In which I defend Pat Robertson -

In which I defend Pat Robertson


Writing in the National Post, Rex Murphy called Robertson an “obnoxious ignoramus” and described his mind as “an attic of obsolete and ugly demi-thoughts.” That’s one way of looking at it. Another possibility is that Pat Robertson said what he did because he’s one of the few people left who actually takes his religious beliefs seriously.



In which I defend Pat Robertson

  1. For "Christians" of Robertson's ilk, I would suggest they continue reading and get to the new testament.

    • And what makes you think that the Bible had anything to do with Robertson's nonsense?

      • Come on, no one would suggest the Israelis resemble their Bronze Age ancestors. Anyway, all our remote ancestors were, by contemporary standards, incredibly violent, superstitious, and xenophobic, it just happens that the Bible (and Homer) happen to survived to testify to the fairly extreme belief systems of those periods; and ancient monotheism in particular was fairly intolerant of other cults, which is what Robertson was speaking to here.

        • "ancient monotheism in particular was fairly intolerant of other cults, which is what Robertson was speaking to here. "

          You give Robertson too much credit. Robertson's inspiration is bigotry, plain and simple. Religion is just a good cover for him because of the effect it has on people of faith.

      • Nice. But it seems that the folks that were there early and often – Brazilians,Venezuelans,Bolivians,
        Turks,French – exist in some alternate universe. Nothing new there.

  2. There's no reason both can't be true.

    • That's what I was thinking. Pat Robertson is one of the few people left who takes his religious beliefs seriously, and his personal religious beliefs are the obsolete and ugly demi-thoughts of an obnoxious ignoramus.

      In fact, perhaps the nature of Robertson's religious beliefs is exactly the reason there are so few people left who actually take those sorts of beliefs seriously anymore.

      • Pat Robertson isn't alone. He is increasingly becoming the new norm. Unorganized religion is an increasing force in the world.

  3. It seems to me that in Canada, Robertson would be speaking to a narrow slice of the 10 to 20% who still attend church, while Rex reflects the views of the remaining 80 – 90 % + who don't, or who aren't as literal in their interpretation of the old testament.

    Church attendance

    Let's begin with church attendance. This has been analyzed by the Canadian government in censuses and in the General Social Survey, by polling agencies such as Ipsos Reid and by various scholars, most notably Dr. Reg Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge. While there is always some variation in statistics, the most obvious trend over the last half-century or so is that weekly church attendance has declined very considerably.

    The first systematic survey, a Gallup poll, placed weekly church attendance at 60 percent in 1945. Some surveys place the figure even higher in the 1950s, approaching 70 percent. However, in Bibby's words, weekly attendance dropped "to just over 30 percent in 1975 and to around 20 percent by 2000."

    The assumption has been that the percentage will continue to drop as Canada becomes more secularized. That is, it has been expected that church attendance in Canada will soon reach the levels of Western Europe, where it has dropped below 10 percent in most countries.

  4. Most human belief systems have self-contradictory elements. Thankfully, most humans navigate them with sufficient decency to avoid p*ssing on the downtrodden.

    It's inherently problematic to wield ancient mystical systems of understanding and explanation in the modern world. I suspect many Christians realize this and do their best with what they have. The less thoughtful and humane find ample opportunity to advance their own agendas under the cover of divine justification.

    The problem with 'original sin' is that it's a constant for all humans – if you believe that sort of thing. And a constant cannot explain variation. Haitians actually have a higher level of religious affiliation than Americans, for the record (CIA website for data).

    If we're going to suggest that Robertson be treated as a religious scholar, I think it's fair to ask for more than the fire and brimestone potshots he specializes in. Has he ever contributed to religious philosophy in a thoughtful manner? I'm betting not, and as such it's perfectly fair to dismiss him as a deluded simpleton, only worth noting due to his influence on American politics and culture.

    • I’m not following what original sin has to do with all of this. To paraphrase, the doctrine of original sin is that sin has its origins in man’s fallen nature. In other words the idea is that human beings, despite all their efforts and willpower will commit acts of sin.

      Not really all that controversial really. The controversial part is that there was a nature of moral perfection which we could fall from.

      • go read Potter's piece – he discusses orignal sin there, and that's what I was referencing

        • Yeah, I read Potter’s piece.. I think however, that Potter commented about what original sin means without bothering to research what it means. Original sin doesn’t mean that we have it coming when we do evil, suffer and die. It means that it is inevitable due to our fallen nature and that we need salvation from it. In other words it is natural to do evil, to suffer and to die.

          How salvation is possible, how it is accomplished, and whether it is done at all is a matter of some debate, though I believe in bodily resurrection, (due to the agency of JC) due to faith, philosophical musings on what is essential to human nature, and trust in orthodoxy.

          • You must be a grad student. :)

          • Nah, just young and Catholic. If you are young and Catholic in Canada you’ve probably thought about this sort of stuff. If you’re not the type to think about philosophy you generally become an evangelical Christian or leave Christianity altogether.

            Though of course, plenty of Catholic philosophers leave to become atheists and evangelicals as well. It is just that as religion becomes more a matter of lifestyle choice and corporate branding rather than ethnicity, there is one place that the Catholic brand is strong. We have a very strong intellectual tradition, so there isn’t much point in being Catholic if you don’t take advantage of it. That’s why our converts are generally intellectuals.

  5. "From this catastrophe, which follows so many others, we should make sure that it is a chance to get Haiti once and for all out of the curse it seems to have been stuck with for such a long time," Reuters, Jan 14 2010

    I wonder why Robertson's statement gets examined six ways to Sunday but President Sarkozy says something similar and no bats an eyelid.

    • One of them was using 'curse' in the magical sense of the word. The other was not. One of them was blaming Haitians in the midst of unimaginable suffering and horror. The other was resolving to help them move forward and build a safer, more prosperous society.

      You're welcome.

      • I think you need to more clear with 'one of' and 'the other' because I can draw a clear line between France and the massive indemnity it made Haiti pay and the pitiful state the country is in now.

        Robertson has not buggered Haiti like France did – Sarkozy talking about 'a curse' is in bad taste, to say the least, when it was his country's policies that have most to do with where Haiti is now.

        You're welcome.

        • Sorry for missing all that plainly evident context to your initial post. While it's fully fair to call the French out in some respects, the fact remains that Robertson was being a self-serving dick in his statement, and Sarkozy was expressing words of hope.

          And this thread was about religious philosophy, not geopoltical history.

        • I would have to see what Sarkozy said en français but "curse" is the word being used in translation so blame the translator if you must.

    • I don't believe in curses either, but I think he was describing the string of calamaties that have befallen the country. But yes, if he truly believes in a "curse" he may be just as silly as Robertson.

  6. Even if the "devil's oath" story were true (and I don't read it the same way Robertson does), it does take a special kind of religious "scholarship" to believe in a God that would collectively punish the (largely deeply religious) great grandchildren of the oath takers. By crushing infants under concrete slabs, for example.

    But go ahead, Potter, be contrarian.

    • I couldn't agree more. Seems to me that people are using Robertson's idiotic statements as an opportunity to dump on christianity.

      • In the contrarian/sh*t disturber spirit of this thread, I wonder if we can compare the lack of response from other Christian leaders (I don't think the Pope has addressed this, for example) to the common complaint that 'moderate' Muslim leaders don't sufficiently speak out against the radical elements in their faith.

        Are we holding faiths to different standards, or it unfair to compare the two?

        • Someone should do a piece comparing this to the Lisbon earthquate of . . . yes, thank you, wikipedia, of 1755; which was a major event, I was always taught, in the Enlightenment, allowing sundry deist philosophes to attack the idea of a beneficent God. I'd be interested to know what the current theological thinking is on that; hopefully it's not the kind of thing that you can't cite after the actual event lest it be considered "bad taste" — which would presumably invalidate it.

        • "Pope Benedict XVI is offering his encouragement to charity groups that have taken up the challenge of helping Haiti in its "immense need" after the devastating earthquake.

          The pope told faithful in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that he is following the aid efforts and is praying for the wounded, the homeless and for those who lost their lives.

          Benedict said the papal envoy survived and is keeping him informed, but he said that many priests, nuns and seminarians, as well as the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, perished." AP, Jan 18, 2010

          If you are going to be contrarian, it is helpful to have facts before you start writing. And now that I have checked for you, I find it interesting that Catholics are on the ground doing good work but people who enjoy mocking the religious totally ignore what they are doing and instead focus on Robertson.

          • Is there a reason you've been so testy of late?

            You're muddying the waters. First, I was tossing out an idea for discussion, not levelling charges against anyone. Second, I wasn't suggesting that organized Christianity wasn't helping out with Haiti. I'm well aware that a great deal of charitable assistance in this world stems from Christian organizations (heck, here in Waterloo the homeless shelter program is run by Churches).

            If you go back and actually read what I wrote, I was asking if the lack of response by other Christian leaders to Robertson is in any way comparable to the lack of response by Muslim leaders to the idiots in their ranks (while allowing that the comparison might be too weak).

          • "I was asking if the lack of response by other Christian leaders to Robertson is in any way comparable to the lack of response by Muslim leaders to the idiots in their ranks (while allowing that the comparison might be too weak). "

            Maybe because, like me, they don't think that Robertson's laughable comments deserve an answer?

          • Well, he isn’t eligible to receive communion or participate in any other aspects of sacramental life in the Roman Catholic Church. Does that count?

            But seriously, plenty of Christian pundits, bloggers, and other media commentators have denounced Robertson’s comments. Those are the people who are supposed to respond to media personalities like Robertson. Do you expect the Pope, or the World Council of Churches, or the Lutheran Missouri Synod to release a statement every time a televangelist says something stupid?

          • No I don't. I'm interested in the language and discourse surrounding world faiths, and just floated the idea out to see if it was worth discussing. Clearly it's not.

  7. If we're taking religious beliefs seriously today, what about the (to my mind, very real) theological possibility that Pat Robertson's God is the Devil?

    • Mitchell, you are clearly a witch. Please report to the village commons for a public hearing on this matter.

      • Just me, or my whole Inquisitorial entourage?

        • Your whole what now?

          *adds speaking in tongues to the list…*

        • Don't make us fetch the comfy chair.

          (explanation for the confused, just to avoid more run-around:

        • Upon reflection, I would like to declare that I was not just wrong, but totally wrong, in essencia as much as in esse, in fact altogether mistaken, in short quite, quite wrong, and do publicly abjure my former opinion unconditionally and joyfully.

          • Now we will kill you instead of torturing and killing you.

          • LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          • You don’t know your history very well, do you Mike?

            A recantation and an expression of contrition was pretty much a get out of jail free card. It is generally why people did everything they could to be tried in a clerical court. It is also why clerical courts were generally hated.

            Of course, recalcitrant heretics and criminals were generally treated much less leniently, particularly after the Reformation. Part of what got Galileo in trouble was because he spoke about something that he had been forbidden to speak about. Well, that and he called the pope who used to protect him from his enemies a moron.

          • The other part that got Galileo in trouble, was that the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, is contrary to scripture.

          • Yeah, but there was lots of stuff about natural phenomena that was accepted at the time that was contrary to scripture. In fact, Augustine admonishes Christians not to believe in things in scripture that are disproved by natural science and generally it was acknowledged that a proper understanding of the bible involves reason. If something contradicts what you know about the world through science, then obviously you don’t have a proper reading of the bible.

            However, scholasticism did view the bible as an authority, as it did great intellectual men such as Aristotle. It also didn’t have the scientific method, though it did have experiments and observations that were used to back up arguments.

            The fact that people believed that geocentrism for so long was not because they didn’t look at the skies. There were theories about how to explain retrograde motion of the planets, solar and lunar eclipses could be predicted, and it was agreed that the earth was spherical (and don’t let Andrew Coyne tell you different). The amazing thing was that the geocentric model fell apart when it did, as quickly as it did (heliocentrism was generally accepted within a generation or two of Galilleo’s death) due to advances in mathematics and an appreciation for the principle of scientific reductionism.

    • "theological possibility that Pat Robertson's God is the Devil?"

      That's an interesting perspective. I have long wondered why some religious people assume God is vengeful and petty but I never really thought about how they seem to be confusing God and Beelzebub.

      • "By their fruits ye shall know them."

      • Well it is in the Bible that God can be jealous, vengeful, petty even cruel or remorseless.

        It isn’t even something that can be solved by going to the New Testement. Look at Jesus causing a riot and assaulting people at the Jerusalem temple. Largely the people were there minding their own business, selling sacrificial animals so people didn’t have to lug them all the way from home, and exchanging money for them to buy sacrificial animals if they came from places outside the Roman Empire. Not something we’d condone in this society as being a just act, even if you are a Christian.

        Of course, that’s why you should read the bible with reason and moderation if you are going to try and get the best fruits from it.

    • I've always credited Lucifer with more subtility.

  8. I don't think Haiti is "cursed" but cultural memory is a very really phenomena. It has been proven that forms of memory can be encoded directly in DNA, so even if someone from an historically downtrodden, exploited nation or culture is removed from it at an early age, or even removed by generations, they will often have trouble escaping those subliminal feelings of helplessness, persecution, etc.

    I guess that manifestation could be explained as a curse.

    • Proven?

      • Perhaps the reference is to experiments that showed improved maze-learning skills in planaria that had been fed the ground-up remains of maze-trained planaria. See (e. g.)… .

        • I'm aware of some studies in the 1960s and 70s that were in this vein, but I don't think it went anywhere.

          More recently, I seem to recall some neuroscientists were exploring human brain patterns to see if they at all resemble the underlying binary structure posited by Levi-Strauss as the basis for culture, but that's not really the same thing as memory.

    • "they will often have trouble escaping those subliminal feelings of helplessness, persecution, etc."

      That also describes the American South.

      • …and the Canadian West?

        • Anybody who at one point felt, usually rightly, that they were getting a raw deal. Being oppressed, to whatever degree, is detrimental as much for what it does to one's mentality as for the immediate suffering it inflicts.

          • Confused … Haiti is "cursed" by geology (plate tectonics), among other things, while
            Alberta is blessed by geology. Obviously falling on the better side of geology leads to
            the creation of a superior life form. Further research is needed.

  9. More interesting (to me, at least) than Murphy versus Robertson, is Taibbi versus Brooks:

    On the one hand, I agree with Taibbi that Brooks' smug moralizing and victim blaming, while people are still alive under their collapsed houses, was difficult to take.

    On the other hand the question of how to help basket case nations get on the right track is a vexing one, and asks some of the right questions.

  10. Can't one believe in a benevolent God, and at the same time, also believe that it's just crappy luck that the founders of Port-au-Prince unwittingly built their city on top of a fault line?

    As a church-going man who has a science degree, that's how I explain it to myself.

    • Sure, you can believe that.

      But, does that mean that He chooses when to be benevolent? And if so, why did he choose not to intercede when the founders where "unwittingly built their city on top of a fault line?"

      Or do we just chalk this up under "the mysteries of the Creator", whcih we are not supposed to be able to figure out?

      • Well, he gave us free will, so if he were to come down and intercede every time he thought we were about to do something dumb, that would negate the whole point of our existence, wouldn't it?

        Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc, are all natural characteristics of our planet's behaviour. Unfortunately, we've only been able to start understanding and dealing with those phenomena in the last couple hundred years or so. I don't think that's God's fault.

        • Sure, but then, when does "benevolence" come into play? Wouldn't it always affect free will?

          If not, what's the point? God is benevolent except when we have to make some sort of decision? How does that explain "miracles" that involve, in part, the decisions we make, like someone successfully beating cancer or surviving an brain operation?

          And what is the point of raisng "free will" if the founders of Port-au-Prince new nothing about earthquake fault lines? They had no free will to exercise, because they were ignorant of scintific facts yet to be discovered, no? Shouldn' the creator have forseen last week's events and caused them to buildthe city elsewhere?

          • According to Jean Calvin, if God likes you and has set you aside for salvation, a good clue is if you have a long, happy and prosperous life. St. Francis had a different opinion.

          • I guess it depends on people's interpretations of "benevolence" and "free will." I think God is benevolent in the sense that it's kind, loves us, etc.

            As for free will, I don't see it in terms of "freedom to willfully ignore scientific facts we haven't discovered yet," I just mean it in a general sense of freedom to do what we want, when we want… Regardless of whether or not God thinks it's a good idea.

            Do I think that because God is kind, it's obliged to skirt our freedom and bail us out all the time? No. If it was obliged, then there'd be no natural disaters, no murder, no pain, no suffering, which would be nice, but I don't think that's what this experience is supposed to be all about. Apparently, depending on your beliefs, that sort of stuff is waiting in the afterlife.

            Like I say, I studied science, not philosphy or theology. I'm way outside my zone of expertise here, so maybe I'll just leave it at that. :-)

    • Logically speaking, wouldn't you then have to say that earthquakes aren't under God's control?

      • You could look at it that way, I guess. But I choose not to, even though, as a Catholic, I'm probably supposed to believe he can control those things whenever he wants. :-)

        The way I look at it, the Earth is a pretty complex organism (if I can use that word), and I'd like to believe that everything that happens on it has some sort of purpose. Sometimes these events kill a lot of people, but what would be the consequences if our weather systems came to a halt, or the tectonic plates were to stop moving? It might make 50,000 dead in an Earthquake or 230,000 dead in a tsunami look relatively small.

        • I'm very sympathetic to that view, but I'm not sure that (as you say) it's strictly compatible with the idea of God's omnipotence.

          I'd be much more open to Christianity if it acknowledged, as you do here, the bitter fact of tragedy, i.e. the fact that justice and necessity (/ fate) are often irreconcilable. It would make more sense of the Crucifixion, for example. A lot of the poetry of Christianity (and the Old Testament) was lost when doctrine was handed over to the Greek philosophers and their logical abstractions.

          • The Greek philosophers with their logical abstractions were pretty much in bed with Christian writers from the start. Look at the letters of St. Paul for instance.

            But yeah, no one can claim to have “solved” the problem of evil with the idea of an infinite and benevolent God. Many have taken a stab at it though. In their defence, “the good” and “the infinite” are pretty tricky concepts to nail down in terms of their implications for our muddled finite universe.

    • Quoting Pat Robertson quoting the Devil will not get you off the hook.

    • Aw Jack, I was actually impressed by your knowledge of history unbound by your usual ideological prejudices for awhile.

      • I was just going on popular prejudice, but here's what Wikipedia (o holy writ!) says:

        Among the possible punishments were a long pilgrimage for first offenders, wearing a yellow cross for life, confiscation of property, banishment, public recantation, or long-term imprisonment. Burning at the stake was only for the most serious cases, including repeat offenders and unrepentant heretics. Execution was done not by the Church, which was forbidden to kill, but by secular officials. The accused could have all of his property confiscated, and in many cases, accusers may have been motivated by a desire to take the property of the accused.

        So if you repented you would only be condemned to exile, prison, or shunning. Now I'm wondering if my repentence (above) was really such a good idea.

        • You would have to be fairly important to have those punishments up on you. I'd imagine a man of your current station would have been small fish, and let off with a fine, some sort of penance, a black mark on your ecclesiastical career, and some sort of marking (like a yellow cross).

          Now if you were a man of political power, title, wealth and connections… well then an ecclesiastical court could become a bit of a Star Chamber.

          • Ah, so sort of like Communism: children can't go to university, etc., and we'll shoot only you if you actually get anywhere with your heresy.

          • That would be a fair comparison I'd say.

            Though of course, with the possibility of being absolutely forgiven. The Church was in fact obligated to forgive the repentant. This is why Pope Gregory VII had to forgive and undo the excommunication of Emperor Henry IV when he came to visit him barefoot in the snow in 1077. Most historians agree that the Pope didn't really want to.

  11. There have been a few stabs at why evil exists in the world. I generally prefer this one:

    Objection 1.
    It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

    Reply to Objection 1.
    As Augustine says (Enchiridion xi): “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

    Your mileage may vary.

    • Deep.

      Seems to me that you have to hope for a hell of a lot of good to compensate for all the evil Haiti has seen this week.

      • Certainly the opportunity has been created.

    • I dunno, it sort of sounds like eating a hot dog – best done without thinking too hard about the ingredients.

      • And you’d want to look at the big picture reeaaallly far back.

        Of course, the primary reason your mileage may vary is this. Do you draw more comfort from the idea that there is a benevolent God that allows the existence of evil, or do you draw more comfort from the idea that stuff just happens and that all the evil and suffering in the world is meaningless?

        • I think polytheists had the right idea.

          • Here's a non-loaded factual question. If I understand rightly, the Old Testament is not anti-polytheist but rather merely tribal: Jehovah's tribe is supposed to worship Jehovah exclusively, and the other gods are there but they're for the other tribes. Probably that's a big generalisation but that's the general thrust of the Old Testament, right? It doesn't deny the existence of other gods, just their suitability as objects of worship for the Israelites. So is there anything in the Gospels that contradicts this, or does the generalised denial of the existence of other gods (i.e. for the pagans) only come in with Paul's generalisation of the Christian message for all mankind?

          • I don't know – Genesis doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, in this respect.

          • Well there is this:

            John 1:1

            In the beginning was the Word
            and the word was with God
            and the word was God.

            He was in the beginning with God.
            All things came to be through him
            and without him nothing came to be.

            I would also look at:

            Mathew 3:7
            Matthew 7:13-14
            Matthew 8:5-13
            Matthew 25:31-46

            Undoubtedly you can find more in other gospels. The gospels are worth reading at least as much as Homer and Hesiod, even if you do not find any fires of faith kindled.

            I would say that the Jews had moved from henotheism to full monotheism by the life of Jesus, but certainly it was up in the air enough that Peter and Paul debated whether to evangelize to Gentiles, or whether Gentiles could be followers of Jesus without receiving the chop. The key question was not however whether other Gods were valid, but whether Gentiles were worthy of salvation and whether they had to follow the all the laws of Abraham and Moses.

            Also, don't get too excited. Polytheists weren't as tolerant, and Christians not as intolerant, as you'd like to think. We co-existed with pagans and other religions for hundreds of years too. We persecuted people who went against our beliefs, but polytheists persecuted those who went against theirs too.

          • Well, the opening of John is so strange and mystical that I don't know how applicable it is to this question.

            Matthew 3:7 is against the Pharisees, i.e. could well be taken as conflicting interpretations of Judaism.
            Matthew 7:13 (about the Gates) is pretty vague. It boils down to saying "Stick with me."
            Matthew 8:5-13 is the Centurion, who was presumably a Gentile, but it's really an affirmation that faith in Jesus works.
            Matthew 25:31 (sheep & goats) is the strongest, as it affirms that following Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

            Still, there's nothing here (not that I presume your impressive off-the-cuff citations were meant to be exhaustive) that really show Jesus being interested in non-Jewish religion. As you say, pre-Paul the early Christians don't seem to have cared about the Gentiles either.

            As to polytheism not being as tolerant as it's cracked up to be, I vaguely recall that we've been down this road before. Can you cite an instance of polytheists persecuting monotheists (or other polytheists) for doctrinal as opposed to political or social reasons? None spring to my mind before Julian.

          • Not so impressive, I just picked up my Bible. I'm not a good protestant, so I haven't memorized them. I should read the bible more often, but there are so many things to read! I'm currently reading an excellent book about medical science during the crusades.

            John 1:1 is about the Logos (which you should recognize from stoic philosophy) and how everything comes out of the Logos. Also In John 14:6 Jesus answers "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one goes to the father except through me." Of course the Gospel of John is not as old as the letters of Paul, but you asked for stuff mentioned in the gospels. Matthew is thought to be the first gospel written but Paul's epistles are older than any of the gospels.

            Matthew 3:7 – I tell you god can raise up children of Abraham from these stones is the relevant line there.
            Matthew 7:13 – Yep, and thus presumably you don't find the way to salvation through the Elysian mysteries. No syncretism or henotheism there.
            Matthew 8:5-13 – Yes, but you have healing bound up with forgiveness of sin, and the story basically has the point that you don't have to be Jewish.
            Matthew 25:31 – That and the fact that all nations will be assembled before his thrown, meaning that JC wants to go global.

            But largely we just know that Judaism was true monotheistic religion during Jesus' lifetime by studying Judaism. There is no reason to assume that Jesus disagreed with Jewish culture or his subsequent followers on this point.

            Just as when Christians persecuted others, political and social reasons were buttressed by social ones. I have explained that the general principle of pagan belief was that you had to perform precise and specific rites so as to not anger the gods right? That's why the rationale for persecuting Christians included the charge that they practiced "atheism" since they denied the divinity of the civic gods.

          • Odd, I hardly ever make mistakes with synonyms.

          • "largely we just know that Judaism was true monotheistic religion during Jesus' lifetime by studying Judaism"

            Ah, quite right!

            As to not angering the gods, I guess the distinction I'd draw concerns what angers the gods / God. The pagan gods don't seem to have been angered by the worship of other gods besides themselves, as long as they themselves were looked after; but the monotheistic God seems to have been angered by the worship of any other god by anybody.

            I mean to say, if you showed up in ancient Italy with a new sect, provided you didn't royally tick your new neighbours off by seducing their daughters in your rites or whatever, you were pretty much left alone. The cult of Apollo was never bothered, though the cult of Bacchus was — for civic reasons. But nobody persecuted the Bacchants because their local god was offended at the very idea of another god's existence. This seems to be in contrast with Christian Europe, when showing up with a new Wine God would not have been very wise.

          • Like I've said before. If a population in southern Gaul had attempted to assassinate a representative of the proconsul, taken over Roman Cultic sites for a new religion, and fought back any attempts to reestablish authority, I'd like to see how that region would have fared under the Romans.

            Also, why not mention the Arian Christians who tolerated Catholics and Catholics who tolerated Arians for centuries? Presumably by your sociological narrative, one should have wiped out the other immediately upon coming to power.

            As well many pagan religions and heretical movements were left alone for centuries as long as their followers didn't rock the boat and try to change how society was religiously structured (or they lacked the power to do so). Just like the Romans left people alone if they were unimportant or they didn't try to rock the social order.

            Really Jack, your whole premise that polytheism is more tolerant is demonstrably false, both by historical events and events in the world today. Just because you don't accept your neighbor's religion as valid, doesn't mean you are suppressing desires to persecute him or suppress his freedom of religion. That's about as plausible as the idea that atheists will always seek to violently suppress all religious practice because they don't believe it is true.

          • I'm more concerned about the intellectual crimes of monotheism than about its social impact.

          • Well, I'm generally concerned about the intellectual crimes of sociological constructs, so I guess I can understand.

            Though if you want to assert polytheism as more intellectually valid than monotheism, I'd like to hear it. Or if you want to argue that monotheism makes one less open minded to rational argument and reason, I'd like to hear that too. It will be pleasurable to destroy those assertions.

          • Note to future scholars: the deleted comment above was "I'm more concerned about the intellectual crimes of Christianity than its social impact." Posted it, decided to expand it, tried to delete it before TTE responded, but he is quick.

            To return:

            I'm generally concerned about the intellectual crimes of sociological constructs, so I guess I can understand.

            Great! I'm against "sociological constructs" too! I rather blame Christianity, when it imploded, for unleashing all that antimatter on an innocent galaxy.

            I wouldn't for a moment argue that polytheism is more intellectually valid than monotheism. There's nothing more embarrassing than watching an ancient philosopher try and rationally justify the existence of, say, Hermes. Listening in on Plato arguing with cultural conservatives is like listening in on some random Russian intellectual conversation c. 1830: we don't even grasp the premises, much less empathise with the vital importance of it all (significant as it all is in terms of understanding Plato's thought, etc.). And thank God most of Epicurus' long treatises have perished: we can still ponder and apply his aphorisms, so handy and so ethical, without having to master the Grand System he invented. Rather as people do with Christianity nowadays, come to think of it. The plain fact of the matter is that a small bouquet of Franciscan flosculi smells better than the whole gargantuan herb garden of Aquinas, at least to plebeian nostrils.

            No no, the folly lies in trying to construct the One Perfect System. The ancients, who luckily had not staked their immortal souls on the validity of their theology, were correspondingly not high-strung. Someone in a state of semi-hysteria about missing their flight to Heaven is not likely to be very open-minded. There's no question that monotheists are more liable to intellectual fanaticism — look what they did to Erasmus. You'd do much better not feeling obliged to our medieval friends on that score, it's too tall an order. But if you want to cite some texts I'm always happy to participate in a close reading.

          • I blame Hegel, Weber, Durkheim, Marx, Frazer, Campbell, and others rather than the lingering psychological influence on society of Christianity. Mostly for putting forth ideas that make people think about lingering psychological influences on society.

            I also can't agree with the premise that it is better to lose yourself in narrative and enthusiastic feelings. Of course, I read "The Little Flowers of St. Francis" and came away with little but concluding that St. Francis was a nutter. A holy one for sure, a deeply moral and profoundly insightful one, but a nutter nonetheless. Likewise, I can't agree that spirituality should come from the gut, and that you shouldn't try to contemplate the metaphysical logically.

            I will agree however that you shouldn't try to construct the One Perfect System when dealing with the discipline of metaphysics, and one should clearly know where reason ends and faith begins when dealing with Theology. Doubts keeps metaphysics honest and those who contemplate it humble.

            I would also admonish you however, to keep in mind that human beings defy One Perfect System for deciding how people thought over the ages, or what influences cause people (or peoples) to think in a certain way. Humanity has a way of defying such reductionism, which is why discipline of sociology is lying on the ground whimpering.

            This is especially true since the digitization of information is providing a torrent of translated primary source information into the scholarship. There is now always going to be something to cite that refutes "X idea leads to X society or X way of thinking".

            As for Erasmus, he would have been happier if he had lived a century before he did. For turbulent times he lived, where he was accused of disloyalty, where he was known as a dissident scholar, it also belies your claim that there is no possibility of tolerance in academic circles that are monotheistic. Sure his life would be more pleasant if he were an academic today, but he did die of dysentery rather than persecution and his death was mourned widely.

          • You say you're against "sociology," but that kind of "sociology" has been around ever since the 18th century if not before. You appear to be against generalising about human experience whenever it disagrees with theology! By your definition, there's no reason why theology itself shouldn't be seen as a form of "sociology," generalising wildly as it likes to do about man's relationship to God — including the Ur-Sociological observation that that relationship was fundamentally altered by Christ. It's very difficult to argue with you when you generalise yourself and then dismiss other people's generalisations with one inscrutable epithet.

          • When am I against generalizing about human experience one when it disagrees with theology? I'm against generalizing human experience in general, though of course there are exceptions. We all eat, breathe, think, sleep, and do things we ought not to (for example).

            And yes, theology shouldn't try to pass it itself off as a science whose truths are evident. It will always be speculative and theoretical, without definite resolution.

          • They banned Arianism! That's your example of peaceful Christian coexistence?

            Compare the tone of Epicureans and Stoics attacking each other (and they loathed each other) to the tone of 4th century Bishops, and you instantly see why monotheism drives people slightly insane.

            As well many pagan religions and heretical movements were left alone for centuries as long as their followers didn't rock the boat and try to change how society was religiously structured (or they lacked the power to do so). Just like the Romans left people alone if they were unimportant or they didn't try to rock the social order.

            That's precisely my point. The kind of ruthlessness the Romans demonstrated in terms of keeping subject peoples in line was applied by the Christians to the mind. Neither is very nice, and the former cost a lot more lives, but the latter set back civilisation 1000 years. It took 1200 years to recover.

            Incidentally, you have a truly unique meaning for the word "sociological."

          • Polytheism has its own philosophical problems, if you'd like me to go into them. :)

        • I am somewhere in-between. Believe in god but also firm believer in sh*t happens.

          I always have hard time with God being in charge of everything – the man worked hard enough creating the universe way back when, maybe he's taking a well deserved rest – there is no reason to believe he's still on the job micromanaging all of our existences.

          • The problem with the watchmaker deity is that he wouldn't be infinite, including all of existence and beyond. If he isn't infinite, who is he, where is he, and what qualities does he have? If he exists within time, how did he begin? etc. etc.

            Largely, if you believe in God as the Christian philosophical tradition does (the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause etc.) with a god that is both omnipotent and omniscient, you pretty much have to think about him in terms of being not only being aware of tragedy can happen, but also having the power to determine who and what will be affected by that tragedy. Predestination, though uncomfortable, is hard to get away from. Of course, then you have to wonder what responsibility God must have towards the suffering and evil that exists in the world. Now that is a very controversial debate.

            Of course, Christianity does have the incarnation of god executed as a sacrificial lamb in one of the most gruesome ways possible, with all the suffering and burdens of a human body.

  12. This post provides yet one more reason why I don't waste valuable time reading the bilge that comes out of Potter's keyboard. There's being contrarian and there's being a tool. You're clearly being the latter.

  13. Yet you waste valuable time commenting on it…which suggests one of two things: either you comment on pieces you haven't read, which makes you a fool, or you're lying. Curious to know which.

    • Did I say anywhere in my brief post that I didn't read this particular Potter dross? No. Did I regret wasting time reading it? Yes.

  14. Here's an issue for further 'serious religious scholarship':

    Since we are all descendants of heathens, pagans, golden calf worshippers, and worse probably (, why aren't we all cursed like the Haitians?

    • Not that I really want to take the Robertsonian side of all this, but I suppose a true believer would respond to your question in this way: we are cursed, and historically, our ancestors were cursed for this behaviour…recall the Flood. That, I suppose, would be our ancestral earthquake, to a fundamentalist.

    • You'd have to ask Pat Robertson.

    • After all, you think he's a serious religious scholar, so that must be your standard for scholarship and intelligence.

  15. The idea that civilization was "set back 1000 years" reeks of the idea that people were strolling around in togas until they adopted Christianity, then decided to roll in poo and dress in rags until they decided to become good secular deists.

    Well, that's kind of what I'm saying. And I should add that I'm not defining "civilisation" as expensive roads and amphitheatres and astronomy; it's a state of spiritual harmony and confidence: in short, happiness with the lot of humanity. You see this everywhere in antiquity and the Renaissance; in between, not so much. The obsession with salvation wasted centuries of intelligent people's lives, causing them to turn away from the world and reject the flesh in favour of an extreme dualism. Look at the poetry. It's just one long hymnal from, who, Claudian on? Sure, there's the odd exception here and there, in Byzantium or Crete or with the troubadours, but even when learning came back c. 800 it's mostly variations on "Ave Maria gratia plena" — I have a whole huge book of medieval Latin lyric poetry and it's pretty uninspiring. You don't need wealth — togas, papyrus, etc. — to create that: the Greeks pre-Alexander weren't wealthy by Roman standards; but you do have to think the world is more than a vale of tears.

    I didn't mean to tick you off. I don't get the Seth MacFarlane reference, by the way.

  16. Actually, I think Robertson is an idiot, of a particularily insipid variety. My standard for scholarship typically includes a proper reading of the post one is replying to, however; in this regard, you're lacking. I was merely suggesting that the question, as posed, is no foil for fundamentalist logic, ergo my reference. Get it now?

    • Well, the question I posed is in fact a foil for Robertson's logic, in that Robertson suggests that Haitians are being collectively punished by God for the sins of their forefathers. But if since all of our forefathers committed similar sins, shouldn't we all be suffering in the way Haitians are?

      And if the argument is that we are all damned in the same way, why did he single out the Haitians?

      But I suppose logic really isn't the basis for any of this , is it?

      • I thought I provided some semblance of an answer to the question in my initial post; the entire point of my post was that no, your question is not a foil at all, from a fundamentalist perspective..and no, logic in the formal sense of the term is nowhere present in this. However, logic in the sense of the internal coherence of a way of thinking: that is present. It is, in fact, the point of Potter's piece.

    • I wasn't replying to you.

      • In that case Tyler, if you meant to respond to me, please note that I forgot to put the *sarcasm* warning light on.

        In other words, have no fear, I do not think that Pat Robertson is a serious religious scholar.

        • I recognized the sarcasm. It was your aiming at a target that wasn't Pat Robertson, but whom you wished to associate with Pat Robertson for your own smug pride, that drew my offense.

  17. You know, I really don't like being patronised. Unlike you, I've read the Song of Roland in the original and, say, Ovid in the original, and I can tell you that it's like comparing an Saturday morning cartoon with Casablanca. You don't actually name any historians, but to suggest that any of those chroniclers can stand comparison with Tacitus only goes to show you've not read Tacitus, except conceivably via excerpts. To say nothing of the language — and Latin is an extremely beautiful language in the hands of Tacitus or Virgil, whose works give the fluent reader of Latin more pleasure than Gibbon or Milton respectively — there's the subtlety of his analysis of human character.

    I don't want to embarrass you, but may I recommend the Christian virtue of humility? The intellectual form of which is not to take credit for views you derive at second-hand.

    • Also, I wasn't comparing the medieval serf to the latifundia slave. The latifundia, in general, had it far worse than medieval peasants. Medieval peasants after all had rights and protections, even if they were bound to their station and their land. You couldn't summarily execute a medieval peasant for example.

      No I'm comparing peasants to the (cut and paste) honestiores / humiliores – during the Empire, the populace was divided broadly into two classes. The honestiores were persons of status and property, the humiliores persons of low social status. Only the latter were subject to certain kinds of punishment (crucifixion, torture, and corporal punishment).

      So in other words, people who had Roman citizenship, but it no longer protected them like the rights of citizenship had in earlier eras. Like slaves of the earlier empire, they had to be tortured before their word could be trusted. The institution of serfdom is older than Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire, and can be laid firmly at the feet of Diocletian.

      Sorry, for the diversion, but that was bothering me all night.

  18. (cont'd from above)

    Look, I sypathise with the reaction against viewing the medieval period as a time of utter barbarism. That view was established by people like me who judge an era on its literature and who know what came before intimately. It's holding an epoch to a very high standard to ask that it equal, or even approach, the literature of high antiquity. By that standard ours is much a time of utter barbarism as it would seem if your benchmark were the piety of the middle ages (as yours seems to be). The problem arose when the well-deserved contempt those people felt, as people of genuinely high culture, for the middle ages was then popularised and disseminated among those who did not have access to the the originals and thus had no right to their contempt. It got textbookised, in other words, and apparently you're confusing me with a pre-1980 "Intro to Civilisations" textbook.

    To put it mildly, what you think about me is beside the point. Your anecdote about how you argued, in between pillow-fights, with a fellow first-year undergraduate about Virgil and Augustus makes me nostalgic for the days when I, too, knew nothing first-hand and reveled in the mortal sin of pretentiousness.

    • No one is disputing that literature had a rough time of it in the early middle ages. No one has ever disputed it.

      What I'm disputing is your stated explanation for the reasons for that decline in literature. Your stated explanation was not the loss of papyrus, the loss of Roman hegemony, the invasion of illiterate peoples, the instability of the state etc. etc.

      Your stated explanation is that people withdrew from society and wasted their intellectual energy on dualism and spiritual matters and didn't have a happy and balanced worldview. That's what I'm disputing. If you're so confident of that, how about you make up a paper and present that to a symposium of professors who specialize in medieval literature or medieval history. I'd like to see people much more qualified than I laugh in your face over that thesis.

      Seriously Jack, what is more likely? That millions of people over a thousand years had a limited world view, or that one man is deeply biased? Don't worry Jack, you haven't left your pretentiousness behind.

      • Oh, I forgot, you speak for the whole academic establishment. What, did a professor once chuck you on the cheek and call you his best boy?

        • That's merely my prediction. If you think you will be well received and gain praise for your insights, why not present a paper? It seems like you have your thesis.

          • Ah yes, "Jack's Complete Theory of the Influence of Dualism on Medieval Europe." Should make a nice ten-pager. You can come along and give a paper on "Why Obscurantism ROCKED."

          • Also, the story of the intellectual life of medieval times is marked by a shift away from Platonic dualism. Most scholastics would follow Aristotle, who believed in material monism. Thomas Aquinas used the widespread acceptance of material monism to buttress his arguments for the need for bodily resurrection.

            So when you do that 10 page paper, you should keep that in mind. I know, I know, it ruins your model for how that whole society thought to point out inevitable contradictions based on historical fact. It is probably why historians should be moving away from that model of doing history.

  19. Again, why compare the Song of Roland and Ovid? One is an anonymous writer, preserved with transcription errors, writing in a language that is just developing its literary voice. The other is one of the finest authors in classical Latin, and is writing in the golden age of Latin literature.

    Plus they have completely different purposes. Ovid is meant to read, while the Song of Roland is meant to sung from a balcony while people converse, eat and drink below.

    And you are going to claim that there is no intelligence in medieval history? With a straight face? Wow. Perhaps you should submit that thesis as a symposium for scholars of medieval history as well. You obviously have much to teach everyone.

  20. Johannes Pfefferkorn and Johan Reuchlin are outside of my comfort zone of history. They are more Rennaissance/Reformation era. That's why I had to look up Obscurantism.

    I don't think there was much in the way of deliberately hiding information or fear of skeptical inquiry in the periods I like best. The decades before and after the Reformation changed a lot, and not for the better.

  21. You don't know any historical facts. When I ask you to cite something, even an author's name, you give me wikipedia entries. You don't speak any of the relevant languages. Everything you know is third-hand. Please spare yourself the embarrassment of pretending otherwise. If you want to treat other people with professional condescension, you have to earn it by studying the subject, not as an inspired amateur / good little Catholic but as a scholar in graduate school. OR you can start citing and quoting actual sources and authorities about the period you claim to be such an amateur zealot for — which you're manifestly unable to do. You've got none of the professional authority of an establishment historian and none of the insight of the experienced amateur. I'm sick of humouring you.

    • I'm doing real work Jack. I'm not going to do a research paper with full citations to argue with a guy on the internet.

      You're right about me knowing things second hand and being less distinguished academically.

      However, I think its is clear that you are making far more controversial and sweeping statements without even an undergraduates knowledge on the culture or the period you are commenting on and openly disdaining.

      What is more you should probably think of the damage you might do to your academic reputation by what you say in public forums.

      • LOL, as though you had any idea how academic reputation works.

        I wasn't asking for a "research paper with full citations." I was just thinking that if you really knew anything about what you're talking about, in the way a Leafs fan, say, knows hockey, you might be willing to name this legendary medieval historian who's as intelligent as Tacitus. Or quote from some text, any text — easily accessible in the age of Google. But no, where a hockey fan can actually name the players on his own team (wow!), you can't talk knowledgeably about the period you're obsessed with. Which would be fine, except you then keep pretending that you speak with some kind of authority. You don't. You don't have a shred of authority. You like the fancy robes and traditions and intellectually lineages of the medieval Church purely for their snob value: otherwise you'd actually be able to say something about them that was backed by your knowledge. You remind me of a friend of mine, a great Catholic, full of contempt for what was unChurchly, except that he never went to mass; you're like that guy, except you plainly never pick up a book.

  22. Well Potter, you don't seem to be truly "defending" Robertson per se, but bring up the incident in terms of an area that has always been of interest to you– authenticity. Robertson, while coming across as batshit insane and insensitive, seems to be communicating a more authentic version of his faith than the mainstream media is used to seeing, at least when it comes to Christianity. By more authentic I mean he's specifically saying "action x caused y," and you don't get much of that from non-evangelicals anymore. Thank God! ;^)

  23. Damn, I had a whole comment all typed up and it automatically appeared as "deleted by administrator." What's up with that? Anyhow, your article Potter fit nicely into the whole "search for authenticity" thing, as Robertson's version of Christianity seems more "authentic" in it's stridency than a lot of Christian denominations these days.