On Nature and Natural Law
Note 7: Nietzsche: On the Persecution of the Other. 4/15/99
A problem I find most troubling, and one I want to put down as a kind of head-piece to this entire discourse, concerns the habit Christians seem to have of ignoring the most horrific consequences of their own behavior toward the other. How can they, as a group and as individuals, be, and remain, so utterly blind to the devastation they willfully inflict on people who differ from them in religious belief and practice? The most recent example of this collective blindness is occurring even as I speak in Serbia. Over the last several days, Western reporters have been prowling around in the streets of Belgrade, followed closely by Milosevic's police, both secret and open I'm sure, asking citizens there to comment on the circumstances that have overtaken them since NATO began its bombing campaign 23 days ago. The Serbian people, both there and abroad, seem totally united in the belief that they are, or have become, innocent victims of a European plot to punish them for crimes that either have not occurred at all or that were perpetuated by someone else. The people of Serbia complain bitterly about the injustice of NATO's somewhat lame attempts to turn the tide of "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo by attacking Milosevic's state apparatus in Belgrade and in other regions of the country. The ones I have heard are absolutely adamant when it comes, not to defending Serbian atrocities in Pristina, Pec, or any other Kosovarian town or village, because no one in Serbia even acknowledges that anything unusual is occurring in Kosovo at all, but to insisting that the bombs are falling on them for no discernable reason whatsoever. Serbians are so innocent that even a single bad thought directed at them from afar is a gross miscarriage of justice. The universality of Serbian outrage is truly incomprehensible.
Milosevic, the consummate Evil One of the moment, can be "forgiven" for pretending that he is innocent of the blood and destruction troops under his command have been shedding and spreading in Kosovo for the past several months. One would only expect him to do that by way of justifying his actions as political necessity. He is simply defending Greater Serbia from the dangers of the insurgency movement known as the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). Milosevic probably cannot be accused of acting out of some deep-seated pathology attributable to his fanatical adherence to Christian theocracy. He is generally known to be a Communist holdover from the days of the Soviet Union's hegemony over Eastern Europe, so making him out to be an agent of Christian greed turned genocidal against the other (Islamic people in Kosovo this time) may not be appropriate. Putting that aside, the point I want to make is that the ordinary people of Serbia, the ones who have been speaking out to Western reporters, are Eastern Orthodox Christians and they are the ones who give Milosevic permission to pursue genocide against the Kosovars.
What troubles me is that the people of Serbia are so wide-eyed innocent in their passionate denunciations of the rest of Europe that the idea, notion, thought that their leader might be capable of pursuing a course of genocide against truly innocent women and children in Kosovo has clearly not even entered their minds. Even the possibility that Milosevic might be capable of such horrific behavior, when there is clear evidence he has been doing it for ten years already, has not visibly surfaced on a single face in the crowd of the Greater Serbian people.
There are two interrelated questions here: do Christian people engage in genocide against those who do not share or accept Christian beliefs, on the one hand, and, if they have done so in the past, or are doing so now, why have they never admitted that such behavior occurs, on the other? I would not ask these questions if a single Serbian appeared in the public square and admitted that Milosevic's behavior toward the Kosovars was unacceptable and did not reflect the will and determination of Serbian Christians to rid Kosovo of all Islamic people. As it appears now, Serbia is united in its determination to remove all Muslims from Kosovo by whatever means are necessary and, even as they do so, to deny that they are in any way responsible for the wholesale slaughter their determination to "cleanse" Kosovo demands. It is, after all, one thing to commit genocide and quite another to deny that you have done so in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Are we seriously expected to believe that the Kosovars are doing this to themselves? That for no discernable reason whatsoever 500,000 Muslim people suddenly left their homes and their lives with little more than the clothes on their backs to walk across the Albania border in the rain and mud to a future that condemns them to living out the rest of their generations in a 12 X 12 foot tent? That is precisely what Serbian Christians expect everyone in the world to believe; that is what they seem to believe themselves. I cannot claim to understand this phenomenon at all. It mystifies me. I can, however, suggest a reason or two that might point to an explanation for this incredible blindness in the face of the irrefutable facts of recent history.
My sense is that Serbian Christians in general do not believe that the actions of the Serbian army under Milosevic amount to anything at all that is not within their perfect and God-given right to do. The Serbs argue, for instance, that Kosovo represents the heart of their religious faith because, on the one hand, the area encompassed by the borders around it contain numerous valuable and important shrines and monasteries that have come to symbolized the loss they suffered when the Ottoman empire overran the territory at the end of the fourteenth century (1389) and effectively converted that sacred land to the Islamic faith. The loss suffered at the battle of Kosovo has been celebrated by the Serbs as a kind of nationalistic holiday for 610 years. This is not unusual in itself because a defeated population who has fallen to the expansionist exploits of a colonizing empire often, even always, preserves the memory of that signature defeat against the day when they can rise up and cast off the mantle of humiliation and shame that fell on them when they lost their independent identity to the invading army of the colonizer. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a native American version of this sentiment.
Make no mistake, and whatever word might occur to someone else to say about this situation, the struggle in Kosovo is just the latest battle in the 1200-year long war between Islam and Christianity over the material reality of the land that both claim as their own. Since "war" has always been a just cause for breaking the prohibition against the commandment that "Thou shalt not kill," what the Serbs are doing in Kosovo cannot take on the appearance of being wrong in their eyes. Hence, their outrage at being bombed by the rest of Europe is perfectly understandable. They are, after all, protecting the rest of Europe from the dangerous presence of an Islamic hoard in the heart of NATO which can, and must, be expected to begin a second wave of Ottoman domination sooner rather than later if they are not driven back whence they came. Being the devil's spawn, of course, as all Islamic people are thought to be by good Christians and true, that ultimate destination for the "cleansed" Muslims is hell itself in whatever form the Serbians can arrange for it to be.
Frederick Nietzsche, in Chapter 21 of his Antichrist, argues that a persistent characteristic of the Christian consists of "a certain cruelty toward one's self and toward others; hatred of unbelievers; the will to persecute." That may seem to be an exaggeration or an outright lie to most people but when you talk to someone who has been overrun by a loose hoard of good Christians and true they not only confirm that characterization but are probably both willing and able to supply a thousand examples of just how and where and when they personally or collectively witnessed every single word and every single sense of what that statement expresses. In short, anyone who has been found to belong to a culture or a tradition that disagrees with Christian perceptions of reality has either been forced to convert to Christianity or has been driven to the stake and burned to death. When Nietzsche says that Christians can be recognized for their "hatred of unbelievers," he is simply telling "us" (people of color) what we already know about "them" (good Christians and true).
With respect to the question of how Christians became capable of committing genocide against the other, against the unbeliever, Nietzsche offers the following explanation from Chapter 22 of the Antichrist:
"When Christianity departed from its native soil, that of the lowest orders, the underworld of the ancient world, and began seeking power among barbarian peoples, it no longer had to deal with exhausted men, but with men still inwardly savage and capable of self torture . . . . [And hence, Christians developed] an inordinate thirst for inflicting pain on others, a tendency to obtain subjective satisfaction in hostile deeds and ideas. Christianity had to embrace barbaric concepts and valuations in order to obtain mastery over barbarians: of such sort, for example, are the sacrifices of the first-born, the drinking of blood as a sacrament, the disdain of the intellect and of culture; torture in all its forms, whether bodily or not; the whole pomp of the cult."
Nietzsche's surmise here that Christians became barbaric themselves in order to subdue and convert the barbarians of Western Europe to the Faith is as close to being true as any statement can be even if he leaves an important aspect of the dynamic which produced this circumstance unspoken. Before Christianity reached a social and political position in the world where it was capable of exercising power over other people, as Nietzsche suggests that it did among the savage people of Western Europe, specifically during the first three centuries of its existence as a religious cult, Christians were as brutally persecuted as any collective group of people have ever been in the history of the world. That may be an exaggeration but it is certainly true that the early church and its believers were first "expelled" from the Middle East by virtue of the fact that Jewish people simply refused to accept any of the newfangled ideas and doctrines that were spun out of the myth that Jesus was the true Savior of the world, that he died and rose again from the dead, that if you ate His flesh and drank His blood you would receive eternal life as a reward for breaking the universal prohibition against cannibalism which has always characterized reasonable human expectations of proper forms of behavior.
As Christians spread outward from the rejection they experienced at the hands of the Jewish people, they encountered a virulent and highly negative philosophical resistance from the Greeks, which led Origen, in the third century, to lament the fact that God had chosen fishermen instead of philosophers to spread the word among the heathens in Athens and Rome. The Roman emperor, Trajan, among others, instituted an active campaign of eradication against members of the cult and was responsible for the martyrdom of hundreds of Christians during his reign. A favorite method of execution at the time was sending the unarmed and defenseless faithful into the Colosseum against the lions. To say that Christians learned how to treat the other by virtue of the way they had been treated themselves is simply to acknowledge the fact that natural instincts, especially the kind related to revenge, cannot be overcome and put aside by simply claiming to follow the Golden Rule.
When Christians began making Saints out of Martyrs, which they did from the first day of their existence (in the mythic figure of Jesus Christ), they did what the Serbian people repeated when they made a national holiday out of their defeat at the hands of the Turkish army in Kosovo in 1389. The "sacrament" of canonization itself is a way of immortalizing and universalizing (for your side only) an act of violence committed by the other against the purity and perfection of your own community, an act of violence that will never be forgotten nor forgiven, that will live in the hearts and minds of your community for a thousand years if need be, for ten thousand years, for as long as it takes for your side to gain whatever power it needs to exact the revenge required by God to right the wrong that was committed against you by the heathen, the infidel, the mocker, the unbeliever who killed, or whose community caused the death of, your martyr, your saint, your savior, your brother, your child, your innocence and purity in the face of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Amen!
Christian ideology (false consciousness) has it that yours is a religion of love which means that, if you find anyone who does not love you, you are free, and encouraged, to kill them. Your Lord and Savior is the Prince of Peace. What that means is that, if you encounter anyone anywhere on the face of the earth who does not recognize and accept the ideology of Christian peace, you are free, and encouraged, to wage war against them until they capitulate and surrender everything they own to your benevolent guardianship.
Native Americans learned this lesson when we lost the Western hemisphere to the followers of the Prince of Peace. We have our own calendar of martyrs and saints, of course, and we have not forgotten anything else either along the trail of blood and tears the God of love brought to our shores 500 years ago. Christians need to watch Kosovo carefully. There are lessons there for all of us.
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