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December 18, 2020

Pop quiz. Who wrote: “Where there is terror, there is salvation. … Oh, merciful savagery!”

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Pop quiz. Who wrote: “Where there is terror, there is salvation. … Oh, merciful savagery!”

(Art by Carlos Ayala)

Lenin? Stalin? No, it was Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a still-influential Father of the Christian Church.

Reason I bring it up is because millions of my fellow Americans today are in thrall to delusions: that the presidential election was rigged; that Covid-19 does not exist, or was created to enrich doctors and Bill Gates (who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to eliminate contagious diseases).

The easy, short-term explanations for these mass delusions include:

• that our nation has a history of violent racism, and the Republican Party, in lockstep with their führer, has revived and unleashed it, in search of political power;

• that people, particularly White Christians, particularly across the Midwest and Great Plains, feel they have been “left out” of … prosperity? of something;

• that people are scared, and searching for a way out of … what? This life? Their life?

• that Republicans have crafted a more consoling “message” to unhappy people than Democrats have, and that human beings prefer consolation — of any sort, no matter how deluded — to facts;

• and that facts, of any kind (Sooner or later you’re going to die) can be canceled! (cancel culture) if only you believe. In what? Machts nicht.

I trace this human illness farther back than our history of slavery, and fear of revolts, farther back than our Jim Crow laws, and Republican voter suppression and fear of Black folks. I trace it back to the early Christian fanatics, and our country’s — and Western Europe’s — whitewashing of history.

Let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Christianity’s “conquest” of the West was achieved because the early Christians were the first sect in the Western World to demand to extirpation of people who thought differently than they did. Didn’t do anything: just thought.

Before Christians seized control of the Empire, with Constantine’s access to the throne, the conquering powers accepted their new subjects’ gods into the pantheon. No harm, no foul.

Constantine, the first Christian emperor (reigned 321-337) was the first lord of his domain, in the West, to try to suppress all other faiths.

He quickly issued edicts against “paganism,” which led in the centuries that followed to the extirpation of the Classical learning of Greece and Rome. Possession of a scroll by Democritus, or any other pre-Christian scientist or philosopher was punishable by death. If you did not surrender your scrolls or little statues to the Powers That Be, you could be executed. And your Christian neighbors were granted leave to enter your house and search it, and carry your belongings away, if they were “pagan.”

Under Justinian (482-565, emperor 527-565), if a nurse helped a young woman in her charge to pursue a love affair, the nurse was punished by having molten lead poured down her throat. Justinian ordained this, his historian Procopius wrote, to “close all the roads which lead to error.”

In his famous legal code, Justinian forbade anyone from teaching or propounding any “pagan” works — on pain of death. Socrates? Plato? Aristotle? You’re dead.

This led, remorselessly, to the nearly 1,000 years of enforced ignorance in Europe we call the Dark Ages.

“Search out the books of the heretics … in every place … [and] wherever you can, either bring them to us or burn them,” said the 5th century Syrian bishop Rabbula.

This idiocy, this zeal, survives in today’s Republican Party: a furious ignorance that rails against science and knowledge.

Seems to me that the Republican lawgivers who are still spouting nonsense about our recent presidential election are just as vicious, and deluded, and ignorant as those old Christians who still believed that the whole universe revolved around their Son.

It also seems to me that today’s Republican Party seems to revere one man as their God.

And it seems to me that that’s blasphemy.

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