Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More on Religious Harm.

A comment was made on Facebook today about a post I made the other day entitled, “Religion Hurts”.  The comment was:

“It can be used that way, yes. Just remember, those who use religion as a weapon would simply use something else if it did not exist.”

My reply was that this was a poor excuse, and the commenter came back to say that it was:

“...an explanation of human nature. What we need to overcome is not the symptom, but the disease.”

I’ll take this in two parts.

First, it is a poor excuse, and an excuse is all it is.  It says that being enraged over religions’ damage to society is useless because mankind is so ethically challenged that we are doomed to violence and evil, so, geez, guys, just chill.

I refuse to accept such poor rationalization.

When the Roman Catholic Church took power in the 4th century, it began a campaign (using the power of the State, which it had as the official religion of the Empire) to replace the old traditional religions with itself.  The first thing it did was to begin to consolidate itself with the Council of Nicea, where it basically set the creed and declared all other forms of christianity heretic.

Then it turned its attention outward to its main rivals, the older Greek and Roman religions, which it began to denigrate by naming them “pagan”.


“However another etymology theory wants pagan as deriving from Greek παγος which means hill, mount-top or cliff, coming from the very same root of Αρειος Παγος (the “Hill of Ares”). This interpretation is based on the assumption that the παγος was in a particular separate position compared to the rest of the city, and this particularly because of the characteristics of the landscape: higher and secluded.
This was a place where families of the rural area used to gather either for religious purposes or to escape from invasions and ransacks so often happening in those days – thus with time this became the centre of villages’ life. As this soon developed into an unplanned usual urban layout choice Pagus began to be used to identify the village and its surrounding area and Pagans its inhabitant, partly also to distinguish them from the soldiers.
As Christianity broadened, Pagans were named the idolaters, partly because the villagers of the rural areas were the most reluctant to conversion and the very last to abandon their creed and also because the only one way to escape from the persecution of the Christian Roman Empire was to retire in small countryside village and keep lurking and practising (sic) the ancient cults, sacrifices and rituals.”

These old traditions were outlawed, their temples destroyed and churches build over the ruins.  Priests were killed or forced to convert and “pagan” literature destroyed.

Among the destruction were philosophical schools, literature and teachers, which were termed of the devil, thus evil.  It didn’t take long before the only schools in Europe were run by the church.  To be sure, there were places where the old literature was kept and studied by those protected by the powerful who could hold off the tide of destruction.

But, these schools were not places where the old philosophical treatises were read and taught to eager students.  The knowledge was forbidden by the church and was dangerous to the unprotected.  In many places, the old literature was kept only because the parchment it was written on was valuable and could be scraped of the old writings and re-covered with christian writings.

This is how a long thought lost treatise on mathematics by Archimedes was found by x-ray some years ago.  Known about through being referred to by other mathematicians of his and later ages, no copies of it were known to exist.  As old documents were being x-rayed as part of a program using that new technology, it was discovered underneath a christian song.

It was a sensation at the time, as it was considered an important part of the history of mankind’s discovery of that discipline.  Destroyed by a monk, probably ignorant of its contents through a lack of knowledge of greek, it was vandalized for the value of the parchment it was written on.

For a thousand years, the RCC prevented the teaching of philosophy except in the most stringent of places and circumstances, until the Crusades began bringing many old Greek and Roman documents back from the Holy Land, where the Muslims had been keeping them safe and passing on that knowledge.

Just think of what could have been produced in that thousand years!  The Greeks and Romans had, for centuries before christ, examined ethics and morality and how society should use these thoughts and ideas for improvement.  If philosophers had had that thousand years to further examine and study those ideas without the negative influence of religion holding it back, how much further could we have come?  What would have kept us from improving our governmental, economic and social mores to better ourselves and advance quickly to where we are today as far as human rights and the social contract against violence are concerned?

Of course, there aren’t any guarantees, but the chance to reduce the possible reasons for violence and mayhem should not be passed over lightly.  To make the excuse that it would have happened anyway is to ignore the differences in society that would have been in place had religion never been there to halt mankind’s advances in science, philosophy and technology.

Second, while the harm religion does is a symptom, and yes, we do need to get rid of religion, one cannot excuse its worst affects on society while attempting to convince people that it is a bad influence.

In fact, it is that bad influence and the terrible consequences of superstition and fantasy on society and government that are the most powerful weapons we have to show people on the edge of de-conversion how harmful it can be.

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