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.

Notes:

[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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