Objectivists have a very clear and specific concept of faith. Faith is accepting an idea as true without reason, or against reason. The first half of this is accepting an idea in spite of the fact that there is no justified reason to believe it. Obviously someone can try to rationalize anything, so we're not talking about just giving an excuse for a belief. We're talking about actual evidence that leads to that particular belief. Let's take some examples.
A few years ago, the Heaven's Gate cult decided that a group of aliens were hiding behind a comet, coming to free them from the turmoils of life on earth. All they needed to do to hitch a ride was to prove that they were sincere in their belief. Ritual suicide was the method. This is a wonderful example of faith. The first question, when someone suggests that you kill yourself to go to heaven, should be "What evidence do you have for such a theory?". Faith was required. Sure, the leader probably had told them about hearing voices in his head or whatever else, but these aren't really reasons. He couldn't provide any evidence. They only had his word, and that had to be weighed against all kinds of other possible explanations.
And that's the important part. Reason allows us to analyze the data and form the best possible conclusion from it. When someone takes any random piece of data and latches on to it, ignoring everything else, that also counts as faith. They're not forming their conclusions based on the evidence available. They're basing it on what they want to believe.
Obviously religions are a good example of faith, since many actually preach the virtue of faith. If you say you can't understand why God would let innocent people die, or children get abused, or anything else, they say you're not supposed to understand. You're supposed to just believe. Just take it on faith. Believe without reason, without evidence, and without understanding.
The other half of faith is believing in something despite contrary evidence for it. One old common belief was that central planning was an effective method of producing wealth. As the evidence piled up against it, people continued to believe. They want to believe, and they just refused to acknowledge the evidence. Country after country collapsed into famine and horrible poverty, and the belief went on. The Soviet Union had to collapse before people started having doubts, and there are plenty of hard-core believers still around. This is faith.
Contrast this with reason. Reason requires evidence to form a conclusion. It doesn't ignore or evade known facts. It is a process by which you try to formulate a conclusion based on all of the facts. It absolutely never accepts anything without reason for it.
Now this understanding of reason and faith are polar opposites. How about a middle ground between the two? What if you have some supporting evidence for a theory, but there are enough unknowns to make you seriously doubt if the conclusion is correct? The first point to make here is that this is acknowledging that you don't have enough evidence is a product of reason. Forming conclusions is not just weighing the known factors. We all learn in life that you can also evaluate the quality of the information, and how complete it is. In other words, there are reasons to not believe the evidence, and those reasons are based on your understanding of how thorough the information needs to be.
Let's take an example. You find out a woman was murdered in New York City last night. You find out someone you've never liked was also in NYC last night. Conclusion: he killed her! Well, you probably don't believe that's enough information to make that judgment. The first reason is that millions of other people could fit that description, so the evidence is equally supportive of concluding someone else did it. You'd also have no evidence of motive, which would explain why the murder happened. You may need better information on whether the person had the opportunity as well.
The point is that although you may have some weak data to suggest a conclusion, you know that there are a lot more factors that need to be understood before you can really be sure of it. So these reasons against the conclusion are based on your knowledge of what it requires to make a valid conclusion in this context. A more straightforward reason to reject it would be if the guy had an alibi. But there are all kinds of indirect reasons. What if he was known to be a moral person who you trusted? It may not directly contradict the conclusion, but you'd want a stronger case.
Now again, what if the evidence is weak? Well, if the conclusion is the best you can come up with, but still lacks sufficient backing, it would be wrong to accept the conclusion wholeheartedly. In other words, reason would say that you can tentatively accept the conclusion, for lack of a better one, but you should treat this "knowledge" as tentative. If you accept it as strongly as you accept any other piece of knowledge, it would be unjustified.
So even in this case, faith and reason are never combined. If you accept the weak conclusion as if it were absolutely true beyond any doubt, you'd be acting on faith, not reason. Your belief wouldn't be justified by reason. If you accept it tentatively, you're not accepting it on faith, but reason. And only to the extent that reason supports it.
Reason and faith are completely incompatible. Faith is the destroyer of reason. It takes particular ideas and divorces them from reality and from reason. If you accept something on faith, you are essentially saying that you will take it off of the table with regards to reason, and treat it how you feel like treating it. Wherever faith goes, reason is pushed out.
But it's worse than that. If you accept an idea on faith, it can conflict with the ideas you've accepted with reason. To make sense of it all, and to integrate the different ideas, you have to reconcile those beliefs. That means either throwing out the ideas based on faith and sticking to reason, or more likely throwing out reason and sticking with the faith.
Imagine you are analyzing an idea with reason and it conflicts with your faith. If you ignore the contradiction and accept it anyway, you'll be undermining your reasoning process. Reason requires a logical exploration of the data, weeding out any contradictions it finds. If you allow the contradiction anyway, you'll have to suspend your reasoning ability. And that means you'll be accepting the new idea, not on reason as it very well might be justified by, but on faith. Faith grows, and reason gives ground.
If, on the other hand you don't ignore the contradiction, but accept it as valid, you'll use your reasoning method on incorrect facts. Simple case is Creationism. If you accept that the universe was created a few thousand years ago, as the bible says, then you have to start interpreting actual facts in this light. When you see the dinosaur bones, you'll have to imagine that god put them in the earth to trick everyone (he is mysterious, isn't he?).
So if faith and reason conflict, one must give way to the other. One must grow at the expense of the other. They are in mortal combat for your soul.
Now what if they don't exactly conflict? What if you believe random things like the center of Jupiter is made of chocolate pudding? Does that cause reason to retreat? Well, if ever the two came into conflict, they would. It does have two direct side effects.
First, anything taken on faith is treated by your mind as a buffer zone against reason. If you were to analyze it with reason, the ideas would die a quick death. So to maintain them, you have to avoid using reason with them. This creates a sort of minefield in your head, where you have to twist and turn your reasoning skills to avoid all of the sensitive spots. That's doesn't work well in regards to efficiency.
Second, every idea taken on faith cannot be integrated with the rest of your knowledge. To simply maintain all of the random ideas you can fill your head with, you'd have to devote a lot of mental energy. And then you have the problem that those ideas may conflict with one another. The end result is that your mind is cluttered with useless garbage, and you have to compare every new idea with the thousand arbitrary ideas you've accepted on faith.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into why faith is bad, and consequently the advantages of reason.
The debate between faith and reason is in many ways the decisive battleground in the debate between theism and atheism. This is because most defenses of theism appeal to the inadequacy of reason. Typically these defenses will take the form of claiming that there are appropriate spheres for reason, and appropriate spheres for faith, and that belief in God comes from recognizing the appropriate role for faith and the associated limitation of reason. Some theists argue that one can believe in God using both faith and reason. Once again, we should define our terms. Faith means that one considers a particular claim (e.g., God exists) to be actual knowledge, absolutely certain knowledge. This claim to certainty is held in the absence of adequate evidence, or in direct contradiction to the evidence. Evidence is considered relevant only in so far as it supports the proposition; and irrelevant or inadequate to the extent that it does not support the proposition.
Faith has multiple usages, and often in debates the meaning shifts. For example, a theist might state that an atheist has faith too. For example, the atheist has faith that the sun will come up tomorrow or that the airplane one is about to get into won't go down in flames. Clearly, this is not the same sense of the word that theists use when they say that they have faith that God exists. For example, one can be virtually certain that the sun will come up tomorrow, and this comes from evidence analogous to a repeatable experiment: everyday the sun has come up. Of course, it is not certain; an unanticipated event like the sun exploding could force us to revisit our expectations. The airplane example is yet another case of reasonable expectations based on historical evidence, and the (fortunately rare) exceptions are clear reasons why we can never be truly certain when boarding a plane that it in fact won't go down. The theist, however, is absolutely certain that God exists, absolutely certain that no future evidence will appear that would change his or her mind.
Reason means the application of logical principles to the available evidence. While the principles of reason / logic are certain, the conclusions one obtains from them are only as certain as the underlying assumptions, which is why science is rarely, if ever, absolutely certain (though in many cases, its theories are certain to a very high degree of probability). In fact, scientific theories are rarely deduced, but are, instead, inferred; that is, they are based on inductive logic, or generalizing from specific examples. The inferred theory, if it is any good, will make independently testable predictions, and will explain a range of phenomena that had seemed unrelated before. When multiple, independent tests corroborate a theory, it can, just from a statistical standpoint, become virtually certain.
The critical point here is that while almost nothing is certain, everything is not equally uncertain. Our theories can be ranked by the evidence supporting them, and our degree of belief should be similarly ranked; that is, we believe in proportion to the evidence—all the way from completely unsubstantiated to some possibility to virtually certain. Compare, for example, the theory that leprechauns really do exist with the Germ Theory of Disease. Neither one is certain, but one is far closer to being certain than the other.
I stated that the principles of logic are certain. This touches on a particularly important part of the faith vs. reason debate. Often, the advocate of faith will say, But you can't prove the truth of logic, so you must have faith in it—just as I have faith in God. This critique of reason brings to mind the story of the child who keeps asking why? to every answer offered by the parent. Of course, this infinite regress of cause and effect cannot go on forever. To understand when to stop asking why? is to begin to understand the nature of concepts. Concepts do not exist in a vacuum. With one class of exceptions, concepts derive their meaning from some immediately ancestral set of concepts and can retain their meaning only within that context. You hit bedrock when you reach the so-called axiomatic concepts, which are irreducible, primary facts of reality—our percepts. These percepts form the foundation upon which we build our concepts. How do you know when you've finally hit these primary facts of reality in the long string of why's? You know—and this is critically important—when there is no way to deny them, or even to question them, without presupposing that they are, in fact, true. To deny them or to even question whether they are true is to literally utter a contradiction.
This bedrock test is very specific. Let's illustrate it with an example. Suppose I say, Logic is an arbitrary human invention and could be wrong. Well, if it is wrong, then the Law of Contradiction (a thing cannot be itself and its negation at the same time and in the same respect) and the related Law of Identity (a thing is itself) are wrong; but then that means the very words that make up my original claim, such as, Logic is arbitrary could mean Logic is not arbitrary or it could mean both at the same time and in the same respect. In fact, it could mean I like chunky peanut butter. If all that sounds crazy and unintelligible, that's because it is, as are all utterances when the truth of logical principles cannot be assumed. The point here is that without the assumed truth of logic, language itself becomes impossible. So the contradiction is this: For my original statement to have any meaning at all, logic has to be true, but the content of my original statement questions that truth: a self-contradiction. Logic, then, is not accepted on faith but as a necessary, self-evident truth, something that is required to speak or think at all. The same can be shown for the concepts of existence, consciousness, and the reliability of our senses. Again, there is no way to talk about any of these things being possibly untrue without first requiring them (implicitly) to be necessarily true.
In life one is exposed to claim after claim (Aliens, Heaven's Gate, Pyramid Power, ESP, etc). What criteria should we apply to separate claims that correspond better with reality from others that do not? To use an earlier example, how do we decide that the Leprechaun theory should not be taken just as seriously as the Germ Theory of Disease? The answer is that we know by applying the standard of reason. If faith were a viable alternative to reason, then what are its rules? How do we know when to apply it? How do we know when someone has misapplied it? How can we tell the difference between the effects of faith and the effects of inadvertent, though well-meaning, self-delusion? Indeed, how can we test its validity?
Let's illustrate this problem. A member of Christian sect X believes that all other sects are damned, and she says that she knows this through faith. The person she is talking to is a member of sect Y that believes only sect Y is the one true faith, and that all others are damned, including members of sect X—and, of course, she knows this through faith. Clearly they both cannot be right. The member of sect Y asks the member of sect X how she knows that she is not really just hearing the deceitful voice of Satan leading her down a false path. To that our sect X member confidently replies, I know that through faith as well. Not surprisingly, these are the same answers given by the member of sect Y to exactly the same questions regarding her confidence in the truth of her favorite sect. There is no independently validated method to resolve this. If reason is not the standard, then there literally is no standard, and people who abandon it have simply written themselves a blank check to believe whatever they choose. Cloaking this irrationalism with comfortable terms like faith does not make it any less irrational. As John A. T. Robinson once put it: The only alternatives to thinking with reason are thinking unreasonably and not thinking.
We gain tremendous power by understanding the truth about the past and the present. The truth does set us free from ignorance and suicidal acquiescence to present policies which are destroying the very fabric of our culture.
We'll examine what actually happened in the time called "the Dark Ages" -- nullifying the false histories of Christian apologists who would have us believe that this era of retrogression was caused solely by the "heathen barbaric hordes." As more honest historians such as Gibbons have discovered, the Dark Ages was largely brought on by the corruption of a counterfeit Christianity.
As is made clear in my recently published book The Perennial Tradition, only a few persons associated with Jesus of Nazareth truly understood his message. Paul had experienced Jesus in a mystical encounter. Peter and other of the disciples completely misunderstood Jesus' intentions, turning their brand of Christianity into a neo-Judaism, requiring converts to undergo circumcision and follow the Jewish law.
The true dissemination of Jesus' teaching proceeded with Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Marcion, Valentinus, and others, while the so- called apostles began to turn Christianity into a sacerdotal religion of dogma and ritual.
Within a few years, the leaders of what was called the Christian church were nothing more than bosses of vicious gangs who murdered their rivals for power and position. We can trace the rapid degeneration of these so-called Christians, as they helped to destroy the Roman Empire and plunge the Western world into the Dark Ages.
In 198 CE a cleric named Zephyrinus became Bishop of one of the Christian factions in Rome. During Zephyrinus's long tenure as Bishop from 198 - 217 CE, factional rivalry in the city became endemic. A group of soothsayers led by Montanus built a strong following, even among the bishop's own followers, and a third group, led by Sabellius, rejected ridiculous dogmas that were being put forward.
Zephyrinus was succeeded as "Christian" Bishop by a young man named Callistus. As a youth, Callistus had been the slave of a Christian master named Carpophorus, a freedman in the imperial household. Callistus had stolen funds collected by fellow-Christians for the care of widows and orphans. When Callistus tried to make a run for it, he was apprehended aboard a ship in the port of Portus. He was imprisoned and forced to work on a hand-mill. After being released, Callistus was arrested again, this time because of a brawl in a synagogue where he had tried to extract money from a group of Roman Jews.
Dragged before city prefect Fuscianus, Callistus was denounced by Carpophorus and sentenced to a penal colony, the silver mines of Sardinia. But during his checkered career, Callistus had somehow gained friends in high places. He had been a "counselor" to Bishop Victor and also a friend of a certain Marcia, a concubine of Emperor Commodus, the dissolute son of Marcus Aurelius. Marcia had been "brought up" by the presbyter Hyacinthus before being passed on to Commodus. This young "Christian" woman named Marcia was party to the conspiracy that ultimately strangled Commodus.
During his reign as Roman Emperor, Diocletian had divided the empire into the eastern and western provinces. In 306 CE, on the death of the western Augustus (province ruler), Constantius I, his son Constantine quickly claimed his father's throne. Constantine wanted to seize power in the east as well as the west, and he saw the Christian cult as the means to his goal.
The Christians constituted only about five per cent of the total population of the Roman Empire, but they were concentrated in enclaves in the key cities of the east. The eastern Christians were an organized cult of fanatics, in many cities holding important positions in state administration. Some held posts even within the imperial entourage. The main body of the church confronted the Roman State as a "Republic within the Republic," with its own treasury, laws, magistrates and command structure.
The ambitious thug-ruler of the west, Constantine, realized that he could use the "Christian" fanatics and their hierarchical structure, as part of his plan to become Emperor of a united Rome. He declared Christianity as the official religion of his regime. By championing the cause of the Christians, Constantine put himself at the head of a "fifth column" in the eastern province, through which he was able to seize power.
By 330 CE Constantine had taken control of both the western and eastern provinces and declared himself supreme Caesar over all of the Roman Empire. He appointed one of the rival "Christian" chieftains Lucius Lactantius as his official Latin theologian, propagandist, and tutor to his son Crispus. Lactantius soon lost the job of tutor when Constantine had his son murdered for adultery with his stepmother. Lactantius praised Constantine as "a model of Christian virtue and holiness" (De Mortibus Persecutorum).
Among many other insane policies that Constantine enacted--leading to the fall of the Roman Empire--was that of disbanding the praetorian guard and replacing them with a special imperial guard, an elite cavalry regiment of 500 soldiers, mainly Germans. This left Rome essentially defenseless, and within a century the Visigoths were sacking Rome and other imperial cities.
"Constantine abolished security by removing the greater part of the soldiery from the frontiers to the cities that needed no auxiliary forces. He thus deprived of help the people who were harassed by the barbarians and burdened tranquil cities with the pest of the military, so that several straightway were deserted. Moreover he softened the soldiers, who treated themselves to shows and luxuries. Indeed (to speak plainly) he personally planted the first seeds of our present devastated state of affairs."
Succeeding "Christian" leaders influenced the Caesars of the Roman state, assuring a position of power for themselves in this deteriorating empire. In 370 CE, the Emperor Valens ordered a total persecution of non- Christian peoples throughout the Eastern Empire. The philosopher Simonides was burned alive and the philosopher Maximus was decapitated. The twilight of civilization was fast approaching.
In 380 CE, Christianity became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire by an edict of the Emperor Flavius Theodosius. The Roman Empire was now a "Christian" theocracy. The corrupt "Christian" leaders were ecstatic at the prospect of being able to loot all the "pagan" temples and monuments. Ambrosius, bishop of Milan, began the destruction of pagan temples throughout his area. "Christian" priests led a vicious mob against the temple of the goddess Demeter in Eleusis and attempted to lynch the hierophants Nestorius and Priskus. The ninety-five year old hierophant Nestorius terminated the Eleusinian Mysteries and announced "the predominance of mental darkness over the human race."
From that time on, pagan temples throughout the Roman empire were torn down or refurbished as "Christian" churches. The fourth Church Council of Carthage in 398 CE prohibited everybody, including "Christian" bishops, from studying pagan (non-Christian) books--on penalty of death. Illiteracy became official Christian policy. Roman society by the fifth century was becoming ever more rigid and hierarchical, with eroding social and geographic mobility and an immense and widening gulf between rich and poor. Rome's urban middle class was being taxed out of existence, freedmen were being confined in indentured labor and slavery and the soldiery was being reduced to a peasant- farmer militia.
In Alexandria in 415 CE, a "Christian" mob, incited by the bishop Cyril, attacked a few days before the Judeo-Christian Pascha (Easter) and cut to pieces the famous and beautiful female philosopher Hypatia. 1 The "Christian" mob carried pieces of her body through the streets of Alexandria, finally burning her remains together with her books in a place called Cynaron.
In 429 CE depraved "Christian" mobs sacked the world-famous Parthenon, the temple of the goddess Athena on the Acropolis of Athens. From 440 to 450 CE, the "Christians" demolished all the monuments, altars and temples of Athens, Olympia, and other Greek cities.
Roman emperor Theodosius II in 448 CE ordered all non-Christian books to be burned. In 529 CE emperor Justinian ordered the Platonic Academy in Athens closed and its property confiscated. The bonfires set by Christian zealots reduced the science of a millennium to ash. In the new Christian tyranny all scientific thought which contradicted the Bible was suppressed. If rationality and observation contradicted the "revealed Word of God" then it was rationality and the observer who were in error.
"For the Christian, it is enough to believe that the cause of all things, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, is nothing other than the goodness of the Creator."
Ammianus Marcellinus, Rome's last great historian (died in 395 CE) lamented that
"Those few buildings which were once celebrated for the serious cultivation of liberal studies, now are filled with ridiculous amusements of torpid indolence. . . The libraries, like tombs, are closed forever."
The "Christian" church had no interest in preserving the Roman Empire; it now had its own empire to build. As the Roman Empire crumbled, career opportunities now lay exclusively within the hierarchy of the church and a Christianized state bureaucracy--for those few bright and privileged enough to be able to seek education. With the active cooperation of the imperial court the Church had seized complete control over education and now restricted instruction to potential priests. Initially, rhetoric and grammar remained in the syllabus but knowledge which did not serve the purposes of the Church was suppressed.
Some classic writers such as Homer (in whose work Christians saw allegories), Plato and Aristotle (philosophies which were said to have "anticipated" Christianity), and some poetic and rhetorical works (Juvenal, Ovid and Horace) were seen as useful as teaching aids. But Christian hostility to general learning and practical knowledge was so pervasive that access to scripture itself was forbidden to any lay-person who might happen to be literate.
Preoccupied with ceremonial and propagandistic pageants, within a few generations most priests could not even read the Bible. Ritual had replaced reading, iconography had replaced language. The scientific method--empirical observation and the testing of hypotheses--had no place in an age in which eternal truth was made known to man by the revealed Word of God. In the Christian world-view, "Nature" was now seen as the domain of evil, not a realm worthy of respect and exploration.
As Christianity led humankind into a mindless life of obedience to its dogmas and leaders, the light of human intelligence began to go out. Christendom lost the art of brick and tile making, of bridge building and public sanitation. A despotic theocracy did not want people to think or to examine the world about them.
One of the major parts of pseudo-history created by Christian propagandists, is the myth that Christianity won over the barbaric hordes to Christ. We are given the unbelievable image of the heroic priest, armed only with his Bible and Christian courage, who subdues the savage warriors with homilies from the Good Book.
Barbarian groups became "Christian" whenever their chiefs felt it was to their advantage to take on the nominal title of Christian. Power in a barbarian clan was fragile and leadership changed often and violently. Barbarian tribes raided neighboring territories out of military and economic necessity, By acquiring "prestige goods"--such as slaves, jewelry, gold pieces, fine weapons, Christian titles--the barbarian ruling elite preserved its rule and raised its social status. Success at raiding strengthened the link between a chief and his warriors.
From the third to the fifth centuries, the barbarian tribes migrated constantly; territories were ill-defined, ever-changing, tribal alliances were continuously made and remade, and warriors of the same tribe fought both for and against the Romans.
Contact with leaders of the Roman Empire--both civil and religious-- brought prestige to tribal chieftains. They saw the Roman Empire as everything barbarian society was not: stable, universal, and eternal. By emulating Roman characteristics the barbarian aristocracy gained a semblance of "civilization" and power.
"Every Goth wishes to be like a Roman, " said Theodoric, "but only the humblest Roman wants to be like a Goth."
So strong was barbarian desire to establish a "Roman" legitimacy for their new kingdoms that the illiterate Charlemagne, centuries later, styled himself "King of Franks and Lombards and Patrician of the Romans." He was crowned Emperor and Augustus.
Once a warrior king embraced "Christianity"--an adoption of form and formality with basically no regard to content--the warrior aristocracy followed its king. Thus, for example, when Clovis accepted Christ as his new god, he compelled 3,000 of his retainers to follow him into the baptismal font. Among the common tribesmen religious allegiance was not an issue of conscience. This was not an age of individual opinion or preference. When the tribal leadership adopted a new god the tribe followed suit. Not to have done so would have been tantamount to rebellion. When Charlemagne insisted on baptism as the sign of submission, he punished with appalling barbarity any resistance, as when, in cold blood, he beheaded, in a single day, 4,500 Saxons at Verden, in 782 CE.
The barbarian kings sought marriage into the Roman imperial bloodlines. And they wanted Roman patricians in their entourage, men who could advise them in the governance of their newly acquired lands and peoples. Everywhere, the indigenous "Romans" outnumbered their warrior overlords. The outstanding example is the court of Theodoric, Ostrogothic king of Italy. His administration was modeled on that of his imperial predecessors and was staffed by Romans. Among "men of letters" at his court was Aurelius Cassiodorus, senator, statesman, monk and writer. As the local "statesmen," the pseudo-Christian Bishops "spoke" for the native people and served as "administrators" of cities and districts on behalf of the barbarian king. Theodoric's reign can best be judged by his vicious murder of Boethius, with the collaboration of his "Christian" advisers.
Thus arose the Dark Age elite--a fusion of ex-pagan chiefs who were in awe of all things Roman (including its Christianity), and degenerate Roman landowners who survived by foisting Christianity on superstitious tribesmen. The very heart of this veneer of legitimizing romanitas was the pseudo- Christian religion by which the emperors had legitimized and made "divine" their own rule. Hence the rise of the Christian bishops and in particular the Bishop of Rome--the custodian of the corpse of the empire and self-styled bestower of its legacy.
With his book of Christian spells and the inheritance of more than a thousand years of Roman "gravitas" behind him, the patrician-bishop easily swayed the untutored mind of a barbarian king.
As well as "Christ magic" (salvation through mere belief in the "founder" of the Roman church, Christ) the head of the Roman church offered "legitimacy" and the power of the written word as a kingly imprimatur. With his help, an upstart king's authority could now be proclaimed everywhere. With bribes and baubles, he gained access; he took on the role of ambassador and agent; he lent support to one side against another in fratricidal conflict; he advised; he provided "virgin brides" and officiated at royal weddings and ceremonials; he governed the locals on behalf of his barbarian overlord.
Through it all, the wealth and authority of the "Christian" leader grew. And the nonsense he peddled - pseudo-Christianity - became official dogma. Before the closing years of the fifth century the Christian Church showed no interest in converting barbarians. God, it seems, had chosen the Roman Empire to spread his Word. Yet when the fierce tribesmen arrived at the city gates, that event was "God's Judgement" and the Christian bishops were all too ready to abandon the empire and throw in their lot with the invader.
Despite the "3-day wonder" of the sack of Rome in 410 CE by the Visigoths, it was Gaul that was in dire straits in the fifth century, not Italy (which enjoyed a late 'Indian summer' under its Gothic king.) In the late fifth century, Salian Franks under Clovis began three centuries of expansion by absorbing the other Frankish tribes. In 486 CE Clovis defeated the Roman general Syagrius and the last Gallo-Roman region of Gaul--Soissons-- was overrun. Subjugation of the Thuringians and Bavarians followed.
The Franks were a heathen German tribe, almost the only one untouched by Arianism (the belief that Jesus was not a God), spreading from the east. While the primitive Franks continued to give homage to their old Germanic gods, other, more Romanized, tribes had adopted Arian Christianity as a "national" religion.
Backward and barbarous they may have been but for the beleaguered Catholic bishops the Franks were the great hope. In the Franks, the papal agents found a fierce but malleable tribe and they spared nothing to bring the Frankish overlords under their sway. The dominion of the Franks in the west ensured the triumph of Roman Catholicism.
The "conversion" of Clovis was a crucial event, comparable to the "conversion" of Constantine--and equally surrounded by the same fanciful mythology. Clovis's conversion, like Constantine's, was no "inward experience of grace" but was a military matter. He was convinced that victory in battle lay in the gift of the god of the Christians. Christ for him was a talismanic war god.
According to the myth, in 496 CE, after a close call against the Alamanni, the day had been "saved" by a prayer either from Clovis himself, or the Catholic Bishop Gregory of Tours (or maybe both). A grateful Clovis took baptism to become the first "Catholic" ruler in the west. Of course, he had been softened up somewhat by marriage in 493 CE to a Catholic princess, the Burgundian Clotilda, put forward as his bride "on account of her beauty and wisdom" (and no doubt her Catholicism). Clovis, like Constantine a century and a half earlier, was also aware of the political advantage of posing as a liberator of "those oppressed by religious heresy."
"It grieves me," he said, "to see that the Arians possess the fairest portion of Gaul. Let us march against them, vanquish the heretics, and share out their fertile lands."
In 507 CE Clovis took Aquitaine from the weak Visigothic king Alaric II, and then subjugated Burgundy. Both areas were forcibly converted to Catholicism--to the delight of the local bishops. At Clovis' death in 511 CE, Clotilda went into a monastery at Tours where she stayed until her death in 545 CE. It can be no surprise that a grateful Roman Catholic Church made her a saint.
The weakened and demoralized Roman troops who remained on the frontiers were re-grouped into small units of 1,000 men (compared to 5,000 of the former legions), with limited cavalry support under the command of a "dux." These small detachments were stationed in hill-top forts, where, essentially they avoided any engagement with an enemy they were not expected to defeat.
Training for these demoralised and irregularly paid troops seriously declined. Expensive body armour was abandoned, and simple leather caps replaced the iron helmet. Under such conditions, traditional Roman infantry tactics, driven by harsh discipline and constant training, simply disappeared. The luckless frontier troops, dependent upon payment in rations and only the occasional cash bonus, degenerated into a peasant militia, spending more time in growing food than on the parade ground.
To see to what depths the human mind is currently devolving, we must understand the true history of what has been called the Dark Ages. Only by going behind the falsifications of historians prejudiced by their Christian beliefs is it possible for us to understand how degraded people's minds had become during the fifth through sixteenth centuries in Europe: the earlier Dark Ages.
Europe languished in intellectual and cultural retrogression during the Middle Ages, while the light of wisdom was preserved and advanced by those they labeled "the infidel Saracen." The reintroduction of the Classical (Greek) Tradition and the Perennial Tradition through the confluence of European and Muslim thought, beginning around 1000 CE, revitalized earlier conceptions of knowledge as derived from experience--participation in reality.
As d'Alembert states in his introduction to the French Encyclopedia,
"most of the great minds during those dark ages . . . were preoccupied with a thousand frivolous questions about abstract and metaphysical being instead of thoroughly investigating Nature or studying man."
Some of the ideas in this section of the complete essay have been adapted from the site: www.jesusneverexisted.com
1 During her lifetime, Hypatia was one of the world's leading scholars in mathematics and astronomy. Her knowledge, modesty, and public speaking ability were legendary. Hypatia taught in Alexandria during the era of the Great Library in that city. Hypatia helped to develop the astrolabe, an instrument used to determine earth location by measuring relationships between heavenly bodies. She taught: "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing."
The Dark Ages was certainly a dark and dire time for civilization. I watched a History Channel program on the Dark Ages today and it gave me some slight insight on that epoch in history. In the past century, I think civilization has finally gotten to a point where I can cope. I can't imagine actually living in earlier times, let alone the Dark Ages.
Historically, the Dark Ages are thought to have started around the 5th century, and ended around the 12th century. Rome had done much to improve civilization, over the centuries, what with aqueducts, architecture, engineering, roads and all… but the signs of cultural stagnation were showing. Europe, outside of Rome at this time, was pretty bad off. You had tribes throughout Europe, living hand to mouth, barely surviving, in stark contract to Rome. Since misery loves company, the Goths sacked and laid siege to Rome in the early 5th century, and civilization on a precipice. Add to the fall of Rome, famine and plague, and civilization is pushed off that cliff, and into a six-century free fall.
So, this period is marked by pestilence, poverty and ignorance, which breeds fear. Given the harshness of life, it is little wonder that peasants looked to religion for answers. When you fear for your life every day, you need some reason to live. This is a time and place, far removed from the reason and philosophy of ancient Greece. Frightened, starving, ignorant masses have no time to sit around and discuss philosophy. Christianity was a powerful mythology, and threats of invoking the wrath of dead saints was enough to make strong men tremble. The church also motivated people, and gave them something to believe in. Life was dreadful, but this was just the mortal coil, and things would be really good… later, in the afterlife. Without a dogmatic and unifying religion, Europe would have remained fragmented and tribal, and not been able to withstand the world's other major religion, Islam.
What strikes me, is that there were different clear religions throughout the ages. The fall of Rome, led to the rise of Christianity. The Vikings then attacked the British Isles and Europe, but were defeated. And, with their demise, ended their religion. Islam was pushed back to the East. Peasants and noblemen alike had little ability to read and write. Without science, tools, mathematics… gods provided hope and reasons. People were no longer strangers, because they belonged to the same club. The God Club. I don't defend the killing that was done, in the name of the church, but religion had its purpose. It was based in primitive myths and superstition, and it was perverted and used to subjugate whole populations. It evolved, to offer what people needed at the time. The idea heaven (the promise) and Hell (the threat) were refined, and demons were everywhere, blamed for bad things that happened to good people; because you couldn't let God be directly blamed or people would choose a better god.
At this time in history, people needed something that couldn't exist outside of a fairy tale. The church served an important function, but like any bureaucracy, it didn't fade and go away when the Dark Ages ended. Around the end of this period, in the 12th century, a mini-ice age was ending, and some attribute this to an increase in reliable agriculture. People were fed, and better educated. Rather than religion fading from necessity, the church held a firm grip on on the hearts and minds of the people. The Dark Ages was a time of evolution. Less able religions disappeared, leaving basically two religions, Islam and Christianity. Religions that were powerful and insidious. They spread and were invasive like the plague, and they had evolved into reason-resistant strains.
With the perspective of an educated person, in the 21st century, the Dark Ages appears as a primitive time, to be sure. Yet, for all our progress, a majority of the people on the planet still believe in demons and other primitive superstitions. The trend is looking good though. Organized religion is losing its grip, I think. With an economy this century that is more good than bad, that means more and more people have a standard of living that is raised up and they no longer worry about starving. The Internet and global communication will help to show people of different cultures how much we all have in common. People will be more highly educated, and science will make advances. When it comes to the Religious Dark Ages, we are still living in them. To many of us, we look at angels and demons/heaven and hell the same ways we would if it were superstition coming from any primitive tribe. This plague is not resistant to reason, and more people are able to step back and look objectively at religion and reject it. This means there is light at the end of the tunnel; the Religious Dark Ages are coming to an end. But, I think we are always one major cataclysm or tragedy away from falling back into the abyss, where the candle of reason is snuffed.
Organized religion was the outcome of Europe's trial by fire, in the Dark Ages. We shouldn't make it easy for organized religion to exist. Churches shouldn't be exempt from taxation. Blasphemy laws must be abolished. It is encouraging that fewer young Americans, and even fewer young Europeans feel beholden to organized religion. We should be able to unite as a planet of people, without bribes and threats from sky gods. Without organized religion, and with more secular governments, superstition and myths will be exposed to the light of knowledge and the test of science, and they will fade – perhaps, once and for all.
(When will nations like Iran and even America, truly separate politics from religion?)
(Given that we can't eliminate the religious virus entirely, can we come up with an even more virulent strain of reason to vaccinate ourselves against it, if it were to threaten to spread again?)
March 19, 2012
For the vast majority of human history, the only form of government was the few ruling over the many. As human societies became settled and stratified, tribal chiefs and conquering warlords rose to become kings, pharaohs and emperors, all ruling with absolute power and passing on their thrones to their children. To justify this obvious inequality and explain why they should reign over everyone else, most of these ancient rulers claimed that the gods had chosen them, and priesthoods and holy books obligingly came on the scene to promote and defend the theory of divine right.
It's true that religion has often served to unite people against tyranny, as well as to justify it. But in many cases, when a religious rebellion overcame a tyrant, it was only to install a different tyrant whose beliefs matched those of the revolutionaries. Christians were at first ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman Empire, but when they ascended to power, they in turn banned all the pagan religions that had previously persecuted them. Protestant reformers like John Calvin broke away from the decrees of the Pope, but Calvinists created their own theocratic city-states where their will would reign supreme.
Similarly, when King Henry VIII split England away from the Catholic church, it wasn't so he could create a utopia of religious liberty; it was so he could create a theocracy where his preferred beliefs, rather than the Vatican's, would be the law of the land. And in just the same way, when the Puritans fled England and migrated to the New World, it wasn't to uphold religious tolerance; it was to impose their beliefs, rather than the Church of England's.
It's only within the last few centuries, in the era of the Enlightenment, that a few fearless thinkers argued that the people should govern themselves, that society should be steered by the democratic will rather than the whims of an absolute ruler. The kings and emperors battled ferociously to stamp this idea out, but it took root and spread in spite of them. In historical terms, democracy is a young idea, and human civilization is still reverberating from it -- as we see in autocratic Arab societies convulsed with revolution, or Chinese citizens rising up against the state, or even in America, with protesters marching in the streets against a resurgence of oligarchy.
But while the secular arguments for dictatorship have been greatly weakened, the religious arguments for it have scarcely changed at all. Religion is very much a holdover from the dark ages of the past, and the world's holy books still enshrine the ancient demands for us to bow down and obey the (conveniently unseen and absent) gods, and more importantly, the human beings who claim the right to act as their representatives. It's no surprise, then, that the most fervent advocates of religion in the modern world are also the most deeply inculcated with this mindset of command and obedience.
We saw this vividly in recent weeks with the controversy over birth control. As polls and surveys make clear, the overwhelming majority of American Catholics use contraception and in all other ways live normal, modern lives. They mostly just ignore the archaic bluster of the bishops. But the Pope and the Vatican hierarchy conduct themselves publicly as if nothing had changed since the Middle Ages; as if there were billions of Catholics who'd leap to obey the slightest crook of their finger.
The attitude the Vatican displays toward Catholic laypeople is perfectly summed up in a papal encyclical from 1906, titled "Vehementer Nos":
The Scripture teaches us, and the tradition of the Fathers confirms the teaching, that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, ruled by the Pastors and Doctors -- a society of men containing within its own fold chiefs who have full and perfect powers for ruling, teaching and judging. It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.
An even more breathtakingly arrogant expression of this idea comes from New Advent, the official Catholic theological encyclopedia. Watch how it addresses that whole embarrassing Galileo episode:
In the Catholic system internal assent is sometimes demanded, under pain of grievous sin, to doctrinal decisions that do not profess to be infallible.... [but] the assent to be given in such cases is recognized as being not irrevocable and irreversible, like the assent required in the case of definitive and infallible teaching, but merely provisional...
To take a particular example, if Galileo who happened to be right while the ecclesiastical tribunal which condemned him was wrong, had really possessed convincing scientific evidence in favour of the heliocentric theory, he would have been justified in refusing his internal assent to the opposite theory, provided that in doing so he observed with thorough loyalty all the conditions involved in the duty of external obedience.
To translate the church's legalisms into plain language, what this is saying is that it's OK to doubt something the church teaches, but only if you keep quiet about that doubt and outwardly obey everything the church authorities tell you, acting as if your doubt didn't exist. And if the church teaches that something is an infallible article of faith, even that ineffective option is taken away: you're required to believe it without question or else face eternal damnation.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, wrote that believers should "always be ready to obey [the church] with mind and heart, setting aside all judgment of one's own." To explain just how absolute he thought this obedience should be, he used a vivid analogy:
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.
Nor is it just from the Catholic side of the aisle where we hear these pronouncements. Even though Protestants don't have one pope to rule them all, they still believe that following your betters is essential. Here's a statement to that effect from the esteemed apologist C.S. Lewis, from his book The Problem of Pain:
But in addition to the content, the mere obeying is also intrinsically good, for, in obeying, a rational creature consciously enacts its creaturely role, reverses the act by which we fell, treads Adam's dance backward, and returns.
According to Lewis, obedience is "intrinsically good." In other words, it's always a good thing to do as you're told, no matter what you're being told to do or who's telling you to do it! It doesn't take much imagination to picture the moral atrocities that could result from putting this idea into practice.
Another influential Christian writer and one of the intellectual fathers of the modern religious right, Francis Schaeffer, put the same thought -- the same demand for mental slavery -- in even blunter terms:
I am false or confused if I sing about Christ's Lordship and contrive to retain areas of my own life that are autonomous. This is true if it is my sexual life that is autonomous, but it is at least equally true if it is my intellectual life that is autonomous -- or even my intellectual life in a highly selective area. Any autonomy is wrong.
Just to prove that none of these are flukes, here's one more quote, this time from Christian evangelical pastor Ray Stedman, excerpted from his sermon titled "Bringing Thoughts Into Captivity":
I have noticed through the years that the intellectual life is often the last part of a Christian to be yielded to the right of Jesus Christ to rule. Somehow we love to retain some area of our intellect, of our thought-life, reserved from the control of Jesus Christ. For instance, we reserve the right to judge Scripture, as to what we will or will not agree with, what we will or will not accept... [Disagreeing with any part of the Bible] represents a struggle with the Lordship of Christ; his right to rule over every area of life, his right to control the thought-life, every thought taken captive to obey him.
Nor is the demand for mindless obedience confined to Christianity. Here's how one Jewish rabbi explained the rationale for the kosher dietary laws, recounted in Richard Dawkins' essay "Viruses of the Mind":
That most of the Kashrut laws are divine ordinances without reason given is 100 percent the point. It is very easy not to murder people. Very easy. It is a little bit harder not to steal because one is tempted occasionally. So that is no great proof that I believe in God or am fulfilling His will. But, if He tells me not to have a cup of coffee with milk in it with my mincemeat and peas at lunchtime, that is a test. The only reason I am doing that is because I have been told to so do. It is something difficult.
In other words, the kosher laws have no reason or justification, and that's a good thing, because they teach people the habit of unquestioning obedience, which should be encouraged. This uncannily resembles a piece of parenting advice from Stephen Colbert, who satirically wrote that "Arbitrary rules teach kids discipline: If every rule made sense, they wouldn't be learning respect for authority, they'd be learning logic." Religious authorities like this rabbi are making the exact same argument in all seriousness! And then, of course, there's Islam, whose very name is Arabic for "submission."
The social scientist Jonathan Haidt has identified what he calls the five foundations of morality: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in- group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Surveys from all over the world find that self-identified conservatives put far more emphasis on the last three, two of which are fundamental to a worldview based on obedience and submission. The implied similarity between conservatism and fundamentalist religion is too obvious to ignore, particularly in America, where the conservative political party is dominated by an especially regressive and belligerent strain of evangelical Christianity.
And like political conservatism in general, many religious rules are actively destructive to human liberty and happiness. Christian church leaders claim we should prohibit same-sex marriage and abortion and restrict access to birth control; ultra-Orthodox Jewish zealots want to erase women from public life; Islamic theocracies want to make it illegal to criticize or dissent from their beliefs. If moral commands could only be backed up by appeals to reason or human good, these unfounded and harmful laws would vanish overnight. Instead, the people who make these rules and want us to obey them claim that they're messengers of the will of God, and thus no further justification is needed. It bears emphasizing that this is the exact same argument made by ancient monarchs and tyrants, all of whom used this idea to justify atrocious cruelty.
Those ancient monarchs were toppled because they proved, despite their lofty claims of divine right, that they were no better or wiser or more suited to rule than any other human being. This is a lesson from history that deserves wider attention in the modern world. Like them, religious conservatives claim that they're passing along God's ideas, and thus that we should obey them without critical challenge and questioning. This idea has always had disastrous consequences in the past -- why should we expect anything different this time?
In sharp contrast to the religious and conservative worldview of obedience and submission, the worldview of freethinkers and progressives at its best is one that exalts freedom and liberty -- freedom to make our own choices, freedom of the mind to travel and explore wherever it will. These are our commandments: Think for yourself and don't blindly bow down to the claims of another. Exercise your own best judgment. Ask questions and investigate whether what you've been taught is true. There have been countless wars and devastations because people were too eager to subordinate their will and conscience to the ruling authorities, but as Sam Harris says, no atrocity was ever committed because people were being too reasonable, too skeptical, or too independently minded. If anything, human beings have always been too eager to obey and to subordinate their will to others. The more we throw off that ancient and limiting mindset, the more freedom we have to think, act and speak as we choose, the more humanity as a whole will prosper.