A living system getting too close to the edge of chaos risks incoherence, but moving too far away risks rigidity, either case leading to extinction. Complex systems flourish at the edge of chaos. For the imaginative conservative, real thought, reflection, and learning often take place at the edge of chaos…

Studying history teaches us not only war, but about the ethnic, religious, cultural, political, and ideological conflicts between warring groups. Our own nation was split by a civil war within a century of breaking ties with the mother country. A nation can get imperial ambitions and go to war for more land. This happens in religion, too. The Schism of 1054 AD is an example of religious conflict, even if more theological than military. The Reformation sparked bloodshed among different religious groups, so we read about Luther and Melanchthon, about Zwingli and Calvin, and about Menno and the radical reformers. Today’s fractured Protestant world has more denominations than any of us could name.

In Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, we are introduced to the edge of chaos, “a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy”.[1] Even those who do not believe in macroevolution (or science fiction) could perhaps see the edge of chaos in comparing different worldviews, different ethnicities, different cultures, and different religions. And those areas make for fantastic studies which can challenge our views and our upbringings, and hopefully mature us in our understandings. While in the religious realm we occasionally focus on subjects such as Judaism vs. Christianity or Roman Catholicism vs. Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism vs. Protestantism, there is much to be learned from dividing religion into huge blocks, maybe half a dozen, and seeing how they have related to each other. Here, at the edge of chaos, there is so much that we can explore.

As a child and later a teenager, I learned in Hebrew school about how those nasty Christians treated us Jews. There were the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. As Jewish comedian Tom Lehrer sang, “And everybody hates the Jews.” But is reality that simple? The Crusades were not about anti-Semitism, despite attacks on Jewish communities.[2] The Holocaust, while started in Lutheran and Catholic Germany, was based on a pagan, not a Christian, worldview.[3] We did not yet know back then that Hitler’s anti-Semitic philosophy was actually developed by World War I German General Eric Ludendorff,[4] but there were certainly enough Holocaust survivors around so that Holocaust denial[5] was nothing for us to consider.

The world has certainly been faced with anti-Semitism, from Haman in the Book of Esther to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century BC through the Holocaust and even today.[6],[7] But history is often complicated. While Catholics have been accused of anti-Semitism, and certainly have been guilty at times, it is interesting to note those Catholics who have stood against it.[8],[9],[10] It took Luther to really institutionalize anti-Semitism as a church policy.[11]

A good review not only of church history,[12] Jewish history,[13] and historical theology is needed, but also of how Christians and Jews and Muslims have interacted throughout history. Again, looking at the big picture, have the Muslims really treated the Jews better than the Christians have treated the Jews over the course of the last fourteen centuries? The Arab-Israeli conflict is more recent,[14] so we need to get beyond current events and explore the interfaces of the world’s great faiths to get a view of history based not only on what each faith believes, but on how they have affected each other’s destinies throughout the centuries. And doing the latter helps us understand the former even better than taking religions and studying them in isolation.

Raised Lutheran and becoming a self-proclaimed agnostic,[15] American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has written more than thirty books. In Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History, Dr. Stark takes on common misconceptions of the Roman Catholic Church. These include the modern conceptions of two thousand years of Roman Catholic anti-Semitism; of Pope Pius XII being “Hitler’s Pope”; of suppression of the gospels; of the Christian persecution of pagans once Catholicism became the official church of Rome; of the Dark Ages; of certain aspects of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition; of the persecution of scientists; of apathy towards New World slavery; of the divine right of kings; and of a repressive grip on progress that was broken by the Protestant Reformation, allowing for capitalism and religious freedom. Reading this book gives the impression that history has been rewritten and oversimplified, reduced at times to one-sentence expressions or clichés that do not look at different aspects of what has really happened over the millennia.

We could also look at US history not just as good guys vs. bad guys, although there certainly were both in the world wars, for example, but as a series of conflicts as Europeans colonized the New World, conquering and even massacring the natives. The colonial break from England was not welcome by all the colonists. While looking at primary sources debunks the myth that the South seceded for states’ rights, the Civil War could perhaps be seen not just as a conflict between slavery and abolitionism, but as a huge personality conflict between the more industrialized and egalitarian North and the more agricultural and autocratically-run South. When looking at any of these conflicts, seeking to understand what each side really believed leads to greater understanding than if one studies them from the viewpoint of “we were right and they were wrong.”

In The Lost World, a living system getting too close to the edge of chaos risks incoherence, but moving too far away risks rigidity, either case leading to extinction. Complex systems flourish at the edge of chaos.[16] For the imaginative conservative, real thought, reflection, and learning often take place at the edge of chaos, where we see how major ideologies are born and even clash, allowing us to see much better not only their interrelationships, but their specific teachings even better.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.


[1] Michael Crichton. The Lost World. New York: Random House, 1995, pg. 3.

[2] Rodney Stark. God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. Harper Collins e‑book, pg. 121.

[3] Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview.

[4] Will Brownell and Denise Drace-Brownell. The First Nazi: Erich Ludendorff, The Man Who Made Hitler Possible.

[5] Kenneth S. Stern. Holocaust Denial.

[6] Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin. Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism.

[7] Robert S. Wistrich. Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred.

[8] Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History is a great book for correcting many misconceptions, including those of a supposedly strongly anti-Semitic Catholic church.

[9] Peter Eisner. The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign to Stop Hitler.

[10] Rabbi David G. Dalin. The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis.

[11] Martin Luther. On the Jews and Their Lies.

[12] Justo L. González. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Age.

[13] Ken Spiro. WorldPerfect: The Jewish Impact on Civilization.

[14] Benjamin Netanyahu’s A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World is an example of many books on this subject. Other viewpoints include Amy Dockster Marcus’s Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Susan Nathan’s The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish-Arab Divide, and Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.

[15] A Christmas conversation with Rodney Stark. Center for Studies on New Religions. 25 December 2007.

[16] Crichton, pg. 3.

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13 replies to this post
  1. Would you please explain what you mean by the phrase “autocratically run south”? Where are the Primary sources you speak of ?

  2. Dr Merken, I am enjoying your essays. You include so much to think about. Do you believe that Luther institutionalized anti-Semitism as church policy? I hope not. I am well aware of what Luther wrote and all the controversy that continues to this day, but to enter that subject would take serious study and contemplation of all that history, which this is not exactly the forum to do all that. I once read that Jesus was, and is, the most studied person that ever existed, and Luther is the second most studied person that ever existed. Both men, are also the most misunderstood!

    The Apostle Paul came to realize in his conversion by Christ, that a Jew could become a Christian, but a Christian could not become a Jew. Christians are adopted children of God by and through his Son, by the Holy Spirit, into Israel, not Judaism. There is a distinctive difference. A book, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, by James D. G. Dunn, is well worth anyone’s time and attention.

  3. “The autocratically-run south” is something that I found living in the south for 15 years after being raised a Yankee near Boston. My Texas wife understands it completely. Let me give you an example, one of several.

    As a mattress inspector in Randolph, MA, I was trained by a guy who was making more than anybody else in the department. He used to do what was right, not what the boss told him. The boss wanted mattresses shipped out (we worked for shipping), even if they had to come back. My trainer’s refusal to be sloppy inspecting earned the boss’s respect, which was shown by raises.

    Now consider professorial jobs I had later in Tennessee, for example. People down there can barely believe that story, unless they have had exposure to northeast business. Down south, when the boss says something, that’s it. That is NOT how it works where I grew up, but it IS how I found things dealing with places in Texas and Tennessee. I could write quite a bit about this, and it is understood by people with exposure to both cultures. Sometimes I wonder if the Civil War was fought partly because of a huge personality conflict.

  4. “The Apostle Paul came to realize in his conversion by Christ, that a Jew could become a Christian, but a Christian could not become a Jew.” I know that. I’m a Jewish convert to Christianity, so I’ve had to think about this plenty, as I have had to wonder if, or people call me, or ask me if, I’m a completed Jew, a messianic Jew, a Jew for Jesus (Jews for Jesus is really an evangelical outreach), a Hebrew Christian, a Christian Jew, a Jewish Christian…what else can I remember?

    I study a lot about Jewish history, among other things. Books I’m reading now include those written by authors such as Rodney Stark and currently one by Benjamin Wiker. Catholic anti-Semitism was often resisted by the papacy (see my references 9 and 10 in the essay above), whereas Protestant anti-Semitism could get worse, especially with Luther’s book in the background (reference 11). A careful study of Jewish history over the last 500 years points to more anti-Semitism from Protestant sources than from Catholic sources in general, despite all the Catholic and Orthodox anti-Semitism that has blighted Christianity over the centuries. Since I wrote this article, I read Rodney Stark’s Reformation Myths, which back up this point of view.

    • Thank you for your reply, Dr. Merken, but you did not answer my question! I am Lutheran, Scandinavian independent non-denominational Lutheran, and now Missouri Synod Lutheran, and friends who are ” other” Lutherans, and there is not a whiff of anti-Semitic belief or attitude anywhere that I have witnessed. The gospel is for the whole world!!! The promise to Abraham to be the father of all nations was fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom you have also been called, thanks be to God!

      • We also became Missouri Synod Lutherans at one point. Lutherans are not anti-Semitic now, or I wouldn’t have joined. In fact, adults at our church were quite glad to hear my input of Jewish history as it relates to the Bible. Now go back to the Reformation and the years immediately following, and you’ll find plenty of anti-Semitism, with Luther and his book part of the reason.

  5. I will again visit my original question, which you have not answered. The Southern states like their northern counterparts were organized in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. Where is the Autocracy ? Sir I have lived in the Northeast, I have seen your culture first hand. You come from a state where the unions run about ever thing, in the South most states are right-to-work. In your state one must apply for permission to work. Or as was said in Ole England, “By your leave sir.” If you wish to study Autocracy then study the history of New England. In the South, of the civil war period, Jefferson Davis probably wished that he had autocratic rule. The state governors fought him tooth and nail. Big reason we lost.

  6. Kenneth, politically this may be so. Now think of what happens on the job. In the northeast, you’re more equal to your boss than in the south. THIS is what I mean by the autocratically-run south. Boss hog says something in TX or TN, and you’d better toe the line, or risk your job. Tell your boss what you think in MA, and he’ll more likely respect it. I’ve had plenty of job experience in both locations. The problem of course is that places like MA are much more “liberal”, in other words, left-wing, so unions probably do have more influence than in the south. Another consideration is that the northeast has areas with a high Jewish population density, and Jewish people are highly egalitarian. Think, for example, of the old Israeli kibbutz. I grew up in northeast Jewish culture, and I have my share of anecdotes. Your Jewish boss up there is the guy who signs your paycheck. He respects your opinion once he gets to know you. I’m talking in broad generalities, of course. Both Yankee culture and Jewish culture are more egalitarian than what I’ve found in the south. And I mean no offense to anybody.

  7. I am finding all this conversation to be fruitful. I’m glad we have this forum to do it, even though it would be easier to engage over lunch! In your comment above you state that you are talking in broad generalities, which I find, can cause the reader to misunderstand the message. So, I will understand your statement, “It took Luther to really institutionalize anti-Semitism as a church policy”, as a broad generalization because you say Lutheran’s aren’t anti-Semitic now. They never were.

    The Reformation was not about anti-semitism! It was not about Jews or Muslims or Hindus or anyone other than Chriastians! At its core, it was about the gospel, the Bible and its role in the church as to whose authority rules, God or man. It was about justification, sanctification, and other topics pertaining to Salvation that were of Catholic Church Christian interest. Not one article of Faith that was written and signed by many church men as foundational church doctrine contains any anti-Semetic language. These articles of confession became the “Lutheran” Church.

    Luther, being a Biblical Scholar and Professor, wanted to engage in debate with the appropriate leaders within the church, but they were unprepared to address these topics with Luther and others. There was a period of about two years, that the church remained silent, and let “the Lutherans” teach and preach and grow. The church excommunicated Luther very early on and issued a death warrant against him. Luther was in grief and sorrow over the Jews and their rejection of the Messiah, promised and fulfilled to them through the Profits, the Holy Scriptures, born to a virgin, Mary, who too, was Jewish. Jesus the Jew who sits on the throne of David as our Lord and Savior, to all who believe. The first Church was Jewish! A Christian anti-Semite, God forbid! God warned His people about their stubborn rebellion they repeatedly fell into, a stark warning that continues to us today.

  8. Howard, Culture is shaped by religion so is politics. As for “Boss Hogg”, he was the creation of Hollywood, not the South. Gy Waldrow patterned him after the corrupt NYC politician Boss Tweed. You seem to have a low opinion of Southerners. Is this because we are not like you? An example for you to think about, is a army captain I knew (he was from the Northeast). his favorite statement was “We didn’t do it like this in CCN.” Our Team Sgt. would tell him Sir we ain’t in CCN. Howard you need to learn that you are not in the Northeast. Still you have not provided any primary sources for the tired old canard in your essay. I don’t want to offend anyone.

  9. Kenneth, I married a southerner. Even SHE tells me about the difference in management styles. One particularly autocratic boss she accused of being “old south”, even “old old south”. I’m not against the south, but I do recognize the differences in culture, even in management. It’s a bit like the difference between the autocratic Arabs and the democratic Israeli Jews, although not nearly as severe. I read the book by a Mossad agent involved in Eichmann’s capture, and he mentioned the cultural differences even as Jewish and Arab children were playing in the neighborhood in his youth. I’ve had plenty of years in different places to have seen the differences between north and south. I’m not saying one is right and one is wrong, only that the differences are there.

    Kat, have you ever seen The Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther? That’s a primary source. The Nazis appealed to Luther, although it was probably just an excuse for them.

    • I don’t think I have seen that book, but Luther wrote from a perspective that we can’t even begin to explain from our perspective. He wrote from the Old Testament perspective of prophetic warning. A warning that was in the likes of Ezekiel who spoke exclusively to God’s people. Since there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, the end times having begun at the Cross, the completed address from God to all people, both Old and New Testament, the Holy Bible, is to be taught through His church to all the world until He, Christ, returns.

  10. Howard, I am married to a northern girl, SHE understands the difference between north and south. Her father, a yankee preacher once told me that Southern churches were not as good as northern churches. Several years later he moved South. He joined a Southern church, as he began to read history his opinion changed. I have also lived in many places . As for your wife’s comment about “old south”. I suspect that your Jewish egalitarianism has rubbed off on her. As for me I would prefer the OLD SOUTH, to the abomination that exist now. And Howard I have read Luther’s book. May I suggest a book for you, The dealth of the church Victorious. by Ovid Need jr. Also there is an essay on this very site about the old south, “The world they made together”.

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