Thinking Christian

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What Can We Learn From the Future About Our Mistakes Today?

Posted on Feb 24, 2013 by Tom Gilson

What Can We Learn From the Future?

Christians in the past have believed and practiced things that embarrass us today. Keith has brought that up repeatedly in the thread on a “Gay Rights” assault on freedom of conscience. In context it seemed he wanted us to back off on our beliefs regarding gay “marriage.” He didn’t say that ought right, though, I asked him to follow his premise to a conclusion: given that Christians can make mistakes like that, and in view of the probability that our descendants will disagree with some of our decisions, today, so what? How should that affect our decisions and our practices today?

He declined to answer, saying, “I’m sorry, Tom, but I can’t see a way to deeply answer your question without sounding patronizing, offensive or both (a blogging twofer!).”

So I offered this as my conclusion:

We Are Indeed Fallible, So …

We ought to be very careful to learn from the past. It is possible for Christians to be mistaken in our interpretation and application of Scripture. To mishandle sacred revelation is a very serious offense on many levels, and we ought to be very cautious in that respect.

But there is nothing in past or present knowledge that suggests we ought to give up reliance on the Scriptures for moral knowledge. The vast majority of effective moral reform following Scriptural error has come by way of Scriptural correction. A large plurality (if not a majority) of moral progress in world history has also come by way of following the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. We have very strong reason to believe the Bible was inspired by God and is intended for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousnesss” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Therefore we recognize that the Scriptures, properly understood, are morally trustworthy and authoritative on matters of which they speak. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand properly what the Scriptures affirm concerning moral issues. We know that although the Scriptures are infallible, our interpretations are not.

Given centuries of testing and experience, however, we believe we may be confident in the great majority of the conclusions we have derived concerning the Scriptures’ moral teaching, which means we now accept the obligation to follow that teaching as best we understand it.

We know we might not be right in our understanding of some portion of Scriptural interpretation; it has happened in the past, so it could well be happening now. We do not, however, have the future’s information to tell us where we are wrong today. We have good reasons for confidence that the vast majority of our beliefs concerning Scriptural moral knowledge is reliable and trustworthy.

Thus it would be manifestly foolish to treat all of it as unreliable just because there is a reasonable chance that some small and unidentified portion of our interpretations might be.

So we shall continue to search the Scriptures and learn from experience, and in the meantime we shall follow what we believe we have good reason to follow.

Related: SSM and the Argument From Future Opinion

From Reasons for God: Does the Future Have Moral Authority?

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132 Responses to “ What Can We Learn From the Future About Our Mistakes Today? ”

  1. beez says:

    There is little doubt that Christians have made mistakes in the past in applying Scripture to justify poor moral stances. (Support of racism and slavery among some are a couple that come to mind.)

    Sadly, this is a very convenient argument to use against any Christian moral stance against homosexuality. Indeed, Christians have been guilty over the past century of playing the “this sin, but not THAT sin” game – and we are now reaping the bitter fruit from that. If Christians had been more compassionate towards homosexuals earlier, they might not be reaping the backlash they now do.

    Yet, Christians have now been seemingly boxed into the argument of “if it is natural, it cannot be wrong”. I pray we do not use this as the metric to judge EVERY aspect of morality – for there are many inclinations people come by naturally that are not necessarily beneficial – and, society is not always consistent in how it applies that metric. You may be naturally inclined towards obesity, but try defending that! Some argue that non-monogamy is the natural order of man – but people aren’t NEARLY as offended if Christians subscribe to monogamy.

    Many forget that the Roman culture at the time of the rise of Christianity mirrors much of today’s culture – so, the one critique that seems not to hold water is that “Christianity is out of touch with the culture”. That was true 2000 years ago, but that argument didn’t last back then, either.

  2. JAD says:

    Are our present problems because we have misinterpreted scripture? Or,is it because we haven’t taken the commands of scripture seriously enough? Christians should be having an impact on the culture. We’re not. If Christians had been involved as they should have been in the cause of social justice since the early 1960′s, the cultural landscape would look completely different today.

    For example, Christians largely stood on the sidelines in the early days of the civil rights movement. In his Biblically based “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. called for racial integration. The church should be the logical place for racial integration. Do we have racially integrated churches? There are some, but not many. Certainly there are not enough.

    The gay rights movement has been successful, in part, because it has been able to co-opt some of the thinking and rhetoric of the civil rights movement– so much so that academia as well as the news media have conflated the two movements. As a result Christians really don’t have a voice here. As long as we don’t have a voice we’re going to lose ground.

    Let me be clear social justice is not the gospel but it certainly is an important part of the gospel. Basically, it’s just loving our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Jesus taught that all men are our neighbors. (Matthew 28:19-20)

    Is it too late? I don’t think it’s ever too late. But if we are going to have an impact on our society we have to do it for the right reason– compassion for our fellow man, not for political reasons. It’s going to take time. It will probably take more than one or two election cycles, so we’d better make sure that we have the right motivation. Again, forget about the political bus. It’s already come and gone.

  3. Victoria says:

    Actually, changing the social order by direct means (political action) was never the mandate given to us by Christ Himself. We are to tell the world about Him, and win people to Him (Matthew 28:18-20). Change peoples’ hearts and a change in society will follow. As I’ve been studying the correlations between Roman society and culture and what the NT authors wrote, I came to see very clearly how they dealt with the issues facing Christians in the Roman Empire. Not by rebelling against the societal structures, but by reaching people with the soul-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ, to let the Holy Spirit do His job as only He can do it. This, among other very human and practical reasons, is why Paul and Peter wrote what they did about slavery – as long as people believed they could exploit other people as property and slave labour for their own gain, nothing was going to change. The early Christians did not live in a time and culture where they could hold the government accountable for its actions and policies, as we do today, so they wisely took a better course – to live out the values of the Kingdom of God in whatever circumstances they found themselves, and to win souls by the example of how they lived. Imagine the influence of Christian paedagogues (slaves assigned to look after and teach the children of their masters). Paul explicitly exhorted Christians to work within the legal system (Romans 13:1-10), so his solution to dealing with slavery was to encourage the practice of manumission (Philemon and 1 Corinthians 7:20-24) because there was a legal procedure for doing just that in Roman civil law.

    Paul and Peter are giving instructions on to Christians (not to Roman society in general) on living the Christian life in whatever circumstances one finds oneself in. This is living according to the principles of the Kingdom of God, not those of the world of men. They exhort slaves to be diligent ones as long as they are slaves – why? not because they approve of slavery, but because they are concerned for the reputation of the Gospel, of the Christian community, and as being pleasing to God for living according to His principles.

    But there is also a very practical reason for this advice:
    1. It protected the slave’s life, from unreasonable and excessive punishment – an owner was more likely to treat a good worker well, since that person would be a valuable member of the staff. Finding favour with God ( remember the story of Joseph in Egypt?) would benefit the slave.
    2. Had Peter and Paul encouraged slaves to rebel and run away, the government would have stepped in for certain to put an end to that once and for all. Christians already were being persecuted (or would be soon) for not doing what other Romans did – bowing down to Caesar as Lord and King – doing so was just good citizenship as far as Rome was concerned, but not something that Christians should do.
    3. Encouraging rebellion would make things even worse. No, by encouraging slaves to do things within the laws of the Empire would mean that they would be legally freed-persons, with no price on their heads, and they would still be gainfully employed.

    Maybe the issues of our generation should be addressed this way, lovingly rather than confrontationally.
    Thoughts, anyone?

  4. Larry Tanner says:

    One of the problems of interpreting biblical texts “properly,” as said here, is whether to capture the intent of the original writers or to amend the meaning o better suit the morals of our time and place.

    The point in the comments on Peter and Paul’s views on slavery is a case in point. In the Roman world, slavery was everywhere. It was a normal and accepted and legal status. People were slaves, and that was part of the social fabric. Neither Peter nor Paul nor any of the contemporaneous writers, redactors or readers of the texts would likely have thought to criticize slavery as a socio-cultural institution. It would not have occurred to them.

    Even the earlier precedent of the liberation of the Hebrew slaves wouldn’t have led to a negative view of slavery as an institution. From Exodus, the early appeals of Moses are to allow the slaves a brief respite to worship in the desert. They are not to affirm human dignity and individual liberty. These notions are more modern.

    Should the contemporary writers of early Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or etc.) texts have been so radical as to assert moral values that would have been utterly foreign to them?

    I don’t know the answer to this question. I certainly think if someone claimed to be holy, inspired, or God incarnate such radical talk could have been made. That the writers chose instead to stay firmly within their milieu does nothing to prevent people from thinking that a very human inspiration was behind the whole assemblage–over time, or course, not via conspiracy–from the start.

    Yet I think we are all agreed that as culture changes and science brings in new knowledge, it is scripture that must yield–i.e., the correct interpretation becomes discovered (at last!). The Bible is of course highly malleable, so there are readings that can be promoted or re-conceived as figurative to suit the interpretations that best match what we want the Bible to say and be.

    I do not advocate dispensing with the Bible–or any ancient texts, really–but the case that needs to be made and seemingly cannot is the one that demonstrates in content why on earth the Bible should receive any practical weight in considering today’s moral questions.

    Sure, some verses in the Bible can be read as disapproving some level of homosexual intimacy. There are other readings and theories about this.

    Either way…so what? I don’t think the Bible ultimately offers any help to us when we as individuals are confronted with a question about people who are standing right in front of us. Should that wonderful human being in front of us–maybe a sibling, a child, a friend, or something else–be able to get married to the consenting person who loves that human being? Is that wonderful human being endowed, in our opinion, with the self-evident right to pursue happiness?

    The Bible is never silent on such matters, but the Bible can’t make choices for us. In the end it doesn’t matter what the Bible thinks; it matters only what we as individuals think.

    If the Bible is, generally speaking, the main factor preventing your approval of SSM, then you should consider it likely that the Bible is wrong. If on the other hand you just think SSM is yucky, then you should consider it likely that you are wrong.

    Unless of course you think that by and large adults should not be able to marry the partners of their mutual and consenting choice. In this case you would therefore believe that people actually have no endowment from nature or the government to pursue anything resembling happiness.

  5. Victoria says:

    And yet we have
    ‎1 Corinthians 12:13 (NASB95)
    ‎ 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

    Galatians 3:26–29 (NASB95)
    ‎ 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
    ‎ 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
    ‎ 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    ‎ 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

    In these passages, Paul directly challenges the Roman concept/distinction of free persons, and slaves (who were essentially non-persons). So far from endorsing slavery, he is saying that it has no place in the Kingdom, and in the body of Christ there is no such class distinction.

    and

    1 Timothy 1:8–11 (NASB95)
    ‎ 8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,
    ‎ 9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers
    ‎ 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,
    ‎ 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

    ‎In the above passage, Paul explicitly addresses and condemns kidnappers (among other things). The Greek word here is ἀνδραποδισταῖς, which comes from ἀνδραποδιστής (andrapodistes), which means literally ‘slave dealer’. In the Mediterranean world, slaves were bought and sold by people who specialized in that sort of business. Slaves literally had their lives stolen from them and they were forcibly taken away from their own lives and held for ransom (as they would have to pay to get their freedom back).

    We should not assume either, that the NT documents contain everything that the apostles ever said about the issues facing the Christian church in the 1st century AD. Paul’s letters were occasional letters – what he wrote to address specific issues and questions faced by various Christian communities in the Roman Empire. The readers of those letters would have had much more context than we do today – they would know what Paul had said to them when he was with them in person or in other letters that we don’t happen to have. Paul spent months and even years in some of these cities, such as Corinth and Ephesus – it is reasonable to surmise that he taught at length about Christ and Christian doctrine and its implications, far more than is recorded in his letters.

    and from James 2:1-8
    My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
    2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,
    3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”
    4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
    5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
    6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?
    7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
    8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Jas 2:1–8). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    These cut right across the principles of class distinctions in Roman society.

    Larry, I suggest you get a hold of
    http://www.amazon.com/As-Romans-Did-Sourcebook-History/dp/019508974X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361662778&sr=1-1&keywords=as+the+romans+did before continuing on with your line of thought.

    The fact is that the NT authors laid down the principles by which Christians should live, by which Christians should evaluate the culture in which they found themselves.

  6. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    I do not advocate dispensing with the Bible–or any ancient texts, really–but the case that needs to be made and seemingly cannot is the one that demonstrates in content why on earth the Bible should receive any practical weight in considering today’s moral questions.

    The moral case has been made very reliably. It’s a very simple case when you boil it down, and here it is in very simple terms: Matthew 22:36-40

    Admittedly, living it out isn’t easy, but that’s what we all should yearn for.

  7. BillT says:

    “Yet I think we are all agreed that as culture changes and science brings in new knowledge, it is scripture that must yield–i.e., the correct interpretation becomes discovered (at last!).”

    So it’s science that brings us the new knowledge that yields the correct interpretation of the Bible? What does science have to do with any of the topics that are being discissed here? It’s science brings us the new knowledge about homsexuality or SSM or slavery? Please enlighten us.

    “In the end it doesn’t matter what the Bible thinks; it matters only what we as individuals think.”

    Does the “we as individuals” include Stalin and Mao and bin Laden and Kim Jong-il. They were individuals and not only had lots of “we(s)” agree with them but still do one way or another. Or do you get to condem them even if they outnumber you and had more we(s) agree with them than you do. And if you do condem them on what basis do you do so and why should they or anyone else care about your condemnation.

  8. Victoria says:

    Ultimately it comes down to the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Great “I AM”, the Resurrected Son of God who defeated death and hell, and redeemed His creation.
    The Bible is His Word, written by His servants, under His authority.

    On this, we will always hold fast, and we will never agree with you, Larry, and until you come to this faith for yourself, you will never understand it.

  9. Victoria says:

    Having said that, I think we have to offer the LGBT community something better than just “Same Sex relationships are a distortion of God’s design for human sexuality, brought on by the corruption of our human nature by sin”, don’t you think? The question is how to do that while holding fast to Biblical authority and Truth.

  10. bigbird says:

    Let me be clear social justice is not the gospel but it certainly is an important part of the gospel.

    The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus wanted us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and look after widows and orphans.

  11. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    The question is how to do that while holding fast to Biblical authority and Truth.

    That is a good question but it seems to me that it is in danger of inverting the priorities. The first order of business is to state the Truth. The second order of business is to help people; but telling lies, or even hiding, or even so much as sugar-coating the Truth, is not helping, it is harming people, so once again, in order to help people, the first priority is to tell the Truth.

    So to vary your question to a form that seems more appropriate to me: how do we tell the Truth, so that people will listen?

    This is a pragmatic question; I surely have no answer for it, but then again, I am more suited for dialectics than pastoral care. Even so, to get people to listen, presumes they are willing to listen. Are they willing to listen? Are *we* willing to listen to what we should and ought to be listening?

    Mark 4:9 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is oddly appropriate, in more senses than one.

  12. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria -

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    If this argues directly for abolishing slavery, does it not also argue for abolishing nations and for abolishing any laws that treat males and females differently (even in, oh, say, childbirth)?

  13. Holopupenko says:

    @12 Cherry picking without textual context or intent by a hostile non-authority in Scriptural interpretation?

    It doesn’t get any better than this, folks.

  14. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Perhaps you should stop pretending that you know anything about understanding the Bible :)

    These things were all part of Roman society’s distinctions (read a book on Roman social history, for Pete’s sake, man!)
    Someone living in the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD was either: a free person(never been a slave), a freed-person (used to be a slave) or a slave (not even a person under Roman law). Men and women had different rights and status under Roman law, and Paul’s use of Jew and Greek was a common idiom for the Jewish ‘us and them (non-Jew)’ mentality.
    Roman society thought the same way (Roman citizen or foreigner).

    Paul is saying that these types of class/societal distinctions have no place in the Kingdom of God (Jesus said the same things, BTW). These are the principles I was talking about.

    And the canard about the physical differences between men and women is so dim-witted that nothing further needs to be said (anything I could say would be uncharitable).

    @Holopupenko :) And they call themselves brights.

  15. Victoria says:

    Oh, and let me make this clear as well.
    What Paul is saying does not negate the fact that we have different roles and responsibilities within the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). It means we are all equal in our standing before God in Christ.

    The passage (and others like it) that Ray refers to is not a direct statement about whether or not slavery should be abolished – it says that the free/slave distinction that was the standard in Roman society has no place in the Christian community, and it does not fit with to ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. When one looks at the entire New Testament discussion of this principle, it should lead Spirit-filled Christians, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, to not practice slavery themselves. And, since in the Empire, slavery was a legal institution, Paul appeals to manumission, the legal way for a slave owner to free his slaves, as the means by which slave owners who became Christians should proceed (as per Romans 13).

  16. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria -

    The passage (and others like it) that Ray refers to is not a direct statement about whether or not slavery should be abolished

    Which is all you needed to say, no? That’s why I put “directly” in my question, after all. Neither you nor Holopupenko seem to have noticed that. :-)

  17. Holopupenko says:

    Ray:

    You’re a liar because your intention was soooo transparent. It’s YOU who should have qualified your comment. Instead, Victoria had to do it for you.

    You employ that kind of rhetorical dishonesty to then (1) claim plausible deniability (“who… me?!?”) and to (2) deflect the discussion.

    We didn’t “notice that”?!? Are you kidding? YOU own both your comment and your approach.

  18. Victoria says:

    And, just because Ray forgot the rest of what I said

    it says that the free/slave distinction that was the standard in Roman society has no place in the Christian community, and it does not fit with ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. When one looks at the entire New Testament discussion of this principle, it should lead Spirit-filled Christians, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, to not practice slavery themselves. And, since in the Empire, slavery was a legal institution, Paul appeals to manumission, the legal way for a slave owner to free his slaves, as the means by which slave owners who became Christians should proceed (as per Romans 13).

    Ray, dealing with someone like you is an exercise in futility and frustration, both because you don’t understand what we are saying, and you deliberately twist what we say around to make it appear as though we said what you want it to mean.

  19. JAD says:

    Victoria,

    Ray, dealing with someone like you is an exercise in futility and frustration, both because you don’t understand what we are saying, and you deliberately twist what we say around to make it appear as though we said what you want it to mean.

    You too? And, here I thought it was just me.

  20. Victoria says:

    @JAD

    :)

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s the question, Ray: do you want to understand what you’re disagreeing with, or would you rather take potshots at what you do not know?

    And here’s the danger: if you begin to understand, you might find there’s more to appreciate than you thought.

    I’d be careful if I were you. If you do decide to understand, it might change your life. But wouldn’t you respect yourself more going that way than choosing not to understand—following the path of ignorance and stereotyping?

    Do you want to be that kind of person? Really?

    Take a look inside.

    Now, you might come back and say, “But I do understand, and you Christians are all _____ ,” (or something else along those lines). I don’t know how you would fill in the blank there. But I do know this: if you were in conversation with anyone else different than yourself, say a member of a different race, culture or whatever, you would never permit yourself to say that about them.

    So don’t permit yourself to say it this time. If we say you don’t understand our position, we’re actually in a pretty good place to assess that accurately.

    To deny that—to say you understand, and that we Christians are all _____ , is to take the path of stereotyping, which is of the essence of bigotry.

    So I’ve asked it once, and I’ve clarified what’s at stake since I first asked it, so I’m asking again: look in the mirror. Is this the kind of person you want to be?

  22. Ray Ingles says:

    Holopupenko –

    You’re a liar because your intention was soooo transparent.

    I’m a liar because I didn’t make my intentions unclear? Okay, then.

    I’m afraid your comments are never of any utility to me. You’re happy to be insulting and say that I’m wrong, without ever actually pointing out why. If it makes you happy, okay, I guess. But I can’t work up much concern over it.

    Victoria – Note that your explanation of how slavery “does not fit with ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” came after my question, not before. It’s hard for me to forget something before it’s typed, I admit.

    The only point is that the Bible doesn’t directly condemn slavery, that’s all. Which is one of the things Larry Tanner said.

  23. Victoria says:

    @Ray

    You could have at least acknowledged my additional details in answer to your question, and given some indication that you understood it, rather than making another one of your absurd comments.

    Look at my #3 and #5 posts again.

    from James…

    7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
    8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.

    and my summary at the end

    The fact is that the NT authors laid down the principles by which Christians should live, by which Christians should evaluate the culture in which they found themselves.

    In addition, I also said that one has to consider the question using the full context found in the New Testament documents. What I have written in this series does not reference every single passage in its context, but it is implicit to my thinking, and understood by other Christians.

    The Bible does not address slavery (or other societal issues) in the way that unregenerate humans with no spiritual discernment whatsoever think it should, and thus for people with an agenda to find support for what they already want to do anyway, regardless of what it actually means, they can twist it to their purposes.

    What part of “free/slave distinction has no place in the Christian community” do you not understand? Surely nobody can be that dense?

  24. Larry Tanner says:

    “unregenerate humans with no spiritual discernment whatsoever”

    Does this description apply to all atheists and/or all people who reject Christianity?

    The blog owner here often counsels folks to look in the mirror and to ask who they really want to be. I think that is good advice for all.

  25. Holopupenko says:

    @22 I’m a liar because I didn’t make my intentions unclear? You’re a liar because your intention to lie was so transparent. I can’t believe you missed that…

    … but that’s okay, because, yet again, you’re a liar: You’re happy to be insulting and say that I’m wrong, without ever actually pointing out why.

    Liar.

  26. bigbird says:

    When one looks at the entire New Testament discussion of this principle, it should lead Spirit-filled Christians, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, to not practice slavery themselves.

    This might be the case in our culture today, but it hasn’t been true in the past. It is fair to say that the New Testament does not explicitly forbid slavery, and the history of Christianity bears this out. It certainly was a rare thing in the early church for Christians to oppose slavery.

    I suppose this was largely because it was almost unthinkable, slavery playing such an important part of the Roman Empire at the time. And of course Jews themselves were subject to the Romans.

    Paul Copan in “Is God a Moral Monster?” has a great discussion on slavery in the OT context.

  27. Victoria says:

    @bigbird
    Read the Roman history book I linked to earlier, and do the comparison yourself.

    This might be the case in our culture today, but it hasn’t been true in the past. It is fair to say that the New Testament does not explicitly forbid slavery, and the history of Christianity bears this out. It certainly was a rare thing in the early church for Christians to oppose slavery.

    I never said that they opposed slavery (in fact, the early Christians had no power to change the institution), but that Paul is saying that slavery is incompatible with Christian principles.

  28. bigbird says:

    Read the Roman history book I linked to earlier, and do the comparison yourself.

    What comparison? What’s your point?

  29. Victoria says:

    @bigbird
    See my #3 and my #5

  30. bigbird says:

    I still don’t get your point Victoria.

    It seems clear to me that the NT does not explicitly condemn slavery (slave-trading, yes) – are you saying that this is not the case?

    As others have pointed out, “there is neither slave nor free man” is not a statement opposed to slavery, but rather a statement about our status in Christ.

    I wish it was recorded that Jesus or Paul *did* say something explicit (obviously the golden rule does so implicitly). But it isn’t so, and it took the Enlightenment to bring about the cultural change that enabled dedicated Christians such as Wilberforce and the Clapham sect to do something about it.

    It is true that sporadically at times we see opposition to slavery recorded in Christian writings. But it seems that society was not at a point where this was practical or possible or thinkable until relatively recently.

  31. BillT says:

    “…and it took the Enlightenment to bring about the cultural change that enabled dedicated Christians such as Wilberforce and the Clapham sect to do something about it.”

    Not true. The Catholic Church had effectively and permanently abolished slavery in all of Europe hundreds of years before the Enlightenment. It was reintroduced in the New World over vehement objections from the Catholic Church (mostly by the Spanish Empire with assists from many others). The idea that “the Enlightenment” had much to do with it is as much a myth as the Enlightenment being responsible for the development of science.

  32. bigbird says:

    The Catholic Church had effectively and permanently abolished slavery in all of Europe hundreds of years before the Enlightenment.

    To be more accurate the Catholic Church abolished enslavement of *Christians*. New World discoveries of other races meant that the number of slaves sky-rocketed.

    The idea that “the Enlightenment” had much to do with it is as much a myth as the Enlightenment being responsible for the development of science.

    You really don’t think the core Enlightenment value of liberty had any influence on the abolishment of slavery? It was purely coincidental?

    I do occasionally encounter Christians who seem afraid to give the Enlightenment credit for anything positive. They seem to forget that many of the key Enlightenment figures were Christians.

    I have not heard it claimed that the Enlightenment was responsible for the development of science, although I doubt anyone would dispute it was hugely influential.

  33. BillT says:

    bigbird.

    What part of this did you not understand. “It (slavery) was reintroduced in the New World over vehement objections from the Catholic Church…” The Catholic Church was opposed to slavery of any kind and did all that it could to stop it. It was core Christian values that had most influence on the abolishment of slavery. As for the Enlightenment, even Wiki doesn’t mention slavery as an Enlightenment concern or Wilberforce as an Enlightenment figure.

  34. bigbird says:

    The Catholic Church was opposed to slavery of any kind and did all that it could to stop it.

    “The issue of slavery was one that historically did not see a consistent position by the Catholic Church, but was a subject of a long debate that began early in the history of the Church, and which gave increased support toward abolition in the 19th century.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_slavery

    As for the Enlightenment, even Wiki doesn’t mention slavery as an Enlightenment concern.

    Perhaps you should consult Denis Diderot’s work. And have you heard of Charles James Fox and William Dolben?

  35. BillT says:

    That’s simply an untrue statement that doesn’t align with the facts about the Catholic Church and slavery. If that’s so then just how is that that slavery was permanently abolished in Catholic Europe during the middle ages. How is it that the Church used all the means available to it to stop slavery from being reintroduced in the New World.

    And finding a purpose written Wiki article that disparages the Catholic Curch is a joke. If you look at their write up on the Enlightenment though you don’t find salvery or Wilberforce mentioned.

    And the idea that you believe Biblical Christianity doesn’t make it clear that slavery is not acceptable only shows how little you must understand of what is written there.

  36. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Here’s the question, Ray: do you want to understand what you’re disagreeing with, or would you rather take potshots at what you do not know?

    I’d like to understand. I’d also like to be understood, if we can arrange that, too.

    I put “directly” in my question as a pointed invitation, precisely to emphasize that the Bible does not directly condemn slavery. This does seem to be an issue with a communique inspired by a morally perfect being.

    Victoria lists a lot of practical considerations that would have made directly opposing slavery difficult in the Roman empire. And it certainly would have been difficult – it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk in 1860s United States.

    On the other hand, Christianity venerates martyrs, and with God all things are possible. Christians freely admit that expecting humans to actually behave like Christ is impractical (at least for now) but they’re supposed to try anyway.

    (Oh, and Holopupenko – When you actually engage with my website and let me know what the unspecified errors you found were (again, my email address isn’t hard to find) I’ll change my mind.)

  37. JAD says:

    (This is a little follow up to comments #17-21.)

    Francis Schaeffer said, “Honest questions deserve honest answers.” I agree with that wholeheartedly. But if an honest question deserves an honest answer, what does a dishonest question deserve? As Christians, of course, we still need to be honest, but sometimes it’s just a big waste of time. Jesus said it best (Matthew 7:6).

  38. Victoria says:

    @bigbird
    NO, what I am saying is that the NT authors did apply Christian principles that touched on social issues of the day, and they contrasted the values of the Kingdom over and against the values of the Roman culture in which they lived. The example in James is a clear case in point.

    To simply say that the NT did not directly condemn slavery and leave it at that, without carefully considering what it does say, in the context of Roman society and the context of the values of the Kingdom of God, is misleading.

    Yes, Paul talks about our status in Christ, and in Romans 8:12-17 and Galatians 3:23-4:7 he also uses the analogy of being set free from slavery (to sin, by Christ’s paying the price – manumission) and being adopted into God’s family (under Roman law, freed slaves could be adopted into the family as well).

    This pervades all of Paul’s thinking about the issue. Remember, he is writing to Christians, not Roman society in general. It seems as though the Holy Spirit’s plan was (and still is) to change human hearts (Galatians 5:13-25, contrasting the sins of our corrupt human nature with the fruit of the Spirit), and by changing human hearts through the Gospel and God’s redeeming grace, society would begin to change as well.
    Remember too that in the Roman Empire, freedom to speak out against government policy and practice was not what it is today, and Christians were already viewed as subversive for refusing to say that “Caesar is Lord” and offering the token worship of the state gods.

    I think the Christian community chose their battles carefully, and addressed issues that they did have the means to address, like orphaned children, babies abandoned by their parents, widows, the poor and the sick.

    The criticism is that they did not address slavery in the way that modern skeptics think they should have, but I say they addressed it in ways most appropriate for their society. They didn’t mount political campaigns, protests, or push the government to change the laws, or encourage slaves to rebel ( remember Spartacus? that wasn’t just a great Kirk Douglas movie), but they addressed the root cause, namely the corrupted human heart.

  39. Larry Tanner says:

    Comment 35: “If that’s so then just how is that that slavery was permanently abolished in Catholic Europe during the middle ages.”

    See the “Dum Diversas,” a 1452 papal bull credited with ushering in the African slave trade. See also its sequel, the Romanus Pontifex (1455).

    Although I cannot vouch for the translations, here is some from Dum Diversas:

    As we indeed understand from your pious and Christian desire, you intend to subjugate the enemies of Christ, namely the Saracens, and bring [them] back, with powerful arm, to the faith of Christ, if the authority of Apostolic See supported you in this. Therefore we consider, that those rising against the Catholic faith and struggling to extinguish Christian Religion must be resisted by the faithful of Christ with courage and firmness, so that the faithful themselves, inflamed by the ardor of faith and armed with courage to be able to hate their intention, not only to go against the intention, if they prevent unjust attempts of force, but with the help of God whose soldiers they are, they stop the endeavors of the faithless, we, fortified with divine love, summoned by the charity of Christians and bound by the duty of our pastoral office, which concerns the integrity and spread of faith for which Christ our God shed his blood, wishing to encourage the vigor of the faithful and Your Royal Majesty in the most sacred intention of this kind, we grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same Saracens, Pagans, infidels, and the enemies of Christ, also realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps, possessions of the king or prince or of the kings or princes, and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate realms, duchies, royal palaces, principalities and other dominions, possessions and goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors the Kings of Portugal.

    With the same caveat, here is some from Romanus Pontifex:

    We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit – by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors, nor without special license from King Alfonso and his successors themselves has any other even of the faithful of Christ been entitled hitherto, nor is he by any means now entitled lawfully to meddle therewith — in order that King Alfonso himself and his successors and the infante.may be able the more zealously to pursue and may pursue this most pious and noble work, and most worthy of perpetual remembrance (which, since the salvation of souls, increase of the faith, and overthrow of its enemies may be procured thereby, we regard as a work wherein the glory of God, and faith in Him, and His commonwealth, the Universal Church, are concerned) in proportion as they, having been relieved of all the greater obstacles, shall find themselves supported by us and by the Apostolic See with favors and graces — we, being very fully informed of all and singular the premises, do, motu proprio, not at the instance of King Alfonso or the infante, or on the petition of any other offered to us on their behalf in respect to this matter, and after mature deliberation, by apostolic authority, and from certain knowledge, in the fullness of apostolic power, by the tenor of these presents decree and declare that the aforesaid letters of faculty (the tenor whereof we wish to be considered as inserted word for word in these presents, with all and singular the clauses therein contained) are extended to Ceuta and to the aforesaid and all other acquisitions whatsoever, even those acquired before the date of the said letters of faculty, and to all those provinces, islands, harbors, and seas whatsoever, which hereafter, in the name of the said King Alfonso and of his successors and of the infante, in those parts and the adjoining, and in the more distant and remote parts, can be acquired from the hands of infidels or pagans, and that they are comprehended under the said letters of faculty.

  40. Victoria says:

    And our point is that the above-mentioned decree is completely contrary to the New Testament’s Kingdom principles – this was never the intent of Jesus’ great commission – what we have here is a Church leadership corrupted by political power and ambition, and not led by the Spirit of God.

    I am certainly not saying that the history of the Church is spotless – indeed, there are many dark stains on our record that bring reproach to the cause of Christ, but they are so precisely because these things were done contrary to and apart from the Holy Spirit’s intentions. We are saying that one cannot legitimately go from fundamental Christian principles to such a perverse distortion of them (but that takes a dependence on the Spirit of God to discern correctly).

  41. bigbird says:

    How is that that slavery was permanently abolished in Catholic Europe during the middle ages. How is it that the Church used all the means available to it to stop slavery from being reintroduced in the New World.

    You need to read some more history, including the papal bulls that Larry has quoted. They were listed in the Wikipedia article you disparaged.

    I’m not saying the Catholic church didn’t oppose slavery at times. But its record was inconsistent, as has been the Christian church’s as a whole until fairly recently.

    Fortunately, the church has Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect to thank for their dogged determination to have slavery abolished.

    I’m also not claiming the Enlightenment was responsible, but I am saying that the promulgation of Enlightenment values such as personal liberty had a significant influence on society that helped to make abolition possible. Of course some key Enlightenment figures (e.g. Kant) had very racist views and that had a *negative* effect on abolition.

  42. Victoria says:

    And as long as we are discussing slavery, what do the enlightened atheists have to say about the 21st century slave trade? Who is doing that? What is their world-view? I’ll bet dollars to donuts it isn’t Biblical Christianity.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Why is personal liberty an “Enlightenment value”? Where did it come from?

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    And still the question looms: granted that the church has made many mistakes (how often do I have to repeat that?!), where slavery has been abolished, how often has it happened apart from Christian influence?.

    Here’s my point (again): if you want to find where unrighteousness has reigned, you’ll find it everywhere. If you want to find where the good and the just have overruled and defeated unrighteousness, typically you will find it where Christianity has had some strong influence.

    Can the church do wrong? Goodness sakes, I know more of that than probably most of you put together. I have more than one former church friend in prison or on probation. I could tell you about the time there were three popes at one time who all excommunicated each other. I could go on and on.

    The Christian message is that evil rules in the hearts of men until Christ comes and establishes his good presence. Jesus spent a large part of his ministry decrying the evils of religious leaders. We don’t doubt that you can find evil where you find human beings, including the Church.

    Where, however, do you find good? I don’t mean just casual good, or ordinary good. I mean good that pioneers freedom, that pioneers compassion for the sake and the poor, that pioneers liberty for slaves, life for newborns, dignity for women.

    Where do you find that? Most of the time it’s where Christ has brought it and made it happen.

    Oh, and by the way: if you come back and point to where Christianity has done wrong, please remember that we’ve agreed already, multiple times, that that can happen. That’s not the question I’ve left you with here. It’s not in dispute. It’s no longer even interesting, in context of this thread.

  45. bigbird says:

    Why is personal liberty an “Enlightenment value”? Where did it come from?

    If you believe Bertrand Russell, the Enlightenment had its roots in the Protestant reformation, and the Enlightenment began as the Protestant reaction to the control of the Catholic church and the pope. This may be why so many Enlightenment figures were Christians.

  46. Larry Tanner says:

    Where, however, do you find good? I don’t mean just casual good, or ordinary good. I mean good that pioneers freedom, that pioneers compassion for the sake and the poor, that pioneers liberty for slaves, life for newborns, dignity for women.

    Where do you find that? Most of the time it’s where Christ has brought it and made it happen.

    You find freedom-pioneering good where new knowledge forces the challenging/overturning of received wisdom.

    When we learn that we are all composed of the same stuff, that we all have genes and we are all born in just the same way–well, that suggests that many social differences are imposed by culture and environment and not inborn restrictions.

    The three great movements that come to prominence in the 1960s are the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and the environmental movement. All three wind up creating what I would call a net positive in the US and the world because they pushed the world to at least a strong consciousness of socioeconomic equity, environmental/ecological equality, and personal/intimacy rights.

    It’s hard to think of three movements that have been more responsible for general world good. I do not think of any of these as being driven by any religion, although some people found their beliefs not inconsistent with the movements.

    To me, the enabling factor is not religion but technology. Democratizing technology.

    I didn’t bring in the papal bull quotes to bash Christianity. They were cited in response to an earlier comment that made a false statement.

    Perhaps you all have finally touched upon the true and proper Christianity where all the earlier generations have failed. Congratulations. But the fact is that God Incarnate could have clearly stated matters in a way to avoid the centuries upon centuries of ensuing suffering. He could have–if he actually was God Incarnate–but he didn’t.

    Meanwhile, miracles–which in the end are the ONLY way that anything Godly could ever be asserted–are non-existent. Unless you count divine appearances on various breakfast foods.

  47. bigbird says:

    Where slavery has been abolished, how often has it happened apart from Christian influence?

    I don’t think it is as clear cut as you make it out to be. Over a very long period, the church has gradually opposed slavery with varying degrees of success, with significant failures and retreats. Most of this time there have been Christians who have strongly opposed slavery, and many more who have not. The abolition movement associated with Wilberforce is a shining example of where Christianity succeeded.

    Ethiopia is an example of a largely Christian country where slavery was not abolished until 1942, under pressure from Western allies.

    Because Western society is largely shaped by its Christian roots, it’s difficult to say what would have happened if Christianity did not have the influence that it had.

    It does seem significant to me that Islam has had a totally different relationship to slavery that Christianity has had – many Islamic states have only abolished slavery in recent years.

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird,

    You just took an awfully roundabout route toward saying you agree with me.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, three things:

    If your history of civil rights only goes back to the 1960s, it’s terribly myopic.

    If you think technology is the fount of freedom, you are not only myopic but incredibly astigmatic.

    And I wonder about this:

    When we learn that we are all composed of the same stuff, that we all have genes and we are all born in just the same way–well, that suggests that many social differences are imposed by culture and environment and not inborn restrictions.

    Would you define and delimit who “we” refers to, and does not refer to, in that? And how you make the decision that cuts it off at that point?

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and I don’t think you understand church history at all if you think we have “finally touched upon the proper Christianity when all previous generations have failed.” I have been talking about our successes along with our failures. There have been many. If you don’t know about them, then a proper intellectual stance would be to question rather than to pronounce.

    Are you, or are you not, interested in taking an appropriate intellectual stance?

    I’d like a direct answer to that, if you don’t mind. And then I’d really be pleased if you would follow that up with actions appropriate to your answer.

  51. bigbird says:

    You just took an awfully roundabout route toward saying you agree with me.

    I’ve argued with enough atheists to be very careful in making general claims about Christianity that are difficult to demonstrate from history. So I continue to be careful in the claims I make, and try to be realistic about Christianity’s successes and failures.

  52. JAD says:

    From where do the atheist critics showing up here get their concept of human rights? Two thousand years ago, what atheist philosopher was teaching us about human rights? Was he (or she) calling for the abolition of slavery? Did he (or she) create a movement that would eventually spread around the world?

  53. bigbird says:

    It’s hard to think of three movements that have been more responsible for general world good.

    The topic discussed here, abolition, would seem to be a contender. It is very debatable how much general world good the environmental movement has achieved (not to deny that caring for the planet is a good and useful thing to do).

    To me, the enabling factor is not religion but technology. Democratizing technology.

    Hitler democratized certain aspects of technology rather well. It’s just a tool.

  54. bigbird says:

    Two thousand years ago, what atheist philosopher was teaching us about human rights? Was he (or she) calling for the abolition of slavery?

    Human rights largely depend on moral universalism, so Aristotle and the Stoics could be said to be the originators of human rights.

    No philosopher I’m aware of was calling for the abolition of slavery 2000 years ago.

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Aristotle specifically said slaves were of a lower nature. Women, too. His “moral universalism,” such as it was, was nothing like that of the Bible, which teaches we are all equal before Christ.

  56. Tom Gilson says:

    You know, JAD, it’s funny.

    You would think that if some person showed up on the scene in a society where slavery was totally ingrained—ingrained in moral philosophy, in law, in its conception of what it means to be human, in the economy, and in the social order—and planted a deeply revolutionary and powerful idea that resulted in the relatively quick though gradual and peaceful dissolution of the whole institution of slavery, that person would get some credit for having done something good.

    You would think that, wouldn’t you?

  57. bigbird says:

    Aristotle specifically said slaves were of a lower nature. Women, too. His “moral universalism,” such as it was, was nothing like that of the Bible, which teaches we are all equal before Christ.

    Moral universalism was nonetheless an important precursor to the concept of human rights, which weren’t explicitly articulated until the 17th century.

    That’s not to deny that Christian thought was a key part of this process as well, Aquinas being an excellent example. Of course Aquinas himself drew heavily on Aristotelian and Stoic thought.

  58. BillT says:

    bigbird,

    Your take on slavery and the involvement of the Church is uninformed. The Wiki article you quote is trash. The “Papal Bulls” cited here conflict with the reality of the opposition of the Church to the reintroduction of slavery in the New World. The Enlightenment was largely silent on slavery and many but not all of the leading figures supported it.

    You should try reading some history that isn’t written by those trying to give credit to the Enlightenment for the many great things Western culture has brought to the world. Christianity was the bedrock that brought us human rights, the end of slavery, democracy, capitalism, universities, science and much more.

  59. JAD says:

    Someone asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor”? He taught us every man (and woman) is our neighbor. Read the story of “The Good Samaritan.” Read what Jesus and Paul taught about loving our neighbor. That’s the beginning of the concept of universal human rights, free of the taint of ethnocentricity.

  60. bigbird says:

    Your take on slavery and the involvement of the Church is uninformed. The Wiki article you quote is trash. The “Papal Bulls” cited here conflict with the reality of the opposition of the Church to the reintroduction of slavery in the New World.

    I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the Catholic church had a major presence when it came to slavery in the New World. What countries in the New World dominated the slave trade? Catholic ones.

    Christianity was the bedrock that brought us human rights, the end of slavery, democracy, capitalism, universities, science and much more.

    This comment is so uninformed that I don’t know where to start. So I won’t bother.

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    You could start by studying where universities, banking, hospitals, and science got their beginnings. Then you would be informed.

  62. BillT says:

    No bigbird. The Spanish Empire is what had a major presence in the New World as I said before. And they began the slave trade dispite the opposition of the Church. The remainder of your comment is equally uninformed.

  63. bigbird says:

    You could start by studying where universities, banking, hospitals, and science got their beginnings. Then you would be informed.

    I’m already well informed, thank you – and I notice you chose to exclude the patently ridiculous parts of BillT’s statement.

    Anyone who claims Christianity is the bedrock that brought us democracy and capitalism simply has no idea what they are talking about.

  64. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom@50:

    If your history of civil rights only goes back to the 1960s, it’s terribly myopic.

    If you think technology is the fount of freedom, you are not only myopic but incredibly astigmatic.

    Fair enough, but I make neither of these points. Either you are trying to throw off discussion or you have reading comprehension problems. Then you say:

    Would you define and delimit who “we” refers to, and does not refer to, in that? And how you make the decision that cuts it off at that point?

    By “we” I mean “people.” I selected people because I have no knowledge of other creatures that have studied the composition of stars, etc.

    To JAD:

    From where do the atheist critics showing up here get their concept of human rights? Two thousand years ago, what atheist philosopher was teaching us about human rights? Was he (or she) calling for the abolition of slavery? Did he (or she) create a movement that would eventually spread around the world?

    I would say Lucretius, although probably not properly an atheist, was darn close. Before him, Epicurus. Both pre-date Jesus. If you agree with Stephen Greenblatt’s recent award-winning book, the Swerve, Epicurus/Lucretius made modernity possible. That’s pretty good.

    Bigbird: In #54, are you going full Godwin?

    One point, folks, is not that atheism is better than Christianity. Neither is it to denigrate Christianity or diminish the real credit than can be granted it for many things, including contributions to philosophy.

    But when you look at the history of Christianity, the emergence of the beliefs to the establishment of orthodoxy to the partnership with power to the various splits and breaks–what you see there is the same exact thing you see with atheism, with technology, with political systems, etc.

    So if you ask why the history of Christianity is littered with as much brutality and awfulness as beauty and dignity, the answer is right in front of you. If you ask why Jesus (and of course we have no verifiable facts about him) couldn’t have made clear and mind-blowingly radical statements on matters such as scientific knowledge, slavery, abortion, homosexuality, and more, the answer should be obvious. If you ask why the Bible (from “OT” to the Greek Testament) is in places vague, confusing, contradictory, and downright wicked, then you can answer easily–unless you simply deny the self-evident.

    What is it that’s so obvious and evident? That Christianity is like most everything else: it’s all the product of human ingenuity. In the end, that’s not too shabby. But the conclusion really is inescapable.

    My feeling is that Christianity will go the way of Judaism, with many becoming “Cultural Christians” and a small percentage of devotees maintaining to the bitter end that it’s all true.

  65. BillT says:

    “I’m already well informed…” If you do say so yourself. (You might as well, I doubt anyone else will.)

  66. bigbird says:

    The Spanish Empire is what had a major presence in the New World as I said before. And they began the slave trade dispite the opposition of the Church.

    What history books are you reading? The Spanish Empire was Catholic. The Spanish wanted to conquer and colonize the New World to bring Christianity to the Indians.

  67. bigbird says:

    Bigbird: In #54, are you going full Godwin?

    Yup.

  68. bigbird says:

    If you do say so yourself. (You might as well, I doubt anyone else will.)

    Care to defend your absurd suggestion that Christianity is the bedrock that led to democracy and capitalism?

  69. BillT says:

    ‘My feeling is that Christianity will go the way of Judaism, with many becoming “Cultural Christians” and a small percentage of devotees maintaining to the bitter end that it’s all true.”

    This prediction in the face of Africa going from one million Christians 100 years ago to over 400 million Christians today. To a major Christian revival going on in China that’s estimated to be already in the hundreds of millions and growing. To a major rechristianization going on in South and Central America to what is an estimated 5 thousand new Christians a day in India. Facts aren’t a big thing with you are they?

  70. bigbird says:

    if you ask why the history of Christianity is littered with as much brutality and awfulness as beauty and dignity, the answer is right in front of you.

    Yes. The mirror. The church is ultimately composed of people, and people’s behavior only confirms what the Bible teaches about our tendency to do awful things.

    If you ask why Jesus (and of course we have no verifiable facts about him)

    Sigh. At least read E.P. Sanders before making such assertions.

    couldn’t have made clear and mind-blowingly radical statements on matters such as scientific knowledge, slavery, abortion, homosexuality, and more, the answer should be obvious.

    Jesus *did* make clear and mind-blowingly radical statements that covered all these and more. Someone has already mentioned the parable of the Samaritan. There is plenty more.

  71. BillT says:

    Both the democracy and capitalism that eventually evolved into the modern forces they are in the world today began in Christian Europe in the 11th and 12 centuries. They grew in fits and starts from there to overtake most of Europe and the New Word in the following centuries. They began mainly in northern Italy and then in the Low Countries and on to England. Yes, the Greeks practiced a form of democracy but that had no continuity or influence to the modern forms practiced today. What, did you think capitalism began with Adam Smith? It had been developing for half a century by then.

  72. Larry Tanner says:

    BillT, I meant Christianity in America. I was not clear about that. Beyond this correction, I have never found your comments interesting or knowledge based in any way whatsoever.

    Bigbird, I know Sanders. Please, what are the verifiable facts about Jesus?

  73. BillT says:

    Thanks Larry. In light of the complete nonesense you posted above, I take that as a great compliment.

  74. Larry Tanner says:

    And thank you, BillT, for again proving my point.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    Interesting, Larry.

    In #47 you wrote,

    When we learn that we are all composed of the same stuff, that we all have genes and we are all born in just the same way–well, that suggests that many social differences are imposed by culture and environment and not inborn restrictions.

    I asked you to define and delimit who you meant by “we,” to which you answered,

    By “we” I mean “people.” I selected people because I have no knowledge of other creatures that have studied the composition of stars, etc.

    But that really restricts the range of your original “we.” Your original “we” could have included chimpanzees, orangutans, hamsters, rats, pigs, and dogs as well as boys and girls and men and women (the allusion to Ingrid Newkirk is quite intentional).

    If equal rights are based in composed of the same stuff, then one necessary inference from naturalistic evolution is that we ought to include the animals, for they are made of the same stuff as humans. Peter Singer sees this clearly and castigates human “speciesism.”

    Now you add another condition: studying the composition of stars. I assume you mean that somewhat more broadly than just that, for I doubt you would say that human rights began with astronomical spectroscopy. Perhaps you mean that human rights apply because we are specially intelligent. Is that what you had in mind?

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, if you’re going to say there’s no verifiable information about Jesus, I’m going to ask you to take that question to a more appropriate place. I can’t see anything to be gained by going off into a patently ridiculous tangent like that one here.

  77. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, I think what you wanted BillT to support was the contention that Christianity was the source of capitalism and democracy in America. You didn’t reveal that until after he answered, but it appears that’s what you wanted. And I think that when he responded to that by showing how it contributed to their original development centuries before Christians knew about this continent, you think he failed.

    Did I misread you? I could have—there’s a lot happening in a short amount of time here, and I could have missed something.

    Or did you really make as odd a request as I think you did?

  78. bigbird says:

    If you are familiar with Sanders then you should know he outlines the historically verifiable facts about Jesus. Do you not accept his work?

  79. bigbird says:

    BillT many things happened in Christianized Europe but that does not make an argument for Christianity’s influence. If you take this view you must claim the good and the bad.

    Christianity’s influence on the development of modern hospitals and on abolition is well documented. You have a long way to go to show how it was the bedrock for democracy and capitalism.

    Tom, the book I’m currently reading *The Ascent of money * does not show any link between the development of banking and Christianity. I’d appreciate your outlining what you think the link is.

  80. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird, I’d have to do some research on that in my library that I don’t really have time to do right now. You can find it in Rodney Stark, among other sources.

  81. Tom Gilson says:

    As for “democracy,” there’s no reason to think that Christianity was the source of government-by-voting. If that’s what you’re thinking of as “democracy,” that claim doesn’t hold. But if by democracy you mean something like separation of powers, balance of powers (virtually the same thing), equal rights, the rule of law, and etc., along with government-by-voting, the historical evidence is not hard to trace.

    Why separate powers? Because men (the gender term applied to the founders of liberal democracy) cannot be trusted with too much power. See Genesis 3.

    Why allow for equal rights? Because we are all created in God’s image, as emphasized in the beginning and in the Epistles.

    Why have the rule of law rather than of men? Because the Bible sets that example.

    But then, why didn’t we get it all exactly right the first try (women, people of color, etc.)? Because humans don’t get things right the first try every time.

    Now, I’ve only bulleted some quick philosophical/theological relationships, but the connection to biblical thinking is easy to see. Then, if you trace history going back to e.g. Theodosius, the Magna Carta, etc., you see Christianity having direct influence on decisions.

  82. BillT says:

    You’re missing something when it comes to the discussion of democracy. The democracies that currently dominate the world scene have their traceable origins in one place. Western Europe. They are a key feature of what we commonly refer to as Western Culture along with universities, banking, hospitals, and science, etc. If democracy in its current form didn’t begin in Western Europe then where? Was it imported from the Far East, from the Islamic nations, the Byzantine Empire, Africa? (And Greek democracy ended 1000 years prior) Democracy as we currently practice it incubated in Western Europe. When? Look at the history of the English Parliament. That would give you a broad time frame. Actually, there were more humble beginnings in Italy and the Low Counties as well. During this time what was the major cultural influence in Western Europe? What institution provided the intellectual, philosophical, moral underpinnings, not to mention de facto government, in which these things developed. The Christian Church. This isn’t controversial. Pretty straight forward, actually.

    The same applies to capitalism. The origins of modern capitalism are even better understood. And by modern capitalism I’m not talking about trading between medieval villages. I’m talking about organized business enterprises with corporate structure, capital investment and formalized accounting practices. A huge amount is known about them because their business records still exist. That this rather mundane and obvious understanding of the beginning of Western Culture is even in doubt is a tribute to the liberal lean of our universities who couldn’t go farther out of their way to discount the positive influence of Christianity. The best discussion of this is probably in Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason”. Worth a look.

  83. Keith says:

    @Tom, #82:

    Why separate powers? The Romans had that.

    Why equal rights? The Greeks had “citizenship”, Spartan women were educated and owned property, the Stoic and Cynic strains both argued for women’s equality hundreds of years before the New Testament.

    Why the rule of law? There was written rule of law predating the very first Bible books by hundreds of years, and the New Testament by thousands of years. Aristotle argued for rule of law with a clarity the Bible sorely lacks.

    You’re inconsistent: if it appears before the Christians, you say it wasn’t a complete work; if the Christians did it badly, you say humans don’t get things right on the first try.

    Early Christians built on what came before them, just as others have since built on what the early Christians did.

  84. Keith says:

    I’m with bigbird on several of his posts in this thread, and specifically on money.

    I haven’t read Stark, but the fact Christianity forbade lending money in return for interest makes me suspicious of any link between the development of banking and Christianity.

    I’m don’t have a good source for this, but as far as I can tell, the Christian ban on interest lasted until around the 16th century (Luther didn’t approve of interest, for example). This particular Christian teaching is why the Jews became the dominant financiers of Europe, and one of the reasons they were a focus of the Inquisitions.

  85. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom @76:

    If equal rights are based in composed of the same stuff, then one necessary inference from naturalistic evolution is that we ought to include the animals, for they are made of the same stuff as humans. Peter Singer sees this clearly and castigates human “speciesism.”

    Agreed, but for the sake of the point I was making, I restricted the subject for the reasons I pointed out. Do you have a larger argument of any significance to make, or are you just grasping at straws? Remember, I was responding to your earlier assertion, and my basic point–which I thought was not difficult to understand–was that good as you defined was directly traceable to new and better knowledge about the world.

    Tom at 77: That’s your dogma talking. I agree that the matter is tangential to this thread, but the facts are what they are. Bigbird brings up Sanders but obviously hasn’t read him. I am talking about verifiable facts; Sanders talks about consensus-driven facts in biblical/historical scholarship. They may be actual facts, but they are taken as axiomatic and ultimately not independently verifiable. If Sanders’ facts are not granted, then absolutely nothing can be said, so I am on board with his list and its rationale. Nevertheless, my assertion remains sound.

    Tom at 78: Oy. No, I was merely clarifying my earlier speculation that Christianity in America would become more culture-focused than belief-focused, in the that Judaism has been here for many years.

    I think from now on, I will use my own site as the place for posting my reactions and responses to items here. It’s just too frustrating for me to have to repeat and explain fairly simple statements.

  86. Keith says:

    @BillT, #83

    Bill, I think you’re limiting the question until your answer makes sense.

    Democracy “in its present form”, the origins of “modern capitalism”?

    What are the specific features of democracy that define its present form, or the specific features of capitalism that define it as modern, and how did Christianity define and support those features?

    In #72 I’m hearing you say democracy and capitalism sprang forth in previously unseen forms in the 11th/12th centuries, and you further ignore the Roman Republic as an example of democracy. I don’t understand either of those arguments.

    On the other end of history, does modern democracy require a secret ballot? Secret ballot comes from Australia in the 19th century, and Christianity had nothing to do with it. Is the secret ballot part of democracy in its “present form”?

    I’m totally with bigbird on this. Christianity can arguably claim a principle role in abolition and male rights/equality, but I see no evidence for anything other than peripheral involvement in the creation of democracy, capitalism or women’s rights.

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry, you’re making too many indirect assertions in this paragraph: (I’ve italicized those indirect references.) It’s not easy to figure out what you’re trying to say:

    Agreed, but for the sake of the point I was making, I restricted the subject for the reasons I pointed out. Do you have a larger argument of any significance to make, or are you just grasping at straws? Remember, I was responding to your earlier assertion, and my basic point–which I thought was not difficult to understand–was that good as you defined was directly traceable to new and better knowledge about the world.

    A certain number of such references would be fine, but this is too many. Maybe that’s why you find this site frustrating, that you have to “repeat and explain.” For another example,

    Tom at 78: Oy. No, I was merely clarifying my earlier speculation that Christianity in America would become more culture-focused than belief-focused, in the that Judaism has been here for many years.

    I think from now on, I will use my own site as the place for posting my reactions and responses to items here. It’s just too frustrating for me to have to repeat and explain fairly simple statements.

    I searched and found one place where you used the word “culture,” in #47:

    When we learn that we are all composed of the same stuff, that we all have genes and we are all born in just the same way–well, that suggests that many social differences are imposed by culture and environment and not inborn restrictions.

    You also said there, using the word belief,

    It’s hard to think of three movements that have been more responsible for general world good. I do not think of any of these as being driven by any religion, although some people found their beliefs not inconsistent with the movements.

    In #65 you wrote,

    But when you look at the history of Christianity, the emergence of the beliefs to the establishment of orthodoxy to the partnership with power to the various splits and breaks–what you see there is the same exact thing you see with atheism, with technology, with political systems, etc.

    You never did use “focus.”

    Now, if there is some way that we were supposed to understand from that (see #73) that you meant Christianity in America, and that you were making the point that it become more culture-focused in America rather than belief-focused, then I have a reading disability.

    And if that disability is severe enough to merit an “oy,” then I am really, really unqualified. I will resign this blog and shut it down forever.

    All I’m saying, Larry, is that there might be something going on here other than our deficiencies that explains why you’re having trouble getting your points across.

  88. BillT says:

    Keith,

    I believe you are approaching this from the wrong perspective. Sure there is history of some of these things in prior cultures. But none of them had any continuity. They all died with their cultures.

    The important question to ask I believe is why. Why is it that all if the things we have mentioned here and that continue to this day, democracy, capitalism, universities, banking, hospitals, science, etc. have continuous traceable roots to Western Europe. And not just Western Europe but Christian Western Europe. Christendom itself. None of the other great cultures of the time, the Far East, the Islamic nations, the Byzantine Empire, Africa developed these kinds of things and dominated the world with them.

    It wasn’t just guns, germs and steel. Some confluence of events and technologies. Deep beneath these things is a philosophy. An underlying philosophical orientation that motivated Western Europe to do science, build hospitals, grant freedoms, and make money. That’s what Western Europe had that none of the other great cultures had. That bedrock philosophy that inspired them to pursue the greatness that they did. That bedrock philosophy was Christianity. I can’t duplicate Stark’s entire argument here. You’d have to look that up yourself. I can assure you you will be impressed by his scholaship.

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    I agree, BillT.

    Sure, the Greeks had votes, the Romans had citizenship and balance of power, there were arguments for women’s rights then—but was there any strong unifying principle that explained why those things would be good for a society? There is in Christianity. And that foundation is what has made western liberal democracy so robust.

  90. Larry Tanner says:

    Tom @88, you are making everything harder than it needs to be.

    Let’s go through the very first quote of mine that you give.

    The point I was making was in comment #47, where I said “When we learn that we are all composed of the same stuff, that we all have genes and we are all born in just the same way–well, that suggests that many social differences are imposed by culture and environment and not inborn restrictions.”

    You had a problem with the subject of the sentence, “we.”

    I expressed bemusement at your problem, and where you were going by raising the problem. I also reminded you that my comment–the one in #47, the one with the objectionable “we”–was a response to your comment in #45, where you say:Where, however, do you find good? I don’t mean just casual good, or ordinary good. I mean good that pioneers freedom, that pioneers compassion for the sake and the poor, that pioneers liberty for slaves, life for newborns, dignity for women.

    Where do you find that? Most of the time it’s where Christ has brought it and made it happen.My comment–the one in #47, the one with the objectionable “we”–explains where you find “good that pioneers freedom.” I was showing that you find good where you find new knowledge. You had argued that “Christ” or Christianity had some correlation to development of freedom-pioneering good.

    You have not, if I recall, made an argument defining how big or small the correlation is between Christianity and freedom-pioneering good. Neither have you argued whether Christianity is the only correlating factor in advancing freedom-pioneering good.

  91. BillT says:

    Tom,

    It’s not unlike your “On Christianity and Slavery: You Would Think…” post. You would think that given the enormous influence of Western Culture one might look at what distinguishes it from all the other great cultures. What are the distinctives that made Western Culture wildly successful where others failed? What underlies all those cultural institutions that made Western Culture unlike anything that has come before it? You would think…

  92. Keith says:

    @BillT, #92: You would think…

    You say people haven’t tried to understand what distinguishes Western Culture, and that’s factually wrong. People have looked carefully, and they disagree with you.

    You mentioned Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel earlier.

    There’s no reason for Diamond to ignore Christianity if he thought it significant: you don’t have to believe in Christianity’s supernatural claims to believe in Christianity’s effect on the culture.

    (And, yes, I’ve added Stark to my reading list.)

  93. Tom Gilson says:

    How much Jared Diamond have you read, and do you really doubt he has an axe to grind?

  94. BillT says:

    “And, yes, I’ve added Stark to my reading list.”

    I think you’ll find him an enlightening read. Hope you enjoy.

  95. Keith says:

    No question, Diamond is no fan of religion.

  96. bigbird says:

    I’ve been away for a few days hence some belated replies.

    bigbird brings up Sanders but obviously hasn’t read him.

    Obviously? I have *The Historical Figure of Jesus* on my bookshelf, and have read a considerable portion of it.

    I am talking about verifiable facts; Sanders talks about consensus-driven facts in biblical/historical scholarship. They may be actual facts, but they are taken as axiomatic and ultimately not independently verifiable.

    Verifiable facts? Please define what these are. In history, what else are there other than consensus-driven facts? E.P. Sanders details the facts about Jesus that historians can agree on. I take it you disagree with them?

  97. bigbird says:

    An underlying philosophical orientation that motivated Western Europe to do science, build hospitals, grant freedoms, and make money. That’s what Western Europe had that none of the other great cultures had. That bedrock philosophy that inspired them to pursue the greatness that they did. That bedrock philosophy was Christianity.

    As a Christian I’m naturally sympathetic to this argument of Stark’s, but I feel it is overstated and discounts the contributions of the Greek and Roman cultures.

  98. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for sharing your feelings, bigbird. They say it’s therapeutic to get these things out into the open

    Now, how about some substance? What is Stark’s argument? What does he say about the Greeks’ and Romans’ contributions? What does he omit? Does he downplay their part inordinately? What is your evidence for this?

    Why does that even matter in the first place? After all, the question was not whether the Greeks and Romans had significant influence, but whether Christianity had anything like a decisive influence, which is of course possible even if the Greeks and Romans had a major contribution.

    And now for my feelings. I feel you are (or at least you remind me of) men who stroke their beards and intone, “These things are much more complicated than you realize.” In my experience, the spoken or unspoken follow-on to that, far too frequently, is “… oh ye of such small minds.”

    I am small of mind. I admit it. More on that below.

    It seems to me that you have adopted a general view something like this: “People who think they understand some x are wrong. Or, at least, they don’t understand it as well as I do, because they always act as if there’s only one side to it, and I know there’s always another consideraton..”

    But here’s what’s both odd and annoying about that stance. First, it’s perfectly obvious. Everything is more nuanced and complicated than any of us can grasp. Second, it’s terribly unhelpful just because it’s so obvious. If you tell me there’s more to the story about x, you tell me something I already knew. Third, it’s patronizing. I much prefer the direct approach: don’t tell me the obvious (that I missed something about x) tell me what I missed so I can gain something from it.

    You did this with Larry Tanner just now, with respect to Sanders (“in history, what else are there but consensus-driven facts?”), and you have to recognize I’m not here to defend Larry’s position, and I’m not feeling put out just because you disagreed with him. It’s because of your beard-stroking tone.

    You did it here, and also here which struck me as having a pedantic, corrective tone even while agreeing with what I had said. I don’t know if you missed the irony I was trying to express in response, but your answer in turn was, once again, at least tinged with a pedantic tone. I don’t think I’m imagining that.

    Maybe you do know more than the rest of us. Your post here made reference to writers I haven’t read. But you know what? It only made reference to them. It didn’t say a thing of substance about them. Nothing. Why bring up authors in correction to someone’s view without bothering to correct that person’s view? Maybe your point was that if I haven’t heard of William Dolben, I’m stupid to have brought up anything related to the Enlightenment. Or history, or slavery, or, heck, anything at all!

    If so, then so be it. I am, as I have already said, small of mind. I freely admit it. I cannot believe how many important works I’ve never had a chance to read! I cannot begin to tell you how appalled I am at how little I know of the classics or of philosophy or science or of history or of anything in the whole world! If you have something of value to tell me to add to my knowledge, by all means do so! After all, you’ve not only heard of William Dolben (so you are not stupid as I am), you might have even read him.

    Know then that I welcome genuine correction and education, but I am suspicious of beard-strokers, and I have a tendency to find them unhelpful and annoying—which is my own therapeutic catharsis of feeling.

  99. bigbird says:

    Now, how about some substance? What is Stark’s argument? What does he say about the Greeks’ and Romans’ contributions? What does he omit? Does he downplay their part inordinately? What is your evidence for this?

    Actually, I didn’t make the initial claims. I didn’t claim that Christianity was behind modern democracy or the banking system. You and BillT did.

    I questioned that this was the case, and expected at least *something* substantial to back up the claim. In the case of capitalism, I’m currently reading a book (The Ascent of Money) by a well known historian that makes no mention of such influence.

    Your post here made reference to writers I haven’t read. But you know what? It only made reference to them. It didn’t say a thing of substance. Nothing. Why bring up authors in correction to someone’s view without bothering to correct that person’s view?

    Funny, that’s exactly what you did with Stark.

    I’ve actually done what BillT has done myself in the past – made “motherhood” claims of how Christianity is the bedrock of everything good in Western society. But in my interactions with informed, critical atheists I’ve found they have no time for this kind of thing. Rightly so, in my opinion nowadays, because such a claim is controversial, and unlikely to be supported by most historians.

    If we want to make claims about the influence of Christianity, my personal view is that we should be careful to make claims that at least some secular historians are willing to support.

    Abolition and hospitals are a good example where the influence of Christianity is well documented and, although still controversial, can be well argued.

    I have not seen any evidence for that of democracy or capitalism or the other claims argued here. I do note that Rodney Stark says that charging interest was “condemned in principle but ignored in practice” (p64), which does not seem to me like Christianity had much of an influence other than to be ignored because of necessity.

    It seems to me that you have adopted a general view something like this: “People who think they understand something are wrong. Or, at least, they don’t understand it as well as I do, because I’m always aware that there’s another side to it, and they always act as if there’s only one side to it.”

    No, I’ve simply adopted the view that as Christians we need to be cautious in making claims that we have little or no evidence for. We all find it easy to do. Accordingly, I tend to view such claims with a skeptical eye, even though I tend to be sympathetic to them. I at least expect some evidence if such a broad claim is made.

    I have no idea what you mean re E.P. Sanders. He is an extremely well known historical expert on Jesus, and he clearly outlines the accepted historical facts about Jesus. I have no idea what “verifiable facts” are and how they differ to the consensus of historians.

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    P.S. Those arguments are not just Stark’s. James Hannam made the same case in great detail with respect to science. Actually that view goes back at least toAlfred North Whitehead. It was echoed at length by Stanley Jaki, I’m told, though I haven’t read Jaki.

    Plato, Aristotle, and even the great physician Galen evinced very little sympathy for the weak and sick. (I can pull up quotes and sources on that tomorrow morning if you want to see them; I just don’t have them here with me right now.) If you think there is anything in Greco-Roman culture remotely comparable to Christians’ care for the sick—including the sick who were not of their own group—you owe it to us to show us evidence. The same trend continues down through history: to build hospitals for one’s own is not unusual; to care for other peoples is distinctively Christian or else built upon Christian influence.

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird, you say,

    Funny, that’s exactly what you did with Stark.

    I don’t know. To me, there’s a big difference between,

    I’d have to do some research on that in my library that I don’t really have time to do right now. You can find it in Rodney Stark, among other sources.

    and

    Perhaps you should consult Denis Diderot’s work. And have you heard of Charles James Fox and William Dolben?

    There’s something about the latter that implies a deficiency, which is not present in what I wrote.

    You say,

    If we want to make claims about the influence of Christianity, my personal view is that we should be careful to make claims that at least some secular historians are willing to support.

    That’s my view, too, thank you very much.

    I’ve actually done what BillT has done myself in the past – made “motherhood” claims of how Christianity is the bedrock of everything good in Western society. But in my interactions with informed, critical atheists I’ve found they have no time for this kind of thing. Rightly so, in my opinion nowadays, because such a claim is controversial, and unlikely to be supported by most historians.

    Now you’re misrepresenting Stark again. And me. And I don’t know who else. Certainly Scripture, in a sense.

    For as a Christian you are (or should be) committed to the view that God is the source of everything good in any society. You should be committed to the view that Christianity is God’s most direct expression of himself in human culture, which is by no means to deny that God expresses himself in varying ways and varying degrees through all cultures.

    I don’t have my copy of Stark close at hand, but I don’t recall him making “‘motherhood’ claims” such as you described in which Christianity is the bedrock of good in Western culture, where the implication is that it’s the only one, or the only one that matters. That’s clearly what you were getting at with your comment on Stark missing Greek and Roman influences. As an informed non-atheist I would say that “motherhood” claims of that sort are not controversial, they’re wrong!

    You are reading “motherhood” (what a patronizing name to give it, which is as ironic as can be) where it’s not being affirmed. You’re assuming that BillT is as simplistic as a child, and that Stark is too, if I remember Stark correctly.

    I don’t have an informed view on the source of capitalism. I do think that Christianity had a strong and perhaps decisive influence on the beginnings of liberal democracy. I wouldn’t dream of saying it was the only source (“the bedrock”).

    You’re attacking a straw man version of oversimplified stupid Christianity. It’s annoying. And where you could be helping by explaining things more clearly, you’re contenting yourself with pointing out how little we know that you know. That’s annoying, too.

    You have some experience with atheists. I suppose it’s several years’ worth. In my case I’ve been debating here since late in 2004, so I have some experience, too. I have learned from hard experience not to make claims that I cannot support with evidence. I agree with you on that. You are not the only one who “at least expects some evidence.” Sheesh.

    I remain suspicious of beard-strokers, and I still find them annoying.

    (I may have misread you on Sanders. I just followed that thread all the way through, and I see it in a different light now.)

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    I see on review that BillT used “that bedrock philosophy” before you did. I do not want to ascribe falsely to you the idea of “the [as in the only] bedrock.” I’ll be back on that in a moment.

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s where I want to challenge your thinking, bigbird. I’m recognizing that I was using “the bedrock” incorrectly in my last comment or two, so if you see some inconsistency in my use of that term, consider this a correction of what I wrote before.

    Now, let’s grant (for it is true) that the Greeks and Romans made major contributions to science. Let’s not forget the Islamic contributions to mathematics. Let’s recognize that there is something of great value in all cultures.

    While all of them contributed, I want to suggest to you there may be something more germane to this discussion than who contributed. Of more import is the question, what brought the streams together and made them make sense?

    I think that if “bedrock” means “source” (which would be an odd metaphorical use of the term) then there is no one bedrock philosophy or cultural spring from which these things flowed. The Greeks and Romans and Muslims and many others are owed what is rightly due them.

    But if “bedrock” means, “that which can support the weight,” then Christianity is very arguably the bedrock on which the true genesis of science, the universities, hospitals, dignity for women, freedom for slaves, liberal democracy, and much more have been built.

    So some of your beard-stroking has perhaps been based on a misreading.

  104. bigbird says:

    Plato, Aristotle, and even the great physician Galen evinced very little sympathy for the weak and sick.

    You’ll see that I singled out hospitals as one of the advances that there is sound historical evidence for the direct influence of Christianity, so I don’t disagree with you. I’ve read Plato’s Republic and its view of the ideal city, and it isn’t attractive.

    For as a Christian you are (or should be) committed to the view that God is the source of everything good in any society. You should be committed to the view that Christianity is God’s most direct expression of himself in human culture, which is by no means to deny that God expresses himself in varying ways and varying degrees through all cultures.

    I am committed to such a view. But there is a big difference between my beliefs and what I’m prepared to argue for on a public forum. I always write posts on forums such as these with a view to how a skeptic would read them, i.e. I try not to make claims I can’t support with historical evidence. An argument that common grace means God is ultimately responsible for all good naturally isn’t persuasive to skeptics.

    Now you’re misrepresenting Stark again. And me. And I don’t know who else. Certainly Scripture, in a sense.

    My only target here was BillT’s statement, which was “Christianity was the bedrock that brought us human rights, the end of slavery, democracy, capitalism, universities, science and much more.”

    The claim that Western civilization was Christian therefore all good that results from Western civilization must be because of Christianity is not a strong claim. It might be, for example, that many advances were *despite* Christianity. Christianity’s influence on each issue needs to be documented.

    While all of them contributed, I want to suggest to you there may be something more germane to this discussion than who contributed. Of more import is the question, what brought the streams together and made them make sense?

    I suppose this is the crux of the discussion, and it’s good to distinguish it. I assume this what BillT really meant by his claims.

    I’m not sure though, how easily this concept can be demonstrated when looking at history. It would certainly be interesting to look at each of these areas and try to ascertain what influence Christianity actually had.

    For example, we can all accept that Western civilization was the cradle in which most of these things flourished. But it seems very difficult to me to pinpoint exactly what aspects of Western civilization were actually responsible. Obviously Christianity played a major role.

    But for example, at times Christianity was a hindred to science, and at other times church patronage of science was crucial to its development (see for example Lindberg, *The Beginnings of Western Science*). And of course many or most early Western scientists were Christians.

    So some of your beard-stroking has perhaps been based on a misreading.

    Perhaps. In any case can you drop this metaphor from now on? I don’t have a beard and, like you with some of my writings, I find it somewhat patronizing.

  105. bigbird says:

    I realized that the phrase I was searching for is that correlation does not equal causation. Just because certain advances occurred in Europe during a long period when Christianity was in ascendency does not mean Christianity was necessarily the cause of those advances. If we want to make what is quite an extravagant claim and be taken seriously by unbelievers, we need to be able to demonstrate that Christianity was the *cause* of the advances.

    In the case of modern hospitals, it seems to me quite clear that Christianity was integral to their establishment, beginning from early Christianity’s care for the sick and continuing with Constantine’s reforms.

    Slavery is more difficult, given the Catholic church’s mixed record on slavery at times, but ultimately it is clear that Wilberforce and the Clapham sect paved the way for its abolition both in Europe and the US.

    Capitalism and democracy seem more dubious claims to me, and I’d like to see some more discussion of the evidence behind these claims. For example, I’ve not yet found a strong relationship between the Italian city-states that pioneered banks and Christianity.

    Science is an interesting case study, and I’ll have to investigate more Stark’s claim that Greek thought was a barrier to the rise of science. Certainly David C. Lindberg does not concur in *The Beginnings of Western Science*.

  106. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird, I think I said last night you were misrepresenting the position you were contesting. You still are:

    The claim that Western civilization was Christian therefore all good that results from Western civilization must be because of Christianity is not a strong claim.

    I would call it no claim at all, at least, no claim I’ve heard here. It’s a total straw man. The claim is that there is evidence in Western civilization that Christianity is the philosophical foundation that has proved capable of both leading persons toward certain goods and persisting as an adequate foundation for them to continue developing in those goods and practicing them.

    What that does not include is the claim that we know this just because Western civilization was Christian, which is what you seemed to be saying that we were saying. It also does not include the claim that only Christianity has provided impetus toward those goods. It leaves the door miles wide open (for example) to the great contribution of the Greeks, Romans, and Arabians.

    And perhaps you are equivocating on “Christianity.” There is A. Christianity as Christendom, the acts in history of those who describe themselves as Christians. There is B. Christianity as a mixed set of beliefs about reality, what Christians have actually believed. There is C. Christianity as the true (ideal) set of beliefs regarding God’s work in Christ as Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and all the thousand other titles that befit God; what God intends us to believe. And there is D. Christianity as relationship with God in Christ.

    Christianity (A) has had a mixed history. No one doubts that. Christianity (B) has too. Both A and B have been tugged in two directions: toward the truth (Christianity C+D), and toward human failing. Sometimes one has prevailed, sometimes the other, and of course much of the time both at once in complicated ways. When (A) and (B) have moved in the direction of (C+D), it has led culture in good directions.

    If God is God, and if we understand (C+D) in the manner defined here, it seems this must be true. Historically it bears out, to the best of my knowledge.

    So I caution you on this equivocation. You who are so careful to bring all considerations into play are nevertheless making what seems to me to be a rather elementary error; for you seem to be speaking more of Christendom than of Christianity as a way of understanding reality. Christianity (C+D) is true and good in itself, and it has a persistent way of drawing persons away from human failing and towards itself. It’s not perfectly consistent in that effect, but it is persistent and it is often quite effective.

    That’s one fallacy I suggest you think through.

    The other one is that of the straw man, overstating the case you are contesting.

    And then there is this, which is not an overstatement but rather a complete misreading:

    I realized that the phrase I was searching for is that correlation does not equal causation. Just because certain advances occurred in Europe during a long period when Christianity was in ascendency does not mean Christianity was necessarily the cause of those advances.

    I don’t know where you’ve read a claim like that one. You’ve never read it in anything I wrote, although if you tried you might be able to pull it out of a micro-context somewhere. I don’t think any commenter here has ever said it, either. Do you see what’s missing?

    Correlation does not equal causation, but every social scientist will tell you that where there is theory supported by correlation, the correlation supports confidence in the theory. The stronger the correlation, the stronger the support, other things being equal.

    When I have spoken of Western Christianity’s influence for good, I have consistently stated it in terms of what Christianity (meaning Christianity C+D) affirms and teaches, beginning in the Bible and continuing through the theology and philosophy that flowed from there. Obviously (if you’ve read Aquinas!) that includes recognition of the significant contribution Greek philosophy made, but it also includes awareness that Christianity (C+D) is decidedly not Plato, Aristotle, or any other Greek; it is of Hebrew origin with the revolutionary new thought included by way of Christ and the apostles.

    That’s the theory, or rather that’s where one goes to discover the theory (the theory itself is much more than that).

    Now it happens that the West has led strongly and it has led uniquely in liberal democracy, massive improvements in the dignity of women and liberty for slaves, universities, hospitals (you have granted some of this) and much more. This is strong correlational evidence in support of theory.

    This is how I have always made my case. The way you have presented it here, in contrast, is terribly oversimplified and obviously wrong; it is (as I have said) quite a straw man.

    Final note: I see you dislike patronizing. I apologize for using a metaphor that struck you that way. I call on you to be careful about using actual language (not just metaphor) that does that to us, as I identified last night.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    Relative to the beard-stroking analogy, bigbird: I will of course drop it at your request, which is entirely reasonable.

    Do you, however, recognize in your writings here the behaviors I was using that metaphor to refer to?

    I’m not able to guess the true attitude of your heart, but if I am not mistaken, your writing actually has expressed the tone that, “these things are so complex, everyone here but me is far too willing to oversimplify them to their own advantage; perhaps only I am educated enough to overcome that temptation.”

    I stated that impression as clearly as I possibly could last night. I am requesting you look at it very closely, and not just shrug off the metaphor.

    Again, as I said last night, being patronizing is the furthest thing from my mind. To be patronizing is to take an indirect route toward belittling another person from a position of personal relational authority that the other person does not recognize as being legitimate.

    I am not, I hope, speaking from a position of relative authority, as in “the more educated person,” or “the more nuanced person.”

    I am endeavoring in every way to let my argument be the authority for what I say: to speak from a stance of logically and evidentially supported argument.

    I am not belittling you, either indirectly or directly, or at least I hope not. To belittle another person is again a relational matter, setting one person in a certain subservient position with respect to another.

    The distinction between that and what I’m trying to do here is clear in principle though difficult to maintain in practice, so maybe I have failed in practice. It is easy to fail in such things, and I find myself doing so more than I would like.

    What I am trying to do is not set you in a small position; rather I am addressing your argument and your tone. That is to say, I am not (I hope) saying you are small, I am saying, with supporting reasoning and evidence, that you are wrong. There is a difference.

  108. Tom Gilson says:

    If you would actually address these things, by the way, I think that could result in some progress in this discussion. I’m more than eager to learn from you, since you obviously have an education and experience base different from mine. I think you can see, however, that from my perspective it would help a lot if you would address (for example) what I wrote in #104 last night, which I don’t think you responded to. And I’m looking forward to your response to what I have suggested (strongly, I admit) regarding equivocation on “Christianity,” and on your apparently mistaking BillT’s and my argument as being just correlational.

  109. bigbird says:

    The claim is that there is evidence in Western civilization that Christianity is the philosophical foundation that has proved capable of both leading persons toward certain goods and persisting as an adequate foundation for them to continue developing in those goods and practicing them.

    Thank you for clarifying your particular position. It is far clearer than BillT’s “bedrock” post, which is what I’ve been taking aim at – you seem to think I’m aiming at you.

    Now, how about producing some of this evidence that you say exists, with respect to finance and democracy? That would settle your claim very quickly.

    Now it happens that the West has led strongly and it has led uniquely in liberal democracy, massive improvements in the dignity of women and liberty for slaves, universities, hospitals (you have granted some of this) and much more. This is strong correlational evidence in support of theory.

    Strong correlational evidence in support of *what* theory?

    The influence of Christianity A, B, C or D? Or some other part of the many influences behind Western culture?

    That’s what I’m trying to get across. Where’s the evidence that shows *C+D* is what brought about these changes?

    I’m not saying it doesn’t exist (I’ve pointed out where it does for hospitals and slavery). I’d just like to see someone produce it with regard to the claims about democracy, capitalism, dignity of women and so on – I personally am not aware of it. So far, no-one has made any attempt to do so (at least that I recall).

  110. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks for that, bigbird. I’m still interested in your response to #109, but #110 helped a lot.

    I am about to kick into perhaps a year-long answer to the question you asked in #109, or actually a much larger version of the question, which goes like this: What can we learn from the story of Christianity? The claim is that Christianity (C+D) is good, that it does good when practiced, and that it results in good. What evidence is there for that claim, and does it hold up to the facts of real life?

    So I hope you’ll be patient with me on that. I’ll be starting off on it in earnest later in March.

  111. bigbird says:

    if I am not mistaken, your writing actually has expressed the tone that, “these things are so complex, everyone here but me is far too willing to oversimplify them to their own advantage; perhaps only I am educated enough to overcome that temptation.”

    That’s not my intention. My intention is to express the view that if broad, strong and contentious claims are made for the influence of Christianity in particular aspects of Western civilization, then at least some historical evidence should be produced to back up those claims.

    So far, I’ve not seen much evidence apart from a reference to Rodney Stark’s book, and a couple of references you made re Christianity and science (which I wasn’t actually discussing at the time). And I will admit I’ve found this a little frustrating.

    Why do I care? Because I’ve made similar claims on forums hostile to Christianity and been hammered and challenged by atheists who knew more about history than I did.

  112. Tom Gilson says:

    In the meantime, David Marshall (christthetao.blogspot.com) has done a lot of work on all these things. Search there and you’ll find a great deal of work with respect to women. The book True Reason include’s Glenn Sunshine’s work concerning slavery. David and I have both written on that, too, though I do not claim to have the knowledge base they have. David does quite a bit, by the way (including a chapter in True Reason) on why it makes sense not to credit Christianity (A+B) with all the good in the world.

    Just something to get you started on it until I can buckle down to the task too.

  113. Tom Gilson says:

    Re: your last paragraph in your most recent comment, what you’ve been doing, if I may condense it into short terms (I’m about to head out to a meeting), is telling us, “Stop being stupid!!!” And not much more than that of any substance.

    That’s not helpful. Even if it’s good advice it’s not helpful.

  114. bigbird says:

    I am about to kick into perhaps a year-long answer to the question you asked in #109, or actually a much larger version of the question, which goes like this: What can we learn from the story of Christianity? The claim is that Christianity (C+D) is good, that it does good when practiced, and that it results in good. What evidence is there for that claim, and does it hold up to the facts of real life?

    That will certainly be interesting to read and I look forward to it.

  115. bigbird says:

    Re: your last paragraph in your most recent comment, what you’ve been doing, if I may condense it into short terms (I’m about to head out to a meeting), is telling us, “Stop being stupid!!!”

    Really? All I want to convey is “show me the money”.

  116. Tom Gilson says:

    Apologies for deleting a comment. I need to re-think it.

  117. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird, you sound surprised: “Really?” And you say that “show me the money” is “all [you] want to convey.”

    I have tried several times to explain to you that this is not in fact all you have been conveying. I wrote comment #108 especially for that purpose and that purpose alone. Yet your only response to what I’ve been saying about that has been to brush it aside: “Really? All I want to convey is … etc.”

    I can’t make you respond, but I can prod you one last time: are you hearing me?

    Not having any hard data, still I suspect you are as educated as you have presented yourself to be. But do you get the fact that you might actually be conveying an unhelpful message about your intellectual sophistication, and what is coming across as your view of our philistinism? Have you genuinely considered whether there might be unbecoming and unhelpful about the manner in which you present yourself and your opinions?

    Your silence in response to what I have said about this makes it seem as if you are utterly impervious to all that.

    I don’t bring these things up at such length just to blow hot air. Brother to brother, I’d really like to see you grappling with it. You don’t have to, but I think you probably know Proverbs 12:15, 19:20; and I think you would probably want to take those proverbs to heart.

    I don’t mind if in the end I’m found out to be wrong. I’ll listen too. If I have to retract and apologize, I’ll be on familiar territory doing so. At this point, though, I think there might be something in what I’m sharing that you, as a fellow believer, might want to reflect on for a while.

  118. BillT says:

    “…it is clear that Wilberforce and the Clapham sect paved the way for its abolition both in Europe and the US.”

    This isn’t true for Europe. Slavery had been permanently abolished in Europe well before the exploration of the New World began and never returned. This was due to the Catholic Church and the influence they had and used in Europe. The New World was different and you must remember that the Catholic Church however influential it was didn’t have an army. It had its influence and that’s all. The Spanish Empire and its cohorts simply ignored the Church in establishing slavery in the New World.

    As far as my “bedrock” comment I did not mean nor did I say that Christianity was the only influence but is, and I believe I stated:

    An underlying philosophical orientation that motivated Western Europe to do science, build hospitals, grant freedoms, and make money. That’s what Western Europe had that none of the other great cultures had. That bedrock philosophy that inspired them to pursue the greatness that they did.

    And I would agree with Tom’s:

    But if “bedrock” means, “that which can support the weight,” then Christianity is very arguably the bedrock on which the true genesis of science, the universities, hospitals, dignity for women, freedom for slaves, liberal democracy, and much more have been built.

  119. bigbird says:

    This isn’t true for Europe. Slavery had been permanently abolished in Europe well before the exploration of the New World began and never returned.

    False. Read (for example) from the website of the Nantes memorial to the abolition of slavery. Nantes was France’s biggest slave port up to the 19th century.

    http://memorial.nantes.fr/en/le-memorial/nantes-face-a-son-histoire/

    This was due to the Catholic Church and the influence they had and used in Europe. The New World was different and you must remember that the Catholic Church however influential it was didn’t have an army. It had its influence and that’s all.

    Ah. Like the influence of the Christian church when it came to science, building hospitals, granting freedoms, and making money. I see.

  120. BillT says:

    bigbird,

    I believe you are confusing ports that were part of the slave trade that supplied slaves to the New World and the existence of slavery as an institution in Europe. I said that Europeans were responsible for the slavery in the New World.

    I’m not sure what point you are making with your last comment. What, because the Church couldn’t stop slavery in the New World it couldn’t have influenced science, building hospitals, granting freedoms, and making money in Europe itself. That doesn’t seem to make any sense but perhaps you could explain what you mean.

  121. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird,

    You are persistently ignoring much of what I have been sharing with you in this thread, and the reasons I have given for sharing it.

    Are you playing the fool of Proverbs, who will not listen?

  122. bigbird says:

    Tom, re your #109, you seem to be aiming at my comments below.

    Perhaps you should consult Denis Diderot’s work. And have you heard of Charles James Fox and William Dolben?

    Perhaps it could have been better phrased, but it doesn’t seem too offensive to me. And it was in response to BillT’s “What part of this did you not understand” when quoting his own words at me. Which in my view is rather more offensive.

    Similarly, another comment about BillT’s comment being “uninformed” was in response to BillT’s comment, which in part said:

    “Your take on slavery and the involvement of the Church is uninformed. The Wiki article you quote is trash”.

    In fact looking back, I think my responses are reasonably measured in comparison to what I was responding to.

    You also pointed out a post of mine where I responded to your question “Where slavery has been abolished, how often has it happened apart from Christian influence?”

    The most anyone could have taken offence to in my reply was “I don’t think it is as clear cut as you make it out to be.”

    My reply also pointed out that Ethiopia, a Christian country, did not abolish slavery until 1942, and that was because of secular Western influence – a good example contrary to your view.

    I’m not sure what else has given you offence. Somehow, you’ve interpreted the above as me saying people on these forums are stupid. At worst I’m implying (correctly I believe) that (as yet) people (BillT specifically) have not taken the time to back up their claims.

  123. bigbird says:

    I believe you are confusing ports that were part of the slave trade that supplied slaves to the New World and the existence of slavery as an institution in Europe. I said that Europeans were responsible for the slavery in the New World.

    Wilberforce worked to abolish the slave trade in Britain, and his influence led to the abolishment of the slave trade in Europe. When we talk of abolition in Europe this is generally referring to the slave trade. I agree that slavery of Christians was no longer an institution in Europe by this time.

    What, because the Church couldn’t stop slavery in the New World it couldn’t have influenced science, building hospitals, granting freedoms, and making money in Europe itself.

    You seem to be claiming the good for the church while shrugging off the bad.

    The Church of England apologised in 2006 for its role in the slave trade. Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark: “”We know that bishops in the House of Lords with biblical authority voted against the abolition of the slave trade. We know that the church owned sugar plantations on the Codrington estates ”

    Rev. Robert Scully: “As a Jesuit, I am morally embarrassed by the fact that certain Jesuit provinces owned slaves into the 18th and even the 19th centuries. It is a classic – and particularly chilling – example of the fact that the Church has often not been at the forefront of moral crusades to end unjust social realities that were too often taken for granted, or not deeply questioned and challenged.”

  124. bigbird says:

    You are persistently ignoring much of what I have been sharing with you in this thread, and the reasons I have given for sharing it.

    I’m assuming the comment I was composing when you posted this addresses this to a degree. Feel free to clarify where it does not. I live in a different time zone, and so I can’t always respond rapidly.

  125. BillT says:

    bigbird,

    “When we talk of abolition in Europe this is generally referring to the slave trade.”

    I certainly wasn’t and that couldn’t have been clearer from my posts as I specifically differentiated slavery (as an institution) in Europe from slavery in the New World (a.k.a., the slave trade.) I certainly hope you aren’t claiming any different as that would be disingenuous at best. And I’m not “shrugging off” anything either. We’ve already established that Christians were involved in the slave trade and supported slavery in general. All that to reiterate what we had already established?

    “…that (as yet) people (BillT specifically) have not taken the time to back up their claims.”

    Care to be specific about this. Just what haven’t I backed up.

  126. bigbird says:

    “When we talk of abolition in Europe this is generally referring to the slave trade.”

    I certainly wasn’t and that couldn’t have been clearer from my posts as I specifically differentiated slavery (as an institution) in Europe from slavery in the New World (a.k.a., the slave trade.)

    Actually my first comment on this topic (#30) was about Wilberforce, the Clapham sect and abolition in Europe.

    You brought in the Catholic church and the earlier abolition of slavery in Europe for Christians. I disputed the Catholic church’s consistent opposition to slavery, and someone else provided some papal bulls.

    Anyway, I’m happy to allow that the Catholic church’s influence seemed instrumental in banning enslavement of *Christians* in Europe, despite some inconsistencies (as have been pointed out re papal bulls).

    But in my opinion they (and the Church of England) floundered badly when it came to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

    This is the comment of yours that interested me most, and that you have never attempted to provide evidence for:

    It was reintroduced in the New World over vehement objections from the Catholic Church (mostly by the Spanish Empire with assists from many others).

    I would appreciate it if you could produce some evidence of this vehement opposition.

  127. BillT says:

    bigbird,

    It was a point made by Rodney Stark in the book previously mentioned (which I would highly recommend). As I said before, I can’t reproduce his entire argument here. However, given that the Church had been successful in ending the institution of slavery in Europe, I find it hardly surprising they opposed slavery in the New World. You have to remember that Catholic bashing is sport for the mainstream press and many academic institutions. The Church may have earned some but there is a lot of maliciousness out there as well.

  128. bigbird says:

    I have Rodney Stark’s *The Victory of Reason*.

    Avery Cardinal Dulles gives what seems to be a fair appraisal of the church’s role in his review of Noonan’s book.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/development-or-reversal-37

    “No Father or Doctor of the Church, so far as I can judge, was an unqualified abolitionist. No pope or council ever made a sweeping condemnation of slavery as such. But they constantly sought to alleviate the evils of slavery and repeatedly denounced the mass enslavement of conquered populations and the infamous slave trade, thereby undermining slavery at its sources. “

  129. BillT says:

    Seems fair. Stark indicates, as I remember, that the Church made explicit their disapproval of New World slavery. As far as “The Victory of Reason” the early chapters that outline the underlying reasons Christianity inspired the successes it did are very well done. The subsequent historical details seem very well researched.

  130. Tom Gilson says:

    bigbird,

    You do not listen. You are the fool of Proverbs who will not hear correction.

    In #123 you wrote your response to all I had said about:
    - your attacking of straw men
    - presenting yourself as the one person here who was capable of thinking with nuance
    - your being (by implication) the only one here who had learned to speak with care by way of debating with atheists
    - your misconceptions regarding what BillT and I were saying about “bedrock”
    - your pedantic explanations of the obvious as if your teaching were required for us to get it
    - your inflammatory metaphor of “motherhood” claims
    -

    And what you said there was that you couldn’t think of anything anyone couldn’t like about what you wrote; or at least that you weren’t any worse than anyone else. On this, please see (1) below.

    Let me add this as well. In the course of our discussions on “bedrock,” at almost seemed at first in #110 that you caught on to it, but then you demanded evidence again of a causal sort, showing that you still didn’t have it right. Note that my #82 was evidence for the “bedrock” conception in the terms that I had explained it in #104, and that I had also explained further evidence in #107.

    I have encountered this from atheists before, but rarely if ever from a believer:

    1) An inability to hear a concern voiced by a fellow human being.

    2) A demand for someone to produce that which he has already produced (in this case, evidence for Christianity’s role as philosophical foundation for modern liberal democracy). Your question, “in support of *what* theory?” amounts to a different version of the same thing: a demand that we repeat ourselves on what has already been said.*

    With respect to (1), whether my feelings about your tone were well-grounded or not, and whether my logical criticisms of “straw men” were correct or not, for you to ignore them as you did was rude at best, and arguably foolish in the manner of Proverbs in case I was perhaps at least partly right.

    With respect to (2), the polite and discursively legitimate thing to do, rather than making the same request again, is to address the answer that has been provided and say why you think it was inadequate. Otherwise you reveal you don’t give a hoot what another person says.

    This is unimpressive to say the least. If you are so concerned that we learn from mistakes in debate, then I strongly urge you to learn from yours.

    A good starting point would be to ask yourself whether it’s possible that you are wrong in attitude, whether it’s possible you have come across in a manner you do not realize, whether it’s possible you have actually misunderstood others here, and whether it’s possible you have committed the fallacy of straw man. (I have no idea what your attitude is, but I have presented evidence now—or again, rather—that the other three are the case.)

    That’s a starting point.

    A good next step would be to express some of that in terms other than, “I can’t see anything wrong in what I’ve done here.”

    Final notes: I need to go on that blog sabbatical that I wrote about this morning, but this was an unfinished discussion, and I thought it was important. This is not easy to do online, and I’m not entirely sure I wrote it in a tone that expresses my heart, so let me state it explicitly.

    I have been bold to offer advice to you: note that you have been bold to offer advice to us. I hope I have been direct enough, and clear enough, not to come across as anything but iron sharpening iron.

    I am admittedly annoyed, and I apologize for that.

    I am also, at the same time, concerned for the quality of Christian debate. (And yes, for those who may wonder, I communicate the same frequently to another Christian whose tone sometimes gets out of hand here.)

    And I am concerned for you, too, because I don’t think you want to be the non-listening fool of Proverbs, and you may not be seeing yourself clearly enough to know whether you are or not.

    *That happens to be confused by the fact that you immediately reverted to viewing our claims as being primarily causal (“Where’s the evidence that shows *C+D* is what brought about these changes?”) when in fact our claims were primarily made with respect to Christianity’s providing an enduring and stable philosophical foundation.

  131. bigbird says:

    Tom, I am happy to apologize for any offence you or others have taken from my posts here.

    I will attempt in future to be more careful at how I phrase what I am trying to convey. And I will try to reread the thread before I post to ensure I’m not re-asking something that has already been stated.

    I think we could all take to heart the principle of charity when it comes to debate. At times I do feel that you have read far more into my posts than what was there, or at least more than what I intended to be there.

    With regard to this topic, I feel there is a lot more to be profitably explored. I’m certainly interested in examining Stark’s various claims in more detail – I’ve not found the portions I’ve read on banking and finance to be very persuasive. But I’ve not read the entire book so I’ll do so soon.

    When you say “our claims were primarily made with respect to Christianity’s providing an enduring and stable philosophical foundation”, I still don’t feel you’ve made much of a case. I’m not even sure how a case can be built for this claim, so perhaps that can be examined in future threads.

    In the future I will have to write a thesis for my philosophy degree, and so I will keep this in mind as a possible angle, particularly from the point of the influence of Christian philosophy in Western culture.

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