Exorcism in North America

Around 250 CE, the Christian church in Rome employed 154 people to act as clergy. 52 of those people were exorcists. (Rise of Western Christendom, p70) That gives you some idea of the importance of spiritual warfare in the ancient church. One third of the staff functioned to expel demons.

What about today? In the Journal of Christian Ministry there’s an article from Dr. Kenneth D. Royal of the University of Kentucky has an interesting article on the practice of Christian exorcism in North America. Through a process of snowballing (finding one exorcist, asking for others, asking them, etc.) he pulled together a sample of 316 folks operating as exorcists. He surveyed, received 170 response, and interviewed 15 subjects.

There a few points that I had never thought about. I’d always thought of possession as being the full control by a demon, as seen in The Exorcist. That’s probably why modern exorcist watchers prefer to avoid the term:

Christian scholars today prefer to use the word demonization, as Christian demonization is a matter of control, not presence or ownership. To have demons inhabit a believer does not necessarily mean total possession or ownership. The present tense of the root ‘daimonizomenos’ means continuous, ongoing control of a person by a demon. Various degrees of demon possession have been described as influence, oppression (outside the body), and possession.

The breakdown of the denominations is about what I’d expect. Of the 170 respondents, 68 were “non-denominational.” Since they have little or no oversight from a larger church institution, they can afford to be a bit wild in their doctrine.

As a former Episcopalian, I was surprised to see that two of the respondents were from my old church. I imagine them casting out the unclean spirits that drive people towards foolish actions, like drinking light beer or eating a meal with a salad fork.

Does any of this matter to us? Probably not directly. The fact that spiritual warfare is still alive and active won’t mean much to atheists, except for a few encounters where people try to drive the spirits of doubt from our minds.

To our pagan friends, however, it’s another story. Spiritual warfare has always meant a hostility to pagans. The earliest Christian demons were the gods of the greco-roman pantheon, and the enormous push to Christianize Rome after Constantine was a result of this spiritual war. The idea that this war might continues is disturbing.

Based on Royal’s sample, Daniel Silliman does some back-of-the-envelop math and comes up with a estimate of 1,300 exorcists operating in North America. That’s not a huge number, but still impressive for a movement that most moderns think died out in the middle ages. Hopefully Royal will continue his research and come back to us with a better understanding of the scope of this practice.

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  • Pofarmer

    Heck, The Catholics still have an official department for this stuff.

    • Brian Anthony

      you do realize that for the catholic church to approve an exorcism an independent MD, and independent psychologist, and a separate psychiatrist all need to sign off that they feel the issue at hand is not natural right. no priest just barges in and starts an exorcism it is a very serious matter for the church because they don’t want to make normal psychological issues worse. That’s why the department exists to confer with modern medicine and psychology to see where they draw their line.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    As someone who was once a “lay exorcist” during my tenure as a Pentecostalist, this is a subject that has always interested me. One thing I can say is that I never encountered (not even in terms of the fictional universe I lived in at that time) a case of “possession” (at least, not of the Hollywood sort). What concerned us was “demonic influence” (and that was my own term for it; not having been taught very much by the congregation, I had no education in the terminology and had to limp along with my own). Sometimes when I was trying to rid someone of a demon’s influence, s/he would squawk back at me in a strange voice, but that was as theatrical as it got.

    As we saw it, demons (or spirits or devils, some preferred those words) would at times attempt to “influence” people. This could happen physically, manifesting as a tic or an illness (usually something that set in suddenly or in some remarkable way; I don’t recall anyone having blamed a cold or seasonal allergy on “demons”). Headaches were a common one; people would often ask me to dispense with their “spirit of a headache.” (Stop laughing, it really happened!) Demons and spirits would also try to insert themselves into a person’s thinking or behavior, usually in small ways that went unnoticed at first, by the person and those around him/her, but became increasingly evident over time. One can imagine this could be a convenient excuse for all sorts of things, from occasional irritability to drug use and more. In retrospect, that’s what it all was.

    Looking back at it, I think the ultimate point of this was not the occasional battles with “demons” (or devils, spirits, whatever) that erupted a few times. Rather, it was the very idea that demons could be lurking in or around people, invisibly “influencing” them in almost any imaginable way. We concerned ourselves with it often, and worried that we might be afflicted, ourselves, at almost any moment. We were constantly under threat of attack by the Forces of Darkness. This naturally created a kind of bunker mentality, and that was the goal of this line of thinking. One sees this in a lot of things that devout Christians say and do, and it partly explains their paranoia (along with the fact that a lot of them want to be able to say they’re persecuted for Jesus, because after all, Jesus was himself persecuted, and there’s no better way to express one’s Christianity than to follow Jesus’ footsteps in that manner).

    • kessy_athena

      That’s a really interesting account, thanks for sharing, Psi. ^_^

  • kessy_athena

    Well, I cannot speak for the entire pagan community, but at least in my little corner of it, the idea of exorcism isn’t seen as being all that closely linked to spiritual warfare in the sense of christians attacking paganism. At least in my experience, christians who chose to attack pagans in terms of demonic influence typically do so by accusing us of being devil worshipers – people who chose to follow the teachings of a “devil”, not in terms of being directly possessed by anything.

    Also, I don’t think there’s as much difference between pagan and christian attitudes on the subject as you might think. Given that pagans generally accept the existence of spirit beings, it’s not a great leap to think that some of those beings might be less then nice, and could have bad effects on people. Generally, pagans do not tend to think of such entities as being part of some vast cosmic army of evil or anything like that, but as more like an analog to parasites in the ecology of the spirit realm.

    No, most pagans do not think these things have anything to do with most forms of physical illness. No, very few pagans would even consider any sort of exorcism to be anything even close to a substitute for real medicine. Yes, I realize that most people here consider any discussion of the spirit realm to be completely silly, and no, I don’t expect anyone to take it seriously. I’m simply trying to explain the pagan point of view.

  • Grotoff

    Why are pagan’s the allies of atheists? When they were in charge, they killed Socrates. Their being the target of Christians is bad in the sense that anyone being targeted is bad. But the pagan embraces illogical and unreason as readily as the Christian.

    • kessy_athena

      Pagans embrace illogic and unreason as readily as christians? Perhaps so. Of course, so do atheists. And humans in general, for that matter. I’ve noticed that, “If I don’t understand it, it obviously can’t possibly exist,” seems to be a particularly common bit of unreason.

      Naturally, not all pagans and all atheists are allies. However, the general pagan attitude is, “Worship whatever gods you feel comfortable with. If that’s none, well, whatever works for you.” Personally, I tend to consider an ally anyone who’s willing to question the attitude that “We’re Right and everyone else is Wrong, and that makes us Better then everyone else.”

      • Grotoff

        It is objectively true that the naturalists are right and the everyone else is wrong. That’s why airplanes, chemotherapy and the internet exist, while no one has ever been healed by reiki chrystals or transported by fiery chariot or communicated telepathically.

        • kessy_athena

          Which completely misses the point of the scientific process. What it does is take a guess and refine it by an iterative process of comparison against experiment and observation. It produces a progressively refined symbolic representation of what we have observed about a certain topic, nothing more. It does not produce the One Truth, any more then divine revelation or anything else. It certainly does not make any statements about phenomena that have not been subjected to this process.

          • Grotoff

            Those “phenomena” that I mentioned have been subjected to this process and they’ve been found to be nonsense.

            It’s certainly true that science does not claim to have found truth that will never be altered whatever the evidence. But it’s nonsensical to claim that what we have proven to be correct will be suddenly overturned. Newton wasn’t wrong about his “laws”. Newton’s laws got us to the moon. But reality is even more complex and has required even more complex theories, like quantum mechanics and general relativity.

            People used to believe that the Earth was flat. They were wrong. People also used to believe that the Earth was round. They were also wrong. In fact, the Earth is an oblate spheroid. But if you believe that people were just as wrong believe it was round as they were to believe it was flat, then you are more wrong than both put together. To paraphrase Asimov.


            • kessy_athena

              So can I presume that you have carefully investigated Reiki and telepathy? That you’ve thoroughly gone over the history and evidence of those subjects and come to a thoughtful conclusion on how wrong they are?

              And just because I can’t resist the temptation to be a smartass, I don’t know about you, but this chariot looks pretty fiery to me… ;)

            • Grotoff

              Of course not. I haven’t run the parallax calculations for determining the distances of stars myself either, but generations of reputable scientists have. And I could if I wanted to devote my time to it. Smarter to merely investigate the conclusions that experts have reached.

              The jury is not out. “Energy medicine” of all sorts and “telepathy” are simply crocks of shit. Anyone who buys into them has been duped with pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-spiritual garbage.

            • kessy_athena

              And you’ve come to that conclusion how? By listening to what other people in the skeptical community say? I’ll bet very few of them have seriously looked into the subject, either.

              I’ll assume I don’t need to copy paste the standard argument about groupthink and the dangers of basing your opinions on how you feel about the sort of people who typically hold those opinions?

              To quote Asimov, “The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong. However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts.”

              In other words, right and wrong in a factual sense are on a continuum, and the absolute ends of that continuum – where things are completely and totally right or completely and totally wrong – are not things you’re going to encounter in the real world. Even a belief like the flat Earth – that we use in everyday language as the epitome of ignorance – has some degree of truth in it. Otherwise those beliefs would never have been accepted in the first place. In order to understand what’s wrong about a belief, you also have to understand what’s right about it. why was it originally adopted? What was the context? What degree of precision was involved in what it’s talking about? You use Newtonian mechanics to get to Luna, and you use a flat Earth model to navigate around a city. (Well, maybe except for San Francisco. ;) ) Because in those domains, with the level of precision required for those tasks, those are the best models, even though we know that strictly speaking they’re “wrong.”

              To extend Asimov’s concepts to what we’re talking about, let’s consider psi energy. (I use the term to differentiate it from physical energy.) It’s a real phenomenon, a real sort of subjective experience. One that you yourself have had, and have even likely used the word “energy” to describe. Don’t believe me? Have you ever said something along the lines of, “I never have any energy in the morning until I’ve had my cup of coffee.”? That’s the sort of energy we’re talking about, not joules. Now maybe that’s strictly a psychological thing. Maybe it’s strictly a biochemical thing, or a hormonal thing, or a neurotransmitter thing, or maybe it’s something else entirely. I don’t know. Whatever the interpretation we eventually arrive at, it does not invalidate the original subjective experience, it just puts it in context.

              Maybe it’s completely wrong headed to think about using psi energy in the context of healing. Or then again maybe it’s not. Consider Franz Mesmer. I don’t think you’re going to find anyone today who isn’t going to agree that animal magnetism was complete and utter nonsense. Nevertheless, Mesmer did genuinely help people, especially people suffering from “hysterical” kinds of ailments. And Mesmerism evolved into hypnosis, which even today has some legitimate medical uses. Of course it’s not going to cure cancer or something, but it does have its uses.

            • Grotoff

              Actually I’ve read plenty of screeds by fools in the “New Age” movement. All the pseudo-scientific nonsense words like “negative ions” and “qi” reveal how full of it they are right away. And yes, scientists have done double-blind experiments testing telepathy and other pseudo-science claims. It’s nonsense.

              By “energy in the morning” you mean caffeine? That’s a chemical process in the brain, as is general wakefulness. It doesn’t have chakras, feng shui doesn’t optimize it, poking yourself with needles does nothing about it, and you don’t have an aura.

              Look, the human brain is incredibly complex. It’s undoubtedly true that we can fool ourselves into all sorts of the things. The placebo effect is real. But that doesn’t make mysticism useful. That’s the shit that killed Steve Jobs.

            • kessy_athena

              So, since people from a different subculture use very different language to describe their experiences then you do, that automatically makes them idiots and fools? Now don’t get me wrong, being a pagan, I’ve dealt with plenty of fluffybunnies. Actually, I’ve run into a few fluffybunnies here in the atheist community too. However, using the word “qi” does not a fluffybunny make. And sometimes using “mystical” language is a heck of a lot more convenient. Unless you like continually using phrases like, “A psychological state influenced by a variety of environmental factors both known and unknown, leading to a variety of poorly understood effects including but not limited to altered states of consciousness, abnormal shifts in focus of attention, and atypical perception of patterns in the environment.” Which can get pretty cumbersome pretty quickly, let me tell you.

              I was using “energy in the morning” as an example of a wider class of phenomena. You can see it at things like concerts, sporting events, political rallies, romantic encounters, friendly gatherings, cemeteries at night, and so on. You can insist these are strictly psychological things if you wish, although I am not at all convinced that’s all there is to it. Time, and new evidence, will tell.

              The human brain is indeed incredibly complex. And there’s a heck of a lot of it that we just don’t understand yet. You can handwave it away as just being brain chemistry or electrical switches or whatever, but that’s really ignoring the interesting parts, don’t you think?

            • Grotoff

              We aren’t talking about 6th century Buddhist monks here. We’re talking about people in the 21st century. It was clearly excusable for the ancients to believe in a flat earth or qi, because they didn’t know any better. Within their limited reference frame, that’s fine. It’s not excusable for anyone in the 21st century to spew such nonsense.

              There is nothing mystical about people in groups either. We’re a social species. Are you suggest that magic is behind schools of fish or flocks of birds?

            • kessy_athena

              Did I say anything at all about magic (or magick)? Isn’t the best way to do science to try to describe what you’re observing as objectively and with as few assumptions as possible? Could you do me a favor? Could you take a minute and step back and really ask yourself if you’re reacting to evidence and careful analysis, or if you’re reacting to the sound of language and “conventional wisdom” and how you react to the people involved? And I do not mean that as any sort of rebuke. No one can do a careful analysis of absolutely everything. We all react to things like people’s language and demeanor. I mean, sometimes fluffybunnies get under even my skin. (Honestly! Your lights just flickered, don’t go babbling about spirits over a freaking voltage fluctuation!) That’s not a bad thing. It’s a coping skill we evolved to deal with information overload. I just think it’s helpful to make some effort to separate the two. Just because a certain person is an idiot who has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about doesn’t mean everything they’ve ever said is complete woo.

            • Grotoff

              I am definitely reacting to the evidence, and to the people whose lives are ruined because of charlatans peddling nonsense. I already mentioned Jobs, but the same goes for billions of people around the world.

              Look, unless you can describe a testable causation factor, then you have business offering any hypothesis. There is no difference between “energy healing” or “magick” or “prayer” or “telepathy” or “fortune telling” or “seances”. It all relies on woo-woo self-deception and mountains of fuzzy thinking. And it gets people killed when they take it too seriously.


            • Fred

              Grotoff, you definitely do not know who you are dealing with in Kessy_Athena. I present to you these past threads


              If your really interested in doing battle with an Alicinan rabbit hole of nonsense you may want to google this first.

              unreasonable faith its-probably-quantum
              unreasonable faith the-venn-diagram-of-irrational-nonsense
              unreasonable faith bigfoot-isnt-in-ny

            • kessy_athena

              Uh-huh, so any aspect of reality that doesn’t meekly conform to your preconceptions is an Alician rabbit hole of nonsense, is it? Well I’m terribly sorry if the real world is inconvenient for your ego, but that’s your problem.

            • Fred

              Weird. Its as if you don’t think your words are there for everyone to read.

            • kessy_athena

              Weird. It’s as if you think, “Well, it’s obviously woo,” is an actual argument.

              In general, I stand by what I’ve said in the past. I’ll happily respond to anything you want to bring up. Well, okay, considering the degree some of those conversations were beaten to death, I may not be that happy about it, but I’ll still respond. And if you show me that I was wrong, I’ll admit it, and even apologize, if appropriate. However, showing me that I’m wrong involves more then the above.

              However, you’ll get no apology from me for questioning assumptions and conventional wisdom. Ever. It’s what I do. And if you can’t deal with having your assumptions questions, that’s your problem. However, you tell me, which worldview is dealing with the world as it actually is? The one that actively seeks to question its own assumptions? Or the one that screams in outrage and fear when its precious preconceptions are even looked at critically?

            • Fred


            • kessy_athena

              Yeah, that’s about the level of argument I figured you’d bring. If you’re too much of a coward to debate me, then why did you open your mouth in the first place?

            • Fred

              You know I wasn’t talking to you in the first place.
              Your history speaks for itself.
              To paraphrase a nitwit from earlier, I’m terribly sorry if that is inconvenient for your ego, but that’s your problem.

            • kessy_athena

              How can you be reacting to evidence when you said earlier that you haven’t looked at the evidence?

              Isaac Newton himself said he had no idea what could cause action at a distance. Does that mean he had no business offering any hypothesis on gravity?

              Do you really believe that it is proper to to put in the same category a fair ground fortune teller who tells people that romance and riches lie in their future and a couple who are facing charges for child abuse that ended up being deadly?

              “Well, if there were really anything seriously wrong, then my doctor would already know about it,” can get you killed just as easily as any amount of “woo.”

            • Grotoff

              I said that I have not done the experiments myself to demonstrate the futility and moronic waste that is New Age nonsense. I have, of course, read about them. Thus, I have looked at the evidence.

              Isaac Newton offered testable predictions that centuries of studies have objectively proven. He did, in fact, speculate as to causation. But the key point is that his predictions were testable. He wasn’t asking people to accept the orbits of the planets on faith.

              Yes, a fairground “psychic” bilking morons out their money with platitudes is on the spectrum with the people who killed their children with their faith. In fact, a psychic who is aware of their deception has an even more despicable motivation. At least those naive fools killed their children in the midst of cultist manipulation.

            • kessy_athena

              You’ve read about them? Read what, exactly? I mean, reading this conversation could be described as reading about the subject. It certainly wouldn’t count as examining any sort of evidence.

              And just to be clear, I never asked you if you’d actually done the experiments yourself. I asked if you’d investigated the subjects – i.e., read up on what sort of experiments have been done, what professional organizations have to say about it, that sort of thing. And no, something from a site that calls itself something like http://www.death_to_woo doesn’t count anymore then something from http://www.cosmic_wisdom_of_ages does, and for exactly the same reason.

              You didn’t ask for testable predictions, you demanded a causation factor. That’s an important distinction. The universe is under no obligation to behave in ways that make sense to us, and the idea that you can’t observe something unless you already have an explanation for it is frankly absurd.

              A fairground psychic is “on the same spectrum” as people who kill their children? And just what spectrum would that be? The spectrum of human behavior? It sounds to me like you’re saying that there’s a cosmic battle between the forces of Woo and Reason going on, and any deviation from the Correct Beliefs is the work of the Prince of Delusion. Do you really want to go down that road? I presume you know where it leads.

              This conversation started when you asked why pagans should be considered allies of atheists. As Reagan said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” So my question is, are you looking for allies? Or are you looking for True Believers?

            • Grotoff

              Here is one piece that I read from a scientist who spent 25 years trying to prove that psychic phenomena are real.

              A “testable causation factor” yes. That is necessary to have a coherent theory. Newton did not have a coherent theory of gravity, but he did work out the math of how it works. That’s a far cry from Einstein’s success, but it’s something.

              A fairground psychic is predator on human gullibility. People who kill their children out of ignorance at least have some excuse, and are also victims in a small way. They all use their woo-woo beliefs to hurt others.

              I’m not looking for allies, as it happens. Pagans and other New Age fools are no more acceptable to honest skeptics than the otherwise religious. Their nonsense should be as thoroughly ridiculed as any other. It is predatory.

              In a political sense, all minority groups are situational allies against the domineering majority. American Muslims are also for separation of church and state, because otherwise they are in danger. That doesn’t make Muslims the allies of skeptics. They are our determined enemies as well.

            • kessy_athena

              Thanks, Grotoff, that was a really interesting essay and I really enjoyed it. You also might want to thoroughly reread it yourself – one passage that jumped out at me in connection with what you’ve been saying was, “I had started this study with the opinion that
              someone somewhere was maliciously and greedily making false claims to
              take money from vulnerable people. I ended up with quite a different
              view – that well-meaning people were selling a product they genuinely
              believed in to people who also believed in it and felt better, even
              though the specific claims are false.”

              I don’t think I got across the point I was trying to make in my initial reply to you. The reason that, “We’re Right, everyone else is Wrong, and that means we’re better then everyone else,” is a destructive attitude is not because sometimes people things are Right that are actually Wrong, but because being factually right does not make you a better person. Being in the right factually and being in the right morally are two entirely different things, and in my view, the “original sin,” if you will, of Christianity is that it conflates the two. Being factually right does not make you a better person, it doesn’t make you more righteous, it doesn’t make you smarter, it doesn’t make you wiser, and doesn’t make you a better judge of reality.

              To see what I’m saying, put aside for a moment the so called “big questions” and just look at the simplest example. “Hey, doesn’t the new season of the Simpsons start next week?” “No, it’s the week after.” One of them is (probably) right and the other wrong. So what? You just go ask Google, find out the real answer, and adjust your TV viewing schedule accordingly. No fuss, no muss, no drama, no clash of Right and Wrong, no cosmic battle for hearts and minds, nothing like that. So where does all the drama come from? Because the “big questions” Really Matter?

              Let’s take a look at one of the examples from Dr. Blackmore’s essay: those “bio-electric shield” pendant things. What if Dr. Blackmore’s initial reaction of outrage were totally justified? What if all those claims really were cynical, manipulative lies? What if there really were some evil chessmaster at the center of the web preying on vulnerable people?

              How would that be any different from 90% of the US economy?

              To be blunt, we’re all bombarded with cynical, manipulative lies created by greedy, malicious people preying on the vulnerable every single time we turn on the TV or start a web browser without ad block. How is this any different? Remove the hype and the BS, and what do you have left? Overpriced jewelry. And be honest, is it really all that overpriced? $139 for a nice pendant? $995 for a gold one? Seems high but not unreasonable to me. Certainly not in, “Call the cops, we’ve got some serious fraud going on here,” territory. But what about all those lies about the bio-electric phlebotinum? Be honest. Be really, really honest. Just how different is that from the Jimmy Dean commercial that was just on the TV about how their sausage and egg prepackaged breakfast will turn you from a shambling half asleep zombie into a hypercompetent superman? They’re both complete BS.

              You called fairground psychics predators on human gullibility. How often do people go to psychics asking for the answers to their final exams? Or the address and phone number of the soon to materialize love of their lives? If people really thought those sorts of psychics had real, practical knowledge of such things, wouldn’t they be doing exactly that all the time? Face it, those sorts of “psychics” are just entertainers. The only difference between them and stage magicians is that stage magicians usually give a slightly (and only slightly) more explicit wink and a nod that it’s all an act.

              It seems to me that the only real predatory behavior going on here is when you have people who think they are the possessors of the One Truth and have a right, even an obligation to make sure that everyone else believes that One Truth as well, ever so coincidentally making them part of the enlightened, the elite, the special. That sort of thinking leads to all sorts of nastiness. And that’s the real mechanism where beliefs hurt people.

              Go back and reread what you just posted. Especially those last two paragraphs. Put them right next to what Psicop said about their experiences as a lay exorcist:

              Looking back at it, I think the ultimate point of this was not the occasional battles with “demons” (or devils, spirits, whatever) that erupted a few times. Rather, it was the very idea that demons could be lurking in or around people, invisibly “influencing” them in almost any imaginable way. We concerned ourselves with it often, and worried that we might be afflicted, ourselves, at almost any moment. We were constantly under threat of attack by the Forces of Darkness. This naturally created a kind of bunker mentality, and that was the goal of this line of thinking.

            • Grotoff

              Those specific people were merely self-deluded profiteering lunatics. That simply isn’t the case for many so-called psychics and peddlers of New Age phenomena. They are conscious predators of other people. Even the self-deluded have done despicable things. Lunatics like Sylvia Brown, the woman who told a mother that her living kidnapped daughter was dead, cause real serious harm. And it is not at all analogous to stylized advertisements that no one is meant to take seriously. If you want to go the ad route, it is more like the penis enlargement hucksters and other “supplement” sellers. Predators.

              “Being right factually doesn’t make you right morally” What does this mean? Big Questions really do matter. If Christianity is right, then it really is imperative to do all sorts of things and believe all sorts of things or you are in horrible danger. If New Age bullshit is right then again you have to live your life a different way. Those purported answers to Big Questions are important.

              It’s not about belonging to an elite. That’s a red herring. There’s nothing elite about accepting the world for the way it is. It’s sad that you think that.

            • kessy_athena

              What does it mean that being right factually doesn’t make you right morally? Let me illustrate. Let’s start with being factually right and morally wrong. That one usually seems to be easier to get across – think of any unethical, monstrous scientific experiment. Nazi medical experiments, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, things like that. Or to look at it another way, a lot of what Hitler had to say about the political situation in Europe when he came to power was actually factually correct. Germany really was made a scapegoat at Versailles. The Allies really did pull a bait and switch at the end of WWI, and they treated Germany in a really despicable way. Hitler was factually entirely correct that Germany had every right to rebel against the post war system that had been imposed on it. Of course, what he did with that factually correct premise was morally downright evil.

              Being factually wrong and morally right is a bit more counter intuitive, so let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see two people – person A is curled in a ball on the ground, and person B is standing over them kicking them. You assume that person B is attacking person A and you call the police, right? That is indisputably the morally right thing to do, right? Even if it later turns out that you’re factually wrong and person A was actually trying to mug person B, and just picked the wrong person to mug. Maybe person A even has a knife or other weapon clutched in their hand that you can’t see. But in this case, being factually wrong does not change the moral situation for you as a bystander.

              Christianity is not a normal belief system and is not really a good standard for drawing more general conclusions about Big Questions. After all, they use a blatantly manipulative and coercive premise – I assume you’d agree there’s not really any moral difference between “Live the way we tell you or our buddy Yahweh is going to damn you forever,” and “Give me all your money or my pal Vinny here is gonna break your legs.”? Like I said before, I think that conflating being morally right and factually right is the real “original sin” of Christianity: telling people that you have to believe the right thing to be “saved” is not only ridiculous, it’s utterly immoral.

              Christianity aside, why do you think those “Big Questions” are so important? If “New Age bullshit” is right, how exactly would you change how you live? If quartz crystals have some weird properties, so what? Maybe that’ll lead to a better kind of remote control for your TV or something, or maybe some new kind of medical gizmo, but how’s that fundamentally changing how you live your life?

              Or to pick up on something Dr. Blackmore said, ” If survival (of consciousness after death) is real then we must live our lives in the knowledge that there is some realm beyond – where our earthly deeds may have consequences, and which gives some new meaning to our lives here on earth.” My reaction is pretty much, “Come again?” I don’t care if you believe in reincarnation or heaven and hell or that human consciousness poofs out of existence at the moment of death, of course our actions have consequences. Actions always have consequences. Thinking that actions don’t have consequences if you can somehow sneak them past the “authorities” and get away with them strikes me as a really child – like way of thinking. (I mean that literally, not pejoratively.) How you should live your life – in other words, morals – is not about appeasing some cosmic school yard monitor or about staying in the lines of some universal coloring book of life, the universe and everything. It’s about creating the sort of society, the sort of world that we want to live in. It’s about building a world that has safety, security, peace, and prosperity for everyone.

              About belonging to an elite… Do you believe that people who accept the world for the way it is, at least according to your lights, are better then people who don’t? Because isn’t belonging to a group that’s better then others the definition of an elite? Now I admit that “elite” is really too strong a word for what we’re talking about and carries a lot of baggage. But the essential point remains.

            • Grotoff

              How is calling the cops when you see a person apparently in danger at all equivalent to bilking gullible people out of money and ruining the lives of grieving mothers? You seem to want to argue that people can be basing their lives on lie but still live in a morally upright way. To which I say, so what? Social development since the industrial revolution has relied on becoming more and more correct about the nature of reality and harnessing that reality for the use of humanity. If humanity is going to survive, we must banish beliefs that obscure the truth.

              As an aside, it wasn’t Hitler being correct about Versailles that lead to the Holocaust. It was Hitler being wrong about Jews and racial purity and his allegiance to Christianity’s historic persecution that lead to the Holocaust.

              Blackmore means that actions will have ineffable eternal consequences if such beliefs are true. “Actions”, such as the Christian emphasis on thought crime, have different consequences in such a scheme.

              If New Age beliefs are right then, yes, we should expect real physical outcomes from them. Telepathy for the masses, reiki healing in hospitals, etc. If those ideas are right, then those things SHOULD exist. It should transform out society. They would have profound consequences for live as we know it. If mind/body duality is true, then our understand of neuroscience is flawed. If New Age hokum is true then Nobel Prizes are just waiting to be given out. But they aren’t.

              It is certainly true that people who accept the truth about the world are more capable of dealing with it in productive ways. I don’t know what you mean by “better”. Certainly understanding evolution and quantum mechanics doesn’t necessarily impart empathy or compassion. But false beliefs can lead those already with empathy and compassion, like the parents of those two dead children, to do monstrous things.

            • kessy_athena

              Well, if you really think that the “big questions” are about building gadgets and gizmos and winning Nobel Prizes… Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. To me, “big questions,” at least for humanity at this time, are ones about things like, “How do we live in a just and stable society?” “How do we find peace within ourselves and with others?” “How do we treat other people?” “How does one define what exactly constitutes a ‘person’ in the first place?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disparage engineering – I started out as an engineering major at college myself. But it’s a different sort of task, a different sort of problem to solve. And frankly, a sort of problem we’re already pretty good at solving.

              You say that we must banish beliefs that obscure the truth, and yet at the same time speak disapprovingly of the Christian emphasis on thought crime. Obviously, some beliefs are unacceptable (such as the belief that the gods require regular human sacrifices) while at the other extreme it’s equally unacceptable to persecute people for trivial differences of opinion. At what point does a belief become unacceptable? It can’t just be a question of whether a belief is right or wrong – as we discussed earlier, that’s a fuzzy continuum that doesn’t have a sharp binary distinction. What standard do you use to draw the line then? Any definition that rests primarily on the correctness of the ideas is going to run into all sorts of practical difficulties simply because there isn’t a simple uniform standard that could apply across all areas of knowledge and yet all areas of knowledge have a tendency to blend into each other.

              My opinion is that the appropriate standard is based on real, immediate harm to others. I feel that a just society has to allow people the freedom to be wrong and the freedom to make the wrong decision. Isn’t that what freedom of choice means? What I don’t think is acceptable is when people let their beliefs become more important then people. Ultimately, beliefs, ideas, knowledge, they’re all just mental constructs; they’re all just things. And things don’t matter, people do. The parents of those two dead children didn’t let them die because they had beliefs, or because those beliefs were wrong, but because they lost sight of that simple fact and chose their ideas over their children.

              If you don’t know what I mean by “better,” then I’m really happy because that’s exactly the point I was trying to make. Being “better” is important to all of us – competition and vying for social status is a part of human nature, after all. But “better” in that context is a pretty fuzzy idea that doesn’t really have a good practical definition. It’s really easy to loose sight of that, and that can have some serious consequences. Just look at how some groups seem to have embraced the idea that being poor is a moral failing. Falling into the trap of thinking that being wrong is a moral failing can be just as dangerous.

            • Grotoff

              None your questions matter even slightly if (1) an asteroid strike wipes us out like the dinosaurs or (2) we turn the planet into an uninhabitable wasteland. It is imperative that we confront reality head on, or our philosophizing about what constitutes a good life is meaningless.

              There’s no need to arrest or prosecute people for bad ideas. But there is a need to denounce them publicly. This isn’t about state persecution. It’s about conversational intolerance. I do not tolerate 9/11 truthers or racists to spew their bile in my presence. I also do not expect the government to arrest them for it. There’s a difference between legal and acceptable. I agree that when ideas begin to lead to direct harm, then that harm should be punished by the law. Not the ideas, the harm.

              Those parents honestly believed that the best thing for their children was for them to pray over them and not to seek simple medical treatment. It was precisely their beliefs that killed the children. It wasn’t a failure of empathy; it was fundamentally wrongness about reality and the response to empathy.

              Being wrong leads otherwise ethical people to behave in horrible ways. That’s simply reality. If you honestly believe that you have to murder someone to make the sun come up, then the moral thing is to kill them. Your wrongness leads to immorality.

            • kessy_athena

              Well, if (1) or (2) or any manner of other disasters that wipe out Homo sapiens occur, then not much matters to humanity, period. Can we agree then that the whole idea of “big questions” is a bit overblown?

              You’re right, there is a huge difference between state persecution and conversational intolerance, And I was being sloppy about the distinction. Sorry, my bad. However, the same question still arises: how do you draw the line? I assume you don’t put the question of whether Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings is better in the same category as the question of racism? To my mind, we can argue about anything, but there are a few things that merit the application of stronger social tools. Those things are usually very dependent on context.

              For example, ten years ago I would have considered someone saying that Keynesian economics is completely wrong and doesn’t work at all to just be strange. Now, because of the current political situation in the US, I consider that particular bit of insanity to be an imminent threat to the economic and by extension social stability of the US. For another example, for a long time I thought of Gingerism to be just some strange little wabbit (WBT: Weird British Thing) because as far as I know, that particular brand of bigotry doesn’t exist outside of Britain. It came across to me as about like making fun of someone for being left handed: odd and thoughtless, but nothing more. I really had no idea.

              However, what I find really objectionable is not any particular set of ideas, but the practice of ideology. You know what psychiatrists say about delusions? It’s not about what you believe; it’s about how you believe it. All ideologies, regardless of the particular of their ideas, come down to the same thing: we’re Right, everyone else is Wrong, and that makes us Better then everyone else. Have you ever wondered why Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia acted so much alike when their ideologies were so very different and explicitly opposed to each other? Because it’s not about the ideas, it’s about being Right. What happens when you step over that line is you start investing emotionally in your beliefs; you start defining your sense of self worth in terms of being right. when that happens you start reacting to a challenge to your ideas as if it were an actual attack on your person. And that is where the horrible behavior comes from, not simply from being wrong.

              Earlier, when I was talking about Hitler being right about Versailles, I meant that was the origin of the war, not of the Holocaust. When Hitler marched the German Army into the Rhineland, the people cheered, and rightly so. Can you imagine a peace treaty that forbade the US from deploying military forces anywhere north of the Ohio River? When he said that the war reparations were unjust and he wasn’t going to pay them, can you really argue with his position? When he annexed Austria and the Sudetenland, there was a lot popular support in those areas for the move, because Hitler was right that those territories were largely ethnically German. Hitler took the largely factually correct narrative of Germany being scapegoated and downtrodden by her neighbors and turned it into ideology, turned it into a sense of entitlement, turned it into an excuse for conquest. That factually correct narrative gave birth to the partitioning of Poland, the blitzkrieg across France, the Battle of Britain. Remember, many, many times more people died on Hitler’s battlefields then in his death camps.

              Humans almost never explicitly say that they’re going to do something wrong, something evil, not even to themselves. We always have a rationalization. And ideology provides a very powerful ready made rationalization for literally anything. It’s a frighteningly short step from, “We’re Right, everyone else is Wrong, and that makes us Better then everyone else,” to adding on, “And therefore we’re justified in whatever we chose to do to everyone else.” The thinking is terrifyingly simple. If you start with the idea that being right makes you a good person, then you must always be Right, since who doesn’t believe they’re a good person? And then you just muddle the distinction between being factually right in what you believe and being morally right in what you do…

              It wasn’t those parents’ ideas that killed those kids, it was their ideology. No matter what your beliefs are, a parent who’s thinking clearly will do whatever it takes to help their child. If their child is sick, they’ll go get help. If the child gets worse instead of better, they’ll go looking for other sources of help. If this keeps going on over a long time, people will try anything, even things they think are complete nonsense, to try to help their kids, just on the off chance that something might help. Because that’s what parents do. Those kids died because their parents got so caught up in their ideology, become so personally invested in their beliefs, that it actually became more important to them then their own children.

            • Grotoff

              Except science and reason can protect us from destruction by interplanetary rocks and by our own foolish disregard for the health of the Earth. Putting our head in the sand and conjuring up nonsense dooms us to destruction.

              I fail to see what was wrong about the annexation of Austria or the Sudetenland. German expansion is not what made the Nazis evil. That was their murderous eugenics. All states like to grab as much territory as they can get away with. So what? Now the invasion of Poland and France is fundamentally different. That wasn’t simply the expansion of a state but the imposition of imperialism. That was wrong for all the same reasons that imperialism anywhere is wrong. That arose out of Hitler’s wrong and disgusting beliefs about the superiority of Aryan Germans and their need for “living space”.

              Ultimately, I don’t understand what you are trying to prove. Are you trying to say that insisting on understanding reality as it is leads to genocide and totalitarianism? That’s just ludicrous and insulting.

              An ideology is a system of ideas. You have made a distinction without a difference. Those parents were confident that their children would be best served by doing what they did. Unfortunately, their ideas/ideology were/was wrong.

            • kessy_athena

              What I’m trying to say is that being (factually) right doesn’t really matter. At least not in the way your earlier posts made it sound. More factually accurate ideas are a useful tool, but nothing more. There are no ineffable greater consequences. there’s no cosmic war between reason and woo, there’s no plague of incorrect thinking. There’s no reason to turn disagreement into thought crime, even when speaking metaphorically about social attitudes. Being factually right doesn’t make you better or wiser or smarter or superior. It just makes you factually right about that particular thing, and that’s all. Having factually correct beliefs does not prevent people from doing horrible things, and having factually incorrect beliefs does not lead people to commit monstrous acts. So I’m saying that things like genocide and totalitarianism result from issues that are not really related to having factually correct or incorrect beliefs.

              An ideology is a system of ideas, and a human is a system of atoms. There’s emergent behavior you get with the system that you just don’t get with the individual components. Those kids didn’t die simply because their parents believed that prayer would heal them. Lots of people believe that, yet we don’t see incidents like this at anywhere near the rate that would suggest. The parents had to have a whole system of ideas working together for that believe to interact with in order to get the result of children dying. You also need the idea that holding the correct beliefs is what defines a person’s moral worth, the idea that any doubt in thought or deed is a sin, the very idea of sin, for that matter, the idea of an afterlife, the idea of a god passing judgement on you after death, and so on and so on and so on. You need this whole complex system working together to get a pathological result. More then that, you need the sort of personal investment in that system of ideas that will let, “I have to believe the right thing,” override “My child is sick and needs help.” And it takes a heck of a lot to override that.

            • Grotoff

              Being factually incorrect about race led to the Holocaust. Being factually incorrect about New Age mumbo jumbo got Steve Jobs killed and convinced a grieving mother that Sylvia Browne knew that her living kidnapped daughter was dead. Being factually incorrect about the power of prayer got those children killed by their parents. Newton’s factual incorrectness about deity prevented him from working out Laplace’s orbital resonance.

              Being factual right matters. Being factually right is the difference between our species going out like the dinosaurs or colonizing the solar system. Being factually right is the difference between extinction and not. There is a war. A war with Creationists, homeopaths, anti-vaccine activists, and other lovers of woo against reality. Against science and against reason. It’s a war to the death, because unreason’s victory means death for humanity.

            • kessy_athena

              Race had little to do with the Holocaust. In point of fact, if you actually read a bit of what Hitler had to say, it turns out that by American standards he was really only mildly racist. (Of course this has a lot to do with social differences between the US and Europe, particularly with the legacy of slavery, but that’s another discussion.) In fact, Hitler explicitly said that he didn’t consider the Jews to be a race at all. He seemed to think of them as more like members of a vast Illuminati-ish conspiracy. And you can hardly claim that the systematic murder of people with disabilities and homosexuals had anything to do with race. Do you really think that if you went back in time and explained the current genetic understanding of human lineages to Hitler (and he believed you) that it would have changed anything at all? You’re simply missing the point. The Jews were made into a scapegoat. We are looking at a group of people looking for someone to blame for all the perceived wrongs done to them, someone who could be punished. And it was the ideology, the conviction of their rightness, that gave the Nazis the ready made rationalization to carry out their worst impulses. If being factually right or wrong had any role to play here, it was the way that the intoxication of thinking themselves to be right let ordinary people convince themselves that it was the right thing to do to help round up their neighbors and send them to death camps.

              It was cancer that killed Jobs. I neither know nor care about the particulars of his illness and treatment. That’s his business and none of ours. I know nothing about this Browne case, either, but people say dumb things all the time for any number of reasons. As previously discussed, it was not simply a belief in the power of prayer that killed those kids – lots of people share those beliefs and still manage not to kill their kids. The situation was more complicated, and in the end it wasn’t what the parents believed that killed them, it was how they believed it.

              I don’t quite understand your fascination with the extinction of humans. It is extremely likely that Homo sapiens will become extinct at some point. That’s how this universe is – everything dies eventually. You do all you reasonably can to ensure yourself a long, healthy life, and then you don’t worry about it. Obsessing about potential asteroid strikes and similar things is neither healthy nor helpful. No matter how hard we work, there will always be threats that we can’t really do anything about. And there’s always the possibility of something completely unforeseen.

              In any event, how in the world could creationism or homeopathy lead to the extinction of humanity? As for the anti-vaccers, it is conceivable that that their activities could increase the chances of a known disease like measles mutating into a deadly, virulent version by reducing herd immunity, but really, that’s so unlikely… It’s much more likely that a dangerous plague would come from something that we don’t currently vaccinate against.

              Are you really telling me that you see the hand of some sinister Prince of Darkness like figure in everything from the Holocaust to phone psychics? Seriously? I’m sorry, but as far as I can see, you’re just stringing together a bunch of groups you don’t like and trying to turn them into some sort of boogeyman.

            • Grotoff

              Race had everything to do with it, because Hitler viewed the German people as a master race. All other races, like the Slavs and the Jews, and those who “contaminated” his race, like gays, needed to be exterminated to preserve the perfect German Aryan people. That was the heart of Hitler’s psychopathy.

              Are you suggesting that Martin Luther King Jr’s conviction that he was right to oppose racism, that his ideology of equality was absolutely right, that was evil? Are you saying that true ideologies are evil? That’s what I’m hearing from you. That it isn’t the evil beliefs of people, but their certainty about any beliefs that makes them evil. Is that what you are saying?

              The ideas, the ideologies, of the homeopaths and the creationists and the anti-vaccers strike at the heart of human inquiry. They drown curiosity and discovery in a murky pond of mysticism and supernatural just-so stories. They doom humanity to extinction before we’ve even tasted the stars. They deserve to be shamed and shouted down at every opportunity.

              What makes you think they need to be a part of a conspiracy to be dangerous? Bankers don’t need to actively conspire to ruin the economy with their profligacy.

            • kessy_athena

              If Hitler was trying to exterminate all the non-Aryan races, why did he happily ally himself with Japan, share some of Germany’s most advanced technologies with them, and speak admiringly of Asian culture? Hitler, at least by his own account, basically felt that the races should remain separate and not be mixed. His views tend to be over simplified in popular culture, and distorted by the lens of our own perspectives. The thing that you need to understand is that Hitler’s actions drove his ideology, not the other way around. The ideology became the excuse, the rationalization for the actions, and removed the sorts of restraints that normally keep people from acting on their worst impulses. And you didn’t answer my question. Do you really think that if someone had presented Hitler with the correct facts about race in a convincing way, that would have really changed anything?

              That it isn’t the evil beliefs of people, but their certainty about any beliefs that makes them evil is exactly what I’m saying. Remember when I pointed out that factually right beliefs are a useful tool? Beliefs in general are tools, and like all tools are not inherently good or evil. It all depends on how people use them. (Although it is true that some beliefs much more readily lend themselves to one extreme or the other.) When someone embraces certainty in their own righteousness, they largely stop being questioning themselves, their beliefs, and their actions. And it is exactly that self examination that is the basis of conscience, that keeps people from flying off to extremes and acting on their worst impulses.

              My view is that MLK is a prime example of someone who did not embrace ideology, who did not let conviction trump conscience. He always kept his focus on the people involved, not on the beliefs. Do you remember the full name for the rally where King delivered “I Have a Dream”? It was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. People forget the jobs bit. King could have easily given in to the impulse to say that blacks were entitled to various things, to the point of using any means necessary to to take them. He could have given in to anger and resentment. He could have convinced himself and others that because of the horrible injustices done to blacks, all sorts of terrible things were justified. But he didn’t. He didn’t because what he wanted was not to feel self righteous, but to improve the lives of blacks and everyone else in a real and practical way. Things don’t matter, people do. And in the end, ideas are just things. King knew that.

              You never answered my question: how in the world could creationism and homeopathy lead to the extinction of humanity? Human inquiry is about pursuing the evidence wherever it may lead, without preconceptions or prejudice. It’s about questioning everything, including what we think we already know. It’s about making sure that no line of investigation is off limits. It’s about trying to punch holes in our own assumptions. It’s about searching for that little bit of signal in a sea of noise. If you’re saying that certain topics shouldn’t even be discussed, how is that serving the spirit of inquiry? As Asimov pointed out, things aren’t absolutely right or absolutely wrong, but exist in a fuzzy continuum between the two extremes. What if that tiny little grain of truth buried in a sea of silliness just so happens to turn out to be the missing piece we need to understand the world as it really is better?

            • Grotoff

              Hitler was intent on exterminated the non-Aryan races who he viewed as in the way of the success of his master race. He certainly didn’t like the Japanese, and like most Westerners was very racist against Asians.

              You are precisely wrong about what drove Hitler. It was ideas. It was his ideas about racial superiority and the supposed betrayal of the German army by German Jews pushing for peace in WWI. It was his ideas about “Lebensraum”. Those things drove him to do what he did. Why else would he do them? Are you saying that he had no motivation?

              I never argued that you could convince Hitler that his ideas were wrong with a presentation. Men like that can only be contained and rejected.

              King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail specifically calls out moderate whites as being as bad as active racists for siding with order over justice. King absolutely embraced ideology. He embraced an ideology of non-violence. Even when faced with violence against himself and his family, he did not allow himself or his people to respond with violence. He embraced an ideology of equality. King refused to sit quietly while American’s discriminated against each other, especially before the law. He embraced anti-imperialism and worker’s rights. He was an early critic of the Vietnam War and spoke out often on behave of unions. He was a radical and definitely an ideologue. But his ideas were good.

              You have descended into nonsensical rambling. You obviously have no idea what “right” means or even “understand”. I’m through teaching you basic facts about the world and definition of words. Wallow in your New Age filth. But don’t expect me to respect you or that bullshit.

            • kessy_athena

              (Sigh) For the record, I’m pagan, not a New Ager. They’re really quite different, although I don’t expect you’d be at all interested in the difference.

              We’ve discussed what “right” means at quite some length. It seems to me that it’s not the definition of the word that we disagree about, it’s the context of that definition and how it relates to other things. Am I right in saying that you think that being factually right or wrong is the driving force behind a lot of human behavior? That it’s the primary factor in the advancement of civilization or the commission of horrific crimes? Could you consider something? Purely hypothetically speaking, what would it mean to you if that turned out not to be the case?

              Of course Hitler had motivations. It’s just that the main motivations were not about ideas or the logical mind. Humans are fundamentally not rational beings. We generally make decisions quickly, emotionally, subconsciously. Then the logical mind comes in later to provide an explanation after the fact.

              Non-violence is a tactic, not an ideology. And King embraced it for the very simple reason that he knew he’d never win a violent confrontation – the only way forward for American blacks was to change public perception and opinion. And of course the fact that non-violence means not hurting people also makes it the morally preferable choice.

            • Zoem

              I’m interested in this idea that simply having a spiritual belief is predatory.

              If a person believes something, but is private in that belief, and does not expect nor try to encourage anyone else to believe it, then how much of a danger is that person?

            • Grotoff

              The expression of false beliefs leads to the legitimizing of false beliefs. False beliefs can be deadly, as in the case of Steve Jobs and of those children denied simple care.

              Obviously, it is the fortune telling huckster, the TV psychic, etc. who actively prey on the gullible. But the rest of the New Age movement legitimizes them and are thus accessories to their predation.

            • basenjibrian

              Actually, cancer killed Steve Jobs. And, despite all the poisonous drugs and invasive surgeries, and humiliatingly painful medical prcedures, there is a VERY good chance that cancer would still have killed Steve Jobs even if he didn’t succumb to “woo”

            • Grotoff

              Perhaps yes, but perhaps no. He found his cancer very early, and may well have survived with medicine that actually works. His nonsensical beliefs led him to abandon reality, and that made his death certain.

            • Nox

              Many things are in the range between ‘known to be true’ and ‘known not to be true’.

              That said, not all unknowns are equal.

              There are unverified explanations for observed phenomena, and there are nonsensical explanations of unobserved phenomena.

            • kessy_athena

              Very true, and there are also known unknowns and unknown unknowns… Oh gods, I just paraphrased Donald Rumsfeld!! Ahhhh!!! Get me the mind bleach, quick!!!

              Seriously, though, there are some things where we have a pretty good idea of what we don’t know, and there are some things where we just have a very vague sense of there being something out there…

            • Fred

              Is that Bigfoot I smell?

            • kessy_athena

              Is that someone who cares more about showing the world how much Righter they are they everyone else then actual facts I smell?

    • Nox

      Pagans are the allies of atheists because they share a common interest in pluralism.

    • basenjibrian

      The Socrates story is not that simple. He was basically a Tea Party scold preaching elitism and aristocracy to the equivalent of Mitt Romney’s and Jamie Dimond’s dissolute sons.
      I.F. Stone:
      How do you account for his condemnation?

      I believe the case against Socrates was political and that the charge of
      corrupting the youth was based on a belief – and considerable evidence – that he was undermining their faith in Athenian democracy.

      If so, why wasn’t the charge brought earlier? He had been teaching for a
      long time. A quarter century before the trial, Socrates had already been
      attacked in Aristophanes’s play “The Clouds” for running a “think thank” whose smart-alecky graduates beat their fathers. If they thought him the source of such subversive teaching, why did the Athenians wait until 399 B.C., when he was already an old man, before putting him on trial?

      Because in 411 B.C. and again in 404 B.C. antidemocrats had staged bloody revolutions and established short-lived dictatorships. The Athenians were afraid this might happened again.

      I haven’t found that in Plato.

      Plato didn’t intend that you should. Those are the realities his “Apology”
      was calculated to hide. Plato was a genius, a dazzling prestidigitator, with all the gifts of a poet, a dramatist and a philosopher. His “Apology” is a
      masterpiece of world literature, a model of courtroom pleading; and the greatest single piece of Greek prose that has come down to us. It rises to a climax which never fails to touch one deeply, no matter how often it is reread. I read the “Apology” in the original for the first time last year, slowly and painfully, line by line. When I came to the noble farewell of Socrates to his judges, it gave me chest pains, it was so moving; I gladly offer up my angina in tribute to its mastery. “I go to die,” Socrates says, “and you to live, but which of us goes to the better lot is known to none but God.’ Even Shakespeare never surpassed that! But these very qualities also make Plato’s “Apology” a masterpiece of evasion.

      • basenjibrian

        Or maybe an even better analogy might be Socrates as the mentor of, say, a Pinochet or Franco:

        Aeschines cited the case of Socrates as a praiseworthy precedent. “Men of Athens,” he said to the jury court, “you executed Socrates, the sophist, because he was clearly responsible for the education of Critias, one of the thirty
        anti-democratic leaders.”

        Who was Critias?

        He was the bloodiest dictator Athens had ever known, a pupil of Socrates at one time, and a cousin of Plato’s. Aeschines was saying in effect that the antidemocratic teachings of Socrates helped to make a dictator of Critias, who terrorized Athens in 404 B.C. during the regime of the Thirty Tyrants and just five years before the trial of Socrates. Critias seemed to have been the most powerful member of the Thirty.

        But why do you give so much weight to one sentence in one man’s speech to an Athenian jury court 50 years after the trial?

        Aeschines could not have swayed the jury by that reference unless he was saying something about the relations between Socrates and Critias which was generally accepted as true by the Athenian public opinion of the time. Though 50 years had passed, the dictatorship of Critias and the Thirty Tyrants must still have been a hateful memory. Justly or unjustly, Socrates’s reputation
        still suffered from his association with Critias. The reference to Critias and Socrates proved effective demagogy. Aeschines won his case.

  • Machintelligence

    As a former Episcopalian, I was surprised to see that two of the respondents were from my old church. I imagine them casting out the unclean spirits that drive people towards foolish actions, like drinking light beer or eating a meal with a salad fork.

    Something like this, perhaps?