In August 2015 I watched (among others) three programs on Australian TV which as a Christian I found deeply disturbing. The programs in question dealt with the Crusades, Sex and the West, and the Inquisition. They were all implicitly shocking indictments of the church and all prompted serious questions.
First, in the 21st century even the Roman Church has apparently acknowledged that the Crusades were a massive mistake and in principle thoroughly unchristian. The very concept of Christendom waging holy war on Islam – an approach rejected by Jesus as John 6:15 and 18:36 indicate – stemmed from the Old Testament and inevitably involved the pursuit of an earthly as opposed to a heavenly kingdom. Medieval Catholicism clearly failed to appreciate the celestial nature of Christian citizenship (Phil. 3:20). While Dr Asbridge of London University recognizes that the Crusades were more complicated than is generally appreciated, he pulls no punches in describing the streets of Jerusalem bathed in blood by so-called ‘Christian’ soldiers. Yet it is they precisely who indulged in indiscriminate slaughter in their attempt to gain an illegitimate earthly prize.
Second, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford University takes an intriguing look at the so-called Christian attitude towards sex and rightly draws attention to the powerful but baneful impact of the views of the sin-obsessed Augustine of Hippo (d.430 AD). It is to the latter that we doubtless owe the malevolent notion of ‘carnal concupiscence’ which still haunts Catholicism in particular today and undergirds priestly celibacy. Noting how little Jesus said about sex, MacCulloch contrasts the historical church’s hostile and hypocritical interference in the sex lives of ordinary people with the love and compassion manifested by Jesus himself.
Third, Richard Felix and Andrew Gough examine the Inquisition and the persecution of putative heretics, including witches even in Protestant countries, which, they claim, continues even today in various forms. Though they do not trace the latter to Augustine, others do. For instance, D.L.Bock (Luke 9:51-24:53, Grand Rapids, 1996) commenting on Luke 14:23 where the word ‘compel’ is used, charges Augustine with misreading the imagery of this verse. He also alludes to J.A.Fitzmeyer’s (Luke, New York, 1985) claim that Augustine’s misinterpretation of this verse made him the spiritual father of the Inquisition. As a long-time critic of Augustine who crystallized the early church’s thinking on original sin, which properly understood is clearly contrary to biblical teaching, I myself readily attribute much of the error of the contemporary churches to an uncritical acceptance of his fallacious reasoning and his manifest misunderstanding of the Bible especially of Genesis 1-3 and the letter to the Romans.
The Present Day
This brings me to the chaotic situation facing us at the moment in September 2015. Why are the churches tarnished by such a gory and gruesome past? Why do they still support dogmas that have brought so much grief and trouble to ordinary people in the course of history? Why is it that the Roman Catholic Church has even today failed to accept the Reformation of almost 500 years ago, even though it was at best only a half-reformation in any case? The answer is of course its theology or its understanding of the Bible which is reputed to be the word of God and therefore our ultimate authority. I would argue that the so-called war between Christianity and modern science is largely the fruit of the Augustinian worldview. Fundamentalists and various other groups who charge modern science with falsity and seek to blame it for the church’s woes would do well to put their own house in order, for many of them accept without demur erroneous concepts palmed off on the churches by Augustine.
The Augustinian Worldview
It is worth asking at this point what this worldview involves and why it is so objectionable. Quite contrary to biblical teaching, many of the creeds and confessions of the mainline churches teach the original creation of a perfect physical world, a holy and righteous Adam and Eve our first parents, their sin and fall resulting in a cosmic curse under which we still labour as those who are even born sinful despite total animal-like ignorance, the need for the redemption of creation and its cleansing from sin, and so on. Clearly, so long as we believe this unbiblical nonsense we shall be forever at odds with the genuine findings of modern science. Not only are some of these ecclesiastical dogmas wrong when judged rationally and from a biblical point of view, they are also plainly ludicrous. What the churches have failed to realize is that the present earth as ‘hand-made’ (cheiropoietos) is defective by nature (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12). From the start, as Genesis 1:1 to go no further implies, it was subjected to futility by God himself and intended to be subdued or mastered by man as he sought to achieve heavenly perfection by his obedience (Gen. 1:26-28).
Challenging the Church
More than forty years ago before leaving England I wrote a lengthy book challenging the church and subjecting some of its cherished dogmas to radical criticism. Though I was fortunate enough to find the principal of a British theological college as my first reader and, in the event, supporter of my thesis, I was warned of difficulties finding a publisher. This timely warning has proved all too valid, and the chaos I myself warned of has finally come to fruition in the turbulent days we are presently experiencing especially in the religious realm. The errant churches including many of the publishers who batten on their errors have resisted any semblance of reformation. But while they dither, our world is falling apart. We move from one crisis to another without any sign of light at the end of the tunnel. Yet as Christians we are supposed to promote Jesus as the light of the world!
Over the years I have not merely indulged in gratuitous negative criticism of the church but have suggested positive alternatives to the erroneous dogmas that deform its image. This being so, it is high time that the churches were called to account and that room was made for genuinely Christian truth to be proclaimed. In pursuit of this objective I urge readers to peruse in particular my Challenging The Church and Augustine: Asset or Liability?, wrestle with some of the issues I deal with and call the churches’ bluff. The Bible may well be a best seller, but it is more than questionable whether it is the best read and best understood of books.
PS On finishing the above I have watched part of Bettany Hughes’ castigation of Augustine on her TV program Divine Women.