Sullivan’s historical illiteracy

A quote from Andrew Sullivan:

But history shows that Christianity, when pressed, will murder and burn and torture countless people to enforce orthodoxy. We live in kinder, gentler times, and Christianity experienced a Reformation, a Counter-Reformation and even the Second Vatican Council in ways that Islam sadly has not. And so regular Muslims are far closer to Islamists than many Christians are to Christianists.

Daniel Larison’s reply:

Has it come to this? Has basic historical knowledge fallen to such a pitiful state that these sorts of statements can be made in earnest by allegedly educated people? Someone who believes that any Christian authority killed “countless people” to enforce orthodoxy reveals himself as an ignoramus. That’s all there is to it. In the entire history of the Inquisition–the longest and bloodiest enforcement of any orthodoxy in Christian history–the number of those executed over six hundred years was on the order of 9,000 people. The American government has accidentally killed more Iraqis than that in the last three years for their own liberation (which Sullivan supported), so can we be spared the faux morality of whining about Christian fanatics killing the heterodox? I take St. Theodore Studites’ view that it is wrong to kill heretics for their heresy, as it deprives them of a chance to abandon heresy, but even so 9,000 is not “countless people.”

The essential difference between the restorative rationales of early Protestantism and an Islamic movement like Wahhabism or the Northern Indian Islamic revival of the 17th century is the difference between the kinds of original religion they were trying to restore: on the one hand, the early Apostolic Church and its proper teachings, and on the other the followers and armed doctrine of Muhammad. But the restorative mentality is the same, and it is one that Mr. Sullivan would (and does) find regressive and offensive. For him to speak favourably of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the same breath with Vatican II reveals him to be a breathtakingly ignorant person on the subject of Christian or, indeed, general European history.
He speaks of the Reformation as if it were some sort of moderating influence, and he seems to think that Reformation and Counter-Reformation helped to separate religion from politics. To put it bluntly, Sullivan could not pass a college early modern European history course with such a confused understanding of these fundamental transformations of Christianity. Islam has experienced reform and revival movements frequently; it is simply that the original form and original life of Islam do not improve with revisions and no number of “returns” to the original can possibly improve upon something so basically flawed.

Ouch.

Comments are closed.