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A review of Constantine's Sword

Constantine's Sword is not just a film for atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, and non-believers. Given that it was produced and narrated by a former priest (James Carroll), who we may assume is still a theist, it may be more relevant to Christians than non-believers. The film may compel Christians to search their hearts and examine what Christianity really means to them and what they currently support or advocate in the name of Christianity or their god relative to how their religion has evolved and transformed since Constantine in the 4th century A.D.

Carroll illustrates his dismay with the things people are doing today in the name of the Christian god, and what they have done for 2000 years. He maintains two parallel themes in the film. On the one hand, he focuses on current times and on a military school in Colorado Springs, also home to one of the largest Evangelical "mega churches" in America . He describes a relentless effort by evangelists there to convert cadets, with cooperation with key military personnel, and how they will go to any lengths and any extremes to do this, including coercion, harassment, threats, overt anti-Semitic behavior, propaganda, etc.  This theme ends with a major investigation into the behaviors of the school and ultimately the leader of the church resigning and admitting that he was a liar and was having an affair with another man.

Carroll's second parallel theme focuses on the history of Christianity and its anti-Semitic roots. He begins with Jesus, before there were Christians and only Jews (including Jesus himself). The myth, which is now shown to be at odds with the evidence, is that the Jews duped the Romans into crucifying and killing Jesus. This simple story, as Carroll argues, propagated centuries of anti-Semiticism and unnecessary suffering.

Carroll then turns to Constantine and describes his alleged conversion to Christianity (more of a political lever to gain control of Rome), and how he fundamentally created the notion of the Christian soldier and the sword/cross symbol with its insignia "in this sign we conquer", all of which paved the way for two millennia of violence by the Church.

As the new emperor, Constantine made Christianity the State religion, which became his political strategy and turned out to be a totalitarian theocratic strategy. This is the moment in history where the cross and sword become one and where, as Carroll maintains, Christianity turns violent. He explains how before Constantine converted, the mix of Jews and Christians was close to 50/50, yet now there are roughly 2 billion Christians and only 14 million Jews. He reveals the true nature of the man Constantine, of which many people are ignorant. This man, who molded Christianity into what Christians know it as today, who made Christianity the state religion and theocracy, and who very likely destroyed and re-wrote Christian manuscripts, was also a man who had his own wife and son murdered and who would have ordered the death of anyone who stood in the way of his new Christian political campaign. By modern standards, Constantine was an ego-maniacal thug who called himself the 13th apostle, had the largest stone statue ever built of himself to celebrate his military victory, and was thought to have committed so many sins that Christianity was the only religion he could turn to that would accept him.  This man, more of a historical monster, is the man who many Christians praise because he converted their mystery cult into a world-wide and household institution.

As Carroll points out, the cross had never been an important symbol until Constantine. Before that, Christians focused on symbols of life. However, Constantine created a mass infatuation with the cross as the devise of the murder of Jesus by the Jews. In this new empire, united under the sword-cross, the Jews began to decline, as did the empire for six centuries until the Crusades or war of the cross, when Christian soldiers and mobs were sent to destroy Muslim infidels and kill or force Jews to convert in the process.

In short, from the historical marker of Constantine, while riding on the widely held myth that the Jews kills Jesus, Carroll illustrates and threads together several undeniable examples of intolerance, hatred, and discrimination of Jews in our history -- from killing or forcing Jews to convert to Christianity during the Crusades, to the trying and burning of Jews in Spain in the 14th century, to the segregation of Jews in Rome (invited there by the Pope as a refuge, but forced into their own walled ghettos and treated as sub-human), to the Holocaust and the Vatican's endorsement of the treatment of Jews, to discrimination and proselytizing of Jews in our armed forces, and to the so-called "war on terror," which Bush pitched as a crusade against evil where "God" is on our side. Constantine's marriage of the cross and sword is very much alive today. Carroll makes this crystal clear.

Carroll poses a major challenge to Christians, which is that they must come to grips and a reckoning with the dark side of their religion.  And not just a reckoning of the past, but with how this past has impacted and molded what they believe today to be the true nature of their religious worldview. As Carroll states, Christians cannot criticize Muslims for their violence, as if Christianity is innocent. The dark side of Christianity did not end in the Crusades or Inquisition, but continues to live today via US foreign policy, the military, our government, and a continued pattern of policies and church-sanctioned social behavior that fly in the face of the separation of church and state, to the point that we are getting dangerously close to a theocracy, or the very thing that our founding fathers attempted to avoid by creating the founding principles of our country.

Carroll sums up the film with the following:

"If you think of religion as a great lake, it's a lake of gasoline. And all it's going to take is someone to drop the match into it for a terrible conflagration. And I'm talking literally now, tragically, because that's what the world of weapons of mass destruction means. And when you put religion into that context as a source of hatred and violence, the worst catastrophe of all is possible. Every religious person has to take responsibility for the way their tradition encourages intolerance, suspicion, and hatred of the other. And in the Christian tradition, both in relation to the Muslims and the Jews, we have some very clear reckoning with history to do."