Christian Belief, Autism, and Bering’s Cognitive Suite

In what follows I raise questions for further investigation into the relationship between autism and concept acquisition, particularly as it would relate to Christian witness.

–After reading Jess Bering’s “The folk psychology of souls,” That article is available on JSTOR. I am also happy to email a pdf to anyone interested.

Respondents Stephen Flusberg and Helen Tager-Flusberg have picked up on the strain in Jesse Bering’s “The folk psychology of souls” related to people with autism. Admittedly for the respondents, there is no systematically tested data related to whether people with autism are less likely to consider mental states surviving death. The suggestions of these respondents make up for what they lack in hard evidence by being explicit in their call for further work and study. This does not mean however that their inclinations and hypotheses are not unfounded. To begin, I would like to layout the proposal by Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg.

From the abstract of this response to Bering we learn that (on the basis of anecdotal evidence in the place of tested data) people with autism, despite lacking in some mechanisms which Bering identified as supporting a folk psychology of the soul, do indeed believe in life after death. First, what are these mechanisms which individuals with autism lack? Bering argued that individuals most likely to believe in a soul and afterlife are those with the most intact theory of mind. Recognition, or conceptualizing, of mental states seems to be near the heart of the matter. It is no secret that this particular domain of human cognition is underdeveloped or lacking entirely in individuals with ASD. The respondents point out that people with ASD have difficulty representing the mental states of themselves, let alone the mental states of others. Since Bering cites consideration of the mental state as a prerequisite to a concept of the mental state’s existence post-mortem, Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg wonder if this means those with ASD have little to no likelihood of holding such existential beliefs.

The reality of belief in a soul or afterlife among individuals on the ASD spectrum is more complex than all or nothing. The respondents cite Bering’s view that belief in an afterlife is in part an affective response to the death of loved ones. People with ASD do not, in general, form as many deep emotional attachments evoking of affective responses. Since people with ASD lack the emotional attachment, the severing of that relationship is less likely to form the sort of existential crisis required for the formation of a belief in a soul. On the other hand, some people with autism do claim beliefs in a soul or an afterlife. Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg thus make a linguistic proposal.

Their hypothesis is “that a person with autism may acquire the belief in an afterlife via language, in the same way as they can learn to pass false belief tasks.” Studies have shown that children with autism can be predicted to pass theory of mind tasks on the basis of their linguistic knowledge. This argument for language and grammar as an explanation of concept acquisition might seem to work more in favor of socio-cultural indoctrination as the cause of belief, rather than underlying cognitive mechanisms. For Bering, this depends on the belief. He readily concedes that specific and distinctive religious concepts can be attributed to the socio-cultural cause. But general dualistic concepts are a result of cognitive mechanisms according to Bering’s theory. Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg pushback and wonder “given people with autism can hold dualistic beliefs,” that is people without the cognitive mechanisms Bering cites as the cause of dualistic belief, “might language play a more significant role in the folk psychology of souls?”

The respondent’s’ proposal is not unfamiliar territory for philosophers. The notion that conceptual and linguistic confusion encourages the separation of mind and body rather than anything cognitive or innate to human beings is an argument I was first exposed to in Wittgenstein. Importantly, the respondents note that their argument in favor of language over Bering’s argument for cognition are completely compatible. All of Bering’s evidence may work just as well for Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg since “language and cognition are intimately tied together.”

Bering, I suspect, would not be entirely displeased with this suggestion for further work by Flusberg and Tager-Flusberg. Bering’s own insistence upon an evolved cognitive suite points towards a variety of functions capable of producing belief in a soul or afterlife. In my own experience (which will have to do in the case of a lack of tested data), the prerequisite of language and grammar for concept acquisition is essential. It is not clear to me that my three year old sibling Sawyer knows what it means to be ashamed. In the first place he has no sense of shame, or perhaps I really mean he has no sense of nudity versus clothed-ness. The argument about language preceding concepts might be interesting to compare alongside Deborah Keleman’s “Are Children Intuitive Theists?” It would seem that children at least have a sense of function (teleology) prior to their have an adequate vocabulary and grammar to explain that concept. As Bering, Flusberg, and Tager-Flusberg all concede: more research ought to be done. Further, I consider myself fairly aware of the work being done in Christian academia. Thought related to the autistic community is almost entirely lacking. If it is true that religious concepts, the holding of which most religious adherents would consider quite valuable with implications for the afterlife, are less likely to be held by those with autism then it would seem that theologians should be working through their own level of explanation regarding this phenomenon. Bering’s work seems an excellent place to start.

Reflecting on the Rule of St. Benedict

This was written in response to the question: What was daily life like in a monastery following the Rule of St Benedict? What sorts of info does the Rule not provide about daily life?

The Rule of St. Benedict valued union with God most highly, and established that the surest path to this sort of union was obedience to and conformity with Christ. Carole Straw suggests in her contribution “The Avenging Abbott” in Glenn’s The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture that Gregory the Great’s account of Benedict is “much like the authoritarian abbott presented in The Rule of Saint Benedict, written some 60 years beforehand.” Straw goes on to use language like “strict,” “harsh,” and “painful” to describe the monastic life outlined in the Rule of St Benedict (confirmed by the austere character in Gregory’s writing). Of course, in the pursuit of conformity with a sinless, homeless, suffering, tortured and crucified Lord, it should come as no surprise that humans used to a bit more comfort and a bit less capable themselves of resisting things like sloth and envy will find such conformity demanding labor. Indeed, labor occurs as both a metaphor for the task of obedience, as well as a literal expectation of how the task will unfold.

Straw notes that the economy between the Father and Son of the Trinity became an important model for understanding the dynamic between Abbot and monk. This is clear in St. Benedict’s appraisal of the four kinds of monks, of which “the strongest kind is the Cenobites” since they are “those who live in monasteries and serve under a rule and an Abbot.” Benedict admired the Hermits, but had no stomach for the third “detestable kind” of monks, the Sarabaites, who “not having been tested by any rule…are soft as gold in the furnace.” Even worse than the Sarabaites were the Gyrovagues, who traveled from monastery to monastery “with no stability” (a cardinal virtue of Benedict’s Rule), “succumb to the allurements of gluttony,” and of whose “miserable conduct…it is better to be silent than to speak.”

Following St. Benedict’s Rule, daily life in a monastery came to include what we remember today as the staples of monastic spirituality. Whenever business needed conducted, the Abbot was to call together the whole community of the brethren and consider their advice, even the younger members since “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” Obedience, as the first degree of humility, is the virtue to be practiced by those “who hold nothing dearer than Christ.” As is observed from the Gospels, “speaking and teaching belong to the master; the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen.” An enforced silence, which sounds restrictive to modern socialites, might be better understood, given the Gospel story justification, as a rhythm of listening and teachability. Of course, self-denial is also part of the “spirit of silence” as words are so often intended for the glorification of the one speaking.

Patience was set out to be a defining characteristic because “those who are faithful endure all things.” The Divine Office, a daily schedule of prayers, and readings from psalms and other Scripture, was to be maintained. This was regulated alongside the liturgical Calendar. Prescriptions are also given for sleeping arrangements, what constitutes cause and how the process of excommunication is to unfold (importantly including the process of how one is reinstated), and rebuke and correction of the brethren. Echoing the early Church of Acts, the monks did not possess their own property and were “to have all things in common.” Chapter 35 comes as a reminder that monks are not completely unlike ordinary folk–they still ate, and so everyone took a turn on kitchen duty. Special instructions are given for the care of the sick, the elderly, and the very young. Since “idleness is the enemy of the soul” the brethren were to be occupied at certain hours with manual labor.

As the monastic community was to exist as an idyllic representation of the difference Christ makes, hospitality was a nonnegotiable, for we sinners were strangers and God made us his friends in dying for us. The words of Christ to his disciples on caring for the marginalized are formative in Benedict’s admonition that “in the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received.” It is interesting that despite Benedict’s emphasis on peace in the community, he presumes the existence of conflict among the brethren, hence the procedures for rebuke, correction, and resolution. If a community is to be truly peaceable, the implication seems to be that it will need to regularly flesh out its conflicts in such a way that disagreements are not buried and allowed to fester into worse, or perhaps violent, conclusions. I think what makes peace so difficult for us today is a lack of imagination–Pacifism just sounds so boring. But life in Benedict’s community of peace seems anything but mundane. Although I have to admit a disposition to routine.

The rule provides a full plate of prayer and song, labor and rest. As far as what might be missing from the daily life of monks in the Rule of St. Benedict I am not sure. The paradox of an entirely selfless life lived for the sake of the community made up of members who are deeply introspective suggests something profound about the invitation of God for us to be at peace with one another. The rhythm of prayer, work, and hospitality forms the sort of stability that is incubated from going stale. That is, the sort of stability that produces renewal of hearts and minds. That is a highly compelling suggestion for contemporary Christians who live in a world of imbalance. And of course, the Order of St. Benedict remains a thriving part of the Church.

Reflecting on St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas

*This was written in answer to the question: “Medieval saints legends were widely circulated, intended for use as devotional literature and in order to communicate key aspects of Christian living which the clergy thought important to show the laity embodied in examples. What is being promoted in the account of Perpetua and Felicitas?”

Click here for a selection of the account in translation.

These accounts of Perpetua and Felicitas and their martyrdom were very moving. It would be remiss of me as an aspiring Christian historian and theologian not to reflect upon the spiritual importance of their life and death. Embellished and exact or not, these accounts of persecution at the hands of Roman authorities are at least true insofar as things like this really happened, even if not really to an actual Perpetua and Felicitas–though their accounts are generally considered among the more reliable (certainly more so than Foxe’s later medieval accounts of Catholic persecution of Protestants). What I appreciate most of all is demonstration of the profound difference Christ makes in suffering. What must have driven the Romans crazy was that, despite their aptitude for torture and killing, they could not victimize Christians. Martyrdom is the nullification of victimization. Suffering is privilege, death is victory, and so on. For the Christian, who strives through a lifetime of weakness and temptation for “Christlikeness,” to die a martyr’s death is a gift–precisely because there is no more unifying common experience available for a Christian and her Lord.

By way of answering the question of what this account of the death of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas might have been promoting, given their context as martyr saints legends in the early medieval period, I find it useful to point out the recurring themes. First, prayer and intercession are at the heart of the account. Perpetua’s intercession on behalf of others, especially for her deceased brother who was apparently suffering post-mortem[1], reveal what was retained as one of the most basic activities of the saints throughout the ages. I was also struck at Perpetua’s awareness of and sharing in the suffering of those she loved. She feels her father being beaten by Roman guards and her brother’s pain. Her awareness of their suffering compels her to further intercession on their behalf. Suffering is welcome for its unique way of uniting one with Christ, as Felicitas testified “I suffer by myself [regarding giving birth]. But then [referring to her martyrdom] another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.”[2] Another key theme is that of visions. Perpetua’s brother suggests she pray to receive a vision, which comes in the form of her own triumph over a dragon and climbing up a ladder in pursuit of Saturus (a fellow prisoner and eventual martyr).[3] This was especially intriguing as the vision seems to go so well, they are victorious over the dragon and ascending the perilous ladder and receive a mouthful of fresh milk, but then Perpetua awakes and immediately understands and tells her brother this means “we will have to suffer.”[4] She has several other visions, the most memorable being her transformation into a man who gets oiled down before a brawl with an Egyptian.[5]

I find that Perpetua and Felicitas were both young mothers is an important detail or promotion. It is intriguing that these martyr legends have self-sacrificing motherly virtues as such a strong theme as compared to later medieval virgin martyr legends (Karen Winstead’s book). There is still of course the fascination with female breasts,–“mammary miracles.” Perpetua prays and is relieved of “any discomfort in [her] breasts” after a premature separation from her infant (who also miraculously “had no further desire for the breast” upon the separation).[6] The dynamic between Perpetua and her father is intriguing. Her father seems to be playing the role of what would later become unsavory pagan princes trying to lure young virgin Christian women away from their purity and devotion to Christ. Her father is not quite so malicious, but he pleads with her to offer the pagan sacrifice and recant of her exclusive devotion to the Christian faith. Her persistence in orthodoxy is exemplary, and undoubtedly a theme which readers are meant to note and emulate. Beyond these basic tenets of Christian spirituality being posited, prayer particularly, the end of the account may include a brief lapse in “sticking to the facts.” The contemporary author who has to include the details about Perpetua and Felicitas’ deaths includes that Perpetua “pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain.” This, at least on the surface, seems to be more an injection of early medieval pastoral advice to young women concerning modesty than a fitting detail from the actual events.

[1] St .Perpetua, Part 7 (page 60).

[2] St. Perpetua, Part 15 (page 62).

[3] St. Perpetua, Part 4 (page 59).

[4] St. Perpetua, Part 4 (page 59).

[5] St. Perpetua, Part 9 (page 61).

[6] St. Perpetua, Part 6 (page 60).

The Church and Politics in 2016

Anyone who has the abysmal fate of having me for a friend on social media will already be aware of my relentless assault on Donald Trump, and more specifically my assault on the idea belonging to some of my fellow Christians that Donald Trump is worthy of our support. First, I need to say a word about the word “our.” It should be clear already, but I typically write my Facebook posts, my tweets, and even these blogs with a Christian audience in mind. This is not to say I don’t have dear friends who don’t share my Christian convictions; I certainly do. But overwhelmingly, due to my upbringing, my pre-college education and my continued involvement in the Church, as well as my aspirations about vocational academic work on behalf of the Church, my social circles and audience are overwhelmingly Christian. Thus any uses of “our” or “we” or “us” moving forward in this particular post should be understood as referring not to Americans, but to Christians and the Church.

The 2016 Presidential Election is giving many Christians more pause than elections typically do. At this point in the campaign, conventions done and over with, politically conservative and liberal Christians are typically either enthusiastic or at least confident about voting for the Republican and Democratic nominee respectively. This year is different. Those of us who are politically liberal are disenchanted with Hillary Clinton’s track record of corruption and dishonesty. Those of us who are politically conservative stare wide-eyed at the bombastic, seemingly xenophobic, and morally indignant Donald Trump. Sure every election to date has involved some level of compromise, since the perfect candidate doesn’t exist. But this year Christians on both sides of the political divide are being asked to overlook more than in years past. I want to lay out what seem to be some of the glaring flaws of both of the major party candidates, as well as mention their strengths. Before that, I would like to be forthcoming about my background and methodology. And hopefully, throughout this blog criteria for discernment can be gleaned for use in this election year. If I am able to successfully offer guiding thoughts which Christians can employ to interpret the messy campaign that is sure to be coming to TV commercials, news headlines, and perhaps even churches near you, I will have met my objective.

Criteria For Discernment:

Politically I stand at what I think is an interesting meeting of N.T. Wright (New Testament Scholar and Historian) and Stanley Hauerwas (Theologian and Ethicist). From both of them I am convinced regarding the undeniable public dimension of the Christian life. Indeed Christ’s ministry is a public one, with public implications. That “Jesus is Lord” is of course, given the first century context, also a declaration that “Caesar is not.” At the center of Jesus’ teaching was the Kingdom of God, which Wright has argued should be taken as the rule of God. Hauerwas too has suggested that at the heart of what it means to be Christians and to exist communally as the Church is to establish an alternative to the world’s politics. Interestingly Wright has criticized Hauerwas for his “resident alien” proposal, suggesting that it slides into a retreating Church, rather than a public one. That Hauerwas is also a committed pacificst and Wright is not undoubtedly has something to with this critique. I think Hauerwas would respond that a Christian commitment to non-violence is not itself inevitably a retreat, rather it is a call to a specific kind of very public action that seems counter-intuitive, especially to Americans. There isn’t room for a full interaction of these two brilliant scholars, but I mention them both because I am sure that they’ve been equally important in my thinking of Christian thoughts about politics.

Christ stands as the center and the norm of a Christian approach to politics. His teaching, of course, but his character and actions as well–what we might call his embodied teachings. That Jesus is Lord I take to be not just a matter of my opinion, but a true and concrete reality. Jesus is Lord of the Church, and all the world. Karl Barth (theologian, 1886-1968) is helpful here. What does the universal work of Christ mean for the interplay between the Church and societies? Christ, Barth says, is like the center of two concentric circles. The smaller circle is the Christian community, which knows that Christ is the center and aims to live in light of that knowledge. The larger circle around the smaller circle is the civil community, which also has Christ as the center without knowing it. The inner-circle of the Church of course is the gateway for the outer-circle of society to know and realize the center: Christ. The Church is to make Christ known. This is not only true of formal evangelistic efforts, but in every area of the Church’s public activity, including Christians and politics. We should see, and I think this is crucial, our political engagement as an activity which has an end goal of making Christ, the center, known to society.

I do not pretend to know exactly how the issues should be ordered, but in terms of evaluating evil I take it to be a common practice to think in terms of severity, which would include scale. Political policies effect humans, this is what they all have in common, either permitting or denying certain behaviors or actions, granting certain benefits, and so on. Since scale, the number of humans effected, is an important factor when deciding which issues matter the most, I take migration, abortion, war/violence, and international affairs (including things like global poverty, hunger, war, etc.) to be first order issues. Less important but still worthy of consideration would be second order issues like economics and taxation. In addition to the issues, the character and virtue of the candidates themselves, as seen in what is known of their personal lives and public conduct is important to the Christian’s evaluation.

I. We worship a God who welcomes all humans into his care. Our God is just toward all humans. Thus Christians, in making Christ known to their society (Barth’s circles), should seek to establish a society that is welcoming and just toward migrants. We should care especially for those who have been pushed from their homes by violence or poverty. In 2014, nearly 60 million people lived as refugees. Our Christ was himself a migrant. His family left Judea for Egypt, refugees from a government campaign of mass murder (Matt. 2). The notion of migrants is even a metaphor which Christ uses to explain the transition from the world to the kingdom (Matt. 25). One of Jesus’ most well known parables dealt with the good Samaritan–a despised racial minority from a neighboring country. Whatever else is occurring in that lesson, it is also a call to reconsider prejudice and fears of other groups of people. Christians, being imitators of Christ, are called to be welcomers. We are all strangers to God, and yet he invites us and calls us to a new home. An appropriate response to this divine welcome is to receive and imitate it. Miroslav Volf has suggested there are legitimate societal limitations on immigration, set by two goods they serve: Security and Preservation of a society’s way of life. On Security, governments must protect their citizens–but we must evaluate the intensity of our fears against the legitimacy of threats. And self-preservation and safety, for Christians, cannot trump preservation and safety of another.

II. We worship a God who creates and sustains life. All life, born or unborn, is precious to God. As Christians we should care for all life, especially life which is most vulnerable and in need of nurturing and protection. Bearing new life is an important part of God’s creation of women. To be a mother is among the highest of callings in God’s world. Bearing  a child does not reduce a woman to an incubator. If a woman is pregnant, the new life she carries adds to the ways in which we have obligations to care for her. The intentional destruction of this new life for reasons such as “economic burden,” “unplanned,” “ill-timed,” etc. are inexcusable citations for an abortion, as they would be for any instance of murder. Christians should work for the reduction and elimination of the practice of abortion, and should seek to impose a reversion to the pre-Roe v Wade illegality of the practice. However, thinking well about the issue of abortion forces us to consider the factors which lead to its rise in the political sphere, why did it become increasingly necessary? In part, I think it is because society and the Christians of that society were and are not caring properly for women, and especially pregnant women. Healthcare should be expanded and made affordable for pregnant women, as pregnancy introduces heightened risk of certain health problems. Women should not be economically disadvantaged because of pregnancy, and their job security should not be jeopardized. Finally the Church should abandon any residual legalism in its relating to and caring for women who are pregnant, married or otherwise. The Church owes emotional and practical support to pregnant women, for her sake and the sake of the new life she carries. Finally, Christians are historically not agreed on whether abortion is justifiable when a mother’s life is at serious risk. As a general rule, neither life should receive preference in care, and in seeking to remain consistently pro-Life, not just pro-Birth, Christians should leave medical professionals the option to discern on a case by case basis whether abortion is justifiable in these rare circumstances.

III. We worship a God of peace. Jesus embodied a relentless commitment to non-violence. Use of violence for self-defense is always justified by its proponents by establishing a guilty and innocent party. No party was ever more innocent and undeserving in being assaulted than Christ himself, who refused to use violence. War is always a slaughter. War, for Christians, should always be interpreted in terms of loving one’s neighbor and loving one’s enemies. 231 million people died in the wars and conflicts of the twentieth century. Christians often fight in and support these wars, and that is not historically unusual. But God is the God of peace (Rom 15, Heb 13). As Christians we must seek and pursue peace (Ps. 34). Peace is not just for our friends and comrades, peace is universal. Christ came to bring peace to the world. Christians therefore are to pursue peace with everyone (Heb 12). Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that is was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sens rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matt 5). There are no exceptions to the love commandment, and so support for a war could only be justified if it could be shown to be a form of love. Aquinas (1225-74), the most common source for just-war theory, reminds us that the question of love in war concerns active benevolence, not just warm feelings. Wars therefore cannot be for our benefit only, but must also be for the good of our enemies. Volf has, from Augustine and Aquinas, identified these keys to the composition of a just-war: Legitimate authority, just cause, right intention, last resort, reasonable chance of success. Because of the many ways in which war and violence have become commonplace for Christians and the Church, it requires a much fuller treatment than can be offered here. I would point in the direction of three enormously helpful books: The Politics of Jesus (Yoder), War and the American Difference (Hauerwas), and The Peacable Kingdom (Hauerwas). For a Christian to be part of the military would mean that they are more willing to die than be killed, and act with the utmost discrimination in determining whether they are acting with love for the good of their enemies. In general, it seems unlikely that killing your enemies is ever the same as loving your enemies. More practically, for Christians who posses tools intended to kill those who may seek to kill them, I am reminded of the missionaries in Ecuador who had the guns necessary to defend themselves from head hunting natives, but who recognized that their own souls were prepared for eternity and their killers’ souls were not. John Piper has written well on whether Christians should arm themselves for self-defense. Finally, a word about the use of torture. Christians should never condone it. To defend the intrinsic value of all human life while supporting one of the most dehumanizing practices of all, torture, is incoherent. Those who use torture also dehumanize themselves. To intentionally inflict severe pain upon a beloved creature of God is to mock the love which God has bestowed.

IV.  We worship a God who is the God of all he has created, including all people. Consider the previous three issues of migration, abortion, and war/violence. The refugee crises are only solvable when the root cause of the “push” factors are dealt with in the part of the world being fled. Abortion, which has everything to do with the dignity of human life means the principles involved are interactive with other issues, like the death of recently born human life due to starvation and disease. War and violence are occurring in every corner of the earth. None of these issues is just local, and thus Christian should have the same scope in politics as most already do with evangelistic missions: Global. This is perhaps the most complex of all the issues. None of the biblical authors could have imagined the sort of globalization we have in today’s world. I recently had the privilege of hearing two friends in dialogue about technology and the problem of how to live ethically given how connected things now are. iPhones are produced in horrible Asian factory conditions in which suicide nets are set up to keep workers from leaping to their deaths. Most diamond engagement rings are unethically sourced, coming from war torn parts of Africa where the diamond industries trade hands between war lords–Blood Diamond is not entirely fiction. How is a Christian or anyone to live and navigate these things? Is it our obligation to be actively working to end all of these injustices? Hunger, disease, poverty, human trafficking, etc. One of my two friends suggested that a healthy dose of the reality of human finitude would go a long way in keeping us sane. Remember that you can’t do it all, and you are where you are because God has work for you to do there. Is it right to take your family on a trip into the mountains or out to dinner instead of sending that money to a charity digging clean water wells for Africa? Here again, these sorts of issues require a lengthy treatment. For starters, we need a balanced approach which recognizes human limitedness alongside the Christian obligation to be on the side of justice. What this absolutely cannot mean, is a foreign policy of isolationism, America first, etc. If racism is the privileging of certain races above another, nationalism is the privileging of certain nations above another. For Christians, our allegiance is to God and we therefore share in his commitment to be for the whole world, not just the nation of our birth.

V. Second order issues, including economics, taxation, and now care for the environment, are important considerations but I haven’t thought as much about them and they seem to be much less pressing than the first order issues. I did actually write a Christian approach to environmental ethics for an ethics course my freshman year, and that may be of interest to some of you.

VI. We have a God of holy and righteous character, full in every kind of virtue. Christians ought to foster courage, humility, a thirst for justice, respect and compassion in their societies, and thus they ought to seek these things in their political candidates of choice. Christians are also people who forgive and love, as we are people who have experienced the forgiveness and love of God. The past mistakes of an individual do not mean they are incapable of being good–think especially of the Apostle Paul, essentially a terrorist turned missionary and theologian! Personal failures and vices may or may not rule someone out from a Christian’s political consideration. As a basic rule, someone who is obviously and publicly behaving and conducting themselves in opposition to Christ’s example is not worthy of the support of Christians. Our own witness and testimony is damaged when we are tethered or perceived to be tethered to evil. We appear as hypocrites. We cannot make Christ known to our society by endorsing and supporting candidates and policies that are mostly at odds with Christ’s own character.

Moving Forward:

If Christian existence is as Barth conceived of it, the Church as a smaller circle with Christ as center, making the larger circle of society aware of the center it does not know it has–then how are we to engage politically? The key question for this election would seem to be, how does your support of Candidate X make Christ known? Is Candidate X aligned with the theological criteria from above? Is candidate X himself or herself guided by the character and virtue we’ve learned from Christ? In the coming days I’ll be writing a fuller engagement of these criteria as they relate to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton specifically. Prayerfully consider how your public Christian life, which politics and voting are part of, relate to your mission on earth and the continued witness of Christ to the world.


A Federalist, Christian Historian’s Political Musings

trumoMy political affiliation on Facebook has been listed as “Federalist Party” since junior year of high school, when I had the privilege of arguing for that position (against the demented Jeffersonians) in AP US History. Happily, it is now much more than an extension of a role I once played, it now represents a burgeoning historian’s conviction: It’s time for a retrieval of Hamiltonian Federalism.

The prospect of President Trump is alarming. As for his supporters, pinches of xenophobia, violent tendencies, and an ethic of vengeance combine with a base of rage to perfect a truly diabolical stew of political brouhaha. Oxford English’s notion of “mob” fits well: “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” Mr. Trump’s barrage of insults and dehumanizing language have been inflicted on many groups, including women, muslims, and immigrants (particularly non-Europeans). When asked about foreign policy and who his primary advisors are, Mr. Trump replied: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. I know what I’m doing, and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people, and at the appropriate time I’ll tell you who the people are. But my primary consultant is myself and I have, you know, a good instinct for this stuff.”(March 8, Morning Joe). Mr. Trump has encouraged violence against protestors at his rallies: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” Mr. Trump has, on several occasions, endorsed war crimes and killing civilians as a proper course of action for combating terrorism: “We’re fighting a very politically correct war, and the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” Mr. Trump was slow to disavow the support of the former Grand Wizard of the KKK. Although that’s Unsurprising, given Trump is an opportunist who will accept the support of any group, regardless of the level of evil they’ve achieved and continue to propagate.

Trump is a morally deplorable figure, but furthermore he is incapable of holding the office of POTUS. Keep in mind that Mr. Trump is a businessman, a company executive. He is used to getting his way and saying “you’re fired” to anyone who opposes him. But the American system of government assumes a certain amount of opposition amongst its members. We all remember the key phrases “checks and balances” and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Upon admittance to the White House, Mr. Trump is going to have to learn an entirely foreign language: compromise. Congress will not, and should not, bow to the executive branch of government just because he says “I say so.” When asked whether he would be able to work with Congress and specifically speaker Paul Ryan, Mr. Trump responded: “I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him.. And if I don’t, he’s going to have to pay a big price, okay?” When asked about the potential for him to fail to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination and a brokered convention, Mr. Trump could hardly contain himself and suggested there “would be riots.” Perhaps there are CEOs that would make good governing executives. But the strong arming and bullying which Mr. Trump has exhibited don’t get you very far in Washington, or frankly in many spheres at all besides the company with your name on it.

The genius of the Trump machine is that the more you expose his faults, his immoralities, his lack of qualifications and his unfitness for office, the more his mob of supporters believe in him. Trump’s mob have fallen prey to the illusion that this tough business man is the anecdote needed to cure the disease of the “Washington establishment.” Ironically, Trump is as much to blame for the corruption and corporate big money dominance in DC as anyone else, and his donations to both parties, including likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, are well documented.

If ever there was a time for historians to step out of their studies and classrooms and into the public sphere, it is now! Mr. Trump is a problem, but the head of the snake doesn’t make it to the White House in the American republic without an effective slithering body! Donald Trump is a populist. He is his supporters. It wouldn’t be difficult for you to go and read the many appalling things reporters have learned from interviewing those who attend Trump’s rallies. Jordan Ray Correll’s account of his first hand Trump rally experience is particularly disturbing: “I have never seen more hateful people in my life. Everyone was just filled with so much hatred. If a protester had a sign, even the peaceful ones, they would take the sign from them, rip it up, and throw it back at the protesters. Whenever a protester would get removed, the crowd would yell horrible things. Once, after a protester was removed, Trump said, “Where are these people coming from? Who are they?” A lady, sitting not 5 feet from me, said, “Well hopefully when you’re president, you’ll get rid of em all!” Get rid of them? Get rid of anyone who opposes Trump?” Mr. Trump should be defeated, and I actually think he will in the end. But this election cycle has given America the opportunity to be reminded of the differences between a republic and mob-rule democracy.

Fearing exactly this sort of person would make a run for the presidency, the founders brilliantly provided for checks and balances not just for the settled elected government itself, but the in the very process of electing. The electoral college has historically resulted in four elections where a candidate won the necessary electoral college votes but did not win the popular vote (1824, 76, 88, 2000). 1824 is a particularly good example of a moment when the winner of the largest fraction of popular votes (Jackson) was not elected president (Adams won). All of the scenarios demonstrating how the popular vote is secondary to deciding presidents can get a bit technical, but I am mainly interested in the ideology behind it: Sometimes people shouldn’t be allowed to decide their leaders.

Federalist government in early America was anything but democratic. A very particular class ruled and regulated the young nation. Education, political experience, demonstrated moral standing, and being a white male were the key ingredients. Since then, America has done well to to dissolve the least important and most prejudice of these. There was a moral obligation to do so, and Americans of both genders and all races can continue to be thankful for those changes. I am concerned about the erosion of the other three ingredients, and perhaps the reinstatement of the fourth. A friend recently shared with me some data from CNN’s voter data research. Statistically, the number 1,2, and 3 things to ensure you’ll vote for trump are: 1.) Drop out of college or High School 2.) Be White and 3.) Be Male. American moral decay should be cause enough for a proposal of government by fewer of the people. A well known aspect of federalist politics was limitations on who could vote. As mentioned, franchisement regardless of race and gender have been much needed and long overdue instances of change. But the expansion of the right to vote is partially to blame for our present problem of Mr. Trump. Perhaps America should reconsider who is allowed to cast ballots. I don’t buy that it has to be everyone or else it once again becomes oligarchic. There’s a balance, and it removes those too uninformed from wielding power in the name of idiocy. Though as I mentioned, there is already built into this republic a provision for leading against idiocy: the electoral college.

Consider also what tyranny is: cruel and oppressive government or rule. Note that tyranny does not necessarily imply a one man dictatorship. Every form of government, including a government where 51% controls 49% (and sometimes the margin is even smaller) can constitute tyranny. What matters is not who rules, but how. Monarchy is not inherently tyrannical. Do not be fooled into thinking that tyranny cannot exist where people vote. It will be for you to decide whether Mr. Trump’s dehumanizing insults, prejudice, xenophobia, and sexism are cruel and oppressive.

I make no apologies about being a theocrat, and I don’t think that “Jesus is Lord” is just my opinion: it’s reality. There is a division between the Christian “we” and the American “we,” no doubt. How Christians should interact with American politics is an ongoing question, but I am thankful especially for the influence of Stanley Hauerwas, N.T. Wright, and Carl Trueman. Never forget, Christians, we are a people set apart. At the moment I’m thinking through what the implication of that might be for my field of interest particularly.

For Christian historians, our task is to help America confess its national sins, recognizing the limitations of American society and government to make right those sins, both past and present . Particularly we should be helping Americans to recognize their thirst for justice cannot be satisfied by temporal political or national powers. Native American genocide, slavery, and the atomic bombings are, to quote Hauerwas, “wrongs so wrong, there is nothing you can do to make them right.” No amount of policy, political jockeying, or any candidate, can enact the justice our world needs. Meanwhile the Church as the people of God are tasked with bearing God’s good rule on the earth by overcoming injustice by love with humility, but never coercion. So our task is to help Americans to be truthful about themselves and their history, their shortcomings and their moments of virtue. I often find that telling the truth about myself in prayer and confession makes the truth of Christ all the more remarkable and enjoyable. Were this to be instituted on a national scale, in large part through the diligent work of Christian historians who will tell the truth and write about the past for the sake of improving the collective American memory and moral conscience, then perhaps Americans would see the futility of revenge and violence, recognizing that their political justice is a mere shadow of what’s necessary and what’s possible. Then the Church might have the opportunity to show itself to constitute an alternative politics, or the world as it can and will be.

A Brief Introduction to the Medieval Bible

For a long time, scholarship concerning the Bible of the medieval Christians has been dominated by pro-Enlightenment characterizations. Access to the Bible is believed to have been restricted to the clerics, the only ones that could read the Latin (that is, until Luther first put the Bible into the language of the people). Alongside this myth that the clergy monopolized Bible access, is the idea that medieval theologians contributed little to the study of scripture.  It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment that digging towards the “true” and “original” meaning of the text got serious. The real Bible was recovered in the Renaissance, with its emphasis on the Greek and Hebrew. To all of this anti-medieval sentiment, I want to offer a sound rebuke. My aim in writing an introduction to the medieval Bible is to present a more positive assessment of biblical scholarship in the medieval period. The study concentrates on four main areas: 1.) the history of the Bible as a material object, 2.) the history of the Bible as a written text, and its transmission by repeated copying and medieval efforts to exact a “correct” version, 3.) the history of the interpretation of the text, which has often been dismissed as pale and irrelevant in the wake of the Reformation, and 4.) the diffusion of biblical ideas and its influence in the broader culture.

Our first consideration is the Bible as a physical object. For most of the middle ages the Bible was rarely ever one book; One scholar considers it more of a “sacred library.” Near the end of the Middle Ages though, bibles began to look more as we conceive them today–a composite single volume contained under one cover. In fact, the idea of the Bible as a single book–quite an important concept for the Reformers–originated during the Middle Ages. The formation of the biblical canon was also beginning to solidify during the Middle Ages. Some readers might be surprised at this, that the discussion of which books would be considered scripture was not settled at the beginning of the medieval period. But the disagreement is represented by the emergence of two canons at the end of the Middle Ages, one with the Apocrypha and one without. In addition to the debated Apocryphal (deutero-canonical) books, the medieval Christians were also engaging with a large body of “para-biblical” literature. This included “Gospels” narrating the early childhood of Jesus, or the life of Mary. Some, including the author of the Da Vinci Code, have wanted to see these books as a suppressed expression of an alternative Christianity that medieval church leadership was eager to eradicate. Though these extra-canonical texts were not held up as highly as scripture, they were often enjoyed as popular devotional reading, and the medieval clerics didn’t discourage their parishioners from reading them. The diversity of the biblical canon in the Middle Ages suggests the idea that the formation of the Bible was conspiratorial or authoritarian (as Bart Ehrman has famously argued) is far from accurate. There was a broad consensus certainly, but the sixteenth century saw a less tolerance on what counts as canon than ever previously.

Another important aspect of studying the Bible in the medieval Church is to examine the evolution of the text of the canonical Bible in the Middle Ages. “Handwritten and hand-copied, and constantly being reformatted to meet the new demands of the time, the text of the medieval Bible was far from fixed.” Human copiers inevitably lead to certain mistakes, which lead to corrections and improvements. The objective, which seems to have always been the case for Christian biblical scholarship, is to have the text accurately reflect its “original” version.

No study could be taken seriously without discussion of the interpretation of the biblical text. Medieval hermeneutics were more interested in allegorical and spiritual readings of the Bible than modern interpreters. Narratives were often taken to reflect relevant spiritual truths about God and themselves. However, the idea that the most common approach to understanding scripture in the Middle Ages was to search for allegorical meaning has been overstated. This is unsurprising, as many of the scholars who have established this notion are not themselves biblical scholars or even Christians, but secular historians. The secular historian tends to see efforts to find Christ in the Old Testament (which was quite common in the Middle Ages) as a quest for allegory, when in reality this is a widely practiced and accepted approach to the meaning of scripture even today. A medieval exegete for example would have been more interested in the parallels between Jonah’s days in the belly of the whale and Christ’s days in the tombFar from remedial importance, studying scripture is a priority for the medievals, as is evidenced by its centrality to medieval university curriculum. More than other forms of evidence, there is an abundant body of literature to see how the Bible was being taught in medieval education–as it was undoubtedly the most important school book. While historical criticism was not the primary mode of exegesis, the medieval Christians often arrive at similar conclusions about texts as we do today. And while its correctness is contested, we must at least find it remarkable how relentless the medievals were in attempting to read the biblical narrative Christocentrically.

The Bible in the medieval community is an emerging field amongst scholars who study the society of the Middle Ages. Who was reading the Bible, and how did one become acquainted with the Bible in a context where many could not read? This affords us the chance to mention the numerous vernacular translations that existed in the Middle Ages and their dissemination amongst people of varying classes. Combatting the idea that access to the Bible was restricted also requires challenging modern notions of literacy in the Middle Ages. The research is fresh, but it seems that at the very least, enlightenment historians have exaggerated the matter. It is true that the Bible was not read as often by medieval Christians as it is today–books were hard to come by and reading was a less common skill. But one should not assume that it was therefore less known. A spectator at a medieval mystery play or listeners to a medieval sermon could acquire biblical proficiency in ways comparable to a reader of the text. The medieval Bible’s role in public worship and personal devotion turns out to be not unlike the modern Christian practices. Church services had sermons and scripture readings, and meditation on the Bible and imagining oneself as part of the narrative was common spiritual practice. The Middle Ages also saw the Bible transmitted into the medieval imagination in art and literature. Church decoration and theatrical production were an important way for the laity to be involved.


First, we have to admit that the sixteenth century marked a watershed in the history of the Bible. The printing press altered notions of what made something a “text.” Renaissance scholars no longer studied the Greek and Hebrew to correct the Latin, but to arrive at the “original.” The Reformation challenged the authority of the clerics to hold an exclusive right to interpret the Bible and denied many of the extra-canonical traditions of the medieval Christians, which were sometimes given more importance than is healthy. However, the innovations of the Reformation, while trying to make the meaning of the Bible clearer, may have obscured other things. One such consequence has been the history of the formation of the biblical text. This “lost history” of the Bible, when considered ahistorically, leads to the propagation of myths like the ones being seen in recent pop-fiction. A good understanding of the medieval Bible will help to dispel such absurdities. There’s also the residual effect the extra-canonical books have on the Christian understanding of the books still part of the Bible, even today. Christ’s descent into hell, images of fallen angels, and even the display of certain animals in Nativity scenes are all quite popular today, but each has medieval biblical origins. Even more fundamentally to the Reformation and modern Christianity, it is clear based on emerging work that the notion of the Bible as a single book, and the traditions of lay Bible reading and personal devotion have deep roots in medieval practice.

As one who has interest in the exegesis of scripture, the practice of medieval interpretation was counter-intuitive. I have been trained to reconstruct an author’s historical-cultural context in order to arrive at the intended meaning. This method was not alien to the medieval Christians, and might even become the dominant approach in the late Middle Ages. However, the medieval exegetes were more interested in allegorical and moral interpretations. Seeing the medieval Christians approach to scripture and their own explanations for this approach has forced me to critically examine my own practice.

Though medieval biblical scholarship does not look identical to our modern or even sixteenth century versions, it was a time that bore much fruit. While the text was in some ways limited, the dissemination of the Bible into the wider culture did occur in other creative ways, and perhaps was even more well known to the medieval Christians than it is to many Christians today. Access to read text does not always determine knowledge of that text, and therefore restriction and limitation to read does not always determine ignorance. Much of the medieval Christian practice related to the Bible remains an important part of our practice today.


Medieval Christians

As one who has spent much of the last 12 months reading, researching, and writing about medieval Christians, and growing very fond of them in the process, I feel compelled in this moment to respond to some of the buzz being perpetuated by the President’s remarks concerning the Crusades. On the one hand this is thrilling. It’s not everyday that the topic you’re reading about for a medieval history class at college gets front page press. Secondarily, most of what I am hearing or reading from others about the Crusades and the medieval church is quite alarming and needs to be publicly dismantled.

Two of the not so hot ideas being tossed around:

1. Jihad is Islam’s response to the Crusades

Ehhh, not so much. The idea of “holy war” and militarizing of the Islamic faith existed quite early for Islam. Muhammad claimed to have received revelation from God through the angel Gabriel beginning in 610 CE, and happening sporadically thereafter until his death in 632 CE. These revelations would later be called the Qur’an, and become the primary holy text for Muslims. In the years after Muhammad’s death, the Islamic Caliphate (which was theoretically the theocratic government through which Allah could govern the Islamic community) began its slow spread outward from the Arabian Peninsula and into Persian, Byzantine, and some African territories. Most of the early violence of Islam was commited against the polytheist tribes of Arabia and Persia, not against Jews and Christians. In fact, there is evidence that part of what made the Caliphate’s conquest of Byzantine and Persian territory so quick is that the Muslim invaders received aid from the Christian and Jewish religious minorities who were being persecuted and bearing the blunt of the financial burden for longstanding Roman-Persian wars. And far from forcing conversion, the Caliphate often permitted Christians and Jews to uphold their own laws and have their own legal proceedings. However, while there was relatively little violence towards Jews and Christians, many of the polytheistic peoples of what we today consider the Middle East were killed as part of early Islamic expansion. This sort of religious military cooperation is part of Islamic religious texts that far predate the Crusades. Though it should be noted that in the early days of Islam, Muhammad and his followers were often persecuted by the authorities in Mecca in a manner similar to what Christ and his followers experienced in Jerusalem.

2. The Crusades were a defensive or just war

Just to start, it really says something that no serious historian or anyone respected by the historical scholar community believes that statement. There are plenty of Catholic apologist groups still clinging to pre-Vatican II who have blogs and articles on the internet about how the Crusades were this heroic defensive maneuver to halt the Caliphate’s advance into Christian territories. “They took Jerusalem, and Antioch! Rome must be next!” Responding to all the possible angles of ignorance propelling a statement like this one would require way more time than I have available right now, but I’ll consider a few things.

First get your hands on a copy of Carl Erdmann’s “The Origin of the Idea of Crusade” in which he covers a breathtaking array of things happening theologically, politically, environmentally, and economically in medieval Europe that made the Crusades a possibility. A lot had to happen for the medieval church to get to a place where Crusades were taken on enthusiastically from the days of early Christian pacifism.

I tend to think that a good starting place is Charlemagne’s war on the Saxons in which Christianity first arrived on the British Isle. Though many were slaughtered, Charlemagne was able to justify his aggression to the Christians back home by telling them that gospel missions, not conquest, was his primary motivation. And it’s true, the conquest did initiate the spread of Christianity amongst the Anglo-Saxon people. But it was the first time that the idea of conquest for the sake of evangelism crept into the western Christian mind.

A next important ingredient is that the Christian civilizations of Europe were compelled to become militarized in order to ward off waves of viking invasions. Vikings had a keen love for the treasures within European monasteries and most of the time they didn’t leave any gold or living monks when they passed through. The monks got kind of fed up, and began cooperating more closely with local knights and even trained some of their own in the art of combat leading to the formation of groups like the “Holy Sepulcher.” This was the first real cooperation of “those who prayed” and “those who fought.”

Shortly after, an idea began to circulate that much like giving alms to the poor and consistently confessing all sin, defending the church militarily earned a heavenly reward. Note though, that this is not expansionist ideology. No Pope or Priest was espousing that you should go out and kick some Muslim butt in the name of Christ. If war came to us, then it was permissible, righteous even, to defend God’s people.

Next, it cannot be underestimated how significant the idea of the approaching year 1,000 A.D. was to the medieval Christians. Eschatology was as big a deal then as it is now, and a very popular idea was that Christ would return in the year 1,000, making it a nice clean millennium since he said he’d come back. When he didn’t return in 1,000 it was speculated that perhaps Christians needed to control the holy city of Jerusalem in order for Christ to return and establish his kingdom there. Additionally it was already very common for medieval Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. They could keep doing that and now just make sure that they had a sword or two in with the rest of the luggage. Getting to go on a partly sponsored pilgrimage with the added bonus of protection (traveling across a lot of land with an army made common crimes like robbery less likely) made the idea of crusade very appealing to medieval Christians. It should be noted too that the Caliphate welcomed these pilgrimages to Jerusalem (before they became militarized) and often gave the Christians warm welcoming service since it was a great source of revenue.

As I am not a military historian I prefer the “roots and fruits” concept of studying war, so I’m not as good with the details of every battle but here’s a ridiculously short run down. Though its classification is debated, some say that the “Reconquista” of Spain beginning around 1030 CE is a crusade. The Muslims controlled the southern half of the Spanish peninsula since the 8th century and many Muslims had immigrated there and many of the indigenous population had become Muslim. So the idea that this was a liberation effort is pretty inaccurate. It would be like a remnant of an old native American civilization invading the western United States tomorrow and calling it a liberation effort. The Caliphate possessed the state of Cordoba for more than 3 centuries before the Reconquista. Next comes what we call the First Crusade, which was a success from the European perspective. Major cities taken from the Caliphate were Edessa in 1098, Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099. The Christian armies were lead by barons and experienced warriors, but no kings were present. It’s also interesting that despite embarking on a holy endeavor, we have many primary sources that indicate a wildly cumbersome number of prostitutes traveled with the armies for…well you know. Knights in the middle ages always traveled with their servants and wives though. Why would they cook or do their own laundry while traveling to war when they didn’t do it back home? The next 3 crusades were largely failures. Jerusalem was retaken by Salah Al-Din in 1187. And in the ensuing years several kings would lead armies to try and retake it. Popes sometimes preached sermons in Europe to inspire others to join the fight.

In the end, with the exception of Spain being reconquered, neither side ended up with much more or much less territory than they began the 11th century with. The major cities exchanged hands a couple times, but essentially reset to prewar dominion. One of the hardest things historians of the middle ages encounter is numbers. Populations of cities, army size, death tolls, etc. Those recording such data at the time were always estimating. If one wanted to express that the Muslims had a large army waiting in Jerusalem they might say “the Muslims had 100,000 men”. The actually number might have been smaller, more like 20,000 or perhaps it was larger, like 200,000. The figures just aren’t that reliable. Suffice it to say that lots of Christians died going on these “armed pilgrimages” and lots of Muslims died defending their longtime possessions and in the retaking of those same lands. It wasn’t a great moment for any parties involved.

How should we feel about the medieval Christians?

Even though the Crusades were a really horrible thing, perhaps one of the worst things we’ve ever historically tied the name of Christ to, it doesn’t make the medieval Christians the worst or actually even less than ourselves. Like Christians from every era, they had their moments where the genuine Christian faith seems pretty alien. I want to be clear, war is not sanctioned by the God we worship. Part of what makes Jesus’ teaching so radical is that he was asking his followers to end the cycle of violence by not perpetuating it, knowing that many would be tortured and killed for his name. Put away your sword and turn the other cheek because my kingdom is not advanced through the same means as Caesar’s. My kingdom is not of this world. The Crusades were a horrible idea, and to participate in them was sinful. But it would be equally tragic to characterize an entire era of Christians by these battles.

I’m writing a larger paper surveying the medieval Christians, so I’ll save a fuller set of remarks for when that’s more complete. To start, you’d be hard pressed to find a society where the poor were more well taken care of and supported with the resources available. Medieval Christians had a severe case of self-depreciation. There was more emphasis upon human sinfulness in the Middle Ages than in any time prior or since. This explains the intense search for shortcuts through purgatory and ways to deal with sinfulness. In the most extreme cases, this pressure lead some to believe there were things to do in addition to Christ’s sacrifice–an extra-biblical idea. But the Middle Ages do not contain more Christians than any other era who believed in any other foundation than the death and resurrection of Christ as the historical act upon which God would redeem sinners. There are countless places where the dangerous intersection of secular politics and Christianity give us some of the most entertaining and colorful primary sources in all of history. The frequent communications between kings and clerical hierarchy are often downright scathing of the one another. Much more to come, but the medieval Christians absolutely deserve as much a place in the study of church history as the patristics and reformers. To reduce them to being simply the Christians who went on Crusade or had a bunch of stuff wrong that the reformers fixed is a mistake. You’d be missing out on some of the richest theological developments and entertaining church history available.