21 May 2010

 

Christianity – When Did the Killing Begin?

Last night’s lecture at Secular Hall was given by Prof. Andrew Tobin of Leicester University. He’s a practising micro-biologist and also a believer in Christianity. It seems an earlier talk had prompted him to want to explain how being a scientist and being a Christian believer were entirely compatible.

As far as I’m concerned he failed in his mission – and what is more it seems he only succeeds in it in terms of his personal life by separating off his science and his religious beliefs into completely separate compartments in his psyche. Thus he seemed unable to deal with a simple question by one of the audience – ‘how, as a scientist, can you marry up your scientific method with your belief in the magic reported in the Bible – the miracles, the resurrection and ascension, the water into wine, etc?’

I’m sure that problem will be dealt with by others but something else he said got me thinking on a different tack. This was his emphasis on Christianity as a source of values and moral guidance for the way life should be lived. He spoke of the well-known doctrines of Jesus of Nazareth: love your enemies, forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek when attacked, show humility, sacrifice to save others, be humble, etc. By coincidence I had yesterday taken delivery of a book from the library which I had requested as I wanted to know more about the Council of Nicaea and how Christianity came to be adopted by the Roman Empire. It is entitled “Constantine – unconquered emperor, Christian victor”. The contrast in the title of this book and the teachings of Jesus got me wondering: how did Christianity move from being a religion of peace and love led by women (as it was) to one of martial achievement, the province of men? In other words, when did the killing begin?

We all know that Christianity’s history drips with blood. From the battles carried out by Constantine and his successors to subdue Roman and other Pagans, and force submission to the ‘holy’ Roman empire, the conversion of Pagans in Europe, through the crusades to recapture Jerusalem from another religiously motivated army (and on the way to kill thousands of other Christians in, of all places, Constantinople) onward through the conquistadors who took Christianity at the point of a bloody sword and lots of gunpowder to South America, on through the executions of ‘witches’, the Holy Inquisition, the Christian inspired pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe and right up to the present day when Bush and Blair were self-admittedly on a crusade inspired if not ordered by their god to liberate Iraq from the anti-Christ of Sadaam Hussein. Real Christian history is a history of warfare and conquest very much in the tradition of the Old Testament, not the New. The solitary support for Jesus as an advocate of killing for conversion comes in Luke Ch.19 v.27 – “But bring here those enemies of mine, who do not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me”. (This does seem at odds with the general preaching of Jesus and Christian apologists offer explanations but it strikes me as being quite out of place even in the chapter quoted. There’s something odd about it altogether and this is the same chapter where Jesus rewards certain followers according to how much money they have made for him, rather than for the way they have conducted themselves.) The situation is greatly complicated by the general (though not universal) Christian insistence on keeping the Old Testament – the mythology of the Jews – as part of the Christian Bible. If we set aside the ambiguity injected into Christian theology by this practice my question is of great relevance: where along the way did the ‘headline’ preaching of Jesus get brushed aside in favour of the more direct approach – convert or die?

So, over to you, dear reader, when did the killing begin?

Harry

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Comments:
I think the interesting thing about the ability to see religion and science as non-overlapping magisteria is that the manner in which this is done often involves "special pleading". The ability to separate the magic involved in the Bible with any other form of magic may be exactly the same process that enables people to kill those who do not accept their "peaceful message". Just as magic is not magic if it is the miracles described in the Bible, killing people is not incompatible with the teachings of a peaceful religion if those being killed are opposed to the beliefs that tell you not to kill. Yes, it all seems quite insane - until we want to use the same tactic to justify our own behaviour, of course!!!

Going back to last night's talk, I always find it amazing when educated people claim that they base their religious beliefs on the veracity of the Bible. This is particularly true when they believe the miracles described in Scripture must be true - because lots of people saw them. My mind always goes back to the little stone statues that were "miraculously" drinking milk some years ago. I think it was in India. Thousands of people flocked to watch the statues drinking the fluids offered to them... it was a miracle! Until someone looked underneath. Then it became clear that the particular curve of the necks, with a small groove under the chin, provided the perfect conditions for capillary action to act on the liquid giving the illusion that the statue was drinking.

This sort of exposure, seen by millions on TV does not seem to give any religious person pause. Don't they ever question their acceptance of reports of the same sort of thing written in an old book? What evidence do they have that there is any more truth in the magic described in these stories than there is in the Harry Potter books? Don't they connect fictional tales of magic with the stories they base their world view on? Now that is what I call a miracle!
 
On the commencement of the killings by Christians, I suppose it could be when Constantine was returning to Rome from York, after being elected Emperor by the Palatine guard. Having to face the army of his opponents on the approach to Rome, he was persuaded by a leading light of the Christian faction to use the Cross as a rallying symbol in the battle: which he duly won, and was consequently converted. Previous to this the Christians had been the oppressed; thereafter, they became the oppressors. The bloody developments that followed were typical examples of the syndrome that follows from the setting-up of any new dogmatic system of governance.

Wiffle the Wuff
 
Thanks Wiffle. I have not yet found any reference to Christians having taken up arms before the Constantine conversion either, though it is apparent that soldiers in Roman legions were being converted along with many civilians in the years before Constantine (ie pre 300CE). The Roman army was recruited widely from all the empire's provinces so that is not surprising - especially as previous Roman emperors tolerated an extraordinary range of gods to be worshipped among its peoples. Gods were real entities in those days, some of them had actually been human and had been deified for some super-hero feats, so worshipping was often a kind of a bargain - the citizen made sacrifices to a particular god as thanks or in expectation that s/he would intervene in the affairs of the real world to the worshipper's advantage. This laissez faire attitude to gods was another casualty of the triumph of Christianity - the first(?) inklings of the totalitarian regimes to follow and perhaps another negative aspect of the carrying over of the Hebrew bible ("Thou shalt have no other gods before me" - a Jewish tribal exhortation) into mass multi-national Christianity.

If there are no other examples of Christians taking up arms prior to 300CE then it seems the golden age of Christianity lasted a mere 250 years after Jesus' death.

Harry
 
The Crusades and wars against heretics like the Cathars (or Albigensians) were started by the inappropriately named Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), who lived at the time of our King John and caused him a lot of trouble. He saw himself as Holy Roman Emperor as well as Vicar of Christ on Earth, and thought he could boss all the Kings about. Incidentally he employed Simon de Montfort senior to do his dirty work against the heretics. He also gave the go ahead to the Dominican and Franciscan orders which led to the inquisition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Innocent_III

The later Pope Innocent VIII (1432-1492) was the one who published the Bull that gave the go-ahead to the Dominicans Kramer and Sprenger to publish the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) which led to much persecution of real innocents.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Innocent_VIII

So I would say the killing tended to happen in waves, with quieter interludes between.
 
The first crusade was initiated by Urban the second in 1095: in response to a request from Byzantium for help in flushing out the Turks from Syria. The history after Saladin regained control of Jerusalem some 85 years later is involved and bloody. The fourth crusade is probably the most historically important from a consequence point of view, because it sought help from Venice on its way through, and the Doge there persuaded them to attack Constantinople for trading reasons. The crusaders duly took and sacked that city in 1203 (The beautiful Byzantine coffin of the Three Kings in Cologne cathedral is probably part of the loot garnered at that time). Constantinople thereafter exchanged hands several times between rival factions, before falling into the hands of the Turks towards the end of that century. All this resulted in the learned men from Byzantium emigrating to Italy; which, together with the scholastic influences from Islam during the 14th century, fueled the Renaissance movement.

Wiffle the Wuff
 
Recalling distant memories on the subject of witches, the Catholic Church's approach was to attempt to bring them back into the fold: only executing the most obdurate or politically suspect (Joan of Arc). Witch hunting and executing on the grand scale was a particularly Puritan preoccupation (Cromwell). The Catholic's were, in one instance, instrumental in saving the lives of a large number of condemned witches when they managed to regain control of an area they'd previously lost.

Wiffle the Wuff
 
What interests me is how obsessed we are with this figure Jesus of Nazareth to the exclusion of the undoubtedly historical Mohammed and other religious leaders. Surely secularism should interrogate ALL religions, not just the one which until fairly recently ruled the roost here. Not only do the Christian scriptures bear all the hallmarks of fiction - so does the figure of the founder (a point made by PennieB above) But Mohammed DID exist.

I am currently reading some self-confessed fiction - Sebastian Faulks' latest novel 'A week in December'. In the bit I read last night he has one of his characters, a sceptical lawyer, fuming as he reads through the Koran. 'What a bastard!' he exclaims - not about the Prophet but about his god, Allah. Most of the Koran, according to Faulks/the lawyer character, is an exhortation to kill all non-believers and a warning that all who fail to believe in him will burn eternally in Hell while those who do will marry doe-eyed houris in Paradise (nothing is said about what reward awaits faithful women) Now all this might be a gratuitous distortion for motives I know nothing about - but shouldn't some of us do a bit of reading in the Koran to find out what it actually says? (I'm not volunteering!) Do I detect a whiff of Political Correctness here? Christianity is full of self-deception and downright hypocrisy - but so are all other religions and their followers. It's Islam that's now making the running internationally, not Christianity (the oil wars are not basically a 'Crusade' - their apologists fall over themselves to talk about 'democracy', 'freedom' and other secular slogans) Is it too dangerous now to challenge Muslims? Am I already a marked man for writing this?!

Doug
 
I have read quite a bit of the Koran and I'd say Sebastian Faulke's sceptical lawyer has it right. A few years ago I spent endless hours on Islamic websites arguing the toss with Islamic fundamentalists of various stripes, along with many other valiant atheists. In fact we were so successful at challenging Islamic tripe that the website eventually barred access to the most effective atheists (not me!) and it became a lot less interesting for us and I think for them too.

I raised the question about when the killing began in Christianity because it is such an obvious contradiction between Jesus' teaching and the practice of Christian rulers and churches - which revel in the opportunity to glorify the deaths of soldiers in foreign wars. I was genuinely curious about how the switch occurred. I've since learned that there was a chap named St Mercurius who was described as a Christian warrior some 50 years before Constantine became Roman emperor. I've yet to find out the whole story (anyone?) but it may have been him who started it, not Constantine.

One other thing I've learned is that the switch coincided with the ending of female domination of the Christian movement. I am told that in earliest times in the Roman empire Christianity was not merely (or even mainly) a movement of slaves against the authorities but of women who stood to gain from it. Roman culture placed women as chattels, with girl babies very often the victims of infanticide and women to forced and often fatal abortions. Christianity preached against all these things.

Putting Jesus and Mohammed side by side as historical 'wise men' (rather than prophets of a supernatural being) I know which I'd choose to live under, though, as last Thursday's speaker confessed, it is virtually impossible to live up to his teachings! (On balance I accept that it is most likely Jesus did exist rather than being a composite of folk tales.)
 
There is a Wikipedia entry for St Mercurius. He was a Christian who led the fight against a Berber tribe attacking Rome in the middle of the third century CE on behalf of the pagan emperor Decius, who later in 249CE launched the first persecution of Christians. The Christian archangel Michael had a key role in providing the magic sword to Mercurius with which he led the defeat of the Berbers. The third century CE was a challenging one for the Roman empire - when the cracks really began to show. Multiple emperors, tribes attacking the frontiers, the currency debased, and Christianity on the rise as a protest movement.

So, the Mercurius story takes the martial attributes of Christianity back another 50 years toward Jesus - to just 220 years after his death: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Mercurius
 
All the crap bandied around in the Guardian and elsewhere about Jesus, Mohammed, the bible and the koran and evil Islamists gives me a belly ache and excites my piles. As for early Christian history - in real terms it's nothing more than conjecture or a game much on a par with doing crossword puzzles. One thing is sure it gives some sort of credibility to Christians - hardly the activity for a secularist. It helps create a smoke screen to allow politicians to hide their real objectives.
The religious nonsense was dealt with in the Nineteenth Century when Feurebach and Strauss were being translated by George Eliot. J S Mill, Bentham, Comte, Spenser and others work was integrated to weave their thoughts and ideas into practical day-to-day form of applied philosophy. Eliot used these ideas around which to construct her novels where money was a commodity and machines had begun to do the laborious and heavy work of homo sapiens. These intellectual developments represented the death knell of pre-industrial ideas that involved god and hell and damnation. The foundation of the established church, weakened by print Wycliffe, Fox, Wesley etc turned to sand and the Whig Darwin provided the wind that blew it away.
Discussing god after this is like asking if we can fall off the flat earth. The god of the bible has more philosophical holes than a sieve as Feuerbach, Hennel and a battalion of others have proved. Persistently inviting schizophrenic, “scientists” living in a world that died nearly two hundred years ago when bankers and corrupt world leaders are steadily marching us towards a third world war makes Nero’s fiddling look positively profound.
It’s time some of us got our heads out of the pre-industrial sand and started looking at the stark realities of the twenty first century.
Homo sapiens have been around at least ten thousand years and writing has existed for just five thousand. To suggest the bible is the work of anything other than of humans suggests extra terrestrial presence. If it’s god’s he/she/it must have been, pissed or cracking up when writing. For our Society listen to cranks clinging to discredited medieval ideas is as useful as praying to Alice in Wonderland.
Some of these RATIONALISTS(?) then have the temerity to suggest I’M daft for thinking that Bush and co had prior knowledge of the twin towers collapse and entertain FAITH in the view that there was no sculduggery involved when contrary evidence is available by the ream. What’s going on? Are we harbouring a bunch of ex-god botherers, some of whom appear to have transplanted their faith in god to the sacred cow of the Labour Party to ‘keep the red flag wet with watered beer!’ And revere an electoral system bequeathed to us by beleaguered capitalists while they work out ways to retain power despite the pressure from below.

The killing began when we were monkeys. (That’s probably where Blair got his mindless grin) The future (If there’s to be one) lies in overcoming our tribal and territorial past and the Bush and Blair warmongers whose profiteering has created a monster economic system as ugly as that outlined in Orwell’s 1984. (200 US military invasions in as many years). The god squad who seem to have trouble coming to terms with this fact would do well to forget their tribal antecedents and start looking at practical ways of coping with the future because dependency on the lord god or the fairies is as much use as hoping to piss on a nuclear explosion. I use “Bad’ language because there’s no language more real where I stand. Why’s it different from “good” language? It’s expressive and fun. I don’t want to be a member of “polite society” because I think for myself not swallowing gobs of propaganda from the “right” people. (Backstairs politicians and smarmy ‘holier than thou’ bishops sucking up to profiteering bankers to whom lies come easier than the truth.) Listening to the “right” people makes me sick. I like to think that in days gone by I’d have been called a free thinker.
Dave
 
Cor blimey, Dave!

I've a vision of an out of control gun turret firing off salvoes of bullshit in all directions as the puzzled targets duck and shake their heads in despair. "What a waste of manure", says one, "I know", says another, "but he seems to have his own manufacturing facility".

What's the point of exposing the hypocrisy in Christianity? The clue is in the question.

What's the point of polite society? The clue is in the question.

Free thinking is one thing, but few people nowadays want to mimic the prospectors of old by spending their lives vainly sieving through the riverbeds of your consciousness in search of a nugget of gold.

It's not that the time is entirely wasted, mate, it's just that whenever a bit is found with the 9/11 hallmark on it we know it's going to be iron pyrites.

Have a nice day!

Harry
 
So the fact that you can’t dissociate the past from the present implies a connection between the following facts and the twin towers attack - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that the Bin Laden family financial empire traded with the Bush family financial empire for thirty years - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that the US armaments industry produces a third of all weaponry and that the US has been involved on average in a war a year for the past two hundred years. - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that the Bush family have been major players in the armaments industry for the last hundred years. - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that the Bush family ran both the airport security where the hi-jacked planes took off and the world trade centre security when the twin towers collapsed - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that building seven at the World trade Centre fell down into its own footprint a football field away from the twin towers when it contained the majority of the evidence relating to the Enron Fraud in which the Bush family had an interest - Is bullshit - according to you.

The fact that the Reichstag fire leading to Hitler’s rise to power happened when the Bush family bank was funding Hitler - Is bullshit - according to you.

I like to examine the facts before I call bullshit. Given that your response makes no reference to facts all I can say is ‘pathetic bullshit.’ Much like your simplistic approach to history and blindness to facts.
Dave
 
Sigh...

Harry
 
Your response would have done the Pope proud. When faced with unpalatable facts simply draw down the blinds of ignorance. You should join the flat earth society rather than the Secular Society.

On your red herring about morality why not use the word justice. There is a common world wide consensus as to justice - that's why juries work, and no doubt why Blair moved towards abandoning them.

As for Mercurious if there's .0001% of the material supporting your argument than there is supporting sculduggery relating to 9/11 then perhaps you have a point, but given the fact that any evidence there is goes back nearly 2000 years. Substantiating it is less likely than winning the lottery ten times over. Consequently making your case on such flimsy evidence from the web has to be a good deal more difficult than making a case against Bush and Co where paper evidence from hundreds if not thousands of reputable sources points to all manner of chicanery and how significant to here and now is Mercurious anyway?

After the murderous attack on fleet trying to break into the Gaza Ghetto. Will the American leadership now acknowledge their 'Allies' (Should it be puppets?) in Israel as terrorists? Of course not because all they care about is money and where there's war there's money.

WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM Harry? Could it be ex-religionists post-traumatic stress? Or is there something else. There certainly seems to be something funny going on (or not as the case may be) in your head.

Dave
 
Your response would have done the Pope proud. When faced with unpalatable facts simply draw down the blinds of ignorance. You should join the flat earth society rather than the Secular Society.

On your red herring about morality why not use the word justice. There is a common world wide consensus as to justice - that's why juries work, and no doubt why Blair moved towards abandoning them.

As for Mercurious if there's .0001% of the material supporting your argument than there is supporting sculduggery relating to 9/11 then perhaps you have a point, but given the fact that any evidence there is goes back nearly 2000 years. Substantiating it is less likely than winning the lottery ten times over. Consequently making your case on such flimsy evidence from the web has to be a good deal more difficult than making a case against Bush and Co where paper evidence from hundreds if not thousands of reputable sources points to all manner of chicanery and how significant to here and now is Mercurious anyway?

After the murderous attack on fleet trying to break into the Gaza Ghetto. Will the American leadership now acknowledge their 'Allies' (Should it be puppets?) in Israel as terrorists? Of course not because all they care about is money and where there's war there's money.

WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM Harry? Could it be ex-religionists post-traumatic stress? Or is there something else. There certainly seems to be something funny going on (or not as the case may be) in your head.

Dave
 

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