Quotulatiousness

June 26, 2015

QotD: The legacy of the Church of England

Filed under: Britain,History,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As an atheist in good standing, I go to meetings every week, I’m suppose to scoff and keep directing my fire at something more vital to the modern world than the Anglican Church. Which would be pretty much everything at this point.

The Anglican Church, however, isn’t just another Christian sect, it is the official sect of the United Kingdom. Justin Welby, in theory, reports to God and the Queen. That’s a pretty posh set of bosses. Despite it’s compromised beginnings the C of E has been one of those bulwarks of English life that made England what it was. You can mock its theology, you can criticize its history yet, in its own remarkable way, it has basically worked. The manners and mores of the English speaking people have been profoundly influenced by the teachings of this church. Laugh if you want, but you’re laughing at one of the unacknowledged wellsprings of the Anglosphere.

This is deep culture stuff. Beneath the Rule of Law, Free Markets and Parliament stuff is manners and mores. It’s hard to explain really. The cadences of the language, the body language of the people and the basic decency of its public life. It’s impossible to imagine that somewhere, behind all of that, there is not some country vicar going about his business in an earnest fashion. There are thousands of Christian sects. This one helped established the culture of the modern world in a way unlike any other. Attention must be paid.

Richard Anderson, “Put A Hat On It”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-07-16.

June 21, 2015

“… the carbon tax, like Paris, is worth a Mass”

Filed under: Environment,Politics,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At National Review the editors’ response to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is not warm:

There is an undeniable majesty to the papacy, one that is politically useful to the Left from time to time. The same Western liberals who abominate the Catholic Church as an atavistic relic of more superstitious times, who regard its teachings on abortion and contraception as inhumane and its teachings on sexuality as a hate crime today are celebrating Pope Francis’s global-warming encyclical, Laudato Si’, as a moral mandate for their cause. So much for that seamless garment.

It may be that the carbon tax, like Paris, is worth a Mass.

The main argument of the encyclical will be no surprise to those familiar with Pope Francis’s characteristic line of thought, which combines an admirable and proper concern for the condition of the world’s poor with a crude and backward understanding of economics and politics both. Any number of straw men go up in flames in this rhetorical auto-da-fé, as the pope frames his concern in tendentious economic terms: “By itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” We are familiar with no free-market thinker, even the most extreme, who believes that “by itself, the market can guarantee integral human development.” There are any number of other players in social life — the family, civil society, the large and durable institution of which the pope is the chief executive — that contribute to human flourishing. The pope is here taking a side in a conflict that, so far as we can tell, does not exist.

May 29, 2015

“The historian’s blindfolds”

Filed under: Europe,History,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt coined the term “the historian’s blindfolds” to describe historical situations where “the ‘everyone knows’ [happenings don’t] get recorded, and the ‘never happens’ or ‘happens so rarely it’s big and sensational’ gets recorded ALL the time”:

I’ve – for instance – for the last several years been very suspicious of Dickens, because my other sources for the time (not just primary sources, but those writing often in a family/biography) context paint quite a different picture.

I mean, yes, there were horrible conditions at the time, but they were horrible conditions by our perspective, and we live in an era of superabundance. And the underclass lived very disordered lives. Well, I read student doc. Our underclass just uses different substances and is better fed. Go to Student Doc “Things I learn from my patients” (it’s not coming up for me, hence not linked. Also, prepare to lose hours there. [This might the site]) BUT as “bad” as the industrial revolution might have been, it attracted droves of farmers from the countryside. And having seen it happen in real time in India and China, I’m no longer able to believe the propaganda that they were “forced” off their lands.

Farming looks like a lovely, bucolic occupation to those who have never done any, but the farming they did at the time involved no tractors, no milking machines. It was inadequate tools and inadequate strength beating inadequate livelihood out of inadequate (in most places) soil. Yeah, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the girls wove wreaths for Michaelmas, and everyone danced around the Maypole, but in between there was a very harsh reality that made the rather horrible conditions in the early mills seem like heaven and depopulated the countryside and packed the cities – as we see now in China and India.

So, our first problem with finding out if there really was a “first night” right for the seigneur is to figure out the difference between the accounts and the truth. There is no direct evidence, but remember all the recording of the times was done by church men who might very well not know what was going on. Sometimes, granted, it was willful not know. The village priest determinedly didn’t know of certain things that went on around May Day and I’m fairly sure would continue not knowing if he walked in on it and saw it. Because he wasn’t stupid and stuff that’s been going on for two thousand years and yet is of a nature not to be co-opted into the church celebration of this or that saint (St. Anthony and St. John with bonfires and wild herbs and jumping over the fires, and trekking to the city and across the city to see the sunrise on the sea, for instance, for Summer solstice. Yeah. Perfectly normal Catholic tradition) couldn’t be stopped cold, but knowing about it would mar his ability to preach against certain things which he must preach against. (“It was a morning in May—” And for the record this particularly guppie always thought going amaying is about gathering the flowers to put in every entrance to the house to word off evil spirits. But I am an ODD and often unable to see what’s right before my eyes because I was told it was different.)

The problem of the “first night” is compound by several issues: we’re talking a span of about 2000 years. It’s about sex and everyone lies about sex, or shuts up about it, which can be the same. We have fundamental disagreements on the basic nature of men and women. And that’s what I’m going to go with. Because that’s the interesting part.

May 17, 2015

The Little World of Don Camillo (1951)

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Media,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Dec 2014

Narrated by ORSON WELLES (O.W. bonus: voice of Christ)

May 4, 2015

In praise of “unfettered” capitalism

Filed under: Economics,History,Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:00

L. Neil Smith isn’t happy with the Pope’s latest anti-capitalist comments:

Just for the record, when private capitalism came into being, it was a revolutionary economic, political, and social system that has since fed, clothed, and housed — not to mention educated and cured — more individual human beings than any other system in history. When it appeared on the world scene in the mid-1700s, a person’s average life expectancy at birth — in London, the most advanced and civilized city on the planet — was about 20 1/2 years. A hundred years later, life expectancy was three times that number, and it is now approaching four times.

If only for those reasons (and there are many others), capitalism has been the target of centuries of relentless, vicious attack by evil parasites who wish to be perceived as humanity’s benefactors without actually benefiting anybody at all, Today, virtually every member of what the great essayist H.L. Mencken called the “booboisie” believe (you can’t really say “think”) that capitalism and capitalists are evil.

Capitalism’s gravest “sin” in this connection is that it has made more widespread and greater individual freedom available than ever before (even though in his abysmal ignorance — or ideological delirium — the Pope accuses it of imposing ” a new tyranny” that is “causing people to die”. That, of course, is why there are seven billion people in the world today, as opposed to a few hundred cold and starving millions when his gang of terrorists was running things.).

That is a critically important key to why capitalism is hated and reviled, and to who hates and reviles it. Watch the various enemies of capitalism on TV; Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Waxman, Feinstein, Bush, Hatch, Cheney. None of them are genuine advocates of freedom. There are political vermin in the world — all over the world, in fact, generally in positions of leadership — who hate, loathe and despise individual freedom, and will do absolutely anything to eradicate it. They achieve their leadership positions because no decent human being really wants anything to do with telling other human beings what to do.

The headline reads “Pope Francis rebukes unfettered capitalism”. When he says “unfettered” you can bet he means it literally; this is the heir of a gang of thugs who used to “change” people’s theological opinions with the rack, the whip, and red-hot pincers. You can also bet they’d be doing it today if they believed they could get away with it.

Petulantly, the man complains that the worship of wealth has become a religion in itself. There is lots I could say about that. I’ll limit myself to the observation that the wealth is really there; it manifests itself. In that respect, it’s hell of a lot better than the Imaginary Playmate he claims to speak for and wants us all to worship.

April 26, 2015

Giovanni Guareschi

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I first read the short stories of Giovanni Guareschi when I was about ten years old. Much of the political content flew right over my head, but I enjoyed the interplay of the two main characters, Don Camillo and Peppone, in their never-ending battles in the un-named tiny Italian village somewhere in the Po valley. From the beginning of this post, you can tell that Sarah Hoyt is also a fan:

Years ago on this blog I talked about “Technique of The Coup D’Etat” by Giovanni Guareschi and I typed the beginning in here. I shall copy that. (Assume typos are mine.)

At ten o’clock on Tuesday evening, the village square was swept with wind and rain, but a crowd had been gathered there for three or four hours to listen to the election news coming out of a radio loudspeaker. Suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into darkness. Someone went to the control box but came back saying there was nothing to be done. The trouble must be up the line or at the power plant, miles away. People hung around for half an hour or so, and then, as the rain began to come down even harder than before, they scattered to their homes, leaving the village silent and deserted. Peppone shut himself up in the People’s Palace, along with Lungo, Brusco, Straziami, and Gigio, the same leader of the “Red Wing” squad from Molinetto. They sat around uneasily by the light of a candle stump and cursed the power and light monopoly as an enemy of the people, until Smilzo burst in. He had gone to Rocca Verde on his motorcycle to see if anyone had news and now his eyes were popping out of his head and he was waving a sheet of paper.

“The Front has won!” he panted. “Fifty-two seats out of a hundred in the senate and fifty-one in the chamber. The other side is done for. We must get hold of our people and have a celebration. If there’s no light, we can set fire to a couple of haystacks nearby.

“Hurrah!” shouted Peppone. But Gigio grabbed hold of Smilzo’s jacket.

“Keep quiet and stay where you are!” he said grimly. It’s too early for anyone to be told. Let’s take care of our little list.”

“List? What list?” asked Peppone in astonishment.

“The list of reactionaries who are to be executed first thing. Let’s see now…”

Peppone stammered that he had made no such list, but the other only laughed.

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve a very complete one here all ready. Let’s look at it together, and once we’ve decided we can get to work.”

Gigio pulled a sheet of paper with some twenty names on it out of his pocket and laid it on the table.

“Looks to me as if al the reactionary pigs were here,” he said. “I put down the worst of them, and we can attend to the rest later.”

Peppone scanned the names and scratched his head.

“Well, what do you say?” Gigio asked him.

“Generally speaking, we agree,” said Peppone. “But what’s the hurry? We have plenty of time to do things in the proper style.”

Gigio brought his fist down on the table.

“We haven’t a minute to lose, that’s what I say,” he shouted harshly. “This is the time to put our hands on them, before they suspect us. If we wait until tomorrow, they may get wind of something and disappear.”

At this point Brusco came into the discussion.

“You must be crazy,” he said. “You can’t start out to kill people before you think it over.”

“I’m not crazy and you’re a very poor Communist, that’s what you are! These are all reactionary pigs; no one can dispute that, and if you don’t take advantage of this golden opportunity then you’re a traitor to the party!”

Brusco shook his head.

“Don’t you believe it! It’s jackasses that are traitors to the Party! And you’ll be a jackass if you make mistakes and slaughter innocent people.”

Gigio raised a threatening finger.

“It’s better to eliminate ten innocents than to spare one individual who may be dangerous to the cause. Dead men can do the party no harm. You’re a very poor Communist, as I’ve said before. In fact, you never were a good one. You’re as weak as a snowball in hell, I say. You’re just a bourgeois in disguise!”

Brusco grew pale, and Peppone intervened.

“That’s enough,” he said. “Comrade Gigio has the right idea and nobody can deny it. It’s part of the groundwork of Communist philosophy. Communism gives us the goal at which to aim and democratic discussion must be confined to the quickest and surest ways to attain it.”

Giggio nodded his head in satisfaction, while Peppone continued: “Once it’s been decided that these people are or may be dangerous to the cause and therefore we must eliminate them, the next thing is to work out the best method of elimination. Because if by our carelessness, we were to allow a a single reactionary to escape, then we should indeed be traitors to the Party. Is that clear?”

“Absolutely,” the others said in chorus. “You’re dead right.

“There are six of us,” Peppone went on, “And twenty names on that list, among them the Filotti, who has a whole regiment in his house and a cache of arms in the cellar. If we were to attack these people one by one, at the first shot the rest would run away. We must call our forces together and divide them up into twenty squads, each one equipped to deal with a particular objective.”

“Very good,” said Gigio.

“Good, my foot!” shouted Peppone. “That’s not the half of it! We need a twenty first squad, equipped even better than the rest to hold off the police. And mobile squads to cover the roads and the river. If a fellow rushes into action in the way you proposed, without proper precautions, running the risk of botching it completely, then he’s not a good communist, he’s just a damn fool.”

It was Gigio’s turn to pale now, and he bit his lip in anger, while Peppone proceeded to give orders. Smilzo was to transmit word to the cell leaders in the outlying settlements and these were to call their men together. A green rocket would give the signal to meet in appointed places, where Falchetto, Brusco and Straziami would form the squads and assign the targets. A red rocket would bid them go into action. Smilzo went off on his motorcycle while Lungo, Brusco, Straziami and Gigio discussed the composition of the squads.

“You must do a faultless job,” Peppone told them. “I shall hold you personally responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I’ll see if the police are suspicious and find some way to put them off.

Don Camillo, later waiting in vain for the lights to go on and the radio to resume its mumble, decided to get ready for bed. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door and when he drew it open cautiously, he found Peppone before him.

“Get out of here in a hurry!” Peppone panted. “Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river.”

Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.

“Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?”

“Hurry,” said Peppone. “The people’s Front has won and the squads are getting ready. There’s a list of people to be executed and your name is the first one!”

Spoiler alert, though this is not one of the stories that you read for the denouement: by the end of the story, the entire cell except Gigio is crammed in Don Camillo’s closet, as each successive comrade shows up to try to save him and is shoved into the closet as the next one comes along.

Then it is revealed that they didn’t in fact win the election, but more importantly, the entire cell, which had lived in fear of the Stalinist *sshole who pulled book and fervor on them every time and made everyone of them live in terror of being denounced as insufficiently fervent, now knows who the enemy really is. That is, each individual now knows he is not an isolated individual surrounded by good party members who will turn on him, but one in a collection of decent individuals kinda sorta following an ideology but not so far it blunts their humanity and ONE isolated *sshole turning them against each other for the power.

At the end of the story, Peppone finds Gigio proudly waiting to send up the red rocket and kicks him all the way to main street.

Gigio’s power is gone, because he’s revealed to be ONE individual working for himself and only that, and a hateful, little one at that.

If you’d like to know more about Guareschi and his work, you could do worse than to read the entries at The Little Blog of Don Camillo, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated for a few years, but has lots of details both about the Little World and its author.

April 21, 2015

The Religious Leaders During WW1 I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Americas,History,Military,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:03

Published on 20 Apr 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This week, he is explaining the role of the religious leaders during the war and what role the South American countries played.

March 26, 2015

QotD: Picking sides in historical struggles

Filed under: History,Liberty,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All laws and regulations have unforeseen consequences. That usually means unintended damage, but there’s no law of history that says every unplanned outcome is pernicious.

If you’re an advocate of a free society — one in which all arrangements are voluntary and there is the least coercive interference from governments or other thugs — history will present you with an unending series of conundrums. Whom do you side with in the Protestant Reformation, for example? The Catholic Church banned books and tortured scholars, and their official structure is one of hierarchy and authority. Easy enemy, right? Clear-cut bad guy. But the Church had kept the State in check for centuries — and vice versa, permitting seeds of freedom to root and flourish in the gaps between power centers. Whereas the Protestant states tended to be more authoritarian than the Catholic ones, with Luther and Calvin (not to mention the Anglicans) advocating orthodoxy through force. There’s a reason all those Northern princes embraced the Reformation: they wanted a cozier partnership of church and state.

This is certainly not the history I was taught in my Protestant private schools.

Similarly, most of us were schooled to side with the Union in the Civil War, to see Lincoln as a savior and the Confederacy as pure evil. But as much as the war may have resulted, however accidentally, in emancipating slaves, it also obliterated civil liberties, centralized power, strengthened central banking and fiat currencies and — to borrow from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s great book title — enslaved free men.

“Father Abraham,” as the pietists called him after his assassination, was a tyrant whose primary goal was always what he actually achieved: central power over an involuntary union. Recasting this guy as an abolitionist hero is one of the many perverse legacies of America’s official history. But it’s a mistake to simply reverse the Establishment’s verdict and claim that the Confederacy was heroic. Plenty of Johnny Rebs were fighting a righteous battle against what they rightly deemed to be foreign invaders, but even if you ignore the little problem of the South’s “peculiar institution,” the Confederate government was no more liberal than its Northern rival. “While the Civil War saw the triumph in the North of Republican neo-mercantilism,” writes Hummel, “it saw the emergence in the South of full-blown State socialism.”

Reading history without taking sides may fit some scholarly ideal (actually, it seems to be a journalistic ideal created by the Progressive Movement to masquerade their views as the only unbiased ones), but it is not a realistic option. We cannot do value-free history. If we try, we instead hide or repress our biases, which makes them a greater threat to intellectual integrity.

Neither can we say, “a plague on both their houses,” and retreat to the realm of pure theory, libertarian or otherwise. We have to live in the real world, and even if we are not activists or revolutionaries, the same intellectual integrity that must reject “neutrality” also requires that we occasionally explore the question of second-best or least-evil options.

BK Marcus, “When evil institutions do good things”, Libertarian Standard, 2014-06-12.

March 14, 2015

QotD: The unlikely survival of the Byzantine empire

Filed under: Europe,History,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Above all, Byzantine history is a record of survival and even prosperity in the face of terrible odds. Between about 540 and 720, the Byzantines were hit by wave after wave of catastrophe. First, there was the Great Plague of the 540s, that killed around a third of the population. Then, in the first decades of the seventh century, they were attacked on every frontier by the Persians and the Barbarians. They saw off these challenges, but had no time to recover before the first eruption of Islam from the deserts. In almost a single bite, the Arabs swallowed up the remains of the Persian Empire. They conquered vast areas of the East, and, within less than a century, pushing into Southern France. But, if they took Syria and Egypt and North Africa, they never conquered the core territories of the Byzantine Empire.

The reason for this is that the Byzantine State was ruled by creative pragmatists. The Roman Empire was a ghastly place for most of the people who lived in it. The Emperors at the top were often vicious incompetents. They ruled through an immense and parasitic bureaucracy. They were supreme governors of an army too large to be controlled. They protected a landed aristocracy that was a repository of culture, but that was ruthless in its exaction of rent. Most ordinary people were disarmed tax-slaves, where not chattel slaves or serfs.

During the seventh century, the Byzantines scrapped almost the entirety of the Roman heritage. Much of the bureaucracy was shut down. Taxes were cut. The silver coinage was stabilised. Above all, the landed estates were broken up and given to those who worked on them, in return for service in local militias. Though never abolished, chattel slavery became far less pervasive. The civil law was simplified, and the criminal law humanised – after the seventh century, the death penalty was rarely used.

The Byzantine Empire survived because of a revolutionary transformation in which ordinary people became armed stakeholders. The inhabitants of Roman Gaul and Italy and Spain barely looked up from their ploughs as the Barbarians swirled round them. The citizens of Byzantium fought like tigers in defence of their country. Now, this was a transformation pushed through in a century and a half of recurrent crises during which Constantinople itself was repeatedly under siege. Alone among the ancient empires in its path, Byzantium faced down the Arabs, and kept Islam at bay for nearly five centuries.

Don’t tell me this isn’t an inspiring story. I could have written yet another series of novels around the Persian War or the murder of Julius Caesar. But, if you can take the trouble to master your sources – and never let them master you – I really can’t think of a finer background than the early flowering of the one of the most remarkable, and effectively democratic, civilisations that ever existed.

Richard Blake, interviewed by Jennifer Falkner, 2014-06-23.

March 13, 2015

QotD: What is the Qur’an?

Filed under: Middle East,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Qur’an is, according to Islamic thought, a perfect copy of a book that has existed eternally with Allah, the one true God, in Paradise: “Indeed, We have made it an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand. And indeed it is, in the Mother of the Book with Us, exalted and full of wisdom.” (43:3-4). According to Islamic tradition, the angel Gabriel revealed it in sections to Muhammad (570-632), an Arabian merchant. Like Jesus, Muhammad left the written recording of his messages to others.

Unlike Jesus, Muhammad did not originate his message, but only served as its conduit. The Qur’an is, for Muslims, the pure Word of Allah.

They point to its poetic character as proof that it did not originate with Muhammad, whom they say was illiterate, but with the Almighty, who dictated every word. The average Muslim believes that everything in the book is absolutely true and that its message is applicable in all times and places.

This is a stronger claim than Christians make for the Bible.

When Christians of whatever tradition say that the Bible is “God’s Word,” they don’t mean that God spoke it word-for-word and that it’s free of all human agency — instead, there is the idea of “inspiration,” that God breathed through human authors, working through their human knowledge to communicate what he wished to communicate.

But for Muslims, the Qur’an is more than inspired.

There is not and could not be a passage in the Qur’an like I Corinthians 1:14-17 in the New Testament, where Paul says: “I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.)”

Paul’s faulty memory demonstrates the human element of the New Testament, which for Christians does not negate, but exists alongside the texts’ inspired character. But in the Qur’an, Allah is the only speaker throughout (with a few notable exceptions).

There is no human element. The book is the pure and unadulterated divine word.

Allah himself tells him this, in the Qur’an itself: “And indeed, it is a mighty Book. Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise and Praiseworthy.” (41:41-2). It is “an Arabic Qur’an, without any deviance that they might become righteous.” (39:28). In short, “it is the truth of certainty.” (69:51). Allah, speaking in a royal plural that does not, according to Muslim theologians, compromise his absolute unity, proclaims that “indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” (15:9).

Robert Spencer, “A Worldwide Must-Read: Robert Spencer’s Blogging the Qur’an”, PJ Media, 2015-03-03.

March 5, 2015

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (Full album, 1964)

Filed under: Media,Religion,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The album that made me start paying attention to jazz…

Published on 9 Dec 2013

JOHN COLTRANE
“A LOVE SUPREME”
1964
(Impulse)

Genre: Modal Jazz, Avant-garde Jazz

Tracklist:
1. A Love Supreme, Part 1: Acknowledgement
2. A Love Supreme, Part 2: Resolution
3. A Love Supreme, Part 3: Pursuance/Part 4: Psalm

Personnel:
John Coltrane, tenor sax
McCoy Tyner, piano
Jimmy Garrison, bass
Elvin Jones, drums

H/T to Josh Jones at Open Culture for the link.

What can I add to the chorus of voices in praise of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme? Recorded in December of 1964 and released fifty years ago this month, the album has gone on to achieve cult status — literally inspiring a church founded in Coltrane’s name — as one of the finest works of jazz or any other form of music. It cemented Coltrane’s name in the pantheon of great composers, and re-invented religious music for a secular age. Composed as a hymn of praise and gratitude, “the bizarre suite of four movements,” wrote NPR’s Arun Rath last year, “communicated a profound spiritual and philosophical message.” That message is articulated explicitly by Coltrane in the album’s liner notes as “a humble offering to Him,” the deity he experienced in a 1957 “spiritual awakening” that “lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”

February 23, 2015

QotD: Why did people join the First Crusade?

Filed under: Europe,History,Middle East,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Q: Why did people join the First Crusade?

A: The most common answer in Crusade scholarship — and you can tell I’m not going to accept it — is that the goal was penance and the opportunity to have sins forgiven. That’s not quite enough for me, because whenever we’re able to get as close as we can to knowing medieval warriors it looks like they’re not nearly as concerned with sin and penance and forgiveness as we would expect them to be. The king of France at the time of the Crusade was actually excommunicated because he was in a bigamist marriage. The pope excommunicated him, and he didn’t seem to care.

What I tried to emphasize in my book was that there was a real sense of prophetic mission among a lot of people who answered this call for Crusade. You can’t have a normal war for Jerusalem. That seems to me as true today as it would have been in the 11th century. Jerusalem, from the medieval Christian perspective, was both a city on earth and a city of heaven, and these two places were linked. The idea that the Jerusalem on earth was being dominated by an unbelieving, infidel — in their terminology “pagan” — group was unacceptable. The rhetoric that was associated with the people holding Jerusalem is pretty shocking: Christian men are being circumcised in baptismal fonts, and the blood is being collected! They’re yanking people’s innards out by their belly buttons! This is not normal talk. Hatreds and passions were stirred up. The heart of it, and why it was so successful, was that the call to Jerusalem was felt so strongly.

Virginia Postrel talking to Jay Rubenstein, “Why the Crusades Still Matter”, Bloomberg View, 2015-02-10.

February 14, 2015

#JeSuisCharlieMartel

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, Austin Bay talks about the unexpected modern-day relevance of distant historical events:

President Barack Obama didn’t intend to make the Battle of Yarmuk (636 A.D.) a 2015 news item.

However, his bizarrely incomplete sketch of the Crusades, delivered last week at a national prayer breakfast, did just that.

The president’s media defenders contend he intended to make a justifiable point: Throughout history, people have corrupted religious faith to self-serving, murderous ends.

That, however, is an oft-repeated truth — something everyone already knows.

But our president, while repeating something we already know, equated medieval Christian crusaders with 21st-century Islamic State terrorists. See, man? They both committed atrocities.

Obama started solid, dubbing the Islamic State “a vicious death cult.” Yes, sir. IS burns alive Jordanian Muslim pilots. But “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition,” Obama said, his solemn, deploring tone reminiscent of a preacher instructing benighted fools in the pews, “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Obama then added that Christianity was used to justify slavery and segregation. While verifiably true, if you indict cross-burning Southern bigots, Mr. President, why neglect to mention that the 18th- and 19th-century worldwide anti-slavery movement was driven by Gospel-guided Christian abolitionists?

Christian abolitionists condemned slavery as evil and waged relentless political war on the slave trade. This inspired activism had policy effects and poetic drama (for example, the hymn “Amazing Grace”). Royal Navy anti-slaving patrols had global punch. The Jack Tars couldn’t shut down every Persian Gulf Islamic slave market, but they certainly deterred slavers operating in the Atlantic.

If only for the sake of fairness, Obama should have mentioned this Christian-led liberation instead of going knee-jerk and playing his worn-out leftist academic multiculturalist racism guilt-trip card.

I briefly considered putting up a poll for the readers that went something like this:

  • Who was President of the United States at the time of the First Crusade? (Washington, Madison, Lincoln, FDR)
  • Trick question, as everyone knows it must have been George W. Bush, right? Right?

  • Which American forces participated in the First Crusade? (US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force)
  • Trick question, as the USAF wasn’t a separate service until after World War II.

February 3, 2015

QotD: Sexuality in the late classical world

Filed under: History,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are two opposed beliefs about sexuality in the ancient world. Both are false, though not equally so. The first is that the ancient world fizzled out in an orgy of bum fun, and that we need to be careful not to let this happen to us. Where do you begin with a belief so completely unfounded on the evidence? I suppose you look to the evidence. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar both had a taste for all-male sex. So did Mark Antony. So did Hadrian. So had most of the famous Athenians — Euripides being one of its most notable enthusiasts. No signs there of moral or any other weakness. If Mark Antony came to a bad end, it was because he married an ambitious foreign woman.

A growing prejudice against all-male sex becomes visible in the fourth century, when Constantine established Christianity as the official faith. He made the first laws against it. Within a century, the Goths were across the Rhine and had sacked Rome. Oh, and one of Constantine’s own sons had a taste for Gothic boys!

It’s absurd to try correlating national greatness or decline with sexual customs. Ancient civilisation didn’t collapse because its rulers were too worn out from buggering each other to take up swords. The ultimate cause may have been a mild global cooling, which lowered the Malthusian ceiling. There was an undoubted growth of rural impoverishment that left populations open to the pandemic diseases that swept through the Mediterranean world from late in the second century. Population decline was then worsened by various forms of misgovernment, and by the need to hold frontiers that had only made sense in an age of economic and demographic expansion. Rather than bursting through in unstoppable floods, the barbarians seem eventually to have wandered, in small bands, into a demographic vacuum.

The second false belief is that the ancient world was one big al fresco bath house. I once watched a television documentary in which it was seriously maintained that straight sex was out of fashion in Athens during the classical period. I thought of writing in to ask what books the researchers had been reading.

Because it lasted over a thousand years, and flourished on three continents, you should be careful with generalisations about ancient civilisation. But one good generalisation is that free men were expected to marry and beget children. These were societies with high death rates. They needed high birth rates not to die out. They particularly needed large numbers of young men to fight in their endemic wars of conquest or survival. Those men who wouldn’t breed were sometimes punished. Those who couldn’t were expected to adopt the surplus children of their poorer friends and relatives.

There were also strong prejudices against men who took the passive role in oral and anal sex. Take, for example, this epigram somewhere in Martial:

Secti podicis usque ad umbilicum
Nullas reliquias habet Charinus
Et prurit tamen usque ad umbilicum.
O quanta scabie miser laborat:
Culum non habet, est tamen cinaedus.

[Of his anus, split right up to the belly button,
Nothing remains to Charinus.
And still he longs for it right up to his belly button.
O behold the poor dear’s itching:
No arse left, yet still he longs to be fucked.]

On the other hand, the ancients didn’t have our concept of gay and straight. Latin has a large and precise sexual vocabulary — though you won’t find meanings in the standard dictionaries. See, for example: Irrumator, one who presents his penis for sucking; Fellator, one who sucks; Pathicus, the passive partner in anal sex, Exoletus, the active partner; Cinaedus, a male prostitute; Catamitus, a boy prostitute or lover; Glabrarius, lover of smooth-skinned boys; Tribas, a woman with a clitoris large enough to serve as a penis — and so it continues. The Greek vocabulary is larger still. There is no word in either language that means “homosexual.” Sodomitus is a late word, brought in by the Christians, and may not have had its present meaning until deep into the middle ages.

So long as legitimate children were somehow begotten, and so long as he didn’t disgrace himself by taking the passive role, what else a free man did was legally and morally indifferent. Elsewhere in his works, Martial boasts of sleeping with boys, and scolds his wife for thinking ill of him. In Athens and some other classical city states, it was a social duty for men in the higher classes to have sexual affairs with adolescent boys. We all know about the Spartans. In Thebes, an army was formed of adult sex partners. If anyone had said that all-male sex was in itself wrong, he’d have been laughed at. The Jews, who did say this, were despised. The Christian Emperors may have made laws against it. They were mostly enforced against political enemies when no other charges were credible or convenient.

Indeed, while there was a prejudice, and sometimes laws, against sexual passivity, it’s obvious that, once in private, men did as they pleased. One of the fundamental rules of the man-boy affairs in Athens was no anal penetration and no fellatio. Sex was supposed to involve mutual masturbation or intercrural friction. You can imagine how that rule was kept in private. There were problems only if the truth got out. Philip of Macedon, for example, kept a boy as his lover. One day, in public, he poked the boy in the stomach and asked why he wasn’t yet pregnant. The boy was so outraged that he murdered the King.

Then we have slavery, and the total power of an owner over his slaves. A slave-owner could demand whatever he liked, and expect the world not to be told about what he liked. So long as they weren’t physically injured, slaves were universally expected to do as they were told and not complain. As for prostitution, Rome and the larger cities were filled with brothels offering every sexual act imaginable. When Bible quotes failed, Christians were warned away from the brothels on the grounds that they might accidentally sleep with their own abandoned and enslaved children.

Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake”, 2014-03-14.

January 27, 2015

“Well, I certainly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition…”

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

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