Please Stop Saying ‘Christians’ – You Owe It To Byzantium

A small personal gripe, after a very lengthy interval in posting.

We can all agree that Christianity has plenty of denominations. The basic divisions, we can all agree upon, are Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism and Protestantism.

There is one point, however, which everyone seems to fall into (as did I, but I’m trying to avoid it).

In the US there are countless variations and reforms of the Protestant branch of Christianity, the most notable here in Europe being the Evangelical Christians, for their relentless pursuit of converting others.

However, they call themselves ‘Christians’.

In Spain, the Catholic Church will in the very near future hold demonstrations in favour of the ‘Christian family’. Catholics call themselves ‘Cristianos’.

This is, admittedly, a small gripe, yet one I believe must be made in order to respect historical fact.

I am the first to denounce any kind of blind belief, however moderate or apparently harmless it may be. But there is a crucially important distinction to make when talking about Evangelicals or Catholics or any denomination of Christianity.

you owe it to byzantium

Because of my close affiliation with Orthodox Christianity as a family heritage (without succumbing to the inane beliefs), I get ticked off when people talk about, say, Creationists, as Christians, simply because this lumps everyone who calls themselves a Christian together into the Creationist category.

I say respect for history because of my loyalty to my Byzantine heritage. It might sound inane, but at a closer look, the Byzantine Empire has, in its over 1000 years of history, done more for the protection of European Christendom and Middle Age kingdoms than anyone actually in Europe.

The Byzantine Empire was shrouded in religion, Orthodox Christianity to be precise. As the inheritor of the Roman Empire, the new capital, Constantinople became one of the Empire’s religious centres, as well as a city of unrivaled splendor and the administrative centre of a vast Empire dominating East and West.

However, it made a point to shy away from mixing religion in warfare, something few other religions can claim to do. Indeed, priests blessed the soldiers and in desperate sieges, the morale was boosted with cries of the Virgin Mary or other Medieval incantations. But the Church often refused to make martyrs out of fallen soldiers. And the concept of holy war was as alien to them as despicable when they saw it wielded by their Latin and Muslim enemies [PDF].

And for 1000 years, until 1453, Byzantine soldiered on, holding off the unstoppable advances of the prophet’s armies, while Europe took the time to sink into the lowest pits of the Dark Ages. A cursory look at Byzantine Studies puts the rest of European history in perspective.

I make this tangential remark on the Byzantine Empire because its history is inseparable to that of the Orthodox Church. The Schools of Hellenic Wisdom were kept alive in the Byzantine Empire and transmitted to the Islamic worlds and the Western worlds after the Fall of Constantinople.

So whenever I see someone railing against an Evangelical or an American neo-con, or a Spanish Catholic fascist and calling them ‘Christian’, well, I can’t help myself from getting a bit ticked off. Mostly because it’s acknowledging them the privilege of speaking for a far greater body of people than they really are speaking for. But also, and I stress this is as much out of respect for history as it is a personal issue, because it lumps in the Byzantine Empire with an American Creationist.

So, if it’s not too much to ask, it would be a small battle won against ‘Christian’ fundamentalists to call them Evangelical Fundamentalists or Catholic Fundamentalists or even Orthodox Fundamentalists (whenever the rare occasion comes up). Just not ‘Christian’, because you lump in the noble defense of civilisation the ‘Christian’ Byzantine Empire held up for 1000 years with the barbarity of the Crusades, the insanity of Islamic propagation, the despotism of the Catholic Inquisitions, the inanity of Creationism and the barbarism of modern Islam.

I’m not going to try and say the Byzantine Empire was a centre for secular peace and modern progressive thought. It was a Medieval Empire, after all, not exempt from a considerable share of torture, irrelevant religious debate and eunuchs but a great empire nonetheless, one that in the interest of stabbing the real fundamentalists and in the interest of historical accuracy, deserves not to be lumped in with fascist bastards.

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9 Responses

  1. Your point is a good one. Christians hold a wide range of beliefs and it’s often helpful to identify, as precisely as possible which sects, beliefs or practices are being discussed in any situation. This is especially important when discussing such beliefs and practices as Intelligent Design or infant baptism, to name two that are not held across all or even most Christian denominations. Having said that, there are foundational statements, such as the Nicene or Apostle’s creeds, that presumably do apply to all Christians. If one is discussing a belief of that sort, one should be able to identify the whole group.

  2. Try a Venn diagram: there are three major Abrahamic faiths. Within each of those schisms (because that’s what each was), there are numerous subschisms (call them denominations, if you will) within the three biggies. (Islam seems to be somewhat less fractured, probably because its emphasis is culture.)

    I know that you knew the above, but I merely make the point that it is not unreasonable to refer to a Creation-Flood-VirginBirth-Crucifiction-Resurrection nutter as a Christian. Jesus was the Son in some versions, and, as I understand it, Jesus was God in Cunning Disguise in Eastern Orthodox.

    Fortunately, as you point out, not all Christians think or act alike — it’s more difficult to attain unanimity when beliefs are based on mythologies and inaccuracies.

    Personally, I don’t call “Evangelicals” by their chosen tag because this is the term that they adopted to try to protect their tarnished image after the Scopes fiasco. They called themselves Fundamentalists before Scopes, and I think that they deserve to have their fancy disguise stripped away. I think of them as “Fistians” because this term hints at their pugilistic tendencies.

    This hateful tendency in many American Protestant denominations highlights my objection to the term “Christian”. I don’t believe that a man named Jesus actually lived, yet the more tolerant of these “christian” teachings strike me as the only positive in Christianity. Too many “Christians” do not deserve to call themselves “christian”.

  3. True enough.

    I object mostly to the self-appropriating blanket term that fundamentalists will give themselves.

  4. I’d love to see a Venn diagram that included all the sects and cults and offshoots of Christianity. I imagine that it’d be a particularly unrewarding and time consuming task though. Not to mention it being out of date almost from the moment of it’s completion.

  5. Here’s a lill’ godless/satanless pack for you.

  6. I demand that you write more!

    Just letting you know that there are some people who are still watching your blog for posts 🙂

    – Wilz

  7. As a Christian fan of your blog, I would like to put to rest the number one problem with Christianity today. There is NO SUCH THING AS A DENOMINATION or “branch” of Christianity. Christ died for the entire world. He did not die for the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jews, the Baptists, or ANY other specific group. He died for US…the entire world, and did not come to shove it down ANYONE’s throat. It is a FREE gift for those to take if they so choose! The CHURCH is the only “denomination”. Now I dont care what church you attend as long as you claim the name of Christ. The church is ONE in Christ. Christians today make me so angry with all their “theology” and “arguments” and “denominations”. It is ALL futile!

  8. You are obviously very good at gathering data and writing it in clear terms for your readers. I like your unique take on this topic and I agree with you on a lot of it.

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  9. Kewl you should come up with that. Extleelnc!

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