06 December 2010

Early contenders for the Darwin Awards

From a discussion of religious turmoil in North African Christendom in the 5th century:

Donatists were fanatical revolutionary martyr-terrorists, attacking landlords and money-lenders and sometimes forcing rich men to run behind their carriages while their slaves rode. And since they believed that martyrs went straight to heaven, they would reportedly challenge passers-by to kill them or would throw themselves en masse off cliffs.

One of the most influential Christians to come out of Africa during this time - or rather to stay in Africa, because he lived in the Libyan city of Hippo Regius - was the bishop of Hippo. St Augustine, as he is known by millions of Christians, was the anti-Donatist rhetorical hit-man. By logic and authority he demonstrated that suicide was not martyrdom but a sin. (It must have been very disheartening for any Donatist, having persuaded a passing fish-paste salesman to kill him, to find that instead of entering heaven he had just bought a ticket to hell).

- Terry Jones & Alan Ereira, Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History, London, 2006.

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