By Dan Vojir | 18 October 2010
Like it or not, the concept of bullying has been with man since the very beginning of his existence. We called it “survival of the fittest,” to rationalize terrorizing the weaker species. During ancient times, bullying took the form of slavery. It took the form of victors lording it over vanquished: male rape was seen as an excellent form of bullying as well as slavery, which, if one thinks about it, is perhaps the ultimate form of bullying. In the Bible, the ultimate bully was embodied in Goliath, the man-mountain whom the Philistines sent out to daily harass and taunt the Hebrew armies. Some people argue, however, that the ultimate bully was the God of the Old Testament. Israel was His schoolyard. Look what He did to poor, defenseless Job!
On a bet with Satan.
Size and strength characterized bullies whether in personal size or number of soldiers in an army: Napoleon and Hitler were considered bullies by the relatively defenseless Eastern European countries: when Neville Chamberlain waved the paper treaty with Hitler in front of the Britons and declared “peace in our time,” the Czechs cowered with the thoughts of the bully German army — which did, in fact, march into Czechoslovakia days later.
Whatever the form, however, bullying was always a state of the strong ruthlessly handling the weak.
Religious bullying is not new: if you think of one sect purposely taunting, terrorizing, then ultimately killing off another sect as bullying, then you’re right. The first case of western civilization genocide was the bullying, then annihilation of the Cathars of Southern France. They were different than anyone else, wore different clothes, worshipped not in churches but out in fields, did not eat meat, did not believe in hierarchy such as bishops and were extremely good to their neighbors. Naturally, the pope hated them.
To publicize their heresy, they were forced by the Church to wear yellow crosses sewn onto their tunics (demonstrating that Hitler wasn’t very original) and routinely had their hands cut off, the only reason being that the church considered them heretics. Their numbers continued to grow despite the vicissitudes imposed on them, until the pope had a plan: get together with the king of France, Louis the VIII, take their lands and simply eradicate them. That’s when the battle cry above was born: while besieging the city of Beziers, one of Louis’ commanders asked the papal legate how he could tell the 200 Cathars from the rest of the 15,000 Christian citizens of Beziers. The legate’s answer went down in history: “Kill them all — God will take care of his kind.” Louis and Clement’s strategy claimed approximately 120,000 lives over a period of some 20 years, becoming the first genocide in modern history. It was known, of course, as the Albigensian “Crusade.”
Revisionist “historians” of Christianity always seem to overlook the Albigensian Crusade, perhaps because it not only stained the church of the Middle Ages but because it also gave rise to another dark era of religious bullying: The Inquisition. For hundreds of years, men like the legendary Torquemada carried out the bullying of Jews and Moors (Muslims) in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and scattered places across the rest of Europe
I remember the evening I went to see the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. A nun was holding a makeshift sign that said “Lies, lies, lies!” But while the movie focused on the Church organization, Opus Dei, it did not touch upon the Albigensian Crusade to any substantial degree. That was, to me, the typical philosophy touted by almost all of America’s religious leaders: never admit to anything and never, ever apologize. And if you have to apologize, do it when people won’t remember what you’re apologizing for. The Vatican recently apologized to a very dead Gallileo for imprisoning him, and the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its part in the institution of slavery 140 years after the U.S. condemned and abolished the inhumane practice.
Just how many religious people in America know of the “dark side” of their religion? The percentage would be closer to “0” than you think. Today’s religion and yesterday’s history aren’t exactly friends, which is why we’re seeing revisionists cropping up, so that people of faith need not apologize for anything. One wonders if people actually know about the first Christian theologian — Tertullian — and his last-minute conversion to Montanism or that many of the Vandals and Visigoths sacking Rome were Arian Christians. How they would react to the stories about the concentration camps for pagans in Skythopolis, Syria? Or the persecution of heretics? And for the last hundred years little has been made about Martin Luther’s horrendous anti-Semitism (he wrote the seminal work, On The Jews and Their Lies).
Other instances of religious demonizing, then bullying, were the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (40,000 “heretical” French Protestants massacred in one day), Native American Indian slavery (“ungodly heathens” forced to build and work on the California Missions — approximately 50,000), and Chatila (massacre of 1500 Muslims by Christian Phalangists). Bullying on a continuous scale came in the form of The Crusades (millions of Jews and Muslims killed in an untold number of major wars, minor wars and massacres), Charlemagne’s forced conversions of the Saxons (legend of Widukind) and in later years, the Russian pogroms and massacres of Jewish villages and settlements.
The worst incident at demonizing in history? There are so many, but arguably the most vile was the “Blood Libel” of the Jews, so strongly entrenched into the European psyche that it took hundreds of years to convince Christians that Jews did not kill gentile children to drink their blood for secret ceremonies. (By the way, this gave rise to the Jewish Legend of the Golem.)
Many people were demonized during the “Age of AIDS” (1982-2000). PWAs (People With AIDS — primarily gay men) were the new lepers since during the first years medical establishments and health organizations were uncertain about how contagious the virus was. There were a few faith-based agencies in San Francisco during the beginning and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles stepped up to the plate in 1986, but so very many churches abstained from doling out compassion. They just weren’t up to the courage of Father Damien.
The Christian Right’s eagerness to demonize gays, politicians and non-Christians became evident with the like of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. Of course, statements from people like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms didn’t hurt either:
Sen. Jesse Helms says the government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct,” The New York Times reported Wednesday….
— I have a zero tolerance for sanctimonious morons who try to scare people.
— I know one man who was impotent who gave AIDS to his wife and the only thing they did was kiss.
Such was the fervor of the Moral Majority at the time, that it seemed as if they danced in the streets while people were dying in the streets: “Thank you God, you have sent a plague to our enemies.”
THE LAST HOLDOUT?
Probably the most obvious (and the most vicious) holdout as far as demonizing PWAs is concerned is the powerful Southern Baptist Convention. Almost thirty years after the start of the epidemic, the SBC still cannot point to the sponsorship of any faith-based agency dealing with AIDS … in this country. They lauded Mike Huckabee in 1996 when he wanted to quaranteen PWAs (the casual contact theory had been disproven years before then, but Huckabee still pushed the quarnateen — to his own embarrassment years later). Today, they still follow Jesse Helms dictum that helping AIDS victims in Africa was fine because they were “all heterosexuals” while all AIDS victims in America were perverted sodomites.
 Scholar Steven Runciman wrote: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed … the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”
 I may be wrong on this since my research is over a year old.
Dan Vojir has been writing/blogging on religion and politics for the better part of ten years. A former radio talk show host and book publisher, Vojir has connected with some of the most interesting people of our time: Steve Allen, William F. Buckley, Alan Ginsburg, Armisted Maupin, Anne Rice, Grace Slick, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Patricia Nell Warren, and Betty White.
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