Historical defense of religion

Where have we been?
User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Historical defense of religion

Post by Raskolnikov » Wed May 18, 2005 4:43 pm

On these boards, I have frequently seen attacks on the historical role of religion. These attacks are not usually wrong, but they occasionally are incomplete, and miss the positive role religion has played. I think skeptics need to have a more complete understanding of the role religion has played in history. Why? For one, truth and accuracy are good things to any skeptic. For another, better respect and understanding moves dialogue to a higher level. For yet another, we need to make sure we are focused on the correct problems, and religion can occasionally be an ally or sometimes just a neutral party - not always an enemy.

I do not seek to deny the death toll of religious wars, or the consequences of religious persecution, but instead to place them in a larger context. I'll also add that I am not taking a stand on whether religion has been a net positive or negative force in history. I think both sides are arguable, depending on the subjective weights one places and various outcomes.

Most of my points focus on European and American history, as that is what I am most familiar with.

1) Religious wars are a rather recent invention, beginning in the early middle ages. It is important to note that war existed long before that. While some religious wars were fought entirely because of religious disputes (many of the European Wars of Religion), there was still often a strong geopolitical component. For instance, Catholic France aligned itself with the protestant powers in the 30 Years War for geopolitical reasons. Additionally, geopolitical wars were a staple of medieval and early modern society. It is quite likely that without many religious wars, different wars would have been fought as the money and manpower would have been available for expansionism rather than for coming to the aid of religious brethren. For instance, the Crusades were partially an attempt to divert European leaders from internal conflict.

2) Education. During the dark ages, the Church was the only bastion of literacy and education. If you wanted to learn, you had go to the Church. Not because they had an enforced monopoly, but because they were the only institution that deemed learning important enough to spend money on. The University system grew out of the Church. Monastic bell-making was a major reservoir of metallurgical knowledge that became extremely important in the late middle ages. The Protestant Reformation had a huge impact on literacy. If understanding scripture was the key to salvation, one had to read to do it. The Reformation lead to many translations of the Bible into vernacular languages, which then gave the masses an important reason to read. America's strong protestant roots gave it an extremely high literacy rate at the time of the American Revolution. This was a very important component of why the American experiment was such a success, whereas other enlightenment revolutions in France and Latin America descended into chaos and despotism. The invention of the printing press is an important component of this, springing out of superior European metallurgy, and large demand for reading the Bible.

3) Art and culture: The importance of religion in creating some of the great masterpieces of western culture - Notre Dame, the Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper, etc. should be clear.

4) Religion was not as strong an opponent of progress as many of its opponents seem to think. The west's rise had a lot to do with superior navigation. Superior navigation had a lot to do with superior astronomy. Superior astronomy had a lot to do with the Church. The timing of Easter was an important thing for the Church, and it depended on knowing when the full moon and the Vernal Equinox would occur. This lead to a lot of support for Astronomy. Gallileo's treatment at the hands of the church is often misunderstood. For the most part, Gallileo *created* the Church's opposition for Copernican ideas because of his political idiocy. The Church was perfectly willing to stay above the scientific discussions until G. started questioning the Church's right to decide such matters, and worst of all, until G. alienated his former friend and protector the Pope by making fun of him in his Dialogue, putting the words of the Pope into the mouth of the ignoramus "Simplicio".

5) Slavery was almost entirely extinct in Europe when the Roman Empire fell. Why? Mostly it was religion. The Bible wasn't explicit on condemning slavery, but a plain reading of the New Testament teachings made it clear that it was un-Christian, and many of the earliest Christians had been slaves themselves. When slavery came back under the New World plantation system, religion was used on both sides of the argument. But I would argue that the slaveholders were rationalizing an economically profitable system, and they would have done so even in the absence of religion. However, I find it very unlikely that opposition to slavery would have been as strong, and eventually as successful, as it was without Christian teachings.

The above is a pretty one-sided sample. Again, my point is not to say that religion was a net positive, but to balance a general tone in this thread that seems to point only to the negative. I don't emphasize the negative for the simple reason that I think most posters here already know a lot of it.

And it should go without saying that the net historical impact of religion has nothing to do with whether it is true.

User avatar
Electric Monk
Regular Poster
Posts: 680
Joined: Thu Mar 10, 2005 7:38 am
Location: OC, CA

Re: Historical defense of religion

Post by Electric Monk » Wed May 18, 2005 5:31 pm

Good post, Raskolnikov. I think that it's only fair to consider the positive contributions made by religious institutions. Normally these are neglected by skeptics since the institutions themselves are so active in promoting their historical benefits to society. :)

I very strongly agree that making allies of moderate believers is critical. Reaching out to faith communities and increasing their awareness of actual skeptical philosophy, countering the demonized portrait frequently painted of secular people by the radically religious, will do more good than any amount of arguing against religious beliefs.

Raskolnikov wrote:1) Religious wars are a rather recent invention, beginning in the early middle ages. It is important to note that war existed long before that. While some religious wars were fought entirely because of religious disputes (many of the European Wars of Religion), there was still often a strong geopolitical component. For instance, Catholic France aligned itself with the protestant powers in the 30 Years War for geopolitical reasons. Additionally, geopolitical wars were a staple of medieval and early modern society. It is quite likely that without many religious wars, different wars would have been fought as the money and manpower would have been available for expansionism rather than for coming to the aid of religious brethren. For instance, the Crusades were partially an attempt to divert European leaders from internal conflict.

What do you think of the idea that strong ideological beliefs (not necessarily religious) are required to gain the support of the bulk of the population for war, even if the leadership is motivated purely by geopolitical calculation?

Another positive contribution by religious institutions is in providing a structure for community involvement, something only just emerging among the secular groups. A strong sense of community and social responsibility is both a benefit to the surrounding society, and a powerful motivation for those joining a church.

--James

User avatar
infidel
Poster
Posts: 130
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2005 11:09 pm
Location: Philadelphia

Post by infidel » Wed May 18, 2005 5:44 pm

I'll be the first to admit the positives of religion. There is a lot, no question. Even the simple and personal, as Kryten the android said, (and I'm paraphrasing) "They made up religion just to keep you all from going nuts!" :D

When I visted Milan and spent a lot of time in and on the Duomo and got to see the Last Supper I was very moved.

You've done a service to the site with this post, Raskolnikov. Thanks for reminding us.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Wed May 18, 2005 6:02 pm

What do you think of the idea that strong ideological beliefs (not necessarily religious) are required to gain the support of the bulk of the population for war, even if the leadership is motivated purely by geopolitical calculation?


I don't see a whole lot of support for it. I think all you need to get mass support for a war is a sense of community, and a superficially plausible rationale that the community's interests are theatened. The masses tend to rally around the flag. Playing to ideology is tricky as it risks alienating those who don't share the ideology. For instance, in the recent Iraq War, the primary selling point was WMDs - threat to the community.

But probably the best example of this is the outbreak of WWI, where authoritarian regimes such as Germany, Austria, and Russia, and democratic regimes such as France, England, and the US, all used the same primary arguments in making mass appeals, and all did so successfully. And this was the most non-ideological and strictly geopolitical war of the modern era.

Explicitly ideological goals can be primary, but public support seems to be much more fragile in such circumstances - see Somalia and Kosovo.

As such, what usually seems to happen is that you get a combination of both: its in our interests and it is the right thing to do. But in breaking conflicts down, I think we see that the "interest" argument tends to be primary, and holds the most sway.

Another positive contribution by religious institutions is in providing a structure for community involvement, something only just emerging among the secular groups. A strong sense of community and social responsibility is both a benefit to the surrounding society, and a powerful motivation for those joining a church.


I think this is particularly true in the modern era. 1000 years ago, the church was almost superfluous in this regard. Yes, churches were organizers of charity and community, but charity and community also existed before there were churches. Its how villages worked, helping out the less fortunate, and deciding local affairs through village meetings.

But in today's larger, more global villages, with people moving around a lot, the sense of community is broader, but also weaker at the points where it could do the most good. People don't know their neighbors very well, wheras 1000 years ago they would have grown up with them. As such, churches serve an organizing point for activities and community support that would otherwise be diminished - help for new mothers, charity for the poor, social networks, care for the elderly, etc.

Makes me almost want to joing a secular version of a church, but Unitarians give me the willies.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Wed May 18, 2005 6:32 pm

Good post, Raskolnikov. I think that it's only fair to consider the positive contributions made by religious institutions. Normally these are neglected by skeptics since the institutions themselves are so active in promoting their historical benefits to society.


I should comment on this as well. What I usually see is that skeptics bring up history, such as witchburning, religious wars, and scientific persecution, and that theists tend to blame that on man, rather than God, and focus on a more personal value to religion - comforting them, providing strength and support, and helping others in the present.

As such, the popular historical argument tends to be a bit one-sided. But the academic historical argument is not.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Wed May 18, 2005 8:57 pm

I would argue the "tool" use. Classic example is Constantine's adoption of Christianity, having a dream where he saw a cross, hearing "by this symbol you will conquer". Religion is never a *cause* in the famous wars of the past. Punic, Gaellic, Greco-Persian, Egyptian-Hittite, Alexander's conquests, etc. Its all wealth, glory, politics, revenge, territory, and the like. You don't start seeing wars fought over religion, at least in the west, until the Arab Conquests, the ensuing schisms, and the Crusades.

User avatar
Flash
Has More Than 6K Posts
Posts: 6151
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2005 10:09 pm
Location: Ontario, Canada

Post by Flash » Thu May 19, 2005 1:01 am

Raskolnikov has made an excellent point. I would only add that the rise of the religious entities interest in education, science and technology coincides with the establishment of monotheism in Europe i.e. the christian churches. So does the wageing of religious wars.
When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away. Paul Terry

Ron L
Regular Poster
Posts: 968
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Ron L » Thu May 19, 2005 1:44 am

Interesting subject. I'll disagree about the reduction in European slavery. This looks like an economic change, rather than a change derived from religion.
Outside of "plantation slavery" where large slave populations could be put to profitable use, most slaves were an expression of wealth rather than a source of it.
With no intent to justify "plantation slavery", there seems to be some evidence that it wasn't all that profitable. The owners could have been engaged in a false meme (sorry Dr. X)
Ron L.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Thu May 19, 2005 1:50 am

Of course, one could then argue that even those wars consisted of wars of glory, money, power with religion used as an excuse. . . .


Yes, it usually isn't clear cut, there are often multiple motives, and the subject often requires interpretation. But I do think that many wars did indeed have religious causes. The Crusades are a good example. Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem were very popular. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Seljuk Turks ended that, and also posed a major security threat to the Byzantine Empire. Interests converged, and the Crusades were born.

I think a lot of skeptics, because they are skeptical of religion, have difficulty in understanding how genuine the beliefs are among many of the faithful. Just like modern theists, the Crusaders were a mixed bag of dutiful Christians trying to do their best, opportunists paying lip service to religion, and fanatics.

My favorite example of the latter was a guy who found what he thought was a piece of the True Cross. He claimed it would protect him from harm, and he committed himself to running a gauntlet of fire to prove it. He did it, and I still remember the history prof's description "...and he died a very painful, horrible death". Actions like that are only understandable if you are dealing with some genuine believers.

imnutsdoc
Poster
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: India

Post by imnutsdoc » Fri May 20, 2005 5:54 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:

" I would argue the "tool" use. Classic example is Constantine's adoption of Christianity, having a dream where he saw a cross, hearing "by this symbol you will conquer" "

I don't understand. Doesn't Constantine's adoption, and subsequent enforcement as the state religion, of his religion qualify as a shrewd and calculated use of a psychological tool? I'd think that it would be an extremely effective tool for managing an empire: the enforcement of a belief system that served the empire, not the other way round. The other advantage is the homogenisation of a culturally diverse set of people: remember, by Constantine's time the Roman Empire wasn't, for the most part, Roman.
The religion he adopted was revealed and monotheic, affording less possible disagreement and diversity than a polytheist one (at that time the Romans had many gods with different groups owing greater allegiance to the one of their choice).
Incidentally, the properties of the Roman State and religion fused to give rise to the Catholic Church or the Holy Roman Empire, take your pick. The titles and organisational heirarchy stand testament to that.
Religions are being used today, as they have been used in the past, as tools by cynical States to further their aims. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was strong evidence that militantly religious groups whose expressed purpose was not the expulsion of the invader but the elimination of the infidel, were funded by the US government and Saudi Arabia.
Communism qualifies as a religion: dogmatic, and at times with severe punishment for those who disagree, with a holy book to boot (Das Kapital).
It was used as a tool by more than one cynical power-hungry dictator in his rise to power.
[Edit: I'd classify any dogmatic self-propogating bit of propoganda as a 'religion': a particularly powerful and highly selfish meme, in that it can come to dominate a person's conciousness.]
[Edit 2: The Maya thought that the ruler was immortal, and ruled by divine right. The latter was given to certain kingsin Europe by priests, a great example of a good deal. Enumerating the points of view, the king is using religion to make his Believing subjects obey, the priest is using it to further himself and/or religion, and the religion's using both of them.
Also, certain members of certain 'castes' insidiously manipulated religion for their benifit]
Religion is being used to as great a degree as ever, today, as a tool in global geopolitics. One has simply to see the news.
Sheesh. I sound like Yoda.
I've replied to just one point in the thread-- will talk about the rest subsequently .

Nuts

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Fri May 20, 2005 7:44 pm

I don't understand. Doesn't Constantine's adoption, and subsequent enforcement as the state religion, of his religion qualify as a shrewd and calculated use of a psychological tool?


Could be. Historians debate the extent to which his conversion was genuine or political. But my point was on a different subject, whether ideology is necessary to start wars. Even if you take the story of Constantine's dream at face value, he wasn't fighting his battles *over* religion, but because he believed Christianity would help him win a civil war that started for other reasons.

As to your general point, religion certainly has been used as a tool. But like many things in history, I think the effects are bidirectional, with political needs shaping the use of religion, and with religious beliefs of elites also shaping the structure and actions of the state.

Communism is a case in point, as a secular religion. Many of the actions of Stalin, or Mao, and their ilk can only be explained through their Communist beliefs. Take the experience of Lysenkoism in the USSR, for instance, despite the disastrous consequences it had. It caught on because it fit in with Communist ideology. Or the insistence on collectivization, and reluctance to rethink collectivization, after it killed millions by famines in both Russia and China. Or the Brezhnev Doctrine, which lead the USSR into a disastrous war in Afghanistan despite its marginal strategic value and its negative impact on relations with the west.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Fri May 20, 2005 8:22 pm

I also want to say that arguments along the lines of "Constantine adopted Christianity as a tool of control" smack me as suffering from hindsightism. We look back, and can see that Constantine was successful in converting the empire But this was outcome was hardly obvious or inevitable, unless you think every other Roman emperor and every other authoritarian was a complete idiot for not seeing monotheism's utilitarian value as a tool of control. I would instead argue that history tells us that there was good reason to be very skeptical that Christianity would have that effect.

1) Akhenaton. King Tut's dad tried to institute a monotheist religion in Egypt, and was killed because of the way it threatened the power of the priestly class. Massive social change is dangerous for political stability.

2) One of the Emperors who ruled shortly after Constantine was Julian the Apostate, who tried to bring Rome back to Paganism. He may have been successful if he hadn't been killed by the Persians after only a couple of years. But his reign shows that you couldn't just convert the empire to Christianity on whim. Constantine's long reign, and Julian's short one, were flukes.

3) When Gibbon wrote Fall of the Roman Empire, he argued that Christianity was one of the prime reasons for the fall. While this isn't the consensus today, it also isn't a consensus that conversion postponed the fall to any real degree. Point being that Christianity's unifying aspects aren't entirely obvious to historians even today. After all, Europe was united for a lot longer under a pagan Rome than it was under a Christian Rome

4) It isn't all that obvious that using revealed dogma as a tool of control is a good thing. After all, once you have set that precedent you leave yourself and your successors open to similar dogmatic attacks that can undermine your legitimacy. Look at the various schisms, heretics, and Protestants. Ask a 16th or 17th century European whether Christianity was a unifying force for Europe and they probably would laugh at you. The notion of the divine right of kings grew up in *opposition* to Church doctrine - asserting divine authority for monarchs independent from the Pope.

5) Christianity isn't particularly well-suited as a tool for political control. It is pacifistic, moralistic, and anti-materialistic. Sure, one can argue that it is a good way to keep the slaves in line, but do you want an army and a merchant class practicing Christian ethics? The threats facing Rome were not from peasant and slave revolts, but from unruly barbarians and the ambitions of army commanders. Hard to see why Christianity would jump out as a good tool for solving those problems.

As such, I have always thought that Constantine's conversion was probably genuine.

imnutsdoc
Poster
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: India

Post by imnutsdoc » Sun May 22, 2005 10:47 am

As to your general point, religion certainly has been used as a tool. But like many things in history, I think the effects are bidirectional, with political needs shaping the use of religion, and with religious beliefs of elites also shaping the structure and actions of the state.


Absolutely.

Even if you take the story of Constantine's dream at face value, he wasn't fighting his battles *over* religion, but because he believed Christianity would help him win a civil war that started for other reasons.


In some wierd way, Constantine still seems to be trying to use Christianity to win his wars, through 'believing' in it. However: I may be biased [may be?] but someone like Constantine seems unlikely to simply have had a fit or something and then begun Believing.

But this was outcome was hardly obvious or inevitable, unless you think every other Roman emperor and every other authoritarian was a complete idiot for not seeing monotheism's utilitarian value as a tool of control


Perhaps they weren't as cynical, or perhaps Constantine really did have a fit. The former seems more likely.
I wonder if we could get our hands on the statistics of how many rulers had these fits, as opposed to how many 'common' people.

1) Akhenaton. King Tut's dad tried to institute a monotheist religion in Egypt, and was killed because of the way it threatened the power of the priestly class. Massive social change is dangerous for political stability.

2) One of the Emperors who ruled shortly after Constantine was Julian the Apostate, who tried to bring Rome back to Paganism. He may have been successful if he hadn't been killed by the Persians after only a couple of years. But his reign shows that you couldn't just convert the empire to Christianity on whim. Constantine's long reign, and Julian's short one, were flukes.


Great points. However, that would simply raise the question of whether the Emperor thought it profitable to antagonise the priests. Two possibilities may be that
a) He wanted to get rid of the old set who may have become a bit overbearing or
b) They may hardly have mattered.

In a politically stable system, massive social change may have made it less stable, but if the system was already unstable, it may have had a net positive effect.

3) When Gibbon wrote Fall of the Roman Empire, he argued that Christianity was one of the prime reasons for the fall. While this isn't the consensus today, it also isn't a consensus that conversion postponed the fall to any real degree. Point being that Christianity's unifying aspects aren't entirely obvious to historians even today. After all, Europe was united for a lot longer under a pagan Rome than it was under a Christian Rome


I'm quite ignorant of the history of the time, but I'd be interested in Gibbon's reasons for saying so. In fact this holds for most of the above:the status of the Roman priesthood, if any, in Constantines time, and the status of Rome itself. I vaguely remember reading that a portion of rome's army was not ethnically Roman-- that would be contextual because it would mean that a unifying influence would be beneficial.

4) It isn't all that obvious that using revealed dogma as a tool of control is a good thing. After all, once you have set that precedent you leave yourself and your successors open to similar dogmatic attacks that can undermine your legitimacy. Look at the various schisms, heretics, and Protestants. Ask a 16th or 17th century European whether Christianity was a unifying force for Europe and they probably would laugh at you. The notion of the divine right of kings grew up in *opposition* to Church doctrine - asserting divine authority for monarchs independent from the Pope.


[I'm sorry: I should've said 'dogma' instead of 'revealed dogma'.]
If you weild the power to decide the dogma, then the above becomes null. Also, whether you use it or not, someone still could use his own against you. In the Skeptic forum a pre-emptive attack of dogmatic belief would be counterproductive, but in a time where skeptical thinking was not the case and where dogmas of every shape and colour floated around, the average mind would've been much more receptive.
Your successors are another matter.
How would one view the Crusades, or the Islamic equivalent? Is it the Kings using the religion, or vice versa, or a bit of both?

All this doesn't address the fact that a Divine Right is good for Kings, and not just Christian ones.

I think I exceeded the size limit.

Nuts

imnutsdoc
Poster
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: India

Post by imnutsdoc » Sun May 22, 2005 12:31 pm

On other points,

Flash wrote:
Raskolnikov has made an excellent point. I would only add that the rise of the religious entities interest in education, science and technology coincides with the establishment of monotheism in Europe i.e. the christian churches.


Ancient polytheistic [Edit: and most importantly, scientifically liberal] Greece is considered the epitome of a scientific society, or at least an ancient one.

Raskolnikov wrote: (first post)
1) Religious wars are a rather recent invention, beginning in the early middle ages. It is important to note that war existed long before that.


The sheer scale and organisation of religious wars were recent,along with that of their religions.

2) Education. During the dark ages, the Church was the only bastion of literacy and education. If you wanted to learn, you had go to the Church. Not because they had an enforced monopoly, but because they were the only institution that deemed learning important enough to spend money on.


I strongly disagree with that. There were other times and places where the bastions of education weren't the Church or, for that matter, religious, notably Greece and Egypt. Also, if any other system of education would seem to be gaining prominence, the Church would either persecute those involved or take it over. Of course, this goes for other dogmas too.
As you can see, I'm utterly ignorant: how much if at all was religion responsible for the 'Dark' in the Dark Ages?

Monastic bell-making was a major reservoir of metallurgical knowledge that became extremely important in the late middle ages.


H'm. Isolated example and a coincidence. The same could've been said for Lycra underwear :wink:

3) Art and culture: The importance of religion in creating some of the great masterpieces of western culture - Notre Dame, the Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper, etc. should be clear.


I'd say that that's money.

Superior astronomy had a lot to do with the Church.


Gallileo?
Incidentally, the Mayan calendar was better than the Gregorian.
Stonehenge? :?:
All ancient civilisations, without exception, were interested in the Equinoxes and Solstices for obvious reasons. I don't think the Church's involvement furthered astronomy; telescopes were invented and discoveries were made independent of the Church. In fact, the wealthy baron/duke/king (I forget) whose telescope Tycho Brahe used made a far greater contribution than the Church in its entire history.

Gallileo's treatment at the hands of the church is often misunderstood. For the most part, Gallileo *created* the Church's opposition for Copernican ideas because of his political idiocy. The Church was perfectly willing to stay above the scientific discussions until G. started questioning the Church's right to decide such matters, and worst of all, until G. alienated his former friend and protector the Pope by making fun of him in his Dialogue, putting the words of the Pope into the mouth of the ignoramus "Simplicio".


:shock:
First time I've heard this one. The usual accounts have Galileo being the victim. "Church's right"? What right? Okay, so the bigots were in power and Galilleo should've been careful in saying anything in disagreement with them. However, did Galileo mock the very words, a well known speech, say, that the Pope actually said through Simplicio or did he mock beliefs that the Pope happened to have? It's an important difference. Are you implying that the fury of the Church came from Galileo's mocking of the Pope? From what I've read, the Church was trying to stop Galileo from publishing heresy, period.

5) Slavery...(snip)However, I find it very unlikely that opposition to slavery would have been as strong, and eventually as successful, as it was without Christian teachings.


Reasons?
I remember having read somewhere in this forum that the Bible said somewhere that slaves were supposed to be obedient to their masters because doing so was like being obedient to Jesus, but i forgot where.
The references to women in most religions leave no doubt as to where they're placed in the holy heirarchy.I say 'most' because there may be one that I haven't heard about.

To conclude, a dogma's bad because it leaves no room for doubt and dissent. A small amount of tradition/ritual added according to taste may serve to reinforce social bonds, but any more'n that and you're in for it.

Nuts (Completely)

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Sun May 22, 2005 4:12 pm

In some wierd way, Constantine still seems to be trying to use Christianity to win his wars, through 'believing' in it. However: I may be biased [may be?] but someone like Constantine seems unlikely to simply have had a fit or something and then begun Believing.


I think it is more likely that acquired religion the way most of us do - from his parents. In his case, his mom, who was a Christian.

The main reason the cynical argument doesn't work for me is that I have trouble seeing how Christianity was a better tool of control when compared to classical Roman paganism with its stoic themes.

I'm quite ignorant of the history of the time, but I'd be interested in Gibbon's reasons for saying so. In fact this holds for most of the above:the status of the Roman priesthood, if any, in Constantines time, and the status of Rome itself. I vaguely remember reading that a portion of rome's army was not ethnically Roman-- that would be contextual because it would mean that a unifying influence would be beneficial.


Gibbon's man reason was that Christianity was pacifistic and compassionate. You are correct about the ethnic make-up of the Roman army by this time, but it isn't clear why Christianity was more unifying than the classic methods of Latinization that worked on the Celts.

How would one view the Crusades, or the Islamic equivalent? Is it the Kings using the religion, or vice versa, or a bit of both?


In my opinion, both. When you dig deep into history, you generally find that rulers are very human, and are rarely cynical Machiavellians. People are great rationalizers, in that they don't have a huge problem merging their beliefs with what they really want. So in that sense, religion can end up being a tool. But people also hold ideologies, and set priorities accordingly. In that sense, religion can and does drive their goals. Both of these were in play, big time, during the Crusades, along with the occasional cynical Machiavellian.

I strongly disagree with that. There were other times and places where the bastions of education weren't the Church or, for that matter, religious, notably Greece and Egypt. Also, if any other system of education would seem to be gaining prominence, the Church would either persecute those involved or take it over. Of course, this goes for other dogmas too.


There is some truth to this. Justinian shut down the Academy because it was pagan. But I think you make too much of it, in that most other religions and civilizations failed to support education to any significant extent. Christianity was an important exception.

As you can see, I'm utterly ignorant: how much if at all was religion responsible for the 'Dark' in the Dark Ages?


I don't think it bears any responsibilty. The churches, and people educated by the church, are the primary sources for the information we do have from the Dark Ages. And as I said, Gibbon's theory that Christianity caused the collapse of the western empire is not considered persuasive by most modern historians.

First time I've heard this one. The usual accounts have Galileo being the victim. "Church's right"? What right? Okay, so the bigots were in power and Galilleo should've been careful in saying anything in disagreement with them. However, did Galileo mock the very words, a well known speech, say, that the Pope actually said through Simplicio or did he mock beliefs that the Pope happened to have? It's an important difference. Are you implying that the fury of the Church came from Galileo's mocking of the Pope?


Simplicio's final speech was almost verbatim what the Pope had once written to Galileo. My point is that prior to this, the Pope had been protecting Galileo, and Galileo had been allowed to publish with only modest constraints. The Church was not intractably Aristotelian. It was long-standing theological tradition that the Bible was not meant to be taken literally on matters of science. As such, Galileo's attackers were factional. Galileo kept getting mixed signals. The Inquisition was quite prescriptive, but he kept getting guidelines from friends in high places that were a lot milder than what the Inquisition wanted. Once he pissed off his patron, however, all bets were off.

I don't mean to blame Galileo for all this. The dude was right, after all. Rather, I am saying that the Church was not dogmatically anti-scientific, and the truth behind the controversy has a lot to do with politics.

Its also worth saying that there were a lot of good scientific reasons to disbelieve the Copernican system at the time. What, the Earth spins very fast? If that were so if we jumped up in the air we would land miles away, and we would have high winds all the time. The earth goes around the sun? Then why don't we see parallax in the stars (the amount of parallax was too small to be measurable at the time). Plus, Ptolemaic models were still more accurate, as Kepler's ideas on ellipses were published in the middle of the controversy, and hadn't been widely appreciated yet. As such, it isn't as if this was theology vs. science. It was science vs. science with theology taking one side.


On reasons regarding why Christianity was important in ending slavery:

The actual sayings of Jesus are anti-materialistic and compassionate. Be nice to each other. Do unto others. Love thy neighbor as yourself. A lot of Christians genuinely try to follow those ideals, even though they are damned hard to do. My point was that Jesus' basic teachings indicate that slavery is wrong, an implication that was not lost on many Christians, and many slaves, for that matter. Christian defenses of slavery required bizarre racial theories about blacks not being really human, to get around the problem. But the abolitionist movement was quite religious in its origins and beliefs. The abolitionist movement itself grew out of the 2nd Great Awakening, an evangelical revival movement in the 1830s. It was an area where enlightenment idealists and religious reformers could find common ground.[/quote]

Ron L
Regular Poster
Posts: 968
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Ron L » Mon May 23, 2005 11:11 pm

Raskolnikov wrote: On reasons regarding why Christianity was important in ending slavery:

The actual sayings of Jesus are anti-materialistic and compassionate. Be nice to each other. Do unto others. Love thy neighbor as yourself. A lot of Christians genuinely try to follow those ideals, even though they are damned hard to do. My point was that Jesus' basic teachings indicate that slavery is wrong, an implication that was not lost on many Christians, and many slaves, for that matter. Christian defenses of slavery required bizarre racial theories about blacks not being really human, to get around the problem. But the abolitionist movement was quite religious in its origins and beliefs. The abolitionist movement itself grew out of the 2nd Great Awakening, an evangelical revival movement in the 1830s. It was an area where enlightenment idealists and religious reformers could find common ground.


Regarding the "actual sayings of Jesus", I don't think they can be identified, even if Jesus is both an historical person and the VIP as depicted by the bible. If we allow "Christian" sayings to substitute, they tend to vary quite a bit in compassionate content.
Agreed with the "common ground" between the idealists and reformers, but I'd argue that it was the enlightenment which came to inform religious thought and consequently sparked the abolitionists to action. As mentioned above, it didn't hurt the process that most slavery by then was a 'luxury', not a source of income.
Thanks,
Ron L.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Tue May 24, 2005 12:11 am

Regarding the "actual sayings of Jesus", I don't think they can be identified, even if Jesus is both an historical person and the VIP as depicted by the bible. If we allow "Christian" sayings to substitute, they tend to vary quite a bit in compassionate content.
Agreed with the "common ground" between the idealists and reformers, but I'd argue that it was the enlightenment which came to inform religious thought and consequently sparked the abolitionists to action. As mentioned above, it didn't hurt the process that most slavery by then was a 'luxury', not a source of income.


1) Historical jesus vs biblical jesus is irrelevant as far as Christianity is concerned.

2) Biblical sayings do vary a lot, but there are several recurring compassionate themes in the Gospels. I was raised as a Christian, and 90% of what you are taught as a kid and hear in church is moral content about forgiveness and loving thy neighbor. Its the heart of the church's moral teachings, contemporary evangelical churches notwithstanding.

3) I agree that the enlightenment was also a factor. But Locke and Voltaire weren't going to motivate the masses on their own.

4) I disagree about slavery not being a source of income. The slaveholding economy was alive and profitable at the time of the Civil War.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Tue May 24, 2005 4:55 am

Yes and no, but tradition drives the reading and teaching of the biblical sayings. Rarely are the "nasty bits" the subject of the sermon!


I am focusing on the Gospels, which are the heart of Christian moralism, as opposed to the Old Testament or the rest of the New Testament.

In the Synoptic Gospels, the consistent theme is "quit worrying about material things and get your own house in order. and be nice to people, dammit". There aren't very many nasty bits.

But anyway, I think we agree on what Christian morality was in tradition, if not in text.

Perhaps in Europe the distinction disappeared to some degree. I use the qualifier because I am not sure, and certainly Europeans retained senses of "them"--just as Jews in Europe. Yet Jews were not, for the most part, enslaved. I think the overiding conception that to be human--"having a soul"--from a religious standpoint prevented that or at least made it "unpalatable."


The sense of "them" allowed Greeks to enslave other Greeks (witness the Spartans for a vivid example, where a rite of passage for Spartan men was finding a slave wandering around and killing him, and the Spartan system was based on the enslavement of a neighboring Greek population that got on their bad side). As such, I agree with you that the religious standpoint was important in ending European slavery. Other factors were involved as well, of course. Roman enslavement was fed by conquests, and as the conquests ceased, so did the ability to capture slaves.

Ron L
Regular Poster
Posts: 968
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Ron L » Tue May 24, 2005 4:21 pm

Doctor X wrote:
4) I disagree about slavery not being a source of income. The slaveholding economy was alive and profitable at the time of the Civil War.


Absobloodylutely! I good proof of that is the transformation to the slavery of sharecroping. Indeed, the current use of illegal immigrants is another example--cheapest labor possible means greater profits. Of course, with slavery you do not have to worry about health care after their prime, salary, benefits, anything. When I hear the "economic" apology uttered by my Southern collegues as 'the reason" for the war I remind them that, yes, the Union wished to remove their inhumane source of economy!
--J.D.

Let's try this again and see if we can keep the man of straw at bay...
With the exception of plantation slavery in the western hemisphere, slavery by the mid 19th century was nearly everywhere an expression of wealth not a source of it.
So in most of the world there were both moral and economic reasons for the end of slavery.
Thanks,
Ron L.

Ron L
Regular Poster
Posts: 968
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Ron L » Tue May 24, 2005 11:59 pm

Doctor X wrote: Yet the major example of slavery at the time was . . . the South.

Thanks.

--J.D.

Depends on how you parse the numbers. Admittedly any census of people forced into slavery is at best an educated guess, but dealing with African slavery only, during the 19th century Brazil 'imported' roughly six times the number of slaves as did the US. (slavery was legal in Brazil until the 1880s). Even Cuba 'imported' a higher number.
The population was higher in the US, since as brutally treated as the US slaves were, Brazil managed to maintain a death rate such that the population was never self-sustaining as it was in the US.
BTW, according to the same source (Ralph Austen, chair of African Studies at U of Chi.), approximately 25 million Africans were enslaved, with 14 million of those going to the Middle East and Asia, while 11 milliion crossed the Atlantic to the western hemisphere.
None of this is intended to shift blame or 'justify' slavery by any means whatsoever, but there is a lot of 'noise' about the issue so some 'signal' seems appropriate.
Thanks,
Ron L.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Wed May 25, 2005 12:19 am

Depends on how you parse the numbers. Admittedly any census of people forced into slavery is at best an educated guess, but dealing with African slavery only, during the 19th century Brazil 'imported' roughly six times the number of slaves as did the US. (slavery was legal in Brazil until the 1880s). Even Cuba 'imported' a higher number.


The US banned the slave trade in ~1812, so that isn't surprising. As you say, US slavery didn't have the death rates of the Carribean or Brazil. But I don't know the absolutely number of slaves in Brazil compared to the US. Wouldn't surprise me at all if it was more, however.

User avatar
Graculus
Poster
Posts: 240
Joined: Tue Mar 29, 2005 11:42 am
Location: Ontario

Post by Graculus » Sat May 28, 2005 4:22 pm

imnutsdoc wrote:I'm utterly ignorant: how much if at all was religion responsible for the 'Dark' in the Dark Ages?
It wasn't that dark, and it was the result of social and political collapse. The relligious houses were responsible for transmitting classical knowledge through those chaotic times, so they were positive.

3) Art and culture: The importance of religion in creating some of the great masterpieces of western culture - Notre Dame, the Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper, etc. should be clear.


I'd say that that's money.
I'd say that you are wrong. There is a strong strain of invention and innovation being generated by religion. The cathedrals resulted in the flying buttress, writing seems to have it's impulse in religion, polyphonic Western music was invented in the monasteries. The list is quite long, and not confined to Christianity.

Incidentally, the Mayan calendar was better than the Gregorian.
Stonehenge? :?:
All ancient civilisations, without exception, were interested in the Equinoxes and Solstices for obvious reasons.
Yeah, religious ones.

During the early Middle Ages the most technically and scientifically advanced and "free" civilization was also a strongly religious one, and the religious leaders actively promoted the advancment of knowledge. I refer, of course, to the Islamic countries. Up until the reformation Christianity wasn't much on supressing science and many early scientists were also religious office holders.

Really, It's all Martin Luther's fault.

imnutsdoc
Poster
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: India

Post by imnutsdoc » Sun Jul 10, 2005 6:22 am

imnutsdoc wrote:
I'm utterly ignorant: how much if at all was religion responsible for the 'Dark' in the Dark Ages?
It wasn't that dark, and it was the result of social and political collapse. The relligious houses were responsible for transmitting classical knowledge through those chaotic times, so they were positive.


Right.
Religion was an organising and text-preserving force, which was (only?) positive aspect.
It was also, as always, in its extreme form,responsible for brainwashing people's minds (thereby the bane of science), repressing women and killing those of other religions. Big minus.

Quote:
Quote:
3) Art and culture: The importance of religion in creating some of the great masterpieces of western culture - Notre Dame, the Sistine Chapel, The Last Supper, etc. should be clear.


I'd say that that's money.
I'd say that you are wrong. There is a strong strain of invention and innovation being generated by religion. The cathedrals resulted in the flying buttress, writing seems to have it's impulse in religion, polyphonic Western music was invented in the monasteries. The list is quite long, and not confined to Christianity.


I dis'gree. The artists and masons would've done just the same for whoever payed them. They weren't motivated by religious fervor.

Nuts

Ron L
Regular Poster
Posts: 968
Joined: Thu Mar 31, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Ron L » Sun Jul 17, 2005 1:17 am

Raskolnikov's original post states 'religion (qua religion) is a net positive'.
Religion is a focus of human group activity. Others include tribe (ethnic/locale), government (force), economic unit (trade), probably more.
So the question might be stated: Was there another 'focus' which could have done better than religion at the time?
From some recent readings, I'd suggest that formal religion though quite a bit of its history was a governmental force with an overlayment of pious belief. So most of that history can be understood as a governmental agency, collecting tax, and distributing it under a sort of 'clientism'. The arts and cultures were preserved as a result of the excess income rather than any pious intentions.
To address another point in the original post (slavery):
European slavery was not abolished as much as abandoned. The fuedal system, supported by the church, made slavery obsolete; who wanted to capture and hold slaves when the local populace already sufficed?
Was religion then the cause of the moral revulsion or the vehicle to present it? For the idea to have spread as quickly as it did throughout Britain and then to the US, the movement perforce included many less-religious folks who were equally aghast at the practise. The point here is that Father X might have raised the issue, but if he didn't, the issue was going to be raised very quickly anyhow.
Ron L.

User avatar
statisticool
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1896
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2005 6:22 am

Re: Historical defense of religion

Post by statisticool » Tue Jul 26, 2005 10:39 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:These attacks are not usually wrong, but they occasionally are incomplete, and miss the positive role religion has played. I think skeptics need to have a more complete understanding of the role religion has played in history. Why? For one, truth and accuracy are good things to any skeptic.


Some of these were already said I think, but I'll echo:

-I think a lot of the great artwork and architecture are all positive things.

-A lot of things in the Western world are named based on Judeo-Christian names. Heck, practically everyone I know, and every street name around every place I've ever lived at.

-Many flags of the world that have a cross on them. If it was only important historically, you think they'd just vote on a new flag?

imnutsdoc
Poster
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: India

Post by imnutsdoc » Mon Sep 05, 2005 4:12 pm

-I think a lot of the great artwork and architecture are all positive things.


Yah. Although I'd use the very previous post as a reply, you do have some pretty buildings, music and possibly even philosophy :) corresponding to religion(s)... which is good.

-A lot of things in the Western world are named based on Judeo-Christian names. Heck, practically everyone I know, and every street name around every place I've ever lived at.


So?

-Many flags of the world that have a cross on them. If it was only important historically, you think they'd just vote on a new flag?


Some people are bothered, some just don't care, and some evade the issue, like, whatever looks good on a bikini...
Hey, most just b-leive in it!

Off topic, skeptic != atheist, and vice versa, which isn't saying skeptic = !(atheist)...
( ! stands for 'not')

Nuts

User avatar
statisticool
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1896
Joined: Sun Apr 03, 2005 6:22 am

Post by statisticool » Mon Sep 05, 2005 4:27 pm

imnutsdoc wrote:So?


So, the historical and modern uses of such things is a benefit.

Some people are bothered, some just don't care, and some evade the issue, like, whatever looks good on a bikini...


And you evaded the issue.

CoffinDodger
New Member
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Cardiff,Wales

Post by CoffinDodger » Sun Sep 25, 2005 12:56 am

Raskolnikov :

I'll give you my take on your points in order.

1) Religious Wars. You are quite right that "religious" wars almost always have a political background (His Most Catholic Majesty of France allied himself with the Ottomans against the Hapsburgs, go figure). But this is an argument against an argument against religion, rather than a postive argument for religion.

2) Education. Literacy in Europe was maintained for the purposes of law and administration, not religion. Had you and I been born in the Middle Ages we would perhaps have been in holy orders, doing an unholy job. The Church was as much law-school as theology-school. It was the vehicle for the Roman inheritance, and had it not been there I'm sure some other institution would have done the job. By the time the Franks overwhelmed the Western Empire they were far from the tribal hordes of Caesar's day, and had Romans on their staffs. It was the same for Genghis; he had literate Chinese on his staff and fully recognised the requirements of administration. There was no religion involved there. So I think that literacy would have continued without the Church.

3) Art and Culture. Religion is just a patron. Great art has been produced for non-religious patrons. A great deal of Church art was paid for by rich patrons - the Church may have commissioned it, but the necessary donation has seldom been under-advertised. There's also a tendency for the Magi (for instance) to resemble said sponsor, his family and his business partners. Again, religion is a vehicle for something that would have happened anyway - the public display of wealth and sophistication.

4) Scientific progress. (I'm assuming you're not referring to social progress as well.) The Easter argument is a red herring. The Sumerians could have knocked out centuries of Easters given the rules. Much blood has (at first sight) been shed over what the rules are. The Church's opposition to Copernicus was made very clear before Galileo presented an available target. The Church (read Jesuit) position that Galileo had to agree to was that the Earth was immobile, but that the planets revolved around it in such a way that they appeared to be orbiting the sun. The god was messing with our minds to test our faith, just as it did with fossils later on. That idea wasn't dreamed up overnight.

There were scientists in holy orders, because the Church was a source of sinecures that left a man free to indulge his interests. Few scientists have ever had to scrape a living from twelve hours labour a day to keep the kids alive. The Church was acting as a vehicle for progressive elements, but the religion was opposing progress. Scientific and social.

5) Slavery. Slavery was by no means extinct at the end of the Western Empire. The Franks and Gauls had slaves, and always had done. Serfdom is slavery. The Church never took a position against it. It never took any position that wasn't harmonious to the exisiting social and economic order. That's what religion does, except when it's being used by someone to create a new social and economic order more to their liking. The Christians that opposed modern Western slavery may have interpreted scripture that way, but IMO they were looking for that interpretation because they were by nature against slavery.
Patriot : One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors. (Ambrose Bierce)

CoffinDodger
New Member
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Cardiff,Wales

Re: Historical defense of religion

Post by CoffinDodger » Sun Sep 25, 2005 1:08 am

jzs wrote:
Raskolnikov wrote:Many flags of the world that have a cross on them. If it was only important historically, you think they'd just vote on a new flag?
.Even in the Christian world there's a few go for the three-stripes effect. An inheritance from the (broadly) anti-clerical French Revolution. The US, true to type, had to go for lots of stripes. :)
Patriot : One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors. (Ambrose Bierce)

ad-nauseam
New Member
Posts: 19
Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 9:24 pm
Location: Canada, Halifax.

Post by ad-nauseam » Mon Sep 26, 2005 9:41 pm

A small point in this flood of points:
Machiavelli argues in the discources that war is due to population pressure. That is, land, and its wealth, is limited. Put too many people on the land, and some group is going to give. If this is true, and keeping in mind different religions, then religion can given as a reason for going to war. Sufficient, but not necessiary. One last point: If Machiavelli is right, do we gain any insight into this discussion (I'm a philosopher, not a historian, so please bear with my abstractions) if we consider the religion in question as a resource monster? I doubt that people do consider a religion in any ideological form as a reource monster. In practice it might very well be. But this is just to say that such a religion is hording up the lands wealth, and doing so in a populated area, will, if Machiavelli is right, lead to war.
And to the historians, I ask a thought experiment: has there been a war for just purely ideological reasons. That is, has A ever gone after B, even though going after B means A will suffer, even in the long term, a loss of wealth? Who wants to take over a swamp full of very religious but also very poor people. And what does the religious body of A gain from killing B? This leads to the idea that religion, if used as an attractive force for war, only every plays as an excuse to gain the wealth of neighbour.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Thu Sep 29, 2005 4:47 pm

Coffin:

1) Yes. But I am defending the attacks on the role of religion, not pushing it. The number dead in religious wars is the most prominent attack.

2) Education. I was (as far as I remember) making two points. The first was that the Church was a repository of literacy and learning through the middle ages. On this you may be right that it would have happened anyway, but that is conjecture. History has examples of peoples where literacy was lost, so who knows what would have happened if the church hadn't stepped in. But my larger point was on the impact of literacy during the reformation. Protestant emphasis on biblical interpretation pushed strongly for literacy well beyond administrative elites. It is easy to point to the printing press as making literacy accessible, but remember that Gutenberg's big business was printing Bibles, and the benefits of printing seemed to accrete the most to Protestant Europe and the Protestant American colonies. American colonials could *read*. Literacy rates were through the roof. Why? Primarily, if you couldn't read, you couldn't read the Bible.

4) The church stance on Copernicanism is much more complex than you suppose. The Jesuits were indeed hardliners, but it was not a given that their views would prevail. I really think Gallileo screwed up, and his bumbling politically forced the church to line up with the Jesuits against him. You just don't mock the Pope in Renaissance Italy.

5) Serfdom was much milder than slavery. Your kids weren't sold out from under you, for instance, and only a share of your work was owned by your lord. And I think you are wrong about the motivation of people like the Quakers, and are missing the link between the abolitionist movement and the second Great Awakening in US History.

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Thu Sep 29, 2005 4:52 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:
Many flags of the world that have a cross on them. If it was only important historically, you think they'd just vote on a new flag?


I didn't say this.

CoffinDodger
New Member
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Cardiff,Wales

Post by CoffinDodger » Fri Oct 07, 2005 6:54 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:
Raskolnikov wrote:
Many flags of the world that have a cross on them. If it was only important historically, you think they'd just vote on a new flag?


I didn't say this.
Apologies, bad editing. It was jzs that spake thus. :oops:
Patriot : One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors. (Ambrose Bierce)

CoffinDodger
New Member
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Cardiff,Wales

Post by CoffinDodger » Fri Oct 07, 2005 11:15 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:Coffin:

2) Education. I was (as far as I remember) making two points. The first was that the Church was a repository of literacy and learning through the middle ages. On this you may be right that it would have happened anyway, but that is conjecture.
True, but it would equally be conjecture that literacy would not have survived in Western Europe without the Church. Literacy survived massive convulsions in China without a religion involved, because literacy was vital to administration. The vehicles there were the Civil Service and the Confucian scholars. The Franks that created the post-Roman kingdoms needed literate administrators. Had the Church not existed, the Roman Civil Service would probably have served the function. It seems to me inevitable that some institution would have done.

History has examples of peoples where literacy was lost ...

Literate societies have been swept away by pre-literate invaders or catastrophe, but I can't think offhand of a society that simply gave up literacy. The Egyptians lost the meaning of hieroglyphs, but because they were replaced by other alphabets. Central American literacy didn't die with the Mayan society. The Western Empire wasn't swept away by pre-literates or catastrophe - the Dark Ages weren't as benighted as they sound. Why would they just give up literacy?

But my larger point was on the impact of literacy during the reformation. Protestant emphasis on biblical interpretation pushed strongly for literacy well beyond administrative elites. It is easy to point to the printing press as making literacy accessible, but remember that Gutenberg's big business was printing Bibles, and the benefits of printing seemed to accrete the most to Protestant Europe and the Protestant American colonies. American colonials could *read*. Literacy rates were through the roof. Why? Primarily, if you couldn't read, you couldn't read the Bible.

The Protestant movement did have a beneficial effect in its early days, before the implications came home to them. The Catholic Church discouraged literacy precisely to avoid what happened to Protestantism - constant fractioning (I recollect an Emo Philips joke about it) and the rise of free-thinking. An unintended consequence of wresting literacy from the dead hands of a religion. And the living hands of lawyres, of course.

Literacy rates in the colonies weren't only due to the Bible. From the mid-18thCE many of the colonists were there as traders and industrialists, not as religious refugees and isolationists. Literacy was vital to them, a given of life. These were the people that created the Constitution, which derives from a much wider library than the Bible.

4) The church stance on Copernicanism is much more complex than you suppose. The Jesuits were indeed hardliners, but it was not a given that their views would prevail. I really think Gallileo screwed up, and his bumbling politically forced the church to line up with the Jesuits against him. You just don't mock the Pope in Renaissance Italy.
It was prevalent when Galileo was tried, and not because the Jesuits impressed their stance on the Curia. The Curia demanded a counter to Copernicanism, and the Jesuits - true sons of the Sophists and servants of the Pope - drummed one up for them. Unable to argue with the observations they introduced the idea that the god made the movements "seem" that way, so it was evidence of nothing. As a conoisseur of sophistry, I say "Bravo".

5) Serfdom was much milder than slavery. Your kids weren't sold out from under you, for instance, and only a share of your work was owned by your lord. And I think you are wrong about the motivation of people like the Quakers, and are missing the link between the abolitionist movement and the second Great Awakening in US History.

Your kids were tied to the manor they were born on, and if that was sold, so were they. Slavery is an imprecise state, it has a spectrum. Serfdom is on the spectrum, and even forms a sub-spectrum in itself .

I understand the motivations of the Quakers et al, and they were motivations that naturally rejected slavery. Abolitionism was an inevitable product of their basic philosophy, and their interpretation of scripture. But they interpreted scripture in the light of their philosophy, because they didn't want to ditch the existence of a god. Take that last step and you have the birth of socialism - and the step was taken, obviously. (Some by-passed Quakerism entirely.) Quakerism was created to satisfy the needs of people of a certain nature, and it was the sort of nature that rejects slavery.

The 19thCE Atlantic slave-trade was done away with by the Royal Navy, and the slave-economies of the US by a war which wasn't about slavery. Second Great Awakening notwithstanding. "As soon as the great oak falls, everybody runs out with their axe." (Proverb)
Patriot : One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors. (Ambrose Bierce)

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Mon Oct 10, 2005 3:42 pm

Literate societies have been swept away by pre-literate invaders or catastrophe, but I can't think offhand of a society that simply gave up literacy.


But both pre-literate invasions and catastrophe were present in western europe, yet literacy was preserved via the church.

Literacy rates in the colonies weren't only due to the Bible. From the mid-18thCE many of the colonists were there as traders and industrialists, not as religious refugees and isolationists. Literacy was vital to them, a given of life. These were the people that created the Constitution, which derives from a much wider library than the Bible.


I think the relationship here is complex. The Enlightenment ideals that motivated the founders were to a large part a reaction against the religious excesses of the 16th and 17th centuries, but I find it hard to believe they would have caught on as much if not for the foundations in literacy created by the reformation. The Puritan roots of New England literacy are pretty well understood, even if Puritanism itself didn't take hold in some of the more influential founders from New England. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin both grew up and were educated in a Boston school system created by Puritans. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia all had their roots in early religious sponsorship. Princeton and Harvard were originally seminaries.

The 19thCE Atlantic slave-trade was done away with by the Royal Navy, and the slave-economies of the US by a war which wasn't about slavery. Second Great Awakening notwithstanding. "As soon as the great oak falls, everybody runs out with their axe." (Proverb)


Of course the Civil War was about slavery. It wasn't fought initially to *end* slavery, but the north elected Lincoln because he promised to stop the expansion of slavery into the new territories. Given the US political system, this was a death sentence to slavery in the long run, when free states would outnumber slave states enough to ban slavery where it existed. The slave states saw the writing on the wall and seceded.

This is an important point because you seem to be saying that if the Civil war wasn't about slavery, then motivations to end slavery weren't important in its abolition.

Additionally, the shift in policy as the war went on to making it largely *about* ending slavery, was partially driven by abolitionists. [/quote]

CoffinDodger
New Member
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Sep 24, 2005 11:52 pm
Location: Cardiff,Wales

Post by CoffinDodger » Fri Oct 14, 2005 11:54 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:But both pre-literate invasions and catastrophe were present in western europe, yet literacy was preserved via the church.
The Franks and Goths who invaded Western Europe and established their kingdoms weren't pre-literate. They'd been on the edges of literate, organised society for centuries. Kings and princes may not have been great readers, but they had scribes before the advent of the Christian Church. Literacy would have passed on, IMO, via some agency, even if the Church had never been conceived. Literacy served purposes, in administration, law and trade - all of the major interests of a ruling class.

As for catastrophes, once you get out of Vesuvius's shadow Western Europe is very light on them.

I think the relationship here is complex.
I agree.
The Enlightenment ideals that motivated the founders were to a large part a reaction against the religious excesses of the 16th and 17th centuries, but I find it hard to believe they would have caught on as much if not for the foundations in literacy created by the reformation. The Puritan roots of New England literacy are pretty well understood, even if Puritanism itself didn't take hold in some of the more influential founders from New England. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin both grew up and were educated in a Boston school system created by Puritans. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia all had their roots in early religious sponsorship. Princeton and Harvard were originally seminaries.
Businessmen will put their money into a school system if necessary, but they aren't going to elbow their way through if religious types are already stumping-up enough. When it comes to creating a system of government, they most certainly are pushing their way to the front, and keeping religion well out of the picture. These are practical men, industrialists and merchants, and while some of their number might be bliss-eyed for their god, the majority take a pragmatic approach to religion. Something to keep the wife happy suffices, but not anything that interferes with business.


Of course the Civil War was about slavery. It wasn't fought initially to *end* slavery, but the north elected Lincoln because he promised to stop the expansion of slavery into the new territories.
It's a bit more complex than that. When was an election ever really about a single issue? After the event, that's when.

Given the US political system, this was a death sentence to slavery in the long run, when free states would outnumber slave states enough to ban slavery where it existed. The slave states saw the writing on the wall and seceded.
But where was it written that the non-slave states would care enough about slavery in the slave-states to take action against it? Lincoln himself said that he couldn't take the country to war over slavery. That's why the Confederates were dubbed Rebels, not Slavers. The war was about Unity - from sea to shining sea. The principle of secession, which had been conceded in the Constitution in order to get it past the South, had to be taken off the options list. The South, which always felt alienated within the US quite apart from the slavery question, saw the option slipping away. Outcome : War.

This is an important point because you seem to be saying that if the Civil war wasn't about slavery, then motivations to end slavery weren't important in its abolition.

Additionally, the shift in policy as the war went on to making it largely *about* ending slavery, was partially driven by abolitionists.
Lincoln said that he would maintain the Union if it meant freeing no slaves, all slaves, or some slaves. After a disastrous military opening of the war, and always vulnerable to an anti-war vote, he felt it necessary to find a simple moral principle to nail the flag to. Since the South had made slavery their own public motivation, emancipation of slaves in rebellious states was the obvious principle to pick. (Any state could have rejoined the Union and retained slavery, but none did, because that's not what they were fighting about.)
Patriot : One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors. (Ambrose Bierce)

User avatar
flyer1
Regular Poster
Posts: 857
Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:39 am

Post by flyer1 » Sun Oct 16, 2005 7:31 am

Religion has been a prime driver of civilization. Good or bad, like it or not, it was one of the motivators (though of course not the only one) behind the original exploration and conquest of the Americas. By saying they were going to the Americas to "convert the heathen savages" to Catholicism, the Spanish got the considerable wealth of the Church behind them. Whether this was a good thing or not is debatable, but it's true. Similar efforts led to the colonization of North America by the Pilgrims--it's often forgotten they came to escape the religious persecution they were getting in England (although the first thing they did was be intolerant of other religions in America). And on the flip side, the Aztecs used the power of their god Huitzilopochteli to enslave and conquer thier neighbors throughout central Mexico.

It's impossible to tease religion free of politics. It's present in all political/conquering actions throughout history. Deny it, and you deny what was. Ignore it, and you make it possible to repeat the same mistakes again.
"Have you seen my people, magician?" said the unicorn. "They are wild and sea-white, like me."
Schmendrick shook his head. "I have never seen anyone like you, not while I was awake."

User avatar
Raskolnikov
Regular Poster
Posts: 828
Joined: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:18 pm

Post by Raskolnikov » Mon Oct 17, 2005 8:34 pm

The Franks and Goths who invaded Western Europe and established their kingdoms weren't pre-literate. They'd been on the edges of literate, organised society for centuries. Kings and princes may not have been great readers, but they had scribes before the advent of the Christian Church. Literacy would have passed on, IMO, via some agency, even if the Church had never been conceived. Literacy served purposes, in administration, law and trade - all of the major interests of a ruling class.

As for catastrophes, once you get out of Vesuvius's shadow Western Europe is very light on them.


I was thinking more of the Huns, the Slavs, and the Magyars. As for catastrophes, the Black Death was what I had in mind.

Businessmen will put their money into a school system if necessary, but they aren't going to elbow their way through if religious types are already stumping-up enough. When it comes to creating a system of government, they most certainly are pushing their way to the front, and keeping religion well out of the picture. These are practical men, industrialists and merchants, and while some of their number might be bliss-eyed for their god, the majority take a pragmatic approach to religion. Something to keep the wife happy suffices, but not anything that interferes with business.


You misunderstand. These schools started out as *seminaries*. They weren't business schools that catered to religious people as a sales device. They were religious schools. Full stop.


It's a bit more complex than that. When was an election ever really about a single issue? After the event, that's when.


This election pretty much was about one issue.

But where was it written that the non-slave states would care enough about slavery in the slave-states to take action against it? Lincoln himself said that he couldn't take the country to war over slavery. That's why the Confederates were dubbed Rebels, not Slavers. The war was about Unity - from sea to shining sea. The principle of secession, which had been conceded in the Constitution in order to get it past the South, had to be taken off the options list. The South, which always felt alienated within the US quite apart from the slavery question, saw the option slipping away. Outcome : War.


1) The non-slave states had cared enough about slavery to ban the slave trade in 1807, well before England banned it internationally. There was also rampant hostility to the fugitive slave act.

2) There was no principle of secession in the Constitution. Good luck finding it.

3) Read up on the arguments put forth for secession. It was slavery.


This is the South Carolina Declaration of Secession.
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/csa/scarsec.htm

"But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation."

....

"For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction."

Nothing other than northern hostility toward slavery is given as a reason for secession. All of the other reasons for secession were invented after the war, in an effort to enoble an ignominious cause.

Read any other declaration of secession. They pretty much say the same thing. Slavery, slavery, won't enforce our rights, abolitionist party, Lincoln, etc.


Lincoln said that he would maintain the Union if it meant freeing no slaves, all slaves, or some slaves. After a disastrous military opening of the war, and always vulnerable to an anti-war vote, he felt it necessary to find a simple moral principle to nail the flag to. Since the South had made slavery their own public motivation, emancipation of slaves in rebellious states was the obvious principle to pick. (Any state could have rejoined the Union and retained slavery, but none did, because that's not what they were fighting about.)


These things are not contradictory. The North fought to preserve the Union. But why did the south want to leave? Slavery. What happened with regard to slavery to make it suddenly an issue worth seceding over in 1860?

A) Increased abolitionist sentiment.

B) The fight over whether there would be slavery in the territories acquired during the Mexican War.

C) The above two lead to the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugutive Slave Act, which further pushed the northern states toward abolition (some of them threatened secession over it).

D) Stephen Douglas reopening the can of worms with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, in order to get the western railroad routed through Chicago.

E) Bleeding Kansas. With the Missouri Compromise null and void, and with popular sovereignty now seen as disastrous, the nation was running out of options for how to solve the question of slavery in the territories.

F) The Dred Scott decision, which made it seem likely that northern states would be unable to ban slavery. This was the context of Lincoln's "House Divided" Speech. He was saying that Dred Scott had lead to a situation where the nation would soon become all slave or all free. Lincoln's solution was to ignore what the Dred Scott decision had to say about slavery in the territories. Lincoln had promised to ban the expansion of slavery by hook or by crook. But he wasn't going to threaten it where it already existed. The latter point made Lincoln an electable Republican moderate, but it did nothing to mollify southerners to his election, as they saw him as the death of slavery. Meanwhile, Douglas's stance that northern states *could* keep slavery out of the territories despite Dred Scott doomed his chances in the south as a Presidential candidate. (Douglas' statement was the result of the most clever political trap I have ever seen, set by Lincoln in the Freeport Question).

G) Lincoln's election.

This is why the issue is tricky. The south's eye was on the long-term ball. They didn't believe Lincoln's long-term support for slavery where it currently resided. It wasn't enough. The history of the US to that point had always had a price of slavery expanding along with American borders. Take a look at the Missoury compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Lincoln was saying "enough is enough". Slavery is not expanding beyond where it is today. No more attempts at compromise. This might seem like a minor constraint today, but in 1860 it meant secession, as southerners werf convinced (rightly or wrongly, although I think rightly) that slavery had to expand or it would be destroyed by a northern majority that detested it as soon as they had enough votes. Which they would get quickly, as free states would be in charge of deciding how many free states there would be, and thereby decide Congressional numbers on the issue.

User avatar
rrichar911
Perpetual Poster
Posts: 4853
Joined: Fri Sep 02, 2005 9:03 pm
Location: Texas, God's country USA

Post by rrichar911 » Thu Oct 20, 2005 4:31 am

I do not seek to deny the death toll of religious wars,


I find that most non religious folks, are aware of the death toll of "religious wars." While forgetting about the close to 100 million people killed by the officially secular and left wing, USSR and China.


Bible wasn't explicit on condemning slavery,


Moses didn't seem to like it very much, being the first in recorded history to proclaim that man should be ruled by common law rather than the will and force of other men.
What really intrest me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the universe ~ Albert Einstein

User avatar
flyer1
Regular Poster
Posts: 857
Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 4:39 am

Post by flyer1 » Thu Oct 20, 2005 3:30 pm

rrichar911 wrote:
I do not seek to deny the death toll of religious wars,


I find that most non religious folks, are aware of the death toll of "religious wars." While forgetting about the close to 100 million people killed by the officially secular and left wing, USSR and China.


Religious folks always trot that one out, like it matters. Any state-sponsored and dogmatic reason for killing people is always wrong, whether you're doing it to "Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen" or Bring China into the Twentieth Century. Okay? :roll:
"Have you seen my people, magician?" said the unicorn. "They are wild and sea-white, like me."
Schmendrick shook his head. "I have never seen anyone like you, not while I was awake."