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RELIGION: Scotty McLennan, the American Civil War and the Pope

We welcome Scotty McLennan to Stanford, where he will be installed as Dean of Religious Life tomorrow, March 12, at 4 p.m. in the Memorial Church. I interviewed him last week for WAIS TV. The date of showing will be announced later. He and I agree that religion is the most important thing in life, because it attempts to explain what life is all about and how we should conduct ourselves. It is for this reason the WAIS conference will open on Sunday, July 29. He will preach on the subject in Memorial Church in the morning and in the afternoon will conduct a session devoted to religion, peace and war (especially in the Middle East).

However, we disagree on our approach. He is a Universalist Unitarian, which means that one believes that there are many paths (i.e. religions) up the mountain. Such an approach promotes peace among religions, a touchy subject since they are and have been the cause of many wars. I, on the contrary, believe that they are all wrong in greater or lesser degree and that we must face up to their contradictions. This will ruffle many feathers, but we must not be chicken in this matter.

The historical record shows that Christianity originally taught peace and pacifism, although, as a reaction to the Muslim conquest of ancient Christian lands, it developed the theory of the just war. Judaism and Islam have their thistorical bases in war. Contrast Christ dying on the cross with Mohammed assembling an army in Medina and then marching with it to conquer Mecca. The God of Islam continues the Judaic belief in the Lord of Hosts. Scotty brought up the Crusades, but it should be remembered that they were a response to Muslim conquests and cannot be attributed to primitive Christianity.

That brings us to the American Civil War, which was a continuation of the war between Cromwell's Roundheads and the Royalists, Cromwell gave the Old Testament a much greater role in religion, and his men took Old Testament names, a tradition which survives in the US, but not in Britain. When you come across someone with a name like Hiram, you know he is American. The History Channel makes it clear that Americans are obsessed with the memory of the Civil War. Mark Neely has joined other American historians in pointing out the importance of Protestant religions groups, including the Universalists, in proclaiming the justice of the Northern cause and therefore of the Union's military campaigns. There were constant references of the Battle of Jericho. "Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down." Probably Sherman's troops sang that song as they marched through Georgia.

This brings us to Pope John Paul II. In a moving ceremony before a huge crowd, he this beatified a record 233 Spanish priests and nuns killed in the Civil War. He condemned Basque ETA terrorism, which likewise is killing lots of innocent people. Basque Catholics, who fought with the Carlists against the liberal government in the last century and with Franco's forces in the Civil War, now clearly know the position of their Church. The brutality of the left against, the Church in the Civil War was inexcusable, but it revealed a deep resentment against the Church. Although the example of the Soviet regime and of French anti-clericalism played a part in this, the roots go deeper.

The Catholic Church is trying to live down its negative image, but Pope Paul John aroused resentment when he inadvertently echoed the Roman doctrine that there is no salvation outside of the Church. That doctrine affected me. In our Anglican (Episcopalian) church, the Nicean Creed was normally used, but a vicar was hired who leant toward Rome. One Sunday he substituted the Athenasian Creed, which proclaimed that outside of it there was no salvation. I told the vicar that I found the creed offensive, unwittingly reopening a dispute which has rocked the Anglican Church in 1870. The ancient disputes over creeds make nasty reading, and help explain anti-clericalism. The vicar retorted that it was "good, strong stuff", but that was the last time he used the creed. Thus began my habit of challenging religious doctrines and conducting a holy war against those I deemed worthy of challenge. Or was it an unholy war? You decide. Mrs. Stanford, a wise woman, decreed that their would be no creed in services at Memorial Church. One problem less for Scotty McLennan.

Ronald Hilton - 3/11/01