Why do I write about Christian history? Reading time: About 5-6 minutes.
Like multitudes of Americans, I am deeply concerned about the increasing polarization of our society. I’m far from alone in seeing that one of the main causes for this is misinformation—lies, exaggerations, and reliance on the wrong authorities for information. I believe the lack of knowledge of Christian history is a large component of this misinformation.
Whether it’s Catholic verses Protestant, Democrat against Republican, or liberal versus conservative, if you go back far enough, I’m convinced that most of our differences stem from questionable interpretations of Christian scripture and an ignorance of history.
Not only does each verse of the Bible have alternative interpretations, but so does each priest or minister who delivers that verse to their congregations. Differences in scriptural interpretation does not have to lead to hatred and villainization, but sadly, they do. An example is the issue of slavery and racial relations in the US. Before the Civil War, both Abolitionists and slaveowners collected Bible verses to justify their causes. If they hadn’t been so focused on quoting dueling scripture verses, maybe they could have agreed that, following the Golden Rule, slavery was inhumane and should be ended. There was no need for a Bible for that resolution, only empathy.
And abortion. Look at all the wasted energy and all the hostility and personal trauma that results from some people’s interpretation of the Bible and trying to force that subjective interpretation on others. Instead of scripture, why not use that same concept of empathy to aide those in need of help. I feel that religion often makes people who are empathetic at heart act cruelly toward others.
Why study history?
Although history can be such a fascinating subject, most Americans find it boring. That’s because they have bad memories of high school history lectures that had almost no relevance to their lives. But exploring history can be stimulating if you have the right teacher and focus. Curricula in our country should emphasize how historical events affect current events, because they always do. Educators and politicians should not conceal past wrongdoing just because it might embarrass those living in the present. It’s only by being honest and exposing past errors that our society can become more moral.
When I study history, I learn about so much about other subjects–sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography, and more. I better understand how our civilization developed and can sympathize with how our predecessors had to get by without all the conveniences and knowledge we have now. History can be so incredibly entertaining and at times even humorous. Exploring history has never been easier because of the internet. We can verify almost any fact within minutes. Once reason I write is frequently I am so fascinated with what I learn that I want to share it with others.
The Results of orthodox belief
In my book, I went out of my way to point out the endless tragic examples of Christians at odds with each other. No matter how minor the differences seemed to be, the reactions were often severe enough to cause hostility and permanent divisions in the Church.
I think we can all agree that God made everyone unique, with the capacity to develop and voice their own unique thoughts. If God wanted everyone to think the same way, don’t you think God would have created us that way? Orthodox Christianity has tried to force all Christians to think the same way, and it’s been a disaster. Without orthodoxy, there would have been no heresy.
How inspired are Church doctrines?
To make headway, we must realize that even if biblical scripture is thought to be “inspired” by God, that was just at the starting line. Once written or dictated to a scribe, Christians hand copied documents for over 1,400 years, leading to many errors and changes. The works also had to be translated from Hebrew to Greek, and from Greek to Coptic, Syriac and Latin before any lasting Church doctrine could be formalized. After the translation, scripture had to be interpreted by those from different cultures in order to establish doctrines and teach them to others. We know that didn’t go well because there are thousands of different interpretations of scripture which have led to innumerable Christian and quasi-Christian denominations. Each step along this process introduced more scriptural errors and criticism of those who interpreted it differently. People decontextualized scripture, resulting in combinations of verses by different writers being welded into a single doctrine. How can anyone believe that what is taught in churches today is anywhere close to the original message? Much of this process shows no inspiration from God.
That’s the point. No one is certain what was in those original scriptures so no one should be confident about anything they are taught about Christianity from them. But, following the historical, extra-biblical evidence can lead to a more genuine Christian faith, and that’s the purpose of my writing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s ok, even good, if people disagree on the meaning of scripture as long as they can debate the meaning instead of fight over it.
My goal in my writing is to share actual Christian history so readers won’t have to rely on ancient myths and subjective interpretations as their guidelines. One of my former pastors admitted to me that he believed many Old Testament stories were myths and legends generated by human minds to knit people together and set guidelines for societies.
An Ignorance of history is a tremendous problem in the US. Most Americans don’t have a good grasp of their own country’s history and are woefully unaware of world history. That lack of knowledge causes people to repeat the mistakes of the past, leading to endless spirals of wasted effort and needless suffering. My goal is to help facilitate an informed Christian faith based on historical facts rather than hopes, wishes, and archaic writings.
I am not telling anyone to stop believing in God or abandon their religion. Other writers will do that, but that’s not my agenda. I just want to make a small contribution to ratcheting down the hatred and mistrust between people. Ideally, I want to see all religions living in a peaceful coexistence, and if people decide they don’t want to follow any religion, they shouldn’t be coerced into doing so. I know I sound like a dreamer, but I’d rather try to solve this serious problem than ignore it.
I could have named my book differently—In Search of Compassion, In Search of Cooperation, In Search of Acceptance, or In Search of Toleration. They all would have aligned with my true goals.
If I only wanted to bash Christianity, as some people apparently think I do, my subtitle would have been “The bad and the ugly,” but I didn’t call it that. I called it “The good, the bad, and the ugly.” Whenever I discovered events that showed Christians acting in kind-hearted and humanitarian ways, I pointed that out.
The actions of average Christians
As I wrote in the book’s introduction, I couldn’t find much evidence of good deeds performed by average Christians because they usually aren’t in the historical record. Obviously, many Christians did wonderful things based on their individual characters. But that happens in all religions and societies. No one can ever know how much people contributed to charitable causes just because they were Christians. On the other hand, it was very easy to find average Christians doing horrible things because of the way their religious leaders programmed and used them. How could average, spiritually ignorant people resist doing what their clergyman or political leaders told them was God’s will?
In Medieval Europe, from roughly the sixth through sixteenth centuries, average people had no choice other than being ignorant Christians. First, they had to be Christians in order to avoid the Church’s punishment. And second, the Church kept them ignorant by not allowing them access to education. The average person couldn’t read or write because they had nothing to read. Hand-copied scripture was too costly for the average person. Also, the European churches only allowed scripture to exist in Greek and Latin for the use of clergy and monks. We may assume that common Christians knew about the compassionate things that Jesus taught in the Gospels. But maybe they weren’t aware of any of that. Maybe that’s why they were easily led astray to harm others. They only knew what they were told.
When my editor, who is a Christian, reviewed my manuscript before publication, I was very insistent that she point out any signs of bias, or wording that could be taken as insulting. If she found anything like that, which she occasionally did, I tried my best to correct it.
I tried to be obsessive about reporting only true or probable historical events. I know that much of what I presented will clash with what many Christians have been taught. Because of that, many will undoubtedly take offense. That’s because many Christians, including my younger self, were not taught historical truth. Our religious teachers only taught us what was in ancient writings and Church doctrines based on those writings.
Anyone who disagrees with the historicity of an event in my writing can look it up elsewhere for confirmation. I’ll never say I’m perfect, so if I wrote something that wasn’t true, please contact me through this website.