On Monday's broadcast of the 700 Club, Pat Robertson claimed that secular humanism, and disbelief in God in general, is responsible for "the orgy of the French Revolution, the guillotine cutting the heads off of thousands of people." He also noted that "you have the same thing going on now in Europe, you had it under the Nazis." Finally, he wondered, “Why can’t we come back to the fact that God loves people?”
In celebration of his remarks, let’s take a look back at some of the ways in which European Christianity has loved people, and God, over the past 2,000 years.
In 897, Pope Stephen VII presided over one of the oddest trials in the history of jurisprudence when he had the body of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, disinterred, dressed in papal vestments, and tried for the crimes of "perjury, coveting the papacy, and violating church canons." Seeing as the corpse was unable to defend itself, a teenage deacon was elected to speak on its behalf. As one might expect, after considerable grandstanding on Stephen VII's behalf, Pope Formosus' mortal remains were found guilty on all counts. He was stripped of his vestments, had three of his fingers removed, and was buried in a common grave, only to be re-exhumed and dumped in the Tiber River.
Between 1095 and 1291, European crusaders attempted to forge a path for pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. In the process, they killed several million people, particularly Byzantine Muslims and Jews. As crusader Raymond of Agulers described it, "Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands, and feet lay in the houses and streets, and men and knights were sunning to and fro over corpses."
Who can forget the Spanish Inquisition? Not content to merely reunite Aragon and Castile, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I sought to consolidate their power and complete the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by torturing, expelling, forcibly converting, or killing the Jews and Muslims living in the region.
Europe didn’t just have the Catholic Church to contend with. King Henry VIII, supreme head of the Church of England, is remembered for many things, not the least of which was his Tudor penchant for executing people, including his wives. In his defense, given that his reign occurred well before the invention of the guillotine, he had to resort to beheading by sword.
Taking place between 1618 and 1648, the 30 Years War was the result of numerous tensions across the European continent, most notably the rivalry between the Hapsburg and Bourbon dynasties, and between Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Catholicism. While fighting was largely centered in Germany, it ranged from Bohemia, to Denmark, to Sweden, to France, until the war was brought to an end by the Peace of Westphalia. Most estimates put the number of dead between seven and eight million.
Robertson is right. Given Europe’s proud history of truly loving Christianity, it’s hard to understand why secularism gained popularity in the first place. Or why anybody ever left the place.