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Fatuous History & Real World Policy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 10 April 2008 08:34
More evidence, here in Colorado Springs, of our complex times. From our local Gazette:

The Air Force Academy's decision yesterday to not show clips from a film deemed "anti-Catholic" in the midst of a presentation designed to argue that the US military is not an agent of a Christian crusade against Islam.

The film was Constantine's Sword, which I will get to in a moment.

"The seminar, titled "USA's War on Terror: Not a Battle Between Christianity and Islam," was delayed 25 minutes while academy representatives debated whether to show the controversial footage, which reportedly included scenes involving alleged religious discrimination at the academy between 2003 and 2005.

The speakers were former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Iraq war; Islamic scholar Reza Aslan; and academy graduate Mikey Weinstein, who sued the Air Force in 2005 for allegedly encouraging Christian evangelicals to proselytize to cadets. The case was dismissed before going to trial.

Wednesday's event, which was not open to the public, was organized to counter charges of bias from the Muslim community and others after a February seminar at the academy in which cadets heard speakers claiming to be former Islamic terrorists who characterized Islam as a dangerous religion.

Wednesday's speakers, by contrast, argued that the U.S. military's embracing of Christianity sends the message to Arabs that the Iraq war is not about freeing Iraqi people but about converting the Muslim world to Christianity."

The film wasn't shown because the Academy received several phone calls warning about the film's "anti-Catholic" nature. Cause it wouldn't do to seem to be anti-Catholic while attempting to prove that you aren't anti-Muslim. One can sympathize with the organizers trying to negotiate respect toward all possible religious constituencies involved.

And now about Constantine's Sword, due out April 19. I haven't noticed a lot of Catholic bloggers picking up on this film coming out unlike the incessant talk and books about the Da Vinci Code. Naturally, the Pope's visit is looming on everyone's horizon. Was the debut during the Pope's visit intentional? Hmmmm. Is it too small a media blip to take seriously? Is the book too fatuous to take seriously? (Post-Da Vinci code, we know the answer to that one.) Do we think that major media types won't notice?

Constantine's Sword is being presented as a "documentary" . The synopsis from the film's website:

"Constantine’s Sword is the story of James Carroll; a former Catholic priest on a journey to confront his past and uncover the roots of religiously inspired violence and war. His search also reveals a growing scandal involving religious infiltration of the U.S. military and the terrible consequences of religion’s influence on America’s foreign policy.

Carroll focuses on Christian antisemitism as the model for all religious hatred, exposing the cross as a symbol of a long history of violence against Jews (and, most recently, Muslims). The film brings the history of religious intolerance to life, tracing it as a source of the fanaticism that threatens the world today. At its core, Constantine’s Sword is a compelling personal narrative — a kind of detective story — as one man uncovers the dark areas of his own past, searching for a better future.

The number of screenings scheduled is incredibly small at present - mostly in the LA area, including the LA film festival. It also seems to be making the rounds in liberal main-line non-Catholic circles:

On Monday, March 10th, a giant screen was set up in the nave of the National Cathedral in Washington where over 500 people watched the film, then rose for a standing ovation. The previous day, James Carroll was the featured speaker at the Cathedral’s Sunday Forum with Dean Samuel Lloyd. The film received a similar reception at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, The University of California Santa Barbara, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., Suffolk University in Boston and Westminister College in Salt Lake City.

Discussions of the book, which came out in 2001, had already made the rounds of places like Harvard's Divinity School. (Note, not Harvard's history department!)

Like Dan Brown, the author is a novelist, not a historian. Thomas Noble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, has a thorough, damning review of the book in the May, 2001, issue of First Things:

"Carroll’s central thesis is that a generation or two after the life of Christ, a series of authors, the men we know as the evangelists, decided that it was better to get along with the powerful Romans than the despicable Jews and scripted the first version of the blood libel. That is, they made the Jews the murderers of Christ. They pulled off this clever feat by historicizing the prophecies of the Old Testament in such a way as to make Jesus Christ appear to be the Messiah. Moreover, they recorded the “intuition” of the apostles and disciples that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ contemporaries actually only believed that Jesus’ love survived him, but as they gradually shifted from praying for him to praying to him they invented the story of his resurrection. So, in Carroll’s telling, the evangelists not only blamed the Jews for killing the man Jesus but for killing the Messiah. Carroll assures us that this account must be true because Crossan and the Jesus Seminar say so. Along the way Carroll cavalierly dismisses Raymond Brown, mentions a few other scholars with whom he has had conversations, and cites as his authority on Christology Rosemary Radford Ruether, with nods in the direction of Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng."

We've heard this one before. As Noble observes: " One hardly knows where to begin in responding to all this."

But wait, there's more! Noble notes that Carroll asserts that

The New Testament was a "tragic historical mistake"

"because of Constantine and Helena, the Council of Constantinople inserted “He was crucified” into the primitive text of the Creed, and thereafter Christ’s death, already attributed to the Jews by those inventive evangelists, now replaced his life as the central fact of Christianity."

(To which Noble responds, 'The so-called Nicene Creed was in a state of evolution for more than a century, but it never at any stage omitted reference to or a grounding in the Crucifixion.'

As Noble sums up Carroll's thesis: " Put in simplest terms, it is Carroll’s argument that Western Civilization has been propelled primarily by Catholicism’s hatred for the Jews."

Noble's verdict on Carroll as historian?

"The historian, unlike the novelist, cannot artfully assign motives. Carroll says that it takes “moral maturity” to recognize the connections between events that others have overlooked or denied. This is fatuous. Page after page of this book would serve admirably in a college history class as an object lesson in false inferences and mistaken links of causation.".

The irony is that a book written by a Catholic passionately concerned about the Catholic church's history of anti-semitism, has been turned, in our post 9-11 world, into a film that accuses the non-Catholic US military of conducting a Christian anti-Muslim crusade. So clips of the film end up slotted for a seminar for cadets at the Air Force Academy.

Bad history fueling a movie that influences current discussions of real world policy. Imagine.

But remember this sentence from the Gazette article above:

"Wednesday's event, which was not open to the public, was organized to counter charges of bias from the Muslim community and others after a February seminar at the academy in which cadets heard speakers claiming to be former Islamic terrorists who characterized Islam as a dangerous religion.

Wednesday's speakers, by contrast, argued that the U.S. military's embracing of Christianity sends the message to Arabs that the Iraq war is not about freeing Iraqi people but about converting the Muslim world to Christianity."

In a 24/7 media world, it isn't about reality, it is about perception. You and I know that the US military didn't go into Iraq to convert Muslims and that nearly everyone there would leave today with great rejoicing if the consequences for destabilization and civil war weren't so obvious and terrible. You and I know that there is true freedom of religion in the US Armed Forces and that Muslim Americans are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that the military is bending over backwards to avoid any appearance of being missionary.

But why should I expect an average Abdullah standing on a street corner in Islamabad to know that? Everything he hears from those his trusts - family, friends, religious leaders may say the opposite.

Imagine dvd's of this film making the rounds of the Muslim world - as they probably already are. Addullah's got access to a TV and dvd player and probably the internet. Put that together with those images on Al Jazeera and the endless discussion of Magdi Allam's baptism on Easter at St. Peter's. And Allam's extremely strong statements that essentially described Islam as intrinsically evil just after he had so publicly taken the name "Christian".

Thank God that tens of thousands of evangelically minded Christians are right now living among and loving Muslims through the Muslim world. Demonstrating with their lives, friendship, service, and compassion that Christianity and Christ are about love.

A comment below reminds me that I will have to make the should-be-obvious distinction. By "evangelically-minded" , I didn't mean "evangelical Christians". I meant all Christians - Catholic, Orthodox, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant, evangelical, whatever, who are committed to the mission of spreading the good news of Christ (the evangel).

There are "evangelically minded" Christians in all communions throughout the Muslim world - although the lion's share of the outreach is being done by evangelicals at present.

If you'd like to know why Muslims are risking so much to become Christians around the world, read my post from last week:
Why do Muslims Convert to Christianity? and for an informed reality check about the numbers doing so, read Urban Legends and the Great Commission.

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