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Upon assuming the thrown in 568 AD, the Visigoth king Reccared converted from Arian to Chalcedonian Christianity. This led to some unrest in the kingdom, as the Visigoths had always been Arian. The Arians were mostly tolerant of other religions, including paganism, but the Chalcedonians were not so charitable. Reccared put down the unrest and then oversaw the Third Council of Toledo in 589, where he announced his faith in the Nicene creed and denounced Arianism.
The spiritual differences between Arians and Catholics may be of interest to those with an interest in theology, but what matters to us today is that the trinitarians were the winners in the theological debates within the early church. From that point forward, there was one true faith in the Visigoth kingdom. The people were expected to convert to the new faith. Those who refused could expect some form of repression, ranging from extra taxes to expulsion from the kingdom.
Why Reccared converted to Catholicism is not all that clear. The material benefits, if they existed, have been lost over the centuries. His conversion brought with it new conflicts, especially with the Jews of his kingdom. The Arian kings had been disinterested in the faith of their subjects, which meant they could get along with the Jews, who were quite powerful in parts of the kingdom. That ended with the conversion of Reccared, as the Catholics were not tolerant of Jews.
What happened in Spain under the Visigoths would be repeated many times over the centuries in Europe. The ruling class would convert, and the people were expected to convert along with them. In England, which was controlled by many different kings, the Church converted one at time, the same way they converted Reccared. Of course, the same pattern would remerge in the Reformation. The rulers would change religion and the people would be forced to change their religion as well.
If you wanted to pinpoint the birth of universalism and universal intolerance in the West, the early Middle Ages is probably a good place to start. The Romans persecuted a lot of Christians and Jews, but it was mostly because they saw these movements as a direct threat to their power. By the middle ages, persecution of heretics was no longer about threats to power, but about violation of a universal truth. The mere existence of doubters or skeptics was seen as a threat to the one true faith.
The thing is, from the perspective of the common people, these changes at the top probably made little sense. Imagine you are a proud Goth who has served in the king’s army and then one day you are told you have to change religions. The reason is that the old religion was all wrong. In the case of the Visigoths, this happened twice. Once when some guy created a bunch of squiggles he claimed was your language and everyone became Arians. Then again when Reccared renounced Arianism.
People today should be able to relate to this. Within living memory, the rulers made a point of showing they were faithful Christians. Jimmy Carter was an Evangelical who spoke openly about his faith. Reagan salted his language with Christian references and Bill Clinton carried a Bible around with him. Today our rulers worship black people and think men in dresses are the fullest expression of womanhood. The schools now teach us the evils of whiteness and white privilege.
As with the Christian era in the West, this new religion brings with it an extreme intolerance of skepticism and doubt. Men are being fired from their jobs because they are not enthusiastic enough for the new faith. Those who challenge the faith are anathematized in the same way the early Church would anathematize those who challenged them. Our rulers have not started breaking heretics on the wheel or decorating the streets with the crucified, but it is still early.
We also see the universalism of the new faith. The rulers who embrace this new religion are sure it is the only way any human society can live. All of those in the past, the people that made the present possible, we monstrous sinners. Those in the present, clinging to alternative faiths, are monsters that must be destroyed. The ruling class of America wants to have a nuclear war with Russia over homosexuality. The Crusaders were insanely tolerant compared to today’s crusaders.
There are differences obviously. The universal faith that emerged in the early middle ages provided a social structure in which the West could begin to advance materially and intellectually. Whatever its faults, the Church provided a complex moral and social order that eventually resulted in what we think of as Western Civilization. The faith emerging today among our rulers is a step back into barbarism. It is a reversion to some pre-modern mean, corresponding with the collapse of the West.
The other big difference is the rulers converting to or from the Church in the past did so mostly out of conviction. There were material interests, for sure, but most genuinely believed in what they were doing. They thought what they were doing was in the best interest of their people. Today the rulers are guided by what they imagine is in the worst interest of their people. This new religion is not about elevating them or their people, but about harming the people who make their rule possible.
The other big difference between now and past conversions is the people did not have much to lose by going along with the king’s new religion. Life in the early middle ages was not easy, so giving up the old gods for this new thing or changing from one form of Christ worship to another slightly different form was not a huge risk. The conversion we are seeing today threatens the very existence of the West. If our rulers are wrong, the ape historians of the future will puzzle over why we went along with it.
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