Thursday 17 January 2008

The First Ideologies

WARNING: This post touches on an analysis of religious beliefs and religious systems in terms of overall social effects. This post is NOT about matters of theology. It is an attempt to analyse the roles religions played in our systematic development. It also explains my own continued membership of the Roman Catholic faith. Remember that these aspects of the post should be considered as the personal reasons why the author remains Roman Catholic, and not as a statement on the current position of the Roman Catholic faith on matters theological. I feel that statement pre-empts any attempts to suggest this post says anything other than what it actually says.

I'm not a lapsed Catholic, but nor am I devout.
I go about twenty times a year.
I go when getting out of bed on a Sunday morning seems a sacrifice worth making.
So often, bed wins.

I don't believe that God is a PERSONAL entity. I believe the universe to be conscious. I'm not going to swear blind to Christ being the actual son of God, but the greatest philosopher of all time, the man who pointed us in the right direction, who first showed us the worldview needed to shine a way beyond an animal to a creature of mind, yes, that's the Christ that I think is worth talking about. We have intelligent discussions about Marx and analyse, interpret and evaluate his philosophy.
We do the same with Jesus.

Or I do. I believe a lot of what he said was right, a bit of it was marketing, like the whole afterlife business, but it's a good way to live.
It's a philosophy. One that, in social terms, has been proved to be a successful outlook for societies that took it up.

So, you have to say, the man was one of the philosophical greats.

So on that basis, I take parts every so often in rituals designed to honour his memory.
First of the Martyrs for the cause of Man.

This is the sense in which I define myself as Christian- and Catholic- in an intellectual sense. It's not a matter of faith for me, so much as believing it to be the greatest component, in terms of providing an ethical framework, for the roots of human civilisation to blossom out into the tree it has.

It was only through studying history with the hopeful optimism of the Catholic apologist, that I learned how Catholicism, when one ACTUALLY studied human history free of the prism of post-reformation history, one saw a different story to the jaded worldview we so often have of the middle ages.

It's a myth.
The Middle Ages were a BETTER time to live than Classical times.
More people lived happier, freer lives in the continent of Europe, than did in the days of the Roman empire.

Life generally was better, nicer, in fact, better organised.
Thought flourished, science advanced, slavery (of Europeans) pretty much died out and was replaced by the softer ties of serfdom.

Quality of life was BETTER.

And the Dark ages?
Never happened. It's a view skewed by us Brits, the writers of the Winner's history.
This island dropped out of history for a bit.
Otherwise, no Dark age anywhere else.

Scandinavia and Germany were dark before, as was the East of Europe.

And the Frankish Kingdoms, Spain, Italy, the Byzantine sphere never stopped being light.

The real change of phase doesn't occur with the fall of Rome in 486, and Britain, that distance province becoming a land of mystery again.

It ends with the rise of Islam, the cutting up of the Roman sphere.

Islam, controlling the Mediterranean, broke the Roman sphere in two.

This is the REAL end of the Age which began with the Knowledge interchange of the First Persian Empire.

But first we need to have a look at the rise of the Christian Philosophy, and how it was that it now took over government of Europe.

Catholic Christianity is not quite what it appears. It is in, many ways (in origin) EXACTLY what its early Protestant critics accuse it off.

It is a Greek (and therefore ultimately Pagan) philosophy that happened to originate in the teachings of a Jew.
The Old Testament is a coincidental bit of baggage that a lot of Catholic theologians tend to ignore.

The success of Christianity in it's early days was mainly due to it's being espoused by INTELLECTUAL elites.
It accorded with Socrates and Plato.
Christianity, was a religion of WISDOM, a philosophy, as much about this life, as the next.
It's martyrs died for the next life for them, but THIS life for others.

We need to remember how the Romans initially saw Christianity.

It was a plague. At this time Rome really was, the best thing on this planet. And here are these social dissidents saying there is a better life than Rome, some airy fairy King in the Sky bigger than Caesar.

Dangerous stuff. To the Romans, they were Hippies, Druggies, however new movements are seen by a social order fearful of new ideas and movements outside it's narrow focus of thought.

And the public agreed. What dangerous ideas. Rome was the will of whatever god or gods there were.
This Jesus business had to be clamped down on. Feed them to the lions.

But society changed. More and more people 'came out'.

Till one day, there were just too many closet Christians. With the empire weakening, it was time this division was stopped. Easiest way was to acknowledge the philosophy had won the battle.

And thus the later Roman Empire dissolves, but it's structure largely remains.

A culture, not united by a common ruler, but a common faith.

The Roman Empire becomes Christendom.

And after the rise of Islam breaks the Mediterranean communication channels, whilst creating a comparable ideological block to the South and East, the Church assumes a position of headship over the secular authorities.

It now, is the sole unifying forces holding one side of this iron curtain together, against the forces of the Caliph.

Fortunately, it's a good ruler. It's a good system.

It rules by maintaining and perfecting knowledge.
That's how it fights Satan.

It learns how the world and the universe works, so as it can find out the answers and defeat evil.

To do that, it creates vast data banks, where literally millions of devotees copy parchments, add their own commentaries, collate works of science and compare notes, take care of and study the sick, learn about disease, carry out agricultural experiments, in short, become the primitive brain, the protector of the cultural genes of knowledge.

The monasteries.

The Church REALLY learned a lot.

We see these as austere times, but they weren't.

With the invention of the horse drawn plough, huge populations were able to flourish in the once sparse realms of Germany, Scandinavia and England.

The sick were sometimes cured- the Roman doctors only dealt with injuries.
Medicine really advances in this period. As does meteorology, astronomy, chemistry, pretty much most fields. But gradually. It was a combined effort of the real devotees, people like William of Occam, Roger Bacon, Alberus Magnus and Nicholas of Cusa.

For these men, as for probably most Popes and Bishops, it was the philosophical stance and the knowledge of man that the Church was there to guard.

Now I expect to get howls of derision for the next bit, but think about it logically.

Communication is the key. In a society such as this, a certain amount of ruthless control of the ethical framework is necessary.

This IS a weakness of the system.
Because whilst it will probably generally be true that the dangerous thoughts you clamp down on, do NOT lead to improvements, what happens when one comes along that does?

Of course, this has been a weakness of ALL previous systems too. And in a very real sense, this system IS actually more liberal in social terms.

The atrocities carried out in it's name are not justifiable to us, but can be explained by a systematic necessity to prevent a system proving to be successful, being endangered by untested social ideas.

Brutal as the Inquisition was, we must remember that those who carried it out, really thought they had no choice.
It was necessity.

Of course, this how all tyrannies start. Expediency.
This is why their appearance at the close of ALL systems, is an inevitable phase of all the cyclical systems we have seen. They are part of it's death throes.

It's a sign of health. The healthy system has no need to fight disease- none arise. The sickening system has to fight disease ruthlessly, but eventually, like cancer, it also turns on the good ideas incipient within it.

On the whole Catholicism was always fairly liberal in the main, it was the religion of every man, not just the Chosen, but the penitent sinner too.

Protestantism, the reaction of moral conservatives shocked by renaissance attitude changes, and disgusted by the rather more theistic outlook seizing Catholic thought in the this time, was not a replacement.

It was an attempt to rebrand Christianity in a new way, a way solely based on Scriptures.
It was not a movement that advanced any earthly causes, except by accident.

Through the ideological turmoil of the reformation, the Thirty years war, and the English civil war, religion as a whole dropped away from political power.

A New system had arisen.

And yet, ALREADY, at it's seizure of power, it had hidden in it the acorns of the ideas that would the create the following system. As of course, does that system.

This system? This is a decentralised system. For once, there is a culture with NO CENTRAL AUTHORITY. There is an interlinking Oligarchy of world power.

We have a pyramid in which the very top place is now simply a God who everyone can claim to act in the name of.

It is the age of Western expansion.


Anonymous said...

Great post Crushed :)

Anonymous said...

nothing like a lighthearted post huh?

Anonymous said...

I'm a pretty non traditional Catholic myself so who am I to complain.

You do have an different way of looking at this stuff.

At least the Protestants did not go around killing people en masse using God as an excuse or are you going to give me lots of examples I've conveniently forgotten?

I'm reading about the poor old Cathars at the moment which was probably more of a power grab than religious conviction.

Anonymous said...

The Roman view of Christianity was a bit more complex than the feeding of them to the lions scenario might indicate. Pliny the Younger, as evidenced in one of his many letters to Hadrian, viewed them as a dangerous canibalistic (because of the sacrament of Holy Communion) mind-control cult, much in the way we view cults today. Although Pliny admitted that he executed Christians (mostly because of their stubborness--it's never nice to po the authroities, then or now), he had misgivings about the practice. Hadrian advised him to stop, for he really didn't trust the rumors of cannibalism, and he didn't see them as all that much of a trheat.

The biggest threat nearing the reign of Constantine was the possibility of subversion. Christians were left alone, but they had become more and more a part of the system. Rome's expansion required more administrators, and the intellectual bent of Christianity (which you mention here) resulted in its members filling the bureaucratic void, as it were. At the same time, a number of emporers before him had fears that there would be a Christian insurrection. They were really worried more about subversion.

As a former protestant, I agree with your point about the exclusivity of divine sanction. I actually left the church because of my misgivings over the Doctrine of Election (or Doctrine of the Elect) which still played a role in church dogma.

Anonymous said...

Oestrebunny- Thanks. To be honest, I actually enjoy writing these posts more. This is the sort of stuff I actually think about when I have a free moment, or when my mind wonders during tedious conversations.

Poody- :) And that was nothing like a light hearted post, you're thinking.

It's a process that needs o be inderstood.

Most people just don't twig. They don't the understand the prsent because they don't understan the past.

My sole contention has always been that there are those who understand history this way (and many in fact do, there is a term for the way of studying history I am adopting here, based entrely on acceptance of a particular economic theory, one I happen to believe is correct)

I will be coming to that theory in the discussion of the current phase.

jmb- It's not really so very different, it's just seeing history as a process, and viewing nothing in isolation.
If you work on a theory that the effect of history has been (in a nutshell), the creation of a vast infrastructure across this world, capacle of processing raw materials, crating energy, didtributing to and creating a lot of leisure time, free from disease, for six billion people, it has to be concded the process has an effect and it is heading in certain directions.

So it's worthwhile studying the dynmics and evolution of the process.

History as Science.

X-Dell- Exactly. They do it still. It's the same. all new idea or proposed ways of life model that are sincerely proposed during the decay phase of a system are feared by the social order and written off as evil, pure and simple.
Fear by the established orders, of ideas that could unite serious intellectual opposition and prove attractve to ordinary people who would do these things if there was no moral imperative not to.

So they brand a lot of the ideals of the hippies as 'dangerous' and 'immoral' without allowing these ideas to be seriously discussed on their merits.

Sex and Drugs. Evil.
But we haven't really ever had a proper democratic debate about these things.

I find the idea of the 'elect' pretty offensive, actually.

I tried explaining the Catholic doctrine of free will to an Atheist, and I explained it thus:

'As a Catholic, I must beleive that still, at this moment, I could to Hell, and you to Heaven. Neither you nor I know the state of play, when w are summoned. I might die unrepantant, wheras two days befor your death, you might be Baptised into the Faith and die at Peace, due, after aeons of Purgatory, to reach your maker.
This is why as a Catholic, I try not to judge. Not my job.'

I think he ended up with a much higher opinion of how Catholics see things, than he did previously.

I think constantine's decision to unfurl the Cross at whatever battle it was, was kind of an experiment. he'd been thinking that the Christians perhaps, were a force that could save his corrupt Empre. He decided to stake the battle on it. If it made his army fight better, he knew the answer.

Anonymous said...

jmb- Re, the Cathars, it's an interesting aside, but church propaganda inverted the rigid celibacy of the Cathar elect and implied that Homosexuality was an intrinsic part of Cathar life.
The Cathers were often conflated by the church with an an eastern sect of similar views, the Bogomils, who due to a conlation of their name with Bulgaria, where some were to be found, became known as the Buggers.

This IS actually true. Now you know the origin of that ancient vernacular term for that paricular activity.

The Inquisition sghould be seen as part of the deah throes of the system. Regular burnings were not a feature of medieval Europe in any volume up until it's closing phase.

And the witch hunt phase of the seventeenth century is more a Northern European thing.

It's a feature of socially uncertain times.

As any Muslim will tell you.

Anonymous said...

> Because whilst it will probably generally be true that the dangerous thoughts you clamp down on, do NOT lead to improvements, what happens when one comes along that does?
I watched 'The Golden Compass' lately; was about a group of ppl who would regulate knowledge, while others sought 'dangerous' knowledge. Now I know why the reviews said it was an allusion to the catholic church... :-)

> It's a sign of health. The healthy system has no need to fight disease- none arise. The sickening system has to fight disease ruthlessly, but eventually, like cancer, it also turns on the good ideas incipient within it.
Hmmm... I beg to disagree here... the mark of a healthy system is the ability to fight disease, because our barriers are always being invaded. Like with cancers, some arise because of a problem with DNA repair genes *so normally, lots of mistakes are made anyway, but they're repaired* It DOES sound plausible, though, that when one is losing, one has to mobilize ALL one's resources, as opposed to just a small part of that army...