An Ongoing Discussion about the Role of Religion in History

"Its simply common sense."

Perhaps it is common sense to say that when the state commands and the people resist, there will be bloodshed, but at that point, it seems to me that religion drops out of the equation as a variable, unless you are saying religion has more power to resist government oppression than secular ideologies — if that is your point, I would tend to agree.

It seems to me equally common sense to say that Nazism and Communism are new fashions of barbarism, whose point was to dismantle civilized institutions, and subordinate everything from marriage to the marketplace to the state, and to undo the uniquely Christian notion (found in no other era and no other land aside from Christian ones) of separation of church and state, rendering only what is due Caesar to Caesar. When Christianity departs, so also departs civil liberties: the postchristian socialists of Europe are not known for small and unobtrusive government.

"And is it particularly fair to compare the greatest works of one era to a work taken, in your own words, "at random" from another era and then conclude that the latter era is debased in comparison?"

You misrepresent what I said. I do not think that question that modern music is seriously debased was up for discussion. I was not trying to prove anything with a single example, aside from emphasizing that such music would never have been tolerated in 1940’s or 1950’s America, much less Puritan England or pre-Napoleonic France. That such music is barbaric is clear enough to need no further proof from me.

Will any seriously maintain that the ebbing tide of religion in the public mind has no bearing on the rising tide of such music?

"Christianity had nearly 2000 years during which to get rid of slavery. The period when it actually occurred was during what was, by any reasonable measure, a more secular era than any in the previous history of the religion’s dominance in western culture."

Are you speaking of 500 AD, when the Christians eliminated gladiatorial games, or perhaps you are speaking of 1200 AD when the Christians made manumission of slaves upon conversion a matter of cannon law, or perhaps you are speaking of 1640 AD, when the Pope excommunicated any and all slaveowners wheresoever situate in the Old World or the New World, or perhaps you are thinking of Lord Mansfield’s Ruling in the 1800’s, or you have in mind William Wilburforce, who began the movement to end the slave trade world wide, also the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, or perhaps you are thinking of the American Civil War? It is your contention that the United States during the 1850’s were not ferociously religious, churning with revivalism, and even inventing new religions like Mormonism at that time?

I would be hard pressed to select times in history when the religious fervor ran higher.

I urge you to look at history more carefully. Please notice that the Roman Empire groaned under the burden of massive slavery, and that the Middle Ages did not. The slave trade began again when Spain colonized the New World, but the record of the Roman Catholic Church in opposing slavery — excommunication is no joke — is well recorded, as is the record of the Puritans. The reason why the costume of Puritanism, remembered to this day in Thanksgiving Day celebrations, is undyed black broadcloth, is that this was not grown on slave plantations, like cotton. The Puritan garb is a political statement favoring abolition.

The record of the secular world has nothing to compare. The only overtly atheist political regimes, Communism and Nazism, reintroduced slavery on a massive scale. Slavery has again appeared in the post-colonial Third World, that is, where Christendom has ebbed.

In my own personal experience, the athiests I know mock the idea of trying to free the slaves currently held in the Third World, on the ground that buying them merely encourages the slave trade, and on the ground that no military solution is feasible or desirable.

This is not and cannot be the opinion of all atheists, but I was shocked to see it among my fellow Americans. Being post-Christian removes a certain amount of zeal, including that zeal needed to do correct a grave moral evil in the world.

"Certainly science and learning have not diminished in this secular modern world."

It does not seem so certain to me, not if we are considering the scientific and technical literacy of the public at large, which has dropped sharply even in my lifetime. Junk science seems to be the order of the day, political correctness, and stark irrationalism under the guise of ‘deconstructionism’ is promoted in the public schools and universities.

Science did not fare well under Nazi or Communist regimes. Are you familiar with the work of Lysenko? Lysenko rejected Mendelian genetics on the grounds that a material dialectic governed evolution. He was an outrageous fraud, and was feted and flattered by the ‘modern’ intelligentsia of Europe. Lysenko inspired a Communist project to interbreed humans and ape and produce a race of supersoldiers, like something out of a pulp novel.

Christians are often criticized for oppressing scientists and academicians, but the historical record shows the opposite: more scientists, scholars, and intellectuals were killed by the French Revolution, Russian, Chinese, and the German National Socialist Worker’s Party than were ever killed by any Inquisition.

"And I don’t think you’ve made any compelling case that fine art and literature have become debased from past, more religious, times."

What would you accept as evidence?

Architecture: Let us compare the cathedral of Notre Dame, with the Arc de la Defense, a horrid & blank ultramodernist cube that dominates an office complex outside Paris. Let us compare the famous Kremlin domes, historically known as the Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed, with any piece of Stalinist Era architecture.

Painting: Let us compare the fresco of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo or the Last Supper of Da Vinci or the canvass Virgin with Angels by Bouguereau with even the best work of Picasso or Breton or Dada.

Music: I have already mentioned the Great Mass by Mozart and the St. John’s Passion by Bach. I will admit that perhaps Sergei Prokofiev can hold his own against these titans, but I hope you will entertain the notion that Prokofiev is hardly characteristic of modern or postmodern music.

Poetry: I point to Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost. To what shall we compare this? The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot?