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Jonah Goldberg’s fun column about Obama

I guess this column by Jonah Goldberg came out Friday and there was already a diary about it. My response diary is about history, and Jonah Goldberg’s version if it. If you believe anything Jonah Goldberg says about history, best of luck. At any rate, I seem to have Facebook friends who “like” Goldberg. So here’s what Goldberg says in his complaint about Obama’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast:

For starters, the Crusades — despite their terrible organized cruelties — were a defensive war.

“The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad — a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war,” writes Bernard Lewis, the greatest living English-language historian of Islam.

So, let’s see, the outcome of the First Crusade. In 1099, the Crusaders, not representing the Roman Empire, conquered Jerusalem and slaughtered tens of thousands of its inhabitants. Goldberg, however, thinks the First Crusade counted as a “defensive war” because some other Christians, who actually DID represent the Roman Empire, once held the city before 637, more than four centuries earlier.

Oh yes, and something needs to be said about the source, Bernard “Clash of Civilizations” Lewis, house historian of the Bush administration. Here’s an alternate view of Lewis’ “Clash of Civilizations”:

Yet as Bulliet writes, over the longer reach of history, Islam and the West have been far more culturally integrated than most people realized; there is a far better case for “Islamo-Christian civilization” than there is for the clash of civilizations. “There are two narratives here,” says Fawaz Gerges, an intellectual ally of Bulliet’s at Sarah Lawrence University. “One is Bernard Lewis. But the other narrative is that in historical terms, there have been so many inter-alliances between world of Islam and the West. There has never been a Muslim umma, or community, except for 23 years during the time of Mohammed. Except in the theoretical minds of the jihadists, the Muslim world was always split. Many Muslim leaders even allied themselves with the Crusaders.”

Back to Goldberg:

Christianity, even in its most terrible days, even under the most corrupt popes, even during the most unjustifiable wars, was indisputably a force for the improvement of man.

You mean like with the genocide of native peoples in the Americas after their conquest by the Spanish, as justified (through Christian theology) by the Spanish Requirement of 1513?

Meanwhile, back to Goldberg:

Christianity ended greater barbarisms under pagan Rome. The church often fell short of its ideals — which all human things do — but its ideals were indisputably a great advance for humanity.

Interestingly enough, the triumph of Christianity led to changed attitudes among non-Christian historians such as Ammianus Marcellinus, who respected Christian ideals while at the same time understanding that “no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most of the Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.” When you have a doctrine that requires everyone to get it down perfectly, you create lots of “heretics” requiring persecution. See e.g. the Albigensian Crusades.

Similarly, while some rationalized slavery and Jim Crow in the U.S. by invoking Christianity, it was ultimately the ideals of Christianity itself that dealt the fatal blow to those institutions.

Ah yes, the ideals of Christianity. Shakespeare, from The Merchants of Venice: “The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” Here’s another thought. If Christianity was a tool for both sides of the slavery debate, then what ultimately decided the issue was… the Enlightenment.

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, it was abolished in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now called “Haiti.” Jeremy D. Popkin’s “You Are All Free” tells the story: the French revolutionaries in power after 1789, no friends of institutional Christianity, didn’t want to liberate the slaves in Saint-Domingue, because, well, money, even though their own official French doctrine was at that time the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. But when the Spanish and British took over portions of Saint-Domingue while it was in the middle of a power dispute between the French colonists themselves, the colonial governors became more or less obliged to negotiate the end of slavery (in line with their own beliefs) in order to recruit the slaves to fight for them against the British and Spanish.

Fundamentally, then, it took the people of the United States a few more decades and a Civil War to overcome the power of, well, money, and to recognize that slaves were people too, and thus deserving the rights laid out in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

Lastly, from Goldberg:

When Obama alludes to the evils of medieval Christianity, he fails to acknowledge the key word: “medieval.” What made medieval Christianity backward wasn’t Christianity but medievalism.

What’s “medievalism”? There’s no such doctrine as “medievalism,” if that’s what Goldberg was wondering. On the other hand, Enlightenment Christianity is a distinct improvement over the pre-Enlightenment brand. Islamic government, on the other hand, traditionally followed a rule of limited tolerance for “peoples of the Book” (Christians, Jews) wherever it was instituted, and the current vogue of pre-Enlightenment Islam in certain places appears to be intimately connected to US meddling in the Middle East. It’s a long story.

If we’re going to talk history, let’s actually talk history, okay Jonah?

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Ph.D., Communication, The Ohio State University, 1998
M.A., English, Sonoma State University, 1992
B.A., Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1984