Should religious people keep their divisive beliefs away from policies about marriage?
The green activists got up in arms about the introduction of genetically modified plants into the New Zealand market. But there is, as far as I can see, no widely lampooned caricature of people with environmental concerns as being socially divisive – in spite of those among their number who vandalised the farms of people suspected by them of having genetically modified crops. Large numbers of parents (the clear majority of those who voiced their opinion, in fact) raised their voices in protest when the government threatened to criminalise all use of any force in disciplining a child, while offering the benevolent promise that not all such criminals would be prosecuted (guess which way I lean on that). Parents were ignored and the law was changed, but more importantly here, nobody now thinks of parents as a uniquely divisive group within society. Many other people with common concerns or causes have likewise raised their voice in unison over other issues that concern them, but the fact that groups who do this in general do not get singled out as divisive or polarising is demonstrated by the way that just which groups spoke out over what issue is the kind of thing that tends to fade into obscurity in a relatively short time. But religion? Oh, that is different.
If conventional wisdom about such things tells us anything, it tells us that religion, that scourge upon a free and harmonious society, is a uniquely divisive force in our world, polarising us and setting us against each other. This supposed nugget of modern wisdom that we are all supposed to be aware of has been thrust into the spotlight yet again in New Zealand in light of the fact that a private members Bill to create same-sex marriage has been drawn from the ballot to be debated, and maybe even passed into law. Notice that I do not say “legalise” same-sex marriage, since it isn’t even against the law now. Same sex marriage in New Zealand law is not an illicit union that involves lawbreaking. In legal terms, same-sex marriage just doesn’t exist. But that’s another issue, merely the backdrop for the one I want to focus on here. The possibility of the creation of same-sex marriage in New Zealand has people pointing the finger (and doing much more besides) in the direction of religion. Oh look, it’s the religious again, dividing people, polarising the debate as they so often do.
Obviously this “us vs them” style of argument (where “us” refers to the good-natured, civil, secular minded people of the world who are committed to reasonable discourse, and the “them” refers to the divisive, ideologically driven and anything but rational religious types) only really gets any traction once we’ve got a good idea about just what the real distinction between religious and non-religious really amounts to. I was reminded at a recent public lecture by William Cavanaugh (on “The Myth of Religious Violence”) of the comments from Christopher Hitchens in his rather blunt instrument of a book, God is Not Good: How Religion Poisons Everything. While assuring us that religion was bad for society in virtually all ways conceivable while “secularism” (code for godlessness) was good, Hitchens offers some startling revelations. In spite of his overt atheism, Stalin and his actions were really religious after all, because as we all know , he was an absolute dictator. And since, Hitchens reasoned, absolutism and dictatorial regimes are inherently religious, so too was the communist regime, with or without God. This method of analysis serves to dispose of any notion that secular regimes or even values can be bad no less than religious kinds. But what of those pesky positive examples of the influence of religion on people? Religion had nothing essential to do with it, Hitchens declared. Of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Hitchens insisted, “In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian.” If this sounds outrageous to us, we must bear in mind, as Hitchens explained in that chapter, King was a peaceful man who cared about people. But Christianity, as we all know, advocates mass slaughter, vindictiveness, totalitarianism and the like. Since King was none of those things, he wasn’t really much of a Christian, Hitchens concludes! Cavanaugh didn’t announce that he was telling a joke when quoting from Hitchens, and yet the audience laughed anyway on hearing this. Clearly what was happening was that Hitchens was shovelling everything he despises about bad societies under the mat of “religion,” while all the things he finds virtuous, well, those are secular, naturally.
Disingenuous though this sort of tactic might be, it has relatives in more respectable discourse on religion in public life as well. As Cavanaugh was drawing chuckles with the example of Hitchens, I was reminded of a much more moderate critic of religion in the public square, Robert Audi of Notre Dame University. Rather than taking the unpromising line that “religion poisons everything” or “religion causes all wars” etc, Audi claims that as citizens we shouldn’t bring our religious beliefs into our political advocacy and decision-making (specifically, we shouldn’t advocate any policy for which our justification is religious), because
[R]eligious disagreements are likely to polarize government, especially regarding law and policy concerning religion… Each religious group will tend to have its own conception not only of what constitutes a religion in the first place but also of what criteria a religious group must fulfil to receive exemptions and other benefits. ((Audi, Religious Commitment and Secular Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 39.))
But if polarisation and divisiveness alone are grounds for not bringing a belief into the public square, why single out religion? This is effectively the question that Hitchens was trying to fend off when trying with all his might to make all dictatorships seem religious. Surely there are other things that have the effects that Audi is concerned about – things that are not, in the normal way of talking about things, religious.
Audi believes he has a comeback for this potential rebuttal:
Granted that secular disputes can also polarise, other things equal they have less tendency to do this or at least to produce irreconcilable differences. If ideological disputes, say between communism and fascism, seem exceptions to this point, that may be in part because of how much an ideology can have in common with a religion. Indeed there may be no sharp distinction between certain kinds of deeply internalized ideology and certain kinds of religion. ((Audi, Religious Commitment, 39.))
But wait just a moment. Audi gave, as a reason for keeping religious beliefs out of public life, the claim that differences in religious perspectives result in polarisation, whereas secular disputes are more easily resolvable (although he did not argue for this claim). Where those who take issue with this claim might find evidence to the contrary in examples of polarisation between political ideologies, Audi says that this is because such ideologies are actually similar to religious views, so they cannot be included in the category of secular views that he is referring to – You know, the views that tend not to polarise! If the fact that other things polarise is met with the retort that they too are therefore at least quasi-religious, then it appears the fact of polarisation is virtually being identified with something’s being religious.
Additionally, there is a temporary widening in Audi’s definition of “religion.” Earlier in his book he was extremely careful to define religion as something entailing things like belief in God, prayer to God, rituals and a moral code delivered by God together with the trappings of an institution, Audi now widens the definition sufficiently to sweep any problematic “secular” cases of polarisation under the carpet of religion so that they become, not counter evidence against his claim, but rather evidence for his claim that religious views polarise – since these ideologies must really be religious (after all, they polarise don’t they?). The tactic is symptomatic of a circular argument.
As problematic as I think these lines of reasoning in both Hitchens and Audi are, they are still helpful, even if not in the manner intended. As Cavanaugh pointed out in the case of Hitchens and I have said elsewhere in the case of Audi and others, they make the whole concern over the sharp difference between the negative social and political impacts of religious beliefs as opposed to secular beliefs. In fact they point the way to seeing that perhaps the very distinction is somewhat meaningless. If religion is the search for transcendence and ultimate meaning, then the distinction is almost certainly meaningless, for there is just no easy way to bracket off “religions” as they are understood in the post-enlightenment world using this criteria without letting numerous other outlooks (perhaps even all worldviews) into the category of religion as well (human rights movements, political outlooks and even everyday commitments like materialism/consumerism find their way in to the extent that people really occupy these ways of life and thought). Put another way, there’s no fair way of isolating and indicting a thing called “religion” in all this.
In a twist (albeit a predictable one), the most strident voices for a godless society seem to be stirring up more by way of divisiveness than the very people they seem set on silencing (along with those who are heaping abuse, death threats, accusations of being mentally unwell and the like on Chick-Fil-A at the moment, or threatening to run them out of town). But more importantly, I don’t see that there’s any clear or helpful way of carving up our landscape of commitments in society in any way that puts religious beliefs on an island of their own. We’ve all got these things – beliefs, commitments, values, ideologies, and sometimes mini-communities or organisations centred on them. They play a certain role in our lives, informing the way we evaluate, with whom we associate, what we prize above all, etc, and when people who typically get dubbed “religious” are so dubbed, it is only because they are doing these things too – except they do not prize what “we” do. Indeed the very word religio was originally used in precisely this way, meaning “obligation,” rather than a specifically God-oriented obligation. It might be objected that if we broaden the idea of religion out in this way and everyone is religious, then really nobody is. Perhaps this is so, but it is not an objection. It is just to say that we all use our “religious” faculties, even if the way those faculties busy themselves differs from one person to the next. As Ron Nash stated it bluntly (and obviously using terms in a much looser way than most do for the sake of making a point), “Since every human being has something about which he is ultimately concerned, it follows that every human being has a God.” ((Ronald Nash, “The Myth of a Value-Free Education,” Religion and Liberty 1:4 (1991), reproduced on the internet at http://www.acton.org/publicat/randl/article.php?id=18, accessed 30th September 2002.))
So I would want to say that the introduction of the claim that “religion” is uniquely divisive and polarising is every bit as divisive and polarising as religion. I take the claim that marriage should now be understood to include a union of two men or two women to be polarising, precisely because it is so, well, religious in the board sense. It invokes a view, explicitly or implicitly, on the purpose of marriage, on what is actually good for people (satisfaction of their most strongly felt desire, or something else?), on what it is just to commit others to endorsing (understanding that the government in a democratic nation like New Zealand speaks for all citizens when certifying a union) and so on. These are points of view – like so many others that ostensibly non-believing people hold, that occupy the space of the religious in the minds and lives of those who hold them. These claims really are divisive, as is their denial, no doubt. But I do not want to prohibit those who hold these values and beliefs from pursuing their agenda for that reason (if I want them to stop pursuing their agenda, it should simply be because I think their agenda is wrong-headed or their guiding beliefs are mistaken). We’re all in this together, I’m afraid, and trying to tar the religious as people uniquely unqualified to take part in this debate is to foster the very sort of battleground mentality that you want to avoid. That polarisation is avoidable is doubtful, granted. But we don’t avoid it by pretending to do the opposite.
- North Korea Executes Christians
- The Liberal Theocracy?
- William Cavanaugh lecture series: Challenging the Myths of a Secular Age
- Religion, morality and politics do mix, say (some) Harvard Students
- Conference: Religion in the Public Square
76 thoughts on “The Same-Sex Marriage debate and religious divisiveness”
Good point. I agree. Bring all your religiously motivated policy initiatives into the public square and everyone can decide whether they should be accepted or not.
Enjoyed the article but I noticed a typo:
“But Christianity, as we all know, advocates the mass slaughter of the Bible”
Of course, maybe Kiwi Christians do things differently than Canadian Christians… 😉
Typo? Or do you mean it could be read two ways? Perhaps, but I doubt people will think that I’m referring to people killing books. 🙂
TAM – I know there’s a rhetorical satisfaction in saying “Good point” in this context, but that wasn’t the point I was making (but then, you knew that).
No, I understand the point you’re making. Both opposing and supporting same sex marriage can be considered “religious” positions. Fine – call them whatever you want. Let’s let the rational debate take place and let the majority rule.
TAM, both of your apparent assumptions would need a robust defence: 1. That there is a connection between what is rational and what the majority want, and 2. That every issue, even constitutional issues, should be subject to a vote decided by the majority. Are there good reasons for adopting those two views?
“Are there good reasons for adopting those two views?”
OK, so I am assuming not.
TAM – approval by the majority does not logically lead to the decision being right.
Forty odd years ago, the majority decided homosexuality was illegal.
Were they right? If not, why not?
Secularists demand that religious premises be excluded from public debate and they demand that there be state funded public secular education. When this has been entrenched for decades in society they say “lets have an open debate and see how the majority think”.
I have a proposal for TAM, establish parity between religious and secular schools, give up your monopoly on education and develop a culture where religious beliefs in public life are not seen as bad and then in 20 years we’ll see what the majority thinks.
TAM is right – we don’t have a problem with Theist ideas being discussed in the public square. But there are reprobates in every crowd. We need more scrutiny of your ideas and a continuing refusal to give Theists special pleading rights and avoiding the elephants in the room, particularly with the political aspect of Theism, which as you note is negative. Every Theist I’ve discussed this with so far, denies there is a political aspect let alone that it is negative. I’d like to see you unpack the negative politics of your Theism. In the meantime, here is my unpacking of it.
The internet has dramatically increased the size of the public square in this discussion and in the last decade, there has been a huge influx of secularists of various persuasions into this public square. There certainly wasn’t the challenge to Theist ideas even ten years ago like there is now. It’s not the clear playing field it used to be for Theists and it will get more crowded as time goes by. The special pleading that involved religion not being questioned as it was not in “good taste” to do this, a position that the “old Atheists” went along with is being junked. Theists will be called on more and more to justify their bad ideas.
The only thing that is new about the new Atheists is that you will find them out in the public square being noisy, challenging stupid, anti social and regressive political and social ideas. The public square is no longer the property of Theists. At least in the west. Of course in other Theist lands, the public square is still firmly and intolerantly controlled by Theists.
Twenty years ago Theists were rarely challenged when they wrote letters to the editor pushing their Theist barrow on this or that issue. Now there is a constant avalanche of letters to the editor in response to Theist claims. The times are indeed a changing.
Secular Humanists describe Theism as divisive because it really is divisive (though it’s not unique in this as an ideology) and in ways that have no comparison to people campaigning against monopoly agribusiness controlling and using monoculture in agriculture, or people wanting gay marriage. And there are widely lampooned caricatures of “Greenie extremists” in my country.
Perhaps NZ hasn’t come into the 20th Century yet in this area. 🙂
You have missed the point of objection that secular humanists have with Theism in the political process and the public square. There is a very good reason for curtailing the political power of Theism because as a political ordering principle, your theism is obnoxious authoritarianism that always leads to totalitarian governance whenever Theism gets practical political power. There is a difference between keeping religion out of enacted public policy and it being in the public square as part of the social debate. They are both public life but they are different aspects of public life. It is not one homogenous whole, like your Theism is not one homogenous whole but has different aspects, some good, some completely rotten.
This is the political reality of your Theism. It has in the past, does now and will in the future cause unmitigated social disaster when ever it gets control of the political process and the public square. Your Theism is divisive because it is exclusive and inherently authoritarian, naturally intolerant and internally not coherent because it cannot harmonize its political and moral values. This is not an opinion. It is observed fact that is available in the news too many days of the week and in the history books. Just look at any country where clerics have practical political power. They’re causing social disaster. The Muslim world looks like what the West looked like when Christian clerics had practical political power. Social disaster. The Theist ordering principle is political garbage. Garbage in – garbage out.
Secular humanist liberal social democracy, the ordering principle that you happen to live under is inclusive. Though far from perfect and still evolving, it is so far ahead of Theism as an ordering principle that there is no comparison.
Ever wondered why Theists are migrating to our countries but Christians and Secular Humanists are not migrating to Theist controlled countries. Pretty obvious really, isn’t it. Those countries are garbage. If you don’t get to vote at the ballot box honestly, then people vote with their feet as soon as they are able to.
The other point you miss is that the public square and the political playing field is not even across the planet currently and across history.
I haven’t read Hitchens as I figured he may not tell me anything new, and I don’t like his approach to woman or the war in Iraq, but I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Depending on the social setting, religion does indeed poison a lot of things and the amount varies depending on the political power of the clerics. If you were a Christian living in Afghanistan or Saudi or Iran then I reckon you would think that religion has poisoned just about everything for you. Somebody else’s religion of course, but religion none the less.
We are fortunate to live in secular humanist liberal social democracies which guarantees our right to speak in the public square. Your ordering principle does not guarantee this, it doesn’t even guarantee members of the sect that is wielding the political power the right to speak in the public square. This is the major difference between religious and secular humanist ordering principles. I put authoritarian secular ordering principles in the same basket as your Theist authoritarian ordering principle because there is sod all political difference between them.
Here’s the challenge – take your Christianity to the public square in Herat, or Quetta or Tehran and see how far you get on your soap box telling the mullahs that they are mistaken and their prophet is wrong and just a naughty boy who really didn’t get any revelations from god making Christianity redundant and that you should have public funding for the Christian schools you want to open to supplant the heretical Islam. Take your little friend with you but remember it will always be trumped by a Kalashnikov.
Or jump in your time machine and go to Salem or maybe Calvin’s Geneva or Scotland of the Coventers or you could go to Nigeria of today if you don’t want to go to the Middle East or maybe try Banda Ache. The list goes on and on.
You have the freedom to speak in the public square because your ordering principle has been mostly neutralized in the political process in our countries. This is a very good thing because clerics cannot be trusted with political power. They don’t work for the people, they work for a cosmic dictator. Their mission, their obligation (as you put it) is to do the will of this dictator on earth as it is in heaven. The clerics are not interested in doing the will of the people. They are not interested in government of the people, by the people for the people. They want government of the Theists, by the Theists, for the glory of their cosmic dictator. It’s bad enough kowtowing to dictators that do actually exist in earthly reality, let alone kowtowing to one who has never been shown to exist. But unfortunately, your god doesn’t have to exist for its ordering principle to be politically implemented and cause chaos and disaster.
Show me where, when and how your ordering principle, Theism, has ever producer a better, more harmonious, more peaceful, more progressive, more prosperous, more flourishing society than secular humanist liberal social democracy has done.
This is not saying Theists can’t speak in the public square. It’s the opposite. It’s only by keeping Theists in the public square and having an honest assessment of Theist ideas that they can be exposed as the bad ideas that they are.Secular humanist liberal democracy is not going anywhere and you will continue to have access to the public square but there is nothing special in your claims and you cannot expect respect for stupid and bad ideas. After all you don’t respect ideas you think are stupid or bad. Stupid and bad ideas should be open to analysis in the public square and will get pilloried in the public square if found to be stupid or bad ideas. I agree that throwing a blanket over ideas you don’t like and hiding them is not a good look in the public square. Ideas have to be dealt with and SHLSD does this better than your Theism ever can.
The reason Theist ideas are not prevailing here any more is because Theists no longer have the political power to force Theist ideas on to others who are not part of their club and don’t follow their ordering principle. The west finally wised up to the garbage found in the Theist ordering principle. The Enlightenment was created, and said enough is enough of this intolerant hatred and violence and lack of peace that always accompanied your clerics wielding of political power and the west removed the secular and religious princes and monarchs from the seat of political power and haven’t we done a lot better since then. We’ve still got plenty of improving to do but we really have come a long way by removing the Theist barriers.
PS I see you have adjusted the settings for posts.
If you want to be honest, instead of a misrepresenting spin doctor, you can’t call Secularists “non-believers”, the honest term is non Theist believers as you well know that Secularists believe many things.
“(understanding that the government in a democratic nation like New Zealand speaks for all citizens when certifying a union)”
Every time a Prime Minster wins an election, just about the first thing they say is that they will govern for everyone. We know that this is also the first lie of their administration.
Does the government speak for all citizens when it prohibits certifying a union?
You seem to be saying that if some Kiwis object to a piece of legislation or executive decision then the government should not enact it because the government is speaking for all citizens on all issues in a democracy and should only enact something that has 100% support. I know of no democracy that works like that because it wouldn’t work.
How would you apply this to sending NZ troops to Afghanistan for example as they speak for all Kiwis when doing this too, don’t they. I would be very surprised if all or even a large majority of Kiwis support having troops in Afghanistan and even your government is rethinking its committment there.
Buzz, way too long, didn’t read it. Do you have a blog?
Hmmm… I could only skim Buzz’s comments, but I think I can summarize –
“Theism in politics is bad, because it leads to intolerant theocracy, and secular humanism is good bc it is tolerant.”
It seems that there are a few assumptions implicit/explicit in your comments, which I (nor Glenn, I believe) would accept:
1) Allowing theism into political discussion leads to theocracy, and 1b) theocracy is inherently repressive
2) Getting rid of God/religion in politics will lead to secular humanist governments
3) Secular humanist values are inherently more just/tolerant/moral.
4) Western society was established on secular humanist values.
5) Religion is inherently far more divisive than other social issues, and should thus be kept out of the public square.
I think that Glenn’s post (if you read it) dealt with #5, and I did not see any reasonable challenges to his original post.
As far as 1b, I would certainly agree that theocracy CAN be repressive – and we’ll let it go at that, because I doubt that Glenn would advocate for the establishment of a Kiwi theocracy (I suspect he would actively oppose it). Indeed, I think a good argument could be made that Christ himself opposed the idea of a Christian theocracy (but, being a relatively young Christian and poorly biblically literate, I’ll leave that discussion to more able hands). But I would take great exception to assumptions 1 and 4. Western society was established on Christian values and morality – and secular humanism takes the values of its Judeo-Christian heritage and strips them of their ontological basis (read the US Declaration of Independence and then tell me that the US was founded on secular ideals). What a Christian (or other theist) would advocate is not the establishment of a theocracy – but, in matters which touch on morality or ethics, to be able to apply morality as it is presented to them by God – and for that to be a sufficient basis for the establishment of public policy.
As for #2 – I will not spend much time on this argument, as it is patently absurd. (See communist Russia, China, Cambodia)
As for #3 – I would not accept this assumption either. Issues of note – abortion, restrictions on religious liberty, etc.
“Secular humanist liberal social democracy, the ordering principle that you happen to live under is inclusive. Though far from perfect and still evolving, it is so far ahead of Theism as an ordering principle that there is no comparison.”
Actually both humanism and liberal democracy developed out of Christian theology. Humanists create a tolerant society only because they take Christian notions remove the theological foundation and pretend its the removal of that foundation that is doing the work, in reality the removal of the foundation arguably makes the position unstable.
“3) Secular humanist values are inherently more just/tolerant/moral.
5) Religion is inherently far more divisive than other social issues, and should thus be kept out of the public square.”
If these are implied by Buzz, wouldn’t “5)…should thus be kept out of the public square.” be in conflict with “3)Secular humanist values .. more .. tolerant..”
And if S.H.V. are more moral, what foundation could be the reason? Doesn’t that imply that S.H.V. are objective/absolute? But if that’s the case, how could they be evolving?
Be gentle with me, I’ve only a high school diploma.
(5) and (3) could certainly be in conflict.
The morality of any set of values certainly depends on the moral framework you adopt – and Glenn, for example, is a big proponent of the Moral Argument which says that one can only hold an objectively valid moral framework if God exists.
I would not hold the idea that any moral system is evolving to show that it is not objective/absolute. For example, science and medicine are continuing to evolve as we understand them better, yet I would certainly argue that they are objectively grounded.
Lets turn our attention to another area of the public square where religion is clearly divisive.
So lets look at the West, and say, Pakistan. You can see where this is heading can’t you. I can feel the fingers twitching over the dislike button already.
I don’t know what the legal situation is in NZ but in Australia, blasphemy laws are still on the statute books. I expect this is the case in NZ too but I’m happy to be corrected on that.
Fortunately, the clearer thinking that our liberal secular humanist liberal social democracy has brought to my country means that it is unlikely today that a judge is going to convict and punish someone under the blasphemy laws. This of course has not stopped clerics and other Theists calling for those laws to be dusted off and used against nosiy Secularists in the public square.
An interesting thing is that no government has had the political will to repeal the blasphemy laws even though they are redundant and not used any more. Many other laws are repealed but not these ones. At least not yet. The pollies are scared of losing the religious vote if they repeal these laws even though they are not used. But while they are there they can always be used if somebody wants to.
In New South Wales there are a couple of clerics who are MPs in the Upper House, the Revs Moyes and Nile. They used to be in the same party, the Christian Democrats but Nile, their leader since he entered parliament three decades ago, found that Moyes was a real threat as a leadership challenger so he managed to get Moyes to quit and join another Theist party, Family First. Follwoing this, Nile had himself declared leader of his party for life. In the Christian Democrats, democracy obviously means the same as it does in the North Korean Democratic Republic.
But to his credit, Nile is honest about his intentions in parliament, a rarity among pollies. He’s very old school and he’s stated that he wants to see the seperation of church and state abolished so that state laws are based on his god’s laws. He was prepared to support anti social legislation in return for the governemt preventing the Ethics classes going ahead in public schools but he failed there. Nile has also called for the blasphemy laws to be enforced, but he hasn’t had the political numbers go his way.
Blasphemy laws are divisive and designed to silence discussion in the public square that is critical of religion. You’re not in favour of blasphemy laws are you? Would you use your website to campaign for their repeal in NZ if they are still on the statute books?
Now lets look at that very religiously devout country, Pakistan.
As you well know, the blasphemy laws there are used to persecute and murder apostates and Christians.
If you don’t reckon that is divisive, then I’d like to hear you unpack that.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m not aware of any law in any western liberal social democratic country that prosecutes people for criticising Secularism.
Religion is divisive on a scale that the Secular Humanism of our countries is not.
Where do you get the idea that this is not the case. You and I are not about to migrate to Pakistan are we. No bloody way. There are Theists in charge there and they are a serious health hazard for you and I.
But then you know that the idea of separation of church and state is not about protecting the religious from secularists, and that it was created to protect Theists from other Theists. Divisive stuff this religion.
Way too short Glenn, but I did read all of it. Twice.
There’s no mad rush to read my posts. I was not expecting you to read it straight away. It’s not like I read all of yours the moment they are posted. It can take a few weeks after I download one of your podcasts to get around to listening to it. Take your time. I’m not in a hurry. There are ideas there to mull over.
You wrote a long post with lots of errors so it shouldn’t surprise that it takes a long reply to unpack them.
I read your post a couple of times and referred back to it as I was compiling my reply.
I’ve listened to a number of your podcasts. They are rather long aren’t they.
Is that because you like the sound of your own voice? I don’t think so.
BTW you have a good broadcast voice but a little bit of editing of the audio equivalent of spelling and grammatical errors would make the podcasts sound really good.
No, your podcasts and blogs are long because it takes time to unpack philosophical ideas. Same with political ideas. Or scientific. etc etc etc.
I’ve been discussing these ideas on blogs for over four years now. Its not like I’m using your blog to debut them. I’ve found that there are parts of their lives that Theists are not keen on applying Aristotle’s maxim about the life unexamined. The Moonman project is about applying that maxim, to myself and others.
The core problem with your ordering principle is that you can’t harmonize moral and political values with it. That is, it doesn’t do equity. For that you need to use the moral and political capital of others.
No I don’t have a blog. Don’t have the time to maintain such a thing in private life and there’s no connection with my working life. I appreciate people who can use a professional basis to do this. That’s why they get the traffic. On retirement though, it is something that I will definitely get into.
I have read your post before responding.
It’s generally thought to be a bad idea to admit that you haven’t read something before you make a summary of it. 🙂
I suggest you fully read and reread my post (I find rereading very valuable as so many things get missed on the first read as it is usually an emotional response that comes from the first read, so that much gets overlooked) before attempting to summarize as you’ve missed so much and are misrepresenting my position.
1 see above par
1b see current affairs and histoy
2 see above par
3 see above par but it would also require further unpacking
4 see above par
5 see above par
I read Glenn’s post as you would realize if you had read mine instead of skimming.
Theocracy CAN be oppressive. No, we can’t leave it there. Hey, Communism can be oppressive. Lets leave it there. I don’t think so. Refer to above par.
*Western society was established on Christian values and morality*
No it wasn’t. But it would take at least a 1,000 words to unpack this properly so here’s the short but unsatisfactory answer.
Societies build on what has come before them. Christianity and western society was based, via Rome, on Pagan Greek ideas . Christianity did not invent morality. It built on the moral capital of those before. Humans had reasoned out the golden rule, loving your neighbour and mutual aid long long long before Yahweh was glint in a politically clever person’s mind. The Greeks came up with lots of good ideas which the Romans borrowed and when they became the rulers of the west those ideas permeated through the west. The second Enlightenment (the Western one) rebooted the Greek ideas that Christianity had ignored or perverted or were not part of its make up, like democracy. Democracy is a pagan idea, not a Christian one. Christianity however was very good at marketing. It added some ideas(not all good BTW) to what came before, removed some, ignored some for as long as possible, The Greeks absorbed ideas from societies before them etc etc you get the drift, but the Greeks had the biggest initial impact of synthesizing new social modes which they then passed on to the rest of the west.
Matthew says “Actually both humanism and liberal democracy developed out of Christian theology. Humanists create a tolerant society only because they take Christian notions remove the theological foundation and pretend its the removal of that foundation that is doing the work, in reality the removal of the foundation arguably makes the position unstable.”
No. Secular humanist liberal social democracy has succeeded because it enables society to have a go at harmonizing moral and political values. Theology can do no such thing. Never will. Because it does not have a worthwhile foundation to do such a thing.
Show me where and when Theism has ever produced a better, more harmonious, more prosperous society than SHLSD. Unpack it as much as you can.
See also answer to John.
“Show me where and when Theism has ever produced a better, more harmonious, more prosperous society than SHLSD. Unpack it as much as you can.”
Buzz, do you understand that in asking this question, you are simply assuming that Matthew’s observation is false? Do you realise that this means you’re begging the question? If Matt is right, every example of secular humanism’s success can be partly attributed to Christianity.
As for the rest, Buzz, 1) please do read the blog policy, 2) Genuinely (not as a sort of “go away” remark): If you have time for all these back to back comments, you do have time for a blog. The time involved is the same.
These are red herrings. For someone who doesn’t like going off topic, you sure like going anywhere but on topic here. Do you not see this? We all have double standards Glenn and you are welcome to call me on mine as I will call you on yours.
A cursory observation of the real world shows that Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy, the ordering priciple that runs our societies is superior to Theism and I have outlined my reasons.
The issue of this thread is comparing the divisive nature of religion and our society generally. Our society is a Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy.
Societies don’t just build on what is immediately before them, they can reach back further, gather from other concurrent societies and create new ideas as well.
But the thing about SHLSD is political and social equity, an idea that broadly got going only in the eighteenth century. You need that to harmonzie moral and political values and religion doesn’t have that equity and cannot harmonize its values.
You are putting up red herrings about my assumptions and the blog policy instead of looking at the challenges to the issue of this blog – Is religion divisive?
The bottom line is that religion is divisive, far more so than SHLSD. You put up some poor quality arguments for why religion is not divisive and they have been refuted. And I’ve given an experiment to test the validity of our opposing claims.
I see in the media that that Pakistani Christian girl has continued to have bail denied and could be in jail for a while before her trial for which the penalty is death. She is suffering a great miscarriage of justice at the hands of religion and its vile intolerant blasphemy laws because there is not the level of equity in her society that we have in ours, because Theism still has its hands on the political levers in Pakistan and their mode of operation is violence and divisisiveness. I hear that latest developments suggest a deliberate divisive set up by a cleric. I saw on the BBC, a Pakistani academic arguing that the divisve nature of religon has created a living hell for Muslims and Christians (and Secularists as well) in Pakistan. The Pakistan minister for national harmony told the BBC that the girl was imprissoned for her own good, to prevent her being murdered. By those allegedly peaceful non divisive Theists.
And you argue that religion is not divisive. You are wrong for all the reasons I explained.
Read this piece in The Guardian
This is why clerics should not be permitted any practical political power. Religion is divisive in the extreme.
“Societies don’t just build on what is immediately before them, they can reach back further, gather from other concurrent societies and create new ideas as well.”
This is true, and I don’t think anyone has denied it. What Matt pointed out however, is that the modern liberal democracy owes much of its form and content to strongly Christian values. That’s all.
“Our society is a Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy.”
Well I suppose you can call it what you wish, but it is a liberal democracy, that much is true. It is secular in the sense that it governs secular affairs (by definition), but humanist? No, that seems like wishful thinking – unless you means something so generic that it implies nothing about religious belief or lack thereof.
It’s all very well to say “they have been refuted.” But I can’t see any particular refutation. All I can see is clear assertions: Theology can do no such thing. Humanism does X. Religion does Y. But nothing of that sort counts as a refutation of anything, as far as I am concerned. If you want to identify a specific argument that you take issue with and then offer a specific refutation of that argument, I welcome it.
Glenn says “It’s all very well to say “they have been refuted.” But I can’t see any particular refutation. All I can see is clear assertions:”
The reason you cant see the refutations is because you didn’t read them. Your exact words were “I didn’t read it.”
You’ve put up some poor quality ideas about divisiveness and I responded.
And now you want me to listen to another of your lengthy pieces while you don’t read mine. That’s another double standard.
You may not agree with the ideas I’ve written about, but surely you should follow your own, correct, advice to others to read what you have written before they comment on your ideas.
Buzz said “Societies don’t just build on what is immediately before them, they can reach back further, gather from other concurrent societies and create new ideas as well.”
Glenn said “This is true, and I don’t think anyone has denied it. What Matt pointed out however, is that the modern liberal democracy owes much of its form and content to strongly Christian values. That’s all.”
Matt said “Actually both humanism and liberal democracy developed out of Christian theology. Humanists create a tolerant society only because they take Christian notions remove the theological foundation and pretend its the removal of that foundation that is doing the work, in reality the removal of the foundation arguably makes the position unstable.”
While SHLSD arose in some Christian countries, there were other Christian countries that spent even more time and effort actively resisting democracy til it became the lesser of two evils, Communism being the other one, so there is a lot more than Christian theology or Christian notions and values going on here in removing the clerics and monarchs with their divine rights from the benches of power via dissent and doubt in the pursuit of equity and political freedom, not popular notions in the theology of your ordering principle. Fascism seems to fit quite well with many mono denomination Christian countries. Did that develop out of Christian theology and values and notions too. I wonder which notions that was using.
I accept that at the time this democracy and equity stuff was in its infancy, the arguments had a Christian flavour but then there wasn’t a lot of alternative to using that method at the time unless the advocator wanted some unpleasant close attention.
We keep hearing of Christian values, like we keep hearing of family values but we never get them defined so we can see whether its only Christians who have them or whether other people do too.
Just what exactly are these uniquely Christian values and notions that no other society ever had that SHLSD uses for its form and content?
Glenn says “….but humanist? No, that seems like wishful thinking.”
The short answer is – It’s humanist as it’s of the people, by the people for the people and legislating human laws not gods laws.
Buzz – Actually I have gone back and looked at your wordy comments since they first appeared. In fact they don’t contain any specific refutation to any specific argument. They don’t even appear to identify any specific arguments raised in this blog entry. So how about choosing one argument, clearly stating what it is, and showing that it fails (maybe the premises are false, maybe the conclusion doesn’t follow, that sort of thing.
One other thing. You now say: “While SHLSD arose in some Christian countries, there were other Christian countries that spent even more time and effort actively resisting democracy til it became the lesser of two evils.”
This misses the point and isn’t relevant. Matt’s point (one that I agree with) is not that every country with Christian influences also produced a liberal democracy. Therefore when you say that some such countries did not develop a liberal democracy, you’re attacking a straw man. The claim was that where the liberal democracy did develop, it did so out of Christian premises.
Ho hum. Yes it does address the issues you raise, specifically and generally and gives examples of where you are wrong.
Maybe you read someone else’s pieces. 🙂
The problem with your religion is not with the humanist and humanitarian aspect, it’s with the political aspect.
Should I have cut and pasted a bit of your piece before every new point it would’ve made even more multiples to the posts but if I always do that you’ll get longer posts. OK.
And there were numerous points of yours that I didn’t discuss. And I agreed that your ideas need to be in the public square. We just need it to be a neutral level public square, for and from all sides of the fences (if we can mix metaphors so squares can have fences)
That some Christian countries did not develop liberal democracy or any democracy by themselves except as a bulwark to Communism, is not a straw man, its pertinant to why some did. The big picture is that politically speaking, your Theism is repugnant, as I showed. That you don’t like the big picture answer does not make it a straw man.
So what are these values, notions and now premises that are uniquely Christian that our liberal democracy is based on but failed to generate liberal democracy independently in numerous other Christian countries? And why did they drag the chain so much in those other countries that had the same Christian values, notions and premises? What was missing (or present) in those countries?
And why didn’t god given these values, notions and premises to Muslims when he was revealing the rest of it to Mohammad? Do you really think Muslims use blasphemy laws any differently than Christians did/do when Christian values, notions and premises had/have political clout?
And while we are in the neighbourhood of the divisiveness of gods law of blasphemy in Pakistan, not that far away, the next religious divisive cab off the rank is Muslim v ethnic Buddhists in western Burma which is starting to ramp up with Bangladeshi Muslims moving into Burma.
Buzz – it seems like you’re making some bold historical claims, which cannot be, and have not yet been, defended. I echo Glenn’s challenge to provide some very specific examples. Use fewer words, not more. Bullet points would be good. (More words do not make a bad argument any better)
And while you’re at it – it seems that you equate Christian virtues with Muslim virtues. If one believed that Muslims were right about God, one would be a Muslim and not a Christian. I imagine that most here would not look to the Middle East for an ideal of politics. So why use Muslim countries as examples?
“Ho hum. Yes it does address the issues you raise, specifically and generally and gives examples of where you are wrong.”
OK then Buzz, let us just put this down to me suddenly losing the ability to read when I am looking specifically at your comments, to avoid the awkwardness of me continually requesting refutations that you think you’ve offered.
John says ” Bullet points would be good. (More words do not make a bad argument any better)”
What did Glenn say when you told him that? 🙂
Glenn riffed on a theme and used some comments from others to build his essay on. He made numerous poor quality arguments and misread the nature of the public square across time and place, as its not a level playing field. Religion is not confined to a few pockets of New Zealand, where no doubt the public square is more polite than in many other places around the globe, but that’s because New Zealand and Australia had the benefit of being settled after the start of the Enlightenment and that made a lot of difference to the way we turned out, compared to the USA for example and Muslim countries.
To comment on those areas I did something similar in an essay response, riffing on a theme and using some examples from his essay. There were a lot of points in Glenn’s essay and so there were a lot of points in response.
But sure lets deal with one example.
I’ve delayed responding as life has been busy and there has been a classic example of the divisiveness of religion in the public square happening over the past two weeks.
One example which I did specify in my initial response to Glenn was one that he didn’t refer to in the narrow window of his essay and one which you can’t talk about religion in the public square without referring to.
That example is blasphemy laws or as they tend to be reinvented these days in the west, anti vilification laws.
I don’t know if its been on your radar but there have been some disturbing events happening in the public square in Sydney concerning the divisiveness of religion and the inclusiveness of our secular society in the last week and of course overseas we’ve seen the repugnant obnoxiousness of the divisiveness of religion in the public square. Certainly in Australia, its been a prominent topic among the chattering classes in the past week.
Its the riots over the You tube film about Mohammad.
Why do people go rampaging through the streets of Sydney, calling for the beheading of those who criticize Mohammad, trashing public property and terrorizing passerbys, saying their dead are in paradise and ours are in hell etc etc?
And overseas, they’ve killed dozens of their own people with this divisiveness and destroyed plenty of property in their own cities. WT….!!
You ask why I lump Muslims in with you. That’s because Theists never tire of telling me that the Christian god is the same being as the Muslim god. There is but one god. All you’ve done is refuse to believe that Mohammad had revelations from your god. If you’d been born into a Muslim family in a Muslim country you’d be a Muslim and you’d believe that a man cannot be the child of a god. Islam still has the political power that Christianity lost in the West some time ago, but by looking at Islamic societies now we can see practical examples of how Christian societies used to behave. Islam is 500 years and an Enlightenment behind Christianity.
So what makes these people go on such murderous intolerant rampages? They do it because in Australia they think they have the legal right to do this and the right not to be offended and overseas they do it because they know they have the legal right to do this and the right not to be offended. This right comes from blasphemy laws, based on the word of god’s law, which they have in their country, I have in mine and New Zealand also has.
Blasphemy laws make the public square very unlevel and when the state backs up the blasphemy laws, it makes the religious voice in the public square a violent, intolerant voice of bigotry and social disaster, as we have seen in Sydney and in particular overseas in Muslim countries.
But there is a difference between Sydney and Muslim countries. Sydney is ordered by a secular humanist liberal social democracy and while the blasphemy laws are still on the statute books, they are not used though that doesn’t mean they don’t still have an influence on debate in the public square, giving religion a benefit that other groups do not have.
The response from the Muslim community leaders in Sydney (and many of them are now second generation and born here) was to embrace the variety, freedoms and tolerance that only SHLSD has been able to give to society so far and they were the first and maybe the only group of leaders to denounce the protests as undemocratic and intolerant and call for all further protest to stop and to accept that being part of a secular society means that everyone can be offended and have their ideas criticized and no one has a right not to be criticized offended and not have their ideas criticized.
These leaders embraced the inclusiveness that our secular society offers, letting go of demands that they be treated differently from other people. This is very commendable and will hopefully be a turning point in relations between Muslims and others in modern Australia. Most Muslims recognize that it is this secular public square that gives them the freedom to practice their religion with out having some other sect of Muslims blowing their mosque or market place up and they want to protect that, just like most of the rest of us do. There are still bigots who want their views to predominate but its not going to happen. Nor will there be any caliphate in Australia. As one of the Muslim community leaders said of the religious people who claim the right not to be offended and want special status in the public square, they have “weak intellects”.
And here’s your bullet points
* Religion is most definitely divisive in the public square
* In our countries, it is SHLSD that is neutralizing this divisiveness for the benefit of all of us.
* Separation of church and state is not there to protect the religious from the non religious, its there to protect the religious from other religious people, because religion is divisive.
* Blasphemy laws and anti vilification laws are the problem not the solution and the UN and governments bring in such laws at society’s peril. History and current affairs…
I’d still like to know what are these values, notions and now premises that are uniquely Christian that our liberal democracy is based on.
PS I see you’ve put a new tick box on the thread for me. How sweet of you.
“What did Glenn say when you told him that?”
I follow this rule in the comments, and I would have heartily agreed with this advice, actually. There’s your answer.
Comments are short remarks on a longer article. If anyone wants to write an article length response, they can start a blog.
“I’d still like to know what are these values, notions and now premises that are uniquely Christian that our liberal democracy is based on.”
Buzz: Well, if I recall you were asking Matt (or at least asserting that what Matt said was incorrect). But there’s some good reading to be done on this, so if you do want to delve into it I would recommend these to get you started:
Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations of John Locke’s Political Thought, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
Richard Mouw, “John Locke’s Christian Individualism,” Faith and Philosophy 8:4 (1991), 450-451.
Jacques Ellul, The Theological Foundations of Law (New York: Doubleday, 1960)
John P. Diggins, The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism (New York: Basic Books, 1984)
Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Volume Two: The Age of the Reformation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978)
Of course there’s is a huge amount that could be read on this, and there is no substitute (if you want to get to know the subject) for immersing yourselves in the primary sources (Milton, Locke, Hooker, Sidney, Montesquieu etc), but this should get you started.
“theists never tire of telling me that the Christian god is the same being as the Muslem god” really? who? I am Christian (therefore theist) and i emphatically deny any relationship, they are in fact mutually exclusive. Insisting on regarding religion as some kind of homogenous mass is as intelectually lazy and weak as thinking the same thing of all atheists. Shall i characterise and understand you based on the actions of Pol Pot or Mao. By the way “politics” is divisive in the public square ( just follow the election campaigns in the USA), to say nothing of the French or various Communist revolutions, or Fascism im Spain and Italy
Buzz – I have to agree and disagree.
I agree that blasphemy laws are wrong! I believe strongly in individual freedoms, including freedom of speech and religion. Even speech I don’t like and find offensive. As a member of the US military, I’d give my life for that freedom (at least in the US. Sorry, you’re on your own in Aussie land)
What you have not yet done is shown how liberal democracy is divorced from CHRISTIAN values, which are not Muslim values (although in some ways superficially similar). Lumping Islam and Christianity together is like lumping Fascism, Communism, and Democracy together because they all believe in government! So go back to the drawing board and rework the argument (if you can) discussing Christianity alone.
Sorry for the tardy response, I’ve been travelling with limited internet access.
Glenn, thanks for the effort putting together that reading list.
That’s half a million more words than I was expecting from you. Some bullet points from off the top of your head listing these values, notions and premises unique to Christianity that underpin our democracy, would have done quite adequately.
I presume that you have immersed yourself in this collection of reading and can so give me the bullet points that will answer my enquiry and encourage me to read these works to check my ideas against yours. So far I have no reason to delve into these works. Some bullet points will do to get me going. I’m quite happy for Mat to answer if you can’t but you did add to his original comment so I assumed you knew what he was talking about.
Correct me it I’m wrong but you seem to be saying that your god is a completely different being from the Muslim god, ie there are multiple beings called god and therefore multiple gods. The operative word here is “being”.
On another recent blog discussing the response to that film, one of the Christians made the claim that his god was not the same one as the Muslim one. Other Christians kicked in with requests for him to explain himself because in their view there is only one god ( and many thousands of contradictory interpretations of this one). The god of Christianity has to be the same being as the god of Islam other wise there is not only one god. This is not saying religions are homogenous, just that there is only one being that is god. Whether Mohammed was delusional or on the money when he heard a voice in his head and thought it was your god speaking to him is another story.
You and Muslims have the same ordering principle based on the same alleged being’s ideas and the bottom line is the same. Submission to the will of a single authoritarian celestial ruler. I am not and have never been a Communist and have a completely different ordering principle to them. Theists have things in common with Communists as Theism and Communism are both authoritarian ordering principles but Atheism is not an ordering principle at all. Atheism is an opinion on a particular topic, one that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It needs an ordering principle to be attached to and that can be authoritarian or non authoritarian.
If by “politics is divisive” you mean our democracy, then yes, there are divisions but it is the politest, most civilised way humans have so far practically developed to have arguments and disagreements and try to resolve them and its mostly working pretty well and produced far better reaults than your ordering principle did when it had political power. Is this not so?
Ok, we’re in the same spot as with Glenn and Matt. What are these unique Christian values that you are talking about? Bullet points will do. Once you tell me what these unique values are that were not found in other cultures, then I can tell you if I think liberal democracy is divorced from them.
In the meantime I can tell you how our the core values of our system of Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy are nothing like the core political values of Christianity and Islam.
Theism and SHLSD reflect their origins.
Christianity is part of the stream of Abrahamic monotheism which is inherently authoritarian and naturally intolerant and results in totalitarian governance when ever it obtains practical political power, be it Christianity or Islam. Fascism and Communism are identical to Abrahamic monotheism in this political aspect. Thats one reason why you get lumped in with Islam and with the secular authoritarian ordering principles too. The point again is that looking at Islamic countries today gives us a good view of how Christian countries used to be before Enlightened secularism moderated the political posturings and clout of Christianity.
Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy is of course an entirely different political animal because it does equity and political freedom, so it can’t be lumped in politically with Fascism and Communsim. Yes they are all forms of government but so what, that is not how we measure their relative worth, is it. We measure their worth by the amount of political freedom and equity they afford their citizens. Thats what you are prepared to die for and what my Dad put his life on the line for in the RAAF in WW2.
Religious and secular authoritarian ordering principles do not do equity and political freedom because they are inherently authoritarian and intoleant by nature, aka submission to the will (rule) of god, aka thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
SHLSD is a social contract of the people, by the people, for the people. Its a product of the first and second Enlightenments and reason. It does a superior job of being internally coherent and has the structure that enables it to harmonise its moral and political values to an ever increasing amount.
Theism is the imposed tyranny of the clerics, by the clerics, for the glory of an alleged celestial dictator. It’s a product of a time and place when the form of governing society was unenlightened brutal despotism. Your religion is not internally coherent due to its political and humanist values being diametrically opposed to each other. It is not able to harmonize its moral and political values. That’s why Theists in our society have to cherry pick its various values, making much of the humanist values while denying the political values that are at the core of their beliefs. Due to living in a SHLSD, Theists are able to ignore the political reality of their religion as it is only SHLSD that has ever given them the political freedom and equity to freely practice their beliefs. Religion will never give you this if it has practical political power. Not even your own sect will guarantee you that freedom of belief.
” Christianity is part of the stream of Abrahamic monotheism which is inherently authoritarian and naturally intolerant and results in totalitarian governance when ever it obtains practical political power, be it Christianity or Islam.”
Buzz, I won’t try to summarise the required background knowledge. Your asking me to do so leads me to think that perhaps you are not entitled to your confident conclusions.
That said, I wonder if you could now return the favour I did you. Could you perhaps suggest some reading from within Christian political philosophy where such intolerance and totalitarianism is advocated? If you can’t, well that’s not ideal, but in that case I have a second request. Since you said “inherently” and “when ever,” I am sure you will be able to find some good, unambiguous examples of where a political regime turned Christian and, as a clear result, the state was more totalitarian than it was before. Given your obvious confidence in your universal claim (and your apparent view that you don’t even need to become familiar with the background reading), I’m sure this will be a walk in the park.
I am glad you understood me buzz, yes the Islamic Allah is a different being and not God at all. I will go further and suggest that Islam is a satanic counterfeit of Christianity which panders to mans ( specifically the human male ) baser instincts and characteristics. If you take the time to study the basic doctrine of Islam and Christianity you will find that they are mutually exclusive and as such reflective of the person and character of their respective deities. And to quote Jesus Christ “no house divided against itself can stand”. And no, just because Christianity and Islam are monotheist doesnt mean they necessarily worship the same god, what a peculiar conclusion. A much simpler conclusion is that somebody is wrong.
While we we are here please identify these “political” values that are at the core of my beliefs? I would be fascinated to learn of them. I wonder whether on being informed whether i will believe, recognise or even accept them as true?
Lastly a slightly unrelated question, you like to group things together based on what you characterise as their ” ordering principles ” ( not suprisingly i think you completely misunderstand Christianitys ordering principle ), but what makes you think that SHLDs ordering principle is any more valid and potentially enduring than any other? After all it is only a very small blip on the overall spread of human history, as such there have been monarchies, dynasties and empires that have lasted longer, much longer.
Crikey, you are reluctant to impart this information about unique Christian values, notions and premises.
In good time we’ll get to your requests and why we both have rejected Marxism without having bothered to read the source documents like Das Kapital and What Is To Be Done. In the meantime, we still have my request that is now onto being requested for the fifth.
I’m trying to find out if there is something that I don’t know. You have claimed there is, as have others before you but you are not the first person to fail to tell me what these unique Christian values, notions and premises are when they have been asked to do so after making such a claim.
I suspect that these values you claim are Christian are actually universal and came from prior cultures and Christianity successfully absorbed them to the extent that it is often claimed these values, like the golden rule, self rule, getting on with the neighbours, mutual aid and mutual peace are specifically Christian. But when questioned on it, I’ve yet to have someone tell me what these unique Christian values are.
So the request still stands – What are these values, notions and premises that underpin our democracy that are unique to Christianity and were not found in other cultures?
You and Mat made the statement and I’ve asked a number of times for you to substantiate it.
Asking me to substantiate something completely different is a cop out. Your asking me to do so leads me to think that perhaps you are not entitled to your confident conclusions.
Its a simple question which requires a simple bullet point answer along the lines of the following example of some SHLSD values (but your answer will have different values)
* No taxation without representation
* universal suffrage
* accountability via election every few years and on the floor of the parliament
* Toleration of differences
* Separation of church and state and no divine rights
* Put these values into actual practice across society
Something like that is all I’m requesting.
Given your obvious confidence in your specific claim, I’m sure this will be a walk in the park.
I agree that Islam is tribal politics that reflects its origins. It is in desperate need of a Reformation and an Enlightenment to make it fit in with the modern world and our global problems. But its not that different to Christianity in pandering to male baser attitudes and its anti democratic values reflect Judaisms despotic tribal origins. And of course Christianity has been divided against itself pretty much since it started. Schisms seem to appear in religions as soon as the founder dies.
As for Islam being satanic, well I understand they think you are satanic, and Great with it. It’s your opinion against theirs isn’t it. What do the Muslims you associate with think of your view that they are satanists? Of course you could both be wrong and the Hindus are right. The Muslims and Hindus I associate with at work and in my cricket club are all lovely community minded people and are not at all satanic. Are they hiding something from me?
The political values at the core of your religion are authoritarian as they come allegedly from one supreme being and his earthly representative work to ensure that he has total control over the society and the obedience of citizens who will fear him and his punishments if they don’t toe his line. You don’t notice these political values because in the West, Christianity has been largely neutralized in the political process, though it still dabbles when ever it can. Jump in a time machine and go back to Europe of 1500 and it would be very noticeable, like in Taliban land now.
Ask yourself this – if the clerics were to be in a position to reclaim practical political power like they’ve had in the past and got back to implementing gods laws as the law of your country instead of the laws of humans, who would you support, the laws of god as decided by clerics or the laws of humans as decided by democratically elected government? And what would happen to discussion in the public square. Do you support blasphemy laws? They are used in a very divisive way in the public square when Theists feel they can get away with it, aren’t they.
I would give you the Moonman Test to do to test how authoritarian your religion is but that would mean a multiple post and Glenn would get upset and would read the riot act at me again and change his blogging rules again, so that may have to wait.
SHLSD is more valid and more worthy because it has produced more harmonious, peaceful, and prosperous societies than any previous methods of ordering society. I don’t know where you live but I suspect its in the West and I guess you have no interest in moving to the second or third world or to any of the monarchies and theocracies that are still in plentiful supply around the world. Our society is better by many country miles. That’s why people want to migrate to our countries and we dont want to migrate to theirs.
Despite pulling the strings of social order for over one thousand years, Christianity, the alleged practice of the Prince of Peace, did sod all in creating harmonious, peaceful prosperous societies compared to modern SHLSD over the last 100 years. Its no coincidence that the EU has been given a Nobel Peace prize because SHLSD has brought peace to Europe in fifty years after all those centuries of war, including those wars that had a religious base. In the end people got sick and tired of the social disasters the clerics were peddling and toppled the clerics and their divine right to rule lackey kings and brought in democracy, much to the displeasure of your god’s representatives on earth.
It may be a blip in time but now that we know what peaceful prosperity is like, do you think we will roll over and give it up in the future. I don’t think so. Why would you not want to live in a world of mutual peace, aka peace on earth and goodwill and mutual aid to all.
Your religion may well be a curiosity of history in a thousand years time too, like the Pagan religions that were around…
I am amused by people who think that the brief bit of history they have experienced will set the tone for all time going forward. The prosperous part of recent history has been largely predicated on cheap energy being readily available, short of a major breakthrough like “cold fusion” this looks doubtful going forward. Returning to harder times wont be a matter of choice.
I am also amused by people who first claim that Christianity “pulled the strings for over a thousand years” and in the next sentence suggest that the current good we experience is completely unrelated to this. You might like to do a little reading on why modern science arose in a Christian influenced culture rather than in any other during history.
Maybe you should also read some Bible, the idea of equality of all people regardless of race, class, sex, religion is a Christian concept first expressed anywhere in history by Paul the Apostle. It is the foundational idea of our democracy. It has been such a radical and anti-intuitive idea that even Christian influenced societies took nearly 2000 years to implement it fully,and many people claim this is still not yet the case.. To misquote yourself maybe you might try living in a society uninfluenced by Christian thought [of course you probably wouldnt be allowed to express your views].
You should also read some Koran, the last thing we want is an Islamic reformation. The Christian reformation involved people turning back to the Bible rather than the traditions and additions of human institutions. If this genuinely happened within Islam it would be the behaviour of the Taliban and Al Quieda and other radical fundamentalist moslems that came to dominate Islam as they practiced what the Koran preaches. [By the way i didnt call them Satanists, that name would imply they knowingly worship Satan, i said Islam was a satanic counterfiet of Christianity]
“The political values at the core of your religion are authoritarian as they come allegedly from one supreme being and his earthly representative work to ensure that he has total control over the society and the obedience of citizens who will fear him and his punishments if they don’t toe his line.”
Pretty much all i can say to this is “what a load of ignorant twaddle”, go away and read the New Testament and see if you can find anything to support this. Jesus was a disappointment to the Jews precisely because he was so apolitical, christians are called to serve not rule, and to be salt and light in society not enforcers. I will not deny that through history various people have ignored this teaching and persued power but that is why i referred to the Reformation being a return to what the Bible taught rather than the traditions and additions of man. What you complain of is the normal behaviour of mankind not the result of Christianity.
“if the clerics were to be in a position to reclaim practical political power like they’ve had in the past and got back to implementing gods laws as the law of your country instead of the laws of humans, who would you support, the laws of god as decided by clerics ”
I am a Baptist, as such a product of the Reformation, i dont accept “clerics” as having any right/ability/power to decide what the laws of God are. Likewise i do not believe we should attain to political power to enforce compliance [ refer to serve not rule etc above].
However which of the 10 commandments [Gods laws] relating to how we interact with other people would you object to? perhaps Dont murder, dont steal, dont lie, dont commit adultery, dont obsess over your neighbours possessions? or maybe the NT summary, love your neighbour as yourself. As someone once observed, if we spent more time obeying these we wouldnt need most human made laws at all. Modern free democracy only works if the individuals who make up society are first self disciplined self controlled and righteous in their behaviour, and it works better or worse to the degree that…
“Crikey, you are reluctant to impart this information about unique Christian values, notions and premises.”
Buzz, I’m trying to show restraint, please don’t take offence, but here is what I am experiencing some frustration with.
Nobody came along and said that there are a few straight forward Christian premises, one two three, and they immediately pop out a modern liberal democracy, and you don’t have to know the subject well at all in order to understand how this works.
And yet, if you’ll forgive my saying so, that’s precisely the kind of “I don’t need any background, I expect the whole issue to be distilled down into just a few premises that you can give me right now.” If I were to offer just a few succinct statements, summing up all the background for you, they would simply be statements that you don’t accept: The ultimate basis of the liberal doctrine of equality was religious, the moral laws that gave rise to our civil duties to each other was also grounded in a religious outlook etc, and you would turn around and ask for the backup. I am trying to convey to you the reality that this isn’t how historical enquiry is done, in sound bites. That’s how summaries of conclusions can be offered, sure, but you reject my conclusions.
The only alternative for you then is for you to hit the books yourself. I’m sorry, but that’s life. And to make matters worse – again, sorry if that offends – you seem to think that you simply posting a bullet point list of practices somehow demonstrates that there’s a genuine, thoroughly thought out from the ground up and absolutely irreligious grounding of all of those things.
It’s like seeing someone hoping for a nourishing meal of knowledge, yet demanding fast food. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you clearly need to understand this field of knowledge before making such claims. I am not going to try to make the case in the form of a bullet pointed list. Making a case for a position on a complex issue in a comment box is generally not a task I attempt, and it seems we may simply disagree about that. It’s no good now suggesting that I’m reluctant or scared or anything else. I have touched on just one principle of the liberal democracy – that of equality – in a podcast episode. It took that long just to crack open one of the relevant issues at an introductory level. You may find it interesting: Secularism and Equality.
Thanks. Now that wasn’t so hard was it. You’ve mentioned equality and morals as unique Christian values underpinning democracy.
You’re right that I disagree but that’s ok, I just wanted to know what you thought these values were. You’ve come up with a couple of points to pique my interest and that’s all I was after. Talk about pulling teeth.
I did check out the analysis of Locke that is on my bookself that I’d read some time ago, but I guess that Grayling, Kropotkin and Russell are not your cup of tea. I can recommend Kropotkins “Ethics” his study of the development of morality and equity.
When looking at the nuts and bolts, it doesn’t matter what words people write in their theoretical works, its how political power is wielded that matters and affects people. If the politics is not about equity then the morals cannot be implemented across society. Authoritarian ideologies are immoral.
As for background reading, I’m guessing that you reject Communism and I also guess that like most of us you have done so without reading Marx or Lenin or Stalin, Trotsky, Mao etc. We don’t need to read their words do we, we can study the actions of Marxism which tell us all we really need to know. And while I haven’t read Das Kapital, I’m guessing that it doesn’t have a chapter on Siberian gulags, so therefore such things couldn’t happen under Marxism, since Marx didn’t write about them.So the problem is obviously not with Marxism, its with some of his followers who misrepresent him and the dictatorship of the proles is really a great and noble ideal of equality.
“You shall know them by their fruit.” is a very pertinent quote from Matthew’s gospel, though I guess some Roman or Greek philosopher probably said the same before Matt but Matt got the currency.
Judge people by their deeds, not their words. Words are cheap.
And that is what we do, is it not. There’s no good preaching the golden rule, getting on with the neighbours, mutual peace and mutual aid if it is not being practiced. Practicing it is a political act and so that is where you get your problems with your religion. It doesn’t practice what it preaches when it gets its hands on some practical political power. And be clear that practical political power does not just mean the church being the only political power in the state or power being wielded at the level of the state. Being the power behind the throne is just as (or maybe more so) effective way of exercising practical political power as some klutz always takes the fall and not the movers and shakers. And power is exercised all the way down into the home.
We also separate the deeds that we judge people on too. To decide if an ordering principle is worthy, we do not judge it by the amount of good it does, it’s humanitarianism. Even Communism has done good things for its subjects but I still wouldn’t recommend it. No, we judge the worth of an ordering principle by how it behaves when it has practical political power and, the amount of political freedom it allows and how it treats its subjects, particularly those that don’t agree with its views.
Back to your request of an example of a regime becoming Christian and becoming more totalitarian.
Lets start at the beginning of Christian political power and the world post the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
So the Pagan Roman state becomes Christian then back to Pagan and then under Theodosius back to Christian big time and it stays that way because he exterminates the pagans. For this Christianity rewards him by giving him the title The Great.
The Pagan Roman empire was an authoritarian dictatorship and they were very tough on any dissenters but were not into forced conformism. The Pagan authorities were rather pluralist and tolerated all kinds of religions and mystery cults in the empire as long as these Atheists like the Christians and Jews and the other oriental and European cults, kept things private and stayed out of politics. The Christians had no such ideals of equality. Dissent was not to be tolerated, other religions were not to be tolerated and were outlawed and people given the option to convert or perish. Pagan institutions were ransacked and destroyed and Mithraism went from being the state religion to getting chopped up in a rather nasty and brutal way as did the other illegal religions. The first instance that Christianity got practical political power it dealt with its rivals in a much more totalitarian way then the Pagans behaved. But it behaved as you would expect an exclusive intolerant authoritarian ordering principle not interested in equality to behave.
And so the style was set for the next thousand years or so. “I am the way” the only option and you will conform to this or its the highway to hell. But some people thought they knew what Jesus meant better than others did, so they eventually formed their break away groups with a new conformism but then people in those groups wouldn’t conform to the break away because they knew what Jesus meant better than the people who had formed the break away, so they formed more breakaways etc etc.
When it comes to the personal is political reality, it doesn’t matter what nice things someone two thousand years ago said, they are not around keeping people in line who interpret their word in ways that you consider wrong. Of course these others consider you wrong so its a game of tit for tat. We have to deal with the representatives of your god as we have them. Trouble is it seems that every time a mere human gets the ball with these Christian values they are either corrupt or become corrupt and misrepresent the ideas of the founder who took an early departure instead of being responsible and hanging around to make sure the ideas were bedded in properly. So either it’s corrupt people that are the main ones attracted to running this ideology of yours or the ideology corrupts good people when they start running it. Either way, the ideology is problematic but it is behaving like any authoritarian ideology does.
BTW we got off thread topic and the blasphemy question as it pertains to religion causing divisiveness in the public square as been left to one side. So are you in favour of blasphemy laws? Do you think they are divisive and if so, would you campaign for abolishing them? Should religion have a special privilege in the public square?
Thanks for the link to Secularism and equality podcast. I’ll put it on my podcast list for the gym. I’ve just discovered the Infinite Monkey Cage podcasts and am working my way through them.
Yes we do have to pull our heads and live within the resources of our planet and we will have problems if we don’t do that as there is no rhapsody coming. Humans have worked together well to deal with the man made atmospheric problem of the ozone hole and we can do it again once the unlimited growth brigade and climate skeptics face reality though things may well get tougher as you suggest before they concede.
You’re right that reforming Islam may not have good results and we’d have similar results like Christianity faced with reformation causing decades of unmitigated social disasters until reason necessitated the recycling of the pagan ideas of democracy to calm things down and bring some freedom of thought and politics and a more peaceful order. Somehow, all those Christian teachings on equality go out the window when practical political power is obtained by Christians. There is a structural problem here isn’t there? Why doesn’t the practical politics harmonise with the humanist moral values? I have read the NT and a quarter of the Quran.
Its a bit like the way Islam was nice and peaceful when Muhammad was starting up and needed to cultivate influence. Once he got that influence and political clout, nice and peaceful went out the window but its still there in the Quran as we keep hearing from Muslim apologists – Islam is a religion of peace – it says so in the Quran. Words are cheap. Can the people of the Muslim world turf the clerics and the sheiks who claim divine protection out of the corridors of power and obtain political and religious liberty? It doesn’t look like its going to happen any time soon unfortunately.
Science didn’t arise in a Christian culture. It started in a Pagan one in the First Enlightenment, was suppressed by Christianity and then arose again in the Second Enlightenment despite Christian opposition and it was brave and courageous people (mostly dissenting Christians) who advanced science in the face of some bloody minded Christian persecution from people who just knew what god wanted. And of course those Easterners had done the maths well before the Christians realized it was a very good tool and could get us all sorts of places as well as showing that the Bible was on the wrong track in matters of the cosmos.
Paul is not a good source of equaltiy and women are still dealing with the problems his ideas of gender inequality have caused and continue to cause. Revolutions have to start in the home if they are really going to succeed. If you leave out half the population from your notion of equality then you haven’t got equality. Paul’s ideas on equality have an animal farm flavour which is not surprising given he had an authoritarian ideology.
I have a problem with the equality of book burning too.
But Paul did have a really great idea about getting rid of food taboos by mixing at the dinner table of other tribes and eating their food, whatever it was.
I suggest that Paul is talking about “spiritual equality” before god rather than political equality among humans, ie the dictator is going to treat us all equally badly if we don’t do as he says. It was a major selling point for Christianity that it allowed women to participate in religion when the other mystery cults were rather blokey but women weren’t going to be allowed to help run it or do anything equal to the men, God fobid. For over a thousand years, these supposed ideas on equality seemed to not resonate with Christians if they even noticed them. Perhaps we are taking them out of context they were written in and using our knowledge to give them meaning they were not intended to have. I dare say you’d disagree with me there.
It now looks like I’m seeing a familiar sight: The shrinking claim about how bad Christianity is. This suggests progress in the discussion. Once it was the claim that Christianity “results in totalitarian governance when ever it obtains practical political power.” A fairly strong claim indeed – whenever it obtains any practical political power! And universal in scope too, so that Buzz should have been able to provide a bullet pointed list (familiar?) teeming full of clear examples.
But then I pose just a simple challenge, which has finally received an answer: “I am sure you will be able to find some good, unambiguous examples of where a political regime turned Christian and, as a clear result, the state was more totalitarian than it was before.”
Given the strong, universal claim, you’d think examples would be plentiful. But in the end there is… well, one. That in itself would make the strong claim look clearly like an overstatement for rhetorical effect. And even now, the example turns out to be quite false.
The allegation is that when the Roman Empire became officially Christian under Constantine, it became more totalitarian than it had been before. Forget the battle of Milvian bridge, since historians know that this is before Constantine was even a Christian. Even Wikipedia notes: “According to chroniclers such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius, the battle marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Milvian_Bridge) This was part of Constantine’s campaign to end the Tetrarchy, before his conversion.
But back to the claim that after his conversion, the Roman Empire became more totalitarian than before, this is not the case. Consider some of the regimes that came before: Nero, Vespasian (honestly, just read about the sacking of Jerusalem), or Decius (or does the torture and execution of Christians not count?). To imply that under Constantine suddenly the empire was now a totalitarian state that persecuted religious or ethnic groups is to simply focus on one era of persecution and ignore the others. Unfortunately, it was the same old Rome doing the same old thing to a different bunch of people.
So this example should not be granted. Now, even if it was granted, your universal claim would still be looking pretty flimsy, Buzz. So other than one highly questionable example, let’s see just a few more off your list, shall we? When you made your strong, universal claim, I’m sure you had a number of states in mind. So rather than go and look more up, just post a few from that list that you had in mind.
PS: “it doesn’t matter what words people write in their theoretical works.” That’s a wise move. It avoids having to invest the reading time and it also prevents yourself from having to concede anything about what Christians taught about politics. No matter, I look forward to seeing how long your list is. It will have to all fit into one comment though.
There’s no shrinking claim, there’s clarification – after all there’s only so much that can be put into two boxs. It would take less space if I didn’t have to correct your errors and misrepresentations.
“finally”?? what are you talking about. You only had to ask me once for examples and you did that before you had dealt with my earlier request. Ettiqutte is important and I said I would get to your request as soon as my earlier request was done and I did so. There was no “finally” about it. You didn’t have to pull any teeth. If you are refering to the time it takes me to respond, there is nothing odd there, its just a matter of a life that is busier now and blogging is given its correct priority. You are down the list and this response is put together in many bits over days. Ans as you said, depending on whats required, sometimes things need a bit more unpacking. And of course multiple posting is still permitted.
Be clear, I do not have a problem with the human aspect of Christianity. However, I consider the supernatural aspect to be absurd and unnecessary and the political ordering aspect to be authoritarian and repugnant. We are talking here about the political aspect of the authoritarian supernatural aspect of religion, not the human aspect of universal values such as the golden rule, loving your neighbours, mutual aid and mutual peace. But your religion is a job lot. You have to take the good with the bad and you can’t evolve your way out of the bad. I don’t reject religion because of the good work people do, I reject it because of the absurdities and the bad it does from its political structure and that bad cannot be reformed. It can only be rejected and replaced and SHLSD is a good replacement. Just as we have to regulate liberalism and socialism, so we have to regulate your god and his representatives.
When you embrace a doctrine laid down in stone two to three thousand years ago and you are unable to change any of it, you will find yourself out of step with the rest of society which is steadily socially evolving. Apologists for Marxism have similar problems.
Did you misread my comments or just prefer to misrepresent and straw man me. I said post Milvian Bridge and then dealt with the work of that Great Christian Theodosius and how the template was then set for the next thousand or so years. The template was steadily exported to other cultures and colonies and imposed. That’s not one example, and it’s a reverse e pluribus unum: from one – many. That is post Milvian Bridge as the Bridge is recognized as the starting point for conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity. I learned about this from a book about Rome from Latin class in 1970. I’ve still got that course book and used it to check my spelling as I have an imperfect memory.
Christianity had so much political power that social evolution has severly hampered. And in most of Europe they had that practical power without being the actual monarchs. Spin merchants can have so much more influence. Islam has similar total influence in the lives of people in the countries where it is dominant.
I never said Rome became totalitarian after conversion, I clearly said it became more totalitarian, because it did. There were no options after Theodosius, Christianity had as total control to enforce conformity to its form as any totalitarian regime of the 20th century had, and it had that till the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment started undoing it, replacing the metaphysical nonsense with practical nuts and bolts physical reality. And you are a lot better off for that. You even have religious freedom now. One big example affected so many regimes.
Buzz, I never attributed to you the view that Rome was never totalitarian prior to Constantine’s conversion. I only noted that you were wrong to say that it clearly became moreso afterwards, and I illustrated this with reference to some examples prior to the conversion of Constantine. I note that no relevant evidence has been offered by you as to why I should reconsider the assertion, so I need add no more about that.
I think I understand some of where you’re coming from. Let me summarize,
1) You find the “supernatural basis” of Christianity absurd. That’s a topic for another day, and is not germane to this subject.
2) It seems like you support the ethical teachings of Jesus – “love your neighbor as yourself.” Awesome! We have some common ground. Maybe you’d agree that the world would be a better place if the world followed Christ’s ethical teachings?
3) You believe that, when “christians” take political power, they oppress others and this is inherent to “Christianity.” (note the upper and lower case “C”s)
4) Christianity impedes “social evolution.”
It’s #3 which is most problematic. I still don’t believe that you have provided any evidence to support this claim; but for the sake of discussion let’s pretend that it is true. Do you not see the conflict between #2 and #3? If we are supposed to love our neighbors, care for their welfare over our own, value them as individuals, etc, how could an authoritarian theocratic ruler truly be a “Christian?” The ruler who breaks all tenets of Christian belief cannot truly be said to be Christian. So we’re back to agreeing that church and state need to be separated. But I think that when you make this distinction you’ll see that it is Christians, acting in accord with their values and Christ’s teachings, who did the most to establish the “SHLD” that you so value.
As for #4 -I think this is another secular myth. The whole point of the reformation was rejecting authoritarianism through Christ’s own teachings… not by rejecting them.
If you want to, you can ignore the history of how Theodosius was more totalitarian than the the Pagan Romans and set in place the template for the strict social control via the thought police of Christian influence over peoples behaviour and prohibiting the free exchange of ideas and liberty of thought, but that history was written by the victors, your mob, who thought he’d done such a fabulous job they designated him The Great. Ignoring the past doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring the top down political structure of monotheism doesn’t make monotheism egalitarian.
Glenn, you did say ” To imply that under Constantine suddenly the empire was now a totalitarian state that persecuted religious or ethnic groups…….”
I implied no such thing. I clearly compared the Pagan authoritarianism and the authoritarianism that happened under Theodosius as Christianity gained a controlling influence over the state. It was clearly more totalitarian.
Did I mention that bastion of liberty of thought, tolerance and equality, the theocracy of the Papal states?
There’s still one papal state causing social chaos through its absolute dictator for life and his thought police and its unaccountability.
On the list of totalitarian states run by monotheists in the comments you blocked was that modern bastion of liberty, tolerance and equality, Iran. Did you follow the antics of Ahmadinejad at the Bali Democracy Forum? Did you believe this monotheist when he said “I want to see the seven billion people on planet earth united against those who are arrogant and selfish. Enjoying justice and freedom.” Bollocks he does. Islam wants us to knuckle down in submission to the will of Allah just as Christianity wants us to knuckle down and obey the will of Yahweh.
Just as we have to regulate liberalism and socialism, so we also have to regulate your god and his representatives.
There’s no more to be said here as there is no evidence that Theodosius was a lovely guy, leading a regime tolerant of diversity and into equality.
Lets go back to the thread topic cause I know you like to focus on that – the divisiveness of the public square.
What about those blasphemy laws. They are divisive are they not because that is what they are designed to be.
Do you think blasphemy laws are divisive? If they are, should they be abolished for the good of the public square? Or do you think religion should have a special status in the public square?
Like I said in quoting Matthew – You shall know them by their fruit.
Words are cheap.
And that includes you and I.
Buzz, it’s question-begging to just say that I am “ignoring” the facts that you allege as true (namely, that Rome clearly became more totalitarian than ever before under Theodosius I).
The facts – if we include all of the relevant facts and don’t ignore the ones we don’t like – would include the persecution of Christians under Decius and the likes of Nero. To reiterate – I am not at all denying the persecution that happened after the conversion of Constantine. What I am trying to keep on your radar is the persecutions of various sorts that came before. It may be rhetorically convenient for you to claim that this level of persecution or totalitarianism was new, but that don’t make it so, Buzz. I think, with all due respect, that you show signs of having no real evidence here, hence the need to clearly misrepresent me as claiming that “Theodosius was a lovely guy, leading a regime tolerant of diversity and into equality.” Where did I say any such thing? In fact I said this was Rome doing the same old thing.
So now Buzz – if you recall, I called into question your confidence about a universal pattern. You’ve now offered up claims about one instance, and I find that evidence lacking. But given your overwhelming confidence earlier, I know you’ll have plenty of examples – and not obviously debatable examples. Your confidence is such that I’m sure you’ve got loads of clear examples of where the state adopted Christianity and as a result the state became more totalitarian than it was before. So now that you’ve tried your first example, I’m looking forward to the other examples. After all, even if the facts were different, and Rome was a good example after all, that obviously wouldn’t prove the universal pattern. So, let’s see them please.
1. Indeed. I was just backgrounding my stance.
2. Getting on with the neighbours is not something Christianity invented. Christianity continued using this age old advice because it is very good advice and vital to maintaining society. Humans need to maintain society because we are absolutely hopeless at self sufficiency and can only progress collectively. So of course we have common ground. Our cave dwelling ancestors worked this out and humans have been using this morality to varying degrees of success ever since.
Jesus did not invent ethics. Should I follow Jesus’ teachings on mental health and pig farming? Would you destroy the livelihood of a pig farming community because in your delusional state you think mental health problems are caused by demons?
3. No true Scotsman eh. Ho Hum.
If you embraced all the tenets of Christian belief you would be in a state of constant moral confusion and go stark raving mad. That’s why you pick and choose and different people pick and choose different bits. Your Christian duty is to carry out your god’s law and obey your god. That’s a political act. Which laws are you going to enact and not go mad and how are you going to enact them? By following those tenets you have to love your neighbour but what if your neighbour is a witch. Are you going to follow your duty and put the witch out of their suffering.?
4. The point of the Reformation was to replace one sect of authoritarianism with another, which is what happened. Just ask the German peasants who asked for equality and got a brutal crushing from Luther and the divine rulers his moral authority propped up. It was the secularism of the Enlightenment that worked at rejecting authoritarianism. And that involved more than liberal dissident Christians didn’t it. Those Christians supporting early liberal democracy were not interested in extending it universally, were they. They dragged the heel on that for a couple of hundred years. You missed the second S out of SHLSD. It was the socialists, most of whom were Atheists, whose agitation was a factor in bringing in universal suffrage and human rights.
The Vatican was still issuing Bulls denouncing democracy as evil in the 1850s and demanding Catholics have nothing to do with it. Such lovers of equality and liberty. And they’ve got millions of words of theology to show they are doing your god’s will. And it was Christians who did the most to establish Fascist dictatorships. Do you want to own that too? Its no coincidence that most of right and left wing dictatorships of the 20th century were in countries that had the most authoritarian forms of Christianity.
What you’re not grasping is the difference between Christians using Christianity as an ordering principle and Christians using SHLSD as an ordering principle. SHLSD is inclusive and open to diversity of beliefs in governing society. Christianity is exclusive and not open to diversity in its influence in governing society or in governing society in the instances where is has done or does so.
Its the difference between enacting your gods law as the law of the land or developing human made law as the law of the land and evolving the law as society evolves rather than enforcing ancient out of date laws that are carved in stone and cannot be changed. SHLSD can get rid of bad laws from times past. Christianity cannot get rid of the bad laws in the Bible. Though Jefferson tried.
wow.. buzz is shooore gud ut histories.
The discussion progresses.
We agree that Pagan Rome and Christian Rome were totalitarian. We are here disagreeing as to which was “more” totalitarian, which is a side issue that I’m happy to discuss. That’s a fine line defining how something is more total than something else but there is a bit of room to move here. We agree that Pagan Rome was authoritarian, oppressive and persecuted dissidents and threats to its power. We agree that Christian Rome was more of the same, authoritarian, oppressive and persecuted dissidents and threats to its power.
As I said before, the difference between Pagan and Christian Rome was that the Pagans did not exterminate those dissident ideologies/religions, they just brutally neutralised them, and were then content for the practitioners to carry on in private with their weird behaviours. Due to this policy, there were a large number of mystery cults and religions in Pagan Rome. This is a fact. Christian Rome on the other hand outlawed other religions and persecuted them with extreme prejudice so that they were wiped out and everyone had to conform to Christianity. This more extreme persecution is historical fact and demonstrates a more totalitarian approach in this instance.
A pattern of totalitarian social control and mind control under the direct influence of Christianity, designed to prevent any dissident behaviour through violent intimidation in life on earth and in life after death, was exported to other kingdoms where Christianity took hold. Just as the Roman dictators found it a useful ally in absolute power, so did other dictators throughout Europe and the Mediterranean and then in the New World as Christianity colonised the planet.
These kingdoms in Europe were under direct influence of Christianity and ruthlessly maintained their power base causing great social chaos to their subjects. Absolute monarch is just a euphemism for dictator. Absolutism is just another word for totalitarian. England had many dictators, not just one. The Yanks were so concerned about the totalitarian influence of religion having practical political power after what happened in the Puritan colonies, that the Founding Fathers instituted the separation of church and state to stop Christianity causing such social disaster again. From the time of Theodosius, the dictator and Christianity were so closely intertwined they often became one, with subjects following the religion of their local dictator. Our own monarch is the latest in a 500 year line of monarchs who were head of the state religion too.
For over a thousand years, under the direct influence of Christianity or in the case of the Papal states, direct political control as well, Christianity did nothing to bring about the equality it is claimed it invented. There were totalitarian states, where Christianity was the guiding moral and social influence, over all of Europe. On the contrary, Christianity was active in preventing equality and the rise of liberty of thought and deed.
My claim refers to monotheist religion and not just to Christianity, so the Islamic regimes that I mentioned are also examples of this claim, Iran and the Taliban being merely the latest examples. The Wahhabi regimes of the Middle East kingdoms are good examples too. These are totalitarian states where monotheism is the guiding influence and it has been that way where Islam has had practical political influence. It took Ataturk ousting the Islamists and dictators from the Ottoman empire to bring in a modern secular state in Turkey and that is currently being threatened by Islamists.
My comment about Theodosius 1 not being a nice guy was not a misrepresentation of you, it was a factual comment that I thought was so obvious that it didn’t need unpacking. I can see now that it does need unpacking but that would turn this into a multiple post and look at the word count. Who’s that coming round the corner? Is it plod from the ……….
Buzz, you’re continuing to state what you believe about the social consequences of Christianity – but I knew that already. What I have asked for is clear evidence of some of the examples you have in mind. You aren’t providing any.
You have again just asserted that really, Christian Rome clearly became more totalitarian under Christianity – towards pagans. But it’s no longer enough to just say that. That’s what you claim, but my request is for evidence. Thanks. I maintain that there’s no good evidence that the oppression of Israel or the persecution against Christians under previous emperors was gentler or less serious than what you refer to. In your reply, don’t just say that this is how it was. Evidence please. We know (as I am sure you do, with your knowledge of the Roman Empire) that Constantine made legal reforms to ban crucifixion as inhumae (replacing it with hanging – you may not think it’s much of an improvement), and to see that prisoners were better treated (e.g. could not be kept in total darkness, could not have their faces branded). Anastasius I is probably even better known for just and humane reforms. The later there was Justinian, with his acclaimed legal reforms to make justice more accessible to subjects, and his wife Theodora, a key figure in bolstering women’s rights in the Empire and fighting against the trafficking of girls.
The point I am making, Buzz, is that while it it in your interests only to make vague references to claims that you’re already assured of, you’re glossing over much. What you’re saying is simplistic. There is no good evidence that on the whole Rome became more totalitarian than it had been before. You’re clinging to this one example to make your whole argument – but in the first place you just don’t have the evidence, and secondly, even if you did have some evidence, remember what I asked you. You claimed that this was a universal pattern. So I asked for evidence that 1) is clear, and 2) shows the pattern. You’ve simply not been able to do this,and it looks very much as though your generalised view of history is less than impartial.
Your comments about Europe are equally vague and do not contain evidence. Remember what I asked you:
Specific examples with the main documentated details 9specific please) in a bullet pointed list would suffice. I know you must have this information, given your confidence, but you’re holding it back, it seems. Let’s see it!
Actually the separation of church and state instituted by the american constitution was to protect the church from the state, not the other way around. Therefore there was no official church and the state could not abuse religion as a means of controlling people.
You make reference to Henry the eigth and the Church of England as an example presumably of the totalitarian influence of religion having practical political power. Unfortunately this just shows ignorance of the facts. In Henrys case he completely ignored any “power” the church might have, in fact he dispensed with the authority Rome claimed and confiscated to himself much of the wealth and assets of the church in England. Far from supporting your argument this example shows a man doing exactly what he pleased using religion to further his aims when it suited him, ignoring when it didnt.
What we have is a very typical example of human behaviour ie someone pursueing their own ends and using whatever means at their disposal to achieve those ends. Trying to blame religion is simply to avoid the truth of the human character.
Once Buzz has reached the bottom of the barrel (I can hear the scrapings now, since has spent his entire last post without drawing on a single piece of evidence – not even one) I will then present him with some clear examples of states that embraced religious non-belief, and I will present specific evidence regarding the direction that those states immediately took in terms of totalitarianism.
I will also explain to Buzz why this does not prove much of significance other than that 1) Christian nations have been comparatively good, and 2) people in glass houses should not throw certain small hard objects.
Separation of church and state was to stop the religious persecuting the religious, ie when the religious use the state either at a high or low level to persecute other religious people, particularly heretics from their own ordering principle. There were sod all non religious people to persecute at that time so it was sectarian persecution all down the line. When colonies are set up on a religious basis, then religion becomes the political state and this is the corruption that occurred in the Puritan colonies that the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure could not be repeated.
Henry did not ignore the power of the Christianity over his subjects, he harnessed it closer to him. After all he allegedly had a divine right to do that, and Henry started a noble tradition in England of meshing church and state even tighter. Yes he wouldn’t have got away with a switch to another authoritarian sect without a fight if he’d been near the Papal states but things had changed since 1066. Henry stayed a Christian, he just changed the sect and wound it closer to the crown, something Anglicans have been pleased with ever since.
Britain still has a way to go till its government is as democratic as yours and mine and the House of Lords is reformed into a representative Senate. Having Anglican clerics being given positions of power for which they are not accountable to the population is not acceptable in a democracy as it is not representative, nor is having a bunch of useless gits getting a seat in the upper house because of who their parents were or they are on good terms with the Prime Minister.
Religion is created by human character and the character of religion reflects the prevailing character of the society of the people using that religion. You live in a Western Secular Humanist Liberal Social Democracy so your religion is very much milder now that it used to be when Western society was authoritarian. But the ground rules of your religion have not been disposed of and are still there as you can’t change the ordering principle of your religion without getting rid of your god, but we can neutralize it as much as possible in the political process, which is why we have a better society that our ancestors had and sectarianism is not the problem it used to be for our ancestors.
BTW last time we spoke I asked you the following questions but then the thought plod disappeared them into unness.
What is it you understand that you are supposed to do about doing the will of god on earth as it is in heaven?
How are you going to implement the laws of god’s will as this is political work which needs rulers not servants? Which of god’s laws are you going to put in place and what will you do if they conflict with the laws of your government or your neighbours object to having these laws imposed on them?
What if you disagree with your pastor on his choice of laws to be enacted?
What does it mean when the church down the road from me has a big sign that says that when Jesus returns he will reign on earth?
What role will our democracy have in this?
Do we get to vote Jesus out if he starts to do that stuff again like drowning pigs instead of having a sensible mental health policy or withering to death fruit trees out of season when he has a tantrum, thereby upsetting the rural lobby by causing mass unemployment in the pork and orchards industries?
How do you know that your god didn’t reveal all those things to Mohammad that Mohammad claimed had been revealed to him? You weren’t there with Mohammad. Don’t you just have to take the word of a religious person when they say they have had a revelation?
How can you actually know that they have or haven’t had a revelation?
As you will recall, my claim was that monotheist religion results in totalitarian governance whenever it gets practical political power either directly or through influence.
It does this by having god’s laws made the laws of the land.
My claim is not that it results in greater totalitarianism than the ideology it is supplanting. I have no obligation to show that Christianity resulted in greater levels of totalitarianism. Just being totalitarian is enough.
You have misrepresented me again by alleging my claim is about an increase in totalitarianism. I am claiming no such thing. That claim is your responsibility and you made it directly after quoting my claim about totalitarianism. (see your comment of Oct 12th at 5.57pm) I made no mention of “more” in my claim, though there is evidence to show that in this instance, totalitarian Christian Rome was more intolerant and totalitarian than Pagan Rome. Either way it is totalitarian, which is my claim. I don’t mind arguing the toss with your claim that Christian Rome was merely the same level of totalitarianism as Pagan Rome; but it is not part of my claim. It is a misrepresentation of my claim which you have been repeating.
On the basis of my claim, you have agreed with me that when Christianity got that political power via the Roman empire, it continued with totalitarian business as usual as you correctly note.
And monotheism continued on that way til the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Second Enlightenment forced monotheism out of the corridors of power in the West and secular institutions of varying amounts of democracy took over. There are libraries with history books listing the despots across the planet over the past 1,500 years who were morally bankrolled by monotheism just as they have the histories of those equally obnoxious secular authoritarian despots. Listing them here is pointless.
To say I gave no examples of my claim is another misrepresentation as there were five specific ones for you to play with – Christian Rome (where you have agreed with me), the Puritan colonies in the US, the Papal states and Iran and Taliban Afghanistan. To say that is none is rubbish.
And you are not dealing with the top down political structure of monotheism either.
If your idea was correct then Theodosius would have become a lovely guy leading a regime tolerant of diversity and into equality and liberty as he was morally propped up and guided by Christianity, the alleged creator of equality. This didn’t happen.
This is because Christianity’s political structure is organized from the top down and is authoritarian so it appeals to dictators as a form of social control be they secular or religious, by putting the most intimidating of cops on the ground and in the head of those they want submission from. A top down structure also leads to increased corruption and immorality as there is no accountability or transparency.
It is no coincidence that the left and right wing dictatorships of the 20th century were mostly in countries that had the most authoritarian forms of Christianity.
Christian nations became comparatively good when they embraced secular liberal democracy as an ordering principle and both secularists and asecularists developed that to the SHLSD we have now. It’s the change in ordering principle that is important here and the democratic style of the ordering principle that was changed to.
Do take care with those hard mineral things in your hand. You are in an authoritarian ordering principle greenhouse and they are quite small, whether they are secular or religious, and the glass is very close. The greenhouse of SHLSD is way way bigger and the glass is much more difficult to reach and has been steadily moving further away since the secular liberal democrats first started us on this trajectory by stripping the despots of their divinely ordained rights.
Look out, here comes plo…….
Buzz, as you know, you claim back in August was that theism “leads to” totalitarian government (“your theism is obnoxious authoritarianism that always leads to totalitarian governance whenever Theism gets practical political power.”). This is about something that wasn’t present prior – or at least not to the same extent. That is what I was asking about. I am free to ask anything I like, which I did. I asked: “I am sure you will be able to find some good, unambiguous examples of where a political regime turned Christian and, as a clear result, the state was more totalitarian than it was before.”
You could have refused. You could have told me that you don’t really believe this. But you didn’t. You agreed to provide evidence of this: Saying “Back to your request of an example of a regime becoming Christian and becoming more totalitarian” and then moving on in your attempt to provide examples (although you slightly distorted the request: I didn’t ask for “an example,” I asked for examples – multiple and clear.
You tried with your example. You failed because you didn’t provide the evidence of what I was asking for. And then after I had pointed this out, you suddenly say this: “My claim is not that it results in greater totalitarianism than the ideology it is supplanting. I have no obligation to show that Christianity resulted in greater levels of totalitarianism. Just being totalitarian is enough.”
First, you said that my theism leads to totalitarianism. This is a claim about something that wasn’t there before. Second, I can ask whatever I like, and you made no complaint when I asked. You were eager, because you thought you could provide examples. Now it’s clear that you can’t, so suddenly you are no longer willing to claim that my theism makes things worse in terms of totalitarianism.
Very well, concession accepted. We are therefore done. Thanks Buzz.
Glenn and Jeremy
On a separate issue, and back to the thread topic – the divisiveness in the public square.
What about those blasphemy laws? They are divisive are they not because that is what they are designed to be?
Do you think blasphemy laws are divisive? If they are, should they be abolished for the good of the public square? Or do you think religion should have a special status in the public square and have special laws?
Like Matthew said – Ye shall know them by their fruit.
No Glenn, we are not done. You cannot change the meaning of someone else’s claim like that. And there are still these issues of the top down authoritarian political structure of your ordering principle.
Glenn says “This is about something that wasn’t present prior – or at least not to the same extent…you said that my theism leads to totalitarianism. This is a claim about something that wasn’t there before.”
No it isn’t and it isn’t about “more” totalitarian. This is an examination of monotheism’s political record as an ordering principle. The starting point here is the political application of monotheism and the end result of that is that that application leads to totalitarian governance. It doesn’t matter what kind of regime was there before. The starting point is not the ideology that was in place before.
My claim does not imply that there wasn’t totalitarianism there before. Theism is not the only ideology that leads to totalitarian governance when it gains practical political power. Fascism and Communism are secular ideologies that lead to such governance when they take over, regardless of whether they take over from another authoritarian ideology or a democratic one. Christian Rome taking over from Pagan Rome is an example of one and the when the Karzai government falls after the west leaves Afghanistan, as we must do, and the Taliban take over again, that will be an example of the other, as is the Wiemar Republic falling to Fascism.
You can ask me for a million examples of theist regimes becoming “more” totalitarian, but I don’t have to give you any as that is not my claim. But you got an example anyway and it is the big one that set the conditions for all the Christian despots to come after it.
When I did give you an example to follow your tangent, you agreed with me that Christian Rome was totalitarian, ie the political application of Christianity in Rome lead to totalitarian governance. In this case it was a continuance of totalitarianism but the point is that Christianity didn’t bring in a change to equality, tolerance and democracy. When Christianity politically took over Greece, it did not lead to equality, tolerance and a rebirth of democracy. I don’t consider 1,500 years to be an acceptable lead up time.
Blogs go off in tangents and I was happy to follow your tangent as IMO Christian Rome was more totalitarian than Pagan Rome. You appear to think that exterminating your competition is not any worse than brutally neutralizing them. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that but then it is your ordering principle that was doing the exterminating so I guess you are a bit sensitive about it.
It was worthwhile following that tangent of yours as we found some common ground, we agree that Christian Rome was totalitarian, but as you were continuing to go off on what is a tangent to me I brought that to your attention as you had already agreed with me on my claim. It doesn’t need to be “more totalitarian” for it to be unacceptable as an ordering principle.
Before embracing LD, the Christian nations were just as comparatively bad, tribal, belligerent, intolerant and lacking in peace on earth and good will to all, as other authoritarian tribal and national groups.
The development of LD into SHLSD over the past three centuries has created an ordering principle that is far superior to monotheism and has produced a better type of society that is more prosperous, more peaceful, more harmonious, more tolerant and more desirable to live in than anything monotheism has produced while a political ordering principle. And liberal democracy has done this in a far shorter space of time than Christianity failed to do it in. Monotheism’s great failure is its inability to harmonize its moral and its political values. It’s locked into a despotic political structure that reflects its origins.
Change? I merely asked a question and evaluated the answer. Take care, Buzz.
Your evaluation was wrong.
But the digression was worthwhile as you did agree with the observed fact that Christianity delivered/resulted in/led to/produced/continued totalitarianism the first time it got practical political power.
You asked a question and you got an answer and I got data.
I asked some questions and got no answers, which can also be used as data.
As St Matthew would say, I found it a fruitful discussion.
Oh dear, Buzz. We have already agreed, you and I, that Christianity did not “lead to” the totalitarianism of Rome, because we agreed that totalitarianism was already present. We have also agreed together that the totalitarianism of the Roman Empire was not the “result” of Christianity, it was present already. All of this, of course, would make anyone wonder why you think that it was Christianity that perpetuated the totalitarianism of Rome. Surely the more natural explanation is that it was Imperial Rome that perpetuated totalitarianism, whether Christianity was present or not. I did note some humanitarian reform – which you, of course, laughed off and suggested that I was calling the emperor a “nice guy.” You were never, ever interested in scrutinising your stereotypes, as shown by your insistence in repeating what you said before in spite of the failed attempt to support it with evidence.
The point is, you’re simply re-describing the facts that were noted as being different than they are. Sorry, your claim was found unsupported (and indeed, your universal claim was found to be based on one example, with a few other very vague allusions thrown in). You were regurgitating a stereotype. I have no interest in giving your claim a re-trial, and going all revisionist about our previous discussion is not going to goad me into doing so.
Tut tut, Glenn
Your evaluation is still wrong. No, we have not agreed that Christianity did not “lead to” that. It’s clear we are using different meanings of “lead to” which is why I clarified my use of it and gave you alternate words to also clarify my use.
What we agree on is that the Christian Roman empire was not the first totalitarian Roman state. Christian Rome was a totalitarian state and using semantics does not get around this unpleasant historical fact – the political application of Christianity did not result in the political appearance of equality and dignity for people as Christianity has a top down authoritarian political structure that fitted perfectly over the similar Pagan political structure. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Ye shall know them by their fruits. The Christian nations of Europe were comparatively authoritarian as any other despotic nations. It took a shift to secular democracy for the political application of moral humanist values across society and government to happen.
The problem for you is that your religion is not internally coherent. It cannot harmonize its moral and political values as they are diametrically opposed to each other. That’s why we don’t let clerics run politics in our countries because they always make a bloody mess of it.
The ordering principle called the will of god has not, does not and cannot produce a mutually peaceful, democratic, prosperous inclusive society of the planet that is socially, economically, environmentally and industrially progressive and enables people to make meaning in their life. The ordering principle that is doing that (though it’s still got some evolving to do yet) is Secular Humanist Green Liberal Social Democracy using the scientific method.
And we started on this path when Europeans of various religious views and none, threw the kings and clerics out of the seats of power and started establishing secular liberal democracy, using Pagan Greek ideas as their political base. For over a thousand years, Christian inspired and supported despotism had created a bloody mess. And people had finally had enough of your ordering principle ordering them around and creating a bloody mess. Meet the new boss, rather different from the old boss and vastly superior to the old boss.
You are not honestly scrutinizing the political results of your religion. Here in the West, we measure an ordering principle by the freedom of thought and politics it delivers to its citizens. Your religion has been tried for sixteen centuries and has failed in this. Secularism in the form of evolving liberal democracy is succeeding so much better in three centuries than religion in sixteen that there is no comparison.
The Christian nations only became comparatively good when they embraced a secular ordering principle using values that are not the unique creation of Christianity or the creation of Christianity at all.
I did not suggest you were calling the emperor a “nice guy”, I said “If your idea was correct then Theodosius would have become a lovely guy leading a regime tolerant of diversity and into equality and liberty as he was morally propped up and guided by Christianity, the alleged creator of equality. This didn’t happen. Rome became worse than its Pagan past or in your view, it was just as totalitarian under Christian guidance as it was under Pagan guidance. This totalitarianism continued for another thousand years (or more in some places) and Christianity was in no hurry to bring in the ideas of equality that it had allegedly created.”
I did note some more extreme persecution of the extermination variety as Christianity kicked in but you didn’t seem bothered by that.
It is not stereotyping or goading to present the historical political reality of your preferred ordering principle. The secularism of our form of democracy has succeeded where your religion has failed. As Walter Brennan used to say “That’s no brag, just fact…
Thank you for sharing your opinion, Buzz. I scanned it and noted that there’s nothing new (and certainly no evidence) in it. I think this can draw to a close now, and your comment above can be the last.
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