Dr. Os Guinness is a popular Christian writer now living in Britain. He is a sociology professor who converted to Christianity while in college. His earliest work was published by Intervarsity Christian Press and titled, The Dust of Death in which he critiqued Eastern religions as well as all the secular alternatives to Christianity from existentialism to drugs. Two weeks ago he spoke at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. and I was there to hear what he had to say. I had read his book, The Dust of Death, during my college years when I was a Christian, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet the author and hear if there had been any new developments in Osʼs view of the world since then. The lecture appeared to be a recap of the book in which he explained why he thought evangelical exclusivistic Christianity was superior to all other religions and philosophies. He began by emphasizing the involvement of Christian men and women in fighting slavery and supporting womanʼs rights. He then said how important it was to be a serious seeker and not simply browse when it comes to finding meaning in life and how important it was that life have meaning.
He made many additional statements during the lecture: Only Christianity provides a sufficient basis for “truth,” and “reality.” Christianity and/or Christian nations brought us democracy (implied). Hinduism and Buddhism are pessimistic faiths that teach endless reincarnations and a final extinguishing of the soul. Only Christianity gives one true hope. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all monotheistic exclusivistic religions. (But Dr. Guinness apparently believes that his exclusivistic Christianity is the one “true” exclusivistic religion.) Only Christianity allows a person to truly recognize and name “absolute evil” when they see it. Secularism is the most totalitarian faith on earth. Atheism killed millions during our century. The Inquisition was incompatible with Jesusʼs New Testament teachings. The famed British Christian convert, Malcolm Muggeridge, once attempted suicide by swimming out to sea but could not drown himself, and had to swim back toward the lights of “home” on the shoreline. Another Christian poet or thinker believed that dandelions proved the existence of God and/or Godʼs beneficence [though that statement made me wonder a bit what was “proved” by hookworms and flesh-eating bacteria. — Ed.]
Dr. Guiness also mentioned the poet W. H. Audenʼs conversion to Christianity. [Though Guiness did not inform his audience that Auden is also quoted as having said quite a number of things that wouldnʼt necessarily sit well with your average group of evangelical Christians. For instance Auden said, “What answer to the meaning of existence should one require beyond the right to exercise oneʼs gifts?” and, “The only reason the Protestants and Catholics have given up the idea of universal domination is because theyʼve realized they canʼt get away with it.”
- W. H. Auden, in Alan Arisen, ed., The Table-Talk of W. H. Auden (1990), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations)
Dr. Guinness wound up his lecture by emphasizing that his God was a God of love who answered the cries for freedom of Israelite slaves in Egypt; and added that he “really” and “truly” believed, and his belief was satisfying, fulfilling and meaningful. He added that in one language the word “faith” is represented by a lion leaping upon its prey and devouring it with teeth and claws. And that was apparently the kind of faith he wished to instill in us all.
Before reviewing Dr. Guinnessʼs lecture, I should explain that I once was an exclusivistic evangelical Christian during my high school and college years and president of the foremost evangelical Christian group on my campus. I had the kind of faith that “devours” its prey whole. I sought the truth of the Bible and of Christianity eagerly, honestly, and with an open heart, soul and mind, and did not shirk from sharing that truth with others “in season and out of season” as the evangelist Paul commanded. But after years of study and struggle, I felt more open and honest admitting that my faith did not truly provide me with “proof” of the superiority of the exclusivistic doctrines and dogmas of the Christianity that Dr. Guinness espouses.
Of course if I had one question for Dr. Guinness it would be how he can manage to talk so much about “truth” but not get down to the nitty gritty of confronting the multitudinous questions that come easily to mind whenever “the truth of the Bible” is brought up in scholarly circles. Lewis and Chesterton, two of Guinnessʼs icons of Christian “truth telling” (or perhaps icons of Christian “truth selling”) also acknowledged that they were but amateurs when it came to a serious study of the Bible and the host of questions it raised. But leaving the big question of “the truth of the Bible” aside, letʼs look at the many questions that Guinnessʼs lecture statements raised in my mind. Neither shall I be brief in my discussion, if only to assure him and others of own desire as a “genuine seeker” to uncover the full “truth” and many “sides” to each of his statements. I shall concentrate in particular on 10 major items in his speech, each listed numerically below from 1) to 10).
Abbreviated Contents Of This Review
Though “secularism” appeared to rankle Dr. Guinness… ➤
I agree with Dr. Guinness that many of slaveryʼs opponents during the 18th and 19th centuries were Christians. Though for centuries the majority of Christianity found nothing particularly wrong with the institution of slavery… ➤
I think Dr. Guinness simplifies the Womanʼs Movement in America… ➤
Dr. Guinnessʼs dismissal of eastern religions ought to be compared with the interest and appreciation that other devout Christians have shown eastern spirituality… ➤
Guinness pointed out that “atheism has killed millions during our century.” But is it fair to blame all atheists and all forms of atheism for those deaths?
I would also not blame all Christians and all forms of Christianity for what some have done… ➤
And what of earliest Christianity? And its bitter divisions?… ➤
Os Guinness mentioned Malcolm Muggerdigeʼs conversion to Christianity though… ➤
Os Guinness stated that “God is a god of love, who heard the cries of the Israelite slaves in Egypt and freed them.” Though I wouldnʼt exactly say it was “loving” of such a God to kill so many Egyptian babies in the final plague against the Egyptians, especially since such babies had nothing to do with enslaving the Hebrews. Nor… ➤
My impression of lecturers on the Christian circuit (or lecturers on any similarly doctrinaire ideological circuits) remains similar to something that Robert Anton Wilson once wrote me in a letter… ➤
(Followed by the worldʼs longest “sig” line)
Though “secularism” appeared to rankle Dr. Guinness, he did not seem averse to offering bottles of “free Guinness” (non-alcoholic of course) to help promote his lecture, nor was he the least bit disturbed at having a Christian rock group open for him, or have the Mere Christianity group hawk its t-shirt prior to his lecture. Three cheers for secularism Iʼd say! (Need I add that if it wasnʼt for a host of scientists who happened to be either lapsed churchgoers, heretics, apostates, infidels, agnostics, or atheists, and their successes in the fields of agricultural and medical science, hundreds of millions would have starved to death or suffered innumerable diseases this past century. Those agricultural and medical scientists “multiplied more loaves of bread” and “prevented/healed more diseases” in the past hundred years than Christianity has in the past two thousand. Florence Nightingale, the woman who made nursing a legitimate profession, disdained institutionalized religion and its sectarian hospitals in which the sick of other religious sects or creeds were either not permitted entrance, or not permitted to see the clergy person of their own sect. She also burned for the love of another woman per her own letters. The founder of the International Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay. The founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, was a freethinking universalist. And Helen Keller, the blind and deaf woman who proved an inspiration to sufferers of severe disabilities, was both a member of New Yorkʼs First Secular Humanist Society (along with Einstein), and also a Swedenborgian!)
I agree with Dr. Guinness that many of slaveryʼs opponents during the 18th and 19th centuries were Christians. Though for centuries the majority of Christianity found nothing particularly wrong with the institution of slavery. Nor does the Bible declare “slavery” to be a “sin,” but rather it says that the master is worthy of all honor, and obedient slaves please God, and the slave is “his masterʼs money.” It was only after the age of Enlightenment that people like Thomas Paine spoke out boldly against slavery, and other Enlightenment thinkers did as well, not just Christians. Atheistic (Napoleonic) France was the first country in Europe to free slaves from its colonies (though that initial experiment ended in disaster). Even “infidel” thinkers in Britain argued forcefully that slave labor was not as productive as free labor. And interestingly enough, when Britainʼs leading anti-slavery crusader, Wilberforce, came to the U.S. to lecture on abolition, not a single church in the U.S. would let him use their pulpit to preach in, instead an abolitionist freethinker in Massachusetts had to secure a secular platform for that Christian!
“It is certainly true that the campaign against slavery and the slave trade was greatly strengthened by [some] Christian [individuals], including the Evangelical layman William Wilberforce in England and the Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing in America. But Christianity, like other great world religions, lived comfortably with slavery for many centuries, and slavery was endorsed in the New Testament. So what was different for antislavery Christians like Wilberforce and Channing? There had been no discovery of new sacred scriptures, and neither Wilberforce nor Channing claimed to have received any supernatural revelations. Rather the eighteenth century has seen a widespread increase in rationality and humanitarianism, which led others - for instance, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan [and Thomas Paine in America] - also to oppose slavery, on grounds having nothing to do with religion. Lord Mansfield, the author of the decision in Somersettʼs Case, which ended slavery in England (though not its colonies), was no more than conventionally religious, and his decision did not mention religious arguments. Although Wilberforce was the instigator of the campaign against the slave trade in the 1790s, this movement had essential support from many in Parliament like Fox and Pitt, who were not known for their piety. As far as I can tell, the moral tone of religion benefited more from the spirit of the times than the spirit of the times benefited from religion….Where religion did make a difference, it was more in support of slavery than in opposition to it. Arguments from scripture were used in Parliament to defend the slave trade.”
- Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?” New York Review of Books, Oct. 21, 1999
“English North Americans embraced slavery because they were Christians, not in spite of it…In the 1700s, defenders of slavery among men of the cloth were far more numerous than opponents… The involvement of northern denominations and congregations [in the anti-slavery movement] was virtually nonexistent. It is not an exaggeration to assert that the clergyman or church member who marched with the abolitionists did so in spite of his denominational connection, not because of it. The antislavery movement [in both the U.S. and in Britain] owed much of its impetus to the efforts of individuals [who were often considered radicals or fanatics]…Harriet Beecher Stoweʼs enormously popular anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tomʼs Cabin (1852) was written in reaction to her denominationʼs acquiescence to the practice of slavery.”
- Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth
“Britain abolished slavery peacefully in 1833, but in the United States these disputes over slavery brought Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists to schism by 1845, and encouraged the fratricidal Civil War that finally resolved that crisis. One of the chief ironies of the conflict over slavery was the confrontation of Americaʼs largest Protestant denominations with the hitherto unthinkable idea that the Bible could be divided against itself. But divided it had been by intractable theological, political, and economic forces. Never again would the Bible completely recover its traditional authority in American culture.”
- Stephen A. Marini, “Slavery and the Bible,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, ed. by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Jefferson Davis And The Southʼs View Of Slavery As Established And Sanctioned By God
Jefferson Davis, the leader of the South during the American Civil War, boasted, “It [slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts…Let the gentleman go to Revelation to learn the decree of God - let him go to the Bible…I said that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, authorized, regulated, and recognized from Genesis to Revelation… Slavery existed then in the earliest ages, and among the chosen people of God; and in Revelation we are told that it shall exist till the end of time shall come [Rev. 6:15; 13:16; 19:18]. You find it in the Old and New Testaments - in the prophecies, psalms, and the epistles of Paul; you find it recognized, sanctioned everywhere.”
- Dunbar Rowland, Jefferson Davis, Vol. 1
“Davisʼs defenses of slavery are legion, as in his speech to Congress in 1848, “If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.” After 1856, Davis reiterated in most of his public speeches that he was “tired” of apologies for “our institution.” “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
- William E. Dodd, Jefferson Davis
After being elected President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said, “My own convictions as to Negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the Negro as God and Godʼs Book and Godʼs Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him - our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the Negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”
- Kenneth C. Davis, Donʼt Know Much About the Civil War: Everything You Need to Know About Americaʼs Greatest Conflict But Never Learned]
When the Confederate states drew up their constitution, they added something that the colonial founders had voted to leave out, namely, an invocation of the Deity. The Southʼs proud new constitution began: “We, the people…invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.”
- Charles Robert Lee, Jr., The Confederate Constitutions
Southern clergymen and politicians argued that the South was more “Christian” than the North, it was the “Redeemer Nation.”
- Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood, 1980
“With secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern clergymen boldly proclaimed that the Confederacy had replaced the United States as Godʼs chosen nation.”
- Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South]
The Old School (Presbyterian) General Assembly report of 1845 concluded that slavery was based on “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.” Those who took this position were conservative evangelicals. Among their number were the best conservative theologians and exegetes of their day, including, Robert Dabney, James Thornwell and the great Charles Hodge of Princeton - fathers of twentieth century Evangelicalism and of the modern expression of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. No one can really appreciate how certain these evangelicals were that the Bible endorsed slavery, or of the vehemence of their argumentation unless something from their writings is read.
- Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Argument for Slavery,” The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1, 1994
The Clergy Played A Pivotal Role In Promoting Secession
Southern clergymen spoke openly and enthusiastically on behalf of disunion… Denominational groups across the South officially endorsed secession and conferred blessings on the new Southern nation. Influential denominational papers from the Mississippi Baptist to the Southern Episcopalian, the Southern Presbyterian and the South Western Baptist, agreed that secession “must be effected at any cost, regardless of consequences,” and “secession was the only consistent position that Southern freemen or Christians could occupy.” (One amusing anecdote tells how a prominent member of a Southern Presbyterian church told his pastor that he would quit the church if the pastor did not pray for the Union. Unmoved by this threat, the pastor replied that “our church does not believe in praying for the dead!”)
Meanwhile, Northern clergymen blamed their Southern counterparts for “inflaming passions,” “adding a feeling of religious fanaticism” to the secessionist controversy, and also blamed them for being “the strongest obstacle in the way of preserving the Union.” In this way, the Northern clergy contributed to the belief in an irrepressible conflict, and aroused the same kind of political passions they were condemning in their Southern brethren… One Southern sermon that had “a powerful influence in converting Southern sentiments to secession,” and which was republished in several Southern newspapers and distributed in tens of thousands of individual copies, was Reverend Benjamin B. Palmerʼs sermon, “Slavery a Divine Trust: Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It,” delivered soon after Lincolnʼs election in 1860. According to Palmer that election had brought “one issue before us” which had created a crisis that called forth the guidance of the clergy. That issue was “slavery.” Palmer insisted that “the South defended the cause of all religion and truth…We defend the cause of God and religion,” while abolitionism was “undeniably atheistic.” Palmer was incensed at the platform of Lincolnʼs political party that promised to constrain the practice of slavery within certain geographical limits instead of allowing it to expand into Americaʼs Western territories. Therefore, the South had to secede in order to protect its providential trust of slavery…When Union armies reached Reverend Palmerʼs home state, a Union general placed a price on his head, because as some said, the Reverend had done more than “any other non-combatant in the South to promote rebellion.” Thomas R. R. Cobb, an official of the Confederate government, summed up religionʼs contribution to the fervor and ferment of those times with these words, “This revolution (the secessionist cause) has been accomplished mainly by the Churches.”
- Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion (See also Edward R. Crowtherʼs Southern Evangelists and the Coming of the Civil War)
The Southern Presbyterian Church resolved in 1864 (while the Civil War was still being fought): “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.” The Church also insisted that it was “unscriptural and fanatical” and “one of the most pernicious heresies of modern times” to accept the dogma that slavery was inherently sinful. At least one slave responded to such theological resolutions with one of his own: “If slavery ainʼt a sin, then nothing is.”
To judge by the hundreds of sermons and specially composed church prayers that have survived on both sides, ministers were among the most fanatical of the combatants from beginning to end. The churches played a major role in dividing the nation, and it may be that the splits in the churches made a final split in the nation possible. In the North, such a charge was often willingly accepted. Granville Moddy, a Northern Methodist, boasted in 1861, “We are charged with having brought about the present contest. I believe it is true we did bring it about, and I glory in it, for it is a wreath of glory round our brow.” Southern clergymen did not make the same boast but of all the various elements in the South they did the most to make a secessionist state of mind possible. Southern clergymen were particularly responsible for prolonging the increasingly futile struggle. Both sides claimed vast numbers of “conversions” among their troops and a tremendous increase in churchgoing and “prayerfulness” as a result of the fighting.
- Paul Johnson, A History of the American People
Other “results of the fighting” that clergymen were not nearly as boastful about included tremendous outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among both northern and southern troops who took time out from their fighting and prayers to visit women who attended to the troopsʼ less than holy concerns.
Americaʼs “Holy War”
The Crusades aside, Civil War armies were perhaps the most religious in history. Troops who were not especially religious prior to the war often found comfort in religion when faced with the horrific reality of combat. Those who had held strong religious beliefs before they went into battle usually found their faith strengthened. One southerner reflected that “we are feeble instruments in the hands of the Supreme Power,” while his northern counterpart believed that he was “under the same protecting aegis of the Almighty here as elsewhere. It matters not, then,” he concluded, “where I may be the God of nature extends his protecting wing over me.” … Religion, specifically the Protestant religion, went to the very heart of the American experience in the nineteenth century. Both northerners and southerners were used to expressing themselves via religious metaphors and Scriptural allusions. Once war broke out, both sides saw themselves as Christian armies, and the war itself served to reinforce this… The Confederate soldier, in particular, was encouraged to equate the cause of the Confederacy with the cause of Christ, by the efforts of religious journals such as The Army and Navy Messenger and The Soldierʼs Friend, many of which began publication after 1863. The Messenger advised southern troops as late as 1864 that the Confederacy was “fighting not only for our country but our God. This identity inspires our hope and establishes our confidence. It has become for us a holy war, and each fearful and bloody battle an act of awful and solemn worship.” In the same year, The Soldierʼs Paper reminded its readership, “The blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church, the blood of our heroes is the seed of liberty.” According to the Mississippi Messenger, the Civil War was no more nor less than “.the ordering of Godʼs Providence, which forbids the permanent union of heterogeneous nations.” The southern soldier responded to such arguments, and took them to heart. Even after the fall of Atlanta, an artillery lieutenant from Alabama could not “believe that our Father in Heaven intends that we shall be subjugated by such a race of people as the Yankees.”… Northern soldiers too, were encouraged to find Scriptural justification for the Union cause, particularly over the matter of slavery. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Julia Ward Howe composed the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was set to the tune of “John Brownʼs Body.” Union troops needed little encouragement to sing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” nor to reassure themselves that as Christ “died to make men holy, let us die to make men free / While God is marching on.”
- Susan-Mary Grant, “For God and Country: Why Men Joined Up For the US Civil War,” History Today, Vol. 50, No. 7, July 2000, pp. 24-25
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in the Civil War, more than the combined number of all the American soldiers who died in every other war from the Revolutionary War through two World Wars, right up to the Gulf War. (Admittedly, diarrhea killed more Civil War soldiers than were killed in battle. But then, influenza killed more World War I soldiers than were killed in battle.) Neither is there any doubt among historians that religion played a larger role in the Civil War than in those others. And neither is there any doubt that the last time Jefferson Davis walked out of Washington, Jefferson Davis was pleading for was the expansion of slavery into the new western territories recently acquired by the U.S. government. Davis wanted a line drawn through those territories making all the states below that line “slave states.” But Lincoln had been elected on the promise that none of the new western territories would include slave states. So, Jefferson walked out and formed the Southern secessionist government. Of course all three of the major Southern Christian denominations had ALREADY seceded from their northern brethren over the question of whether or not a minister ought to own slaves. So the southern Christian churches led the way for secession and argued vigorously in its behalf.
I think Dr. Guinness simplifies the Womanʼs Movement in America, as if to say it was all due to Christian influences, But the Womanʼs Movement included a number freethinking female leaders, including one who wrote “The Womanʼs Bible,” which criticized the “Judeo-Christian scriptures.” And the majority of churches were not in favor of the womenʼs movement. Nor were the majority of churches in favor of child labor laws.
Dr. Guinnessʼs dismissal of eastern religions ought to be compared with the interest and appreciation that other devout Christians have shown eastern spirituality. I am speaking of people like C. S. Lewisʼs long time friend and fellow convert at Oxford, Bede Griffiths http://www.bedegriffiths.com/bio.htm, whose spiritual journey took him to India where he founded a Christian-Hindu ashram and dialogued and meditated with Hindus and later defended misunderstandings and pigeon-holing of their beliefs and practices, even against Catholic statements warning people away from eastern religions. For instance when the Catholic CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) warned that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and human kind, Griffiths responded in the National Catholic Reporter, “As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, ‘You who were far off, he has brought near — not kept distant — in the blood of Christ.’ Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, ‘I am the vine,’ he says, ‘you are the branches.’ How can the branches be ‘distant’ from the vine?” … The CDF also warned, “We must never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation.” To which Griffiths responded, “It is God who has already places us there. Jesus says, ‘I have not called you servant, but friends.’ And to show what such friendship mean, he prays for his disciples, ‘that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.’” Griffiths was also one of C. S. Lewisʼs most prolific and long-time correspondents, and Griffiths even got Lewis to admit, “Even more disturbing as you [Griffiths] say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lordʼs time - ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!). I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse…Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.” [C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewisʼ death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.]
Devout Christians, like Dom Bede Griffiths, as well as Thomas Merton, and others, have found deep heartfelt correspondences between Eastern and Western spirituality love and humility. Hereʼs some suggested reading for those interested in making a few deeper comparisons between Eastern and Western spiritualities, even between Christian agape and Buddhist karnua (compassion):
The Courage of Conviction: Thirty-Three Prominent Men and Women Reveal Their Beliefs - And How They Put Those Beliefs Into Practice, edited by Phillip L. Berman (the beliefs and convictions of Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, Andrew Greeley, Harold Kushner, et al.)
Once-Born Twice-Born Zen by Conrad Hyers (about a school of Zen Buddhism whose descriptions of “satori” resemble being “born again”).
The Inner Eye of Love by Robert Johnson (a Catholic in Japan compares Christian agape love with Buddhist karnua compassion; and compares devotion to Christ with devotion to the compassionate Amida Buddha).
The Marriage of East and West, and, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God by Dom Bede Griffiths (a Catholic who founded a Christian-Hindu ashram in India, who was also a close friend of C. S. Lewis, talks about his inter-religious discoveries).
The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit by Conrad Hyers (the universality of comedic grace in the worldʼs religions is the theme of many of Hyersʼ works). Furthermore, though the exclusivistic Christian “world” view of Os Guinness leaves no room for Hinduism, yet for millions of devout Hindus there remains room for Christianity and Christʼs divinity. Hinduism in that sense encompasses a wider range of faith than Christianity. There are even what one might call “fundamentalist” Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, “What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?” Campbell answered, “The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic.” “Yes,” said the Indian gentleman, “I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas.” Itʼs obvious that the study of the worldʼs holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in “Vedic believing” Hindus, “Koran believing” Moslems, and “Bible believing” Christians (like Guinness). So there is nothing “unique” about “Bible believing” Christians in that respect. Furthermore, there are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, “Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus.” (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.) There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples than by stories of Jesus and his disciples. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, “The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics…The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively ‘base’ desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.].” To such Buddhists, “Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant.” Oddly enough, one version of the Buddhaʼs life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the “prince” who “lived in India” was named “Josaphat,” and he was a “Great Renouncer.” Research into the origins of “Saint Josaphat,” revealed that the Latin name, “Josaphat,” was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name “Ioasaph” was used, which came from the Arabic “Yudasaf,” which came from the Manichee “Bodisaf,” which came from “Bodhisattva” in the original story of the Buddha. (A “Bodhisattva” is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butlerʼs Lives of the Saints. Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesusʼ teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.) Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, “sainthood” is a phenomenon common to all the worldʼs religions. Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Os Guinness is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors. Also interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. But the very next year the winner was A HINDU, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and SOCIAL ACTIVISM was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting Indiaʼs poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.
Guinness pointed out that “atheism has killed millions during our century.” But is it fair to blame all atheists and all forms of atheism for those deaths? I would also not blame all Christians and all forms of Christianity for what some have done.) Though as Eric Hoffer pointed out in The True Believer, the same types of people, most people in fact, share similar reasons, similar psychological needs and fears, that help explain why they are drawn to enthusiastic mass movements from Christianity and Islam to communism and fascism, as well as being attracted to alpha male leaders preaching certainty in ages of uncertainty. I would further add that we have no evidence what the ages of faith would have been like had the Christian rulers in line with the Pope and Martin Luther, not to mention Muslim rulers as well, had all been blessed with the mass-produced weapons of the 20th century: tons of bullets, tons of guns, heavy artillery, planes, bombers, mines, grenades, gas, barbed wire, and industrial advances aplenty to make more weapons in factories and to move armed men round the globe and stay in communication with them. We truly donʼt know what might have transpired if such a world have existed during the Great Ages of Faith in Europe. But even WITHOUT such weapons, we do know something about what DID happen back then. Christian Europe became a wasteland of war…Here are some quotations…. Including one expert who claims that one religious war in Europe in particular was “the worst thus far in European history.”
The Thirty Yearsʼ War was the last great religious war in Europe. Starting as a civil war between Protestants and Catholics in Germany, it burst into flame in 1618 when Protestants in Prague stormed the royal palace and threw the [Catholic] governors out the window (they landed on a pile of manure and survived). Shocked, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II sent troops into Prague to force all Protestants into exile, leading the Protestant king of Denmark, Christian IV, to attack Ferdinand in Saxony. The battle then raged through France, Germany, and Sweden with nations and religious groups fighting a long series of battles over both territory and theology.
- Jerry MacGregor & Marie Prys, 1001 Surprising Things You Should Know About Christianity
The underlying causes of this devastating, general European war were conflicts of religion: Protestant verses Roman Catholic reform, pluralistic tolerance versus arbitrary imposition of faith, Lutheranism and Calvinism and the Protestant Union versus the Catholic League.
- George Childs Kohn, “Thirty Yearsʼ War” (1618-48), Dictionary of Wars, rev. ed.
By the division of Christianity at the Reformation, religious authority itself became the cause of conflict. The Protestant states thereafter rejected the right of the Universal Church to judge their actions, while the Catholic states took that rejection as grounds to make war against them in clear conscience. The outcome was the Thirty Years War, The Worst Thus Far In European History, which may have killed a third of the German-speaking peoples and left Central Europe devastated for much of the seventeenth century.
- John Keegan, War and Our World (the Reith Lectures, 1998, broadcast on the BBC, recorded at the Royal Institution, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Kingʼs College, London)
Herbert Langer in The Thirty Yearsʼ War, says that more than one quarter of Europeʼs population died as a result of those thirty years of slaughter, famine and disease. Ironically, the majority of Europeans who killed each other shared such orthodox Christian beliefs as Jesusʼs deity, the Trinity, and even “creationism.” So you cannot blame the horrific spectacle of the Thirty Yearsʼ War on modern day scapegoats like atheism, humanism or the theory of evolution. Such a war demonstrates that getting nations to agree on major articles of faith does not ensure peace. Far from it. Some of the most intense rivalries exist between groups whose beliefs broadly resemble one another but differ in subtle respects.
“There was a time [during the Reformation] when religion played an all-powerful role in European politics with Protestants and Catholics organizing themselves into political factions and squandering the wealth of Europe on sectarian wars. English liberalism emerged in direct reaction to the religious fanaticism of the English Civil War. Contrary to those who at the time believed that religion was a necessary and permanent feature of the political landscape, liberalism vanquished religion in Europe. After a centuries-long confrontation with liberalism, religion was taught to be tolerant…In the sixteenth century, it would have seemed strange to most Europeans not to use political power to enforce belief in their particular sectarian faith. Today, the idea that the practice of religion other than oneʼs own should injure oneʼs own faith seems bizarre, even to the most pious churchmen. Religion has been relegated to the sphere of private life - exiled, it would seem, more or less permanently from European political life except on certain narrow issues like abortion…Religion per se did not create free societies; Christianity in a certain sense had to abolish itself through a secularization of its goals before liberalism could emerge….Political liberalism in England ended the religious wars between Protestant and Catholic that had nearly destroyed that country during the seventeenth century: with its advent, religion was defanged by being made tolerant.
- Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
And what of earliest Christianity? Itʼs history is not simply that of loving lamb-like Christians caring for their own and for others in the early Roman Empire as Dr. Guinness mentioned in his lecture, but it also included Christian groups using legal means to outlaw one another under penalty of death and banishment, and bloody rioting. Indeed, the story of early Christianity is not much different in this respect than other religions that combined forces with the state in order to become major lasting world faiths.
The first time that “Christians were put to death by other Christians” was under [the first Christian Roman emperor] Constantine. Even during the persecutions of the Romans against the Christians, churches were cleft by rivalry and schism.
- Samuel Laeuchli, The Serpent and the Dove: Five Essays on Early Christianity (New York: Abingdon Press, 1966), p. 48
Constantine [the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity] united the whole Roman Empire under his rule and reigned for twenty-five years. He brought up his sons to be pious Christians, and the last of them reigned for another twenty-five years, having ultimately reunited the empire under his rule. During that half-century the Church had enjoyed imperial protection and paganism had been viewed with disfavor. Christians had been promoted and pagans frowned upon. With only two short-lived exceptions no pagan was to reign as Emperor after Constantine.
- A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe
A spirit of scornful tolerance breathes through not a few of his [Constantineʼs] edicts. As the years passed, toleration of paganism gave place to active repression; the emperor felt that he was strong enough to advance to a frontal attack upon paganism. The important fact to realize, however, is that this alteration in policy entailed no change of spirit, only a change of method. What Constantine would have recommended in 323 he later felt free to proclaim as the imperial will.
- Norman H. Baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church
Constantine banned the construction of new pagan temples, the consulting of oracles, and animal sacrifices. That these decrees were enforced sporadically did not detract from their symbolic value. With the old faith in decline, new converts poured into the Christian churches.
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome
Constantineʼs allegiance to his God was backed by massive patronage. Emperors had always honored their favored gods with benefactions and buildings. Constantineʼs patronage was so lavish that he had to strip resources from pagan temples to fund it. One of his early foundations in Rome was the church of St. John Lateran, whose apse was to be coated in gold. Around 500 pounds of it was needed…Another 3,700 lbs was required for light fittings and another 400 pounds of gold for fifty gold vessels.
- Charles Freeman, “The Emperorʼs State of Grace,” History Today, January 2001
Edward Gibbon On Constantine And The Church
The grateful applause of the clergy has consecrated the memory of a prince, who indulged their passions and promoted their interest. Constantine gave them security, wealth, honors, and revenge; and the support of the orthodox faith was considered as the most sacred and important duty of the civil magistrate. The edict of Milan, the great charter of toleration, had confirmed to each individual of the Roman world the privilege of choosing and professing his own religion. But this inestimable privilege was soon violated: with the knowledge of truth the emperor imbibed the maxims of~persecution; and the sects which dissented from the catholic church were afflicted and oppressed by the triumph of Christianity. Constantine easily believed that the heretics, who presumed to dispute his opinions or to oppose his commands, were guilty of the most absurd and criminal obstinacy; and that a seasonable application of moderate severities might save those unhappy men from the danger of an everlasting condemnation.
- Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 21
The privileges that have been granted in consideration of religion must benefit only the adherents of the Catholic faith. It is Our will moreover, that heretics and schismatics shall not only be alien from these privileges but shall also be bound and subjected to various compulsory public services.
- Letter of Constantine to his Vicar of the Praetorian Prefect, 326 A.D.; as cited in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, Ed., J. Stevenson, newly revised by W. H. C. Frend
The First Ecumenical Church Council At Nicea & The Arian Controversy
From the very first the Church was faced with the task of establishing dogmas. For Christianity abounds in problems more hinted at than answered in the New Testament…The first ecumenical church council, the Council of Nicea, assembled in the year 325 in the imperial palace of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. Once the discussions started the participants threw their Episcopal dignity to the wind and shouted wildly at each other. They were concerned primarily with improving their positions of power. Diplomacy was wielded as a weapon, and intrigues often replaced intelligence. There were so many ignorant bishops that one participant bluntly called the council “a synod of nothing but blockheads.” Constantine, who treated religious questions from a political point of view, assured unanimity by banishing all the bishops who would not sign the new profession of faith hammered out at the council. In this way unity was achieved.
[The Christians at Nicea displayed their shrewd theological insight by condemning and forbidding kneeling at prayer on Sundays and also between Easter and Whitsunday. — E.T.B.] The council also pronounced a Christian theologian named “Arius” to be a heretic. People who owned his writings were ordered to deliver them up on pain of punishment. Arius was banished.
- Walter Nigg, The Heretics
If any treatise composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames, in order that no memorial of him may be by any means left. This therefore I [Constantine] decree, that if any one shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius, and shall not instantly bring it forward and burn it, the penalty for this offence shall be death; for immediately after conviction the criminal shall suffer capital punishment.
- Letter of Constantine To the Bishops and People, c. 333 A.D. in which he proscribed the works of Arius [a Christian] and in which he also proscribed the works of the pagan scholar Porphyry [who had written numerous works that questioned Christianity, all of which were destroyed]; as cited in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, Ed., J. Stevenson, newly revised by W. H. C. Frend
Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in two years [A.D. 342-343, during the Arian controversy] than by all the persecutions of Christians under the Romans during the previous three hundred years.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith
In the century opened by the Peace of the Church [after the first Christian Roman Emperor began his rule], more Christians died for their faith at the hands of fellow Christians than had died before in all the persecutions.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
Arianism, which orthodox Christians now consider the archetypal heresy, was once at least as popular as the doctrine that Jesus is God. Ordinary tradespeople and workers felt perfectly competent — perhaps even driven — to debate abstract theological issues and to arrive at their own conclusions. Disputes among Christians, specifically arguments about the relationship of Jesus Christ the Son to God the Father, had become intense. [p.7]
The anti-Arians demanded that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son. From the perspective of our time it may seem strange to think of Arian “heretics” as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesusʼ humanity and Godʼs transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the [Eastern half of the Roman Empire]. [p.74]
The Great Council of Nicaea was the largest gathering of Christian leaders, up to that time with 250 bishops in attendance, almost all of them from the Eastern Empire. To some extent, this Eastern predominance can be attributed to the westernerʼs lack of interest in the Arian controversy, which still seemed to them an obscure “Greek” matter.
The Council of Nicaea, then, was not universal. Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them, the joint council of Rumini-Seluicie (359), was attended by more than five hundred bishops from both the East and West. If any meeting deserves the title “ecumenical,” that one seems to qualify, but its results — the adoption of an Arian creed — was later repudiated by the Church. Councils whose products were later deemed unorthodox not only lost the “ecumenical” label but virtually disappeared from official Church history. [p.74]
[After the Council of Nicaea, Constantine exiled Arian theologians.] But within three years, Arius, Eusebius, and their fellow exiles would be forgiven by Constantine and welcomed back to the Church. Eusebius would become Constantineʼs closest advisor, and would insist that Athanasius, now bishop of Alexandria, readmit Arius to communion in that city as well. A decade after that, Bishop Athanasius himself was exiled, and Arianism was well on its way to becoming the dominant theology of the Eastern Empire. [p.84]
The Council of Nicaea was the last point at which Christians with strongly opposed theological views acted civilly toward each other. When the controversy began, Arius and his opponents were inclined to treat each other as fellow Christians with mistaken ideas. Constantine hoped that his Great and Holy Council would bring the opposing sides together on the basis of a mutual recognition and correction of erroneous ideas. When these hopes were shattered and the conflict continued to spread, the adversaries were drawn to attack each other not as colleagues in error but as unrepentant sinners: corrupt, malicious, even satanic individuals. [p.84-85]
Athanasiusʼs ambition was endless; and he was very much at home in the “real” world of power relations and political skullduggery. Athanasius would soon be recognized as the anti-Ariansʼ champion. But first, he had to become bishop of Alexandria. [p. 104-105]
Athanasius sent gangs of thuggish supporters into the Melitian Christian district, where they beat and wounded supporters of the Melitian leader, John Arcaph, and, according to Arcaph, burned churches, destroyed church property, imprisoned and even murdered dissident priests. [p. 106]
Constantine ordered a council of bishops to meet in Tyre [concerning charges leveled against Athanasius].Athanasius reacted with desperation. He had his agents terrorize those who might have provided evidence against him and prevented them from leaving the country. The pro-Athanasius bishops who attended the council at Tyre behaved so disruptively that the council later cited their activities as proof of Athanasiusʼs unfitness for office. The debate at the council was stormy, with many witnesses contradicting each otherʼs stories, and much name calling. After weeks of squabbling the bishops decided to send a commission to the region to interview witnesses there and the decide the truth of various accusations. The investigative commission left for Egypt accompanied by a company of imperial troops. For the next two months Egypt was in an uproar. The Athanasians charged that the commission was obtaining evidence by means of threats and torture. The commissioners charged that Athanasiusʼs supporters were intimidating and kidnapping witnesses. By the end of the investigation it was clear that the commissionʼs report would indict Athanasius, who fled the city by night. The Bishops in Tyre condemned Athanasius for specific acts of violence and disobedience. [p.123-125]
When Constantine convened the Great Council of Nicaea, he could not have imagined that the bishops would be meeting almost every year to rule on charges of criminal activity and heresy. Partisan control of these gatherings virtually guaranteed that condemned churchmen would attempt to rehabilitate themselves and punish their enemies by denying the authority of “illegitimate” councils and convening new ones. The emperor probably considered this a temporary problem. Surely, after blatant troublemakers and fanatics like Bishops Athanasius and Marcellus were removed from office, reasonable churchmen could learn to live together despite occasional differences of opinion! But this was to repeat the original mistake made at Nicaea. It was to assume that doctrinal differences among Christians were not that important, that they did not reflect serious divisions of class, culture, and moral values within the community, and that they could be resolved by discovering the correct form of words. [p.133]
[The former exile, Arius, on the eve of being readmitted to membership in the church at Alexandria, was found dead on the floor beside a toilet. Poisoning is one possibility to account for the timing and manner of his passing. However, Athanasius used Ariusʼs death as a public relations opportunity.] He announced that Alexandriaʼs prayers had been answered and “condemned the Arian heresy, showing it to be unworthy of communion with the Church.” Most telling is the language Athanasius uses in describing the manner of Ariusʼs death: “Arius urged by the necessities of nature withdrew, and suddenly in the language of Scripture, ‘falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst,’ and immediately expired as he lay, and was deprived of both communion and of his life together.’” [The Biblical reference is to Acts 1:18 — the manner of death of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.] [p. 137]
[But even after Ariusʼs death, Arianism remained, for there remained other more influential Christian leaders who dominated the movement.] Moreover, another death was of greater consequence than Ariusʼs. The death in question was Emperor Constantineʼs Eusebius [an Arian Bishop] heard the Emperorʼs confession, and administered the last rites. Following Constantineʼs death a decree was made that permitted all exiled bishops to return to their sees.
Athanasius [who was in exile at that time] returned to Alexandria after making a political tour of several provinces. Everywhere he rallied the anti-Arian forces and helped return exiles to power, organized opposition to “heretical” bishops, and intervened actively in local disputes. Violence dogged his steps, since both sides had organized popular support and were quite ready to use angry mobs to expel churchmen they despised or defend friendly incumbents. The result in a number of key cities was something close to civil war. Finally, Athanasius returned to Alexandria where, according to his enemies, ‘he seized the churches by force, by murder, by war.’” [p.141-142]
Soon afterwards a large council of bishops met in Antioch [in 338] to declare that Athanasius had committed new atrocities. The leaders of the church met again in Antioch in the winter of 338-339. With the new Emperor, Constantineʼs son, Constantius in attendance, they convicted Athanasius of violence and mayhem, and ordered him deposed. Warned by his agents, Athanasius fled, and rioting and arson (which had also accompanied his return) erupted across the city. The Church of Dionysius was burned, a number of people on both sides were injured and killed, and fighting even broke out on Easter Sunday in the Church of Quirinius. Several weeks later, the mobs supporting Athanasius had been suppressed, at least for the time being.
What really happened in Alexandria during this stormy month? Athanasius in a letter charged that “Arian madmen” incited pagans, Jews, and “disorderly persons” to attack the faithful, set churches on fire, strip and rape holy virgins, murder monks, desecrate holy places, and plunder the churchesʼ treasures. He presents pictures designed to horrify and madden his readers: Jews, for example, are presented as cavorting naked in the churchesʼ baptismal waters. And, of course, he says nothing about any violence that his own supporters may have offered in his defense or in opposition to the installation of the new bishop.
Athanasius had always had a following in Alexandria, but Arius was also an Alexandrian with his share of supporters. The truth seems to be that in Alexandria and many other cities large groups of militant fighters could be mobilized by both sides, and that both sides made frequent use of them in the confused period following Constantineʼs death. What is most striking is the closeness and bitterness of the conflict in important cities like Constantinople, Antioch, Ancyra, Caesarea, Tyre, and Gaza. [p. 143-144]
But what caused this deep division?.The split between Nicene and Arian Christians seems to reflect a rough division between those more in need of a powerful, just ruler and those more in need of a loving advocate and friend. Neither side in the controversy could afford to turn its back entirely on either image: the Athanasians therefore called Jesus “God from God.” And the Arians called him “a paradigm and an example.” Each side put its primary emphasis on one image while paying lip service to the other, and each side was prey to fears that the other side was aiming to obliterate “its” Jesus. While Athanasians denounced the Arians for lowering Christ to the point that his majesty and saving power would be lost, the Arians accused Athanasius and Marcellus of raising him to the point that his love (and Godʼs majesty) would be lost.
The violence in the Eastern cities ended for the time being with the forcible eviction of major anti-Arian bishops and their exile to the Western half of the Roman Empire. Many were arriving in Rome, where Athanasius had already fled. But the uncalculated efforts of these deportations would be to make the Roman pontiff [the pope] a major participant in the controversy, to embroil the Western bishops, and, finally, to dive a wedge between the Christian churches of the Greek East and the Latin West [which would eventually lead to the Western “Roman Catholic” Church excommunicating the entire Eastern “Orthodox” Church — E.T.B]. [p. 146-147]
[It was at this time that the Emperor Julian “the Apostate,” though raised a Christian, came to power and declared himself a pagan.] He reflected the common peopleʼs distaste for the scandalous disunity of the Church. Christianity had conspicuously failed to bring the empire together or to secure it from enemy attack. As the contemporary historian Ammianus said, “no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.” He deprived the Christian clergy of the special privileges [and tax exemptions] bestowed on them by his predecessors, and also took steps to re-inflame the Arian controversy by permitting Athanasius and other anti-Arians to return from exile. Violence between competing Christian groups broke out almost immediately. Bishop George of the city of Alexandria [and several of his fellows] were killed by a mixed mob of pagans and anti-Arian Christians, his body paraded through the streets on the back of a camel and burned. [p. 195]
In the second century, Christians in the city of Alexandria, inspired by anti-Semitic preaching, had launched one of the earliest riots against the cityʼs Jewish community. Two hundred years later those who called Jesus “Lord” were battling each other in the streets and lynching bishops. By the time bishop George of Alexandria met his grisly death, religious riots had become commonplace throughout the region. [p.6]
[Julian “the Apostate” was killed in battle which led to a string of more Christian Roman Emperors, one of the most intolerant of whom was Theodosius] Theodosius banned Arianism and officially declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.[p.226]
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome
Theodosius passed a decree in 380 A.D. that read: “We shall believe in the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment.”
- J. N. Hillgarth, The Conversion of Western Europe
[During the reign of Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, hereticsʼ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy unbelievers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. [Also during his reign] the bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful builds in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher. Since Arianism was now identified with the “barbarians” who were its main advocates, the remaining Arians within the empire, now split into small, powerless sects, were also fair game for Christian avengers. And the struggle to uproot paganism, conducted sporadically ever since the days of Constantine the Great, now resumed in earnest.
Was the Arian controversy resolved?.Unresolved issues, appearing in changed form, continued to produce serious religious conflicts which ended in the Great Schism separating the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. [p.226-227]
In the Greek-speaking lands, the end of the Arian controversy triggered more than two centuries of intense conflict [over the question of the relationship between Jesusʼ human and divine natures]. Once again, bishops met in councils to proclaim the orthodoxy of their views and to excommunicate their opponents. Once more the East knew depositions and exiles, riots and assassinations. Each side accused the other of Arianism. The Second Council of Ephesus (449) condemned the school of Antioch; the Great Council of Chalcedon (541) condemned the Alexandrians; numerous emperors intervened on one side or the other; and the controversy did not end until the one-nature “Monophysites” were driven from their own churches, many of which exist to this day.
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome
The Donatist Controversy
[After the persecution of Christians by pagan Emperors ended, Christians in North Africa debated whether or not priests that had recanted their faith under threat of persecution should still be recognized as valid members of the priesthood.] This issue [among others] led to a schism between Donatist Christians and mainstream Christians of North Africa. Saint Augustine advocated violent suppression of the Donatists, justifying massacres in the name of Christian unity. Armed groups, called the Circumcellions, formed to defend the “pure” [Donatist] churches, and perpetrated acts of terrorism in their name, and some committed mass suicide rather than yield to the forces they identified as Antichrist. The virtual civil war among North African Christians would not end until the fifth century, when invading Vandals suppressed all the churches, Donatist and orthodox alike. [p.39]
- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome
Saint Augustine On How To Treat The Donatists
It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word.
- Augustine, Treatise on the Correction of the Donatists
The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. To love with sternness is better than to deceive with gentleness…. In Luke [14:23] it is written: “Compel people to come in!” By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to his Son.
- Augustine, setting forth the principle of Cognite Intrare (“Compel them to enter”), a church mandate that all must become Christian — by force, if necessary; Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Churchʼs suppression of dissent and oppression of difference in Walter Nigg, The Heretics: Heresy Through the Ages (1962), p. 138, quoted from Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History [critical editing by Cliff Walker]
After Donatist Christians were persecuted by anti-Donatist Christians of the Empire, leaving their fertile province pillaged with fire and sword, the Donatists welcomed the Vandal invaders of their province with joy, and North Africa was lost to Rome.
Disputes of the third and fourth general Christian councils alienated Egyptian Christians from the Christians of Asia Minor and Constantinople. The Emperor Justinian enacted measures to win back the Egyptians to orthodoxy. But that only infuriated them more, and, when the Arabs invaded Egypt the Egyptians received them as deliverers, and fell in fury on their Greek defenders, and drove them into the sea. One Egyptian Christian said to Amrou, the Saracen general, “With the Greeks I desire no communion, either in this world or the next, and I adjure forever the Byzantine tyrant, and his Christian synod of Chalcedon.”
Nestorian Christians were forced from the Empire, and went into Asia, establishing what became for a while the largest church in Christendom. “Under the rod of persecution, Nestorian and Monophysite Christians degenerated into rebels and fugitives; and the most ancient and useful allies of Rome were taught to consider the emperor not as the chief, but as the enemy of Christians.” (Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire)
Differences of opinion regarding the date of Easter grew in intensity over time, and constituted a major factor in bringing about the separation of the churches of Rome (Catholic) and Constantinople (Orthodox) that exists today.
Ebionite Christians and Gnostic Christians were treated poorly, although Ebionites were in all likelihood the truest adherents of primitive Christianity, and the Gnostics were the “Christian humanists” of their day.
At the church council held at Ephesus in 449 the discussion became so inflamed that the delegates went at one another with clubs, until one party held the field and could enforce the decree it desired. Fanatical bands of monks terrorized the assembly of Church notables. Envoys from the church at Rome were set upon and soundly thumped. Leo the Great called it “The Robber Council,” nor was this the only one of its kind. There were other councils at which the Church Fathers became so incensed that they hurled the Bible at each otherʼs heads.
- Walter Nigg, The Heretics
After one “election meeting” in a church, in October 366, the “ushers” picked up from the floor one hundred and sixty Christian corpses! It is sheer affectation of modern Roman Catholic writers to question this, as we learn it from a report to the emperor of two priests of the time. The riots of the Christians that filled the streets of Rome with blood for a week, are, in fact, ironically recorded by the contemporary Roman writer, Ammianus Marcellinus.
In one day the Christians murdered more of their brethren than the pagans can be positively proved to have martyred in three centuries, and the total number of the slain during the fight for the papal chair (in which the supporters of Pope Damasus literally cut his way, with swords and axes, to the papal chair through the supporters of the rival candidate Ursicinus) is probably as great as the total number of actual martyrs. If we add to these the number of the slain in the fights of the Arians and Trinitarians in the east and the fights of Catholics and Donatists in Africa, we get a sum of “martyrs” many times as large as the genuine victims of Roman law; and we should still have to add the massacre by Theodosius at Thessalonica, the massacre of a regiment of Arian soldiers, the lives sacrificed under Constantius, Valentinian, etc.
This frightful and sordid temper of the new Christendom is luridly exhibited in the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria in 415. Under the “great” Father of the Church, Cyril of Alexandria, a Christian mob, led by a minor cleric of the church, stripped Hypatia naked and gashed her with oyster shells until she died [though I have read that she was clubbed to death before her flesh was stripped off her bones — E.T.B.]. She was a teacher of mathematics and philosophy, a person of the highest ideals and character. This barbaric fury raged from Rome to Alexandria and Antioch, and degraded the cities with spectacles that paganism had never witnessed.
Salvianus, a priest of Marseilles of the fifth century, deplores the vanished virtue of the pagan world and declares that “The whole body of Christians is a sink of iniquity.” “Very few,” he says, “avoid evil.” He challenges his readers: “How many in the Church will you find that are not drunkards or adulterers, or fornicators, or gamblers, or robbers, or murderers — or all together?” (De Gubernatione Dei, III, 9) Gregory of Tours, in the next century, gives, incredible as it may seem, an even darker picture of the Christian world, over part of which he presides. You cannot read these truths, unless you can read bad Latin, because they are never translated. It is the flowers, the rare examples of virtue, the untruths of Eusebius and the Martyrologies, that are translated. It is the legends of St. Agnes and St. Catherine, the heroic fictions of St. Lawrence and St. Sebastian that you read. But there were ten vices for every virtue, ten lies for every truth, a hundred murders for every genuine martyrdom.
- Joseph McCabe, How Christianity Triumphed
Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the bishops.
- John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism
The Christian zealots for conversion took to the streets or criss-crossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing barbarians thereafter.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire
Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529 [the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian.— E.T.B.].
As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.
After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.
Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.
Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.
- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
After Christian Emperors assumed the leadership of Rome and began throwing state money and political support at Christianity, many concrete “worldly” problems were not adequately addressed but began to be blamed on Satan, or sometimes praised as signs of Jesusʼs soon return. Indeed, the finest minds of the Empire were reduced to brooding over “spiritual” problems like “how to sniff out heresy” and “preserve oneʼs virginity.”
Os Guinness mentioned that “the Inquisition was not based on Jesusʼs New Testament teachings.” That is correct. The Inquisition was based primarily on Old Testament teachings, such as the necessity of stoning to death anyone who tempted you to worship “other gods.” It was also based on the fact that Jesus did not lay down any civil laws at all, so by what laws ought a Society of Christians rule their land? The question remained a stubborn and persistent one ever since the first Christian became Emperor of the Roman Empire, and in the “Ages of Faith” that followed. Theologians tended to point out that Jesus said “not one jot of the law would pass away until all was fulfilled,” and Jesus warned about “anti-Christs” leading people astray. So Christian civil servants were looked upon to keep the same civil duties as in the Old Testament, including persecuting people who “tempted you to follow other gods.” The Old Testament words of Yahweh also threatened grave dangers to society as a whole if it did not fulfill the commandments given to ancient Israel. Also, since Jesus never specified the duties of CIVIL MAGISTRATES, and since such duties WERE spelled out in the Old Testament to Godʼs holy people, it was agreed that no matter how mercifully an individual Christian acted toward others, it remained the holy duties of civil magistrates to enforce certain laws laid down by God for the sake of civil society, as found in the Old Testament. Both Catholic and Protestant theologians agreed upon this general interpretation. Century upon century of laws against heresy and blasphemy followed, along with centuries of warfare between Christian kingdoms all to ensure that the blessings of God would be received by their society as a whole. It was also forcefully put forward that if it was lawful in the Old Testament to kill a man who was in the act of killing your son, how much MORE lawful must it be to put to death a man in the act of ETERNALLY POISONING the soul of your son with “false religious teachings?” [This is the short response, the footnoted longer version, with quotations from Luther and Calvin can be found in Leaving the Fold: chapter two.]
Perhaps instead of the “Inquisition,” Os Guinness might also have addressed the fact that Protestant leaders like Melanchthon and Luther both drafted and signed a paper demanding the death penalty for anyone in Germany who “denied the Apostleʼs Creed.” And even in Protestant Christian colonies in Early America there were laws demanding the death penalty for blasphemy or denial of the articles of Christian faith.
Os Guinness mentioned Malcolm Muggerdigeʼs conversion to Christianity, though I would have liked to also bring up the fact that Muggeridge thought the light around Mother Teresaʼs head (that shown only on the developed film of a documentary he was shooting for BBC), was a genuine miracle. Though it was soon pointed out to be a common result of the film and lighting process itself, and not a miracle at all.
Os Guinness stated that “God is a god of love, who heard the cries of the Israelite slaves in Egypt and freed them.” Though I wouldnʼt exactly say it was “loving” of such a God to kill so many Egyptian babies in the final plague against the Egyptians, especially since such babies had nothing to do with enslaving the Hebrews. Nor does it seem very loving to arrange for those same Hebrews, once freed, to be able to enslave one another after they had left Egypt, and to also inspire a law that stated a master may beat his slave, and if the slave does not die immediately but survives a day or two before dying, there shall be no fine put upon that master for the slave “is his masterʼs money.”
And speaking of the Hebrew Bibleʼs “God” and his “blessings” one cannot possibly overlook the following examples in the Hebrew Bible, none of which Guiness mentioned, and none of which he prepared any of his listeners for, i.e., should they read the Bible for themselves:
A Nation “Blessed” By God?
Numerous Christian organizations these days are eager for America to fully recognize her ambition as a nation “blessed by God.” But have they studied what happened to that other nation “blessed by God,” the nation of Israel? Hmmm, letʼs see. According to the Bible, the God of Israel tried to kill Moses (and failed); struck dead two sons of Aaron; commanded “brother to kill brother” leading to the death of 3,000 Israelites (right after He gave them the commandment, “Do not kill”); opened up the earth and buried alive “wives, sons and little children;” sent a fire that consumed 148 Levite princes; cursed his people to wander in the desert for forty years and eat 40,000 meals of quail and “manna” (talk about a monotonously torturing diet - and when they complained about it, God killed 3,000 Israelites with a plague); had a man put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath; denied Moses and Aaron entrance into the “promised land” because Moses struck a rock twice with his staff instead of talking to the rock; delivered to his people a “promised land” that was parched, bordered by desert and a corridor for passing conquering armies; sent fiery serpents among Israel, killing many; wanted to kill every Israelite and start over with Moses and his family (but Moses talked God out of that plan); drove the first king of Israel to suicide; killed someone who tried to steady a teetering ark of the covenant; murdered king Davidʼs innocent child; sent plagues and famines upon his people that killed men, women and children; ordered the execution of 42 children of the king of Judah; “smote all Israel” killing half a million men of Israel in a civil war between Israel and Judah; “delivered into the hand of the king of Israel” 120,000 Judeans massacred in one day along with 200,000 Jewish women and children; gave Satan the power to kill Jobʼs children and servants (in order to win a bet); let the Babylonians conquer the holy city of Jerusalem, and then the Greeks, followed by the Romans; and finally left the Jews homeless and persecuted by Christians and Moslems for nearly 2000 years. Furthermore, the large number of laws in the Hebrew Bible concerning the treatment of lepers, and of those with sores, demonstrates that the Israelites were far from being blessed with unparalleled good health.
So, knowing everything that happened to that nation “blessed by God,” Iʼve got to ask the Christian Coalition What The !%#? Are They Thinking?
A Nation “Blessed” By God? (Part 2)
Archeological evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the infant mortality rate was as high as fifty percent.
- Drorah OʼDonnell Setel, “Abortion,” The Oxford Guide to Ideas & Issues of the Bible, ed. by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford University Press, 2001)
[Footnote: the American Confederacy prior to the Civil War imagined it was also a nation “blessed by God.” In fact it identified itself as the “true” defender of Scripture, in fact, “the new Israel,” and added an invocation to “God almighty” in its new Southern Constitution. And the less said the better about the Christianized Roman Empire, and the various Catholic and Protestant kingdoms during the great ages of faith, and their attempts at raking in “Godʼs blessings” by declaring themselves “Christian nations” and “Holy Empires.”]
My impression of lecturers on the Christian circuit (or lecturers on any similarly doctrinaire ideological circuits) remains similar to something that Robert Anton Wilson once wrote me in a letter. I quote Wilson here:
An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man…” (What about woman, I wondered? Oh, well, one does not expect semantic sophistication from literalist Bible believers) “… and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!” There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is. If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?
- Robert Anton Wilson
Edward T. Babinski
(author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalist, Prometheus Books, 1995)
P.S., Miscellaneous Quotations, Or, The Longest “Sig” Line You Are Ever Likely To Read [Or Ignore]
The Modern Day Rot Of Moral Relativity
In the Bible you canʼt find any verses that say polygamy, concubinage, slavery, or genocide are always and everywhere “sins.” In fact, according to the Bible such practices are perfectly acceptable to “God” depending on the circumstances. Which is a good point to raise whenever a Religious Righter starts ranting about the “modern day rot of moral relativity.”
Is Christianity “The Answer?”
The USA is the leading incarcerator in the world - over 2 million adults are in our prisons, not counting city and county jails. And one child in five grows up in poverty in the USA (a conservative estimate). So we do not appear “blessed” when compared with nations that have lower crime rates, less poverty, and far fewer Christians and loud-mouthed preachers than we do.
The Ten Commandments
In 1997 Henry Jordan, a “born again” Christian on the State Board of Education in South Carolina, tried to get a copy of the Ten Commandments hung in every classroom in the state. When it was pointed out to him that members of other religions might not appreciate having only the Judeo-Christian teachings on display, he replied, “Screw the Buddhists and Kill the Muslims.”
Screw and Kill? Lot of good knowing the commandments did for him.
Which reminds me of a saying, “Everything, even piety, is dangerous in a man without judgment.”
(Stanislaus, King of Poland in Moral Sentences and Maxims by Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld)
In the same year and the same state as the above incident the Charleston County Council of South Carolina unanimously passed a motion to post the Ten Commandments on a plaque outside the council chambers. Oddly enough, when a local reporter for the Post and Courier asked the nine council members to name the Ten Commandments, none could recall all ten. Two members refused to even try. Snapped Councilman Barrett Lawrimore, “I donʼt have time for this pop quiz.”
- Church and State
Letʼs Compare The U.S. Congress With The Ten Commandments
Beginning with “Do not bear false witness,” donʼt all Congress people “stretch the truth,” depending on which group of constituents or special interests or foreign dignitaries they are trying to woo or impress?
I also suspect thereʼs some “Sabbath-breakers” and “adulterers” in Congress.
Does Congress agree with the command, “Do not kill?”
How many Congress people have “used the Lordʼs name in vain” after discovering that their prize bill (say a bill to display the Ten Commandments) did not receive enough votes to become a law?
I donʼt suppose Congress will vote to display the “penalties” that go along with the Ten Commandments, since “death” is mentioned so often, even for “Sabbath-breakers.”
Lastly, I wonder how Congress will address the difference between the ancient Hebrewʼs “First Commandment” and our First Amendment? According to the “First Commandment” in the Bible “ye shall have no other gods before me” under penalty of death. While our First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion.
Preacher Pete: Without the Ten Commandments to lead them, people will wind up doing whatever they like.
Secular Sally: Most of us already do, but we like being liked, and hate being hated. In other words, most of us would sooner make friends than fill our freezers with heads, which, coincidentally, is a way to make enemies.
“Thou shalt not kill” is as old as life itself. And for this reason a large majority of people in all countries have objected to being murdered.
- Robert Ingersoll
How many people have to flip through the Bible, going, “Jeez, I want to screw my neighborʼs wife - donʼt know if I should?”
- Rick Reynolds, Only the Truth is Funny
I give blood. I volunteer my organs. I donate to charities. I return my shopping cart. I never needed religion to puppeteer me through life and tell me how to feel about gays, abortion, and capital punishment or how to raise my kid. When people ask me what I am, I say Earthling.
- William P. OʼNeil, “Playing the God Card,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 10, 2000
I do not believe that ethics “without the Bible” are “completely relative.” People with no Bible to guide them still feel similar pains when slapped, stolen from, or called a stinging name. People with no Bible to guide them also feel similar pleasures when hugged, given a gift, or verbally petted. In other words, we each have all the “ethical authority” we need inside ourselves, in our bodies and brains, and in the multitude of lessons learned during lives of interaction with our fellow human beings. Neither is it easy for a person to turn to anti-social behavior if they have been taught from childhood to view other peopleʼs feelings and needs through the inner lens of their own. People also recognize (regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof) that “joys shared are doubled, while sorrows shared are halved.” Such recognitions even form the basis for wanting to “double” societyʼs joys, and “halve” societyʼs sorrows.
Or course not everyone learns morality in the manner described above. Some are raised to “fear hell” and memorize lists of “holy commandments.” Such people are liable to “fear what they (and others) might become” once such “external” holy threats and commands are called into question. Ironically, their “hell” does not exist to promote universal ethical behavior, but to promote belief in their particular theology - so if you do not share their theology, they are convinced you are going to hell regardless of whatever kindnesses you share with them or society at large. So the threat of “hell” only helps promote good behavior in those who accept that particular theology; and such people can only understand the idea of a “moral” nation as one that consists solely of “fellow believers” in their theology. Of course any morality that tries to base itself (and impose itself on others) upon purely “external” religious threats and commands will break down once the religion supporting it is called into question.
To avoid such “breakdowns” it makes more sense for a nation, culture, or family to emphasize “internal” rather than “external” morality/ethics, just as it makes more sense to raise children to think and act in terms of how “they would feel if what they did was done back to them,” rather than depending on rote memorization of lists to promote ethical understanding in all circumstances and among all people. All the worldʼs religions enshrine the principle, “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself,” and, “Do to others what you would want done to yourself,” which assume in both cases that “you” already possess an “internal” recognition of what you should and shouldnʼt do. So, there need not be any overt conflict between “internal” and “external” morality and ethics. However, stressing the “internal” variety seems to have a far greater chance of drawing society together, rather than tearing it apart.
“Internal” ethical recognitions preceded the composition of humanityʼs earliest law codes such as those of King Hammurabi, or the moral injunctions found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the later but more famous, “Ten Commandments.” Such “internal” recognitions inspired the creation of laws, and still do, and remind us that laws are but dust when people neglect to seek out what is best within themselves and each other.
A manʼs ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
- Albert Einstein
Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:
Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection. Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
That (he said) is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.
These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt - though of course usually an unsuccessful one - to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.
If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we - being creatures subject to gravitation - could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwinʼs idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention.
- Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopherʼs Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001
Commandments From Other Religions
(Just To Show How Evil And Depraved The Souls Of Pagans Are)
May I be no manʼs enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me,
may I escape without the need of hurting him.
May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all menʼs happiness and envy none.
When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another.
May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to all who are in want.
May I never fail a friend in danger.
May I respect myself.
May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.
- The Prayer of Eusebius (a pagan who lived some two thousand years ago, as quoted in Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion)
Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.
- Akkadian Councils of Wisdom (from the ancient Babylonian civilization that existed two millennia before Jesus was born)
Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth. Do not hurt others in ways that would be hurtful to yourself.
- Buddhist wisdom (written centuries before Jesus was born)
More Buddhist Wisdom
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
- The Dhammapada
Return love for hatred. Otherwise, when a great hatred is reconciled, some of it will surely remain. How can this end in goodness? Therefore the sage holds to the left hand of an agreement but does not expect what the other holder ought to do. Regard your neighborʼs gain as your own and your neighborʼs loss as your own loss. Whoever is self-centered cannot have the love of others.
- Taoist wisdom (written centuries before Jesus was born)
People were Christian before Christ ever existed. People were humanistic before Humanism was ever organized. People were loving before LSD was ever discovered.
- Timothy Leary, as quoted by Paul Krassner, “The Cynic Route from Crazy SANE to Loving Haight,” The Realist, 1967
Humanityʼs Gain From Unbelief
(1889 & 1929)
A ground frequently taken by Christian theologians is that the progress and civilization of the world are due to Christianity; and the discussion is complicated by the fact that many eminent servants of humanity have been nominal Christians, of one or other of the sects. My allegation will be that the special services rendered to human progress by these exceptional men have not been in consequence of their adhesion to Christianity, but in spite of it, and that the specific points of advantage to human kind have been in ratio of their direct opposition to precise Biblical enactments.
A.S. Farrar says [Farrarʼs “Critical History of Free Thought.”] that Christianity “asserts authority over religious belief in virtue of being a supernatural communication from God, and claims the right to control human thought in virtue of possessing sacred books, which are at once the record and the instrument of the communication, written by men endowed with supernatural inspiration.” Unbelievers refuse to submit to the asserted authority, and deny this claim of control over human thought; they allege that every effort at freethinking must provoke sturdier thought. Take one clear gain to humanity consequent on unbelief — i.e., in the abolition of slavery in some countries, in the abolition of the slave trade in most civilized countries, and in the tendency to its total abolition, I am unaware of any religion in the world which in the past forbade slavery. The professors of Christianity for ages supported it; the Old Testament repeatedly sanctioned it by special laws; the New Testament has no repealing declaration. Though we are at the close of the nineteenth century of the Christian era, it is only during the past three-quarters of a century that the battle for freedom has been gradually won. It is scarcely a quarter of a century since the famous emancipation amendment was carried to the United States Constitution. And it is impossible for any well-informed Christian to deny that the abolition movement in North America was most steadily and bitterly a opposed by the religious bodies in the various States. Henry Wilson, in his “Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America”; Samuel J. May, in his “Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict”; and J. Greenleaf Whittier, in his poems, alike are witnesses that the Bible and pulpit, the Church and its great influence, were used against abolition and in favor of the slave-owner. I know that Christians in the present day often declare that Christianity had a large share in bringing about the abolition of slavery, and this because men professing Christianity were abolitionists. I plead that these so-called Christian abolitionists were men and women whose humanity, recognizing freedom for all, was in this in direct conflict with Christianity. It is not yet fifty years since the European Christian powers jointly agreed to abolish the slave trade. What of the effect of Christianity on these powers in the centuries which had preceded? The heretic Condorcet pleaded powerfully for freedom whilst Christian France was still slave- holding. For many centuries Christian Spain and Christian Portugal held slaves. Puerto Rico freedom is not of long date: and Cuban emancipation is even yet newer. It was a Christian King, Charles V, and a Christian friar, who founded in Spanish America the slave trade between the Old World and the New. For some 1800 years, almost, Christians kept slaves, bought slaves, sold slaves, bred slaves, stole slaves. Pious Bristol and godly Liverpool less than 100 years ago openly grew rich on the traffic. During the ninth century Greek Christians sold slaves to the Saracens. In the eleventh century prostitutes were publicly sold as slaves in Rome, and the profit went to the Church. It is said that William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, was a Christian. But at any rate his Christianity was strongly diluted with unbelief. As an abolitionist he did not believe Leviticus xxv. 44-6; he must have rejected Exodus xxi. 2-6; he could not have accepted the many permissions and injunctions by the Bible deity to his chosen people to capture and hold slaves. In the House of Commons on 18th February, 1796, Wilberforce reminded that Christian assembly that infidel and anarchic France had given liberty to the Africans, whilst Christian and monarchic England was “obstinately continuing a system of cruelty and injustice.” Wilberforce, whilst advocating the abolition of slavery, found the whole influence of the English Court, and the great weight of the Episcopal Bench, against him. George III, a most Christian king, regarded abolition theories with abhorrence, and the Christian House of Lords was utterly opposed to granting freedom to the slave. When Christian missionaries some sixty-two years ago preached to Demerara Negroes under the rule of Christian England, they were treated by Christian judges, holding commission from Christian England, as criminals for so preaching. A Christian commissioned officer, member of the Established Church of England, signed the auction notices for the sale of slaves as late as the year 1824. In the evidence before a Christian court-martial, a missionary is charged with having tended to make the Negroes dissatisfied with their condition as slaves, and with having promoted discontent and dissatisfaction amongst the slaves against their lawful masters. For this the Christian judges sentenced the Demerara abolitionist missionary to be hanged by the neck till he was dead. The judges belonged to the Established Church; the missionary was a Methodist. In this the Church of England Christians in Demerara were no worse than Christians of other sects; their Roman Catholic Christian brethren in St. Domingo fiercely attacked the Jesuits as criminals because they treated Negroes as though they were men and women, in encouraging “two slaves to separate their interest and safety from that of the gang,” whilst orthodox Christians let them couple promiscuously and breed for the benefit of their owners like any other of their plantation cattle. In 1823 the ‘Royal Gazette’ (Christian) of Demerara said: “We shall not suffer you to enlighten our slaves, who are bylaw our property, till you can demonstrate that when they are made religious and knowing they will continue to be our slaves.” When William Lloyd Garrison, the pure-minded and most earnest abolitionist, delivered his first anti-slavery address in Boston, Massachusetts, the only building he could obtain, in which to speak, was the infidel hall owned by Abner Kneeland, the “infidel” editor of the ‘Boston investigator,’ who had been sent to gaol for blasphemy. Every Christian sect had in turn refused Mr. Lloyd Garrison the use of the buildings they severally controlled. Lloyd Garrison told me himself how honored deacons of a Christian Church joined in an actual attempt to hang him. When abolition was, advocated in the United States in 1790, the representative from South Carolina was able to plead that the Southern clergy did not condemn either slavery or the slave trade and Mr. Jackson, the representative from Georgia, pleaded that “from Genesis to Revelation” the current was favorable to slavery. Elias Hicks, the brave Abolitionist Quaker, was denounced as an Atheist, and less than twenty years ago a Hicksite Quaker was expelled from one of the Southern American Legislatures, because of the reputed irreligion of these abolitionist “Friends.” When the Fugitive Slave Law was under discussion in North America, large numbers of clergymen of nearly every denomination were found ready to defend this infamous law. Samuel James May, the famous abolitionist, was driven from the pulpit as irreligious, solely because of his attacks on slave-holding. Northern clergymen tried to induce “silver tongued” Wendell Phillips to abandon his advocacy of abolition. Southern pulpits rang with praises for the murderous attack on Charles Sumner. The slayers of Elijah Lovejoy were highly reputed Christian men. Guizot, notwithstanding that he tries to claim that the Church exerted its influence to restrain slavery, says (“European Civilization,” vol. i., p.110)” “It has often been repeated that the abolition of slavery among modem people is entirely due to Christians. That, I think, is saying too much. Slavery existed for a long period in the heart of Christian society, without its being particularly astonished or irritated. A multitude of causes, and a great development in other ideas and principles of civilization, were necessary for the abolition of this iniquity of all iniquities.” And my contention is that this a development in other ideas and principles of civilization” was long retarded by Governments in which the Christian Church was dominant. The men who advocated liberty were imprisoned, racked, and burned, so long as the Church was strong enough to be merciless. The Rev. Francis Minton, Rector of Middlewich, in his recent earnest volume [“Capital and Wages,” p. 19] on the struggles of labor, admits that “a few centuries ago slavery was acknowledged throughout Christendom to have the divine sanction. … Neither the exact cause, nor the precise time of the decline of the belief in The righteousness of slavery, can be defined. It was doubtless due to a combination of causes, one probably being as indirect as the recognition of the greater economy of free labor. With the decline of the belief the abolition of slavery took place.” The institution of slavery was actually existent in Christian Scotland in the seventeenth century, where the white coal workers and salt workers of East Lothian were chattels, as were their Negro brethren in the Southern States thirty years since; they “went to those who succeeded to the property of the works, and they could be sold, bartered, or pawned.” [“Perversion of Scotland,” p. 197.] “There is,” says J.M. Robertson, “no trace that the Protestant clergy of Scotland ever raised a voice against the slavery which grew up before their eyes. And it was not until 1799, after republican and irreligious France had set the example, that it was legally abolished.”