Thanks for being so patient JonJon. So where was I? Oh yeah, the first christian book burning.
“Many of them…brought their books…and burned them…so mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”
For the word of god to grow mightily and prevail, all the other books need to be burned. I could pretty much rest my case right there, but something tells me this warrants a little further exploration.
In a free market of ideas, the best ideas will eventually win. Because of this, the worst ideas require special protection in order to be sustained. Sometimes this is something as innocuous as a debate on a web forum. More often it has taken the form of an organized attempt by the christian church to burn away any conflicting ideas that might interfere with the one dimensional world view they have imposed on believers.
And my use of the word “imposed” should not be taken as accidental. I know you envision christianity as an open club that anyone can join but no one is required to join or be affiliated with that respects the rights and beliefs of others. This view of the institution may be causing you to overlook the very central fact that for most of the last two thousand years, no one got to choose whether to be a christian or not. If you lived in Christendom, then you were essentially required by law to be christian. And if you were ever suspected or accused of lacking faith (self described atheists were pretty rare in those days) then you would be the victim of all manner of sacred tortures designed to force orthodoxy on you.
And this is not limited to people who were suspected of lacking faith. People who had faith in the right god, but disagreed (or were suspected of disagreeing) with the church on doctrinal issues were branded as heretics, and were often punished worse than the godless heathens. Witches, pagans, jews, muslims, atheists, agnostics, deists, gnostics and christians have all been tortured and murdered for their beliefs by the christian church.
And just to be completely clear on this point, I am not talking about beliefs being used as an excuse by random christians. I am talking about the same guys who made up the beliefs you are defending here (this is what I was getting at when I said the problem with christianity was at it’s core [and by "it's core" I mean "Rome"]).
As I said, if you have a belief in something which is patently unknowable, then while it’s probably not doing any good, it may very well not be doing any harm. But christianity (both in the bible and in christian tradition) makes real world claims about the real world. These claims do not match the real world. They only work inside a religious bubble. And most believers will violently defend the bubble at any cost.
Perhaps the best way I can illustrate this is to start with a couple examples from outside your own bubble. Since you are not a mormon, a satanist, or a muslim, I imagine you already consider mormonism, satanism, and islam to be untrue religious beliefs. And as far as I can tell, there is no preexisting reason for you to be opposed to criticism of these beliefs.
I hear Utah’s lovely this time of year, so why not start there.
From Deseret’s “author guidelines” : “Deseret Book publishes many kinds of books and other products, but all of them reflect the values espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
So why would I be offended that some mormon publisher would choose to only publish mormon friendly books? Why is it a problem if they want to reflect the values espoused by the LDS church? Because Deseret Book is the publishing arm of the church of Jesus christ of latter-day saints, and their catalog of books promoting mormonism are pretty much the only books mormons are allowed to read (aside from the mormon holy books and a special exemption for any twilight products since they make so much money for LDS Inc).
Let me back up a hundred and eighty years or so. See, mormonism also makes real world claims about the real world (many of which are stupider than anything in the bible). One of the most well known of these claims is that the american indians were descended from a group of israelites who left Jerusalem around the time of the Diaspora. These american jewish Indians (or “nephites”) not only received a personal visit and blessing from white-Jesus, but they also used all kinds of cool things that no archaeologist has ever found any f*cking trace of in pre-Columbian society (swords, chariots, that sort of thing).
Skipping forward to 2010 we can now see a vast publishing network, and several “universities” (I really don’t think the word applies any more to BYU than Liberty but I guess it is technically a correct name), working full time to protect the mormon bubble. You can’t have mormon kids hearing that american indians are not jewish (or about Joseph Smith’s convictions for fraud and money-digging). That would f*ck up the cool theological framework they have worked so hard to impose on the flock. Deseret provides a superficial unchallenging flavor for every mormon appetite. Everything from books pretending to talk about biology to books pretending to talk about history, to badly written fiction with a badly disguised mormon moral, to a thing called “Deseret News” that badly pretends to be a newspaper. All with a label that guarantees you are allowed to read this particular book without any fear of repercussions from the church. And if you should possibly want to look up more information about any of the stupid sh*t they are telling you, they provide a lengthy list of references...to other books published in Utah by Deseret Books. Millions of dollars is a relatively small price to protect the bubble (especially when you’re talking about one as profitable as mormonism). By keeping mormons reading only one label of books, while reinforcing the Deseret house from within, they allow mormons to think they have access to information from outside the church while never actually seeing any information from outside the church. By the way, this is also the reason why active mormons are not allowed to remain in contact with family members who have left the church.
You have expressed some skepticism toward the idea “that it is a strong belief in a specific set of tenets, carried down culturally, that causes people to behave badly”. I would have to say that it all depends on how strong the belief is and how open the culture is to the introduction of new tenets. As I said earlier the real issue is not belief but the codifying of belief. And one of the things I happen to believe (let’s say I take it on faith) is that Joseph Smith intended the Church of Christ (his name for LDS Inc.) as a progressive forward thinking religion. The problem in Smith’s case is that in his attempt to drag christianity out of the dark ages, he codified the moral standards of 1830’s America (hardly an age of enlightenment), and mormons have been a few generations behind everyone else ever since (these guys didn’t allow blacks to join their church until 1979, no that’s not a typo, f*cking 1979).
So that’s what happens when you get a shepherd who tells his sheep to follow, but what happens when you get a shepherd who specifically tells his sheep not to follow? What happens when your holy (unholy?) prophet actually thinks to write down things like “Too long the dead hand has been allowed to sterilize living thought.” and “Herein you will find truth and fantasy. Each is important, but each must be recognized for what it is.”? The answer, sadly, is pretty much the exact same thing that happens in the other scenario. It’s hard to believe that a church dedicated to Lucifer and founded by Anton LaVey could degenerate into the same dogmatic legalism and rabid bubble protecting that have been hallmarks of christianity. Hard to believe if you’ve never seen the Church of Satan’s website that is.
I like to think that if there is a devil, he would refuse these schmucks entry into hell. Not one new idea since the death of their prophet, just a lot of fluffy bullsh*t about how much they love Anton LaVey and what a cool guy he was when he was alive. They treat LaVey like he’s f*cking Muhammed.
Which of course brings us to Muhammed (picture not included) and a book he wrote known as the qu’ran. And the thing that you have to remember about the qu’ran is that it has a couple of distinct advantages over the bible. First and most obvious, it was written by one guy. This helps a lot with that whole internal consistency issue. Secondly it was written at a time when science had advanced a little from old testament times (at least enough to keep the qu’ran from explicitly describing a flat earth and four legged insects). The tragic result of this is that since the qu’ran holds up better than the bible it has not had to give up as much ground as the bible.
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible lists only thirty one contradictions in the qu’ran. Can you guess how many they found in the bible? Thirty two? Thirty three? Not quite. Four hundred and fifty six. Almost fifteen times as many as the qu’ran. This of course isn’t counting other errors. Just internal contradictions (the reason this is important is that contradiction is the only form of error that will be visible to a reader who only knows one book).
Not that I’m endorsing the qu’ran. I just think that the qu’ran was better suited to survive with less change than the bible. And I find there to be an interesting parallel between the two big abrahamic faiths. As any muslim apologist will remind you, for most of the last fourteen hundred years, muslims have been a lot more progressive and tolerant than christians. But there has been an odd reversal that has taken place over the past couple hundred years. And I attribute a lot of this to the seemingly minor fact that the qu’ran had only one author. And also to this:
Something happened in Europe a few hundred years ago that had a huge impact on the development of christianity, and a comparatively minor impact (so far) on the development of islam. Toward the tail end of what we now call the Renaissance, Europe began waking up from it’s long nap in the christian bubble. The new ideas that had taken root in the Renaissance were beginning to bear fruit. The church had made countless promises for as long as anyone could remember, but they had never really delivered on anything. But now anyone could see the results of man’s efforts and they were far better than anything god had ever brought us. For the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, new ideas were widely fashionable in Europe, and the questioning of old ideas began to catch on (not with everyone just yet, but we’re still getting there). Naturally the church did everything possible to combat this. But god’s infinite resources had been largely expended on the war between catholics and protestants. This time they were not able to completely burn the competing book. So in order to survive the christian church did something which is the antithesis of christianity. They evolved. They altered the bubble.
All this stuff about the enlightenment is tangential to my point about islam. But the part about the alteration of the christian bubble is going to come back up later (and it's gonna be kinda important). But yeah, we were talking about muslims here. And the thing about muslims is, their bubble hasn’t really had to adapt quite so much. Muslim nations have not really ever had a moment when followers of the qu’ran couldn’t burn the competing book (see: Salmon Rushdie). In fact you can actually get a pretty good idea of what I mean about how the Age of Enlightenment changed the shape of the christian bubble by looking at the difference between muslims in the United States and muslims in Iran. And in looking at islamic theocracies we can get a glimpse of how the historical christian theocracies operated.
In a theocracy there is no room for new ideas. Like I said, this is more about burning books than burning people. I mean all those jews and witches christians killed in the middle ages would be dead by now anyway. F*ckin bygones right. But an idea can be a lot more important than it’s host. And in my religion the forceful suppression of ideas is a far greater “sin” than simple violence. In most theocracies (including Europe during the christian theocracy phase) the penalty for failing to profess the official faith is death. And while I think humans shouldn’t kill each other quite so often (or so willingly or over such stupid sh*t), the primary thing I’m opposed to here is not the killing but rather the root motivation for this death penalty. It is a simple bullying technique intended to keep people from questioning their faith. It stems from the same motive as the Inquisition. Essentially the clerics don’t want to have atheists running around Saudi Arabia f*cking up the muslim bubble for everyone else, because they know they might end up with an age of enlightenment on their hands. Incidentally I consider this to be the reason why despite widespread islamic interest in certain products of science, science itself has never really caught on with muslims.
Which brings us back to christianity...
But there's one quick thing I need to clarify on the christianity thing first. My intended closing statements for this argument take for granted that all christians (whether they know it or not) are children of il papa. This is sort of why I was trying to steer toward the topic of the genealogy of religion earlier. But we can skip that part if we're on agreement about this part.
Would you consider it an unfair generalization if I claimed that all forms of modern western christianity are derived from catholicism?