Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Gather That Christianity Is Not A Religion

After thousands of years' worth of general agreement that "religion" means what it means, all of a sudden people are telling us that Christianity is not a religion, that Buddhism is not a religion, that they're spiritual but not religious, that they're followers of Christ but not Christians. (I didn't make that last one up, there's at least one very silly rock group saying that. I forgot the name of the group. I haven't heard them, just read about them. I can't remember whether they're considered Christian rock -- by some. Not by themselves of course, because they're followers of Christ, not Christians.)

I think this sudden denial of the meaning of the word "religion" is related to the recent absurd assertion -- unfortunately, not nearly absurd enough to get theologians fired even from the world's most prestigious universities -- that Biblical literalism is no more than 200 years old.

It's as plain as can be that before the study of science and history began to give us more accurate ideas of things, Christians and practicing Jews believed that the world was 6000 years old. Including the most highly-educated Christians and practicing Jews. They believed that Moses led 600,000 families out of Egypt and parted the Red Sea, and the Christians, at least, although not all of the Jews, believed that Jesus rose from the dead. They believed that angels and demons were all around us all the time -- not metaphorical angels and demons but real ones. The real un-metaphorical torture and killing of the Inquisition -- unfortunately, even claiming that the Inquisition never killed anyone has not been enough to get academics fired from history departments, let alone theology departments -- had very often to do with this belief in the literal existence of those demons. And let's not let Protestants off the hook here. Those 20 people in Salem in the 1690's weren't executed over differences in interpretation of mythological tropes.

And all of the universities in Western Europe and the Americas were very firmly in control of Christian authorities until a few centuries ago. What happened about 200 years ago is almost the exact opposite of this very popular assertion among today's theologians: Biblical literalism didn't appear for the first time. Rather, it started to fade from its dominance as the default intellectual position in the West.

Both the Christians who deny that they're religious and the ones who say that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally, that all of it is parables, not just the parables but all of it, are sort of half-smart about religion. They sort of half-suspect that religion is not the font of all wisdom which it has always claimed to be. (They may well deny that religious leaders ever made such a claim.) But they can't bear to consciously admit it, they are too heavily invested in religion, it would simply be too painful and/or too damned inconvenient, and so instead of a rational perception of religion for what it is and a description of it which makes any damn sense at all, we have this mass tendency to deny that religion is what it is, and this massive falsification of the history of religion.

This is one reason why it's important to study history. And really studying history means mastering the languages which people wrote and spoke in other times and places. So that you can check for yourself, and let people know when theologians, and even some historians, are trying to hand them a crock. This is what Gibbon did, and Bury, and Runciman, and this is why all 3 of them have been attacked to this day by apologists, many of them posing as historians.

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