I suffer from a condition unusual among modern thinkers (a term here used loosely): a pathological need for intellectual consistency. When I am made aware that my beliefs are in conflict among themselves, it causes me a great mental anguish that forces me to sort out my quarreling presuppositions and conclusions. The last time I felt this pain as strongly as I now do, it pushed me out of a disaffected, vaguely Protestant universalism into Eastern Orthodoxy, which was not quite as jarring a transition as it sounds like, but definitely represented a major shift in my thinking.
I say all of this as preface to a major inconsistency I have encountered in my own thinking. My premises imply contradictory conclusions when it comes to the issue of the state’s treatment of heretics. So far, I have accepted the following premises:
1. The state should not be religiously neutral, but should actively endorse the true faith.
2. The public propagation of heresy is detrimental not only to the salvation of souls, but also to any Christian culture and to the legitimacy of any Christian state.
3. The above being said, repression of heresy should not go beyond a prohibition on proselytism by heretics, that the freedom of conscience not be violated.
4. Christian states historically have consistently violated Claim 3.
5. The historical Christian state, despite its violation of principle 3, is a desirable thing (this claim is a more specific version of Claim 1, I realize).
You will see, then, my struggle. On the one hand, I have claimed that it is wrong to repress heretics beyond banning their proselytism, and on the other hand, I have endorsed a system of government that has, numerous times and consistently, despite a variety of historical circumstances and conditions, produced that very result. This tension must be resolved. So far I can see a few ways to resolve it:
1. I might reject Claim 3 outright. This has the obvious advantage of being easy and allowing me to fully embrace the tradition of historical Christian government in good conscience, but I do not wish simply to take the easy route: I must first see that it is true. And the prejudice I have (as I admit I have yet to reason out much of an argument for it) for holding sacrosanct the freedom of conscience is strong.
2. I might reject Claim 4. Frankly, Claim 4 is one I accept primarily on the force of the consensus history I learned as a child. However, that consensus history always has an Enlightenment liberal bias and often consists of outright lies. However, the evidence on this point seems rather strong. If I pursue this route, I think investigating the history of Orthodox Russia and Byzantium (which I ought to do anyway) is the most promising route.
3. I might nuance Claim 5, suggesting some modification to the historical structure of the Christian state that would prevent or minimize the likelihood of the undesirable repression in question. The problem with this is that in light of the historical diversity among Christian states, if indeed Claim 4 (consistent repression across all or most of Christendom’s history) is true, it would seem that the problem inheres in the Idea of the Christian state itself rather than some particular, flawed manifestation thereof. And even if it does not, I am not at all sure where to start in modifying the historical pattern to achieve the desired result.
It seems to me that Claim 4 is at once the claim whose removal offers the cleanest solution and whose investigation requires the most work, and I intend to investigate it thoroughly. But I also want to read the thoughts of my readers on this issue. How have my fellow traditionalists reconciled this problem? Do you reject my Claim 3? Do you have some idea how we can change the structure of the Christian state to prevent such persecution in the future? Or must we simply throw up our hands, say “nothing’s perfect,” and remind ourselves of the infinitely greater destruction wrought by secular modernism?