On Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., President Obama blithely informed his audience that Christians ought not get on their “high horse” about the problem of radical Islam:
Unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. So it is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
This is historically and philosophically illiterate. Historically speaking, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression in Europe and the Middle East; the Inquisition, as Jonah Goldberg points out while quoting historian Thomas Madden, director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, was designed to regularize executions rather than leaving them to the will of the masses. Christians undoubtedly pursued horrible brutalities against people, including innocent Jews. However, as Goldberg points out, “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.”
Nowhere is that clearer than in Obama’s second example, slavery. Virtually all of the most ardent abolitionists were deeply religious Christians. Hundreds of thousands of American men marched to their deaths singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea / With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me / As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free / While God is marching on.” That was 150 years ago. It’s not exactly the modern Islamic slogan, “Death to the Jews.” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was, as his name suggests, a reverend. He quoted old black Christian spirituals and the Biblical story of the exodus from Egypt. Christians obliterated slavery. Christians obliterated Jim Crow. Modern slavery is largely perpetrated by Muslims. Modern Jim Crow is certainly perpetrated by Muslims under shariah law.
There is a larger point, here, too: President Obama’s foolish argument suggests that because Christians were brutal a millennium ago, they should shut up about brutalities today. This is somewhat like saying that because someone’s great-great-grandfather held slaves in rural Alabama, that person should shut up about human trafficking . It’s asinine.