Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's so great about Christianity?

That's the title of Dinesh D'souza's new book. Theodore Beale, aka VoxDay, interviews Dinesh on his blog.
VD: What's So Great About Christianity isn't merely a response to the various atheist books, it's also a positive case for Christianity. What do you consider to be the three most important aspects of that case?

DD: The first is a case that I try to make that Christianity is responsible for the core institutions and values that secular people and even atheists cherish. If you look at books by leading atheists and you make a list of the values that they care about, things like the right to individual dissent, the notion of personal dignity, equality and respect for women, opposition to social hierarchy and slavery, compassion as a social value, the idea of self-government and representative government, and so forth, you'll see that many of these things came into the world because of Christianity. My point is that even if an atheist is an unbeliever, he should at least acknowledge and respect that Christianity has done a great deal to make our civilization what it is, and is even responsible for many of the values that he cares about.

Christianity is responsible for bringing compassion into the world? Really? No other society ever fathomed this most basic of human values until a man named Jesus made his appearance in the world? That's just outright ridiculous.

As far as the right to individual dissent, this is hardly a uniquely Christian accomplishment. The Greco-Roman world prior to the adoption of Christianity allowed considerable latitude in the realm of personal religious beliefs. Certainly there was no inalienable right to freely express any belief, and Christians did suffer from persecutions under Roman rule prior to the adoption of Christianity by the emperors, but such persecutions were neither universally mandated or practiced. Generally the early Christians got into trouble for isolating themselves from the general society and for not declaring allegiance to the state, not for the particular content of their beliefs.

Contrast that to the Roman world after Constantine brought Christianity into the fold of the state. The persecution of Christians continued, but it was now the case of different theological strains competing with each other to gain orthodox status and the official sanction of the state. The Christian followers of Arianism, Docetism, Manicheanism, Homoeanism and countless other heretical strains of the faith were systematically disenfranchised, denounced and suppressed as orthodox dogma became more narrowly defined through the Machiavellian politics of church councils.

And one can hardly consider the bloodbath that was the Reformation and Counter Reformation and believe that individual dissent is somehow a first principle of Christianity. That Christians finally turned to religious toleration, after centuries of murderous intolerance can only be seen as a final surrender, an admission of failure in the attempt to structure society upon Christianity. The greatest oppressor of Christians throughout the ages has been Christianity.

Secular government as we know it in the West today is the result of that failure and of the bloody history of suicidal intolerance inherent to Christianity. Many Christians participated in the formulation of this new foundation for society, but it is a lie to state that it was a strictly Christian affair, when such important thinkers and actors as Hume, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were not Christians.

But one can credit Christians with finally developing a new synthesis of their faith that allowed them to reconcile it with religious tolerance and secular government. As an accomplishment it ranks as one of mankind's greatest. Christians had to go back to their scriptures and find new interpretations that aligned with the new political philosophies of the Enlightenment. For modern Christians like D'Souza those Christian values of the new synthesis worked out during the Enlightenment seem so natural as to imagine that secular government and religious tolerance were foreordained by Christianity from the start, and are the natural and inevitable products of it. But history does not support such a facile, self-congratulatory interpretation.

Western Civilization is the result of several interacting influences: Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian and Pagan, and more recently, Skeptic. It is natural for anyone to over-emphasize the influence of their own personal religious tradition and under-emphasize or deny the contributions of the other traditions. It may be a satisfying exercise, but it doesn't yield much in the way of useful knowledge.

VD: When you point out that atheist leaders have killed several orders of magnitude more human beings than Christian leaders, the usual rebuttal is that the atheists didn't commit their murders “in the name of atheism”. What is your response to that?

DD: This is Richard Dawkins and it clearly shows what happens when you let a biologist out of the lab. It shows a gross ignorance of history. Communism was an explicitly atheist ideology. Marx was very eager to establish a new Man and a new society liberated from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality. Marx called religion “the opiate of the people” and he very much wanted to see religion removed from the face of the Earth, and he predicted it would be in the Communist utopia. Every Communist regime targeted religion, closed the churches, persecuted the priests, harassed the believers. This was no accident. So, for Dawkins to say that this wasn't being done in the name of atheism just defies rational belief. It's hard for me to believe an intelligent individual would even try to say that.


When tallying the butcher's bills for various ideologies, I wonder why this item is so often left off the bill:
The Taiping Rebellion (or Rebellion of Great Peace) was a large-scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing Government in China. It was conducted from 1850 to 1864 by an army and civil administration led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan. He established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Simplified Chinese: 太平天国, Pinyin: Tàipíng Tiān Guó) with capital Nanjing and attained control of significant parts of southern China, at its height ruling over about 30 million people. The theocratic and militaristic regime instituted several social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, suppression of private trade, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by a peculiar form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

The Taiping areas were constantly besieged and harassed by Qing forces; the rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing army aided by French and British forces. With an estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million due to warfare and resulting starvation, this civil war ranks among history's deadliest conflicts. Mao Zedong viewed the Taiping as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.


So Mao took his inspiration from a Christian revolutionary! I'm sure you won't read that in D'Souza's book.

Update: Here's video of a recent debate between D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens.

66 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I can only applaud your critique, Duck, since it mirrors what I have said all along.

I would stand D'Souza on his head. Modern society is so modern that the fact that the modern parts derive almost entirely from revulsion against Christian doctrine (and the allied social position of religion; the two are not the same), that present-day Christians blandly take credit for what they tried to strangle in its crib.

It was not Christians who, for example, led the way to allowing Catholics to vote in England. At least, they may have been Christians but they were heterodox and were denounced as little better than atheists from the pulpits.

November 11, 2007 7:51 PM  
Blogger Geo Karras said...

Do you know why Does Jesus Mention Balaam in Revelation 2:14?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Hl9sVOAic

November 11, 2007 8:58 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Christianity is responsible for bringing compassion into the world? Really? No other society ever fathomed this most basic of human values until a man named Jesus made his appearance in the world? That's just outright ridiculous.

Well, don't keep us in suspense, Duck. What other creed or philosophy promoted compassion (especially for the poor and dispossessed) and the other values D'Souza mentions before Christianity? Or after, for that matter.

Here we go again. You can't decide whether your main beef with Christianity is that Christians didn't all live up to its weird ideals or that its ideals are so ho-hum commonplace they can be found everywhere, and therefore are no big deal. Of course, you and Harry also seem to believe adopting the ideals somehow sows the seeds of driving folks to betray them and that we would all live more perfect, idealistic lives if we had no ideals. Fascinating.

November 12, 2007 5:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Buddhism? Religion of Mani?

Greek paganism?

I have more than once cited Boswell's history of foundling hospitals.

The Greeks both exposed unwanted babies and set up elaborate social systems to rescue them.

People are funny.

November 12, 2007 8:26 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Some days I feel my head will explode. OK, Harry, find me the compassion in this little account of joy, kindness and hope. Honestly, to see a grouchy old materialist like you touting the Manichees is surreal. How can creeds (like Buddhism)that despise the flesh and seek to obliterate temporal life possibly be sources of compassion? Do you believe Asians were traditionally angered and animated by poverty and misfortune?

The answer to my question is Judaism. I would have thought that was obvious, but I should have known better. Next is Islam, BTW.

November 12, 2007 9:31 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

So has the West benefitted at all from being Christian or would it have done just as well with any other religion?

November 12, 2007 12:06 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, Ali, Harry thinks it would have been a hop, skip and jump from Thor and Odin to John Dewey if only those popes and priests hadn't jumped in and wasted everyone's time for a thousand years.

November 12, 2007 3:34 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Oh, right. We're going to accept the Catholic view of Mani.

We don't know a great deal about his preaching, but what we do know suggests it was syncretistic, loving, tolerant, universal and, therefore, compassionate.

Anyhow, compassion is not something I associate with the history of Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

Did the west 'benefit' from Christianity. Well, let's look at the record.

It used to be thought that the era of Christian supremacy was a dark age. Lately, we have been invited to think of it as an Age of Faith, in which small communities of not-very-prosperous people built places like Chartres Cathedral.

Well, so did non-Christian communities, so no advantage there.

But it is pretty well agreed that during the Dark Ages/Age of Faith, Europe was, compared with the rest of Eurasia, poor, weak and unpopulated. No one in China or India yearned to see the fabulous riches of the west.

So it does not appear that a dominant Christianity worked all that well.

The end of the Age of Faith was marked by the growth of secularism, and, very soon, Europe was richer and more powerful, if still not as populous, as the east.

Coincidence? I think not.

If Europe 'benefitted' from Christianity, it was that careful thinkers began to consider that organizing a society on the basis of Christian faith had led to disastrous results, destruction and bloodshed on scales never known in any society that considered it had emerged from savagery. These men began to suspect that if things were to improve, they would have to do it themselves, and that the Big Spook and all that went with him would have to be excluded from the practical decisions of both everyday life and the long-term life of a society.

Would the 'west' have emerged from any other religious background? Impossible to say, but since the 'west' emerged only once in one place, apparently not.

If you can 'credit' Christianity with being the most insupportable form of religious mayhem ever imagined, then I guess you could say the that the 'west' could not have emerged from any other spiritual background.

This month on Maui, we have had another heavy dose of propaganda about the 'happy' Bhutanese. Perhaps they are as happy as they believe they are. At any rate, content enough not to want change.

It was not ordained that the reaction against Christianity would result in anything better, and east of the Rhine, it didn't.

But ask the man who owns one. The east Europeans (which in this case includes Germans) show no sign of wanting to return to the Age of Faith. Age of Steam, maybe, but not the Age of Faith.

November 12, 2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

If we're going to mine holy texts for references to compassion, then this one works:

Rén, "benevolence, charity, humanity, love," kindness. The fundamental virtue of Confucianism. Confucius defines it as "Aì rén," "love others."

I'm not saying that Christianity did not emphasize compassion, I'm challenging D'Souza's ridiculous claim that Christianity invented it.

It's impossible to predict alternate historical paths, but I will say that this idea that all the qualities we attribute to the West are derived from Christianity is nonsense. As I've pointed out before, Christendom was built upon the Greco-Roman world. You might ask what Christian civilization would look like had Greece and Rome never existed as mature civilizations.

And much of what D'Souza is triumphalist about with respect to Christianity is based on the US. What has Christianity done for Mexico? Is the state of Mexican civilization anything for Christianity to brag about?

November 13, 2007 5:35 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

What other creed or philosophy promoted compassion (especially for the poor and dispossessed) and the other values D'Souza mentions before Christianity?

Ummm. Communism?

Jainism, which stresses spiritual independence and equality of all life with particular emphasis on non-violence. Self-control (व्रत, vratae) is vital for attaining omniscience (kevala jnana) and eventually moksha, or realization of the soul's true nature.

I think Jainism actually practices what it preaches.

Shocking thing in a religion.

November 13, 2007 5:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

What in the world are you guys talking about? Here I was thinking I was om a site defending scientism, materialism and atheism, etc. and all of a sudden I find you rooting for paganism and obscure sects from the 1st century Middle East and ancient India, sects which are largely ephemeral and marked by a contempt for the here and now, the real, objectively observable, material now. Do you think you are in a Chinese restaurant choosing from a set-menu choice of combos?

Orrin and Dalrymple are right. You guys hate that which has formed you.

November 13, 2007 6:08 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I find you rooting for paganism and obscure sects from the 1st century Middle East and ancient India, sects which are largely ephemeral and marked by a contempt for the here and now, the real, objectively observable, material now.

Rooting for? Hardly, merely making a point. D'Souza's point that Christianity invented compassion is a laugher. If I made some absurd claim, like that only Americans were involved in the development of the automobile, you could easily refute it by pointing out the Europeans, like Benz, who were developing motor vehicles at the same time Henry Ford was. Would that mean you were rooting for the Germans?

But is that what Christianity is about to you, rooting for the home team? I thought it had a more universal focus, of concern for all mankind and stuff like that, but it seems to people like you and D'Souza its just a tribal religion. We invented compassion! That's something we can stick in the face of those pathetic Buddhists!

Is Christianity really about the here and now? I thought that was the province of us blighted materialists. Didn't Jesus say "my kingdom is not of this world"? The first Christians believed that the world would be coming to an end imminently. Every religion has its ascetic, otherworldly aspect. You don't need religion to worry about the here and now, that's what people do naturally. People turn to religion to get some feel for the not-here and not-now.

November 13, 2007 6:37 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ephemeral? Buddhism?

Mani's followers had at least as much respect for the here and now that they recognized that when their leader was skinned and displayed, he was in fact dead. Not every religion can say as much.

November 13, 2007 10:33 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

You asked a question, I provided a two answers.

How you get from a substantiating Wikipedia quote to "rooting" and "hating" is a singular mystery to me.

BTW -- I listened to the debate this afternoon. If one were to redact the appeals to incredulity and ad hominem attacks from D'Souza's remarks, a minute would be left with a good half dozen ticks left over.

Orrin is is in a class of his own when it comes to hate.

And Dalrymple clearly didn't read at least two of the books he reviewed.

How many of them have you read?

November 13, 2007 10:38 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hundreds of Georgians, including the governor and many pastors, gathered today to pray to the Big Spook for rain.

And they brought their umbrellas.

My people.

I think I am owed an apology from all those people who think that when I make fun of Christians, I am only referring to some long-extinct cult, lately replaced by modern-thinking believers who are indistinguishable from U-Us except that they sing different hymns.

November 14, 2007 8:40 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

They're just praying for a little bit of rain, Harry. Farmers do this, always have, always will. Meanwhile, at the apex of modern thinking, they are prophesying that the seas are going to rise twenty feet, as punishment for the automobile. It is hard sometimes to tell the difference between your adopted folk, and the folk you fled.

November 14, 2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

One difference might be that the farmers brought umbrellas to their convocation, whereas the brahmins fly to theirs in their Gulfstreams. So somebody is sincere, at least. I'm not sure how this counts as a point against the farmers.

November 14, 2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There's nothing modern about the Gorons.

But the point is that I have been assured that your up-to-date Christian does not pray for results like a benighted heathen. Or as Jim Morrison and Orrin Judd said, in what must be the weirdest example ever of Blair's Law, 'You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.'

Sorry. My people expected the Big Spook to open the heavens for them, on demand.

November 14, 2007 10:50 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

There's nothing modern about the Gorons

That's not what it says here, Harry. Insofar as the modern is whatever is up-and-coming right now, it is hard to imagine anything more modern than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And whatever else you think about Gore, he is a long way from stupid: he's managed a hostile political takeover of an entire branch of science, which now finds itself obliged to look after what can only be termed his spiritual needs. You've got an odd habit of saying that people are dumb when what you really mean is that they're doing the Devil's work.

November 15, 2007 9:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Tut tut. An organization of medieval mindset gives its award to a medievalist. What's modern about that?

IPCC is a science-free zone. Or do you imagine that putting a lab coat on an actor and having him pretend to be a doctor to tout cigarettes displays modernity?

Well, yes, in a way; but then, not so much.

Unless you want to define 'modern' as co-existing with today, it won't do.

Modern is like Lewis Powell's definition of porn. We all recognize it when we see it, although we may not stop to think so much about it.

It wasn't so long ago that 'modern history' at Oxford ended in 1815, and modern art predates, say, the end of slavery, which was a modern political idea.

A modern person or idea is one who thinks and acts modernly, which has not been common except in the last 400 years or so. Gore is completely premodern in his behavior and thinking.

And not nearly so smart as you think, unless you believe his only remaining goal in life is to mulct a lot of money from the shmucks.

I, on the other hand, think he imagines himself president again, after a comeback of Nixonian type.

Never happen. If he tries, we reporters, who have given him a pass as a backnumber, will shred him alive. He should never have eaten that Chilean sea bass.

There's a symbolic image you may have seen that perfectly encapsulates the confusion of modern, faux-modern and medieval.

The frame in the Cialis commercial that shows a man in a bathtub holding hands with a woman in another bathtub, both on a deck or platform overlooking a sweeping view of what might be Big Sur.

Nothing, it would seem, could be more modern than a sex ad for old folks on mass TV, but what is the actual trope here?

Is sitting in a cold bathtub alone sexually stimulating, let alone romantic? And what's with separate tubs? This must be the faux-modern version of Ozzie and Harriett.

November 15, 2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Tut tut. An organization of medieval mindset gives its award to a medievalist. What's modern about that?

IPCC is a science-free zone. Or do you imagine that putting a lab coat on an actor and having him pretend to be a doctor to tout cigarettes displays modernity?

Well, yes, in a way; but then, not so much.

Unless you want to define 'modern' as co-existing with today, it won't do.

Modern is like Lewis Powell's definition of porn. We all recognize it when we see it, although we may not stop to think so much about it.

It wasn't so long ago that 'modern history' at Oxford ended in 1815, and modern art predates, say, the end of slavery, which was a modern political idea.

A modern person or idea is one who thinks and acts modernly, which has not been common except in the last 400 years or so. Gore is completely premodern in his behavior and thinking.

And not nearly so smart as you think, unless you believe his only remaining goal in life is to mulct a lot of money from the shmucks.

I, on the other hand, think he imagines himself president again, after a comeback of Nixonian type.

Never happen. If he tries, we reporters, who have given him a pass as a backnumber, will shred him alive. He should never have eaten that Chilean sea bass.

There's a symbolic image you may have seen that perfectly encapsulates the confusion of modern, faux-modern and medieval.

The frame in the Cialis commercial that shows a man in a bathtub holding hands with a woman in another bathtub, both on a deck or platform overlooking a sweeping view of what might be Big Sur.

Nothing, it would seem, could be more modern than a sex ad for old folks on mass TV, but what is the actual trope here?

Is sitting in a cold bathtub alone sexually stimulating, let alone romantic? And what's with separate tubs? This must be the faux-modern version of Ozzie and Harriett.

November 15, 2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Recognize it when we see it? Sorry, Harry, you are asking too much if you expect us to sort you people out based on some intuition we don't have, especially when you spend half your time denouncing one another. That would be like asking you to guess who the really godly Godbotherers are. All we can do is fall back on the same method you (quite sensibly) employ with Christians; so, a modern is whoever claims to be one, and modernism is whatever it is they all do. Now, if that means half your scientists turn out to be cigarette salesmen, well then that's data. The job here is to view modernism as a whole, not to plead the case for any of its factions.

November 16, 2007 9:13 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

The bit about reporters is excellent, though. I never knew you had a sense of humor until now.

November 16, 2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Except that there are objective ways of separating science from scientism, real science from junk science.

Christians of my acquaintance almost all think they can separate the vertible sects from the cults, but there are no standards.

As for modernity, that's also a social concept, and when it escapes the realm of scientific method, then indeed it's a case of knowing it when one sees it.

Alma-Tadema was, in his way, as modern as Degas, and they painted about the same time. But few indeed are the people who, seeing an Alma-Tadema, enthuse, 'How modern!'

November 16, 2007 7:56 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Whatever modernism is, perhaps it's most striking feature is its complete refusal or inability to see its own warts. It either denies they are warts or denies they are modern. Here is an example of a debate from the 1930's that could have come from The Daily Duck.

November 17, 2007 7:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter:

You're forgetting Skipper's syllogism:

Religions are murderous ideologies.

Communism is a murderous ideology.

Communism is a religion.

November 17, 2007 7:59 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

I'm pretty certain I have never used that syllogism, or anything like it. You must be taking debating tips from Peter.

To set the record straight --

Religions have:

- a G-d
- a revealed text
- a cult of personality
- a priest caste
- complex and convoluted assumptions
- argument from authority
- universal and absolute dicta
- the formation of exclusionary moral communities (i.e., actions considered immoral to those within the community are moral when outwardly directed).

Communism has everything on that list but G-d.

Which makes communism and religion completely different.

Right.

With those qualities in mind, there is nothing to distinguish, Communism from any monotheistic, universalist, religion.

The test is in their behavior: both have had schismatic conflict, show trials, secret police, treated outsiders differently than insiders are antagonistic towards argument from evidence, and treat critics harshly.

What's more, your definition completely excludes the most fundamental element: people. That is, what is the effect upon adherents?

The fervor of true Catholic believers is indistinguishable from that of true Communists.

Throwing G-d into the mix creates a distinction, but no difference.

November 17, 2007 9:01 AM  
Blogger David said...

Ah, so Darwinism is a religion too?

November 17, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

All we can do is fall back on the same method you (quite sensibly) employ with Christians; so, a modern is whoever claims to be one, and modernism is whatever it is they all do. Now, if that means half your scientists turn out to be cigarette salesmen, well then that's data. The job here is to view modernism as a whole, not to plead the case for any of its factions.

Joe makes a good point. This is true for all apologists of a religious or secular viewpoint. Inevitably the apologist highlights only the positive accomplishments of the societies that have adopted the worldview in question, while ignoring or rationalizing away the negative outcomes. But the only way to make rational comparisons is to tally the entire set of outcomes using the balance sheet method.

But you can't neatly separate eras. Christianity spans the pre-modern and modern. Christian apologists like D'Souza are modernist, and will argue that the modern incarnation of Christianity that stresses tolerance and respect for individual rights is the true Christianity, ignoring the 1800 year pre-modern history of Christianity as an aberration.

But playing by the same rules as is used to indict atheism of 100 million murders, what is the real death tally of Christianity?

The Christian slave trade of the 18th & 19th centuries killed 30 to 60 million African people.

The Thirty Years War killed an estimated 11.5 million.

The slave labor camp that was known as the Congo "Free" State, set up and run by King Leopold II of Belgium murdered approx 8 million.

This short list doesn't include all the other religiously inspired deaths of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, the European and American colonization of North and South America & Australia, or the larger European colonial movement during the Age of Imperialism. All these occurred during Christianity's "watch".

So is it really useful to attribute all these human atrocities directly to metaphysical worldviews, or is it more complicated than that?

November 17, 2007 9:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

All we can do is fall back on the same method you (quite sensibly) employ with Christians; so, a modern is whoever claims to be one, and modernism is whatever it is they all do. Now, if that means half your scientists turn out to be cigarette salesmen, well then that's data. The job here is to view modernism as a whole, not to plead the case for any of its factions.

Joe makes a good point. This is true for all apologists of a religious or secular viewpoint. Inevitably the apologist highlights only the positive accomplishments of the societies that have adopted the worldview in question, while ignoring or rationalizing away the negative outcomes. But the only way to make rational comparisons is to tally the entire set of outcomes using the balance sheet method.

But you can't neatly separate eras. Christianity spans the pre-modern and modern. Christian apologists like D'Souza are modernist, and will argue that the modern incarnation of Christianity that stresses tolerance and respect for individual rights is the true Christianity, ignoring the 1800 year pre-modern history of Christianity as an aberration.

But playing by the same rules as is used to indict atheism of 100 million murders, what is the real death tally of Christianity?

The Christian slave trade of the 18th & 19th centuries killed 30 to 60 million African people.

The Thirty Years War killed an estimated 11.5 million.

The slave labor camp that was known as the Congo "Free" State, set up and run by King Leopold II of Belgium murdered approx 8 million.

This short list doesn't include all the other religiously inspired deaths of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, the European and American colonization of North and South America & Australia, or the larger European colonial movement during the Age of Imperialism. All these occurred during Christianity's "watch".

So is it really useful to attribute all these human atrocities directly to metaphysical worldviews, or is it more complicated than that?

November 17, 2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't see how Kershaw's piece connects to this thread.

Hitlerism claimed to be all things to all men (except a few Jews and Gypsies), and the remarkable thing about it was the strong will to believe by people from all different sectors.

But in what way does that make Hitlerism, which appealed to an atavistic German spirituality, modern? It was aggressively antimodern.

Marxism also claimed to be modern in that its assessment of history was 'scientific.' This, it turned out, was a delusion, a confusion of what looked scientific with what is.

We always go back to Hitlerism, Marxism and one or two other -isms, but the last few generations have seen many other -isms that declared themselves to be the last cry in modern thinking -- coueism, for example -- but which, on dispassionate examination, were completely premodern.

I believe there are a number of characteristics that existed only among moderns, were never found before modernism was invented. Moral antislavery is perhaps the biggest one.

It was never imagined before the rise of modernism.

But just because the world is much different materially today from what it was in 1600, that does not mean that moral antislavery has been adopted by everybody who uses electricity. Far from it.

November 17, 2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger David said...

Meet the Essenes:

Least of all is a single slave found among them, but they are all free, aiding one another with a reciprocal interchange of good offices, and they condemn masters, not only as unjust, inasmuch as they corrupt the very principles of equality, but likewise as impious, because they destroy the laws of nature, which generated them all equally, and brought them up like a mother, as if they were legitimate brethren, not in name only, but in reality and truth.

November 17, 2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

As long as you keep letting bizarre, even nonsensical phrases like the "Christian slave-trade" roll happily off your tongue while bristling indignantly at things like the "secular Gulag", you are in your own historical enchanted kingdom. I recommend counselling. Tell us, is there anything at all that you think was better in 1900 than today? How about 1500? Or as with the global warming faithful, do you hold that what we have today is by definition the best ever on all counts? Your favourite holiday by far must be New Year's Day.

David:

I'm not sure that's the moral anti-slavery Harry is talking about. I don't think he means the pre-modern anti-slavery that caused folks to refuse to own slaves in a time of slavery, risk and lose their lives to stop the slave trade or free actual slaves. Altogether too much unmodern zeal. He means the modern kind where folks from countries that abolished slavery long ago go to UN conferences on expense accounts or sit safely in undergraduate seminars complaining indignantly about how everything from the past is rotten to the core and if we started over from scratch we would get rid of awful things like slavery, kings, landlords, the family, bosses, etc.

Harry:

So Kershaw is an idiot for not seeing that all those German intellectuals in the universities who supported Hitler overwhelmingly and critically, were just pining away for a little pagan spirituality in the forest? Suddenly they were turned off by too much Rousseau and Darwin and yearned for a little Thor? Boy, there is nothing--and I do mean nothing--that will get you guys frothing more than the argument that Hitler and his movement were features of the modern world and inconceivable before on many scores. It doesn't seem to matter a whit to you guys that he had (and has) lots of emulators in modern times, but no one even faintly ressembling him in the past. And if all you can throw up in response is a list of historical slaughters, man, what you don't see about Hitler is a lot.

November 17, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

From the next previous paragraph of Philo's:

'for they are utterly ignorant of all traffic, and of all commercial dealings, and of all navigation, but they repudiate and keep aloof from everything which can possibly afford any inducement to covetousness.'

They not only didn't believe in owning human beings, they didn't believe in owning anything.

Not quite the same as moral antislavery, but close.

Not very influential compared to, say, Christianity, though.

++++

Hitler wholly new? I don't think so. He certainly didn't invent Jew-hatred. And exterminationist policies against 'enemies of the state' (which is, after all, how he defined them) were not his invention.

Such a good Christian as Charlemagne pursued the same course, for more years and with much better success, against the Avars.

Still, the blindness toward Hitler's character was quite a bit different from what Kershaw imagines. (I have read the second volume of his bio of H., about which I have mixed feelings).

I have, for example, a copy of 'Goering: the Iron Man of Germany,' published as late as 1938, which proposed that Goering was the actual director of Nazi policy; and even later than that Chamberlain was blathering that H. was 'a gentleman we can do business with.'

Wherever you are now, you could throw a rock and hit somebody who thinks the same of the Iranians, with just a much cogence.

What, exactly, does that have to do with modernsm?

November 17, 2007 7:31 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

They not only didn't believe in owning human beings, they didn't believe in owning anything.

Not quite the same as moral antislavery, but close.

Well now, doesn't that join the issue, as we lawyers like to say. I take it you mean that owning things like land, automobiles or even fluffy little teddy bears is a step down the slippery slope to owning slaves. I think I'll just bow out, pour myself a stiff one and watch the libertarians around here take over.

But before I go, Harry, here's a question. If your beloved modernism is so superior, as should be self-evident to anyone with half a critical mind, why does it keep having to defend itself against all these atavistic challengers. I mean, the philosophy was pretty much all there by the end of the 18th century. We've had secular mass education for over a hundred years. We've long won our individual freedom (fade out scene, cue the orchestra) from most things spiritual and even cultural. Yet not only does that pesky religion keep hanging around to mess up science classes, we have to constantly deal with these new modern anti-modern forces that cause us no end of trouble like marxism, fascism and (the horror) coueism. What gives? Are the masses letting you guys down?

November 18, 2007 3:14 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

As long as you keep letting bizarre, even nonsensical phrases like the "Christian slave-trade" roll happily off your tongue while bristling indignantly at things like the "secular Gulag", you are in your own historical enchanted kingdom.

Peter, those are the rules of the game that you and D'Souza are playing. If atheism is to blame for 100 million murders because a handful of mass murderers were atheists, then Christianity is to blame for all the crimes committed by Christians. Do you want to play the game or don't you? The Atlantic slave trade was carried out by Christian men, with the acquiescence of Christian governments. By the rules of the game, that indicts Christianity. Why is this so hard for you to grasp? It's your game, and your rules.

November 18, 2007 8:06 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not just the masses.

Never underestimate the power of ignorance.

Especially among people who are exposed early to antirational influences. They're hard to shake.

November 18, 2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Ah, so Darwinism is a religion too?

Hmmm.

Funny hats? Nope

Claims of miracles (whether supernatural, or Lysenko's four harvests/year)? Nope

Responsible for any blasphemy laws? Nope.

Secret police, heresy hunts and show trials? Nope.

Universal moral claims? Nope.

Regular indoctrination sessions under Darwin's picture that involve reciting passages from the founding text? Nope.

It is true because Darwin said so? Nope.

Physical threats against non-believers? Nope.

Eternal damnation for non-believers? Nope.

It isn't clear to me why you are having so much trouble with the distinction.

November 18, 2007 9:55 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

My rules? Duck, I don't have any hesitation in acknowledging that great wrongs have been done in the name of religion, or acquiesced in by religious authorities, or that religion or even belief in the spiritual can, has been and undoubtedly will be a destructive force (although trying to pin everything bad that happens in a society on the prevailing religion is nonsensical, as is referring to secular governments in Western Europe as "Christian governments"). I doubt David does either. What I can't understand is your dogged insistence that the same cannot be said about modern objective materialism/secularism/ atheism. I have no problem welcoming and celebrating many aspects of modern progress, but I can't understand your apparent belief that all in the past was tainted by a destructive irrationalism and that nothing of value has been lost. It isn't just about different ways of viewing history either, it's about having the ability to recognize problems in out own times without just repeating rotely that it was much worse in the past.

Seeing as we like to use slavery, genocide and race relations to illustrate our arguments, here is a very thoughtful piece about the pre-civil war New England colleges founded on radical notions of racial and gender equality, and what is was that eclipsed them for over a hundred years and ushered in the reign of Jim Crow type thinking and a patronizing gender bias:

But something else happened. There was a recoil from the horror of the Civil War that affected the thinking of many abolitionists and that certainly affected public attitudes toward their movement. There was the emergence of Social Darwinism, which enjoyed a long run in this country and which had precursors in many forms—not surprisingly, since there is nothing easier to do than to persuade people of their natural superiority to other people. But when this view of things entered the culture as science, through those very institutions that had promoted social equality in earlier generations, it carried all before it. Those same hill towns that had provided Mary Lyon with her students suddenly became proof of the dysgenic effects of inbreeding. Immigrants were worse, and everywhere were to be found marks of imbecility, degeneracy and parasitism.

Since the future of humankind depended on the flourishing of superior types, the first duty of the favored was, of course, to look after themselves and their own. Social Darwinism always had racial assumptions: a Mongoloid was an evolutionary throwback from the superior status of Caucasoid, and so on. This “science” was a catastrophe for anyone who labored under any kind of disadvantage, no matter how obviously the disadvantage was a consequence of social constructs, since society is (for these purposes) the field or the forest of evolutionary struggle, and losing is losing.

It is a dangerous error to imagine that opinion had to have been more benighted in 1835 than it was in 1935. The fact that black students had done well at Oberlin or at Lane—there was no use for that information once racism became “scientific.” So for all purposes, that information disappeared, together with the history that surrounded it. Equality as an ideal was seen not only as impossible but also as undesirable, since it threatened the enhancement of the species that came with the rise of an elite. I think some of the intellectual leaders whose lives spanned the Civil War chose to forget that they’d ever espoused equality, though they may have championed it eloquently in their youth. As for women, how half the species could be thought of as somehow not participating fully in its evolution, I don’t know. But our status fell precipitously in the Social Darwinist period, perhaps because we were considered unlikely to have stalked the woolly mammoth. There is no arguing with science.

November 19, 2007 3:20 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
I'm glad to see you distance yourself from D'Souza's simplistic moral calculus. I don't think I've ever phrased my view of history the way you put it. I am capable of recognizing good things in past eras and bad things in our own. On balance I prefer to live in our own times, though if I could pick a decade in which to live perpetually, it would be the 1950s. As long as I wasn't black.

I don't think that people, in general, are any more moral or less evil than people in previous eras. I can't say if we've lost anything of irreplacable value from the past. As your book quote demonstrates, the accomplishments of past times are often fleeting, but when particular values of one generation are lost by the next, they are often re-discovered in a future one. I'm not so much a booster of modern times as I am not nostalgic for any golden age of the past. Mankind lives on a slippery slope, and he often slips, but so far has avoided destroying himself. I don't know that the slopes are more slippery today, or the abyss any more yawning than the past. But I don't live in the past, I live in the present, so I'll make the best of it. There is no reason to believe that we can't make do with it.

November 20, 2007 5:21 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

if I could pick a decade in which to live perpetually, it would be the 1950s.

You have forgotten what we ate back then, haven't you? :-)

November 20, 2007 6:36 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: I was just using your criteria:

Religions have:

- a G-d? I would argue "yes;" that most people who think that they believe in evolution actually believe in a teleological god -- nature or natural selection, or something of that nature, but I'll accept "no" for now.

- a revealed text? Absolutely.

- a cult of personality? Absolutely.

- a priest caste? Yes

- complex and convoluted assumptions? Boy, are there ever.

- argument from authority? Yep.

- universal and absolute dicta? A theory of everything.

- the formation of exclusionary moral communities (i.e., actions considered immoral to those within the community are moral when outwardly directed). Just read the DailyDuck.

November 20, 2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Peter, not everyone ate Spam and Cheese Whiz in the '50s. There was plenty of good eating and good popular music too.

November 20, 2007 3:39 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter, you're talking to a man who grew up on Fluffernutter sandwiches.

November 20, 2007 5:19 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

You are not using my criteria, you are Judding them.

- revealed text? Absolutely not. Only Judd would equate physical evidence within divine revelation.

- cult of personality? Only Judd would equate the mere mention of Darwin's name with regular worship services, or the cults of personality attending Lenin, Stalin, Mao, John Paul II, etc.

- a priest caste? I'll grant you that one.

- complex and convoluted assumptions? Only Judd would insist the assumptions of evolution, which could fit on a 3x5 card with space to spare, with those required to support an actual religion.

- argument from authority? Considering your most recent post on Darwinism forecasts its demise based upon evidence generated by those who you would consider Darwinists, that is beyond rich.

- universal and absolute dicta? Another Juddian stretch. What are evolution's directions on human behavior?

- the formation of exclusionary moral communities? Here you really puzzle me. I'll bet you can't find one quote from a dunnoist here that advocates an action against a knowist that it would prohibit against a dunnoist. Compare and contrast with the Bible's direction on how to treat Jews for Jesus.

Evolution is no more a religion than astronomy. There is no more a cult of Darwin than there is a cult of Hubble.

The moment evolutionists call for murdering apostates, tell others what to wear, which direction they must face at certain times of day, riot when Darwin is caricatured, insist that Darwin must be accepted as one's personal savior, or that Darwin has deeded them real estate, then you might have a point.

Until then, your Juddian tendencies would label a credit union a religion.

November 21, 2007 1:39 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I'm not completely certain whether I would label Darwinsim a religion, but there sure seems to be a cult of Judd around this place.

erp:

You'll have to work a bit harder to convince me on the food, but I agree they were the glory days for breezy, schmaltzy, waltzy, ethereal tunes.

November 21, 2007 3:27 AM  
Blogger erp said...

By 1960, it was all over. Smaltz? Please no.

The 50's also brought us Muzak which led to "music" blaring at us everywhere we go.

My brother also ate peanut butter and Fluffy sandwiches and drank milk out of the bottle, but then he was a boy and didn't know better. Here’s one you may never have heard of, after school, we used to have for a snack slabs of soft and gushy Wonder Bread slathered with butter and topped with a healthy sprinkling of sugar. Flossing was unknown and we brushed our teeth only twice a day.

Yet both my brother and I are working with our original issue teeth. Go figure.

November 21, 2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You have awakened painful memories, erp. My dear mother (actually a pretty good cook) insisted on healthy bread, which meant semi-stale as far as I could tell. Even worse, she got the quixotic idea that the bland pureed Gerber meat baby food she fed my brother would make a great sandwich spread for her older ones. Imagine poor me in the school lunch room trying to down this appalling garbage while all around me my friends were savouring heaven-sent Wonder Bread enveloping some syrupy ambrosia. I always thought it was the start of my lifelong attraction to platonic idealism. Of course, as I grew older I moved from the ideal sandwich to perfect love, justice, etc.

November 22, 2007 2:20 AM  
Blogger erp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 22, 2007 6:10 AM  
Blogger erp said...

erp said...
Ah yes -- mothers. In my struggle to raise healthy children, I eschewed white bread and other gustatory atrocities and as was, and still is, my wont, I explained in great detail why we didn't eat the kind of foodstuffs that were fodder for their friends.

When my youngest was in nursery school (age 4), he was invited to lunch with a classmate. It was the first time he had dined out on his own. When he returned he reported that sandwiches were served on white bread! I held my breath hoping he didn’t admonish his friend’s mother, but he was true to his training and behaved exemplarily and just ate it and said please and thank you to a fare-thee-well. The friend’s mother reported in awe of my kid’s table manners and ability to engage in polite conversation.

Peter, for the perfect sandwich, you must travel to the Big Apple and once there find Wolf’s Deli at 41 W 57th St.

Alert -- alas it is no more. So another icon bites the dust proving once again the illusiveness of perfection in this world whether in sandwiches or platonic idealism.

November 22, 2007 6:23 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'ushered in the reign of Jim Crow type thinking and a patronizing gender bias'

Ushered in? You mean if we look closer we'll find that Harvard and Yale admitted women before Darwin and Oxford and Cambridge admitted Irish Catholics?

Quel surprise!

November 23, 2007 11:54 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, I'm sure the dirt-poor black sharecropper trying to avoid a lynching and protect his daughter from rape would see that parallel perfectly.

November 24, 2007 4:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Whether he would or wouldn't, the absence of women or blacks from colleges was not the result of Social Darwinism, or, as it ought to be called, Social Spencerism.

Sheesh.

November 24, 2007 9:07 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Lately it seems that Masons (Freemasonry) has been popping up in my various reading. I haven't ever given Masons much thought because I can't decide if they’re just a bunch of male kids with a secret hand shake and a club house in a tree or if it's a conspiracy of the dark lords of the universe including the Council on Foreign Affairs who run the world, if not the universe. I scanned some pages Google pulled up, but nothing reverberated.

Then it occurred to me that I haven’t seen the Masons mentioned in the long strings on religion or, God forgive me for saying it, Darwin.

Have Masons been thoroughly dismissed here as being irrelevant or are you all really Masons practicing secret rites in the dank darkness of gothic catacombs buried deep in earth?

Barring either scenario, does anybody have a suggestion for light reading on Masons 101.

November 25, 2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

American Masons are no more like European Masons than American Catholics are like Italian Catholics.

In Europe, Masonry always was and still is a political movement.

November 26, 2007 10:09 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, but were the Masons players and conspirators as lots of books seem to claim they were? I really don't know the difference between Catholics in Italy and Catholics in the U.S. I'd guess Catholics in Italy take the church in their stride and those here, mostly controlled by the Irish, would be more rigid.

November 28, 2007 7:43 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I don't know much about the Masons beyond spelling.

However, when I was living in Europe in the 80s, there was quite the scandal when it was found that some 5 senior members of the Italian government were Masons.

Never could suss exactly why.

This Wikipedia article seems pretty well done.

November 28, 2007 10:38 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ummm. Well, it's a secret society.

European Freemasonry appears to me to be a more organized version of the American old boy network or the British public schools network.

A formal informal camarilla, if you will, devoted to supporting the ideas of the French Revolution.

Although Freemasonry is presented as an adversary of Christianity, and especially of Catholicism, the picture is more complicated.

Here's a sentence about French colonial policy in the 19th c. from Nicholas Ostler's 'Empire of the Word':

'Once again France began to look for explanations of its success: characteristically, it came to see itself as a power that could make a difference to the world for the better, spreading not just Catholic Christianity and respect for law, but also freemasonry, Saint-Simonian industrial policy, and in short la civilisation francaise.'

There seems little doubt that, as in the Italian P5 scandal, plotters have used the secrecy of the lodges as cover for dubious designs, but it's not clear to me that these were specially 'Masonic' designs.

November 29, 2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Skipper, I had read the Wikipedia article and while it was informative, it didn't answer my question which is were they a force for good or evil? I tend to think that masons were second tier players and convenient lackeys for the real players.

November 29, 2007 11:34 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, sorry I didn't see your comment before I replied to the Skipper. Thanks.

November 29, 2007 11:37 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

erp, the difference between Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics is that Italian Catholics are afraid of ghosts and Irish Catholics are afraid of sex.

To a first approximation, American Catholics are Irish Catholics.

Up to the '60s, the Irish ran the American church. I think all the cardinals were Irish, except one German.

There was a battle between the Irish Irish Americans and the American Irish Americans, which the Americans (called, of course, the 'Americanists') had won by about 1940, when American political ideals of democracy took over the church here, defeating the antidemocratic (fundamentally, fascist) ideology of the Italian church (represented, oddly, today by a German).

The Americanists (some of the Irish backed by the Germans) were inspired by the gallicanism of the French church in America, which was otherwise pretty invisible, against the ultramontanism of the Irish and the Italians. (The Spanish church would have backed the fascists if it had counted, which it didn't then. It will be interesting to see whether the Spanish church, still fascist, will league with the remnants of the Irish ultramontanists [as represented, eg, by Mahony] to de-Americanize the church in the 21st c.)

Mindful of Skipper's remark about telling the time, I will refrain from a full disquisition, but the evolution of political Catholicism in America is a fascinating study and one that moderate Muslims ought to examine carefully and adapt to their own circumstances, if they can figure out how.

November 30, 2007 5:04 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, I went to a Catholic grammar school. The nuns were saints and everything I know I learned by 8th grade.

This isn't the string for it, but I'd like some insight into the Rosicrusians, the Knights Templar, CFL, Skull & Bones, etc.

December 02, 2007 11:51 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And Father Feeney and the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

By their bare feet you shall know them.

I went to Catholic schools for 14 years -- nuns all the way, none of those inferior lay teachers (like my mom). All I got out of it was a lot of crap I'm still unlearning after 44 years, the ability to type with 10 fingers, and a profound understanding of how to lie artfully.

I cannot complain overmuch. That last has been of immense value to me in my job as a newspaperman; but still, I wish my parents had spent the tuition money on themselves.

December 02, 2007 12:25 PM  
Blogger erp said...

We had the Sisters of Charity, mostly young Irish girls. It wasn't a private school as they're known today and I went for other than religious reasons. School was a haven of quiet and contemplation. My birthday is the first week of September and I always thought of school starting up after the summer the best birthday present I could ever have.

I didn't know about Feeney and his slaves, but I wouldn't doubt them. The priests were so dreadful and mean and treated the nuns like their servants. Turned me off, but good.

December 02, 2007 2:20 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ah, well, in addition to Sisters of Charity, I got Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart and about half a dozen other brands.

Some Irish, some Italian, some perhaps Canadian. The Grey Nuns were big in early French Canada.

Some of my teachers had had formidable educations, compared to the average product of an American normal school. That made them especially dangerous, like Jesuits.

They were not notable for intellectual honesty.

Father Feeney and his Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were a homegrown heretical sectm(fl. 1950s), limited pretty much to New England, I think, and so far as I know now extinct.

I never met one, but from the endless warnings we were given about them, they went door-to-door, like Jehovah's
Witnesses, and dressed like real nuns except for the bare feet.

Just as 17th c. English children memorized 'From Hull, hell and Halifax, good Lord deliver us,' we were terrorized by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Come to think of it, all I know about them is what was in the warnings against them. For all I know to the contrary, they were a figment of the Irish Catholic imagination, like good bishops.

December 02, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Some of my teachers had had formidable educations, compared to the average product of an American normal school. That made them especially dangerous, like Jesuits.

We Protestants sure know all about that. Catholics are inoffensive enough in their natural peasant habitat, but once you start teaching them how to read...

December 03, 2007 4:52 AM  

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