Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sorry, Bill, Christians are not necessarily pacifists

I had thought that Bill O'Reilly would be quickly shown the error of his ways when he argued that Anders Behring-Breivik could not be Christian because, No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder.  Apparently not so much; he's still arguing that Christianity is a peaceful religion.  So, for anyone who is unclear on the concept, he is a brief chronology of some of the highlights of Christian murders throughout history:

313 Edict of Milan - Christianity is legalized in the Roman Empire.  Eusebius and Lactantius call for vengeance on those who have persecuted Christians, the latter declaring that, "[God's] fury is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken asunder by him."  Almost immediately pagan temples start being looted and destroyed, a process that would be repeated regularly for over a century.  Some contemporary sources claim that pagans were slaughtered during these acts, others deny it.

333 The first decree calling for capital punishment for heretics, in this case anyone found in possession of texts declared heretical.  Followed in 346 by capital punishment for anyone who visits a pagan temple and in 356 with capital punishment for anyone practicing paganism anywhere, including their own homes.

415 A Christian mob led by monks in Alexandria attacks Hypatia, a renowned philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, dragging her through the streets to a church where they murder her.  Her school and students relocate to Greece to escape further persecution.

532 Riots in Constantinople that started over a sporting rivalry turn political.  Justinian orders the execution of rioters; 30,000 unarmed civilians are slaughtered.

782 Charlemagne orders 4500 Saxons beheaded for returning to pagan belief after their coerced conversion to Christianity.

1095-6 Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land stopped off to massacre Jews in Mainz, Cologne and other towns along the way.  In 1099, they massacred over 60,000 people in Jerusalem.

1189 Richard I of England punished Jewish leaders for daring to try to attend his coronation (though he seems to have kept the gifts they brought).  The rumor that he ordered the death of all Jews led to massacres in both London and York in which unknown numbers of Jews were beaten to death and burned alive.

1191 Richard topped that with the mass execution of Muslim prisoners in Acre.  Philip of France, who had captured them and left them in the care of Conrad of Montferrat, had negotiated terms for their release, but Richard couldn't be bothered.

1209-1229 In the Albigensian Crusade, Cathars of Southern France who refused to convert to Catholicism were burned at the stake.

1234 The people of the town of Steding, Germany refused to accept the power of the Roman Church.  At the request of the local Bishop, Pope Gregory IX declared yet another crusade in which between 5000 and 11,000 men, women and children were slaughtered.

1456 In the aftermath of the Battle of Belgrade, 25,000 Turks were slaughtered by Hungarian forces.

1502 Vasco de Gama had the hands, ears and noses cut off of 800 sailors and passengers of a merchant vessel, then had them tied up, their teeth knocked in, and what was left of them burned alive.  Their crime?  Arriving at a city that had offended him.  Most of the "great" explorers limited their massacres to the inhabitants of port cities.

1631 During the Thirty Years War (which didn't last 30 years), between 20,000 and 40,000 residents of the city of Magdeburg were slaughtered after the city was taken.

Tudor England heretic burning.  Witch hunts.  The Inquisitions.  The slaughter of Native Americans by white Christians.  The Holocaust.  There's a lot more, but I think the point is made.

The denial of the pacifist nature of Christianity and justification of violence began soon after the legalization of the faith.  These arguments relied on both the text of the New Testament and arguments about the natural order of society.

354-430 Saint Augustine:  "If the Christian Religion forbade war altogether, those (soldiers) who sought salutary advice in the Gospel would rather have been counseled to cast aside their arms and to give up soldiering altogether.  On the contrary, they were told: 'Do violence to no man ... and be content with your pay' (Luke, 3:14).  If he commanded them to be content with their pay, he did not forbid soldiering." AND "The natural order conducive to pease among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority."

1225-1274 Thomas Aquinas quoted Augustine at length in his own arguments for Christian violence, but made some additional points as well:  "As the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them.  And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 13:4): 'He Beareth not the sword in vain, for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil'; so too it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies."  In other words, the state is permitted to commit acts of violence by taking on the role of God's minister.  As for private persons, if they "have recourse to the sword by the authority of the sovereign ... through zeal for justice, and by the authority, so to speak, of God, is not to 'take the sword', but to use it as commissioned by another, wherefore it does not deserve punishment."

1483-1586 Martin Luther originally argued that only defensive wars were justifiable, but in 1529 called for a war of aggression against the Turks.  Like Augustine, he argued that the New Testament validates soldiering as a "legitimate and godly calling," and made the obvious connection that this could only be true if war is likewise a legitimate act.  Like both Augustine and Aquinas, he assumes that the state itself is an agent of God's will, and so justifies only fighting for the state, never against it.

In the case of Anders Behring-Breivik, then, there is no question of whether a Christian can commit mass murder.  Christian states and individuals have done so consistently since the religion first became powerful enough to have that ability.

There is, however, a theological question.  Now that our rulers are no longer divinely appointed (to the extent that they ever were), is it a sin for a Christian to commit violence against a secular state which does not represent the will of God?

But theology is not history and I am not a theologian.  But then, neither is Bill O'Reilly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

That's not the general welfare

Thom Hartmann from Russia Today did my job for me.  A bit of historical perspective on the current debt ceiling debate and the centrality in our constitution, as intended by the founding fathers, of the responsibility of the government to provide for the general welfare.  He gets a bit preachy in the last minute, but the history is solid and important:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That's notCleanAir

The image below is a magnified cross-section of exterior wall paint from a London house, built in 1705.  This particular house was painted rather often, on average every 4.2 years, providing a 300 year long regular record of paint types, weathering, etc.  A lovely find for a material culture specialist.  It also provides a rather graphic visual of the impact of environmental policy.  As nicely noted for us by Patrick Baty, it shows how the British Clean Air Act of 1956 ended a 250-year pattern of soot and industrial pollutant accumulation, visible as dark lines between the layers (marked by the 4th text-box down on the right-hand side):

All that filth, gone.  Filth that stuck to everything it touched.  Filth that used to get in people's lungs and on their skin.  Filth that covered crops and feed and livestock in the fields and was consumed in every meal.  Today's air-borne pollutants are less visible, but they just as surely accumulate on surfaces, whether of buildings or human bodies or food sources.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

That's notDemocracy in the US, but it is in the UK

In a previous post, I wrote about how the idea of a free market, as created by Adam Smith, is actually supposed to work, as opposed to the politically motivated, wildly distorted image so common in recent public discussion.  That post was on the economy.  Smith's argument, however, contains a principle that extends far beyond economic matters.  This one:

Smith argued that justice includes “protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it”

In other words, there are lines that even the rich and powerful are not supposed to be able to cross.  We used to know that in America. In 1911, John D. Rockefeller himself, the richest man in the world, the first billionaire, and possibly the richest man in world history, was cut down to size by the Supreme Court decision in Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States, when his oversized monolith of an oil company was broken into dozens of smaller entities forced into competition under the Sherman Anti-trust Act.  In the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, for the first time a member of a president's cabinet, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, went to jail and the power of the U.S. Congress to compel witnesses in corruption investigations was established.  In the Watergate scandal, a presidency was lost and multiple high-ranking members of the executive went to jail because Congress and the overwhelming public opinion of the people demanded punishment for any public official so arrogant as to believe they could violate the civil rights of American citizens.

But truth and justice are no longer the American way.

In the last decade, Americans, both the people and the leadership, sat back and watched as constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure and the right of habeus corpus were trampled and felt no outrage.  In the last decade, Americans sat back and watched as elderly people lost the retirement savings they'd spent their lives working for because of illegal activities and felt no outrage.  Americans still sit back and watch as homes were taken away from people who had made every one of their payments by agencies not legally entitled to the ownership of their mortgages and felt no outrage.  I could go on.  But I'd rather look at what's happening in England right now.

The British, both the people and the leadership, found out that the privacy of three children was violated and the country exploded.  This clip from parliament is wonderful:

That's the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband, asking Prime Minister David Cameron to take down Rupert Murdoch's News of the World.  NotW is the primary media support and a key financial support of the Liberal Party that Cameron belongs to.  It's like if someone had asked George W. Bush to take down Fox News during his administration.  And Cameron agrees unequivically.  The only argument is how to go about it and whether the Labour Party can make the Liberal's wear the blame.

That's how American politics used to work.  That kind of belief, that at the end of the day, no matter how big a corporation and how valuable it is to a political party, the role of government is to serve the people not the money, is what is supposed to make a democratically elected political leader better than a dictator.  That sense of outrage, spilling over from the people to the government, is what we like to call participatory politics.  If the people don't care about their rights and don't believe that their government should be held responsible for protecting them from what Justice Douglas called the problem of bigness, what's the point of a democracy?

Our history is full of examples of how democracy is supposed to function, of corruption prosecuted, of big fish being cut down to size, of the people caring enough about what's right and just to hold our elected officials responsible.  It's time to go back to school and study our history to see how that works.  Or just turn on the news and watch the Brits get it right.