The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer wrote a column Monday arguing that Islam “is a contagion that must be quarantined,” that ” the time has come to suspend Islamic immigration into the United States” in order to save our country. He advocates collective guilt because, he says, though “the great majority of Muslims are nice people who don’t wish us any harm… there is a significant and lethal minority that does want us dead, and the problem is we have no reliable way to identify them.”
We can’t tell which teabangelicals want to kill us either. Can we suspend their “immigration” after the fact, so to speak, and boot them out while we’re at it? That seems to be what his logic demands. After all, as has been pointed out, right wing terrorism is a bigger threat on this side of the Atlantic than Islamic terrorism.
But Fischer, who has previously said Muslims are parasites who must convert or die, is adamant that Islam is the problem:
When it comes to terrorism, it’s time to cap the well. Islam is a contagious infection, a totalitarian ideology that threatens the social health of its infected host, the United States. This contagion needs to be contained by stopping Islamic immigration at our border. Just as we screen immigrants for contagious physical diseases, so we need to screen immigrants for contagious cultural diseases.
The thing is, Christianity achieved its current dominant position as the world’s largest religion, by force, by being, in Fischer’s language, a dangerous contagion.
Christian mythology, for it can only be called that, insists that people flocked to the new religion, but nothing could be further from the truth. By the time of Constantine’s conversion, it is estimated that no more than 10 percent of the empire’s population was Christian – 5 or 6 million out of an empire of 60 million. That’s not a lot if, as is insisted by that same mythology, people were leaping over each other to convert.
A century later, with Paganism largely outlawed, that percentage as no higher than 50 percent. K.W. Harl notes that “The best current estimate reckons that well over half of the population of the entire Roman world was pagan at the death of Theodosius I.”
This, despite everything that could be done to make Christianity appealing through extension of privilege, and Paganism difficult. In 391 entry into temples for any reason was forbidden (in order to put a stop to sacrifice, which was continuing despite all prohibitions to the contrary) and in 407 a law banned banquets at temples and ordered provincial governors to throw their weight behind local bishops.
Another law, issued in 408, called for the destruction of the offending idols themselves. In the 420s the penalty for not attending church was having your property seized and being sent into exile. But this did not work either. In 435 came an even harsher directive to tear down the temples which housed the idols. Their continued existence seems to argue strongly for the tenacity of their devotees. But these had little effect except where force was applied, such as following the law of 435, or when a century later Narses’ troops defaced the relief on the temple of Isis at Philae.
Pagan gods continued to be worshipped in both towns and in the countryside despite imperial edicts. The intent was, no doubt, that being deprived of their traditional practices the populace would turn to Christianity. But it was a forlorn hope and the government, goaded by the Church, was forced to turn to other, more active methods of persuasion. MacMullen points out that “attacks by individuals, groups and mobs…grew more frequent as the third century turned into the fourth, fifth, and sixth.”
In time and in tune with increasingly harsh laws, the Christian authorities began a more organized and systematic attempt to bring Christianity to the rural regions of the empire. Trombley notes that these new “mechanics of conversion”in the countryside of the sixth-century Roman Empire “consisted fundamentally in implanting monasteries in districts where few villages had been Christianized, or where the population was nominally Christian but so badly instructed that earlier pagan cult practices persisted.”
Why did positive inducement fail? As MacMullen notes that the problem was with Christianity itself.
The level of resistance reflected Christianity’s deficiencies. It could not successfully appeal to a wide range of religious preferences, however attractive it had been and continued to be to persons looking for other, different rewards in the exercise of their faith.
As just one example, of North Africa’s situation, Frend cites Arnobius (d. 330), as evidence of “a significant description of the decline [of] spirit which once had animated African paganism” but if this is true, why is Augustine still complaining about it almost a century later?
If Arnobius is accurate, as Frend asserts, how then can we explain these riots at the turn of the fourth century that left some 60 dead, a Pagan response to Christian persecution. There is no sign of a moribund Paganism in the response of the people to an act of Christian terrorism.
MacMullen relates that “On rare occasions when the rites or homes of their gods were physically attacked, pagans even resorted to sticks to beat off the attackers, and killed some, in incidents both before and after 400.” In 408 the bishops of Africa were delighted at the new law that allowed them to attack cult images with wild abandon. Yet in 409 we find Augustine addressing the situation in the city of Calama, in Africa Proconsularis:
At the June 1st festival the impious ceremony of the pagans was celebrated without hindrance from anyone with such impudent audacity as was not ventured in Julian’s day: An aggressive crowd of dancers in this precinct passed directly in front of the church. doors. And when the clergy attempted to prevent such an outrageous thing, the Church was stoned.
As MacMullen remarks, “a century after the Peace of the Church, Calama was one of those towns that had not yet joined ‘the Christian empire’.”
MacMullen goes on to point out,
Over the region as a whole, the ratio of religious groups, one to another, cannot be closely determined. The evidence is too sparse, and within it there is too much of the Christian – hence the likelihood of distortion. It is only safe to say, I think, that non-Christians made up a very large minority still at the beginning of the fifth century. Perhaps they constituted a half, given the number of centers still awaiting a bishop at that date.
In the end, neither the desire for indoor plumbing or thirst for a superior religious experience drove conversion in the fourth century; fear did. MacMullen has noted the penalties and incentives used by the Christian authorities to speed conversion:
Government…at the urging of the bishops weighed in with threats, and more than threats, of fines, confiscation, exile, imprisonment, flogging, torture, beheading, and crucifixion. What more could be imagined? Nothing. The extremes of conceivable pressure were brought to bear. Thus, over the course of many centuries, compliance was eventually secured and the empire made Christian in truth.
Sounds like terrorism to me. But the Religious Right is as immune to irony as it is to fact. Which brings us back to Bryan Fischer.
Right Wing Watch reports that on Fischer’s radio program later that day, a caller, “Steven in Arkansas,”
[D]eclared that, from a Christian perspective, “sharia law is probably preferable to what we have right now” in America where things like pornography and abortion are legal.
“They don’t allow that in sharia law,” Steven said, “so as far as that’s concerned, they’re probably a little bit more just than we are.”
Fischer replied that Muslims “rightly accuse the United States of corrupting the morality of the entire world” because we allow the production and sale of pornography here.
Here we come to the crux of it – morality, or at least, the Christian conception of morality, which is held to be superior to all other conceptions of morality, including, of course, Islamic. What Fischer and Steve from Arkansas are both saying is that their morality trumps the First Amendment and that because Sharia law effectively enforces morality while the First Amendment gives people actual rights to be something other than Christian, Sharia Law is superior to the First Amendment.
At least it’s all out in the open now. It all seems very clear from the perspective of fake Christians today but they refuse to see the other side of the coin because the other side of the coin has always existed to converted.
Writing about conversion from an anthropologist’s perspective, Colin Firth notes that while the missionary sees the process of conversion as one of “moral improvement” and that these missionaries assume the natives see it as such, the natives did not see it this way at all. The natives naturally and not unreasonably believe that their customary practices are morally sound and directed to only “good ends” – they resent being called “Satan”. Rather than seeing themselves as morally improved, the Pagans are consumed by guilt. For them, conversion is not a morality upgrade but rather a morally questionable act – a “form of betrayal.”
And Paganism was seen by its adherents as not only equal to Christianity but better than, as pointed out by Celsus, Porphyry and Julian in the Classical Era, and by Radbod of Frisia to the missionary Wulfram, and by Pagan Mercians to Boniface in the Dark Ages. It is no wonder then that Paganism persisted for so long, or why, as we shall see, it was only stamped out through the most extreme methods of coercion over a period of centuries rather than the years and decades of Christian mythology.
The Anglo-Saxons therefore did not share with the Pope the ideal of a Christianity moral superiority. Susanna Weil argues that “Beowulf does not read like a confession of inferiority.” She argues instead that the “Anglo-Saxons adopted Christianity because in the Boethian form in which it came to them, it matched their notion that one held responsibility – and, in the form of reputation, the credit – for one’s acts, no matter who or what controlled the universe.”
In other words, we could say that the Anglo-Saxons converted not because Christianity was superior but because it was in some way compatible. Sometimes, as Firth demonstrates, it was not compatible, because the price was too high. We can understand, in this context, the response of King Radbod of Frisia to the missionaries who had told him his ancestors were in hell: “I would rather go to hell with my ancestors than to heaven with a parcel of beggars.”
The problem with Fischer’s sort of Christian is that he thinks Christianity can – and should – still be imposed on people. For Fischer and his ilk, the First Amendment is a term to be tossed around when it’s convenient, like their weaponized Jesus. Fischer has long been clear in insisting that only Christians in this country have rights and that those rights should be enforced by any means necessary.
As you can see, we’ve been down this road before, and it’s the reason the Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment – and the religious freedom – Fischer and his ilk are now trying to strip away.
The lesson of, and indeed, the point of, America, seems entirely lost on these fake Christians. The point was not to create a country where Christianity was privileged, but a country where all manner of belief was tolerated. Even – especially – the ones we personally don’t approve of. Fischer might want to take this particular point to heart as his own religion slides further toward the definition of terrorism.
 K.W. Harl, “Sacrifice and Belief”, 15. cf. Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 65, n. 16. For numbers of Christians, see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), 7.
 C. Th. 18.104.22.168, for the law of 407 and for 391 C. Th. 16.10.10, cited in Ramsay MacMullen. Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 45.
 For a discussion of these laws see MacMullen (1997), 52-53.
 Rizzi, 163.
 MacMullen (1997), 33.
 Frank R. Trombley, “Paganism in the Greek World at the End of Antiquity: The Case of Rural Anatolia and Greece,” HTR 78 (1985), 327.
 MacMullen (1997), 151.
 W.H.C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (NY: New York University Press, 1967), 334 (for the third century) and 504 n. 45 for Frend’s opinion of Arnobius’ testimony.
 Peter Brown, “St. Augustine’s Attitude to Religious Coercion,” JRS 54 (1964), 109. See Augustine, De Civ. Dei 18.54 and Ep. 50 (32.4.143).
 MacMullen (1997), 25.
 Augustine, Ep. 91.8.
 MacMullen (1997), 41.
 MacMullen (1984), 82-83.
 MacMullen (1997), 72.
 Raymond Firth, “Conversion from Paganism to Christianity,” RAIN 14 (1976), 3-7.
 Susanne Weil, “Grace Under Pressure: ‘Hand Words,”Wyrd,’ and Free Will in ‘Beowulf'” Pacific Coast Philology 24 (1989), 94-104.
 Vita Vulframni c. 9.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.