Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

The Pope’s Shluchim

I’ve just been reading Amir Alexander’s book Infinitesimal, about the intellectual struggle over the concepts of infinitesimals and the continuum in mathematics and science (and theology) in the 17th century. The early part of the book is a history of the¬†Society of Jesus, presented as a ruthless and intellectually daring force for religious conservatism, strictly hierarchical, devoted to its holy founder, a thoroughly mystical movement that built its reputation and influence on educational outreach.¬†And then it struck me: The Jesuits were just like Chabad-Lubavitch!

Kids’ Kindness Krusade

So, there’s this president in America, and his job description definitely does not include “Defender of the Faith” or anything like that, and he’s getting bashed for having suggested that the Crusades — hundreds of years of Europeans hoisting aloft the banner of Christ and marching off to slaughter infidels and expropriate their lands, in case you’ve forgotten — might have raised some misapprehensions that Christianity is not 100% a religion of peace. He also made the (clearly revisionist) assertion, with no footnotes to back it up, that churches in the American South weren’t doing everything they possibly could to end slavery and later discrimination against Black Americans. Political and historical opponents aren’t taking these slurs lying down!
Maybe it’s because my ancestors were the first victims of lazy crusaders who thought they might as well start by killing the infidels closer to home (Rhineland Jews), but I’ve always found the Anglo-American use of “crusade” to mean an ardent struggle for a good cause — possibly hopeless, but usually a good thing (for example, the “crusade against rape culture” or against the REF), or even against equine colic). (I don’t know how it is used elsewhere. I can’t think that I’ve observed the corresponding German word used in a generic sense.
This dissonance particularly stood out for me when I saw, in an elementary school in Cambridge MA where I was doing some volunteer teaching, a poster announcing the “Kids’ Kindness Crusade”. Even without knowing the story of the Children’s Crusade (which may or may not have been a real historical event) it seems bizarre to me that people would think a “kids’ crusade” sounds like a positive thing. It seems as weird to me as promoting a “Parents’ Patience Pogrom”, or “Genocide against Germs”. Or, for that matter, “war on illiteracy and unnumeracy“.

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