Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, May 30, 2016

Changing of the Watchtower

DQ from Dr. Oliver: If Tertullian and other early church fathers hadn't declared that "all secular powers are hostile to God," but had instead embraced genuine toleration (freedom from, as well as for religion), do you think our cultural landscape would be very different today? 170 

In short, no.

My favorite line of questionable research from Arthur Herman is on page 168, which reads as such: “By the measure of the age, Constantine was not a superstitious man.” Perhaps, he gets a break by qualifying “superstition” with “the measure of the age,” but superstition seems to be the very root of the problem.

For example, Constantine and his troops gain confidence from the words of a “pagan oracle” that “an enemy of Rome would be Killed.” This is the ancient equivalent of calling a famous TV psychic’s 900 number and asking them to predict your family’s future. Secondly, Constantine and his troops worship the all-powerful god called Sol Invictus, who was the mandatory sun god and the benefactor of war (p. 168).

Further, Constantine believed in precognition. And as the author noted, his Christian officers were more than willing to interpret his dreams for him, to their advantage. It’s almost like a scene from a Mel Brooks film.

Gods are an excellent way to ground one’s beliefs, and religious promises of fortune, safety, salvation, victory as well as a sense of community and belonging are attractive features. This is understandable, due to the nature of humanity. But as we see with Plato, Aristotle, and all the branches of philosophy and religion that stem, adapt, appropriate from these two great Greek thinkers, the common thread seems to come back to power and authority. 

Orwell once implied that there’s no such thing as law, there’s only power. I’ve come to believe this more every day.

Constantine’s conversion, at first, was one of toleration. But before long, the persecuted would become the persecutors. And as with all religious persecutors, they’re dead set on stamping out all impiety.

With (insert your god here) on your side, how can you possibly be wrong—and how could someone prove otherwise? 

Then again, someone always comes along and asks "how do you know that?" 

DQ: Pew research polls show that religion is in sharp decline in the U.S. Where do you see the future of religion, gods, secularism, and philosophy in this future?


  1. Are there any films about Constantine? The Pythons shoulda done one.

    The landscape would probably still include superstition, no matter what. But I'd love to run the tape again, with genuine toleration espoused and embraced from the start, to see if it might not also include a bit less persecution and torture.

    As regards the future of religion, may I recommend Philip Kitcher's "Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism" - it makes a pretty persuasive case for the slow and steady decline magical thinking in the future: http://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Faith-Humanism-Lectures/dp/0300216858/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464638665&sr=8-1&keywords=kitcher+life+after+faith

    Also worth a look are Kitcher's Terry Lectures (the basis of the book), on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5Wl71-kuXg

    1. I saw your old post from A&S where you said "The sheer volume of erudition here is dizzying." I felt the same way about the last few chapters. The road to Christianty from St. Paul to Origen to Constantine forward is a complicated enignma. I'm in need of a vision! I ended up ordering a book or two from Amazon and still don't have a clear picture of what happened, exactly. Now I need to mull back over JMH's "Doubt." Sheesh! No rest for the weary.

    2. I have been an atheist all my life. My mother is a devout Catholic and my father (oddly enough) is a Zen Buddhist. My mother did not share her faith with her children and my father did his best to explain his philosophy to his children, some of which I incorporated into my life. That being said I never heard of God until I was about 10. I was introduced to the concept by a teacher who was trying to explain to me who/what God was. At 10 years old I found the concept of it laughable and could not relate.
      Most people that I know are not religious in any sense, especially younger people. At most they would count themselves as “spiritual” which I believe infers that they believe is some sort of supernatural being or entities. This popularity of this spirituality movement is on the rise as people become more educated at an early age in the sciences and cannot rationalize the creationism of the Bible or any of the stories that recall miracles. Even as early as the Enlightenment period people began to believe less in the Bible and more spiritual. Thomas Jefferson himself was a Deist. Believing in a powerful God, but not anything related to the church or even in the Bible. Spiritualism in many cases is the revitalization of Deism. It is no coincidence that Deism came out of a time when education was popular. I believe that the future of religious thought/belief will be a form of Deism. As it is not bound in the origin of everything/anything or explanation and is easily mixed with scientific explanation and thought.

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