No One Dies for Religion

by Jason Godesky

Atheists are very fond of critiquing “religion” (by which they usually mean the three most recent forms of Western monotheism) for causing so much death and destruction in the world. From the Crusades to the Inquisition to modern-day Islamic suicide bombers, the record for religious conflict seems superficially to be as comprehensive as it is damning. But today is the fourth anniversary of Marvin Harris’ death, and the theory of cultural materialism he championed so effectively suggests a very different reading of those facts: not that people die for religion, but that religion provides a convenient excuse for the blood-curdling violence that our economic situation so often demands.

The classic example of cultural materialism serves as an excellent introduction here: it is Marvin Harris’ “Sacred Cow of India.” The Hindu injunctions against the consumption of beef seemed so bizarre and superstition to their European conquerors that the phrase “sacred cow” has become a euphemism for whatever strange, arbitrary beliefs a person or people cling to. But of course, we all have our “sacred cows,” and it is only our ethnocentrism that blinds us to our own. Yet, as Harris so effectively argues, they are anything but arbitrary:

During the First Millennium B.C., the Ganges Valley became one of the most densely populated regions of the world. Where previously there had been only scattered villages, many towns and cities arose and peasants farmed every available acre of land. Kingsley Davis, a population expert at the University of California at Berkeley, estimates that by 300 B.C. between 50 million and 100 million people were living in India. The forested Ganges Valley became a windswept semidesert and signs of ecological collapse appeared; droughts and floods became commonplace, erosion took away the rich topsoil, farms shrank as population increased, and domesticated animals became harder and harder to maintain.

It is probable that the elimination of meat eating came about in a slow, practical manner. The farmers who decided not to eat their cows, who saved them for procreation to produce oxen, were the ones who survived the natural disasters. Those who ate beef lost the tools with which to farm. Over a period of centuries, more and more farmers probably avoided beef until an unwritten taboo came into existence.

Only later was the practice codified by the priesthood. While Indian peasants were probably aware of the role of cattle in their society, strong sanctions were necessary to protect zebus from a population faced with starvation. To remove temptation, the flesh of cattle became taboo and the cow became sacred.

The sacredness of the cow is not just an ignorant belief that stands in the way of progress. Like all concepts of the sacred and the profane, this one affects the physical world; it defines the relationships that are important for the maintenance of Indian society.

Cultural materialism suggests that people do not fight simply for religion’s sake; they fight for basic, economic reasons, and then dress it up with religion after the fact. So let’s take a look at some of the favorite examples of “religious conflict,” and see if they’re really about religion, or something else entirely.

The Crusades are an obvious first choice. Ostensibly, the Crusades were fought to regain Jerusalem from the Muslims, who had conquered the holy city in 638 CE. In response, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade, a swift 457 years after the fact. If the crusades were really fought to regain Jerusalem for Christendom, why did it take five centuries for that kind of religious devotion to kindle, and so suddenly spark into a blaze? Wikipedia’s entry on the Crusades touches on the two main reasons:

The origins of the crusades lie in Western developments earlier in the Middle Ages, as well as the deteriorating situation of the Byzantine Empire. The breakdown of the Carolingian Empire in the later 9th century, combined with the relative stabilization of local European borders after the Christianization of the Vikings, Slavs, and Magyars, meant that there was an entire class of warriors who now had very little to do but fight amongst themselves and terrorize the peasant population. The Church tried to stem this violence with the Peace and Truce of God movements, forbidding violence against certain people at certain times of the year. This was somewhat successful, but trained warriors always sought an outlet for their violence. A plea for help from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I in opposing Muslim attacks thus fell on ready ears.

The economics of a feudal, warrior aristocracy made sense in the context of the collapse of Rome, but made less sense in the relatively stable peer polity that followed. To justify their existence, the warrior aristocracy needed a war–and so, would fight one another. Even more important was to find an outlet for the second-born sons of medieval primogeniture to prove themselves and gain land. The fragmentation that led to the dissolution of Charlemange’s empire was solved by simply passing lands and titles to the first-born alone. This left a large percentage of the warrior aristocracy with no land, no title, and the martial prowess to press a claim. These same needs would find an outlet in Iberia’s Reconquista, as well.

This is where the Crusades’ leadership came from; its rank and file was populated by all manner of individuals seeking refuge for some legal infraction. In an increasingly legalistic world with an increasing number of arbitrary, local laws and harsh penalties, this was a growing, and increasingly desperate, class. The offers of clemency and the promise of fortune on Crusade enticed many individuals who’d found themselves in a difficult position in Europe.

At the same time, Byzantium was vulnerable. Rome only expressed an interest as the East-West schism was beginning, and when Alexius I asked Pope Urban II for help against the Muslims. He expected an army of mercenaries to back him up–not a horde of Crusaders to make a grab for part of his empire. The Western European peer polity system had to take advantage of Byzantium’s weakness–because all civilizations must grow, at any cost. In the medieval mind, Jerusalem was the center of the earth. The Crusades were a bid of conquest for the Roman Catholic Church. Xenophobia and piety were exploited to motivate the foot soldiers, but even these were only secondarily motivations, behind the promises of lands, titles, booty, and sometimes, relief from running afoul of an oppressive legal system.

The Inquisition, another favorite example of murder in the name of religion, came directly out of the Crusades. The Albigensian Crusade was a fiasco so clearly rooted in imperial ambition that even devout medieval clergy could not ignore it. The Count of Toulouse was very nearly independent, and gathering increasing autonomy. The diversity of Toulouse allowed the region to prosper economically far more than most of Europe at the time. The King of France was not only challenged by barons in the north, he also risked losing the wealth of Toulouse, and even the possible ascendancy of Toulouse over Paris–and the Trencavels over the Capetians. So, using the excuse of the Count’s tolerance of Cathar heretics in his lands, a crusade was called. After conquering the Languedoc, another figure, loyal to the Capetians and the church–Simon de Montfort, father of the Simon de Montfort involved in England’s Barons’ War and the establishment of Parliament–was installed. When he was removed by the guerrilla actions of the last scion of the Trencavel family, it was obvious that more drastic measures would be needed to hold the region. Once it was regained by treachery, the Inquisition was imposed. It very effectively rooted out the last of the Cathars–and brutally enforced the will of king and church. As a result of the Inquisition, the Languedoc became very much a part of France, and all hope of independence was lost forever. What crusade could not accomplish for the economy of France, the Inquisition did.

Much the same occurred in Spain, in the context of a more “traditional” crusade, the aforementioned Reconquista. Wikipedia’s entry on the Spanish Inquisition states:

While the Castilian Isabel was a devout Catholic, the Aragonese Ferdinand was not above using religion as a means of controlling his people. He wanted the Jewish and Muslim religions wiped out in his domains, and the Inquisition was his method for achieving that. Many historians believe the Spanish Inquisition was instituted as a way of weakening Ferdinand’s primary political opposition at home. It is also possible that there was a financial motivation. Jewish financiers had lent Ferdinand’s father many of the funds which he had used to pursue the alliance by marriage with Castile, and many of these debts would be wiped if the noteholder were condemned in court. The Inquisitor whom Ferdinand installed in Saragossa Cathedral was assassinated by New Christians.

Ferdinand was an astute politician, and developed close ties with St. Peter’s in Rome as part of his political manoeuvering, aimed at consolidating the independent realms (joined by his marriage to Isabella) into a single state to be left to his heir. However, he did not want the Pope to control the Inquisition in Spain, as he was jealous of any other power within his borders.

The Pope did not want the Inquisition established in Spain at all, but Ferdinand insisted. He prevailed upon Rodrigo Borgia, then Bishop of Valencia and the Papal Vice-Chancellor as well as a cardinal, to lobby Rome on his behalf. Borgia was partially successful, as Pope Sixtus IV sanctioned the Inquisition only in the state of Castile. Later, Borgia was to have Spain’s support for his own papacy as Pope Alexander VI.

In other words, the Inquisition was not a campaign to wipe out heresy–it was a political campaign that cynically exploited religion to justify the consolidation of imperial power. Religion was an excuse, not a cause of the Inquisiton.

The successful end of the Reconquista in 1492 left a large of class of conquistadors with no war to win–the very same second-born sons of primogeniture that had necessitated the First Crusade. Fortunately for them, in that same year, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon a continent, and showed the Spanish Empire a New World to conquer. The conquest of the New World is often used as another example of religious conflict–with Spaniards conquering the New World to convert the Indians. In reality, converting Indians was an after-thought. Rather, it was another game of Prisoner’s Dilemna: Spain had to conquer the New World and gain its advantages before other European powers did. Moreover, they needed to give the conquistadors something to do–and preferably, something that did not involve civil war or a coup d’etat.

In thew New World, the conquistadors encountered our last example of religious killing: Aztec human sacrifice. In “Aztec Motives for Mass Sacrifice,” Eric Pettifor writes:

Given the scale of Aztec sacrifice, it would be surprising if no one suggested that they were using people as a domesticated animal source of protein. There are many references in the Spanish sources to cannibalism, the estimates of number sacrificed annually ranging from Cortes’ three to four thousand annually to 20,000, to 80,400 in several sources.

Any kind of resource stress, such as the drought of 1450 would have been totally disastrous. The Aztec answer to this precarious situation was large scale cannibalism. Unfortunately, given the figures for population, percent of population belonging to the nobility, and number sacrificed which Harner gives “for the sake of discussion” (all very soft), human flesh might have been very marginally adequate in Tenochtitlan, and not at all anywhere else in the Aztec empire.

For all its flaws, the nutrition through cannibalism theory is at least looking in the right direction. Tenochtitlan was not self sufficient. Its population could not be supported by even the most copious yields of its technologically advanced intensive agriculture. Tribute from neighbouring states was required to make up the difference.

This was exactly the approach of the Aztecs to territories they wanted tribute from. Both the Aztecs and the Spanish liked to make offers you couldn’t refuse.

Perhaps the greatest difference between them, however, was human sacrifice. While the Spaniards were familiar with the virtue of dying in the service of God, King, and Country, and more generally with the virtue of service to these entities, they did not see clearly how human sacrifice could be rationalized as being in terms of these virtues. They were not conditioned to it from birth as the Aztecs were. They came upon it from the outside and it must have seemed diabolically incomprehensible. Yet for God, King, and Country was the pretext for not only human sacrifice, but all forms of tribute due the state.

The strongest motivator was economic. The religion walked in perfect step with that. The hunger of the gods was the hunger of Tenochtitlan. When the gods were well fed, so was Tenochtitlan. The chief god of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli, was the god of war for a militaristic people. He was very hungry. The prime food of Huitzilopochtli was not, however, the prime food of the people. The consumption of human flesh, Huitzilopochtli’s leftovers (Harner, 1977), functionally established the nobles as divinely privileged and empowered.

Only nobles could eat the god’s leftovers. Only warriors could be nobles. All adult men were expected to do military service, and the potential for social advancement served as an incentive to valour in warfare. Capturing live prisoners for later sacrifice was especially valued, and could result in the bestowal of special insignia.

Only warriors were exempt from paying tribute, a further incentive for belonging to that class. Everyone else, Aztec citizen and citizen of the subject state, paid with either goods, services, or their lives - the latter honour serving as a disincentive to refusing to pay.

The ‘option’ of not being sacrificed had very great appeal. A neighbouring state from which Aztec’s wanted tribute could pay in goods or services, or it could pay with the hearts of its warriors first, then pay with its goods and services

Masive human sacrifice may have provided some sustenance, but not enough to be a major food source. Instead, human sacrifice played two very important roles in the Aztec empire: first, to help control the population of the overpopulated basin, and second, to instill a sense of terror to ensure the continued extraction of tribute from neighboring kingdoms–tribute on which Tenochtitlan, being completely unsustainable, was utterly dependent. In the classic mode of all hierarchical exploitation, the Aztecs made the entities they depended on equally dependent on Tenochtitlan. In their case, they did so via human sacrifice. It wasn’t motivated by religion; it was motivated by economics.

In fact, this is a general principle. For any such conflict where a naive, superficial analysis might lead one to think that people are “killing for religion,” a deeper analysis will show that hey are doing no such thing. Every war comes down to the same factor: EROEI. Energy Returned on Energy Invested; the marginal return curve on the abstract energy economy itself. The Romans very explicitly stated that their conquests were geared towards acquiring more farmland–that’s EROEI. The expansion of the Western European peer polity system at the expense of its Byzantine rivals, to create economies of scale and generate greater comparitive advantage–that’s EROEI. The need to conolidate political power, so that more energy goes into the kingdom and less goes out quelling dissent–that’s EROEI. Bringing energy into the imperial center and keeping a cap on the population–that’s EROEI.

Of course, individual human beings can hardly live with themselves in such a way. We cannot fave the gruesome reality of such violence with only the cold economic reality. That is where religion comes in, to help us sleep at night and to give us an excuse for what we’ve done.

Cultural materialism teaches us that every society is dictated by its economic reality. Violence entails a significant risk of our own death; no society engages in violence for trivial reasons. Religion, no matter how deeply held, is always a trivial reason. Societies do not go to war because they believe it is just; they go to war because they believe they have to.

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  1. […] In a previous article, I made the case that all wars are for resources. The notion of “religious wars” are, in all cases, a justification made after the fact for conflicts over very material goals. My conclusion there was: Cultural materialism teaches us that every society is dictated by its economic reality. Violence entails a significant risk of our own death; no society engages in violence for trivial reasons. Religion, no matter how deeply held, is always a trivial reason. Societies do not go to war because they believe it is just; they go to war because they believe they have to. […]

    Pingback by Petroleum et Imperium Americanum » The Anthropik Network — 8 December 2005 @ 10:39 PM

  2. […] Religion, historically, has often been an excuse for violence, but never a prime motivator.33 The same holds true here: while most analysis of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has focused on their religious differences, the fact remains that this is a shallow veneer covering a much deeper conflict for a much more basic resource: water. […]

    Pingback by Israel’s Water Wars (The Anthropik Network) — 15 August 2006 @ 3:10 PM

  3. […] The video at right, featuring “the coolest 8 year old in the world,” was released on YouTube to help promote the Bastard Fairies’ song, “We’re All Going to Hell.” There’s been a lot of blogger speculation that this is the daughter of Yellow Thunder Woman, who is herself the daughter of Native rights campaigner Greg Zephier. The Bastard Fairies also were involved in the production of The Canary Effect (we posted a clip from The Canary Effect, uploaded to YouTube, earlier this year in commemoration of Columbus Day). Of course, I disagree with some significant portion of this—since no one dies for religion—but her ultimate point—”the way to keep kids away from gangs and violence is to start treating us like human beings”—couldn’t be more spot on. […]

    Pingback by “Treating us like human beings.” (The Anthropik Network) — 11 December 2006 @ 11:43 AM


Comments

  1. On the other hand, it seems that pre-monotheist societies in the West seldom if ever used religion even as an excuse for war. The Greeks fought savagely among themselves and against other peoples from the Bronze Age on, but I cannot think of any case in which religion was appealed to even rhetorically as a justification for war. Nor, I think, did the Romans show much tendency to dress up their conquests in religious garb, though of course they always hoped and trusted that the gods would help them.

    So there is still a question about Christianity and Islam, I think. What is it about these religions that suits them to serve as ideologies of war and conquest? As a first wild guess, wouldn’t the first thing to look at be their arrogant universalist pretensions?

    Comment by SqueakyRat — 25 October 2005 @ 1:01 PM

  2. The inherent intolerance of a monotheist perspective, naturally. But if they lacked that, then they would simply find another excuse–democracy or Communism or glory or whatever else. They chose religion these times; but that’s not always the case.

    Also, the Aztecs were quite polytheistic.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 October 2005 @ 1:16 PM

  3. Monotheism generallyb lends itself better to intolerance since it’s based on the premise that there is one and only one god. Which means that anyone who worships a different god is a heathen. With polytheistic religions, it’s more difficult to get people riled up against some group for worshipping the wrong god because really, what’s one more?

    Comment by Mike Godesky — 25 October 2005 @ 1:20 PM

  4. I don’t know that polytheism is inherently more tolerant. Isn’t it rather that polytheist religions connect their gods to specific places and societies — perhaps rather vaguely defined — in spite of their cosmic roles? And that is an attitude that is available to monotheism too. Ancient Judaism, for example, looks like a monotheism whose adherents thought of Jahweh simply as THEIR god, and didn’t care much whether others worshipped him or not.

    Comment by SqueakyRat — 25 October 2005 @ 1:41 PM

  5. You’re describing monolatry–the idea that there are many gods, but this one is mine. The ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah were monolatrous. Whe nthe Assyrians (also monolatrous) conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they used their usual strategy–export the conquered throughout the empire to keep them from rising up, and import others into the newly conquered lands. In others lands, the monolatrous northern Hebrews said, “Oh, well, I’m not in Israel anymore, so I won’t be worshipping the god of Israel anymore. Who’s god here? I guess I’ll worship I him now.” The northern kingdom was the “lost tribes of Israel.” They weren’t lost, they were assimilated into the Assyrian empire.

    Things happened differently when the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, though. Previously, the prophets (you’ll notice they’re almost all in the south) had introduced a number of stunningly liberal reforms–but also, the idea that not only is this our god, it’s the only god. This was part of their social program, too. The other gods were aristocratic and supportive of abuse against the poor. By claiming there was only one god, and that god demanded social justice, the prophets could make a much stronger claim. See Psalm 82.

    So, by the time the southern kingdom was conquered, there was a monotheistic element. The monolatrous Jews were assimilated like the northern tribes–meaning that after the Babylonian Exile, only the monotheists remained Jewish. It was at this time that nearly all of the Tanakh was first composed, so we can really talk about Judaism as a result of the Babylonian Exile in a very meaningful way.

    At any rate, monolatry is not universal among polytheists, or even especially common. It played a role in Judaism’s history, and was prominent throughout the Bronze and Iron Age Middle East, but it would be entirely incorrect to conflate polytheism and monolatry as a usual or necessary equation. More often, it’s as Mike suggests: what’s one more. Christian missionaries had a hell of a time with this in India.

    “Worship Jesus!”

    “OK, we worship him, too!”

    Or, in another scenario: “Hey, I worship Apollo! You worship Ra? Ah, hell, it’s all the sun, right? Let’s go get drunk!”

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 October 2005 @ 1:56 PM

  6. Thanks for the very informative reply. I see the distinction between monotheism and monolatry, and of course I don’t conflate monolatry and polytheism — who could? But please explain to this atheist why the following doesn’t work as a religious attitude: 1. There is only one God — the one I happen to worship, naturally. 2. I don’t care whether anyone else worships him or not.

    Comment by SqueakyRat — 25 October 2005 @ 2:40 PM

  7. Because that attitude requires a complete lack of interest in anyone else’s welfare. If there’s only one god, then you need to enlighten the pagans to that fact. Just as selfishness is one tail of the bell curve, so is altruism. We rarely like to look at all the examples were the selfish save us from the altruistic.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 October 2005 @ 2:46 PM

  8. Hi. Discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and have been reading a bit every day. Well done. I like your perspective.

    There was a parallel development starting at about the same time as monotheism and that was the written law, with God as the legitimizing authority. I’m wondering if writing might have been a more significant factor than monotheism.

    Comment by ov — 28 October 2005 @ 3:55 AM

  9. Found elsewhere:

    Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture. Super Size Me did it to fast food. Now “The God Who Wasn’t There” does it to religion.

    Holding modern Christianity up to a bright spotlight, this bold new film demands answers to the questions few dare to ask. Your guide through the world of Christendom is former fundamentalist Brian Flemming , who unflinchingly examines believers and the origins of their beliefs.

    Sample Trailer (7mb):
    http://www.thegodmovie.com/trailer/tests/GodWhoWasntThere-Trailer-SM.mov

    Download for free via BitTorrent (699mb):
    http://torrentspy.com/directory.asp?mode=torrentdetails&id=448503
    http://www.mininova.org/tor/139662

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 1:21 PM

  10. Oy. I just watched that trailer… talk about completely missing the point. Why does it MATTER whether or not Jesus existed? How does that change the nature of modern fundamentalism? How does that make religious fundamentalists any more or less dangerous? How does that tell us ANYTHING about how to understand them and deal with them?

    If anything, it’ll just result in people walking out of the movie theater chuckling about how dumb those Christians are while those “dumb Christians” continue to take over the government and take away our civil liberties. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 29 October 2005 @ 1:34 PM

  11. Maybe you should watch the entire hour? Basically, he dismantles the bible and shows it to be a crock of shit. The hope is that some Fundies will watch it in a secret and then start thinking about the nonsense they have been spoonfed.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 1:47 PM

  12. Peter, did you read the article you’re replying to? People aren’t fundamentalists because fundamentalism makes sense. Logical arguments never make anyone’s faith waver, because their faith isn’t based in logic. They believe because, to channell Fox Mulder, they want to believe. Because it backs up the biases and prejudices they already have.

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 29 October 2005 @ 2:13 PM

  13. “How does that make religious fundamentalists any more or less dangerous?”

    When truth goes up against lies, truth eventually wins. Although it can, seemingly, take forever in some situations.

    The silver lining in the current resurgence of moonbat fundamentalism under eMpEroR gEoRgiE is that light is finally being shed on these people and what they believe. As a result, the moderate Xians and sane conservatives* will begin to distance themselves these idiots.

    We should all do everything we can to spread the word of this film.

    * Yes, there are conservatives who are reasonable sane and who are beginning to feel revulsion at the NECONs and their Fundie groupies. Both the left and right have their moonbat fringes.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 2:22 PM

  14. Yes, I have read the article. It applies to some and not to others.

    The film speaks to many people who have grown up with Fundamentalism but who have doubts which they are afraid to express to those around them.

    I lost my faith in the first grade of Catholic school simply because the story was so preposterous. My loss of faith had nothing to do with any underlying “material” reasons.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 2:27 PM

  15. I saw the film, and I think it’s an embarrassment, frankly. Brian Flemming never stopped being a fundamentalist, he just became a fundamentalist for a different religion. Just as embarrassing, just replace all the “Jesi” with “Science.” The historical work is atrocious and amateurish, and shows no sense of perspective. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect to see from someone who’s never worked with ancient history in any capacity before, and decided to prove Jesus never existed. In other words, a piece of fundamentalist propaganda.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 29 October 2005 @ 4:32 PM

  16. What precisely is wrong with it?

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 5:20 PM

  17. Let’s not get into splitting hairs here.

    He does a good job of presenting what a preposterous story we are asked to believe by the bible. He also shows how xianity is basically a rip-off of earlier gods and mythic heroes.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 5:33 PM

  18. No, he really doesn’t. Without “splitting hairs,” he does a good job of highlighting the influences of other myths and gods and stories in the Bible–and an absolue hatchet job in what that means. The Arthur legends are full of Celtic gods and myths, but to conclude from that that the Battle of Badon Hill never took place would be preposterous. That’s essentially what he’s doing–because the Bible coats everything in a nice, thick veneer of legend, it must all be fake. Nooo … in fact, it’s so common, we call such things “legends.” Myths take place in some forgotten “long, long ago”; legends are set at a specific time. And usually, we find that legends really did happen–and the stories, as we have them, are heavily exaggerated versions of the truth. Troy, for example. Or King Arthur. Jesus is a similar case study. If we were to follow this kind of analysis with other parts of history, we’d conclude that Charlemange didn’t exist, either.

    Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ provides something I think is probably very similar in tone to the way I’d expect the historical Jesus to have lived.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 29 October 2005 @ 5:39 PM

  19. You know, I really don’t care whether or not Arthur, Merlin, Hercules, etc, ever existed. Whether they did or not has no bearing on my life because no one is trying to shove their beliefs in these characters down my throat.

    But the Xians are.

    So they had better have some irrefutable evidence.

    By the way here is a comparison of Zoroaster and Jesus. Note the similarities between them:

    # Zoroaster was born of a virgin and “immaculate conception by a ray of divine reason.”
    # He was baptized in a river.
    # In his youth he astounded wise men with his wisdom.
    # He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil.
    # He began his ministry at age 30.
    # Zoroaster baptized with water, fire, and “holy wind.”
    # He cast out demons and restored the sight to a blind man.
    # He taught about heaven and hell, and revealed mysteries, including resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse.
    # He had a sacred cup or grail.
    # He was slain.
    # His religion had a eucharist.
    # He was the “Word made flesh.”
    # Zoroaster’s followers expect a “second coming” in the virgin-born Saoshyant or Savior, who is to come in 2341 CE and begin his ministry at age 30, ushering in a golden age.

    I think that the above is sufficient cause to question Xianity.

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

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 5:51 PM

  20. Suppose you’re a TA for an English 101 class. One day you’re marking an essay and realize that you read the exact same essay the previous semester.

    Do you:

    a) call the student in and explain why he’ll receive an “F” and faces possible expulsion, or
    b) consider that it’s a mere coincidence that this essay matches the earlier one verbatim and give it a passing grade?

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 6:09 PM

  21. Hey –

    Congratulations, Peter, you have just ‘proven’ that two of our modern ‘myths’ both come from the same source. Terribly surpising as they both originated in the same part of the world.

    Sorry, but the relationships between the source (historical, physical, metaphorical etc) and the truth of the myth have little to do with one another.

    I, myself, have spent decades trying to figure out how to ‘undercut’ Judeo-Christianity, because I believed for a long time that the ultimate source of our problems lay in the institutionalizing of religion. I was wrong, obviously, (although at least I was looking in the right time and place:-) ) but I DO understand where you are coming from.

    Unfortunately, when you make claims that everything is false simply because one or another PART is false, you are making as glaring a logical fallacy as they do when they claim that some is true therefore it ALL must be.

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 29 October 2005 @ 8:09 PM

  22. What’s not false about the story of Jesus? Again, let’s not split hairs, but stick to the big points.

    Everyone has their invdividual interpretation and everyone, of course, is right too.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 11:06 PM

  23. “Unfortunately, when you make claims that everything is false simply because one or another PART is false, you are making as glaring a logical fallacy as they do when they claim that some is true therefore it ALL must be.”

    Are we comparing apples and oranges here?

    I’m not sure what your “everything” encompasses. So let me be more specific. If a spiritual leader named Jesus did indeed live during the first 33 years of the last millenium, it is my position that the following are not historical facts about him. He:

    1. was not the son of God
    2. was not the product of a virgin birth
    3. did not save anyone through his death
    4. did not arise from the dead
    5. had no intention to be the cause behind what eventually became Christianity
    6. is not returning to earth.

    If you believe me to be wrong on any of these, then out of nothing more than the mildest of curiosity, I’d like you to tell me where specifically.

    I agree that myths hold value for us. But please, let’s not start insisting that they are literal truths.

    If we can find something truely of value in the bible amongst all the errors, contradictions, inconsistencies, and mindnumbing platitudes, then let’s do so. But let avoid trying to claim that it’s a book of historical facts.

    It’s not, and the documentary does a decent job of demonstrating that for the average person.

    Comment by Peter — 29 October 2005 @ 11:33 PM

  24. Hey –

    I don’t disagree with any of those six statements.

    But tell me this… How does one demonstrate historically that Jesus was (or was not) the son of god?

    All that you can show historically, is evidence for and against the existance of an individual (or group of individuals or series of ‘heroic figures, whatever) that inspired and informed the details of a given myth.

    In Jesus’ case, it sounds like there are a LOT of documents from different sources, attesting to the existance of both some guy and some movement in the Holy Land just before the uprising in AD 65.

    So, historically, we can say that there may well of been this person Joshua (probably), and there were certainly a variety of Jewish religious groups rising up against the temple in this period — Joshua Seems to have been a leader of one but if not the historical precedent is still solid. We can say that there is both evidence for and against the story of his death. But nothing conclusive in either direction. Chances are good that nothing definative will ever become available.

    So, what exactly can you prove to a Christian that will cause them to decide its all bunk? The answer is Absolutely nothing.

    IF they are ready to question thier faith, they will do so with or without your help. The documentary may turn into a convenient excuse for some that were already there.

    Unfortunately, if it makes grandiose proclaimations that are, in fact, logically or historically untrue, then it is just as guilty (MORE GUILTY) as any Christian missionary. And if they are found out, then some of those people that were ready to look for something different may return to the Church, thanks to the dishonesty of the secular world.

    Does that satisfy your intentions?

    So anyway, when I said: “Unfortunately, when you make claims that everything is false simply because one or another PART is false, you are making as glaring a logical fallacy as they do when they claim that some is true therefore it ALL must be.” this is the point…

    If all you are trying to assert in points 1-6, in what way does that inform the historical truth or fallacy of a Jewish preacher in the 1st century AD? And again, how exactly can history prove or disprove points 1-6?

    Christians ‘prove’ the bibel by locating particular historical sites that are mentioned in the book. But just the opposite of what I am telling you — showing that there really was a Babylon, and that there really was a Babylonian captivity, does absolutely NOTHING to prove the truth of the parting of the Red Sea.

    Proximity between stories does not make them codependant.

    If we can find something truely of value in the bible amongst all the errors, contradictions, inconsistencies, and mindnumbing platitudes, then let’s do so. But let avoid trying to claim that it’s a book of historical facts.

    From the perspective of Ancient Middle Eastern Archaeology, History and Religious Studies, I find the Bible immensely useful. In the same way that many other cultures have an amalgamation of stories to explain ‘how things came to be this way’, the Israelites took stories from throughout the Ancient Middle East and built a somewhat cohesive storyline out of it all. Its fascinating to trace the threads of those stories through the actual history of the region.

    Janene
    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 30 October 2005 @ 11:26 AM

  25. “But tell me this… How does one demonstrate historically that Jesus was (or was not) the son of god?”

    Actually, the way it works is like this: Those making the claim are the ones required to provide the proof.
    The rest of us don’t have to lift a finger.

    Just imagine the consequences in a world where the opposite was true. If anyone could walk up to you and demand that you stop everything you were doing in order to disprove any and all of their claims, not much would get accomplished in life. Why? Because all the intelligent people would be tied up by the not so intelligent ones responding to demands to disprove the existence of tooth fairies, hobbits, elves, the Easter Bunny, Santa, and of course, all the gods.

    If you believe that Jesus was the son of God, then let’s agree to disagree. As I have stated before, I attended a private Catholic school for the first 12 years of my schooling and found the evidence sadly lacking.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 1:02 PM

  26. “But tell me this… How does one demonstrate historically that Jesus was (or was not) the son of god?”

    There are various ways to stimulate genuine thinking about the subject amongst the True Believers. If you are with someone of at least average intelligence, you can begin by explaining to them that there’s actually very little original material in the bible.

    Moreover, you could spend an entire life time, if you had nothing better to do, pointing out all the errors, inconsistencies, and morally reprehensible acts committed by the ancient Israelite war god such as ordering genocide, infanticide, and meteing out infinite punishment for finite crimes.

    There’s very good reason why the Catholic Church doesn’t want its members reading the bible. The old joke about reading and thinking about it leading to atheism is true.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 1:24 PM

  27. I think Peter is proceeding along the lines of: “Those that believe X are baaaaad”. And his reaction seems to be that of a missionary…

    Comment by JCamasto — 30 October 2005 @ 1:39 PM

  28. Not so much “baaaaad” as simply wrong.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 2:33 PM

  29. Hey –

    I thought I made it pretty clear that I have no belief in Christian theology… that in fact I spent many years ‘crusading against it’ as you are currently doing…

    “But tell me this… How does one demonstrate historically that Jesus was (or was not) the son of god?”

    Actually, the way it works is like this: Those making the claim are the ones required to provide the proof.
    The rest of us don’t have to lift a finger.

    Yes, but I was responding to this….

    If a spiritual leader named Jesus did indeed live during the first 33 years of the last millenium, it is my position that the following are not historical facts about him. He:

    1. was not the son of God
    2. was not the product of a virgin birth
    3. did not save anyone through his death
    4. did not arise from the dead
    5. had no intention to be the cause behind what eventually became Christianity
    6. is not returning to earth.

    Those six items are not historical facts to begin with. that’s the point. History has nothing to say about them whatsoever.

    You cannot ‘disprove’ faith. That’s sort of the definition of faith.

    My point is that by ‘justifying’ false statements (like ‘no historical evidence that Jesus existed’) and misleading arguments (’Zoroaster and Jesus are mythologically identical and this invalidates both’) you are feeding Christian rhetoric. As soon as you provide them with falsehoods that THEY can disprove, you have given them the ability to say ‘look at all these horrible people LYING to you , so that you will lose your faith. they are the devil’s work… blah blah blah.

    Why give them the opportunity to show you up as a liar?

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 30 October 2005 @ 2:36 PM

  30. My position here is simply this: If you are going to claim that someone is god and demand that I believe along with you, then you had better have irrefutable proof.

    That’s all.

    Moreover, if someone is truly god then, by defintion, the evidence will be irrefutable.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 2:42 PM

  31. Hey –

    Has ANYONE here suggested anything in opposition to that?

    I thought the discussion was about the usefulness of the documentary that you linked to…

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 30 October 2005 @ 2:45 PM

  32. “My point is that by ‘justifying’ false statements (like ‘no historical evidence that Jesus existed’) and misleading arguments (’Zoroaster and Jesus are mythologically identical and this invalidates both’) you are feeding Christian rhetoric. As soon as you provide them with falsehoods that THEY can disprove, you have given them the ability to say ‘look at all these horrible people LYING to you , so that you will lose your faith. they are the devil’s work… blah blah blah.”

    Well, we have run this one into the ground.

    All I will say here is that the line of reasoning I proposed above worked for me. Despite spending 30 hours per week for 12 years sitting in Catholic school being indoctrinated, plus attending mass every Friday, my mind kept asking questions about all the points that made no sense. Those questions led to the conclusion in the first grade that it was all a load of nonsense.

    For anyone tempted to ask how I can base my beliefs today, as an adult, on conclusions I reached at such a young age, I’ll state that I continue to find religion an interesting subject and have re-evaluated my beliefs several times over the decades.

    I have a very positive attitide towards spirituality despite my aversion to Xianity.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 2:53 PM

  33. Peter… no one here is arguing that Jesus is God. No one here believes that Jesus is God. We’re just suggesting that there was a man named Yeshua living in Judea around the first century who led a movement that threatened Rome, and was therefore crucified. Jason is suggesting that this political leader was inspired by the Cynic philosophers, and that his beliefs would nowadays be considered akin to anarchism. That’s all. That’s it. God has nothing to do with it. God has never had anything to do with it.

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 30 October 2005 @ 3:23 PM

  34. So why the critiscism of the documentary then? While it may not be a work of high scholarship, I think it can do a decent job of stimulating skeptiscism amongst Xians who haven’t completely switched off their minds.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 3:35 PM

  35. Because the documentary is pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Skepticism is fine. Believing any damn thing that seems to go against some people you happen to disagree with, just because it disagrees with them, is intellectually dishonest. In short, the criticism of the documentary comes around because it’s no better than the Christian fundies–it’s just for a different side. Deciding your conclusion and filling it in with convenient facts is wrong, no matter what conclusion you’ve decided beforehand.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 3:39 PM

  36. Okay, so give me a couple of examples of dishonesty from it? I ask with an open mind.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 3:46 PM

  37. Peter,

    I recently got into a very similar discussion with some people who were furious at the idea of Intelligent Design, and calling creationists all kinds of names for their lack of evidence. After several pages of back-and-forthing, what we eventually realized was that the argument had very little to do with religion and very much to do with power. Tell me, is it the Catholic beliefs themselves that offend you, or the fact that they were imposed on you without your having any say in the matter? Would you be as intent on proving that Moses didn’t exist, or any of the Native American prophets? No, because the Native Americans aren’t forcing their religion down your throat. Sometimes we get so sidetracked by the tangential details that we lose sight of the issues. Those evolutionists were pissed off because the creationists were trying to dictate what EVERYONE’S children were learning. The creationists, on the other hand, developed ID as a way to smuggle creationism into the schools, because the evolutionists were screaming that EVERYONE’S children had to learn science their way. My question is, why does EVERYONE’S children have to learn the same thing? It’s the “only one right way for everyone” meme - it doesn’t matter what the “way” happens to be, once you have the power to force it on people, it’s just as dangerous.

    Roxy

    Comment by Anonymous — 30 October 2005 @ 5:29 PM

  38. Well… evolution isn’t a “way.” It’s a fact of life. Both sides are under the impression that the purpose of school is to impart truth unto the younger generation. :::snicker, chortle::: So naturally, they want all the kids to learn the truth.

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 30 October 2005 @ 7:00 PM

  39. Peter,

    Specifically, what’s wrong with it, is the complete lack of logic in its case. It jumps from “The Bible shows clear influence from X, Y and Z,” to “Therefore, Jesus was entirely made up.”

    We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for Alexander the Great. Quoting from “Oriental sources on Alexander the Great“:

    Those who want to study Alexander, have access to four tertiary sources (written in Greek and Latin), many quotes from secondary sources (all written in Greek) and one primary source. It is written in Babylonian and is also interesting because it offers a non-Greek perspective.

    Indeed, by the standards of ancient history, a “mountain of evidence.” But note what we have for the “historical Jesus”: the sayings gospel of Q (of questionable devotional content, and who knows who wrote it?), the original core of Mark (which has significantly less devotional content than any of the other gospels), all of the Pauline epistles, and the Testimonium Flaviun from Josephus (the concensus now states that the TF was almost certainly embellished, but must have been present in some form, or Josephus’ entire narrative falls apart), all near-contemporaneously. Several Roman sources also indicate the existence of such a figue, though they are writing some time later–the Romans didn’t really care until the Christians became a useful scapegoat for Nero’s little land clearance project. While we might consider that fairly distant evidence in our day of microfiche and the county-courthouse records, in our consideration of the evidence for Alexander above, we’re pulling in texts written some three centuries after his death. For Jesus, we’re restricting ourselves to a much tigher standard of just one century. So that’s one primary source, some quotes in secondary sources, and four tertiary sources for Alexander, versus what, 17 secondary sources and a dozen or so tertiary Roman sources, all independently attesting to the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion under Pilate?

    Very often, some individual will remind some group of some mythological story. The story of that very real person’s life becomes surrounded by myths borrowed from older stories. We call these “legends.” It happens all the time. The Trojan War. Alexander the Great. King Arthur. Charlemange. George Washington. Jesus is very obviously a member of this group, because while it’s obvious that many older myths have been attached to him (hell, everybody in the ancient world had a virgin birth–Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar both had virgin births, but nobody doubts that they were real), it’s equally obvious that there was some real person at the core of all this, to whom these myths were attached.

    If that helps bolster Christian rhetoric, fine. It’s one of the few things they got right. There was indeed once a man named Jesus. Born of a virgin, rose from the dead, only son of G-d, those are all things they can never prove, but of course there was a man named Jesus who practiced open commensality, undermined the temple hierarchy, and led a radical movement against Rome. He was killed for it. The rest is all mythology.

    The very fact that you, like the documentary, consider whether or not it helps a particular political agenda salient shows that neither of you are particularly interested in the truth of this matter–you just want to score points. Kind of like how the Christians don’t care if science is correct or not, so long as it supports their agenda. Forgive me, but I’m more interested in knowing what actually happened–and I don’t give a damn whose agenda it helps. I’m just trying to figure out what actually happened; may the best man win. It’s obvious the Christians don’t share that goal; just as it’s obvious that you don’t, either.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 7:33 PM

  40. ” It’s obvious the Christians don’t share that goal; just as it’s obvious that you don’t, either.”

    Whoa, dude. That’s kinda harsh. Really.

    Maybe I missed something in it? But it seemed to provide a lot of fodder for taking the bible with a grain of salt. Anything that makes True Believers switch on their brains and start thinking about what they’ve been spoon fed is good in my book.

    As for you wanting to know the truth about Jesus, good luck. If you do, you will be the first person in history to do so.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 10:22 PM

  41. Sorry, but you’re sticking to this with the fanaticism of a fundamentalist. Whether or not Jesus existed is a clearly answered question. It’s like asking whether or not there’s such a thing as evolution–the evidence is overwhelming, and the only people still asking the question are those with an agenda, who really aren’t interested in the facts. There’s a literalism to both that is simply nonsensical. Yes, evolution isn’t 100% sure; nothing ever is. Neither do we have “proof” that Jesus existed–since proof is something you’ll only find in mathematics. But we have evidence for both that no rational person can refute.

    Now, a grain of salt, I’m all for. Christianity, as we know it, is a total sham. But the crazy idea being proffered up here is just something people grasp for, simply because it disagrees with their opponents. That doesn’t mean it makes any more sense than their opponents do. Taking a rational look at one’s own beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to the opposite extreme, and accept, hook-line-and-sinker, any baseless, insane diatribe that contradicts those beliefs.

    The rational conclusion, based on the evidence, would be that there was once a man named Jesus, who stirred up some shit and was crucified for it, and his followers told some stories about him being a god and made a religion out of that.

    I usually agree with you, Peter–but on this one, I can’t help but think that you’re letting your personal feelings about Christianity drive you into a position where you’re ultimately doing everything you hate about them. It’s not so uncommon; people are often driven to become an opposite, and in so doing, not so very far from where they began. Keeping a balance is the really hard thing to do, to turn your back on something without concluding they must be wrong about everything, all the time. Few can.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 October 2005 @ 10:34 PM


  42. seeking absolute truths through perspective
    needs where you're coming from and going to
    and neither of these subjects are objective
    especially when there is more than one view
    a right or wrong but not both they conclude
    to fit only one and they attempt to exclude
    a spirit and reductionist alike misconstrue

    The false dichotomies of dualism always seem to enter into discussions on religion, power and heirarchy. Tom Harper recently wrote “The Pagan Christ” and explores the pagan roots of the mythology, but he also talked about how there was more meaning in the mythology than there was in the orthodox truth.

    Before this religious discussion got started I made a mention of wondering whether written language might be the significant factor more so than monotheism for determining the power heirarchy of patriarchy. But then, even with written language there is always a power struggle to co-opt and redefine the language to fit the dominant agenda. Maybe that is why myth and poetry are able to convey a higher truth than literacy.

    Comment by ov — 30 October 2005 @ 11:45 PM

  43. Jason,

    Look, I’m not going to argue with you anymore over whether or not JC was a flesh and blood man who walked the earth long ago saving villages from marauding bandits and other such good stuff. As I stated before, all your evidence simply didn’t exist when I tried to find corroboration outside of the bible.

    So, let’s put that topic to rest and pretend that your are right and I’m wrong.

    JC was a real dude if not the Son of God.

    Check!

    But I will ask you why a site ostensibly about Tribalism and the collapse of civilization is using up so much bandwidth on him?

    This is a sincere question. I majored in business not in theology or anthroplogy. So it may seem like a dumb q but it’s a sincere one.

    What has this ancient shit disturber to teach us here if we are planning ahead for the Mother of All Collapses?

    Help me to get on the same page as you.

    Comment by Peter — 30 October 2005 @ 11:53 PM

  44. Note: My religion filter is exceedingly dense, and not much gets through… but from what I gather:

    We seem to be advocating similar ideas & principals as JC, and there could be situational parallels and overlap with his “way” and ours. He may represent links back to an original, tribal way. Seems like that knowledge might be useful or desirable to check out and interpret.

    Especially when the mother of all collapses is going to knock civilization to it’s knees; likely leaving only tribes left standing.

    And we note a key JC failure: he made apostles, not peers.

    Comment by JCamasto — 31 October 2005 @ 1:20 AM

  45. But I will ask you why a site ostensibly about Tribalism and the collapse of civilization is using up so much bandwidth on him?

    Because the flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth was a culture jammer of the highest order. He posed a serious threat to civilization itself. His life shows a blueprint of the kind of thinking you need if you want to bring down a civilization.

    At the same time, his failure highlights some of the pitfalls to avoid. Also, if you’re of the Quinnian “mind change” school, convincing one third of the world that their Lord and G-d lived and died to end civilization can’t be a bad start.

    And, what Jim said.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 9:14 AM

  46. I don’t see the importance of Jesus having existed or not. Its the ideas that are worth discussing. There are some who argue that Lao Tzu, “author” of the Tao Te Ching wasn’t one individual. Yet it remains an interesting tome worth exploring regardless. Was Jesus a man, metaphor, or myth? To me, it don’t matter much.

    Comment by Somebody — 31 October 2005 @ 12:24 PM

  47. It matters a very great deal if you’re trying to discuss the historical development of early Christianity, as we are.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 12:26 PM

  48. It matters a very great deal if you’re trying to discuss the historical development of early Christianity, as we are.

    Why? Does belief in Christianity require a flesh and blood Jesus?

    Most adherants to a particular faith are unlikely to delve into deep historical analysis of their religion, I don’t see the burden of proof weighing heavy on those who evoke it, regardless of any underlying motive (I agree with that premise, BTW). Faith doesn’t require evidence.

    That said, let me congratulate the Anthropik Network for a terrific site. I’m glad to have stumbled upon it.

    Comment by Somebody — 31 October 2005 @ 12:44 PM

  49. “Why? Does belief in Christianity require a flesh and blood Jesus?”

    Oh, but they do require him to have been a flesh and blood biped! They also require that the bible be the innerrant word of god.

    That’s the nature of fundamentalism for you.

    Comment by Peter — 31 October 2005 @ 12:56 PM

  50. No, Christianity doesn’t need a historical Jesus at all. But we’re not talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the origins of Christianity. Two very different things. Whether or not Jesus ever really lived has nothing to do with anyone’s faith, but it has everything to do with our understanding of Christianity’s historical origins (the distinction Marcus Borg makes between “the pre-Easter Jesus” and “the post-Easter Christ”).

    I’m not calling on Christians to account for the historicity of their messiah anymore than I’m calling on Hindus to prove the historicity of the avatars of Vishnu. What I am saying is that the historical Jesus preached something that was antithetical to modern Christianity, that he was saying many of the same things we’re saying, met with more success than we so far have, but ultimately failed for specific reasons. As such, we have some things to learn from this historical example.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 12:57 PM

  51. Thus spake Jason: “His life shows a blueprint of the kind of thinking you need if you want to bring down a civilization.” [Italics mine.]

    Interesting choice of words. I was under the impression it was going to collapse all on its own, and we are here merely to “shoot the shit” over how to survive once it does.

    Are you actually more proactive than I originally thought?

    Comment by Peter — 31 October 2005 @ 1:04 PM

  52. Jason said: “Because the flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth was a culture jammer of the highest order.”

    Okay, you just peaked my interest. Finally. You know of my keen interest in jamming. So point me to a source where I can read about JC as cultural jammer.

    The only JC I have ever known, despite 12 years of Catholic school, is a rather lame character who went around spouting a lot of platitudes. Often they seemed contradictory.

    If you can point me to a book by a credible scholar, I’ll order it today.

    Comment by Peter — 31 October 2005 @ 1:12 PM

  53. Okay, you just peaked my interest. Finally. You know of my keen interest in jamming. So point me to a source where I can read about JC as cultural jammer.

    What, Crossan isn’t credible? Most historians think he is. But yeah, as cited above: The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, by John Dominic Crossan is an excellent one for that.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 1:51 PM

  54. What I am saying is that the historical Jesus preached something that was antithetical to modern Christianity, that he was saying many of the same things we’re saying, met with more success than we so far have, but ultimately failed for specific reasons. As such, we have some things to learn from this historical example.

    Why do you consider that Jesus was more successful than you? He created a following that was subverted by civilization in one generation.
    You create a group that will not be subverted by civilization for the simple reason that there won’t be a civilization to subvert your tribe, when you are done surviving the collapse

    Comment by Anonymous — 31 October 2005 @ 9:13 PM

  55. Well, I suppose there’s that … but if we measure success by the number of people reached, or perhaps more fairly, the percentage of the population reached, then I have nothing on his numbers. :)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 31 October 2005 @ 9:16 PM

  56. For your The Good Lord Works in Mysterious Ways file:

    Pastor electrocuted while performing baptism

    Monday, October 31, 2005; Posted: 5:12 a.m. EST (10:12 GMT)

    A pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted inside his church Sunday morning when he adjusted a nearby microphone while standing in water, a church employee said.

    The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, was stepping into the baptistery as he reached out for the microphone, which produced an electric shock, said University Baptist Church community pastor Ben Dudley.

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/10/31/pastor.electrocuted.ap/index.html

    Comment by Peter — 31 October 2005 @ 9:35 PM

  57. Ummm…. getting back to the original post.

    Interesting discussion… has anyone compared the sheer statistics involved in war over “religion” however defined, and wars started by completely secular worldviews?

    Stalin
    Hitler
    Pol Pot

    etc?

    Surely the secular wars of the 20th century completely blitz the idea that “religions start all wars” anyway? Has anyone seen any stats?

    Comment by David Lankhshear — 16 February 2006 @ 2:48 AM

  58. As in, comparing body counts? Adding up Stalin, Hitler Mao Tse Dung and Pol Pot is relatively easy, but how do we add up the casualties of the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.? I don’t think it’s defensible any more to say that religion starts all wars. My point here is that religion doesn’t start any wars–it rationalizes wars.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 February 2006 @ 8:34 AM

  59. If you want to take someones faith, you have to be very careful about not doing anything to reinforce it. Religion is built on the opposition to people preaching other beliefs.
    The way to do it is to be gentle, discuss and ask them to explain their belifs to you. Gently show them inconsistencies, but dont assert anything.
    1. explain the pagan influences, but dont insist that this change anything
    2. Show how religion contradicts itself/morality, again insisting nothing.
    3. Use the argument from natural evil - there is no response.
    4. If they are a catholic, buy them Rick Jones - understanding catholicism. Effectively an index of where catholicism contradicts the bible, with the occasional fundie comment.

    Note: Hitler professed to be a catholic in several speeches. Stalin effectively turned marxism into a state religion.

    Comment by Slothboy — 2 March 2006 @ 7:19 PM

  60. So what was The Thirty Years War about if it wasn’t really about religion?

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 12 December 2006 @ 2:54 AM

  61. I should think that’s obvious—even in the conventional view of it, the Catholic vs. Protestant conflict is a mere veneer to the deeper power struggle of the Habsburgs vs. everyone else in Europe. Look at the one exceptional case, France—a Catholic country, but who did they side with? Hint: Not the Catholics.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 December 2006 @ 10:45 AM

  62. Part of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from the similar ambiguity and controversy in defining words like deity and God. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of God and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. In contexts where theism is defined as the belief in a singular personal God, for example, people who believe in a variety of other deities may be classified as atheists, including deists and even polytheists. In the 20th century, this view has fallen into disfavor as theism has come to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

    Comment by Jim — 4 July 2007 @ 12:29 PM

  63. It’s tricky. While I am inclined to believe that states will pretty much never go to war for purely (or even mainly) religious reasons, individuals can be motivated to participate in those wars, to kill and to die in them, for purely religious reasons or close. Just as other individuals will be motivated to participate by a taste for adventure, or a desire for fame, or a desire for wealth, or what have you. On the individual level, these aren’t pure rationalizations: these are people’s real motives. Doesn’t change the fact that, without some kind of material/economic background, the states in which these individuals live would never have engaged in these wars, and so these individuals would’ve had no choice but to find alternative outlets for their religiousness/adventurousness/vanity/greed.

    Comment by Hasha — 5 August 2007 @ 8:53 PM

  64. While I am inclined to believe that states will pretty much never go to war for purely (or even mainly) religious reasons, individuals can be motivated to participate in those wars, to kill and to die in them, for purely religious reasons or close.

    Absolutely. Take a look at a group like al-Qa’ida. One of the storylines in Syriana actually provides a close portrait of how this happens. Yes, the leadership is undoubtedly deeply religious and motivated in those terms. But it’s the indignation of neocolonial policies and the abuses of American-backed despots that drives most of al-Qa’ida’s rank and file into the organization. If you ask them their reasons, they may well begin quoting the Qu’ran to you, but that’s not what drove them into the organization in the first place. Just like the kids in Syriana: they didn’t go to the madrassah because they were so religious; they went because the madrassah would give them french fries.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 6 August 2007 @ 8:52 AM

  65. Religion means a lot for me… Yet i’ll never kill someone for it, religion represents tolerance, peace and love towards others for me……

    Comment by Laeticia — 19 December 2007 @ 3:47 AM

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