By: LARRY SITES
Re: New newsletter 1/2
The following is reproduced by permission from a new newsletter by a
frequent contributor to _The Skeptical Review_. Subscription info at the
THE HANDY DANDY RELIGIOUS RIGHT REFUTER:
HOW MUCH BETTER WHERE THINGS IN
THE "GOOD OLD DAYS?"
This column is devoted to countering assertions made by the Religious
right. As with all articles in this newsletter, response is welcome. We
will begin by examining what is perhaps the central assertion of all
conservative religious/political movements. Assertion of the Religious
Right: Society today is worse off than it used to be. Things were better in
the "good old days."
Counter: Exactly when were the "good old days?" In one episode of the TV
series, Dave, his wife tells him, "I just want our kids to grow up in the
same world we did." To which Dave replies, "You want our kids to grow up in
a world with bomb shelters, polio, and separate drinking fountains?" There
may have been prayer in school back then, but there were also lynch mobs,
communist "witch hunts," segregation, open anti-semitism and Catholic-
bashing. There was child abuse and spousal abuse, but it went mostly
unreported, unnoticed, unpunished. And it was OK then to bar women and
people of color from various professions and to pay them far less than
their due in any work situation. Were those the "good old days?"
Maybe the "good old days" existed at some unspecified time PRIOR TO
FIRST TWO WORLD WARS, when...genocide was practiced on Indian tribes,
Blacks were enslaved, the Civil War set "brother against brother," and the
Wild West flaunted its lack of law and order. Even up to the turn of the
century New York and other big cities had annual increases in crime
that exceeded today's, poor families could not afford an education for
their children, children labored in factories, mines, and fields, the child
mortality rate was exceedingly high, wife-beating was a commonly accepted
practice, the average lifespan was between thirty to forty years shorter
than today, heroin was sold over the counter as a sedative for coughs, and
cocaine was sold as a toothache remedy for children. "Women and children
worked in sweatshops and mills 12 hours and more a day [with only one day
off per week] for nickels and dimes, without health insurance, unemployment
compensation, safety in the workplace, and with a status a notch above
slavery. It happened in this century. The Hard Right fought tooth and nail
and wallet against child-labor laws, safety in the workplace and minimum
wage and hour laws. They lost. Not until the 1950s and a bitter battle in
the state legislature did North Carolina manage to enact a 75-cent- an-hour
minimum wage law." -- Gary Kays, "Rush Limbaugh and the Dole," Flush Rush
Quarterly, Vol. 2, no.
2 (Summer 1994)
Meanwhile, in the northeast, the late Cardinal O'Connell of Boston
bitterly opposed the abolution of child labor in factories. Perhaps,
when all the numbers are tallied, there was less "street crime" or
"neighborhood crime" during the "good old days," mentioned above. On the
other hand, it's also true that far fewer people could even afford objects
worth stealing back then. And most people were compelled to work from
childhood to adulthood, dawn till dusk, just to earn enough
money to continue living. Many people were treated as little more than
"wage-slaves," being abused by factory owners during the industrial
revolution, or by farmer land barons, in which case, the system itself
was guilty of perpetrating countless "criminal" actions on vast numbers of
people, "stealing" their lives and labor, returning "next to nothing" in
exchange. From today's perspective, such a situation equals "crime" on a
tremendous and pitiless scale.
Obviously, the "good old days" do not exist, except in the
imaginations of those whose knowledge of history is shallow. Such people
should broaden their minds by reading the following books:
Otto L. Bettmann, The Good Old Days-- They Were Terrible! (New
Random House, 1974). Discusses the terrible shape of society during the
late 1800s and early 1900s.
Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were (New York, HarperCollins
Publishers, 1993). Examines two centuries of American family life and
banishes the misconception about an "ideal" past that clouds the current
Maeve E. Doggett, Marriage, Wife-Beating and the Law in Victorian England
(1993). Not until 1891 was it illegal for a British man to beat and
imprison his wife.
Were those the "good old days?"
During the "good old days" of the COLONIAL ERA on the North American
continent, Puritan preachers referred to Native Americans as "Amelkites and
Canaanites" -- in other words, people, who, if they would not be converted,
were worthy of annihilation. Even Maryland's famous "Act Concerning
Religion," passed in 1649, which supposedly instituted "freedom of
religion" for the first time in an American colony, stated in its first
section that any person who blasphemed God, denied that Jesus was the
Savior and Son of God, denied the Trinity, or uttered "reproachful" words
concerning the Trinity "or any of the three persons therein," would be
executed and forfeit their estates.
Citizenship rights were denied to American colonists who were not
Christian church members. Dancing was rated by several Protestant
denominations as an unforgivable sin. Any defamer of the Bible could be
jailed for blasphemy. Baptist evangelists were persecuted by order of civil
laws in the colony of Virginia, a state that only recognized the Anglican
church as the one true church. In Salem, Massachusetts they hung people who
were accused of being "witches." And four Quakers were hung in
Massachusetts merely for being Quakers! I also suggest reading Richard
Shenkman, "The Good Old Days" (a chapter that covers the colonial era of
American history) in "I Love Paul Revere Whether He Rode or Not" -- Warren
Harding (New York: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1991), pp. 158-164.
Were those the "good old days?"
Let's journey further back to the MIDDLE AGES AND REFORMATION.
Maybe those were the "good old days?" In only two years (1348-1350 A.D.)
the Black Death (bubonic plague) killed as much as half the population of
Europe. Also during the Middle Ages and Reformation, millions of people
(mostly women) were burned at the stake for being "witches or
heretics."Christian magistrates employed torture, and executed those who
did not acknowledge whatever particular version of Christian faith was
sanctioned by the state.
In Saxony in 1536, Melanchthon prepared, and Luther signed, a document
demanding the death penalty for denial of any article in the Apostle's
Creed. In the years 1618-1648 A.D. the Catholic and Protestant nations of
Europe engaged in Thirty Years of Warfare, which left a quarter of the
population of Europe dead.
Were those the "good old days?"
Let's journey further back, to the CHRISTIANIZED ROMAN EMPIRE, then
Christians took their beliefs just as seriously as today's Religious Right,
even moreso. After Christians obtained the reins of government of the Roman
Empire they began to persecute (and even execute) pagans; they outlawed
pagan religious practices and pagan schools of philosophy; they destroyed
pagan works of art and pagan temples; they burnt the Serapaeum of the
Library at Alexandria; they coerced pagans in the tens of thousands to
undergo baptism; they made it illegal for pagans to leave a will; they
separated pagan children from their parents in order to have the children
raised in Christian homes; and they rioted in the streets, christians
declaiming Christians, over their theological differences of opinion (since
"correct theology" was what "really" mattered). But even with all the
prayers, activism, and governmental sanctions of the "Religious Right"
during the days of the Christianized Roman Empire, that Empire fell. So
why should anyone believe that letting the Religious Right dictate the
future of America is the correct "solution" to today's complex problems?
Only people ignorant of history can believe such a thing.
"There were systematic massacres [of pagans]. One ordered by
[Christian emperor] Theodosius in 380 in Thessalonica was unique. The
pagans were invited to `games' at the Circus. The entrances were blocked
and the soldiers of Theodosius killed 15,000 women and children for
the true glory of Christ...[In another memorable incident, the female Greek
philosopher and mathematician, Hypatia, was dragged from her school by a
band of monks who stripped her naked in the street, killed her in a church,
cut her corpse up and scraped her flesh off it with shells. --
Larry Sites JC's Fireman: Luke 12:49
* WR # 398 * No man fears what he has seen grow." -- Akan proverb
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(130) Fri 20 Jan 95 9:31
By: LARRY SITES
Re: New newsletter 2/2
"Persecutions [of non-Christians] were so intense that within a
very short span of time 70,000 persons were forcibly baptized in Asia Minor
"One decree in 391 said, `Let none befoul himself with sacrifices...or
enter the [pagan] temples...or defend statues made by hand,' and if he did,
the punishment was death." -- Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "The Establishment of
Christianity," in What on Earth is an Atheist! (Austin, Texas:
American Atheist Press, 1969), pp. 123-127.
"The [Christian] zealots for conversion took to the streets or
criss-crossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the [pagan]
architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing
barbarians thereafter." --Ramsay MacMullen, chapters 10 and 11, "Conversion
by Coercion," and, "Summary," in Christianizing the Roman Empire (Yale
University Press, 1984), pp. 86-120.
"Like all creeds which claim the total allegiance of the individual -- like
communism, for example, in our own day -- early Christianity was a powerful
divisive force. Every town and every house, says Eusebius, is divided by a
civil war waged between Christians and idolaters. Justin tells of a
Christian wife who was denounced by her pagan husband; Tertullian speaks of
cases where wives have been repudiated or sons disinherited for turning
Christian; in Perpetua's account of her relations with her father we see
how a family could be torn asunder by religious differences.
For such situations the blame was naturally laid on the Christian
missionaries. Celsus has an illuminating passage, too long to quote, about
Christians who get hold of pagan children, encourage them to disobey their
fathers and schoolmasters, and lure them into Christian coventicles; often
they work on the womenfolk as well. Origen does not deny that this happens;
and Jerome later paints an equally unfavourable picture of fanatical monks
who worm themselves into the homes of the aristocracy and exploit the
guilt-feelings of women.
Christianity, like communism, was a domestic trouble-maker." -- E. R.
Dodds, Pagan and Christian In An Age of Anxiety (New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, 1970), pp. 115-116.
"To the contention by [the pagan philosopher] Celsus that Christians took
children away from their parents,...Origin [the Christian apologist] could
only respond that Christians did not lure children away from better things
or incite them to worse things. This was a lame argument, one that could
hardly have appeased a pagan who cherished family life and worked hard to
give his children a good education and a place in society. In this case,
Origen's near admission of guilt may only have confiirmed many suspicions
held by pagans that Christianity was by and large a disruptive force." --
Stephen Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians (Bloomington, Indiana:
Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 157.
"The first time that `Christians were put to death by other Christians'
(S.L. Greenslade, Schism in the Early Church [London: S.C.M.,
1953], p. 189) was right after the imperial peace, under [the first
Christian emperor,] Constantine...
"Even during the persecutions [of the Romans against the
Christians], churches were cleft by rivalry and schism." -- Samuel
Laeuchli, The Serpent and the Dove: Five Essays on Early Christianity (New
York: Abingdon Press, 1966), p. 48.
"[Murderous riots broke out between Christians over the appointment
of Arian bishops who believed that Christ was the exact `image' of God, but
not of the same `substance.'] Probably more Christians were slaughtered by
Christians in two years (A.D. 342-3) than by all the persecutions of
Christians by pagans in the history of Rome." -- Will Durant, The Story of
Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950)
[Durant cites Socrates, Ecclesiastical History (London: 1892), ii, 7-11.]
Were those the "good old days?"
Bertrand Russell once pointed out that the early Church Fathers
busied themselves discussing "how to preserve virginity" while the
Christianized Roman Empire continued to decline around them (the overall
process took several centuries). The wide variety of concrete "worldy"
problems that contributed to the decline of the Christianized Roman Empire
were not recognized and dealt with as they should have been. Instead, they
were either blamed on Satan, praised as "signs of Jesus' soon return,"
or ignored. Today's Religious Right appear to be reacting in a similar
fashion to many of today's problems.
Of course today's problems are not blamed on "Satan" so much as on
"the lack of prayer in school," "secular humanism," "New Age thinking,"
"homosexuals," etc. It's obviously simpler to blame today's problems on
such scapegoats, and then persecute the scapegoats, rather than
intellectually struggle with genuine problems which are all so complex -
-problems like cleaning up the environment, putting more people to work,
maintaining a fair salary for a day's work, raising the educational level
of the country, etc.
For those interested in delving deeper into the history of the
Christianized Roman Empire, I suggest reading:
Edward Gibbon, On Christianity (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus
Books, 1991 - - a reprint of chapters 15 and 16 of The Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire).
Joseph McCabe, "How Christianity `Triumphed,'" in The Myth of the
Resurrection and Other Essays (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993
--a reprint of an essay first published in 1926), pp. 119-168.
Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "Gibbon, The Historian, and Christianity,"
in An Atheist Speaks (Austin, Texas: American Atheist Press, 1986), pp.
Over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, wrote:
"The idle chatterer is the sort who says that people nowadays are much more
wicked than they used to be." (Ethical Characters, circa 300 B.C.) Such
idle chatter did not originate with the Religious Right. It has been with
us for thousands of years. But, having the history from the past few
thousand years at our disposal, people of our generation should know better
than to idly chatter that we were much better off in the "good old days."
See also, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, November 20, 1994 (which
is "Section 10" of The Chicago Tribune newspaper) which contains a three
page article (pp. 19-21) advertised on the cover of the magazine, "Behind
the Scary Headlines is a World Filled With GOOD NEWS."
Other articles in the first newsletter:
THE 27 BEST THINGS EVER SAID IN FAVOR OF HUMAN EVOLUTION
THE REVISED QUOTE BOOK: LOOKING AT HOW CREATIONISTS QUOTE EVOLUTIONISTS,
CREATIONISTS ADMIT "DIFFICULTIES" WITH THEIR HYPOTHESES
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Coming in future issues! RESPONSE FROM READERS! / FORGET ABOUT
THE "EVILS OF DARWINISM": SOME CREATIONISTS SAY THE INITIAL BLAME LIES WITH
THE "EVILS OF COPERNICANISM!" /WHAT WAS THE "DANGER" OF BELIEVING THAT
THE EARTH MOVED AND TURNED? / THE BIBLE'S GEOCENTRISM / FROM
ABANDONING GEOCENTRISM TO ACCEPTING EVOLUTION:A "LIBERAL TREND"
AMONG EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS? / HENRY MORRIS' INGENIOUS ATTEMPTS AT
DENYING THE BIBLE'S GEOCENTRISM / TRANSITIONAL FORMS! / THE LOWDOWN ON
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CAN EVOLUTION EXPLAIN THEM BETTER? / DESIGN TO DEFEAT DESIGN IN NATURE
/ REASONS WHY "FLOOD GEOLOGY" DOESN'T HOLD WATER / HUMOR
And much more!
Larry Sites JC's Fireman: Luke 12:49