I’ve opted for plain and simple for my format and layout. The default presentation gives you the last few articles I’ve written in a long, scrollable format. Sometimes I add a “more” tag, which takes you to the individual post, showing the remainder of what I wrote for that article, but usually you must click the heading (to the left of the primary text blocks) to get to the specific article, since I usually just write it all, letting all show on the scrolling composite. The basic reading format doesn’t include a comment box. If you click the heading and go to the specific posting, there is a reply box at the end, after the share buttons and the tags and categories. You can also click the quote-button comment link just below the title.

So, if you happen to read something you want to reply to, please do. I will almost certainly post your comment and reply to you. I’m not into censoring.

In the late 70s, about the time I started driving, I sat in conversation with my mother, explaining how emerging electronic communications and information storage were going to revolutionize the world by making nearly all knowledge readily available to everyone; anyone who needed the knowledge would be able to access it in minutes, instead of spending days at the public library, as I had done a summer or two prior while researching wind-power and realizing even before my engineering training what a pipedream it was. (I rode my bicycle on those excursions.)

While my vision was significantly different from what the internet has become, the central tenet, readily available information and fact checking at a moment’s notice with easily afforded effort has become true beyond my wildest imaginings.

But has it made any difference?

When faced with a lack of knowledge, or when someone challenges an opinion, nearly everyone appeals to whatever authority they find appealing at the moment. They spout something like, “The greatest minds on the subject disagree with you,” and they go merrily along without ever bothering to think, and, especially, without ever bothering to consider the correctness of the objection, never questioning whether or not they themselves might be wrong.

In the late 80s, I wrote a paper for a college writing class extolling the self-evident virtues of email systems that were coming into their own, at least on college campuses and at research centers.

I detailed why the near instantaneous written communications capabilities would let us all respond as quickly or as thoughtfully as was necessary to maximize understanding and minimize confusion. We could respond immediately to urgent information, or respond with thought and deliberation when emotion seemed to be obscuring clarity.

Of course, email, text, video chat, social media, all have all those qualities, with limits, but no one uses them that way.

I eventually learned there was no substitute for the KISS principle in email. Brevity and abbreviation are forced in texting and twitter.

Still, writing used to involve rather thoroughly stated points with detailed information. It still does, but instant communications muddles more than elucidates.

I find that nearly no one uses Facebook for anything substantial.

I don’t understand that.

Facebook has a significant flaw in its apparently random way it calculates who to show posts to, and how it picks what it shows. I don’t blame Facebook for developing and evolving those picking-algorithms per client preference. Of course, they must maximize the user experience to keep them and to keep growing, but it eliminates the effectiveness of Facebook as an actual communications medium.

It is good for keeping track of family, friends, and acquaintances, but it sucks for trying to coordinate most anything, since it cannot be relied on to transfer information to all concerned.

Facebook would follow us if we changed.

If we used Facebook to try to be substantive, and tried to actually communicate, Facebook would figure out how to facilitate.

Sadly, I think it will never be. The decades have taught me that communication is hard. None of us really care enough about it with most people to make the effort.

That is doubly true, and doubly sad, regarding our politicians.

Scott Adams is correct. We don’t care about facts, we care about emotional motivators, and politicians know that and take advantage of it. We all complain about negative campaigning, but every politician knows it works, either because they succeeded using it or lost because of it.

Well, the flow stopped. So, I end. Let’s all try to communicate better.

Especially, when discussing in social media, let’s try to consider context, not just some point we want to make in response to some small aspect of what was posted. Also, try not to take things personal, but never dismiss how much your words can actually hurt. (I too often find I still need to work on these things.)

Eternity is not a long time. It is characterized by the absence of time.

It is unreasonable to try to describe eternity in concrete quantifications. It is even more than infinite, more than infinities and what mathematics and number theory can tell us about such.

Eternity is less comprehensible than the vastness of space. We cannot comprehend size. There is too much. We deceive ourselves into thinking we know something about it because it is easy for us to measure things from fractions of micrometers to thousands of kilometers. But the vastness is beyond that, beyond our ability to reason or analogize.

A rough approximation of the basics of small goes like this: If you place a sewing pin in the middle of the field of a domed football stadium, and then increase one of the iron atoms, proportionally, to where the nucleus was the size of the pinhead, then the rest of the atom would be close to the size of the domed stadium, and the electrons would still be too small to see even with a microscope. And that is only the beginning of small. Consider the Planck Length, at 1.6 x 10^-35 meters.

That brings us to a beginning of comprehending how utterly incomprehensible size and space really are. Think of all the empty space, the percentage of volume, within the atom, and remember that atoms cannot approach one another closely under the conditions in our living world. What we call solid matter isn’t solid in any quantitative mathematical sense.

Then we go the other way. There are many examples, and graphics, and short videos, and these help us realize that our whole planet is incomprehensibly tiny in light of the approximate 8.6 x 10^26 meters estimated for the observable universe. Then, how much bigger is what we can call space-time? Yeah, we don’t get it.

Eternity is even more. We don’t even have anything to compare it to.

We try to use time to comprehend eternity, especially since we do understand time, but we can’t.

We pretend we consider time. We always ask what time it is, but we don’t care. We know we have limited time, so we prioritize. Keeping time helps with that, but we don’t consider time, and we really don’t know, nor care, what time it is.

We all know we have very limited time, especially when we consider the span of history, and prehistory, and the time of the universe. We all die young. One hundred years is longer than most of us get, but even that is short. A single human life is a trivial amount of time in the scheme of history.

Yet, so many manage to do something of significance, by human reckoning. All of us do something significant for our loved ones. Sadly, that is sometimes a sad thing, but most of us have our moments where we positively affect others and improve our world. We don’t all get our 15 minutes of fame on the big stage, but we all do for a few.

Still, there are a few names that gained worldwide fame, and lost it. A few names have survived the millenia, but no name is known by every living soul on earth. Eventually, no name will be remembered among human descendants that we know today. If we continue for eons, it all obviously matters to us, but sooner or later, after some long time, all of humanity and our descendants will be gone, even erased. Even if we assume humanity spreads throughout the galaxy, even if we assume some means of spreading to many galaxies, eventually, it will all be gone. Millions of year? Billions of years? Even if we assume our descendents persist to the end of the universe, it will then all be gone.

See, we know where we sit there. We can comprehend the time. We know it all turns out insignificant in the end, but it is significant now, and some of us are better at using it well than others, but then again, “well” is subjective. Do we define doing well as becoming famous? By doing something important on the grand scale? Don’t we mostly define it as doing what we need to do, fulfilling our obligations, coming through when people are depending on us? Yeah. We advance mostly by people just doing what they need to do. We hold back the night by each of us keeping our candle and doing what good we can, and refusing to do something wrong, at least most of the time. Time. It will end.

All of space-time will end.

Will there be nothing then? Or will there be something still?

I am as confident of being there to see what it is, and I am as confident about it as I am of anything in the future.

Eternity. Don’t ask what will happen after some time. There is no time. We can’t think of before and after. That pertains to time, to space-time.

What will be after space-time is gone is simply unknowable.

In the meantime, don’t get hung up on how long things take. They really don’t take long.

 

 

Quoting:

Pluralism holds the key to the vitality of American religiousness as well as to the development of religious civility. One might think that economists long ago would have pointed this out to their colleagues in sociology who were so enamored of the strength of monopolies, since Adam Smith had laid out the whole analysis with such clarity long ago. Trouble is that until very recently, economists were so little interested in religion that the entire chapter on these matters in Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations was (and is) omitted from most editions. It was not until I began working out the stimulating effects of pluralism on my own that someone suggested I read Smith–and I found this puzzling because initially I could find nothing on the topic in the readily available editions. Today, colleagues in economics find my emphasis on pluralism and competition fairly obvious, while many sociologists of religion continue to believe that I am obviously wrong–that competition harms religion and that I have been misled by inappropriate analogies with capitalism. Of course, the great majority of social scientists pay no attention to such peripheral matters, being secure in their knowledge that religion is doomed and soon must vanish.

Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 2011, HarperOne, HarperCollins paperback edition 2012, page 367.

Here is an online source for Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN20.html#V.1.195

It seems to me, Islam is quite capable of working itself out and peacefully meeting the needs of its adherents without conflict against other faiths. However, governments (Kings and tyrants in some cases) meddle. Governments in Islamic communities are pushing and skewing, and even funding and enabling radicals who support the preferred views.

Our nation, our government, needs to get out and leave the people alone.

If our nation can work with the rest of the world to free religion from government completely, at all levels, I’m confident all faiths can fulfill the need we have.

Fundamentally, government is the problem. Ronaldus Maximus was correct.

We need to address the correct problem.

The civil authority and the religious authority need to be completely separate, and the civil authority needs to be limited, strictly limited.

Militant German atheist Karl T. Griesinger complained in 1852 that the separation of church and state in America fueled religious efforts: “Clergymen in America [are] like other businessmen; they must meet competition build up a trade…. Now it is clear…why attendance is more common here than anywhere else in the world.”

That, of course, is Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity.

You want better schools? Separation of school and state!

Write your representatives and request adding “and education” to the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Petition your government to get out of schools altogether, especially the federal government. We need our states to reduce dependence on federal money and gradually outlaw federal involvement in any aspect of education within the state.

Our churches, as a whole, inclusive of the plurality, are the best and most successful in the world. Religion is one of our fundamental needs, and we are very successful with it precisely because the government is totally hands off. Education will be likewise if we get the government out of it.

Don’t most of us think our neighbor, our coworker, our friend needs a bit more, a bit deeper religion, a bit more lofty goals? Isn’t, “Aim a little higher,” some of the best advice each of us has received from someone we respect when we stooped a bit low; when we chose to be less than our best?

Of course.

How do we help that neighbor, that coworker, that friend? We don’t run to the government, that is for sure.

We do our best, we live our best in the areas where government is least involved.

Let’s get the government out of our schools.

I came across an article about, Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife, by John Martin Fischer, Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin.

I’m writing a bit more below the block quote, but in response to an article in Slate, I posted, to Facebook, the following:

Quite interesting. I don’t suppose I’ll read the book, but the article is interesting.

They talk of meaning. Generally meaning must be more than physical and naturalistically materialistic.They do qualify meaning as meeting reality, relevant in the waking world, as it were. I suppose one can hold meaning to only mean so much. Kinda meaningless, though.

He describes some evidences taken as establishing reality and some more-than-natural essence (supernaturalism, of course), but everyone will weight such differently. I particularly don’t accept the argument that blind folk having visual content in their NDE makes it more real and stronger evidence of supernatural, because I don’t see sight as evidence of supernatural.

I agree in general with his statement, “We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world.” Where I diverge is I do not accept that such ephemeral essences of beauty, meaning, awe, wonder, etc. can be explained purely in context of the natural world.

Ultimately, universally speaking, we’ve had 13 billion years to find some evidence of the foundation of meaning, the underlying and overarching reality that is more than our natural universe, and the only real evidence we have is our sense of awe, our sense that there must be more. The fact that it just seems wrong that the truly good is impermanent. The fact that we know there is such a thing as good, even when people disagree exactly how to define it, is our only real evidence that there is anything real at all.

I am more than a random confluence of quarks, strings, and quantum states, and I honestly am not sure I will ever consider that proven. I do honestly believe that sooner or later, in terms of a human life or in terms universal, I will step out of time, space, matter, and energy, and enter eternity. It is my true desire to be ready. I and my understanding are not all that I am, not all that is, not the sum of all that matters to me. There is something more. I call it God. I endeavour with open heart to be subject to God and that which can truly be called good.

We take the reports very seriously; indeed, we take them at face value. People really do have NDEs with the content they report. And they are beautiful—deeply and profoundly transformative in positive ways, altering their moral and spiritual outlook, and diminishing their fear of death. We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world. We do not have to give up the tools of science in order to understand NDEs, and we do not have to give up the beauty and awesome nature of these experiences in order to explain them in terms of the natural world.
We believe that the key to reconciling naturalism with the deep meaning of NDEs is to recognize two important parts of the human attempt to come to grips with the world. One part of this inquiry seeks understanding, and the best way to achieve understanding is through science. But another part involves seeking to feel comfortable and at home in the world; this is not merely a cognitive project, but one that engages our emotions.
Stories are the best way to achieve this kind of emotional resonance. Human beings strive to understand the world, but we also aim to be at home in it. Thus, we are storytellers as well as scientific inquirers. Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife explains how storytelling and scientific understanding fit together in a coherent way. Seeing this helps us to present a naturalistic interpretation of NDEs—an interpretation that is nevertheless deeply respectful of these awesome experiences.

He addresses the deep meaning, yet what can that mean in a purely naturalistic context?

He asserts the best way to seek understanding is through science, yet it is not the only way, and “best” is lacking. Science is our only repeatable way to verify reality and how things work. Whether it is best or not is subjective and depends on value, which itself is subjective. Subjective things can be monitored over time for evaluation, but so much of what is involved depends on the individuals examining and evaluating.

Scientific investigation lets us share our investigations and findings. It helps me check you, and you check me, to try to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves, and we really must admit we are the easiest to fool. Check Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) blog. He likes to point out how we fool ourselves and can hardly do differently. (But that is a different topic.)

As a Christian, I hold certain views of eternity, the afterlife.

I like to say eternity because it necessarily steps outside time, and time, space, matter, and energy, are all that is, all that makes what nature is, all that can be called naturalistic and materialistic. Science has us convinced the universe is not eternal. It is well confirmed, and thorough thinking confirms it. Nature is temporary. Our universe, all that is and all we know of it, is only about 13 billion years old. Science differs on how it might end, and how much time will elapse before it ends, but no scientific evidence suggests our universe will continue. It will end.

If there is no eternity, there is, in a very real sense, nothing, nothing at all.

Is it reasonable to suppose that in 100 years I will be exactly as I was 100 years ago?

It is a possibility. I accept that, but nothing in me can believe it. There is more, and I am, and always will be, part of that more.

If all that is me, all consciousness, all essences, ends up as it was before me, then nothing different can be supposed of the universe. If all the matter comes apart, all the energy dissipates, all the subatomics cease, even space will cease to be, and time. With no time, there is nothing. With no time there is no time to change. There will be nothing, nothing in any sense we can understand from science. Only the supernatural can still be, and it must be eternal or exists not at all.

Back to NDEs, I suppose all such experiences are limited by our brains, by our understanding, by all that makes us individual. Near death experiences, out of body experiences, are necessarily limited by ourselves, by our capacities. Even if such a spiritual experience exceeded all bounds of human intellect and capacities, the experience could be retained in this natural life only as some vague knowing, with no expressible understanding. That is, anything learned or experienced beyond natural capacity while unconstrained by anything natural would be lost as soon as it was restrained to the natural world, body, and mind.

In short, there either is only the natural, or there is more. I believe it is inherently impossible to quantify the supernatural in any way. I likewise hold it impossible to find any naturally observable phenomenon that exceeds natural scientific investigation and explanation with the laws of nature. I still believe in miracles, but I expect we will always be able to explain the ones we can catch and quantify, but miracles are not always so. Some miracles are truly unique, and such cannot be investigated and quantified. Some things just can’t be explained. Even science tells us that.

Mr. Gornoski has hit it.

I add my agreement. I add CS Lewis:

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

Faces. We all have one, and only one, even if we try to present more than one. The gods, our God, only knows the one face. Each of us must present our truest face as truly as we are able, and we must each consider the face of our neighbor, be it black, or any other color. Be it gay, addicted, prostituted, abused, rich, powerful, humble or proud, we must face each other openly and equally.

We must speak in truth. We must try to understand. Sure, we need tolerance to ensure we only bounce, that we don’t break, but we need so much more. We must try to understand, and we must walk in love in the understanding.

——————————

Who among you will carry out the next act of violence against your nonviolent neighbor? We cannot hide behind the veil of the voting or jury booth. Face to face, we must make our choice.

Source: Law Has Become the Anonymous Violence of the Crowd | Foundation for Economic Education

Continuing with Dr. Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, in chapter 12 he explained how Islam killed and drove out scores of millions of Christians and Jews. The European pilgrims to the Holy Land were coming under ever-increasing attack and were being subjected to taxes and tolls, and as the Muslims threatened Constantinople, Europe responded, which is what he titled chapter 13 about the crusades.

The Crusades were hardly more than a defensive effort to secure the route to the Holy Lands, and to ensure access to and the security of the Holy Lands. As radicals are doing today, radicals then tore down historic sites and monuments. The Crusaders were only trying to stop that. They didn’t try to Christianize the residents either.

Check for yourself. You will see the Crusaders pretty much left everything alone on the whole. Sure, there were bad things, but it was a bad time for warfare. By the standards of that era, the Crusaders were typical, and the Muslims were worse, but not much worse, by the standards of the day.

The Crusades were not profitable. No one ever thought they would be. The Crusades certainly were nothing like colonization. They were preservative, not creative. There was no effort at all to establish any European culture, not Christian or otherwise. Keep in mind that Syria was a principal region of Christianity until shortly after the Muslims started killing them all.

Frankly, the Muslims thought of the Crusades as trivial, just a nuisance. Muslims tended to think it was better Palestine be a protectorate of the Franks than the Turks. (Islam had its racial and cultural divides as well, even from its earliest days.) It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart at the beginning of the 20th Century that Islamic propaganda began decrying the West in any way possible, including dredging up whatever they could from centuries past.

There were Western denunciations of the Crusades, particularly from anti-Christian writers such as Voltaire and David Hume. Most of that was simply bias. The practical effects of the Crusades were positive, but short-lived. One could argue for or against, but history relegates the Crusades to a minor role, no matter the topic.

In chapter 14, he discusses the myth of the Dark Ages.

As an engineer, by training and by general understanding of history, I’ve always known there were no Dark Ages from an engineering standpoint. Architecture and all technical arts (metal working, machines of all sorts, etc.) grew and developed from the fall of the Roman Empire. Capitalism was born then. Good stuff.

Dr. Stark more or less says that the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Edward Gibbon were simply blinded by their hatred of Christianity, and they simply refused to see all the progress of those times, simply because it was all associated with the Church.

Of course, it was only because of the foundations of Christianity that science, the arts, and all technologies advanced so thoroughly. Other schema can be proposed to similar ends, and there have been various eras of advancement in various cultures, but the Greco-Roman and most every other culture of the several centuries since the early Roman era, and also the cultures of Islam, all failed to significantly advance anything except for the rich and powerful. And, there was slavery. Slavery pretty much accounted for all the rich and powerful had, and slavery pretty much accounts for all that those societies accomplished and built. All non-Christian cultures have been based on slavery. While slavery was tolerated under Christianity, it was extincted by condemnation and neglect. Slavery began to end in Christian communities when the clergy extended the sacraments, particularly holy communion, to slaves. In Christendom, slavery began to diminish by the mid-600s (St. Bethilda is an example). By the end of the eleventh century, slavery was essentially abolished in all Christian cultures (which was essentially all of Europe, but only Europe, since Islam was effectively killing it everywhere else).

The last centuries of the Roman Empire strangled the world. It bound people to the state. For centuries it was the state and the gods of the state, then it was the state and the Church, which was wed by a relatively strong and egoistic ruler. That, obviously, was for the overall detriment of the common man. After Rome fell, the church did not. The church was significant and beneficial overall, but the church played in power and politics, and no good can come of such. No good comes from playing power and politics in general; so much the worse when granting it the imprimatur of divine sanction.

The state must be constrained, limited, and small for people to be free and to grow. Freedom is the essential ingredient to growth and progress in societies.

I’ve completed just over half the book so far, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

 


I’m honored to know this man.

Mission Rwanda

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.  Today we are living in Rwanda, a country that suffered one of the most horrific time periods in human history of one people group killing another. In Rwanda their skin color was the same but their tribal affiliation was different. The ruling political party had, for more than 30 years, fostered a climate of fear, hate and revenge in the hearts and minds of one tribe against the other. And when the leader of the ruling party was flying back from signing a peace accord, his own army shot his plane out of the air and blamed it on the other tribe. They then put into action a well-prepared plan to exterminate an entire tribe of people.

Over the…

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Regarding chapter 12 in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, I find his opening assertions remarkable.

In chapter 9, on assessing growth, he points out that through Constantine’s conversion, to about 350 CE, we have sufficient reliable data to say that a simple logarithmic growth model of 3.4% per year holds. However, he points out that it had to slow rapidly after that.

Here is why:

Year Christians in Roman Empire
40 1,000 Thousand
50 1,397
100 7,434
109 10,044 Ten Thousand
150 39,560
178 100,887 Hundred Thousand
180 107,864
200 210,517
247 1,013,331 Million
250 1,120,245
300 5,961,288
312 8,904,029 (Milvian Bridge)
316 10,178,146 Ten Million
350 31,722,471 (around half the empire)
385 102,231,768 Hundred Million
454 1,026,840,633 Billion
523 10,313,835,968 Ten Billion

See the problem?

Dr. Stark presents the table above in chapter 9, and I’ve added some numbers for clarity.

I recalculated the numbers by dropping them in a spreadsheet, adding 3.4% per year, one year at a time. My numbers matched his. It is clear that the 3.4% growth rate dropped off rapidly after Christians became the majority. Otherwise, there would have been more Christians than living people. I’m sure various factors ensured it slowed rapidly. Probably the largest factor was that there were simply fewer non-Christians. If everyone you know is Christian, you can’t convert any of them. Probably official sanction slowed the growth too, simply because of loss of zeal.

Regardless, the growth seems astonishing when considering only the numbers, but when one thinks that 3.4% growth means that on average every 100 Christians brought 3 or 4 new converts into the fold every year, then it doesn’t seem remarkable at all, other than that it seems to have been so consistent. For over three centuries, the fervor of Christians stayed high.

Back to my point, chapter 12. He opens the chapter explaining how little information is still available about Christianity east of Jerusalem. He suggests Syria was the “center of gravity” of the entirety of Christendom until about 700 AD. There apparently is evidence that most of the eastern world had significant Christian populations, including India and China, until the coercive religions arose and wiped them out with the sword. (Of course, I’m referring to Islam, but I’ve only read a couple of pages of the chapter so far. I assume he will note other persecutions and massacres attributable to other religion and culture.)

What I find most remarkable is he concludes that Christians in the west (the Roman Empire) accounted for ONLY a third of all Christians in the year 500. Think of that.

There were tens of millions of Christians in the west. If there were twice as many Christians in the east and in northern Africa, that means the aggressive religions and cultures slaughtered around one hundred million Christians (100,000,000 people of several ethnicities). Actually, even more, since it was over centuries that they were wiped out. There would have been some births and conversions in that time.

Contemplate that.

I always encourage keeping perspective. Try to look at the big picture as well as the details.

The world wars of the 20th Century were horrific, and still in the minds of many of us. Estimates vary, but war deaths through the entire 20th Century are only about as many total as the deaths of Christians who lived in the east before they were extirpated.

Dr. Stark indicates that in many Muslim areas, Christians remained a majority, though repressed, until the beginning of the Fourteenth Century, at which point the Muslims conducted a relentless, violent extermination of the Christians, forcing conversion or death.

I suppose many acquiesced and switched allegiance, but we have ample evidence that a significant proportion of Christians will accept execution rather than renounce Christ.

From chapter 12:

After centuries of gradual decline, the number of Christians in the East and North Africa suddenly reduced to less than 2 percent of the population by 1400. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Christianity had been essentially restricted to Europe.

I’ve made assumptions here, and calculated in ways Stark hasn’t suggested (at least not as far as I’ve read to date), but the fact is obvious. Christians of all ethnicities have experienced horrific violence at the hands of other beliefs and cultures.

When it comes to blame and grievance, I believe there never has been and never will be any shortage. On the whole, we are all in this together, and we just better keep working on doing our part to make it better. We must refuse coercion. We must live and act right in our own lives, respecting the life and property of others.

Do good and pray for those who despitefully use you.

My comments on Rodney Stark’s Triumph of Christianity are what strikes me, and not an effort to be thorough.

Constantine’s combining of Church authority with State power was a mistake. It has hurt society and humanity.

Constantine was tolerant and cooperative with the pagans and other religions, yet he was intolerant of dissent within Christianity from Christian orthodoxy. His objection to dissent, and his application of state power against it was probably mostly trying to keep a strong unity, probably largely motivated by political ambition and avoidance of schism, which tends to lead to strife. (I don’t think Constantine was power-mad. I think he was sincere, but perhaps suffering from some noble-cause-corruption.)

I suppose Constantine was generally traditional.

That would mean that he expected people to honor their traditions whether they were different from his or not. It seems the Roman distaste for Christianity from the beginning was rooted in an expectation of following tradition and honoring the beliefs and gods of one’s family and heritage. Conversion to Christianity thwarted that. Conversion to Christianity abandoned one’s religious heritage. Traditionalists are likely to be incensed by such a change. Gradual change over generations was one thing. The dramatic conversion to Christ alone was seen as extreme, extremist, and antisocial.

For Constantine, with his Christian mother, Helena, he probably did not see his own conversion as abandoning his heritage and tradition. However, he probably respected such traditionalism among the pagans and other religions. He probably also tended to judge individuals by the content of their character, their abilities, and their political loyalty. He apparently continued always to honor and promote people around him without regard for their religious beliefs. He probably only considered whether or not they were reliable, and consistent behavior with regard to one’s beliefs, whether Christian or other, was evidence of conviction and reliability.

Regarding Constantine’s conversion, I suspect he was raised consistent with general Roman pagan tradition and beliefs. He probably had significant influence from his mother with regard to Christianity, but as a likely ruler of Rome, Roman religious practice was probably his own before conversion.

If one runs the numbers, given reasonable and plausible mathematical models (as Stark does in the book), one realizes that the Christians, who had been feared as potentially adverse political opponents, were at least a large minority, and probably already a majority, especially in the aristocracy. Constantine probably was mostly an opportunist. He saw the trend of increasing Christian unity and population proportion, and he decided it was time to embrace his mother’s faith. I think he was sincere, but I am nearly certain he saw only advantages for himself politically. Emperors were often assassinated by troops or guards. Applying Christian ethics in his administration and military leadership was very likely to improve his chances of staying in good graces with his subordinates and bodyguards.

I close this comment by reiterating that I consider the use of state power with any regard to religion a mistake and inherently wrong.

Watch these:

Nine Months that Made You

Find the episodes on TV or watch online. The first episode is available already, and the remainder should be available shortly after airing. (Episode two aired just before I decided to write this note.)

We must stay open minded, and we must learn. We do not have full truth, and we cannot, but we can know more, and we can understand each other better.

Do you part, and do your research. These shows are a good start for many concerns at the forefront today.

This image is pasted in as a link from PBS.


I thank RJS for some clear thinking. Good points.

I go farther. Suffering can obviously have good effects sometimes. Regardless, suffering of itself is not bad. It is not evil.

If I cause suffering, I am evil, but the sufferer is not evil. The suffering is not evil. It is unpleasant. It is undesirable, but it is not evil.

If one insists on blaming God for suffering, well, that makes a problem, but I don’t think it is God’s problem, because I don’t blame God for suffering, except that is where the “buck stops.” Sure, in the ultimate sense, God is the cause, the only ultimate cause for all.

However, I think we err when we look at it that way.

It is all bigger than we can think. We cannot comprehend the universe. It is vast beyond hope of comprehending. Time is beyond our full comprehension, but a few billion years past, and perhaps that much future, maybe even several times over, is something we feel we can comprehend because we know what billions means when we consider things like the human population. We know we cannot have any sort of omniscience about it, but we can hold perspective with regard to time, even with our very short lives. The natural universe is not so. It is bigger than imagining.

Why?

God’s purpose is obviously even beyond that.

There is only one truly important question. Why?

Why is the ultimate question, and the one we are beginning to realize that we probably cannot answer, not ever, especially not in this life, probably not even in eternity.

Farther up and further in, Reepicheep cried.

That is all I know.

Farther up and further in.

There is so much more, and it just seems to me that the problem of evil is really just a misnomer, an artifact of just not really being able to figure any of it out in an ultimate sense.

Nature simply moves to eliminate imbalance. Imbalances arise from all sorts of conditions. Imbalances cause problems for us humans, especially with regard to necessities and health. Phenomena emerge to increase the efficiency of alleviating imbalance, and nature cares not one whit how nor what comes about because of the alleviation. Emergent phenomena can become quite complex. You and I are good examples. Nature doesn’t mind taking the long road. We are obviously rather inefficient in some regards, and we cause imbalance in so many regards, but overall, we fill a niche in nature that hastens the ultimate balancing. It is only a slight simplification to give the inevitable balancing a name, Time. In time, all will balance, or be uniform. Either it will fly apart to nothingness, or it will coast apart to a near-zero cold death, or perhaps some other possibility physics and cosmology suppose, or will supose. We shall see.

In the meantime, we have time. Make more of it than arguing about the age of the earth and supposed problems with God, evil, and creation.

You were made for more. Endeavour to fulfill your role in making nature better, especially try to make the lives of your fellow man better. Good triumphs over evil. Do your part to make it so.

Live justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

Musings on Science and Theology

Peril in ParadiseSuffering is an undeniable part of life on this planet. Accident, natural disaster, predators, and old age. If the earth is 4.5 billion years old all of these are part of God’s creation independent of any sin of Adam and Eve. If evolution is responsible for the diversity of life we see around us disease, cancers, and defects can be added to the mix.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson reflected on this is a famous stanza of his (long) poem In Memorium A.H.H. (Canto 56)

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

If God is love as John attests, and good and powerful, how could, or why would, He create a world with ages of suffering before mankind even came on the scene?

Mark S. Whorton reflects on this question in Chapter 10 of his…

View original post 1,047 more words

Additional detail in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, chapter 7, where he discusses early Christian history with regard to women, he gives some eye-opening specifics.

I’ll admit I’m biased toward marriage. It seems clear that marriage and a nuclear family are essential to society in all forms we know. Without it, we are probably looking at something like the Borg (of the Star Trek fantasy universe) to expect humanity to continue rather than go extinct.

Stark points out that the Greek’s considered Roman marriage practices to be cruel, but Greeks were little different, mainly only ensuring the young women were past puberty before given in marriage.

The fact was, Christian women could expect to be physically and emotionally mature before being married, and they would have at least some say in who they married. They also had much more secure marriages, since men were also expected to be chaste and faithful, and couples were not allowed to divorce, except for marital infidelity.

Dr. Stark sites studies estimating that men in Rome outnumbered women 131 to 100. That is a lot of frustrated dudes. (Such is often suggested as a significant factor in wars. Killing the young men in battles tends to lower such troublesome ratios.) He also indicated that in most of the empire, the ratio was closer to 140 males to 100 females. The state even penalized women under 50 years of age who didn’t remarry if widowed or divorced. He gives examples, including Tullia, Cicero’s daughter, as married at 16, widowed at 22, remarried in a year, divorced at 28, remarried in a year, divorced at 33 (I assume she was pregnant) and she died at 34 after giving birth.

I think it worth mentioning the gruesome abortion procedures advised by Roman medical writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus. Relatively recently, historians have established that contraceptive methods were known and available, and generally effective. It is sad that women were of such low regard as to be subjected to such harsh and crude medical procedures to extract an unborn baby, especially when it was legal to just abandon the infant after it was born. I can only suppose most of the men of the era felt it shameful to do so. Or, perhaps they knew it was harder after seeing the baby. Regardless, it is disgusting and sad that men subjected women to such harm.

While many ancient philosophers justified abortion and exposure, even arguing it should be mandatory for women over the age of forty, the Jewish and Christian voices denounced it. “The second chapter of the Didache orders: “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.””

I comment from time to time that I am willing to compromise with regard to abortion. It seems clear that even societies that condemned abortion allowed for it very early on, primarily, they would allow for no penalties or criminality if an accident or negligence (or violence) caused the miscarriage of a child if the child was unrecognizable as such. This is where I am willing to compromise. If we can societally and legally agree upon a demarcation in pregnancy  where before it is not considered, and after, we accord full personhood, individuality, and due process, I believe we will help our society. We will get along better. We will flourish more.

However, objectively, there is no way to demarcate a human being after conception. Once a unique egg and sperm join, that is a living human being. There is nothing easy about it, but we all like to think of ourselves as fair. There is nothing fair about arbitrarily taking another human’s life. “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” Clint Eastwood line (as Will Money) in Unforgiven.

Continuing with the hard stuff, I consider rape the same.

Accordingly, I’m willing to afford a raped woman more latitude than most of the rest of us.

Finally, while I can use history, pretty much all of it, to justify some allowance for abortion, at least from secondary causes, the same can be said of slavery, and hopefully all of us alive today hold slavery and human trafficking to be intolerable abominations, reprehensible evils that justify the harshest punishments. We are also justified in making stern effort to quell such activity, and protect every person from such, and to seek out all such purveyors of such evil.

So, I hope we will all take stock of the past and resolve not to let such happen again. I pray for the time when abortion will be considered the same as slavery, considered simply unconscionable. We are not there yet. Some advancement of ourselves or our society or of our technology seems likely to accomplish it. I believe the day is far off but will come. In the meantime, let us work together, discuss publicly and reasonably, let us debate in our legislatures, and let the courts stand down. We the people can work this out. We can compromise and live together on the subject.

https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/summer-reading-3/

https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/summer-reading-2/

Revisiting my marriage bias, I am convinced the key is for those who believe in the value of the traditional family to live as exemplars. Family in most of our societies is far better off than in most of history. I hold family as key, but society seems to have a wide tolerance. Those who hold different views and values can be tolerated! We simply can accommodate. Nontraditionalists (excluding the violent) are no threat.

White Heart gave the indictment many years ago, “Are they working harder at what we think is wrong, Than we are at what we know is right?

With Gandalf (JRR Tolkien), I believe that it is the common folk doing the small kindnesses and simple toils. I believe it is everyman standing for his belief. This is how we progress toward rightness. Live as Micah prophesied. We know what is right. God has shown us. It is only this He requires of us: live justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

We simply have no standing to hold differently. I must do what I know is right and work to teach others what is best, but I have no justification whatsoever to impose or coerce. If I am right, I must show it by proof of action and result. I cannot enforce it by power, by violence, by politics. No.

Every single person must be respected as such. To each his own, and we all owe it to protect that.

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