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59 3 OPEN RELIGION AND ITS ENEMIES Guy G. Stroumsa Religious violence seems to be winning the day—­ not only by murdering , maiming, and terrorizing, all around the globe, but also, at the same time, by telling a powerful narrative. We—­ all the rest of us—­ are on the defensive and are asked to provide a counternarrative, as if our fight was a rear-­ guard one. This is the core of our predicament.1 One may, of course, disclaim the alarmist whistle: men (and sometimes women) have always been violent, and religion has nothing, or not much, to do with nature and instincts. At worst, one may describe religious beliefs or practices as “fuel” thrown on natural behavior. But the issue of religious violence is one of deep existential urgency—­ and not only of serious intellectual interest. I may perhaps be able to formulate, at least vaguely, some of the questions. But I also hope to hear some answers, at least tentative. What is, then, the narrative for which we are seeking a counternarrative ? In a nutshell, it is fair, I think, to refer to the universal and perennial battle cry: “Gott mit uns!” It is with it that gods (and sometimes goddesses) have always and everywhere empowered their believers to kill in good conscience, the name of the Supreme Good. One way to disassemble this grenade would be to argue, following Epicurus, that the gods have better to do than getting involved in the pettiness of human affairs. Since Plato, the church fathers, and the rabbis of the Talmud, however, the Epicurean belief has been deemed anathema. If 60 Guy G. Stroumsa God, then, insists on being involved with humans, can he manage not to take sides? As a historian, I can only reflect on a number of striking points relating to early Christianity and, more broadly, to late antique religious history. Since the Christianization of the Roman Empire, with the conversion of Constantine in 312, one can observe a fast, unambiguous rise in religious intolerance and violence. This rise did not end with Theodosius I’s proclamation, in 380, of the Edict of Thessalonica (Cunctos populos), which made Christian Nicene orthodoxy the state religion of the empire, imposed on all but the Jews. The fifth and sixth centuries, both in the Greek East and in the Latin West, showed the continued limitation of religious freedom and disenfranchisement of the Jews, accompanied with more and more frequent outbursts of religious violence. Could the religion of universal love be responsible for such violence? Such slander (amounting to a crime of lèse divinité!) has of course been countered, rather glibly, by a long list of apologetic writers since the church fathers. A contemporary observer may notice some similarity between this apologetic line and that arguing that “true Islam” (or, for that matter, “true Judaism”) is a religion of peace and can in no way be held responsible for violent actions of thugs claiming to be true believers. My title refers, first, to Bergson’s famous analysis of open versus closed religion in his seminal work—­ alas, almost forgotten today—­ The Two Sources of Morals and Religion.2 For Bergson, the prophets of Israel represented open religion, while the priestly rituals reflected closed religion. At the same time, the title alludes to Karl Popper’s classical Open Society and Its Enemies,3 a work written during the dark years of World War II. In a nutshell, “Open Religion and Its Enemies” reflects my belief that, like cholesterol, religion can be either good or bad, and that the enemies of open religion can be identified. They are, essentially, all beliefs and patterns of behavior according to which religious truth belongs to me, to my group, and is denied from the other. Unsurprisingly , it is in religious intolerance that religious violence finds its roots. Let me reflect first on radical religion in the Christianized Roman Empire. I shall then insist on some psychological and social transformations of identity in late antiquity, highlighting their consequences for our present question. Open Religion and Its Enemies 61 1. Radical Religion and the Shrinking of Tolerance in Late Antiquity Searching for the origins of religious intolerance, the Egyptologist Jan Assmann singles out what he calls the Mosaic distinction as the major element responsible in the ancient world for the introduction of a Weltanschauung intolerant of alternate conceptions. The Mosaic distinction refers to the Israelite conception of religion as identical with truth. Such a conception entails the view...


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