Christianity and the Strong Arm of the Law: Do the religious not trust themselves?
Christianity has had, since its inception, an obsession with moulding the law to subjugate entire populations to the tenets of the faith. By the year 321 Constantine had criminalized work on Sundays, prohibited Jews from stoning those who left the Jewish religion for Christianity and required all soldiers to gather on Sundays to recite a prayer to the ‘almighty God’. In 323 the emperor imposed a law against idol-worship, statues, divination, and against pagan sacrifices. In 332 Constantine forbade heretical groups to assemble. Their buildings were to be surrendered to the catholic church*. From then to now a barrage of prohibitions and restrictions have been thrust upon the public- and it is here we must ask: Why? Legalizations force no one to behave in any particular way. They leave each individual the choice to look at issues and arrive at their own conclusions. The need to involve the law in matters of faith can only be evidence that either Christians don’t trust themselves or they do not trust each other. Further, it is evidence Christians wish to interfere with the freedom of religion of others by obstructing the rights of free citizens to choose their own faith or no faith at all.
(*For a complete list of 4th Century Imperial Laws regarding religion click here)
Over the centuries that followed early Christianity, the church was involved in all manner of arbitrary prohibitions, including on issues such as abortion. In the 5th century St. Augustine wrote of the “delayed soul” (originally an Aristotelian concept), this meant males were “given a soul” 40 days after conception, females only received theirs on the 90th day. In practical terms it meant abortion within the first 3 months of pregnancy was permitted. St. Geronimus on the other hand stated that an abortion was only wrong once the fetus retained a clearly human appearance (4th month). In the 12th century the church introduced new terminology to define the theories of both St. Geronimus and Augustine, fetus animatus and fetus inanimatus.
Pope Sixtus V was the first pope to entirely prohibit abortion (in canon law), but his successor Pope Gregory XIV went back to the animatus/inanimatus theory, and prolonged the period of abortion to 116 days. It was actually only in 1869 when the church turned its back on its history and omitted the animatus/inanimatus concept from canon law hence taking an absolutist and generalized stance against abortion (with the short exception of Sixtus V’ths 3 years of power). I’d make a joke on Papal Infallibility here, except the Papl Infallibility doctrine was also only defined at that same point in time: 1869.
The example above is merely an illustration of the erratic nature of religious belief. One that on the grounds of erraticism alone should not be used as a parameter of morality or ethics.
Today we continue to see various factions of Christianity still involved in attempting to coerce society into following the tenets of their faith through the proposal of blanket prohibitions- rather than following the tenets of their faith themselves. The New Statesman’s exchange involving Cristina Odone and Robin Ince is a prime example. Under the guise of defending something that has never been under attack, Ms. Odone wants to celebrate a conference designed exclusively to attack the lgbt community and gay unions. Her right to marry heterosexually is alive and well- but as history has shown, that’s not enough for a certain sector of Christians. They feel the need to bring down the strong arm of the law because their belief system, obviously, can’t withstand scrutiny or reason. It cannot stand alone. To this end, we have seen a steady decline in Christian belief and practices in countries like Spain and France where they can no longer dangle the sword of Damocles over the heads of those who who refuse to subject themselves to archaic and ignorant Christian mythology.
And before the Christian-du-jour leaves a comment saying I wouldn’t speak the same way of Islam (a shameless and oft-used attempt to deflect), let me correct you: I would, and I do. Along the same lines of everything written above, is the equally appalling case of Maajid Nawaz and Mo Shafiq. Mr. Shafiq isn’t fighting for his right to not depict his prophet, he’s fighting to obstruct other free citizens rights to depict whatever and whomever they choose- all on the very shaky argument of his right not to be offended.