Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roman Catholic Social Policy vs Sharia Law

I was shocked (shocked, I tell you, shocked!) by the Observer's comment "I would take sharia law over roman catholic social policy."

I find this unfathomable, and offer up this post so that people can have a natter about it, should they so desire. Here are a few thoughts to kick things off:

- I see catholic social theology as one of the glories of Christian thinking and practice. Whilst I have some minor disagreements with it (eg some aspects of sexual ethics - I disagree with Aquinas as to how to properly describe the telos of sexual behaviour) on the whole I find it a tremendously congenial place to stand;
- in contrast I see sharia law as profoundly iniquitous, not in theory (which I can understand) but in practice. To put it bluntly, the imposition of sharia law - not least if it threatened my daughters, eg their education - is something that I would have very few qualms about fighting...

Roughly speaking, it seems to me that if you have any desire for the full human flourishing for those who are not the dominant heterosexual males in a society, then the Catholic side of things has to be preferred.

Off you go :)

49 comments:

  1. It's not even close. I was floored to read the theObserver's (who is clearly not gay or female) comments.

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  2. Well, under sharia at least only the women are worthless. Catholics are pretty sure everyone (except the clergy) are worthless :)

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  3. Incidentally Sam,
    Isn't there a clash between the "go forth and multiply and condoms are bad" catholic position and your ego warrior streak?

    ;)

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  4. :)
    that should have read eco warrior :P

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  5. Well, both Sharia and a legal system dervived from catholic morality both agree on what is to be considered crimes. They just differ regarding the punishments.

    If you are gay, you'd choose catholic. That is to choose imprisonment instead of execution. If you are female, I don't know what system you would prefer: They are both pretty unappealing. Personally, catholic sexual regulation laws would push me towards sharia. I may not 'flourish' under that system but at least I won't have nine kids piled three and four into a bed.

    That said, both systems scare the crap out of me.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. The Catholic Church doesn't have "sexual regulation laws"; it has "church teachings." Which are widely disregarded here in the year 2010, BTW, and without consequence (other than, in some fairly rare instances, denial of Sacraments - which you can get at your local Anglican or Lutheran church, as many, many people do today).

    In addition, the original statement was a comparison of "Sharia Law" and "Catholic Social Policy." (Really, do click that link; it's good reading.)

    Sharia, of course, has "sexual regulation laws" - which can include the death penalty for adultery and homosexual sex - and sometimes even for premarital sex. Which is why what you've said flabbergasts both Rev. Sam and me, and I'm sure countless others.....

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  8. bls,

    I think the observer was comparing what would be the case in a catholic state run by the church. (medieval europe). Don't confuse that with the positions of a powerless church subject to the rule of secular law. That may not have been the initial subject being referenced but it seems like that was the sentiment the observer was expressing. Or I could be complete wrong :)

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  9. Well, perhaps you're right. Of course, I can't think why we'd be talking about a situation that hasn't existed for hundreds of years now - and I can't actually think of any cases of "catholic states run by the church" in medieval Europe, either, now that you mention it.

    I think that would be another good example of the difference between the two things....

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  10. Bls,

    It was a comparison of ideology. I wasn't suggesting the church was the actual government in any states. I meant think of medieval europe in terms of church dominance of societies. When has there ever been a western democracy suddenly subject to sharia law? It seem unlikely to ever occur. The observer is unlikely to be living under either system. It was a conceptual comparison.

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  11. OK, I get it. But it's possible there's a connection between Christianity and "western democracy," don't you think? I mean, Christianity seems to have given rise to - or, at least, not impeded - the very system you say sharia law could not exist in, right?

    I'm just saying: I think his "conception" was really, really off the wall! ;-)

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  12. "Well, perhaps you're right. Of course, I can't think why we'd be talking about a situation that hasn't existed for hundreds of years now - and I can't actually think of any cases of "catholic states run by the church" in medieval Europe, either, now that you mention it."

    Well, take Ireland as a case study. After gaining independence from England (ie the ability to fly a different colour flag over the same building), De Valera affectively handed over control of the country to the RCC, explicably adapting a catholic constitution (hence our wonderful blasphemy laws).And the country was a complete hell hole. We had laws until 1970 legally requiring women to resign their public service jobs after marriage; in my home town during the 1950's, the local priest forbade women to cycle bikes because the 'flashing of an ankle might lead to sinful thoughts', education was nothing more than preparation for the priesthood, censorship was common right down to the level of priests reviewing the contents of public libraries, families were kept in extreme poverty through catholic conception policy, 'family values' meant strict regulation of individuals sex life, an unmarried mother was labelled as 'fallen' and denied state support, roaming confessor bands of priests would visit every house in every town and scare the crap out of the inhabitants screaming about hellfire (seriously); marital rape was considered an oxymoron. Every little bit of individual liberty I now enjoy was opposed by a church with the power top break or make governments. How is that much improvement over Shari law? Fine, homosexuals go to jail instead of being executed. A slightly improvement but my life would be equally miserably under both systems and I honestly see little difference between the two. Same laws, different punishment. Terms like 'human dignity' is little more than empty political rhetoric. The reality is very much different.

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  13. "Well, perhaps you're right. Of course, I can't think why we'd be talking about a situation that hasn't existed for hundreds of years now - and I can't actually think of any cases of "catholic states run by the church" in medieval Europe, either, now that you mention it."

    Well, take Ireland as a case study. After gaining independence from England (ie the ability to fly a different colour flag over the same building), De Valera affectively handed over control of the country to the RCC, explicably adapting a catholic constitution (hence our wonderful blasphemy laws).And the country was a complete hell hole. We had laws until 1970 legally requiring women to resign their public service jobs after marriage; in my home town during the 1950's, the local priest forbade women to cycle bikes because the 'flashing of an ankle might lead to sinful thoughts', education was nothing more than preparation for the priesthood, censorship was common right down to the level of priests reviewing the contents of public libraries, families were kept in extreme poverty through catholic conception policy, 'family values' meant strict regulation of individuals sex life, an unmarried mother was labelled as 'fallen' and denied state support, roaming confessor bands of priests would visit every house in every town and scare the crap out of the inhabitants screaming about hellfire (seriously); marital rape was considered an oxymoron. Every little bit of individual liberty I now enjoy was opposed by a church with the power top break or make governments. How is that much improvement over Shari law? Fine, homosexuals go to jail instead of being executed. A slightly improvement but my life would be equally miserably under both systems and I honestly see little difference between the two. Same laws, different punishment. Terms like 'human dignity' is little more than empty political rhetoric. The reality is very much different.

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  14. Actually, all that sounds very similar to the culture in the U.S. in the 1950s.

    It's Victorian culture, as far as I can tell. It's strange, when I think about it, that all that stuff happened in particular during the 1950s, and I think I'm going to look into that and write about it.

    We had blasphemy laws, too; they were from an older period, though. And certainly their origins were Protestant.

    But at least I understand better where you're coming from, so thanks for explaining. I actually have the same dislike of the American Protestant culture, as a matter of fact, and for most of the same reasons.

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  15. This is quite a lot in Christianity that I wouldn't want to reject such as the idea of individual worth or the switch from the Greek idea that a virtue was simply having something well-made (e.g. Aristotle wrote of a 'Virtuous eye', ‘virtuous height', ‘virtuous intellect' i.e. well made, fit for purpose) into a virtue being what you actually do, the use you put it to. Conversely, I don’t see much I would want to keep in Islam.

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  16. My current theory is that Christianity is a truly beautiful religion for the disenfranchised - or perhaps just for the ordinary person, even - but becomes hideous when it gets co-opted by the culture and/or becomes entangled with the power structure.

    I think maybe the revulsion comes from partly from disappointment, because we look and know it could be something much, much better.

    Or maybe the facts are just these: it's simply immature at this point and doesn't have a coherent program yet. It's really got a lot going for it - don't forget that according the Gospels, Jesus spent all his time on earth wandering around and healing people who couldn't find healing anyplace else!

    I think maybe it's just a young religion - with a lot of potential still untapped. And a lot has been forgotten, too....

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  17. Difference between the two?

    Islam is not a religion of reason. The Holy Catholic faith neither eschews reaons nor worships it, but assigns to it a proper place.

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  18. I find the notion of Christianity being in some way responsible for "western democracy" to be vergeing on offensive. The Church held sway for centuries, a period well named "the dark ages". It was only the resurrection of classical thought (interestingly, preserved by the muslims) that led to the enlightenment. To suggest that the very institution that worked so hard to suppress the qeustioning and ideas that gave rise to modern science was somehow related to its rise is simply ridiculous. It was Christians who burned the collected knowledge stored in the library of alexandria. There is no telling just how far back that set cilvilization! Christianity adapted to the rise of science and democracy in order to preserve itself. For the same reason, it will change its stance on contrceptives and homosexuality. It will have to in order to survive. If you look back over the history of our culture and the teachings of the Catholic church and Christian establishments in general, there is a glaring pattern of the church slowing changing its backward beliefs in response to the changing zeitgeist of the culture in general. My mother told me once of a time when women had to be "churched" as it was called then. After having a bady (yuk, that involves blood and vaginas and everything!!) a woman had to go through a special ceremony to be allowed to enter a church again. She was unclean. Imagine the church trying to peddle that crap in today! What is holy, sacred, moral and proper changes continuouslt in the church. Was it right before or were the adherents to those practices just not reading their bible right?

    Anonymous,
    No religion is a religion of reason
    "Religion of Reason" is an oxymoron.

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  19. Actually, the rite is called, in the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, "THE THANKSGIVING OF WOMEN AFTER CHILD-BIRTH, COMMONLY CALLED, THE CHURCHING OF WOMEN."

    You can read the whole thing here. There isn't even the smallest element of "purification" in the rite; it's a thanksgiving ceremony that the woman has survived the dangers of childbirth. Here's the final prayer:

    "O ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast been graciously pleased to preserve, through the great pain and peril of Child-birth, this woman thy servant, who desires now to offer her praises and thanksgivings unto thee. Grant, we beseech thee, most merciful Father, that she, through thy help, may both faithfully live, and walk according to thy will, in this life present; and also may be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. "

    Oh, and while you're clicking, perhaps check out the "Library of Alexandria" thing, too? I'm wondering how you got to be certain it was "the Christians" who did it, when nobody else is....

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  20. Here's more about the destruction of the Library - more interesting stuff here, and there's another suspect on the list as well!

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  21. Whatever the ritual may contain, the view by those who had no choice whatsoever in going through it was remarkably different from the image you are presenting. Maybe my mother is just a dim-wit who didn't understand.

    I am aware of the different historical theories on the librarys destruction. Theophilus seems the most likely suspect to me as there is no argument that the once Serapeum became a Christian church. There also seems little debate that Theophilus was directly responsible for the destruction of the Serapeum, widely believed to hold the library. Ceasar may well have destroyed the original library by accident and the surviving material was housed in the library at the Serapeum. Regardless of the fate of the library, I think the opposition to what we would consider "western values" demonstrated by the chruch though the ages is pretty clear. Thankfully, the arab nations hadn't fallen completely foul of Islam before much of the knowledge they kept could be brought into the west. Islam is like a mirror image of Christianity. As Christianity's power waned, science and civil liberties gained strenght. In the arab world, as Islam gained power, science and civil liberties were all but strangled out of existence. Islam is the most prominant factor in the arab world going from being the most technologically and culturally advanced civilization on earth to being the cultural and technological backwater it is today.

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  22. Regardless of the fate of the library, I think the opposition to what we would consider "western values" demonstrated by the chruch though the ages is pretty clear.

    I don't agree at all. In any case, the problem is that you have been attempting to present personal opinion as fact, and I pointed out two examples of this above. Of course, we'd need to define "western values" at some point, too.

    Let's keep in mind, too, that ancient Greece and Rome were states in which more slaves than free people lived, and in which women - along with lots of men - had, in many cases, no rights at all. "Classical thought," indeed! Good thing there were other influences around to mitigate the pernicious effect of this kind of thinking....

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  23. How did we go from me shocking the Christians to historical debate ?! ^_^

    "My current theory is that Christianity is a truly beautiful religion for the disenfranchised - or perhaps just for the ordinary person, even - but becomes hideous when it gets co-opted by the culture and/or becomes entangled with the power structure."

    I think any political system built upon a 'final solution' will dabble excessively in citizens personal lives and result in misery for those who disagree with the ideology. What I want from a government is essentially a conservative agenda: food, shelter, security and health care. The same reoccurring problems that every civilization has faced since the dawn of time. After that, I want to be left alone to muddle through my life the best I can.

    "Or maybe the facts are just these: it's simply immature at this point and doesn't have a coherent program yet. It's really got a lot going for it - don't forget that according the Gospels, Jesus spent all his time on earth wandering around and healing people who couldn't find healing anyplace else!"

    Well, Christianity has had over 2000 years and during that time it shattered into over 2000 different sects, each with it's own belief system. These days, prosperity theology (yuck!) and fundamentalism are growing and the various religions are happy to link arms against the secular state which allows them to coexist peacefully. Anglicanism is being pushed out by the 'counter-reformation' as Roman Catholics are calling it and by fundamentalism and by apathy. The future does not look very bright.

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  24. Your last point is interesting, Observer. I'll be sorry if what you say about Anglicanism is true; it's the form of Christianity I admire the most, and that has the most potential, in my opinion.

    But there's no doubt that we are entering some tough times, and I agree that the future does not seem bright in many ways. I rather think, though, that if "fundamentalism" is growing, it's as a reaction to the situation, and is not itself a cause of any such bleak prospects. And at that point, it may be the least of our problems.

    (BTW, I was mentally comparing Christianity to something like, for example, Hinduism - which has given birth to some interesting offshoots such as Yoga. For whatever reason, Christianity's spiritual exercises haven't become systematized yet, which I think will probably happen eventually.)

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  25. I should add that, in my opinion, one problem with Christianity - and one reason many people fail at acting according to its (I think you will probably agree) admirable precepts - is that it's difficult.

    It's just not an easy thing to do, to love your neighbor as yourself, or to forgive, or to (as Rev. Sam wrote about a few weeks ago) take no offense at slights to begin with - let alone to love your enemy! There seems really no way to be able to accomplish these things outside of the "imitation of Christ," in fact. Human beings are not naturally constructed this way - which is why I think religion is necessary, personally.

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  26. Bls,

    I am not advancing personal opinion. I am agreeing with the opinion that many experts hold. I agree with them that Theophilus was the most likely curprit based on the evidence. That is a kind of opinion but not the kind you are suggesting.

    I don't agree at all. Is that an opinion?

    Slaves? Seriously? You realise that in the US civil war the confederates (acurrately) agrued that they had biblical support for holding slaves.

    There is little point debating this further. You are attempting to rewrite some uncontroversial history (The role of Christianity in the emergance of "western democracies") and shoe-horn Christianity in where it has no place. While your near sycophantic dedication to alwalys trying find a good light for Christianity is oddly facinating, it does make such debate pointless.

    On the Observers point about Anglicanism, I think I would have to agree. When a member of the clergy like Sam has beliefs so esoteric and abstract that he was unwilling to even state that God exists, I think it is a faith that is starting to fail the "So What?" test. God is becoming pretty much whatever the worshipper feels he should be. It is progressive certainly, far better in my view than the more harshly dogmatic versions of Christianity but ultimately people tend to get bored with such ethereal masters. One of the things I like the most about Anglicanism is that I just can't imagine it being the oppressive, controlling or even voilent religion that so many others manage to be.

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  27. Chimp - experts differ, not just about the library in Alexandria, but about the role of Christianity in shaping Western Civilisation - as you might imagine, I disagree with your stance, and I don't think it's because of a prejudice (but I would say that wouldn't I?)

    I'm more interested in the philosophical shape of your argument. You seem to be saying:

    - Person X has done something horrible;
    - Person X is a Christian;
    therefore
    - Christianity is rubbish.

    Whereas it seems perfectly possibly to say

    - Person X has done something horrible;
    - Person X is not living up to their Christian profession;
    therefore
    - living up to the Christian profession must be very hard.

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  28. Not at all Sam, if any number of persons do terrible things and they are all devout Christians, that does not necessarily indict Christianity.
    I am not arguing at all that bad Christians did X and therefore Christianity is bad. I am arguing with significant historical backing that Christianity had nothing to do with the emergence of western values. Christianity reigned supreme in Europe for centuries and no major social or scientific advancement was made. It was only with the re-emergence of classic ideas, ideas like those of the Ionians, that nature could be understood, that it had rules and laws and did not require a horde of gods to manage it. Concepts like the atom were rejected even by the great classical thinkers because it left no place for the soul. In classical times, it was ok to argue though. Christianity brutally suppressed any ideas thought to be heretical. It was only in those times and places where Christianity lost its iron grip that new ideas flourished. This may or may not have been in the noblest possible Christian form but it makes me sick when Christians try to claim Christianity was the driving for behind the emergence of western values. Only a devout believer of a fool would try to claim that Christianity does not relegate women to a second place position behind men. The bible is crystal clear on what it thinks about homosexuals. Two concepts at least that are already far behind secular morality. The bible incidentally does not mince words either about atheists. Do you really think that we are all wicked Sam, that none of us do any good? Or is the bible just full of crap on that one. One of the issues I have with some of the most progressive religious views is that they would take a life time to figure out entirely. You believe this bit, but not that bit or worse claim to believe it all whilst blatantly operating in opposition to much of it. It is the ironic position of using your secularly instilled morality to judge which parts of Christian doctrine to embrace and which parts to ignore.

    As you say it is possible to say
    - Person X has done something horrible;
    - Person X is not living up to their Christian profession;
    therefore
    - living up to the Christian profession must be very hard.

    I have no issue with the notion. In fact I would suggest that living up to the Christian profession is impossible as it renders many innate human traits sinful. A bit like demand that a black person be a little less black because God wants us all to be white or asking a dog to be less canine.
    I have looked intently at Christianity and I find nothing beautiful in it. On the contrary, it is non-stop denigration of humanity itself. Nietzsche put it something like this: The religious are those who hate life. All of their focus is on the afterworld. They are jaded with this world and want it to pass. This is not just a failing of Christianity, almost all religions do this. Being human just ins’t good enough. Humans are dirty little things full of inequities. Religions peddle the notion that you can be more than human.

    The goldren rule ( which dates back to the analects of Confucius) is great. The version from the sermon on the mount, good stuff. Much of what Jesus had to say (or what is attributes to him anyway) is great stuff. Very progressive for his time. Some of it though, not so great. Most Christians in the modern world cherry pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don’t. That is fine except they are then fool enough to think it is Christianity that informs their moral choices. If you want to take the teaching of Christianity and judge them, you must do so fairly. Judge all of the teachings of Christianity.

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  29. Yes, Chimp - it is an opinion, clearly. The difference is that I made it clear, while you are putting forth alleged "facts" about the world that anybody with access to the internet will realize in short order aren't facts at all. It doesn't help your case, you should know.

    And I notice you haven't responded to the point about slavery in the "Enlightened" ancient world. Aristotle also argued in support of it, in fact. So what makes "classical thought" so much more wonderful than the religion you decry, I'm interested in knowing?

    Just to be clear, though, here's where I'm coming from: I'm both gay and a woman. Therefore, I'm not fooled by arguments about how much more "enlightened" atheists are. Most atheists hated gay people just as much as most of the "religious" contingent did until - oh, approximately last week sometime. And this is not a matter of opinion, either; it was literally impossible to be openly gay until the 1970s or 80s in the West; before that you'd get tossed into a mental institution where "scientists" would treat you with electroshock - and yet the Enlightenment occurred hundreds of years ago. What went wrong, I wonder? Women couldn't attend university until the 20th century, either, for the most part; men of "science" pronounced us feeble-minded and hysterical.

    I'm also a recovering alcoholic/addict, so it's not really "sycophantic" of me to think that faith in God is important; it's pretty much the most important fact of my life and I have little doubt that I would be dead without it.

    So now you know.

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  30. "But there's no doubt that we are entering some tough times, and I agree that the future does not seem bright in many ways. I rather think, though, that if "fundamentalism" is growing, it's as a reaction to the situation, and is not itself a cause of any such bleak prospects. And at that point, it may be the least of our problems."

    A lot of fundamentalism is being imported into countries like Ireland via African and Arab immigration. A church of the Seventh day Adventist for example has sprang up close to where I used to live and the pastor with his shinny white teeth and flash suits (whom I'm guessing is American) seems to cater exclusively for Africans. Africa as far as I can see is an experimental testing ground for some very dodgy religious groups like The Family. Another factor I suspect is that people are sick of this consumer driven identify nonsense that is entwined with neo-liberal economic policies which have brought so many countries to their knees. So they turn to all manner of silly things.

    "It's just not an easy thing to do, to love your neighbor as yourself, or to forgive, or to (as Rev. Sam wrote about a few weeks ago) take no offense at slights to begin with - let alone to love your enemy!"

    Some would say such things are simply not possible and are hence irrelevant. I think the best we can do is see past the propaganda and not dehumanise our enemies. It’s the best your going to get from me anyway.

    On a semi-related note of 'spiritual exercises' as bls put it, I was surprised to learn that hope is considered a vice in many other traditions such as Stoicism
    (Epictetus: [Hoping for happiness is to] seek it where it is not and neglect to seek it where is it) , Zen Buddhism ("You must learn to live as if this present moment was the most vital of your life", Humanism (Andre Comte-sponville: To hope is to desire without consummation, without knowledge, without power) and even little Nietzsche (We 'shoulder' hope like 'beasts of burden' because of our inability to love reality for itself). I just mention it because guarding yourself against hope is an exercise completely as odds with both Christianity and our general culture and as an atheist I find things like that interesting. It's also another 'spiritual exercise' that appears impossible to achieve.

    "Chimp - experts differ, not just about the library in Alexandria, but about the role of Christianity in shaping Western Civilisation - as you might imagine, I disagree with your stance, and I don't think it's because of a prejudice (but I would say that wouldn't I?)"

    Christianity is a moving target. It has meant different things to different people at different times under different political systems. But I think the stance that Christianity lead to modern science, democracy, reason and capitalism is just as dubious as Dawkins 'root of all evil'.

    “Bls: Just to be clear, though, here's where I'm coming from..”

    I already guessed most of that, except I pictured you as a slightly grumpy late middle aged man !

    “And I notice you haven't responded to the point about slavery in the "Enlightened" ancient world. Aristotle also argued in support of it, in fact.”

    Yes and no. He admitted in some cases it was wrong but thought it could be justified by appealing to ‘natural slaves’. But the vast majority of humans have lived and still do live in pure economic squalor, forced to work for little more than a bread and shelter. I don’t think we can say slavery vanished in Christian Europe or in the modern day world (just look at sweat factories) : Slavery just took another form.

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  31. Bls,

    What facts are those? Are you still stuck on the library? Do you dispute that it is a fact that the church suppressed any idea that was not compatible with its dogma (often brutally) for centuries? If there is even a slight doubt about this in your mind, then your knowledge of history is insufficient.

    You missed the bit about slaves in my response?
    The bible itself has no issue with slavery. Were you implicitly (or maybe even explicitly) suggesting that it was Christianity that saved us from such horrors?

    The major difference between classical thought and religious thought is that classical thought was based on reason. Religion is based solely on authority. People don't always reason their way to the best answer but at least they can keep on reasoning. Dogma leaves no room for new ideas or evolving morality. I made no claim that the classical age was enlightened. I said, and it also a matter of historical fact, that it was a rediscovery of classical thought that gave rise to the enlightenment. It was when people began again to treat the world and nature as something that could be understood by humans that humanity began to emerge from the dark ages of dogma and superstition.

    Who is suggesting atheists are more enlightened?
    Most atheists hated gay people
    Interesting that you could possibly know that. Many ancient cultures has homosexual aspects, it was no big deal. It was the Abrahamic religions that vilified the idea and it is adherents to the Abrahamic religions that you will hear most vocally decrying homosexuality in the world today. Can you think of a single atheist group that has any issue at all with homosexuality? Can you think of any religious group that does?

    "Men of science" who have been steeped in the Christian heritage all of their lives. Most of whom probably were Christians. Being a "scientist" does not automatically = atheist. Not that being an atheist makes you immune to being an asshat either. the difference is that being anti-gay is actually doctrine for the Christian.

    Romans 26-27: (26) Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. (27) In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

    Seems pretty clear. There is no guarantee that an atheist won't be a bigoted asshole but at least it isn't commanded in the atheist guide book. Incidentally, being openly atheist wasn't a brilliant idea until the 70's or 80's in the west either. Should I draw from that that gay people hated atheists?
    It would be impossible to even guess at the opinions of atheists prior to the last 20 years or so.


    Are you under the impression that because you have a massive emotional imperative to believe what you do, I am to find your view less biased?

    If your religion is literally a life-line for you then your opinion on the topic is hopelessly biased. I don't mean any offence by that, simply that your psychological investment in it is great enough to ensure you won't find fault with it. That is not to say that you must be wrong in your views, only that if you were, you wouldn't be able to see it. You lack anything approaching objectivity.

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  32. "Just to be clear, though, here's where I'm coming from:"
    I already guessed most of that but I pictured you as a middle age, slightly grumpy man !

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  33. Chimp: "I am arguing with significant historical backing that Christianity had nothing to do with the emergence of western values. Christianity reigned supreme in Europe for centuries and no major social or scientific advancement was made."

    Um - I really disagree with this, and I think there's a lot of evidence in my favour. Are there any books that you can point to which justify your statements? Even a wikipedia page would be something more than your bare assertions.

    For the counter I'd point to Rodney Stark's work, or, perhaps, for the more specific intellectual strand, see Marcia Colish's book 'Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition 400-1400'. Be careful though, it might cause your head to explode ;-)

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  34. Chimp: it's pretty clear that you can't see past your own biases, so actually I'm not really trying to convince you of anything. You're welcome to your own opinion - but I'd really like to advance the discussion beyond the usual platitudes.

    I'm talking about my own experiences with prejudice against gay people - what I've seen with my own eyes, IOW. I'm not sure why I need to explain what seems to me to be obvious: that gay people were roundly hated by everybody in the West until we decided we weren't going to take it anymore about 40 years ago. Your pals in the scientific establishment fed Alan Turing female hormones and ultimately killed him off. Nobody objected; nobody cared. I know you wish to believe otherwise, but unfortunately these are the inconvenient facts of the case. I'd suggest actually looking at some documents from the period so that you can understand exactly how deep and complete the hatred for homosexuals was in all segments of society; nobody dissented from this.

    (I'm actually pretty tired of the Richard Dawkins, etc., crowd latching onto "gay rights" as an issue and to advance their "anti-religious" platform - when they didn't lift a finger to help us anymore than anybody else did. We were alone, believe me. And yes: atheists were, in fact, just as hands-off as anybody else was; the reason I know this is because I lived it.)

    I'm also pointing out that your anti-God platform actually leaves many people - including lots of gay people, BTW - without hope of any kind. Therefore I'm strenuously against it.

    I'm very willing to discuss how to make things better in religion - but that's not a discussion you seem interested in. So, basically, I'm trying to offer some facts of the world that explode the complacent assumptions you are making.

    I like to do this in general, so don't take it personally; I get tired, as I said, of the same old baloney and prefer to be part of conversations that might actually go someplace.

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  35. (P.S.: You are very wrong about something else, too, BTW. I've only been involved in organized religion for about 5 years or so; before that I was just an A.A. member and actually pretty strenuously opposed to OR. I've changed my mind about this over time.)

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  36. "It's just not an easy thing to do, to love your neighbor as yourself, or to forgive, or to (as Rev. Sam wrote about a few weeks ago) take no offense at slights to begin with - let alone to love your enemy!"

    Some would say such things are simply not possible and are hence irrelevant. I think the best we can do is see past the propaganda and not dehumanise our enemies. It’s the best your going to get from me anyway.


    Well, that's a reasonable response. But what about when things get unreasonable?

    Life is going to get harder in the future, it seems we both agree; how will we keep from "dehumanizing our enemies"? What system do we have that can help us deal with emotional, mental, and spiritual pressures when things are not going smoothly?

    We've been living in a hermetically-sealed bubble for the past couple of generations or so. What happens when the bubble pops? Human beings can be violent when threatened - and even sometimes when not. We haven't really "evolved" much emotionally, as far as I can see - we've just been incredibly lucky (and selfish, perhaps) in the West at least.

    What will keep chaos at bay, IOW, when push comes to shove?

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  37. BTW, it's interesting, Chimp, that you make this particular argument:

    Religion is based solely on authority.

    , and yet at the same time you also argue that:

    Christianity adapted to the rise of science and democracy in order to preserve itself. For the same reason, it will change its stance on contrceptives and homosexuality. It will have to in order to survive. If you look back over the history of our culture and the teachings of the Catholic church and Christian establishments in general, there is a glaring pattern of the church slowing changing its backward beliefs in response to the changing zeitgeist of the culture in general.

    How do you explain taking two so opposing views on the same question? (Usually this happens when basic assumptions are in error, BTW....)

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  38. "We've been living in a hermetically-sealed bubble for the past couple of generations or so. What happens when the bubble pops?"

    A bubble is how I look at it too. A historical bubble between wars that I was fortuante to be born into.

    "What will keep chaos at bay, IOW, when push comes to shove?"

    Nothing. When the crap hits the fan and social structures collapse, it's impossible to predicate how people will react, outside of the rigid authority of a state under martial law. Religious people may delude themselves into thinking their system will keep them on the correct moral path but I promise you it does not. If you have a system, you have a well documented set of values and pressure points. If you have a well documented set of values and pressure points, you are part of a demographic. If you are part of a demographic, you will have a specific and sophisticated set of propaganda techniques aimed at your believes and values.

    Womens rights were mentioned. A large part of the success of the suffrage movement was due to its leaders working in the propaganda departments in the US under Edward Bernays, Freuds nephew, during and before WW1. We have Brenay to thank for modern advertising such as linking cars to a mans sex drive, making cigarettes a mark of sophistication etc. Anyway, in his book 'Propaganda', Bernays uses the women rights movement as a case study because they deployed every trick he had developed to turn the opinion of a tiny minority into a mass movement. (Bernay also sold consumptoion as an idelogy to the American government as a means of keeping the 'herd' docile and thereby preventing a repeat of WW2. And frankly it works. People didn't turn away from religion enmass because of logic and reason. Rather the culture changed and religion was discarded as inconvenient. Jimmy Choos conferred more meaning and identidy than God). unchallenged.

    Anyway the point is, 1) we can’t predict how people will behave under stressful conditions (and people have tried to predict such), 2) all demographics are prone to manipulation: The better articulated the belief system, the easier this becomes. When I hear the words ‘common good’ or ‘part of something bigger than yourself’ or ‘duty’, I start wishing I had a gun for protection.

    Ironically, I think a humourless atheist without any neat little system is less likely to be manipulated because that demographic has nothing which can be easily turned against them. They can try the old ‘how can you live if your life has no meaning?!” or “its better to die for something than live for nothing” pitch, but we’ve heard that before.

    I remember a few years back in America, somebody did an experiment with preteen kids whereby they asked “When it is ok to kill a person?”. A few misunderstood and wrote ‘cancer’ or ‘heart attack’ but the majority wrote ‘for god and for country’.

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  39. Bls: "I'm talking about my own experiences with prejudice against gay people - what I've seen with my own eyes, IOW. I'm not sure why I need to explain what seems to me to be obvious: that gay people were roundly hated by everybody in the West until we decided we weren't going to take it anymore about 40 years ago. Your pals in the scientific establishment fed Alan Turing female hormones and ultimately killed him off. Nobody objected; nobody cared. I know you wish to believe otherwise, but unfortunately these are the inconvenient facts of the case. I'd suggest actually looking at some documents from the period so that you can understand exactly how deep and complete the hatred for homosexuals was in all segments of society; nobody dissented from this. "

    That is what I don't understand. On one hand, you can argue that science etc came from Christianity, but you don't seem to accept that hatred of homosexuality came because of Christianity. The conditions for the rise of science (belief in an ordered universe, dialog, schools of learning, logic, math etc) all predate Christianity. Science itself was not recognizable as such until the collapse of the Greek/Christian worldview during the scientific revolution when people realized they could not longer simply passively observe and extract morals from ‘creation’, but instead we must impose meaning and order upon chaos via cause&effect chains. Homosexuality was widely practiced until Christianity came along, granted some Stoics frowned upon it.

    Sam : "For the counter I'd point to Rodney Stark's work".
    Rodney Stark is terrible, especially 'How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.' I bought a copy then threw it in the bin because I was embarrassed to own it. Ideology driven nonsense of the worst variety.

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  40. That is what I don't understand. On one hand, you can argue that science etc came from Christianity, but you don't seem to accept that hatred of homosexuality came because of Christianity. The conditions for the rise of science (belief in an ordered universe, dialog, schools of learning, logic, math etc) all predate Christianity. Science itself was not recognizable as such until the collapse of the Greek/Christian worldview during the scientific revolution when people realized they could not longer simply passively observe and extract morals from ‘creation’, but instead we must impose meaning and order upon chaos via cause&effect chains. Homosexuality was widely practiced until Christianity came along, granted some Stoics frowned upon it.

    Actually, I'm not arguing either of those things. I'm arguing that Chimp's view of Christianity in Europe as a wasteland made up only of religious repression of "enlightened thought" is simply his own bias. Every historian I know of acknowledges that two influences - one coming out of ancient Greece and the other Christian - together created modern western culture. This isn't really controversial at all, I don't think. And blaming the "Dark Ages" on the church itself is bizarre, to say the least! Certainly he ought to at least acknowledge that other forces (like, say, the total collapse and disintegration of the Roman Empire and the resulting cultural and political chaos) might be at work. In any case, the church had little power in those early years; it was as chaotic and uncentralized as the rest of the continent.

    As for homosexuality: I do recognize that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam outlawed it, and in particularly harsh ways - but they were not the only ones who did. You're wrong, at the very least, about benign acceptance of "widely-practiced" homosexuality. Plato argued, ultimately, that homosexuality should be criminalized; attempts were made to outlaw it in Rome during the first couple of centuries before Christ; any sort of "passive" act wasn't tolerated in either Greece or Rome, and a conviction for a "passive" act could in fact lose a Roman male his citizenship. Homosexuality was illegal in China until about 5 years ago, and has been highly disapproved of in Japan and India, depending on the era.

    Of course, I wouldn't have had any rights as a woman, so probably wouldn't have lost any for being gay.

    And yes, I do acknowledge the persecutions of gay people by the church in various eras, and condemn them, just as I condemn persecutions of anybody by anybody. But there doesn't actually seem to have been the easy acceptance of homosexuality in other cultures - and in many cases we're not talking at all about what we're discussing today, the partnership of two equal human beings - that you're hinting at here.

    And as I said, I've run into homophobes of all religious persuasions, and none. The hatred of gay people was total not long ago - and since the Enlightenment Chimp is so proud of occurred an awfully long time ago, one wonders what took the Enlightened so long....

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  41. (Actually, not long ago I read an online article whose premise was that Plato is ultimately to blame, through his influence on Middle Eastern thought, for the homophobia of the Abrahamic religions!

    Will get back to you on that one....;-) )

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  42. BTW, Observer: I really do think you're giving religion far too little credit for its ability to - well, OK, if you insist - manipulate people in positive (as well as negative) ways.

    All three Abrahamic religions insist upon caring for the poor, for instance (and the sick, and widows and orphans, and etc.). This influence has shown up in the West, under Christian influence, as charity hospitals and the Red Cross and NGOs and - dare I say it - as respect for the worth of the individual human being. It really was Evangelicals - much as I dislike their influence in other areas - who drove the anti-slavery movement in England, and Quakers (among others) who fought against it in the U.S. They were joined by some of the secular humanists of the time, in fact, too - Darwin among them.

    I think anti-religionists often underestimate how thoroughly permeated with Christian thought our current culture is, and how much modern-day "western values" owes to Christian influence. I completely agree with you both in condemning the persecutions and hypocracies of the Church during certain periods - I have lots of personal disagreements with the Church, myself, truly. I spend a lot of time talking about them, too, and have been arguing with religionists for about 30 years now.

    A lot of things wouldn't be what they are without the influence of the Church. I'm not sure if I've told this story before here - I tell it a lot, it seems - but when I was about 19 years old, I worked one summer in a local convent/College, in the kitchen. I met Donald there, who was mentally ill; he was the janitor of the place, and he was always given me little laminated cards with prayers on them along with little drawings of the Virgin Mary. Donald would never have survived had not the sisters given him a place to live and work; he surely would have died in the gutter someplace.

    I have a hard time picturing this happening outside the church. It might have, but I really can't see how, or who would have taken care of Donald if not for the sisters. This is really one of the main reasons I've never lost respect for the church, even though it is indeed at times quite backwards.

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  43. Sam,

    Have you read Hitchens’ God is not Great. He goes into the effects and influences that Christianity has had on western thought. I doubt you'll agree with much of it which why the swapping of second hand opinions won't get us very far.

    A useful exercise in determining how much of our modern "western values" originate in Christian influence is to consider what you think those values to be. What separates "Western values" for the values of other regions?

    Take those values and look back through history at their etymology and then draw your conclusions as to how much of it we owe to Christianity. In my opinion western civilization has risen despite Christianity not because of it.

    Consider the future of western civilization also, do you see true equality for women? Do you see homosexuality being accepted for what it is (nothing more than another sexual orientation) or do you see the Christian view of it being immoral to be the one that stands the test of time. I do not doubt for a second that in both cases exegesis will occur and hey presto "that isn't what the text really means. Only fundamentalists and unsophisticated theists believe that!"

    Sam directly if you can
    Do you think homosexuality is immoral (or an abomination as it is called in the bible)?
    Do you think that women should be silent in church and that it is wrong for a woman to teach a man?
    Do you think that atheists are all wicked evil doers who never do any good, not even one of them as it says in the bible?

    If you disagree with any of those positions do you believe that the bible holds these views.
    Would you describe the oppression and vilification of atheists and homosexuals to be "Christian thought"? If not, why not?


    Bls,

    You just aren't making much sense to me on the whole "everyone hated gays" thing. Are you accusing atheists in the past of hatred because they didn't step up in defence of homosexuality (in a time when admitting to being an atheist was pretty much just as bad)?
    If you go to any of the places in the world where admitting to being gay today will earn you harsh treatment, try going there and declaring your atheism. The response will be fairly similar.
    Are you suggesting that atheist and humanist organisations that support gay rights today are insincere in doing so?

    The Observer is absolutely correct about widely practised homosexuality also. As he noted, not everyone agreed but when did everyone ever agree with anything? :)

    As to Donald, do you simply not recognise the secular charities and aid organisations of every stripe?

    It is worth noting also, that the church historically was the only organisation with the money to carry out effective aid. Incidentally money sucked out of the poor by comparatively rich priests (Historically speaking). Thank God for capitalism...oh wait we can't the church was completely against the idea of seeking wealth (despite doing so itself with prodigious avarice). This is the reason that Jews became synonymous with banking. The church forbade Christians from engaging in usury. The Jews were simultaneously forbidden from working in many of the professions reserved for Christians. So they took to banking. It was an industry needed in Europe and about the only thing they were allowed to do :)
    You claim that looking after the poor is something we can thank Christianity for (lets ignore for a moment that similar sentiments exist in virtually all religions) how do you explain the Catholic Church building a vast, vast fortune often directly from the poor?

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  44. Bls,

    I missed that comment about my claiming that the church was based on authority and that it was slowly changing with the times.

    Where exactly do you see the conflict here?

    The Catholic Church used to consider the helioccentric model of the solar system to be heretic nonsense. It has since changed it's mind on that one. What the pope says goes though. The hypocrasy and changing positions is merely further evidence that it all just a man made story. When objective reality clashes with the story, the story is changed and everyone tries to pretend that they never really thought the wrong thing at all.

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  45. Chimp - Hitchens is on my shelf but as yet unread. To give a succinct answer to your question I would argue that things like: the worth of an individual (= human rights); the overcoming of superstitions; the natural sciences; the pursuit of reason etc - all these depend, in their contemporary form, directly upon Christianity. Pointing out that _some_ have precursors in Greek thought is, to my mind, irrelevant. Christianity takes the best from Greek thought - and Jewish thought, in so far as they are separable - and it established a creative synthesis, which is where 'western values' come from. Historically I think that's unarguable, the interesting question is whether they necessarily come from Christianity. I'd say that they do...

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  46. @Sam : "Pointing out that _some_ have precursors in Greek thought is, to my mind, irrelevant. "

    I don't understand this at all.

    How we understand and argue large scale history is essentially using a philosophical framework. We have the Classical Greek understanding of cycles of Comedy and Tragedy; Christianity: history is driven by moral laws under Gods will; Liberalism that history is driven by progress, both scientific and moral; logical positivism- history is driven by technologic advances; Marist: history is driven by economics; so called 'realism': while we advance technology, human nature condemns us to repeat all the same mistakes - essentially moral and social progress is just an illusion; post-modern: history is just social and political constructs. There is also the philosophy position of naturalism in modern historical discourse: find a 'natural' reason to explain events, as opposed to saying he was 'genius' or 'inspired' or 'God-did-it'.

    So even talking about the past is not straightforward when we attempt to establish cause&events chains over long period of time.

    When it comes to history of ideas, I essentially adopt a post-modern/Nietzsche approach of determining when the idea was first introduced and by whom, then attempting to explain the idea in terms of its social environment. If I cannot, then I investigate the logic behind the idea.

    EG. Take the Christian idea that all human life is sacred. To examine it, I pick up my history book, discover it was first proposed or at least catapulted into the spotlight by a bishop around 2AD. The circumstances ?. Christians were proactively provoking the roman authorities because martyrdom was considered a sure fire way to gain entrance to heaven. Hence the idea that suicide is a mortal sin and that all life is scared. Confirmation? We have his writings for primary sources.

    Having determined all that, I am content not to explore the idea any further. I don't care about the logical arguments or the theology. I've dismissed it as a social/political construct somebody made up because it was useful at the time.

    The same goes for science. What is the root of the idea? Ancient Greece believed the universe was rationally ordered (logos) and that humans can determine this order through reason. Then what happened? Christianity renamed the logos the ‘living word’ and claimed it became manifest in the person of Jesus. The idea 'evolved'. Now God was outside the cosmos and philosophy became essentially a scholarly profession to examine the natural world and determine Gods commandments. And then? Then the Greek/Christian view collapsed under new evidence, the universe was no longer considered ordered or harmonious so humans sought to impose meaning and order upon the universe via cause&effect chains, which is basically modern science.

    So the chain of events is : Greek->Christian->Enlightenment->Modern Science.
    Under the law of hypothetical syllogism, we can say Greek->Modern Science.

    Or we can put it this way:
    If necessary precondition Y pre-dates X and X&Y have a clear relationship,
    then Y cannot of originate from X.

    "To give a succinct answer to your question I would argue that things like: the worth of an individual (= human rights); the overcoming of superstitions; the natural sciences; the pursuit of reason etc - all these depend, in their contemporary form, directly upon Christianity."

    I agree with you about individual worth. The idea simply didn't exist in Greek/Roman thought. The idea was heavily modified and improved during the Enlightenment but the origin was Christian.

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  47. the overcoming of superstitions; the natural sciences; the pursuit of reason etc - all these depend, in their contemporary form, directly upon Christianity

    I think a debate on this topic with you Sam would just raise my blood pressure :)

    Nice dodge by the way ;)

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  48. Dear Chimp: I'm not sure how to have a discussion with you when you don't seem to be listening to what I'm saying.

    Here are some examples of the problems I'm seeing. I say this: "All three Abrahamic religions insist upon caring for the poor, for instance (and the sick, and widows and orphans, and etc.). This influence has shown up in the West, under Christian influence, as charity hospitals and the Red Cross and NGOs and - dare I say it - as respect for the worth of the individual human being."

    You respond with this: "You claim that looking after the poor is something we can thank Christianity for (lets ignore for a moment that similar sentiments exist in virtually all religions) how do you explain the Catholic Church building a vast, vast fortune often directly from the poor?"

    First: are you simply not taking in what I'm saying? I'd just finished saying that other religions also insist upon caring for the poor! Second: please at least include some support for the assertions you make here. I'm not going to simply take your word for the fact that the "Catholic Church built a vast, vast fortune often directly from the poor" without some sort of actual demonstration that this is true. This article (hardly a supportive one!), for example, says that the "vast, vast fortune" has come primarily from investments made in the 20th century - and includes some actual support for this claim. Third: the Catholic Church is not all of Christianity.

    Here's another example of the problem: "As to Donald, do you simply not recognise the secular charities and aid organisations of every stripe?" Of course I do - as I stated plainly above! My argument, precisely, is that these organizations owe their existence to the Christian thought that permeates our culture, and to the charitable organizations and efforts that have arisen from it. (If you check, you'll see that most of the "secular" ones are of much more recent origin.)

    As for this: "You just aren't making much sense to me on the whole "everyone hated gays" thing. Are you accusing atheists in the past of hatred because they didn't step up in defence of homosexuality (in a time when admitting to being an atheist was pretty much just as bad)?"

    I don't know why the statement is mysterious at all. First: if nobody at all cared about the fate of gay people in the past - and nobody did, which I deduce from the fact that nobody helped gay people or supported us at all until about 15 years ago; in fact, everybody put as much distance between themselves and us as possible - then this must by definition include atheists. Second: I also said in my personal experience there wasn't much difference between betwee atheists and "religious" people on the topic; we were hated by everybody across the board. It's only my own experience - but you'd think that atheists would, if they are what you claim, have been more "enlightened" on the topic. They weren't; they joined the crowd when everybody else did. Third: I can't really agree that it was "pretty much as bad" to admit to being an atheist - at least, not for the past 200 years or so. Gay people were still being institutionalized in the 1970s - and are still being beaten and killed today, even in the West. Suicide is still all too common, in fact. I'm not aware of any of that happening to atheists; are you?

    I do realize your hatred for the Church is total - but it's really difficult to have a decent discussion with somebody who seems unable to grant that the other person might have even the smallest point. So I think I'll just stop trying; as I said above, I'm really more interested in having a conversation about things and in actually going someplace with it.

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  49. Bls,

    You are not interested in having a discussion on this topic. You only want your view validated.
    All the churches and cathedrals (outlandishly ornate and large stuctures by comparision to anything else around them) that exist in every small town and village and have done for centuries; where do you think they came from? Where did they get the land they are built upon? 20th century investment?
    If this is something you need me to prove to you, you are already so far removed from a position where a conversation can be had that the attempt would be pointless.
    Priest were traditionally some of the wealthiest people, certainly in Irish society, though it seems to be a commonly recurring theme globally. Go into any poor community in Africa today and who do you think will be wearing the most gold?
    One of the sicking things about this kind of "debate" is that you will point to piece of philosophy by a Christian scholar and claim "Christianity"!! when the actual facts in the daily lives of almost everyone else were very, very, different.
    You have no interest in taking an honest view of what the church actually meant in the actual lives of ordinary people for nearly two thousand years.

    Not all the money came from the poor of course.
    St. Peter's basilica for instance was not built with money from the poor, it was built on the sale of indulgences to the rich (One of the many corruptoins that sparked protestantism)
    If you consider the vast wealth of the various Christian churches and the incredible poverty of so many of the communities (in which they have collections on sunday) and can seriously make the claim that Christianity has been about taking care of the poor then you are deluded beyond any convincing.
    I would agree strongly that the teachings of Christ do certainly emphasise the care of the poor. The Koran emphasises the value of human life.
    Neither however have anything to do with the actual form or effect of either faith.

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