If you’re anything like me (and yeah, the odds are against it), when you hear people like Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of the River Tampa Bay Church in Florida, you almost immediately think of Arnaud Amalric, the Abbot of Cîteaux.
Since you’re probably not like me, you’re probably thinking, “Greg, old sock, these names are completely unfamiliar to me. Who, pray tell, are these people?” First, stop calling me ‘old sock’. Second, they’re both what I like to call ‘providentialist fuckwits’. True, they’re separated by about 830 years, but they share some astonishingly stupid approaches to their religious practices.
Here’s Pastor Rodney just a few days ago:
“If you cannot be saved in church, you in serious trouble. I’ve got news for you, this church will never close. The only time the church is closed is when the Rapture is taking place. If you don’t believe God, and trust God, you will not make it in the days coming. God will protect our people. And if you die to be with Jesus, so what’s the problem?”
This is some seriously old school providentialism that…wait, some of you might be thinking, “Greg, old sock, what do you mean by ‘providentialism’?” Okay, we’ve already discussed the ‘old sock’ issue. Providentialism is the belief that all events on Earth, including the fates of individuals and/or nations, are determined by god, who will take care of the true believers, obv.
Basically, in its purest and most idiotic form, it’s an abdication of personal responsibility. ‘If I get sick and die, that’s god’s will. If I expose a few dozen other people who get sick and die, that’s up to god. It’s not me but god, who is responsible for everything that happens. God will sort it out.’
And that brings me to Abbot Arnaud Amalic, who was a big hat in the Albigensian Crusade. In the summer of 1209, our boy Arnaud had led his crusader army to the town of Béziers, which was considered a stronghold of the Cathars. He…okay, okay, now you’re probably thinking, “Whoa, Greg old so…uh, what is this albiwhatsit crusade and who or what are Cathars?”
Yeah, good questions. Understand, this is a really quick and dirty explanation of a really complex and fascinating sociological thingy. With that warning in mind, Cathars were a religious sect, many of whom lived in the town of Albi, which is why they were called Albigensians. The Cathars were vegetarian Christians who believed in reincarnation, gender equality, and non-procreative sex (basically any form of sexual activity that wouldn’t lead to pregnancy — yeah, that’s right, any form). They also thought the pope was corrupt as fuck (SPOILER: despite taking the name Innocent III, he was really pretty corrupt). None of that was acceptable to the Church. The pope decided the Cathars were NOT Christians at all, and therefore they had to be converted. Or killed. Pick one.
Remember, from about 1099 to 1272, Christian Europe did a LOT of crusading. This involved traveling a couple of thousand miles to the Middle East in order to kill non-Christians and take their property. A crusade against non-Christians in the south of France was a LOT easier, a lot more time-effective, you didn’t have to deal with all that foreign food, and you still got to kill folks and take their stuff. That made this a very very popular crusade.
Right, back to our boy Arnaud Amalric. He took his crusader army from northern France into southern France, stopping at the town of Béziers. Another tangent: this wasn’t an army in the way we think of armies today. Crusader armies were largely led by knights (privileged guys who expected to get richer through plunder), but the bulk of the fighting was done by peasant foot soldiers (who expected to get some of the riches the knights missed) and mercenary bands (who expected to get paid by the Church and also get rich from plundering), as well as a contingent of religious pilgrims who just wanted the chance to kill non-Christians (and maybe pick up some extra coin while they were at it).
So Arnaud’s boys pull up to Béziers, which basically locked their doors (which they could do since the city was behind walls). Arnaud began to set up a siege. Some townsfolk decided to slide out of the city and whack a few mercenaries before the siege was firmly established. Big mistake. The mercenaries not only whacked the townsfolk, they were able to get in the gate. Where they started killing folks.
Siege warfare at that time was pretty routine. You pick away at the walls until you can send in some mercenaries and foot soldiers and peasants to get gloriously slaughtered while opening a gate or a big enough breach in the wall. Then the knights come flouncing in on their horses, allow the people of the town to get semi-slaughtered until the mercenaries reached the part of town where the richest folks lived. Then the knights would move in, stop the slaughter and the plundering, and take the best stuff. Like Jesus intended.
But in Béziers, the knights were still sitting in their tents drinking wine when the mercenaries broke into the city and started the slaughtering and plundering. Somebody found our boy Arnaud and said, “Dude, they’re killing everybody in town, Christians and Cathars alike, women and children, everybody, what do we do?” There’s some dispute whether the concern was about the slaughtering or about the fact that the peasants and mercenaries were getting all the best plunder. In any event, Arnaud is reported to have said this:
“Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”
This often gets translated as “Kill them all, let god sort them out.” A more accurate translation is, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are his own.” The more accurate translation is important, because it cites the Bible (Paul’s second epistle to Timothy) as the source for the killing.
“[T]he foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.”
In the end, Arnaud wrote to the pope to let him know they’d taken Béziers. He wrote, “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost twenty thousand people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt.” But hey, we all make mistakes, and surely god knew which of those twenty thousand were good Christians. So there’s that.
Basically Arnaud’s take on the situation was largely the same as Pastor Rodney’s. “If you die to be with Jesus, what’s the problem?” Of course, it sounds more sober and religious if you say it in Latin. Si morietur cum ad Jesum, quid est forsit?
The problem, of course, is there are folks who’d just as soon not die. They’d prefer to have a choice in the matter. They’d rather not be put to the sword or infected with a disease simply because some folks believe god will take care of everything in the end, and everybody will get what they deserve.
Let me be clear about this. I have no beef with religion as a social institution. A lot of folks find comfort and solace in their beliefs. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. But I do have a problem with the sort of religious stupidity that puts folks with a different belief system at risk because believers think in the end god will take care of his own team.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell those providentialist fuckwits to go fuck themselves. That would probably sound better in Latin.