A True History of Christianity

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by Matt Kaufman

I hate to start a column by talking about Bill Clinton, because this column is not about him. But as so often happens, he's provided an irresistible anecdote to lead into what I do want to talk about. It happened at Georgetown University in November, when the ex-president threw in his opinion of why Sept. 11 happened; America was paying the price for its history of slavery and genocide of the Indians, and Christendom was paying the price for committing massacres during the First Crusade some 900 years ago.

Now I'm never one to suggest we can't all use some reflection on our sins, or some historical perspective on the roots of current events. Trouble is, citizen Clinton has offered us neither. He's publicly repenting, as he so often does, of other people's sins — vast groups of long-dead people, at that. And he's radically simplifying history by promoting the myth that the reason so many Muslims hate Christians is because Christians started the fight in days of yore.

In fairness, Clinton probably believes the myth, because he went to college in the 1960s. By then, one admittedly distorted view of Western and American history — taught, as someone has said, "in the spirit of national self-congratulation" — had been replaced by one even more distorted, in which Westerners played history's villains, cruelly despoiling pristine native cultures around the world. And the ultimate villain was Christianity. Christianity, it was said, launched endless bloody wars ("More people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than any other name in the history of the world," author Gore Vidal said. Christianity condoned slavery. Christianity fostered Hitler. Christianity oppressed science (remember Galileo). And so on … and on.

Where does the truth lie? Somewhere between these views, of course — but decidedly closer to the older view than to the newer one…

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