a good narrative style that weaves together the key events in history along with his own life’s story visiting the sites of much of that history, Carroll makes a compelling case for his religion to transform itself, simply stated, from an authoritarian to a more egalitarian institution. Some scholarly critics ding his book for relying on mostly secondary sources, sources that perhaps spin the history which Carroll then spins ever further, but his interpretation of that history certainly feeds in with my own.
His book nicely ties in with my own study of history and human civilization’s gradual transition from hierarchies of control (empires, slavery, monarchies, feudalism, etc) toward circles of equals (republics, democracy, universal human rights, etc). But in particular, it reinforces my contention, laid out in a previous piece, that religious belief and practice is not the source of hatred, violence and war, but religion as an institution has been hijacked by an older more sinister dogma of patriarchy, that torques it into an instrument of domination and control, leading to that hatred, violence and war.
I am neither Jew nor Christian, nor believer in any deity. But as a student of history and the continuing story of human development, one cannot fully understand that history and that story without factoring in spiritual beliefs and practices, and the institutionalized religions that grow out of them. And particularly for those of us who champion the cause of progressivism, democracy, pluralism and the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, I think it is critical to realize what we are really fighting against. Not people’s attempts to find a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives through religious practice, but instead an ancient paternalistic order, perpetuated through the millennia, that promotes a world view of fear, scarcity and “us and them” thinking that invariably leads to hate, violence and coercive control.
Please note, that like the author Carroll, it is not my goal to dis the Catholic Church or its hierarchy as some sort of conspiracy theory bogeyman for all the ills of society, though I’m concerned some may take my piece that way. But the authority wielded by a Church hierarchy as witnessed and documented by Carroll that has maintained itself consistently over 1500 years is a notable instance of a “successful” patriarchal institution that continues to perpetuate itself from generation to generation. There are many other ways that the patriarchal “who’s your daddy?” world view propagates itself, but this perhaps is an instance that is most straightforward and easily recognized.