The End of Christendom

by Richard Poe
Friday, April 12, 2002

12:00 am Eastern Time

SHOULD WE take everything in the Bible literally? Author and journalist H.W. Crocker III says no.

His new book Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church (Prima Forum, 2001) accuses Protestant fanatics of destroying Christendom through obsessive Biblical literalism, thus paving the way for Nazism, Bolshevism and other bloodthirsty cults of the post-Christian era.

It took guts to write this book. With the media vilifying Catholics on a scale not seen since Nero’s Rome, Crocker has dared to pen a panoramic, 2000-year history of the Church that makes no — absolutely no — apologies or concessions to Catholic bashers.

It is a breathtaking act of defiance.

Crocker lashes into pagans, heretics, Saracens, Byzantines and other long-dead troublemakers, with a passion undimmed by passing centuries. His withering polemics could have emerged from a 13th-century scriptorium.

Triumph is to conventional history as matter is to anti-matter. Place this book too close to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the resulting detonation would probably have to be measured in kilotons.

Among other jaw-droppers, Crocker reveals that Catholic dogma never demanded a strictly literal interpretation of Scripture. “Aha!” cry the born-agains. “More proof that the Pope is the Antichrist!”

Well, maybe. But consider Exodus 19:4, in which God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites: “You yourself have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”

Now, as anyone knows who has watched Charlton Heston stretch forth his staff over the Red Sea, the Hebrews walked out of Egypt. They did not fly “on eagle’s wings.” Exodus 19:4 is clearly meant to be understood metaphorically, not literally.

But if the Bible speaks sometimes in metaphor, how do we know when to take it literally?

Learned doctors of the Church debated such questions for centuries, citing Aristotle as readily as St. Paul, in an intellectual free-for-all reminiscent of the Athenian agora.

But the illiterate masses did not take part in these discussions. They were given a simpler faith, of candles, statues, incense, processions, incantations and stained-glass windows.

The medieval Church thus resembled the lamaseries of old Tibet, where monks probed the mysteries of the universe, while peasants in the countryside spun their prayer wheels and celebrated their festivals.

It was a wise and orderly system, tailored for a flesh-and-blood world in which some people are just plain smarter than others, and better equipped to handle subtle ideas. In any case, the system worked.

Then along came Martin Luther, a 16th-century German monk whose writings reveal him as a violent, hate-filled man, tormented by visions of the Devil.

Luther urged every Christian to read the Bible and draw his own conclusions. In the chaos that ensued, a phantasmagoria of Protestant sects emerged, many preaching a nightmare version of Christianity, in which every thought and custom not found in the Bible was forbidden.

Early Calvinists outlawed, “dancing, singing, pictures, statues; theatrical plays; wearing rouge, jewelry, lace.” Children had to be named after people in the Old Testament. In England, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas, because it was not in the Bible.

Witch-burning — rare in Catholic countries — rose to genocidal proportions in Protestant lands. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” says Exodus 22:18.

Eventually, however, people began noticing that, if you took everything in the Bible literally, much of it just didn’t make sense.

Forced to choose between a literal interpretation of Scripture and common sense, many intellectuals, by the 18th century, gave up on Christianity altogether.

But religion is power. And power abhors a vacuum. With Christianity in retreat, new gods arose to take its place.

French revolutionaries promoted a new cult of the state. They butchered faithful Catholics, men, women and children. In Notre Dame, Christ’s altar was replaced with an altar to the Goddess of Reason. But the real god of the revolutionaries was the guillotine, their sacrament the spilling of blood.

Kings and emperors once feared the Church. The threat of excommunication tamed many a tyrant. But by the 20th century, blasphemous madmen like Hitler, Stalin and Mao laughed in the Church’s face while transforming the earth into a reeking slaughterhouse.

What comes next? Catholics are on the run today, as beleaguered, in some ways, as the martyrs of pagan Rome.

Yet even now, there is hope. The Goddess of Reason has worn thin her welcome, in many hearts. Led by “a few good men,” Crocker suggests, the Church may yet emerge from its catacombs to astonish the world.

Cross-posted from 04.12.02


2 Responses to “The End of Christendom”
  1. Richard Poe says:

    See reader comments at
    Posted on 04/12/2002 8:52:15 AM PDT

  2. Gary Bovey says:

    My confidence is in the risen Christ. There is no metaphor in the stone having been rolled away, the same stone that had been desired to be sealed less someone were to steal the body.
    As for rouge, and music, dancing and the like, these may be explained away as zealous acts of piety, but yet laws of men.
    The prayer wheels you mentioned and repetitive prayer that betrays a mechanical form of worship are spoken of with disdain and reproach by none other than Jehovah God.
    Men and women today hold Mary in esteem, not as the mother of God, but as the Lord’s handmaiden (Mary’s words) and an object of His Salvation.
    It is enough that we share in the humiliation of the Lord, not as any other thing than humble servants of God , doing His will. “…If men hate you, it is because they hated Me (Jesus) first “.
    I am a Christain not because of any other thing than Christ died for the sins of all men such as receive Him and believe the report that God has raised Him from the dead.
    A passage of Scripture all of my children have been familiar with since their ability to understand is Phillipians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”.
    Childhood joys and entertainments as well warm and supportive acknowledgement of parents contribute to a healthy family. It is only necessary that we abstain from the “appearance” of evil. In both adults and children , that is a matter of conscience which must be stimulated though it be a gift of God. I acknowledge that the conscience can be corrupted.
    False piety bears its own fruit.

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