I recently read an article by Frida Ghitis entitled “Why is ISIS so brutal?”. It was a penetrating analysis on so many levels – social, political, philosophical, and religious. ISIS takes brutality as their MO because it frightens the occupied people into submission, it taunts the rest of the world, and it intimidates soldiers to surrender, because if they are captured, there will not be negotiations on their behalf. It creates a religion of fear and hatred, while at the same time presenting this pathological higher goal which magnetizes those who are already hating the other.
I was impressed with her approach and methodology. When she was using a historical illustration, she was careful not to impugn. She landed in the Middle Ages with this quotation, “ISIS is not the first organization to use barbarism as a weapon of war; to use cruelty as a method of policy enforcement. In the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, an institutionalized effort to root out heresy and strengthen the hold of the Catholic Church and its allies, made it well known that those who did not fully comply with its wishes would suffer unspeakable punishments, from torture to being burned alive.”
On the pages of the history of Christianity, there are some events that will always haunt the Christian Church. One can always raise the following questions – If the church was Christian when these events occurred? Did the followers of Christ behave like the disciples of Christ when they committed some of these atrocities? One can talk about the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, and Holocaust.
In contrast with the careful analysis that Ghitis displayed in strictly presenting the Inquisition as example, other journalists and historians are pretty sloppy with their events, numbers, and facts.
One church historian specializing in the Crusades summarized his conclusion, “The crusades have been the wars that Christians did not start, the wars that Christians lost and the wars for which we have been blamed ever since.” What made him come to this conclusion? Reading documents on both sides. Reading the stories, the folklore, and the myths created around the many battles on the Moslem side and the Christian side. When one reads the stories of how high the blood was flowing on the battle fields, one comes to the conclusion that there have been times in which the barbarity of both sides was immeasurable.
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Another haunting event is the burning of witches in Christendom. Darrin Hayton, Professor of History at Haverford College, Philadelphia, talks about major avenues sensationalizing events. A documentary called “The Burning Times” was declared horrendously inaccurate by many historians. Yet after all of these poor reviews, New York Times still continues to cite it. In the documentary, the number of burned witches is 9,000,000. Most of the data shows that the highest estimate is 50,000. One can argue that one witch burned at the stake was one witch too many, but a film that calls itself a documentary and a prestigious newspaper publishes this data is sensational – nine million versus fifty thousand.
History is always interpretation based on events, facts, numbers, and people. Because we always interpret, it is of utmost importance to have accurate data when we talk about good or evil.