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The Right Side of History—A Review

A review of The Right Side of History by Ben Shapiro. Broadside Books (March 19, 2019) 288 pages.

In the prologue to his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote that the purpose of the book was to “justify the ways of God to men.” The story, in other words, would be a dramatization of theodicy, a key question of the Enlightenment that would clearly demarcate the intellectual and moral boundaries between the traditional religious morality of some thinkers and the emergent secular ethics of others. Paradise Lost, which was first published in 1667, in many ways anticipated one of the biggest philosophical problems of the eighteenth century, and its protagonist, Lucifer, is arguably its finest exemplar.

Lucifer is the archetype of man at the edge of modernity, stranded in a Godless void, facing the abyss, with only his reason to understand himself and his new position in the natural order. Milton contrived to portray Lucifer as a proud and spiteful figure—his reason was merely an instrument to rationalize his hatred. But something happened that Milton either didn’t expect or could not foresee; his villain would become the most compelling character in the story. Despite his best efforts, Milton’s depiction of God appeared tyrannous and Lucifer proved the wiser of the two, inadvertently undermining the author’s own agenda.

Ben Shapiro’s book, The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, relies heavily on the Miltonian conceit that the use of Reason alone, absent God’s moral law and universal will, dooms us to live in the abyss. And, like Milton, Shapiro’s attempt to demonstrate that secular civilization needs to rekindle the Judeo-Christian teachings upon which it is based, inadvertently shows us why we were right to leave them behind in the first place.

Drawing on an antagonism first sketched by Leo Strauss, Shapiro argues the twin pillars of Western society are Judeo-Christian moral law and Greek scientific reasoning: Jerusalem and Athens. Both are essential to the structure of our civilization, and removing either pillar will collapse it:

The USSR rejected Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law… and they starved and slaughtered tens of millions of human beings. The Nazis rejected Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law, and they shoved children into gas chambers.

This is the central thesis of the book, which is in many ways a brief history of Western philosophy. Narratively, the book is a bit neat. It draws clear A-to-Bs between every idea and its adoption. If you want to understand any historical event or societal shift, all you need to do is look for the philosopher whose ideas will lead you there. The history of ideas is rarely that simple. In that sense it underestimates the ways in which history is—to use a term I suspect Shapiro will hate—dialectical. Still, Shapiro shows that his reading is equal in width and depth. The book is impressively researched and thorough in the places it wishes to be. But it glosses in others.

For example, in order to fully make a case for the necessity of Jerusalem, Shapiro first has to rig up an argument for why Greek ethics alone are insufficient, despite the overwhelming superiority of Athenian civilization over anything produced in ancient Judea. This requires some retroactive fiddling with the concept of the telos. “The ancients,” Shapiro writes, “realized that any theory of telos had to rely on the presence of a designer. As such, they were philosophical monotheists, even if there were religious polytheists.” This conflation allows us to read an Unmoved Mover or a Divine Will into Greek philosophy, making it easier to fuse Reason and scientific investigation with the worship of God, whose will is manifested in all things: If you want to know God, study nature. This was Thomas Aquinas’s argument, and Shapiro cannot be blamed for finding it agreeable—most thinkers did until the Enlightenment.

This also allows Shapiro to skirt the obvious hostility the church showed toward intellectual inquiry for centuries. Shapiro writes as if the church had never banned a book or burned a heretic:

Contrary to popular opinion, new discoveries weren’t invariably seen as heretical or dangerous to the dominion of the Church; in fact, the Church often supported scientific investigation.

The Church was indeed the only place where any kind of inquiry could be conducted at the time. It was the only place where people were literate and enjoyed steady funding and access to instruments. But the Church only encouraged inquiry to the extent that it could reinforce and expand its own doctrine, which is a bit like the state telling you that you are free to make whatever art you like, just as long as you don’t criticize the regime. The first major scientific challenge to the Church was heliocentrism. But Shapiro claims this was hardly an issue: “Nicolas Copernicus studied in parochial school and served the Church of Warmia as medical advisor; his publication of De revolutionibus… in March 1542, included a letter to Pope Paul III.”

In fact, Copernicus had finished his treatise years earlier (there are records indicating that the manuscript had been completed as early as the 1530s), but he withheld it, aware that its publication could be life-threatening, and circulated only a few anonymous copies to his close friends. The book was only published in its entirety on the eve of Copernicus’s death, and the letter to the pope, which was also anonymous, was not written by Copernicus, but by Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran preacher who had been given the job of overseeing the book’s publication. It was an attempt to soften the blow, and states, inter alia, that the author’s findings are only meant to aid the computation of the heavens, and do not even need to be considered true in order for the calculations to be useful.

The Church would continue to uphold the geocentric model for at least another 150 years, and wouldn’t get around to officially pardoning Galileo until 1992. However, Shapiro claims the persecution of Galileo was merely a PR move by the Church; an attempt to crack down on dissent in response to Protestant accusations of leniency and hypocrisy. The trial of Galileo also saw dozens of astronomical works, including De Revolutionibus, placed on the Church’s “List of Prohibited Books”—a list that over time would accumulate the works of Hobbes, Pascal, Descartes, Bacon, Montaigne, Spinoza, Maimonides, Locke, Montesquieu, Diderot, Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Bentham, Balzac, Mill, Dumas, Flaubert, and even Milton for Paradise Lost. This list (which wasn’t discontinued until 1966) is comprehensive enough to discredit Shapiro’s argument almost by itself. It was, in fact, the continuous refinement of scientific investigation and its shift in emphasis from celebrating God’s creation to the betterment of humanity’s material condition that led our species to the Enlightenment.

The Right Side of History makes useful and perceptive distinctions between French, German, and Anglo Enlightenment ideas, and the good and bad strains therein. If the Renaissance was the intellectual rebirth of our species, then the Enlightenment showed us that we have an evil twin. In his tour of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Shapiro groups thinkers into the light and dark sides of the Enlightenment. The light side consists of those who maintained a belief in teleology and Judeo-Christian moral law, like John Locke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence, Shapiro says, is the most accomplished testament to the Judeo-Christian concept of natural rights—that men are made free in the image of God. In order to make this fully convincing, Shapiro has to significantly downplay Thomas Jefferson’s deism, his disdain for organized religion, his continual support for the atheistic French Revolution, and his intellectual kinship with Thomas Paine, whom Shapiro throws in with the darker strain. The dark side also includes Voltaire, David Hume, Diderot, and Rousseau. It was the radical anti-teleological materialism of these thinkers, he contends, as well as their atheistic contention that there are no God-given rights, that culminated in the blood and terror of the French Revolution.

Indeed, the desecration of churches and the execution of clerics are among the more shameful episodes of anti-theism at the time of the French Revolution, and they cannot be dodged. However, Shapiro should not be allowed to get away with his claim that the French Revolution failed because it exalted Reason above all else. Writing about the creation of the Cult of Reason, he says:

Frenchmen were to celebrate the Festival of Reason. That festival saw churches across France transformed into Temples of Reason, with the chief temple being the cathedral at Notre Dame. There, the musicians of the National Guard performed hymns to Liberty… and the flame of the goddess of Reason was lit on the Greek altar.

The Cult of Reason was indeed grotesque, but not because of Reason—the Cult of Reason was grotesque because it was a cult. Temples, hymns, pulpits, goddesses—these are the trappings of organized religion, not the scientific method. The same can be said of totalitarianism. Shapiro faithfully repeats the tired argument that fascism was an atheistic phenomenon, the product of the Godless belief in Reason alone: “The Nazis rejected Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law, and they shoved children in to gas chambers,”—an argument that makes no acknowledgement of the Church’s millennia-long promotion of anti-Semitism.

We are also told that, “Hitler claimed ideological forebears in Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche.” It is worth noting, however, that most people who wore the uniform of the Wehrmacht were documented members of one church or another, and had “Gott Mit Uns” (“God With Us”) embossed on their buckles. Nor should we forget that the Vatican signed treaties with both Nazi Germany and the Italian National Fascist Party; and while Hitler may have been influenced by Nietzsche, his name does not appear once in Mein Kampf. Hitler did, however, include the following: “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.” Underscoring all of this is the religious conceit of totalitarianism: that the will of one man, the source of all power and authority, must be worshiped and adhered to as it pervades the whole structure of society.

All of the above informs a broader mischaracterization of Reason throughout The Right Side of History, which holds that a) Reason alone cannot shape values; and b) believing that it can is tantamount to an act of faith—which merely confirms our unrecognized belief in Judeo-Christian moral law. Shapiro is intellectually honest enough to realize he must pass through Kant’s Categorical Imperative in order to make this argument. He acknowledges that, while Kant’s system of ethics is impressive, it falls short in certain areas, the most obvious example being that Kant leaves no room for situational morality. It also cannot entirely escape subjectivity. Shapiro is therefore not able to get behind the idea that Reason can produce good judgement in all cases. If we are capable of determining our goals through Reason and then defending them as if they were universal law, Shapiro says, what prevents me from doing whatever I want and justifying it as objectively right? Who can say otherwise?

What this misses is Kant’s basic assumption: that the ability to reason is within us all; we can place anyone in an identical moral dilemma, and not only would that person be able to reason what the right thing to do is, they are also capable of reasoning that if anyone else were placed in the same situation that they would do the same. It is precisely this ability that allows us to argue for universal value in a way that is objective at best and inter-subjective at worst. It is this self-conscious process that generates the ethical dimension of our existence, and in this process, we are able to assign values, insofar as anything is valuable for something. It’s not perfect, but it has served mankind well in spite of its limitations.

And none of this requires faith. As Thomas Nagel and Sam Harris have pointed out, to say that one “believes in Reason” is to use two words too many. Reason, properly practiced, is unarguable. If someone presents you with an argument based on sound evidence, you are powerless to deny it, unless you choose to dig in stubbornly. It doesn’t require faith. If it works, the proof is in the results. The only thing it demands is confidence in our fellow humans, and confidence that we can know right from wrong without an eternal supervising authority. This is where Shapiro is unable to go. The statement: “Genocide is wrong because it obviously is,” is not good enough for him. For him, what is obvious is based on a foundation, first laid at the Sinai 3000 years ago, and no matter how far we wish to get away from the mountain, it will always remain in view.

For Shapiro, whatever is “obvious” to us is only obvious because we were once told so. In a conversation with Sam Harris in 2018, Shapiro said (and I’m paraphrasing): “You’re using my bricks to build your argument.” In other words, if there is an explanation for the morality of the secular world, it is that people don’t realize how unconsciously religious they actually are. This persistently annoying claim is unfalsifiable. But, as Karl Popper said, the falsifiability of an  argument is its greatest strength not a weakness.

Throughout The Right Side of History, Shapiro does a good job at refuting the claim that the Enlightenment sprang from nothingness—that we were all benighted superstitious apes until the day that we weren’t, in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, at which point we secularized and everything became great for humanity. This is a sophomoric description of intellectual history, certainly. But the claim that the Enlightenment could not have occurred without Jerusalem still leaves Shapiro with a great deal of work to do. He is unwilling to admit that what took place in the Sinai Peninsula was a codification of a moral sense that already existed within us. It doesn’t require faith, but only Reason to surmise that the Hebrews never would have reached the mountain in the first place if they’d believed that murder, theft, and perjury were acceptable. You can’t have it both ways. If you believe that the Enlightenment didn’t erupt from a void, then the same must be true of the wisdom said to have been handed down in the Sinai.

The time may soon come when a more sophisticated neuroscience will render arguments of morality and free will effectively null. Indeed, what we are already learning about the brain suggests that our use of reason is much more instrumental than we think it is. We as a species need to be prepared for the possibility that many of the operating assumptions upon which we have relied for centuries are fictions. Since its ascent, humanity has lived according to the fictions it has created for itself. We all believe in fictions. Not one of us is exempt. The bricks belong to no one. And the house we’re building is for all of us. A good strategy would be for us to reduce the amount of refuse we’re required to heft in raising it.

 

Jared Marcel Pollen was born in Canada. His work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Millions, Bright Lights Film Journal and Political Animal. His collection of stories, The Unified Field of Loneliness, is available at Crowsnest Books. He currently lives in Prague.


240 Comments

  1. nmilsht says

    Pollen is taking the Harris line, basically that the religious Europe of yore wasn’t free, the church tyrannical and oppressive, and the impulses towards freedom that emerged at the time (which were eventually victorious and that we now enshrine) were arrayed against the church, therefore those impulses had nothing to do with religion because they were antagonists.

    That’s not at all what Shapiro is saying, Shapiro doesn’t deny that at all. What he’s saying is that the impulse towards those basic freedoms was a natural evolution of specific ideas that emerged from the biblical tradition.

    Pollen treats that tradition as a monolith and not as a constellation of thousands of individual memes, each launched into meme space with an evolutionary trajectory and fate of it’s own.

    Shapiro is saying the latter and that that impulse towards freedom and individualism is an evolved meme molecule descendant who’s point of origin was in the biblical tradition.

    Pollen seems to not understand this or to simply not see this point at all.

    Even the point of the tyranny of the church is arguable. It’s not clear how much of the tyrannical nature of the church in Europe was primarily a function of its biblical origin and how much was a function of its adoption by Constantine as a political tool of state… Or how much is simply inherent in all things, in all seats of power, and in the hearts of all men.

    It’s the freedom impulse that needs explaining, it emerged and was triumphant in only place, and it is that that needs explaining.

    • “He is unwilling to admit that what took place in the Sinai Peninsula was a codification of a moral sense that already existed within us”

      The codification was new. The moral sense was (at the time) unique. If it existed within us why hadn’t it been codified earlier, or universally across cultures?

      I don’t believe in the divine creation of the Judeo Christian system of law and morality, but I also don’t believe there’s such a thing as the noble savage. Something happened in Sinai to change the course of humanity for the better. Genetic mutation, new synapse paths being formed, a cooperative cultural shift…I don’t know. But any of those are a better argument than “it already existed in us” because where’s the proof of that?

      • To paraphrase,
        “The article is thorough in the places it wished to be. But it glosses in others. ”

        I particularly note that the writer castigates the early modern Roman Catholic Church, whilst ignoring the many reformation faiths created due to these and other complaints.

      • Stephanie says

        I haven’t grabbed Shaprio’s book yet, but on the point of what happened at Sinai, Jordan Peterson points out that before Moses received the 10 Commandments he was mediating disputes between the Hebrews. It makes sense to me that he distilled the 10 Commandments from his experience judging the grievances people brought to him. Far from being embedded in our psyche, it was the product of a lot of work and the insight that comes from that.

        Do primates follow anything like the 10 Commandments, or any discernable code for that matter? If we did have this moral intuition from the infancy of our species, we should share it with our closest relatives.

        • “Do primates follow anything like the 10 Commandments, or any discernable code for that matter?”

          There is evidence that animals and not just primates do indeed have a primitive moral code.

          See for example: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Justice-Moral-Lives-Animals/dp/0226041638

          The idea that humans had no morality until Moses is completely unsupportable not least because of the plethora of independant but clearly similar moral codes many of which predate the jewish code.

          • Vidur says

            Good comments. One can’t help but speculate that people claiming that there is something unique about the so-called ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ aren’t particularly well-read.

            I detailed some further examples in my comment below. Briefly: some version of the Golden Rule was independently developed in cultures across the world. Mohism, an ancient Chinese philosophy emphasizing impartial benevolence, was developed thousands of years before the utilitarianism of Beccaria and Bentham.

            Religious pluralism, tolerance and interfaith dialogue were first argued for in India (Jews, persecuted in Europe and the Middle East, fled to India, where they lived in peace for centuries, as did Zoroastrians). The first animal welfare laws were put into place in India, too. In this period (around 300 BCE), one of the precursors to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed, namely Ashoka’s Edicts. And ‘ahimsa’, or non-violence toward all living things, is a cornerstone of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism (the former being the oldest living religion in the world).

        • Amin says

          @ Stephanie

          “If we did have this moral intuition from the infancy of our species, we should share it with our closest relatives.”

          Eh? You’re ignorant of basic human evolution. Our last shared ancestor was about 13 million years ago to 4 [Hybrids]. After many Homos – Homo Sapiens emerged as an distinct species around 2-300,000 years ago.

          “Do primates follow anything like the 10 Commandments”

          Clearly not. Such code is creation of conscious intelligent beings and not of dumb animals. Even “dumb” humans [Children below 10 and very low iq or mentally handicapped and etc] are not applicable.

      • Robert says

        The proof would be the multiple independent developments of the same sort of moral code: Buddhism, Confucianism, Platonism. The Judeo-Christain system, to be sure, had the unique quality of a synthesis of an ethics of tolerance with a practice of genocidal hatred towards the subhuman heretics. Other than that, it’s bog standard Tao.

        • Mazzakim says

          That fact that multiple systems of thought independently arrive at similar conclusions is less a proof of a monotheistic God behind it all than it is the function of societies grappling with the need to impose order. Murder, rape and theft make it really hard for people to peacefully co-exist.

      • “He is unwilling to admit that what took place in the Sinai Peninsula was a codification of a moral sense that already existed within us”

        The codification was new. The moral sense was (at the time) unique. If it existed within us why hadn’t it been codified earlier, or universally across cultures?

        There were codifications earlier and these are many suggesting universality. Teh moral sense was quite clearly at the time not unique. The current earlist code known is I think the the Ur-Nammu code.

        It is a mistake to think that in the ancient world there was no communication between regions when there is evidence of trading across very long distances right back into the stone age. The fact is that legal codes many of which are similar existed across the world and despite the evident communiccations previously mentioned I don’t think it is plausible to claim that they all orignated from Judea.

        The evidence is that humans have an innate propensity towards a common morality of which teh judaeo christian one is a paticular example.

        • Mazzakim says

          There are also an awful lot of peoples and cultures that have simply been lost to history. There is a lot of filling in the blanks with educated guesswork about what was going on, The explanation, however, that makes the most sense to me is that all societies (by definition) are going to have rules dictating how everyone is to (more or less) peacefully co-exist. It’s not unreasonable that proscriptions against such things as murder, rape and theft, are going to be universally proscribed in codes of morality because these are behaviors universally disruptive to the good order of societies.

      • Barney Doran says

        So humans thought killing, stealing, lying, etc were all just fine (or they had no opinion at all on these matters) before that fine day in the Sinai, or they just hadn’t gotten around to etching the ideas in stone? Or whatever actually happened.

      • Geo says

        Perhaps in the that the rest of humanity which did not adopt Christianity somehow or other found other ways to find moral laws.

    • Accidentally In Law says

      That’s simply false. Biblical traditions have nothing to do with development of what Shapiro wants to call “basic morals.” The same basic moral codes can be found across all kinds of historical societies, none of which were privy to the Bible or the “word of God.” Christianity would like to lay claim over these moral principles, but they’re nothing more of an unnecessary mystification of basic human reasoning when it comes to what sets of rules are most likely to encourage cooperation and ensure survival.

      Not to mention that people for thousands of years found ways to violate these “Judao-Christian Morals” in ways that were commonly accepted by religious orthodoxies of the time. As time passes, Christianity and Judaism survive not because they were prophetic in their moral reasoning thousands of years ago, but because they were dragged along with time, kicking and screaming in protest. It took decades of hard work to modernise these religions and it’s still going on today. None of it was prophetic and none of it will survive much longer because all it was, all it is, is a shameless attempt at making sense of the world before science could, and as science helps us discover more and more about the universe, the place for religion shrinks ever so more with each step. Only the foolish and superstitious will be left.

      Look at how much mental gymnastics Jordan Peterson has to do to make Christianity seem palatable to someone like Sam Harris. By the time Peterson is done with it, his picture of Christianity resembles nothing like the picture you would get from reading the Bible and going to church.

      • Religion is likely to last longer than you say. Christianity may be on the decline, but Islam is growing.

        • Abirdinthehand says

          Christianity is on the decline in the West, but is growing in Asia.

      • jolly swag, man says

        “The same basic moral codes can be found across all kinds of historical societies, none of which were privy to the Bible or the “word of God.” Christianity would like to lay claim over these moral principles, but they’re nothing more of an unnecessary mystification of basic human reasoning when it comes to what sets of rules are most likely to encourage cooperation and ensure survival.”

        I doubt there is any ‘basic moral code’. If there are commonalities between the moralities of different cultural groups, it seems more likely that this is because those cultures have intermingled to some extent and chose, or were forced, to reach some accommodation. History suggests cultures did not independently arrived at the same position. For example, in some cultures cannibalism is evil, in others its not. I’d be interested to know how cannibalism encourages cooperation and ensures survival

      • Alan Appel says

        Peterson’s words only appear to be convoluted when he stops speaking as a psychologist and attempts to respond to Harris’s simple theology (“What most people believe.”) I appreciate that Peterson is trying to reach out to a wider audience, but I wish he would stop. The debate with Matt Dillahunty was problematical for Peterson for exactly the same reason. Thanks.

      • S. Cheung says

        Accidentally-
        Well said. And I thought JP accounted for himself extremely well given the circumstances. And I thought Sam Harris laid off on him a bit too. The religion side could have come off looking a lot worse.

        There is no escaping from the reality any theistic religion must endure from the lashings for fundamentalism. Sure, it’s low hanging fruit. Maybe that’s why Harris thought it would be beneath him to wax on about it. But what is said in whichever good book you choose is the full enchilada, and if you want to say that book (as well as it’s source) is somehow worth your time, then the book review should be cover-to-cover, and not selective of chapters. Besides, if the supernatural source felt it necessary to put it all in the manual, I wonder how mere mortal readers feel qualified to say “well yeah, but He didn’t really mean this part….or that part….or that other part.” How much of it do you have to follow to still be a “follower” worth his or her salt? Is it really good enough to say you really buy the eternal bliss/celestial North Korea, but for the rest you can just wing it? Cuz that’s how some do it, including many “professionals”.

        And JP really leaned hard on the value of the shared narrative, even while different users may be using different bits of that narrative. Which is ok. Use the manual if it works. That’s a “reasonable” thing to do. As you and others have pointed out, the fact that other cultures, and other nontheistic religions, managed to distill similar common values means that there is nothing of particularly unique additional value to the J-C version. But even if the J-C version is your manual of choice, there is really no “reason” to invoke that supernatural source. Reason will get you to higher ground, even if that higher ground might change with time.

        When JP said he “believe(s) in the possibility that God exists”, I think that was acceptable, because that is as far as one could possibly go while adhering to scientific reasoning. He has to accept the null, but his preferred hypothesis is not disproved, so it’s scientifically still valid if he wants to cling to it. Of course, I think he believes it to a far greater extent than that, but he knows that’s faith and not reason talking.

      • Mac says

        So science has made sense of the world? Wow! What world do you live in? Even these superstitions that you mention may be considered spiritual. Sounds like your saying science will squash religion/spirituality? Wow what a dark world you live in, or what a dark world we shall have. Why live in it?

        • S. Cheung says

          Mac,
          “So science has made sense of the world?”
          In my view, to the extent of what is knowable today, absolutely. Obviously, there remain huge swaths of unknowns. I imagine “religion” would try to fill those gaps, for some. And that’s fine for those who are into that sort of thing. But I’d rather leave unknowns as they are, rather than filling it with mere beliefs. That way, science can just fill knowledge voids, rather than also having to show dogmatics the light en route. If you wanna go in the other direction, fill yer boots.
          Spirituality is fine. It is also completely separate from monotheism.
          Science isn’t there to squash anything. You can have both. Where there is science, I suggest you go with that (stuff that is knowable, repeatable, testable, measurable, observable, etc). Beyond that, and for those not comfortable with saying “I don’t know”, you can grasp onto any belief system you like. Problems arise, however, when “beliefs” try to compete in areas where there is “knowledge”. It is amazing how often people conflate the 2 in 2019.

      • I like the article. It has me up until the end. Unfortunately I scroll down and what do I inevitably see?

        Look at how much mental gymnastics Jordan Peterson has to do to make Christianity seem palatable to someone like Sam Harris. By the time Peterson is done with it, his picture of Christianity resembles nothing like the picture you would get from reading the Bible and going to church.

        It’s funny, because Peterson’s picture of Christianity basically resembles mine and I tell ya, I’ve been to a heck of a lot of church and I’ve read the Bible cover to cover several times.

        The difference is that, like Peterson, I also exercised my own faculties, studied and read broadly, and made use of inspiration (something that my cult encourages, unlike the perception you might have).

        But hey, experiences vary. Some people are just ‘receivers’ and don’t think much, including people who like to make thoughtless descriptions.

        As time passes, Christianity and Judaism survive not because they were prophetic in their moral reasoning thousands of years ago, but because they were dragged along with time, kicking and screaming in protest.

        Go to Rome, look around and try and make that argument with a straight face. Scratch that, I’m sure you would/have, and that’s a sign of a huge blind spot.
        They survive because the Church—as corrupt as it is and gets the higher you go, common to all human institutions—has never been constructed as a temporal institution in the way political and dynastic institutional ones are. Without this, Rome would not look like it does today. To think you could just swap in anything else (or what we have now) and have the same (or better) is so profoundly ignorant and arrogant. This inane, blanket statement is the reason why so many commonly perceive atheists as stuck up, self-righteous, and pompous because of their understanding and adherence to the ‘wisdom’ of the time. Unsurprisingly we find this in plenty of ‘right-thinking’ religious communities throughout the world and human history. It’s almost like this is an inherited temperamental proclivity which we can point to, and not something local to religious ‘types’.

        I mean, look, I haven’t been to church in years. I consider myself a very lapsed believer, but unlike the article which I found a very fair critique, I find it necessary to stand up to this nonsense. I completely accept/’believe’ evolution, etc etc, I’m just not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, and I’ll be frank, when people like you talk, I really do hear the Cult of Reason which the author correctly defined.

        • An addendum/reply to my own comment:

          The Church… has never been constructed as a temporal institution in the way political and dynastic institutional ones are. Without this, Rome would not look like it does today.

          I forgot to mention that most human beings greatly benefit from this institutional stability, by the way. You have to recognise the bad of it, yes, but you also must acknowledge the beneficial as well. I truly think that the massive rates of depression and anxiety that afflict modern society are a reflection of the instability and rate of change in society and the lack of shared consensus for us to stand upon.

          As a side note, what’s happening in politics today in the West, and the U.S. in particular (as global hegemon) is better understood as a “cold” religious war than anything else, and it is given so much disproportionate emphasis in our culture precisely because the ground is shifting beneath us all the time. Human beings aren’t evolved for the world we live in, and I genuinely think the iniquities and evils of the (Romanised, as others have pointed out below) of shared Christian culture and identity—as long as it isn’t asserted by force—is something we have really lost. I’ve just come from living in Europe, and things are so bad there that I basically think Christendom is the only thing that could successfully unite the continent. It’s impossible that this is going to happen, though, but the convenient quasi-secularism (with all the same corruption of any human institutions) without any higher unifying principles that has replaced it has managed to very successfully undermine the cultural fabric and the function of the societies. That’s my eyewitness experience from having moved around a lot in Europe and not just visited the ‘nice places’.

    • Craig Willms says

      @nmilsht
      “how much of the tyrannical nature of the church in Europe was primarily a function of its biblical origin and how much was a function of its adoption by Constantine as a political tool of state… ”

      I was thinking the same thing as I read this piece – it’s been hard to separate the true faith from the Romanization of Christianity. The enlightenment had to happen, but what we saw was the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

      • John Flanagan says

        “The enlightenment had to happen, but what we saw was the baby thrown out with the bathwater.” You get it Craig. And so we’re building the Tower of Babel without the Spirit of truth…”The bricks belong to no one. And the house we’re building is for all of us. A good strategy would be for us to reduce the amount of refuse we’re required to heft in raising it.”

    • Andrew says

      Shapiro “relies heavily on the Miltonian conceit that the use of reason alone, absent from God’s moral law and universal will, dooms us to live in the abyss”.
      The use of the word “conceit” in this context is a freudian slip. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Judeo-Christian beliefs, based on the bible, would recognize that a major theme throughout is humility.
      “Shapiro writes as if the church had never banned a book or burned a heretic”. Again Pollen indicates a willful ignorance of the subject. The bible is full of of people being disciplined for their conceit and hypocrisy.
      For thousands of years the ‘church’ has been the institution of choice for many moral narcissists. Their aim of claiming moral superiority and general elitism has corrupted the church and manifested their hypocrisy.
      Obviously Pollen doesn’t recognize the institution of choice for moral narcissists today. Given that the church no longer represents status in the popular imagination.
      Pollen speaks of the “cult of Reason” Saying it was wrong only because it was a cult. Yet he gives Reason a capital R and places it as the highest value. Everyone knows there are at least two sides to every story and each has a convincing reason. Marxism also tells us that.
      Those who decry absolute truth still embrace relative truth with it’s multiple outcomes of reason. Yet they still insist that reason will provide the ultimate answer. “Reason properly practiced is unarguable . If someone presents you with an argument based on sound evidence, you are powerless to deny it.” Laugh out loud… that’s what we all say sweetheart!
      This slight of hand replacement of absolute truth with absolute reason is simply concocted to replace God with human ego as the highest identity.

      • @Andrew this is very well expressed.

        Pollen makes very fair critiques of Shapiro’s ideas, but glosses over her own shall we say temperamental biases, too. To be fair, though, I’m sure we are all guilty of this.

    • Andrew says

      Shapiro “relies heavily on the Miltonian conceit that the use of reason alone, absent from God’s moral law and universal will, dooms us to live in the abyss”.
      The use of the word “conceit” in this context is a freudian slip. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Judeo-Christian beliefs, based on the bible, would recognize that a major theme throughout is humility.
      “Shapiro writes as if the church had never banned a book or burned a heretic”. Again Pollen indicates a willful ignorance of the subject. The bible is full of of people being disciplined for their conceit and hypocrisy.
      For thousands of years the ‘church’ has been the institution of choice for many moral narcissists. Their aim of claiming moral superiority and general elitism has corrupted the church and manifested their hypocrisy.
      Obviously Pollen doesn’t recognize the institution of choice for moral narcissists today. Given that the church no longer represents status in the popular imagination.
      Pollen speaks of the “cult of Reason” Saying it was wrong only because it was a cult. Yet he gives Reason a capital R and places it as the highest value. Everyone knows there are at least two sides to every story and each has a convincing reason. Marxism also tells us that.
      Those who decry absolute truth still embrace relative truth with it’s multiple outcomes of reason. Yet they still insist that reason will provide the ultimate answer. “Reason properly practiced is unarguable . If someone presents you with an argument based on sound evidence, you are powerless to deny it.” Laugh out loud… that’s what we all say sweetheart!
      This slight of hand replacement of absolute truth with absolute reason is simply concocted to replace God with human ego as the highest identity

      • “This slight of hand replacement of absolute truth with absolute reason is simply concocted to replace God with human ego as the highest identity”

        At least human ego exists.

    • The church is always going to be oppressive, because it’s made up of human beings.

      The problem is when people think that taking away the religious teachings will make human beings stop oppressing each other.

      It’s not the religious teachings that are the problem. It’s that people don’t want to obey them, because people are selfish and power hungry.

  2. Almognio says

    Enjoyable.

    2 quick observations:
    – Adolf, throughout his adult life, toyed with minimalist Deism, the occult and pagan polytheism;
    – “the bricks belong to no one” – Every idea, given good enough records, could be traced to its origin(s), hence ownership. Moreover, that precise moment of inception usually includes 2 main pillars: Observation(s) or lack thereof & Realisation(s). Would you say that the ‘Realisation’ pillar resides exclusively within the temporal realm?

    Cheers

  3. S. Cheung says

    Very interesting. On this site, I expected a more welcoming treatment of Ben Shapiro.
    Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris went through this last year. JP essentially said society needs the judeo-Christian narrative as a guiding compass. Harris more or less said not really, but if you must, take the narrative, and forget about all that supernatural nonsense. It was great fun.

    This book sounds like it might be the counterpoint to the Moral Landscape. Maybe these 2 should have a debate. Harris on Shapiros Sunday report was a very enjoyable discussion.

    I think suggesting deaths under the Soviets, or the holocaust itself, were due to a lack of religion is a grotesque overreach of correlation.

    • Stephanie says

      A. Cheung, Quillette is a left-leaning outlet, I would have been shocked if they published a positive review of anything Ben Shapiro. Just like I’d be shocked if they ever said anything positive about Trump.

      • hail to none says

        I would describe Quillette more as a classic liberal site, with some libertarian leanings, which on the whole would not put in on the left.

        I enjoy the mix of articles and being surprised sometimes.

        • Barney Doran says

          I would describe Quillette as being center left: dismissive of most of what is said to its right and aghast at what is being done on its left.

        • K. Dershem says

          @hail, I agree. The comments, however, definitely lean (sometimes heavily) toward the right.

      • Benjamin Perez says

        Stephanie, funny, in the latest issue of Robert Wright’s “Mindful Resistance Newsletter” (which is always worth reading, actually) Quillette was described as a “conservative” publication – you describing Quillette as “left-leaning” makes me wonder if its really best described as down the ever-disappearing middle, dare I say, “moderate” or “centrist”?

    • Daniel says

      S. Cheung,
      “I think suggesting deaths under the Soviets, or the holocaust itself, were due to a lack of religion is a grotesque overreach of correlation.”

      I think the suggestion is even stronger than that: namely that the Soviet deaths & the holocaust were due to the lack of Judaism/Christianity exclusively. Everybody on earth would agree on the presence of many other factors, but can you think of a more foundational or more powerful one? If so, hit us with it.

      Curious to hear your thoughts.

      • David of Kirkland says

        What led the Japanese to embark on their WWII killing and raping spree? No religion?
        What led the USA to bomb Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait? No religion?

        • Saw file says

          @D of K
          “Led” them to “…”?
          No.
          Used to excuse for “…”?
          Quite possibly, by some.
          You also could add quite a few more (every?) countries and religions to your examples, don’t you think?

      • ” … the Soviet deaths & the holocaust were due to the lack of Judaism/Christianity exclusively.”

        The Soviet deaths were caused by the totalitarian ideology of communism, a “the ends justify any means” ideology. And the Holocaust occurred in a highly Christian nation perpetrated by people who were Christians.

        • Scott Culberson says

          the Holocaust perpetrated in a “highly Christian” nation? By “Christians”? If they were not now at the Throne of Grace, Bonhoeffer and Niemoeller would say howdy from their death camps. And plenty of followers of Jesus, believers in his Words, with them. In a uninformed, or cynical outsider’s sweep like that you don’t get to decide for those of us who believe, that those who persecute and disavow, and do their best to exterminate believing Christianity, are “highly Christian”. We’ll decide that for ourselves, thank you very much.

          • Yes, the Holocaust was perpetrated by Christians.

            For example, of a sample of several hundred SS guards at Auschwitz, all of them self-labelled as Christian in personnel records (42.6% Catholic, 36.5% Protestant, 20.1% Deutsche Christen, the Nazi church).

            And yes, the Deutsche Christen Christians did imprison and kill some of the Confessing Church Christians such as Niemoller and Bonhoffer. Christians persecuting other Christians is fairly common in history.

            And you don’t get to decide that they weren’t actually Christians just because they behaved badly.

      • S. Cheung says

        Daniel-
        Their lack of Judeo-Christian frameworks in my mind is mere correlation. Unless people can literally lose their religion, these people who murdered etc had once been of that j-c persuasion. They may have renounced it verbally for self-preservation (a nod to reason on an individual level if there ever was one).
        However, J-C ethos was merely replaced by the regime. The Soviet and nazi mindsets became the standard, which demanded absolute loyalty and obedience (not unlike religion in many ways) at risk of death (granted, no eternal damnation in those models, just a flesh/blood one).
        So those acts did not stem from lack of “religion” in that broader sense. They merely replaced supernatural threats with very real physical ones.

        • Daniel says

          S. Cheung,
          Isn’t replacing the Judaeo-Christian morality with that of the regime the problem, though? My point is, that was the biggest factor in the descent into totalitarian madness. When you replace the supernatural motivation (“threat” is inadequate) of Judaism or Christianity with very real physical ones, totalitarian madness is a predictable outcome.

          • S. Cheung says

            Daniel,
            That’s interesting.

            Would this represent the idea in a fair manner? :
            Monotheistic people (-) supernatural motivation (+) mortal physical threat = madness.

            But in Khmer Rouge (first incident that came to mind):
            Nontheistic people (per google, 97% in Cambodia are buddhists) (+) mortal physical threat = madness.

            If you accept both sequences (obviously very crude generalizations), then factors for descent into madness could be mortal threat, monotheists with supernatural motivation removed, or some interaction between those 3 things.

            So again on a very gross level, wouldn’t non-theism be the more “reasonable” thing to strive for (assuming your only goal is to prevent madness)? And that monotheists are only being constrained by their supernatural motivation?

            In that way, I would say reason would advocate nontheism. But if you already have the misfortune of having gone down the monotheistic rabbit hole, then you should keep doing that.

            In a secular society like ours, it seems we should stay that way, and leave it up to individuals.

        • Daniel says

          S. Cheung,
          I’m afraid know absolutely nothing about Buddhist morality, so I’ll refrain from further conjecture regarding your Cambodia point. Which is too bad, because to find a pattern across such a large cultural spectrum would be interesting indeed.

          I don’t follow your conclusion that non-theism is the better thing to strive for. I suspect our discussion diverged a while back, and I’ll try to re-trace it to see where:
          My point was that neither Germany nor Russia was able to implement a terror-police state until they had replaced Judaeo-Christian morality with something else — and that something was the complicated set of values embodied in their propaganda.

          I’ve read accounts of the underground church in China, from WWII until the late 90s. This was a peaceful, harmonious, apolitical group of people. To the naive eye, they were as much a threat to the state as group of flautists getting together to practice and have fun. And yet they were violently repressed. Far from being naive, the underground church knew full well why they were the target of such animosity: because their values (among them, personal responsibility being more important than group identity, the presence of a higher authority than the state etc) were utterly subversive. Their values were peaceful and non-confrontational, but utterly subversive.

          Though both Germany and Russia were “Christian”, I think all would agree that their Christianity was more cultural and a part of their ethnic identity than a series of convictions and beliefs. Because of that, it was possible for the state to replace those convictions and beliefs with some alternatives (mostly hate-mongering propaganda) that sounded appealing.

          My point is in Communist China, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, Judaeo-Christian morality was seen as the first obstacle in implementing their totalitarian systems. My point is also that the decision-makers in the state were not acting in accord with Judaeo-Christian morality.

          • S. Cheung says

            Daniel-
            Thanks for the clarification. I see your point, but disagree, but definitely it is on a point of opinion. I would say any oppressive regime is self-serving in a way that contravenes any morality, J-C or otherwise.

            I interpret the Soviet and Nazi tactic primarily as a replacement of idolatry, rather than of morality. The party/regime inserted itself as the societal pinnacle and driving force. I agree the objective was to crush subversion. It did so via insertion of physical threat. Once its societal position was secure, its own set of “morality” followed as a natural consequence. Could citizens have rejected that new morality? Perhaps. But at grave costs. You also mentioned that those groups were more culturally and ethnically Christian rather than in true devotion, so it may be arguable as to how much J-C morality there was to replace to begin with.

            The CCP playbook in China is similar, whether it was back when it was actually communist, or now when it is communist in name only. Their treatment of Falun Gong is not because of some breathing exercises, or their supernatural beliefs, but because of the group’s supposed subversive threat. Idolatry competitor arrives (in this case, allegiance to a group other than CCP) without theistic properties, and it must be dealt with all the same. Buddhism is tolerated, but the Dalai Lama is a no-go (at least in part because of his idol status, although that obviously over-simplifies their shared history). But incarnation bit is troublesome…to the point that the CCP wants to choose the next one. J-C is ok insofar as the book is concerned, but the Chinese Catholic Church is not RC, and the CCP appoints bishops etc. So you can have your book, but you cannot have your idol or any human conduit to it.

            So my point is that totalitarian regimes are driven by their need to extinguish competition and to enforce allegiance. If that idolatry came with a prescriptive set of morals, then their removal is a byproduct, necessary but by itself insufficient to achieve overall goals.

            I suppose the question would be how resistant a society that is truly devout in its monotheistic morality would be to an incursion of totalitarianism, based on said morality alone. But then I would wonder if such a society would already itself be totalitarian, merely in the service of different things.

          • Daniel says

            S. Cheung,
            Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. I’m enjoying this, and I think your response helped me understand your point better.

            You might have me persuaded, that the “idol” is what the totalitarian regimes were trying to replace.
            I suppose I was not drawing the distinction between morality and the idols. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the nature of God, the nature of Man, the traditions, and sacraments are all indistinguishable from the behavior that might constitute morality. So I’m not convinced such a distinction is appropriate in the cases of Judaism or Christianity, but I do agree that the “idol” is what the totalitarians had a problem with.

          • S. Cheung says

            Daniel,
            thanks for coming back to this. This thread has been pushed down the scroll on the home page, but I’ve been checking for your response, because i was enjoying the discussion and it made me examine my own argument and position in a new way.

            So if we sort of agree that the primary objective of a totalitarian regime is to crush competition, and not necessarily to replace morality for its own sake, then I would assume neither of us are interested in speculating about whether Nazism (for example) was better suited for a society of inherently greater or lesser piety.

            Instead, your comment about the “oneness” of the J-C tradition with its own morality reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s position (at least the one he assumed in his debates with Sam Harris). I would agree that those who seek to be in God’s esteem would (or should) seek to fulfill that image by adhering to that prescribed version of morality (and I refer to it in the ideal sense, and not in the way that many many people fail miserably in many many ways). Obviously, i am more of the Harris bent, and would contend that one could even choose to adhere to that prescriptive guidance without invoking a supernatural aspect to the source material.

            But to me, the more interesting question is whether there are other means to that end. ie. if one seeks to live a “moral” life, is that attainable through alternate means apart from the J-C traditions? Can you conceive of, deduce, attain, or practice a certain morality independent of its theistic source? Or does your position that the theist and his traditions being indistinguishable mean that there is only one way to get there?

    • jolly swag, man says

      “I think suggesting deaths under the Soviets, or the holocaust itself, were due to a lack of religion is a grotesque overreach of correlation.”

      The point is that anti-theists hold up religion as the cause of mankind’s stupidity, superstition and unrestrained acts of barbarism. Yet the greatest carnage mankind has inflicted on itself was done in the name of secularist ideology, not religion.

      • jolly swag, man says

        so that invites the query: in the West, which is the better moderating influence on man’s inherent tendency for evil – secular ideology or, as Shapiro maintains, Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian ethics?

  4. Very good article overall. Don’t agree with all the points but wanted to comment on a few things
    1) the argument that because the Wehrmacht had “gott mitt uns” on their belt has became a very tired supporting argument for new atheists – obviously this is a relic from the glory days of Prussia and removing it would have angered the hyper-traditionalist aristocratic generals – i’d Like to never hear this terrible argument broached again
    2) the catholic agreement with the nazis is another interesting but I think false argument – Bavaria did not vote for the nazis – I also think the Catholic Church saw itself in a “Finland” type situation in the fashies vs commies sweepstakes and took the side that was least likely to murder priests – however they did help nazis escape to S. America – I think the nazis were more like pagan futurists (black sun occult etc)
    3) find it funny that NA ists think that it’s just a matter of time before determinism is proved – i think deterministic utilitarianism has to be more of an authoritarian tool than the church – brutal, cold, ends-justify the means rationalism

    • “… the argument that because the Wehrmacht had “gott mitt uns” on their belt has …”

      It is only one of many indicators of how religious Third Reich Germany was. For example, in a 1939 census 94% of the population self-described as Christian.

      The Nazi ideology was steeped in religion, and they even founded their own church (the “Deutsche Christen”).

      Hitler was vehemently opposed to atheism, e.g. (on outlawing the Freethinkers League):

      “We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” (Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on Oct.24, 1933)

      There are oodles of speeches along the lines:

      “Hence this song [The German anthem] also constitutes a pledge to the Almighty, to His will and to His work: for man has not created this Volk, but God, that God who stands above us all. He formed this Volk, and it has become what it should according to God’s will, and according to our will, it shall remain, nevermore to fade!” (Hitler, speech, July 31, 1937)

      Himmler wrote: “Every SS man is free to be a member of a church or not. It is a personal matter, which he has to answer for to God and his conscience”, however, SS men should not be atheists, for: “that is the only world or religious view that is not tolerated within the SS”.

      I can point you at many more such quotes.

      • Lydia says

        In William Shirer’s, “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, he devotes a subchapter to the Lutheran Church during that time in Germany. Martin Luther’s screeds against the Jews were trotted out to bring the state church in line with the Reich.

        Anti-Semitism was not a long walk for the Catholic Church of that era, either.

        From Constantine, to our Founding with 1A, the state Church paradigm is one long “control the masses” evil mess. John Adams’ letters are particularly interesting in this respect. That was a man who despised Calvinism with every fiber of his being. It’s one of the things I really like about that curmudgeonly founder. He got it.

        I don’t mind discussing the differences between Protestants and Catholics of that era because they are not that different in terms of behavior. When I was in the fifth grade I asked my mother if we were Protestants. She, in turn, asked me, “what we would be protesting”? Her answer turned out to be an educational journey of doctrines to not only control humans but amass power, land, money. In other words, in my view, doctrines were political.

        • “John Adams’ letters are particularly interesting in this respect. That was a man who despised Calvinism with every fiber of his being.”

          Interesting; which letters are you referring to? My understanding of Adams and religion is that he joined the Unitarian congregation in Braintree but deeply respected his father’s Congregational church; the church he was raised in. He described his relationship to the two churches in the “new light,” “old light” terms originally used by John Robinson around the time of the Synod of Dort in 1619 and brought to the English American colonies by the fraction of Robinson’s Leyden congregation, led by William Brewster, that settled Plymouth in 1620 and fused with the English Independents of the Winthrop Fleet in 1630.

          Did Adams really use the term “Calvinist?”

          • Lydia says

            Some of them are in letter discusiions with Thomas Jefferson and others are in discussion with John Quincy who, if I remember correctly, was becoming a presbyterian. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve read them so I can’t cite you chapter and verse.

            the confusion is that someone, back then, can like the people in ichurch and still despise the overall determinist doctrine. Roger Williams comes to mind.

            I hope I didn’t make the mistake of communicating that John Adams did not believe in God. That was not my point. He did, but both he and Jefferson were not committed to any specific sect and both seem to have put a lot of effort into thinking about God.

            His father was a Congregationalist elder or Deacon. Those churches were Calvinistic–descending from the Puritans. Back then the word congregationalists did not mean what it sounds like today. They were more authoritarian than they sound.

            Many descendants of the Puritans started going to Unitarian churches and turning to universal is in which is just another determinist religion. just as today, more evangelicals are trying out liturgical churches. My view is that church is now downstream from culture. From mega rock stars for Jesus to top down closed denominational institutions.

          • @Lydia

            Back in 1630, when it all began, New England was settled by religious Independents. Theologically, there need not be any difference between a Presbyterian and an Independent (although there often were very important differences) but they did always and ever differ on the point of church governance.

            The Presbyterian expression of the English Reformation required a hierarchy under the supervision of a general assembly, ordained and licensed ministers and it was designed to be a national Reformed church along the lines of the Scottish Kirk.

            The Independent expression of the English Reformation required completely independent self-governing congregations, it was open to lay (“mechanic”) preachers, ordination was done by the members of the congregation themselves and they categorically denied that the state had any authority over Independent congregations.

            Christopher Hill identified this as the most consequential religious schism in Anglo-American history.

            The Bay Colony was settled at just the time the differences between the Presbyterians and the independents were sharpening in England and between 1630-60 it was not uncommon for ministers like Nathanial Ward to be an Independent in the colonies where there was no General Assembly and a Presbyterian when back in England.

            The particular circumstances of the early Bay Colony were such that unity of religious and political opinion was more important than diversity and between 1633-50, John Cotton’s Congregational Church became indistinguishable from the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk. Nevertheless, Independency, not Presbyterianism, was established in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641 and I don’t know of any congregations in New England were not, in theory and actual practice, self-governing and Independent.

            One may regret this but, in hindsight, the compromises made in New England were necessary. In the mid-17th C., New England was in a precarious position. The colony was small, about 20,000 in 1640, there were threats from the French and Algonquins to the north; threats from the Dutch and the Algonquins to the south; and threats from the Iroquois pressing east from the Hudson River towards the Connecticut River. Further, the Bay Colony was a project of English Independents and intended to be a refuge should things go terribly wrong in England in the brewing struggle with the Crown.

            After 1641, the Presbyterians and Independents together were the Parliamentarians who prosecuted the English Civil Wars against the monarchy. Until 1647, it appeared to all that the Presbyterian faction would ultimate prevail and that the CoE would be further reformed along Presbyterian lines. To the extent that this was acceptable to the Bay Colony’s sponsors in England, it had to be acceptable to the settlers in the Bay Colony.

            Finally, the experience in England between 1640-60, demonstrated that Independency exhibited a marked tendency to spin off very odd and fundamentally unstable sects. Presbyterian pamphleteers of the 1640 delighted in cataloging these “heresies.” They called Independency the mother of heresies. John Cotton’s Congregationalism purported to be a non-heretical expression of Independency and was generally accepted as such in England and in the Colony.

            As things turned out in England, the Presbyterians gained control of Parliament after 1644 but the Independents controlled the New Model Army. In 1647, Parliament tried to disband the NMA and impose the rigid Presbyterianism required by the Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland. The Army rebelled. It expelled the generally Presbyterian “malignants” from Parliament and went on to form the Commonwealth. At that point, New England was no longer needed by the Independents in England and New England Congregationalism was not a good fit with Cromwell’s policy of latitudinarianism.

            After the Restoration in 1660, New England became even more isolated as New England had vigorously supported the New Model Army during the civil wars and a good number of Charles I’s regicides had strong connections to the Bay Colony. The period of isolation ended in 1689 when the faction of second and third generation Congregational divines that had governed the Bay Colony since 1679 surrendered the old charter and made the Bay a royal colony against the wishes of what was called the popular party. The Adams family, particularly Samuel Adams’ branch, had strong connections to the popular party going back the administration of John Leverett (a former office in the NMA) in the 1670s and continuing through the formation of the Boston Caucus in 1718 which came to dominate the Boston Town Meeting after 1765.

            Reading some of the Adams Jefferson correspondence on religion, it seems clear to me that Jefferson and Adams were writing as one Independent to another and recognized that Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians and Quakers were all legitimate expressions of Independency. Their complaints were not against Calvinism, as they were both more or less Calvinists themselves. Their complaint was against national churches organized along either Presbyterian or Anglican lines. I’m certain the same can be said about Franklin and probably Madison as well. All of them were rehearsing arguments against established churches that had been made by John Robinson in the 1620s and by the arch-Independent and republican radical John Lilburne in the 1640-50s.

            Independency was ever and always the religious home of English secular constitutional democratic republicanism. It failed in England but survived and, after a period of incubation, thrived in the colonies.

  5. brn says

    The author seems to be following the “conflict thesis” that historians have long debunked. Bringing up long disproven myths like Copernicus’s not publishing his findings until his death because feared the church (https://historyforatheists.com/2018/07/the-great-myths-6-copernicus-deathbed-publication/) only show that the author doesn’t know what the true state of historical knowledge are. No serious historian of the era believes the simple “religion bad, science good” story that is the atheist equivalent of the cleaned up versions of the Old Testament that is taught in Sunday Schools.

  6. A B says

    The argument between Athens and Jerusalem is very old. In his book, Ben Shapiro presents one position (both are necessary) and Jared Pollen has a very different one (just Athens). I would have preferred Mr. Pollen to have written this essay as a straightforward response to the premise of the book rather than a response clothed as a review of the book. Because Jared Pollen mixes review with response, he winds up making that claim that the book is not a good book because Ben Shapiro is wrong.

    • Andrew says

      Agreed. I was hoping to get a review – not a rebuttal.

    • Jujucat says

      @A B Yes, you are correct! I kept reading and waiting for substantive critique only to find rebuttal.

  7. Mike D says

    Ordered the book so interested to read this beforehand. Interesting read!

    I think this quote should probably be attributed to Hitchens, that “It doesn’t require faith, but only Reason to surmise that the Hebrews never would have reached the mountain in the first place if they’d believed that murder, theft, and perjury were acceptable.”

    From Hitch- “I can personalize it to this extent, my mother’s Jewish ancestors are told that until they got to Sinai, they’d been dragging themselves around the desert under the impression that adultery, murder, theft and perjury were all fine, and they get to Mount Sinai only to be told it’s not kosher after all.”

    • S. Cheung says

      Mike-
      I believe this video contains the quotes you described.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ogd-yh7orfo

      “…or when the real fun begins…after you’re dead. A celestial North Korea.” That lines gets me ROFL every time.

      Genius taken from us far too soon.

    • Stephanie says

      Mike, well, they did leave Egypt after all the firstborn sons were murdered, and took wealth from the Egyptians on their way out. The early stories are filled with patriarchs lying and deceiving.

      In retrospect it seems absurd that we didn’t think the way we do not, but vengeance and self-interest are huge motivators. It would be shocking if we didn’t spend much of our early history killing, stealing and lying.

      • DJT says

        No the patriarchs did not lie and if you disagree please cite proof from Scripture.

      • Kencathedrus says

        @Stephanie: in the beginning they worked their way up to the top of Egyptian society and made the Egyptians their slaves too. I wonder what happened for them to end up slaves several generations later.

    • Lydia says

      Can we understand Sinai if we don’t understand Egypt of that time?

  8. Philip says

    This review, while having some momentum in places, is ultimately disappointing.

    It seems Pollen takes Shapiro to task for two claims: 1) Religion shaped the good things in the West, science being one of them and 2) Reason can’t provide morality.

    However, the claims that are meant to refute 1) are mere counterexamples of data, which may or may not amount to a refutation of Shapiro’s claim. No one can look at history and say that the Church and science have always been friendly. But to say that is a far cry from refuting the idea that monotheism shaped the scientific pursuit with its belief in the orderliness of the universe. Ultimately, the question is about where the weight of the evidence lies, not just whether there is evidence on both sides of these questions.

    With respect to 2), it is really hard for me to see how philosophers can continue to maintain this view. If anything is clear (at least for an American), it’s that accepted moral norms are changing fast. Marriage rates are down, suicide is up, people are addicted to every possibly addictive agent. If Reason produces a view of the world where we all “know” how to act given that situation, why is morality continuing to disintegrate among people in the most basic situations? Shouldn’t the view that Reason – something accessible to all – guides our moral practices mean there is no reason for humans to ever decline in basic moral situations?

    Overall, the review seems to only say that Shapiro’s notions are different than the reviewer’s, and that the reviewer would like you to think that he rationally decided on these disagreements only after reading the book, when in fact he had them as his basic ideas in his back pocket all along.

  9. Bob Johnson says

    Yawn. This review is another hackneyed regurgitation of the lies told about the middle ages by liberal, communist, and other modernist historians.

    Reason can be used to justify anything. Everything good about the Enlightenment was rooted in Christianity

    • @ Bob Johnson

      Great observation. Thank you. Tomorrow I’m giving a talk on the middle ages at my local historical society, fortunately we are all retirees and only one agrees with the new “Woke ” historical thinking.

    • K. Dershem says

      “Everything good about the Enlightenment was rooted in Christianity.” If that’s true, why did it take 1500 years for science, reason, tolerance, etc. to emerge out of Christian civilization?

      • Heike says

        Reason is Eurocentric and has been used to dominate other people, so we must go away from reason in a more subjective direction.

        Criticizing Enlightenment thought has become fashionable across the political spectrum. For the past several decades, more and more academics have called reason into question, especially the sort of rationalist worldview that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

        This is especially true among left-leaning, postmodern, and post-structuralist thinkers.

        “Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples,” the writers opined. “The idea that there is a single truth – ‘the Truth’ – is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain.”

        “This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny,” the students maintained. “The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”

        http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/student-open-letter-objective-truth-myth-perpetuate-white-supremacy/

      • TarsTarkas says

        It took that long for the great thinkers of the time to realize that the ancients really weren’t wiser and smarter and greater and nobler than themselves. And started to think for themselves and stop worshiping the past.

        I personally think Christianity was incidental to the Enlightenment. The nature of Western Europe, with its plethora of constantly warring states, divided by religion, politics, language, culture, the only common tongue Church Latin and that known but to a tiny minority, was what made the Enlightenment occur. Just as an earlier Enlightenment occurred in the constantly quarreling city-states of Ancient Greece, when men first began asking ‘why’ instead of shrugging their shoulders and accepting things as they were. There was no Enlightenment in Han China. No Enlightenment in Hindu India or Buddhist Southeast Asia. No Enlightenment in the Muslim polities. Centralized tyrannies or would-be tyrannies all, even the tiniest of states. Any advancement in the human condition was opposed or suppressed for the sake of political or economic stability.

      • Bob Johnson says

        It didn’t. The idea that there was some great revolution in science is a lie by modernist historians. There was much moral and scientific progress in the middle ages. If anything, by introducing nationalism, democracy, and racism, the Enligthenment was a disaster

        If you want sources, read Rodney Stark, James Hannam, Stanley Jaki, and Edward Grant

  10. dmm says

    “…we can place anyone in an identical moral dilemma, and not only would that person be able to reason what the right thing to do is, they are also capable of reasoning that if anyone else were placed in the same situation that they would do the same. It is precisely this ability that allows us to argue for universal value in a way that is objective at best and inter-subjective at worst.”

    Don’t know about the book but this claim of the author is complete fantasy, which undermines his whole argument. If someone’s fundamental value is death and destruction to the “other”, no amount of reason will put even a dent in it. Present the categorical imperative to him and he’ll exclaim, “Ah, it will be a glorious battle!”

    It seems Shapiro is suggesting a “passion” for reason to serve, a la Hume, while the author tries to use Kant to squirm out of the subjective value problem. It’s interesting that he admits Kant didn’t solve it, but then doubles down on imaginary intersubjectivity. Atheists will always squirm when faced with this problem, because Hume was right.

    • Hume was indeed right, but as an atheist I don’t “squirm” about that. It just means that human morality is rooted in human values and human nature.

      • dmm says

        Sorry, I should have qualified “atheists” to “atheists who believe that reason and reason only is needed to show that life has objective meaning or morality”.

        You say that “human morality is rooted in human values.” We agree. But the author was implying that, despite all these different values, we can somehow use reason to agree on a single morality. That’s false.

      • Jujucat says

        @Coel
        I agree: We, as humans, use reason to derive our nature and define what is best for us, and it’s just an observable fact that certain actions result in certain consequences, independent of a god or religion: Lying may prove useful short term, but once people find that you are lying, you are no longer trusted, etc… Reason lets us know these things.

        • augustine says

          Does reasoning lead to forgiveness or mercy? Reason is critical to our functioning and flourishing but it is only an instrument. Atheists want to valorize human nature and believe that the extirpation of religious faith will unleash its best potential. The chances or likelihood that such a development would unleash our worst potential is ignored.

          “A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason”
          – G.K. Chesterton

      • K. Dershem says

        @Coel. Exactly. What else would it be rooted in? Religion can actually impede moral progress by sacralizing outdated answers to moral questions, e.g. the moral permissibity of homosexuality. Religious morality often more concerned with “sin” than with the proper focus of ethical thinking, human flourishing.

  11. June Williams says

    I used to believe that maybe people can do the right thing by others without the threat of hell hanging over our heads. I don’t anymore.
    And moral relativism is a disaster. We can’t even agree on a right to protect our lives against those that wish to destroy us.

    • Lydia says

      @June, I have this debate with myself daily. On one hand, the religious institutions are generally following Pournelle’s Law, are increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Many have taken on the social justice warrior persona.

      On the other hand, our society has decided that virtue signaling is moral superiority of thought that seeks to control others with no consideration or fear. They will lie cheat and steal while claiming their moral superiority. It boggles the mind.

      As the gay former leftist Dave Rubin said, ‘I would rather live next door to fundamentalist Christians than left-wing social justice warriors’.

      it seems he thinks the fundamentalist Christians would be good neighbors and pretty much leave him alone but the left-wing social justice warriors, wouldn’t. In my experience, he’s right.

  12. TheWestWasNeverGreat says

    I love how none of these books look at the evils of colonization and how the West had to slaughter millions of brown people in its journey to ‘greatness’. Sure, sure, it was all Greek Logic and Judaeo-Christian norms

    • Avid Reader says

      I love how you have neglected to point out that the Ottoman Empire killed and enslaved lots of white, brown and black people.

    • Kessler says

      Fact – West slaughtered millions of white people in various European wars. Maybe, because war and death are universal and see no color.

    • Jason says

      That is because colonization and are not uniquely western. They had been happening in the East for hundreds if not thousands of years before America even existed. Sure it was wrong, but you have to consider that it really is not even a western thing. Your sarcastic comment only highlights how uninformed you are about colonization and slavery.

    • Saw file says

      There are plenty of books coming from the “Grievance Studies” mob that espouse that nonsensical interpretation of history.
      Shop around a bit. You’ll be overjoyed with the results.

    • ga gamba says

      Being conquered by someone the same colour as you is so much different – and preferable – than being conquered by someone coloured differently, isn’t it? A giant kumbaya sing along, I suppose.

      “And then the Spanish ate us.”

      You ever notice how these folks are fixated on colonisation and not on conquest? The words conquest, conquer, defeat, and their synonyms remain absent from their grievances. Why is that?

      If someone said you, “I’m really against murder by knifing but have nothing to say about murder by strangulation. Totally not on my radar,” you’d think the person is batty.

      When do they figure out they’ve been manipulated to have a very distorted understanding of world history? Hey, if they prefer to be lied to that’s their choice, but paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege not only makes them ill educated, it makes them suckers too.

  13. E. Olson says

    The author seems to think he is insightful by pointing out the flaws and compromises of Christian leadership, which is basically saying man is imperfect even when they are Christian. Wow – my eyes have been opened!!!

    The proper question to ask, which is what Shapiro does, is compared to what? The world is a big place, so what non-religious or non-Christian-Judeo group did a better job of minimizing the weaknesses and imperfections of man to move society forward in a more innovative, egalitarian, and prosperous manner? What non-Western culture has led the way in arts and science, political freedom, human rights? The answer is – there aren’t any. Virtually all the things the world calls modern were invented and/or popularized by white men who were practicing Christians or Jews or at the very least allowed to make their contributions to society and culture under the relatively benevolent oversight of Christian-Judeo guided leadership. Yes, some Christian and Jewish clergy and many thousands of Christian/Jewish followers have been power hungry, vindictive, and narrow minded, but in general they seem to have been less evil and more forgiving and open to new ideas than the other religions or non-religions around the world, because there can be no other explanation for the dominance of Western culture.

    • Lydia says

      @EOlson,

      “The proper question to ask, which is what Shapiro does, is compared to what? ”

      Exactly! this has become my response position on just about everything, “compared to what”? It might be the only thing that gets people to think as they March us to their dystopian Utopia.

      I have not read Shapiro’s book and do not plan to. Frankly, the guy gets on my last nerve. But that’s my problem/opinion. when I heard him talking about his book, it seemed to me he mainly interviewed Calvinist Christians to understand Christianity. Yikes! He also has more of a collectivist flair than I am willing to accept.

      I do enjoy Jordan Peterson because of his approach. it comes off as more of an educational approach in that we should all check these things out and think deeper on them. I also enjoy his approach because his focus is on the individual not the collective.

    • S. Cheung says

      E. Olson-
      I believe you are giving a bit of a short shrift to other groups.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_and_technology_in_China

      Also, while it is true that much of “modern” science (let’s say renaissance onward) were “practicing christians and Jews”, that doesn’t mean their contributions were BECAUSE they were Christians or Jews. Just so happened that most people in their contemporary societies were, or had to be. Atheism was not such a popular, or safe, frame of mind back in the day.

      • E. Olson says

        SC – other groups have made occasional contributions, although in the case of the Chinese they were not very outgoing in popularizing them outside China. I would never claim that religion is the cause of contributions, but contributions do seem to occur more often under Christian and Jewish leadership/domination than any other religion. What religious doctrine does is set up a framework of reward and punishment (heaven/hell) as related to dealing with personal/artistic/business failure and success, entrepreneurship, knowledge and science that create the building blocks of society and slow or speed its progress and “liberalization”. Religion also shapes doctrine/attitudes towards “outsiders” such as atheists, which consequently is used to shut them down (torture, exile, imprisonment, death) or free to use their different outlook to make contributions. I think it is hard to argue that any other major religion has been as effective as Christian-Judeo in successfully guiding and adopting to modernization and liberalization of society, even if modern day atheists don’t believe it they should try publicly denying the existence of God or making joke about Islam in a Muslim country and see how long they live.

        • S. Cheung says

          E. Olson-
          I absolutely agree that reward and punishment are required. It’s why free markets work and communism doesn’t. But I find that to be a concept easily managed by reason. And you don’t really need eternal bliss or celestial North Korea as the extremes for said reasoning to function.
          I also absolutely agree that as religions go, the Judeo-Christian frame of mind is certainly more tolerant than some of the others, especially in modern times (although back in the day, as you alluded to, sometimes not so much). But that’s still “tallest midget” for me compared to reason- it’s nice, but not enough to write home about.

          • Farris says

            “This also allows Shapiro to skirt the obvious hostility the church showed toward intellectual inquiry for centuries. Shapiro writes as if the church had never banned a book or burned a heretic:”

            Here is where the article’s author makes a common mistake. In the Greek translation of the Bible the Kione Greek word for church is Ecclesia, which means assemblage or congregation. In other words the church is not the building or the religion. The fact that the assemblage or congregation or the leaders thereof could behave poorly does not invalidate the Logos (The Word of God). The fact judges and politicians have used the U.S. Constitution to justify sterilization of the mentally challenged, alien and sedition acts and racial segregation does not invalidate the Bill of Rights. It should not be surprising that people would mistranslate, misinterpret or abuse the Word of God to justify their own ends. Conflating the misdeeds of supposedly religious people with the religion itself, is not Reason.

            The author is correct that Reason does not require faith. However that does not mean that faith can not and is not sometimes misplaced in Reason. Reason is an excellent way to approach challenges but Reason can often be utilitarian or rely on cost benefit analysis. Such reasoning can be insufficient for moral dilemmas.

          • K. Dershem says

            Historically, Hinduism and Buddhism have been significantly more tolerant than Christianity. Contemporary Christianity is only tolerant because it’s lost most of its institutional power (in the West, at least) and it’s been thoroughly diluted by Enlightenment ideals. We should all hope that the same happens with Islam.

          • S. Cheung says

            Farris-
            “Reason can often be utilitarian or rely on cost benefit analysis. Such reasoning can be insufficient for moral dilemmas.”

            this made me think of the typical quandary with autonomous vehicles. If a collision was imminent and the option was to continue course and accept the accident at a velocity suspected to be perilous for the vehicle’s single occupant, or to change course and collide with what the vehicle perceives as a small short human (let’s say 10 years old but the vehicle wouldn’t really be able to tell that), what would reason-based morality say? What would faith based morality say?

            I would be particularly interested if the answer was the same.

  14. @The West Was Great Not Person?

    And where would the world be without the benefits of colonisation?

    You would doom the indigenous people of many countries to a life expectancy in their twenties ? A harsh life of hunter gathering, constant tribal warfare, which in my country at least resulted in the entire destruction of every child in the tribe and rape and enslavement of every woman?

    So you think that was great? So great indeed that instead that you are currently spending your days hunting naked with a spear, and when that fails finding enough grubs, ants, and lizards to keep you alive until tomorrow?

    But wait that can’t be true, You are comfortable and using the internet!

    I don’t have the words to describe such a pathetically hypocritical opinion.

    In my country, for many prominent , indigenous people the western world found their grandparents in the 1920s-30s. They grew up convinced it was better. The first time to have regular food for yourself and your children. For the first time the opportunity to spend their days in work that did not involve the risk of death for your self and your children. For the first time a sick child could be healed, rather than left behind, to die alone in the constant search for food.
    For the first time their children actually had a childhood. They could play and go to the school rather than from babies spend their time constantly trying to find grubs and insects.

    Surely only a total psychopath would want to condemn people to this life?

    Especially someone too gutless to walk a mile naked on their bare feet without a mobile phone?

      • Farris says

        @S Cheung

        Naturally, I would presuppose that faith based morality would chose self sacrifice. However that does not necessarily mean that Reason would reach the opposite conclusion. My questions would be does reliance on Reason absolve one from guilt, remorse, feelings of obligation? Does Reason have a conscious?

        • S. Cheung says

          Farris-
          I posed that question in that way cuz i have no idea what either answer would, or should, be.
          Obviously, I’m not one of faith, and this type of question is not one for which i can place myself in their shoes. Given your answer, though, I would ask whether the default faith basis is to save the other person at expense of the self, without knowing anything else about either individual apart from the presumption that the driver is older than the pedestrian.
          Even more difficult for reason, because if only one of two can be saved, it would be a determination of relative value, which itself would have to factor in attained value as well as future potential, in all possible permutations.
          As for whether reason absolves one of those things you listed, I would say it does for the programmer. But for the beneficiary of that applied reasoning (ie the surviving driver or pedestrian), I really don’t know.

    • Lydia says

      @Anita,

      We have quite a few Indian H1b people in our city. They assimilate well and my daughter has many such friends. As she was researching Indian culture from food to religion, she came across Sati. It absolutely blew her mind. We had many discussions about it. I mean, it’s not something you ask your Indian friends about.

      But she also read that it was the British who put a stop to it as much as possible.

      I used to think the left were feminists. But their embrace of Islam and chiding colonization that actually elevated the status of women in many underdeveloped countries, says different.

      • Vidur says

        “It’s not something you ask your Indian friends about”

        Possibly because many Indians – particularly those of us living in the West – have never heard of it before. It’s an obsolete practice, which would have almost certainly been abolished eventually with or without the British Empire.

        Perhaps ‘the left’ are better able to avoid falling prey to the false dichotomy than yourself, and are able to envisage win-win scenarios, in which women across the world were empowered in the absence of colonial regimes that, in some domains, held back progress in these countries.

        I say ‘in some domains’ for a reason, because anyone who has anything other than a nuanced view of colonialism hasn’t read the relevant literature in nearly as much detail as they should have.

        • ga gamba says

          … which would have almost certainly been abolished eventually with or without the British Empire.

          Substantiate your conjecture, please.

          … are able to envisage win-win scenarios, in which women across the world were empowered in the absence of colonial regimes that, in some domains, held back progress in these countries.

          Women across the word, eh? Okie dokie, name 20 countries across the six populated continents that did so in the absence of colonial regimes.

          • Vidur says

            For one, sati was a rare practice. As Norbert Schurer writes: “although sati played a pivotal role in how the British imagined India in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was never a widespread phenomenon in statistical terms.”

            Drawing on the calculations of Jorg Fisch, he notes that only about “one in 430 Hindu widows in the Bengal Presidency immolated herself between 1818 and 1829, the only period for which reliable statistics are available. On average, there were about 581 satis annually during this period among a population of about 57 million. In the Madras Presidency, even fewer satis were recorded: a total of 243 in the six years from 1814 to 1819, an average of about 40 per year for a population of 15 million.”

            For another, there were movements against sati within India, and it’s nonsensical to suggest that women who objected to the practice wouldn’t have eventually formed movements against it. Like the Mughals, the British initially didn’t ban the practice, and only discouraged and took action against “involuntary sati”.

            It was only after Indian and British reformers protested against the practice that the governor-general seriously considered banning it. Before doing so, however, he consulted Sanskrit scholars, local administrators and Indian soldiers, many of whom were indifferent to the practice because it was so uncommon, or because they came from areas where it was virtually nonexistent. This emboldened him to eventually ban it.

            Finally, why do I need to name “20 countries across the six populated continents”? A rather arbitrary target, perhaps intentionally so. Just a few examples will suffice (largely because there aren’t many countries which didn’t endure European colonization). Thailand was never colonized, and women gained the right to vote in 1931. They were among the first in Asia to have achieved this. It’s hard to deny that women haven’t been empowered in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In Mongolia, which had never been colonized, women had equal legal rights.

    • codadmin says

      @Anita

      A brilliant, spirited defence of our civilisation that puts the accuser on the back foot. This is what it’s all about.

    • Vidur says

      Do you seriously believe that, in the absence of colonization, people in the countries that were colonized would have been “doomed to” life expectancies in the twenties? Ahistorical nonsense.

      For a start, we can look at the countries which weren’t colonized, and see how they do in the life expectancy charts. Thailand has a life expectancy of 75. Japan has a life expectancy of around 84. I could go on, but you’ll find that none of the others have life expectancies in the twenties either.

      In some cases, life expectancy went into reverse during imperialism. India’s life expectancy was around 25.5 in 1881, and fell to 23 by 1911. By 1950, three years after independence, it had risen to more than 35, but this was after Indians started to play an increasingly prominent role in their own governance. This rather abysmal track record is not particularly surprising, though: the British Empire spent meagre amounts of money, per capita, on health (and indeed education, on which the British record is even worse, with only 12 percent of the population being literate by the end of British rule).

      The princely states (or native states) of India, which constituted about 45% of the total area of British India and about 23% of its population, invested substantially more money in public goods such as health and education than the British-ruled areas. Post-independence, of course, India’s life expectancy has almost doubled, from 35 to more than 68.

      Economically, the picture is much the same. The historian Jon Wilson writes that “economic growth and institutional dynamism [in India] occurred in the places that were furthest from the rule of British bureaucrats”. Per capita income growth in India was a miserly 0.2% per year under British rule. Even under India’s dreadful state socialist economy, in place from 1947-1991, per capita income growth averaged around 1.3%. These days, it’s more like 5.6%.

      https://www.ft.com/content/dfb65a78-6eb3-11e6-a0c9-1365ce54b926

      For an analysis of the impact of colonization on sub-Saharan African countries, I’d recommend reading the work carried out by Robinson and Acemoglu, as well as Heldring and Robinson.

      https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/18566.html

      • codadmin says

        @Vidur

        There was no ‘India’ before the regions now called India were unified by the British.

        The tegion now called India was dominated by another invading empire for 800 years. What changed during that period?

        • Vidur says

          Thank you for your reply, but what is your point?

          You have failed to respond to any of the points I made, and instead bring up a red herring, albeit a very common one. I do not know where you stand on the European Union, but it is amusing that those who defend British imperialism on the grounds that it “unified India” are often the same people who oppose the European Union partly on the grounds that disparate regions, with their own cultures and languages, ought not to be united under the banner of some “superstate”.

          Yet, India is itself one of the most multicultural places on Earth, with hundreds of different languages and cultures. Who is to say that those living in India today would not have been better off had it not been unified?

          In any case, since you brought it up, there were other periods in history where most of the Indian subcontinent was unified. Indeed, the Maurya Empire (c. 300 BCE), not the British Empire, was the largest empire that ever existed on the subcontinent, and unified virtually all of the subcontinent. Furthermore, historians generally agree that people who inhabited the subcontinent had a sense that they lived in not just in their own village or region, but in an area that corresponds to today’s India. Finally, if the Maratha Empire – and not the East India Company – had come to rule India, it is not at all inconceivable that India would have been unified.

          If, in the second line of your comment, you are referring to the Mughal Empire, it did not exist for 800 years (though it is true that Muslims did rule substantial areas of India for around 800 years). I do not know why you think I would attempt to defend the Mughal Empire – like all empires, including the British Empire, it had its benefits and drawbacks, with the latter likely outweighing the former. I was merely responding to the rather laughable comment made by the original poster, which alleged that in the absence of colonization people would have been “doomed to” life expectancies in the twenties.

          • codadmin says

            @vidur

            Ex British colonies are some of the most rich and successful socities that have ever existed in human history. That now includes India. It’s not a shame to be former part of that empire.

            I agree Indians are too intelligent to have been ‘doomed’ to life expectancies in their twenties without colonialism, but British colonialism did Introduce measures which greatly sped the process up.

            Not least being the unification of the region, which put an end to the 800 years of fighting,

          • codadmin says

            @Vidur

            As aside note, I applauded Anita’s comment because it was great rhetoric.

          • Vidur says

            @codadmin

            “Ex-British colonies are some of the most rich and successful socities that have ever existed in human history.”

            As are a number of countries which had never been colonized by European powers.

            “It’s not a shame to be former part of that empire.”

            I agree with this point – the British Empire was merely one of a long line of empires that existed on the Indian subcontinent, and like all of them came with its benefits and drawbacks. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the earlier that India had become a self-governing, democratic republic, the better off its people would have been. This could have been achieved as early as the 1880s, a mere decade or two after the Crown had wrested control of the subcontinent from the East India Company.

            “Not least being the unification of the region, which put an end to the 800 years of fighting.”

            Again, you assume that, in the absence of the British, the ‘fighting’ wouldn’t have come to a halt anyway. The Mughal Empire would have declined and ended, with or without the British presence.

            And the fighting did continue, of course, because the British Empire dragged India into two of the bloodiest wars in history, which mainly involved Europeans slaughtering each other.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        Empire was and remains armed robbery. The key difference is that honest villains don’t attempt to further torment their victim’s by telling them that is for their own good. They do it for the money. They don’t even have to invent tortuous narratives that involve convincing themselves that the people they steal from deserve it on account of being less favoured by God. They were simply in need of better security arrangements moreover they were unlucky.
        If a colonised people have derived some secondary benefit from their colonisation, in spite of whatever murder, abject subjugation and cultural annihilation they have suffered, they could have enjoyed these same benefits via some more benign exchange that remains within the aspirational scope of human imagination. Shame.

        • Sean says

          “Empire was and remains armed robbery. ” Of course that’s true. Who said otherwise? One country/group invades another to get more land/money/slaves or some combination.

          “honest villains” If they were honest would they be villans?

      • Sean says

        “Thailand has a life expectancy of 75. Japan has a life expectancy of around 84. I could go on, but you’ll find that none of the others have life expectancies in the twenties either. ” These countries have benefited tremendously from Eurocentric inventions even if they weren’t colonized.

        India would no doubt have advanced on its own without Europe but at a slower pace. If it would have been at a faster pace then why isn’t it much more advanced than the western world given that it has been independent for over 70 years and why do so many Indians strive to emigrate to the west?

        • Vidur says

          “These countries have benefited tremendously from Eurocentric inventions even if they weren’t colonized.”

          Even if this was more than a half-truth, it would still be a red herring. You implicitly accept Andrew Roddy’s point that people across the world could have “enjoyed these same benefits via some more benign exchange that remains within the aspirational scope of human imagination.” Today, the free flow of ideas and people, along with international institutions, have propelled global progress.

          However, it is nothing more than a half-truth. For it was likewise the case that Europeans benefited tremendously from non-European inventions, ideas and practices, without which Europe and the entire world would have been set back many centuries.

          Modern mathematics, for instance, would not be possible without the discoveries and advances made by Indian mathematicians, who were the first to use zero as a number, and invented the decimal place and numeral system we all use today, along with modern arithmetic (which was called ‘Modus Indorum’, or ‘method of the Indians’, by medieval Europeans). They were responsible for modern trigonometry – defining sine and cosine, for instance – and pioneered the use of negative numbers (which, even many centuries later, were described as “absurd” numbers that “darkened” the equations by European mathematicians).

          All of these breakthroughs, and more, had not yet been achieved in Europe when, centuries later, the mathematicians of the Islamic world – Arabia and Persia – transmitted them into Europe along with the work of the Greeks, which they had likewise meticulously translated. The Islamic mathematicians then made substantial contributions of their own, particularly in the field of algebra (a word which comes from the Arabic word al-jabr). al-Khwarizmi’s mathematical treatise – which built on the work of the Indians and the Chinese to provide the first systematic analysis of algebraic problems – was used as the principal mathematical text in European universities until the sixteenth century.

          Similarly, in medicine and surgery, the Arabs and the Persians synthesized the work of the Greeks, the Indians (who were the first to carry out cataract and plastic surgery) and the Romans, and made significant contributions of their own. For more than five centuries, ‘The Canon of Medicine’ by Avicenna and the ‘Kitab al-Tasrif’ by Al-Zahrawi were used as the standard medical and surgical textbooks in Europe, respectively.

          Experimentation – central to the scientific method – was introduced into Europe through the writings of al-Biruni and al-Haytham, two of the early pioneers of the practice.

          The story of how inoculation – the principle underlying modern vaccination – was introduced on a widespread basis into Europe by Lady Mary Montagu, after having witnessed it on her travels to the Ottoman Empire, is yet another example of how the spread of ideas and practices does not require colonialism. It most likely originated independently centuries earlier in China and India, and was spread to the Islamic world and then Africa before making its way into Europe and the United States (slaveholders in the United States independently came across it after hearing about it from slaves, who told of inoculation being practiced in West Africa). This isn’t to say that there wasn’t opposition – the French Parliament banned inoculation, leading Voltaire to write that “had inoculation been practised in France it would have saved the lives of thousands.”

          “India would no doubt have advanced on its own without Europe but at a slower pace. If it would have been at a faster pace then why isn’t it much more advanced than the western world given that it has been independent for over 70 years and why do so many Indians strive to emigrate to the west?”

          Given that India was held back, economically and educationally, for around two centuries by the East India Company and the British Crown, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that India is not “much more advanced” than the Western world. In any case, the claim isn’t that India would have been much more advanced than the Western world in the absence of colonialism, or if the colonial period had ended significantly earlier.

          Rather, the claim is that India would have advanced quicker than it had done if the colonial period had been shortened, or hadn’t happened at all. We know that the Indian-controlled areas (the so-called princely or native states) were more economically innovative and dynamic than the British-controlled areas (the first Tata steel plant, for example, was set up in Jamshedpur, an area outside British rule).

          We also know that they invested substantially more in public goods such as health and education than the British-controlled areas, and in some cases introduced free and universal education decades before the British-controlled areas. It was only in 1920, when Britain had ceded control of the education system to Indians, that legislation for compulsory, universal primary education was passed. And as soon as India became independent, spending on health and education was boosted substantially, and annual income per capita growth shot up.

      • @ Vidur

        With time differences I’m not sure if anyone will read this. In my country the indigenous culture had not changed in 50 000 years, perhaps more.

        Their culture outlawed agriculture, which women and children who were the ones who suffered the most, did sometimes attempt, by encouraging the growth of native yams. In fact the culture was against any change in the status quo.

        If the continent had not been discovered accidentally by Europeans ,mapped and settled by the British, when would the culture or their living standards rise?

        I know a young man from New Guinea who did not know western culture, or even see a white person until the 1990’s when his mother escaped to the city to escape certain death because her husband had repudiated her?

        When would his life have improved ever wise ?
        He would have been dead like his mother?
        To paraphrase, “The noble savage is not always so noble “

        • Vidur says

          @Anita

          “With time differences I’m not sure if anyone will read this. In my country the indigenous culture had not changed in 50 000 years, perhaps more.”

          You were not just talking about your country (which you haven’t identified, so we cannot really comment on your statements), you were talking about the world: “where would the world be without the benefits of colonisation?” To which I am simply responding: “where would the world be without the costs of colonisation?” I’m using the example of India, which I know about best, but I did link you to a paper which meticulously scrutinizes the economic case for colonialism in sub-Saharan Africa, and finds it to be wanting.

      • ga gamba says

        This rather abysmal track record is not particularly surprising, though: the British Empire spent meagre amounts of money, per capita, on health (and indeed education, on which the British record is even worse, with only 12 percent of the population being literate by the end of British rule).

        Similar to Britain as well. Universal public education to age 10 was only introduced in 1880. The NHS came into being after WWII. The first census of India, in 1872, suggests an adult literacy rate of 3.2%. Is twelve per cent not about four times better? Even today, literacy is about 75%, and this is with benefit of decades of modern communication and logistic networks, computers, and low-cost publishing as well as significant investment by the state. Yet under its own enlightened governance, child labour still exists. India is sadly the home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. Heck, many people still prefer open-air defecation despite lavatories being built for them and education campaigns conducted.

        Your objection reminds me of the colonial Americans complaint about taxation without representation made during the time they knew well that about 6% of British men (and no women) could vote.

        • Vidur says

          The notion that India was treated “similarly” to Britain just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

          Universal compulsory primary education in India was resisted by the British for decades upon decades, despite the campaigns and protestations of Indian activists and politicians, from Jyotiba Phule onwards. It was only from 1920, when Indian ministers took charge of educational matters, that universal compulsory primary education was finally put into legislation in the British-ruled areas of India. And even then, actually enacting this legislation proved difficult and in many cases impossible, due to the British bureaucracy.

          This was, you will note, forty to fifty years after the Elementary Education Acts of 1870, 1876 and 1880 in Britain.

          Meanwhile, in the Indian-controlled princely (native) states, the promotion of education occurred much sooner. The state of Travancore announced a policy of free primary education as early as 1817, and the state of Baroda was the first in India to introduce compulsory primary education in 1892.

          Per capita, these Indian-controlled areas spent twice as much on education as the British-controlled areas of India. At the time, even Brazil and Mexico were spending five times as much, per capita, on education than the British-controlled areas of India. The Indian-controlled areas, overall, allocated 10 percent of their budget to human capital; the British-controlled areas allocated only 4.1 percent. The picture on health was much the same, with the princely states investing more money into healthcare.

          “Even today, literacy is about 75%”

          Significantly driven downward by the low literacy rates of elderly people in India. The literacy rate of 15-24 year olds in India is greater than 90 percent.

          • ga gamba says

            The notion that India was treated “similarly” to Britain just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

            Actually, it does. Britain treated all its colonies’ education needs similarly; it let the locals drive it for a long time and if Parliament got involved, in the early 1800s, it was on behalf of the Church of England (CoE). It mostly took a hands off approach. The first schools to get public financial support were exclusively Anglican ones. This caused a bit of upset amongst the other denominations in Australia, where Anglican schools were established by the locals in with Anglican vicars in the 1820s. Non-denominational truly publicly funded schools, called national schools were begun in the 1830s – far earlier than England. The first colony to withdraw government funding to denominational schools was South Australia in 1851.

            In each of the Australian colonies, usually in the 1870s, there were education acts passed locally that established public school systems. Their defining characteristics have usually been described as ‘free, compulsory and secular’. The Act that came closest to establishing all three of these conditions at the same time was the Victorian Education Act of 1872. In other colonies and states the conditions that came to be seen as defining Australian systems of public education began as early as 1851 and concluded as late as 1908.

            This was the same in Canada, New Zealand, and other colonies. Where schools were started it was either organised by the locals or requirements for endowments attached to charters, where they existed.

            The Oxford History of Anglicanism writes: “… independent Anglican Churches had emerged in the settlement colonies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa… they were not Established Churches… they had no connections to the imperial state. . . . In 1874, the imperial Parliament formally recognised their independence with the Colonial Clergy Act . . . . The connections of the colonial Churches to the Mother Church of England were henceforth based – not on law – but on sentiment, doctrine…”

            And for India, when Parliament renewed the East India’s Company’s (EIC) charter in 1813, it attached to the requirement EIC fund an Anglican Church for India. The EIC was less than thrilled because it didn’t want to interfere, or be perceived interfering, with Indian faith communities. The first schools opened were CoE, and by 1820 Indian missionaries were being trained in Calcutta. Anglican schools were valued by the Indian elite.

            I think the mistake you’re making is that you’re viewing the past through a 2019 lens. Parliament didn’t suddenly declare in 1880, “Let’s give the children in England and Wales schools.” It was decades of campaigning, just like the campaigning done by people in India later you mentioned. The Anglican National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales was established in 1811. Universal education was established in Scotland by Scots far earlier. Until the creation of the welfare state, Parliament was notoriously skint. It wasn’t looking around to fund projects. It was looking to earn.

            For much of their history UK colonies were not centrally managed by Whitehall. Until the telegraph the limitations of communications ensured that. And people weren’t sending telegraphs in the volume they send emails today asking for further instructions, clarification, etc. A ten word transatlantic message to England cost $100 (about $2,600 today) in 1860; from London to India was even more expensive. And how thorough an instruction could be sent in ten words? I’m reminded of the utter despair England felt when the message arrived ” Wellington defeated.” An incomplete message carried by telegraph’s forebear.

            People in the colonies were expected to be far more self reliant and take initiative. The micromanaging, second guessing, and near instant information overload common today has altered our understanding of how it was really for much of history.

            I covered the education system in Hyderabad in another comment.

          • Vidur says

            @ga gamba

            Actually, it does. Britain treated all its colonies’ education needs similarly

            You couldn’t be more wrong. Wrote the US-based economic historian Latika Chaudhary:

            “Government expenditures per capita [on education] averaged less than 0.01 pounds in British India, lower than average government spending in the Indian Princely States (0.02)… and in other dependent British colonies (0.18).”

            In other words, Britain spent 18 times as much money per capita on education in other colonies than it did in India. Again, this is because its officials explicitly stated that they only wished to educate a small class of Indians, so as not to disrupt the colonial system.

        • Vidur says

          Further to the above comment, as late as 1931 spending on education accounted for only 0.74% of national income. After independence, in 1950-51, spending on education was increased to 1.2% of GDP, and then doubled to 2.4% by 1960-61.

          The fact of the matter is that the British Empire never had a real nterest in educating the vast bulk of the Indian population – though gestures and largely symbolic moves were sometimes made. They wanted to educate a small class of Indians; mass education would have undermined colonial rule.

          • ga gamba says

            Parliament had little interest in spending money unless it was an emergency. That god for Chamberlain’s appeasement or else we would have had far fewer Spitfires to fight the Battle of Britain. This was true for both home and abroad, in large part because MPs had few to answer to except many others who didn’t want to be taxed as well. 40% of men – poor men – didn’t have the vote until after WWI. During the Regency it was only 6% of men had the vote. The spending of behalf of the people, it’s a recent phenomenon.

            Public education throughout the colonies was a mostly a local concern to be organised and funded. When the imperial state at first got involved, it was often due to the Church of England’s prodding and the Church was a main beneficiary.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            Worth remembering that the English are also a colonised people. And the dynasty that colonised them was more or less intact 6 or 7 hundred years later when they turned their gaze to more exotic prizes. An historically enduring and impressive crime syndicate. Much reduced now but by no means a spent force.

  15. Fickle Pickle says

    What does referring to “athens” or “jerusalem” got to do with anything in the quantum world of the 21st century when everyone and every culture is now effectively living in a very small boat in very stormy seas?

    When and where were these mythical “locations” or anyhow!

    References to “athens” or “jerusalem” have diddly-squat relevance or resonance to the four billion
    or so human beings who do not live within the Western mind-space or thought bubble. To non- Christian and classical Chinese. To Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Shintoists, Jains, Sikhs,Parsees, non-Christian native Americans, etc etc.

    Reason can of course be used to (apparently) prove or disprove anything.

    Blaise Pascal quite rightly told us that “the heart has its reasons for which reason knows nothing”

    Not much heart based or inspired reason to be found in anything that Ben Shapiro says or promotes. Quite the opposite in fact.
    The phrase “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”. (except for his own wrongly presumed self importance) would be a more apt summation of his bloviations.

    So too with the life long pathological liar who now haunts/infests the White House.

    • Daniel says

      Fickle Pickle,
      Good job squeezing the Trump mention in there. But no Hitler? No Holocaust? You are capable of so much better. Didn’t you hear that whoever invokes both Trump and Hitler automatically wins every online discussion? And if you throw in the Holocaust, that is the trump card (see what I did there?)

      Time to step up your game. This is where the big boys play.

  16. lpadron says

    The last paragraph would apply to the author’s view as well Shapiro’s. As such I don’t see why he bothered writing it or why I should bother reading it.

    • Lydia says

      “The time may soon come when a more sophisticated neuroscience will render arguments of morality and free will effectively null. ”

      Chilling! I wonder who will be the philosopher Kings who will decide for us, at that time?

  17. Aylwin says

    Shapiro comes across as someone who is demonstrating the role of consciousness in the spinning of yarns to justify himself. His core is built on identification with Judaism, and the rest of him is a frantic intellectual exercise in justification. He seems to have written a whole book by riding that wave. Sadly, it’s also an explanation of the power and utility of that yarn spinning – it works – he’s making a career out of it. (This is not to say he’s being cynical. I’m sure he believes it – that is the nature of the yarn-spinner; to present the most believable face of one’s facade one must truly believe it)

  18. Lydia says

    “The time may soon come when a more sophisticated neuroscience will render arguments of morality and free will effectively null. ”

    Chilling. Who are the philosopher Kings who will decide for us, at that point?

  19. Bob Johnson says

    Christianity was unique in its universal call for charity, self-sacrifice, and love for your enemies. These were values not found in Hinduism or Taosim. Judaism encourages charity, but gentiles are only expected to follow Noachide laws.

    The idea of inherent human dignity, found in socialism, utilitarainism, liberalism etc., would not exist were it not for Christainity

    Science tells us nothing about morality. For science to be possible, you also need to assume objective truth in a world run according to understandable laws, one from Christianity

    When Europe was pagan, temple prostition, polygamy, lack of compassion for the poor, and murder of disabled infants were common. Christianity gave us western civilization

    • Jim Gorman says

      You got it. Regardless of all the foibles of the “Church” this is it. Mankind is imperfect and mankind ran the Church. Why would one not believe that it’s actions upon this earth could be sinful? Does that prove that God doesn’t exist or the Jesus didn’t teach us how to live?

      A nun once posed this to me. Two men are together, one must live and one must die. There is no religion, no afterlife, no forgiveness, etc. Using reason alone, how do you decide to act. In order to use reason, you must use assumptions. There is no guarantee that each will use the same assumptions nor reach the same conclusion. One may say I want to increase my wealth for my heirs and the other I need to provide for my young family. Who is to say what is good and which is not?

      Yet faith in God and Jesus lets you believe in an afterlife and as John 15: 12-13 says, “12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This makes it easy to decide how to act. This is morality based not on reason, but a faith in God. It defines a constant way of acting.

    • Katabole says

      I agree completely. All anyone has to do is to drive across all the nations founded historically on Christian beliefs. The oldest and generally largest structure in every village, town and city in the West are Christian churches. The churches were the meeting places of the communities where they worshipped Christ and made plans for a better future. Over 65% of all Nobel Prize Winners have been Christian. The founders of modern science were virtually all Christian. The advent of the hospital and the university are directly due to Christian evangelism; to love your neighbour as yourself and to love the Lord your God with all your mind. Even leading German Sociologist and Historian Jurgen Habermas who calls himself a methodological atheist, credits Christianity with the rise and development of the West.

      “For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Jurgen Habermas, 1999

      A reminder to the article author Jared Pollen and the rest of the people of the West. Those who at their own peril reject Christianity today, will have Islam rule over them tomorrow because Christianity is the only thing that ever stood in its way and Islam is not going to stop ’till it rules all.

    • josh says

      The three treasures of Taoism are “be charitable, be thrifty, and do not push ahead of others.” More succinctly, it is compassion, frugality, and humility. Literally, charity is one of the three main pillars of Taoism.

      In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, there is a story about a half-golden mongoose who appears at a great sacrifice from the king Yuddhistira. The mongoose had turned half gold after witnessing a great act of kindness, where a starving family gave up what remained of its food, a handful of rice, to feed a guest. The mongoose proceeded to search the world to witness a sacrifice that would turn his other half golden, which led him to Yuddhistira’s sacrifice, which, for all its grandeur, failed to turn the other half of the mongoose golden.

      The Mahabharata also declares that the wisest man rejects duality, the difference between I and you, and recognizes that all creatures, from the lowliest rodent to the highest king, are the same and are therefore worthy of kindness and reverence. This is even more expansive than the golden rule of Christianity, which only applies to people. There are also treatises in the Mahabharata that extol vegetarianism, because, as there is nothing a creature values more than its own life, there can be no greater sin than taking a life. Rather than just the dignity of man, we see here the dignity of all life.

      This is a problem with these discussions: we take the things we like about our belief system and assume that they are therefore unique. We then take these things that we assume are unique (but which often aren’t), and then assume that they must be the basis of other things we like, such as, say, the political, economic, and technological systems of the West.

  20. Kessler says

    The author seems to conflate Judeo-Christian values and Roman Catholic Church.

    Firstly, how does the argument work, when Protestant, Orthodox and Judaism cultures have Judeo-Christian values, but are not responsible for the Copernicus & book ban lists of Roman Catholic Church?

    Secondly, Roman Catholic Church as an institution would of course be fallible, open to political realities of the world and corruption. I believe in some cases Church can even act against Judeo-Christian values. So, if we judge any human institution by it’s worst mistakes at whole span of history, they will ALL be found wanting. And we are not even supposed to be judging Roman Catholic Church here, but how well, the moral and cultural framework it sought to instill in people worked for the West.

    Thirdly, for centuries, the only people, who could read were priests. Monasteries were centers of learning. The Jesuits have founded education system, that produced Enlightenment. Most of the Western scientists have been christians. I don’t believe a case of heliocentric model and banned books on politics exactly outweighs the massive contribution just organized Churches made for the West. And the argument is that even non-religious have been shaped by Judeo-Christian morality framework in their modes of thinking.

    And sure, christian education was to make people think a certain way. That’s a feature of all education. Our modern non-christian Universities aren’t exactly providing values free education, of pure facts and logic.

  21. Daniel says

    “Despite his best efforts, Milton’s depiction of God appeared tyrannous and Lucifer proved the wiser of the two,”
    I’ve heard this analysis before, and it both bewilders and amuses me. I’m not seeing that at all. I’ve read Paradise Lost three times — so, by no means an expert scholar, but enough to have formed opinions on it — and such a case for Lucifer is completely overstated.

    I agree that Lucifer is the most human character in the work, but that is because we identify more easily with evil than we do with virtue. We’ve all entertained the selfish, bitter sentiments that Milton’s Satan so perfectly articulates. But to compare him favorably to Milton’s Trinity? The whole point is that Satan is full of what we, in our better moments, recognize to be utter BS. Unlike Mr. Pollen, I see Satan’s poisonous, fatuous self-justifications as the ugly sophistry they were intended to be. Perhaps the “wisdom” he sees is because he recognizes Satan’s sentiments in himself, and like Satan, declares them laudable. Shame.

    To say that he’s missing the point is putting it mildly. The capacity of evil to self-rationalize is basically infinite. To call it “wisdom” is preposterous.

  22. A polemic thinly disguised as a book review. Articles like this often have a point, sometimes early on, where one gets the gist and should probably stop reading. That point here is:-
    “…The overwhelming superiority of Athenian civilization over anything produced in ancient Judea.”
    If one swallows that whopper one need not read any more. Likewise if one rejects it.

    But I did read on.
    “It doesn’t require faith. If it works, the proof is in the results. The only thing it demands is confidence in our fellow humans, and confidence that we can know right from wrong without an eternal supervising authority.”
    That confidence is faith.

    “The time may soon come when a more sophisticated neuroscience will render arguments of morality and free will effectively null.”
    Wow! Now THAT’S faith! The almost blind faith in the future preached by so many atheists.

    • Craig Willms says

      FTA:The time may soon come when a more sophisticated neuroscience will render arguments of morality and free will effectively null

      The reliance on reason to crush the idea of inherent morality and free will falls apart in my mind when you realize reason is usually an exercise in rationalization. Where Pollen suggests that we blind ourselves with fiction is so narrow as to not understand that fiction is an amalgamation of facts distilled for clarity.

  23. Andy Patton says

    “If the Renaissance was the intellectual rebirth of our species..”

    Um, sorry to quibble on what might seem a minor point, but what about the Northern Song dynasty in China (960-1127). It was an enormous intellectual rebirth, fuelled in part by a massive increase in the availability of printed books, which led in turn to new methods of teaching and scholarship. And many more people lived in China at that time than Europe in the Renaissance.

  24. Jean Levant says

    The author wrote : “In order to make this fully convincing, Shapiro has to significantly downplay Thomas Jefferson’s deism, his disdain for organized religion, his continual support for the atheistic French Revolution, and his intellectual kinship with Thomas Paine, whom Shapiro throws in with the darker strain. The dark side also includes Voltaire, David Hume, Diderot, and Rousseau. It was the radical anti-teleological materialism of these thinkers, he contends, as well as their atheistic contention that there are no God-given rights, that culminated in the blood and terror of the French Revolution.”

    That’s not quite right. Robespierre, one of the leading men of the Revolution, was a believer, at least certainly not an atheist. He created “la fête de l’être Suprême (with a capital to être)”, namely in English The Suprem Being’s Day or, to say it simply (but it would have been political incorrectness at its height in that era), God’s Day. Surprising, isn’t it, for the man of the Terror!
    It seems to me that it is a current mistake to assume that the leaders of the French Revolution shared a common thinking, as it was, in some degree, with the Nazis or the Bolcheviks. That’s why it is more difficult to distinguish the good and the bad in this event.

  25. johno says

    A couple of nitpicks:

    It is true that the Catholic Church suppressed the Copernican celestial model in favor of Aristotle. But, that is not the result of religion. It is the result of a large organization not wanting to admit that it was wrong… and the church inasmuch said so when they first came down on Galileo and his early telescope.

    The same can be said of the German ‘Gott mitt uns’ on the Wehrmacht belt buckles. It did not really mean that much, and the horrid excesses of the Nazis and SS (who didn’t wear those buckles) were largely kept secret from the German population in general and the Wehrmacht troops in particular. Heydrich, in his presentation at the Wannsee conference, noted that the ‘final solution’ had to be kept under wraps, lest the German public and Wehrmacht turn on the Nazis.

    This isn’t a matter of religious values not stopping a massacre, as much as it was an example of how modern technology and an iron fist can result in mass murder and deception on an unprecedented scale.

    One can take religious persecution in another direction: the Industrial Revolution. That was a direct result of the Church of England and the policy of labeling any non conformists to it as ‘dissenters’, stripped of some civil rights.

    To escape that persecution, the Dissenters moved north, in and around Glasgow, where they were to create both the industrial methods, and the steam engine to power the newly created industries.

    Oddly enough, when they became wealthy, they were no longer considered ‘dissenters’. What a coincidence.

    I can’t say that I agree with the idea that Judeo-Christian values, due to their origins, played a major role in the ascension of the Western societies. I do agree that the principles behind them was a factor… principles that can be found outside of those religions.

  26. An overall excellent review. I’ll be picking up Shapiro’s book when I can, as it appears fascinating despite its flaws.

    Perhaps I’ll feel differently in the future, but I feel there may not be enough of a link between Reason and Science in the rebuttal dealing with WWII Germany. If Shapiro attacks a Godless lack of morality (All Greek, no Jerusalem) I think Feyerabend would probably agree that the scientisim that that regime claimed would be little better.

  27. El Uro says

    The Inquisition is responsible for the murder of several tens of thousands of people for several hundred years of its history.
    Communism killed more than 100 million people over several decades of its history.

    Leftists much more efficient. They are definitely on the right side of the history…

  28. Vidur says

    Superb review. Steven Pinker’s ‘Enlightenment Now’ appears to be, in some cases, almost a preemptive rebuttal of Shapiro’s latest book.

    As Pinker notes close to the beginning of the book, the tremendous progress that the world – not just the West – has made has been down to universal values, norms and principles that are knowable through reason. These have have been found in many different cultures throughout the ages.

    Religious pluralism and tolerance would have been found in Asia – particularly India – centuries before the secular age in Europe, which only arrived after religion had torn Europe apart on repeated occasions. The world’s first statement advocating religious pluralism, tolerance and interfaith dialogue dates to more than 2000 years ago in India, in Ashoka’s Maurya Empire, in one of Ashoka’s edicts. As it states: “if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way… contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. The King desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.”

    More than 1500 hundred years later, during Akbar’s reign in Mughal India, the sectarian tax on Hindus was abolished; the education of all citizens regardless of religion was encouraged; debates and discussions between philosophers and theologians from all of India’s religions took place; and a library containing thousands of works of literature from India and across the world was built.

    The world’s first animal rights laws were also, incidentally, enacted in Ashoka’s Maurya Empire (we in the West are catching up on animal rights), and his edicts (mentioned above) were a precursor to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Some version of the Golden Rule has been found in cultures in Africa, Asia and Europe. Mohism, an ancient Chinese school of thought emphasizing impartial benevolence and the importance of the general welfare of the population, was practiced thousands of years before the utilitarianism of Beccaria and Bentham.

    What all of these values, norms and principles have in common is the idea of impartiality, underpinned and informed by our ability to reason. They can be appreciated by anyone, at any time, in any place; they do not depend on where you were born, for example. They can be arrived at using reason alone: ‘what business of mine is it whether people are homosexual?’.

    As humans, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are governed by the desire to flourish. Reason allows us to appreciate that, just as we wish to flourish, we should not deny that opportunity to others. This is why, if you were living in the late 18th Century and you wanted to predict the major societal changes that would occur in the coming decades and centuries (many of which Shapiro acknowledges were positive), you would have done well to rely on Bentham’s Utilitarianism, not on Judeo-Christianity.

    The atheistic Bentham, writing at precisely that time, advocated for individual and economic freedom; the abolition of slavery; freedom of expression; the separation of church and state; women’s rights; the abolition of corporal punishment; the decriminalization of homosexuality; and animal rights. From first principles. not because he was swayed by any ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’. Christianity, of course, was steadfastly opposed to many of these changes.

    Today, Bentham’s worthy successors show us what can be achieved in the sphere of ethics using “reason alone”. Keep the Torah and the Bible closed, and have a read of Derek Parfit’s three-volume masterpiece, ‘On What Matters’. Then have a read of Peter Singer’s co-authored work ‘The Point of View of the Universe’.

    • Vidur Kapur says

      In addition to skewering the belief that Judeo-Christianity is a force for good, Pinker’s book also, of course, uses a copious amount of data to debunk the notion that the West is in decline – economically, morally, spiritually, culturally or otheriwse.

    • K. Dershem says

      Excellent comment, Vidur. I don’t deny that Christian ideas influenced the Enlightenment, but Christianity obviously wasn’t sufficient for the Enlightenment to occur … otherwise it wouldn’t have taken 1600 years after the founding of the faith. It may have been necessary — the scientific method emerged in Christian Europe, not in other advanced civilizations like China or India — but I don’t think it’s necessary any longer. Moreover, it’s abundantly obvious that Christianity is compatible with superstition, tyranny, tribalism and atrocities.

      • Vidur says

        Thank you for your reply. I would disagree that Christianity was necessary for the development of the scientific method, for the principal reason that the scientific method originated in the Islamic world – in Arabia and Persia. al-Haytham, al-Biruni and Avicenna were the three most prominent pioneers of experimentation, and their work was, a couple of centuries later, drawn upon by Robert Grosseteste, who in turn influenced Roger Bacon.

        I wholeheartedly agree that it is not necessary today, as you might have guessed!

    • Yoon Lee says

      Are you arguing for the central premises here, that reason does not need faith? Or are you proclaiming to the world how great India is? Because you just spent nearly half of your comment on the latter topic.

      • Vidur says

        Sigh, another rather frivolous comment. I used examples from China, India and other cultures to demonstrate that Judeo-Christianity has nothing to do with many of the ethical values we consider to be good and useful.

        • Yoon Lee says

          Please consider it constructive criticism. Your main premise is undermined if people suspect you of a nationalist/civilizationist agenda.

          • Vidur says

            Fair enough.

            It is somewhat ironic that we are in a comment section beneath a review of a book which actually does have a civilizationist agenda, written by someone who I would describe as a nationalist and a prominent political partisan. It even has the subtitle how reason and moral purpose made the West great !

            My comment was aimed at rebutting such an agenda – I apologize if it came across as anything other than this.

  29. Carl says

    I like Ben Shapiro. He’s entertaining and smart as hell. I like his attitude toward non-believers – he is respectful and argues honestly; he can distinguish between faith and fact. I find Shapiro’s beliefs in God, teleology, free will, and final causes wondrous in a man so intelligent.

    I thought the book was mediocre. He fails to convince that Athens and Jerusalem hold the importance he claims. Sure, the flourishing, successful West descends from those cultures and retains some of their values at its core. Some debt is owed, but the epicenter for mankind’s blossoming occurred in the seventeenth century when reason began to overthrow belief. During the two millennia between Socrates and Spinoza, progress was glacial, and no one’s life was much different than their grandparent’s. Since then, …

  30. Scully says

    The author is completely wrong on the issue of Hitler being linked to Christianity. Historians all agree that the examples outlined in the article were all just marketing for extra support–much like the party’s name. Couldn’t really take the article seriously after that.

    • Vidur says

      Surely, as Coel remarked above, it is an indicator of how religious Germany was during the Nazi era – even if the Nazis’ paeans to Christianity were merely part of a broader marketing technique, it says something about the religiosity of the population as a whole. In any case, as Coel documented above, the Nazis opposed atheism and the atheistic movement in Germany.

      Moreover, if one accepts, as I do, that the German people in addition to the Nazi leadership were culpable for the Holocaust, their Christian beliefs (for the vast majority of the population at the time did identify as Christian) did not prevent them from engaging in or condoning atrocities. Most of the Nazis themselves will have been Christians, too.

      More generally, the Catholic Church did not act as a bulwark against fascism and anti-Semitism either; indeed, it actively supported them.

      It ought to be blindingly obvious – but apparently isn’t – that atrocities can be committed with or without religion. The most peaceful societies in the world, however, tend to be the more secular ones. And though these societies happen to have a ‘Judeo-Christian’ history, this is merely incidental: proponents of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting the moral and intellectual progress that occurred independently of and in opposition to them.

      • Gilles St-Gilles says

        “the Catholic Church did not act as a bulwark against fascism and anti-Semitism either; indeed, it actively supported them”

        That is just a popular myth, but it is absolutely false. If you are talking Italian fascism, well fascists exalt force, power, the military and the nation, and despised the catholic church, its universality and its ethics of turn the other cheek. Fascists were infamous for disrupting churches, and religious ceremonies. There was an encyclical written specifically to condemn fascism “Non abbiamo bisogno”. Read up on it. See for instance wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_abbiamo_bisogno:

        The encyclical condemned Italian fascism’s “pagan worship of the State” and “revolution which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence.”

        If you are talking Germany you’re even more wrong. When the nazis were just one of many political parties, the catholic church position was clear, and public. The nazis were pagans, who were to be denied sacraments. Catholics were forbidden to join their organizations. Catholics were not to vote for them – and by and large, catholics listened to thir priests: when Hitler finally managed to get elected, it was the protestant north that voted for him.

        Atheists and anti-catholics love to talk about the Concordat signed with Hitler, but they ignore that the Church had done everything in its power to oppose the nazis. Catholics were a minority in Germany, and they were now placed in a position where they had to deal with what was now the government of Germany. In the words of that great romantic, Stalin, “the pope, how many divisions?” In a country where persecution of the Kulturkampf was a living memory, they decided to put a cork on their criticism of the nazis in order to secure the freedom to worship.

        That would not, of course, put an end to the clashes between nazis and the Church. Catholic leaders would be among the people killed in the “Night of the Long Knives”. The frictions would lead to another encyclical being written about Nazi Germany in 1937: “Mit Brennender Sorge”. A couple of quick quotes from that encyclical, clandestinely brought into the country, and read in the sermons of all catholic churches of Germany:

        Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds
        None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are “as a drop of a bucket”

        The nazis were livid. Catholic preses were seized. Hundreds were thrown in jail or concentration camps. Because, really, there were thousands of priests or monks in the nazi concentration camps. In Dachau alone, 2,720 clerics are recorded as imprisoned, 2,579 (or 94.88%) of which were Roman Catholics

        Really, the idea that the Catholic Church supported the regime that closed its catholic schools, its trade unions, its press, expropriated its properties, and sent thousands of its priests to concentration camps is laughably uninformed.

  31. Bob Johnson says

    Bentham needed an idea of inherent human dignity that was only supplied by Christianity.

    The Enligthenment was a scam; great scientific and humane progress was happening in middle ages Catholic europe.

    Hindu civilization barely had charity or compassion for the poor sick and weak. The west was unique in this thanks to Christianity

    • Vidur says

      @Bob Johnson

      “Bentham needed an idea of inherent human dignity that was only supplied by Christianity.”

      Christianity is a human invention. The idea of inherent human dignity is a human invention. The notion that other humans didn’t independently come up with the idea of ‘inherent human dignity’ is nonsensical. Plenty of religions stress the inherent dignity of human beings, for one reason or another, and some – such as Hinduism and Jainism – go further and stress the inherent importance of all living things. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that the condition of the poor, sick and weak started to improve.

      In any case, Bentham explicitly rejected the assertion that humans have inherent dignity. As he wrote: “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.”

      In contrast, he was scornful of the idea that humans have “natural” (that is, inherent) rights, calling them “nonsense upon stilts”. So much for the influence of Athens and Jerusalem, whence these ideas come!

      Unlike the Christians of his day, who put homosexuals to death (so much for human dignity), Bentham wrote the first text in England that argued for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

      Are we to believe that all of those devout Christians failed to acknowledge the inherent human dignity of homosexuals, but that the atheistic Bentham – who aimed at nothing less than the complete destruction of Christianity and the Church – did?

      Or are we to acknowledge that the idea of inherent human dignity is a human invention, applied sporadically by those who profess to believe in it (even today, many religious conservatives favour the death penalty), and that other ideas – such as Utilitarianism – can be derived using reason alone, and do a much better job of promoting the welfare of sentient beings than Christianity ever did?

      • Bob Jones says

        The idea of inherent human dignity could not be conceived by humans originally. It was revealed to man through Christ.

        You also did not acknoledge how no civilization valued charity to everyone on the planet until Christianity

      • Paul says

        Vidur,
        Let me encourage you to stop until you know more about Christian history. The concept of the “poor” was invented by Christianity. The Romans simply did not recognize their existence. Hospitals were invented by Christian monks. And so on and so forth.

        You insist that Christianity is a human invention. That would be a natural position for you to take, but that doesn’t make your view true.

        You appear to endorse Bentham’s view that natural human rights are nonsensical. On what basis then do you hold that the execution of those who practice anal intercourse were being denied their human dignity? First, who executed them and when? Second, I understand you to be maintaining that human dignity is just a human invention. Human nature doesn’t imply human entitlements and liberties (that’s what human rights are). So, human nature doesn’t imply the entitlement of being treated with dignity. Well, if that is so, what basis do you have to object to the execution of those who practice anal intercourse?

        You spray these ideas all over without seeming to ask wherein your ideas are incoherent or self-stultifying. That some people treat others as though they don’t possess inherent dignity doesn’t imply that human dignity is a human invention. It simply provides powerful evidence of what seems obvious: humans have weak wills and are susceptible to irrational desires—what Christians refer to as original sin.

        That some religious conservatives favor the death penalty for some murderers has nothing whatever to do with denying the human dignity of the murderers. Execution is simply conceived of as a just penalty for those like Ted Buddy (a serial rapist and murderer) and Timothy McVeigh (a terrorist who took the lives of over 100 individuals including innocent children). You are free to disagree. You are free to say that their execution was unjust But you aren’t free to say that those who see their executions as just are opposed to the inherent dignity of all human beings. That is truly nonsense on stilts.

        Further, you seem to hold that justice itself is a human invention. In that case, you don’t get to use objective justice to make judgments about the behavior of others. That’s incoherent. Christianity as well as the other major world religions holds that justice is objective, discovered by humans, not invented by them. You disagree. Fine, but don’t then come with any incoherent nonsense in which you stand in judgment of others based on what certainly looks like objective justice.

        So which is it going to be: inherent human dignity is discovered by humans and taught by various religions simultaneously or inherent human dignity is invented by humans and is only an arbitrary concept not useful for anything? You can’t have it both ways. Bentham doesn’t acknowledge human dignity but wants to legalize anal intercourse. So what? You seem to object to all executions as unjust, but imply that there is no objective justice.

        Time to stop. Step back and perhaps contemplate the implications of your moral anti-Realism.

        • Vidur says

          @paul

          The concept of the “poor” was not invented by Christianity, nor was “charity”. A passage from the Hindu Rig Veda reads: “One may amass wealth with hundreds of hands but one should also distribute it with thousands of hands.” Charity, or ‘dana’, has long been a tradition in Hinduism, which is the oldest living religion in the world.

          Hospitals were not invented by Christian monks, either. They existed in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and ancient India. In the last case, you’ll find that in the Maurya Empire, they went so far as to build animal hospitals and shelters.

          My objection (and Bentham’s objection) to the criminalization of homosexuality is not that human dignity is being violated, but that unnecessary suffering is being inflicted upon people.

          And for the record, I am a moral realist, in the tradition of Henry Sidgwick, GE Moore, Derek Parfit and Peter Singer.

  32. K. Dershem says

    “It ought to be blindingly obvious – but apparently isn’t – that atrocities can be committed with or without religion.” Very well put! The underlying cause is totalizing ideologies. Groups which believe that they possess the absolute truth are often willing to kill and die for their cause. This was as true of virulent forms of Christianity (which are mostly in the past, thanks to the moderating influence of the Enlightenment) as it is of extremist Islam, and clearly applies to Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc. Fundamentalism of any kind can be extremely dangerous — which is why traditional liberals should oppose the regressive left and its attempts to suppress freedom of thought and expression.

  33. Benjamin Perez says

    Another Ben, Ben Bassett, wrote a piece published in Quillette (“Progress and Polytheism: Could an Ethical West Exist Without Christianity”) and another piece published in Areo (“Ancient Stocism, Human Rights, and The Dignity of the Individual”) that made strong arguments that Stocism—if history had gone in that direction, as opposed to the direction it went (Ben Shapiro’s “Right Side”)—would have led to what we today understand as modern Western Enlightenment values. Since reading those two articles, I’ve gone on to read many of the canonical Stoic texts, as well as some of the current philosophical writings on (commentaries on, arguments for) Stocism. Long story short: as much as I respect Shapiro, this Ben as come to not only believe that Stocism is the better way to get to those core values, values so nobly defended by Shapiro (and JBP), but that we would have arrived—much, much sooner—at more clearly articulated expressions of these core values if, counter-historically, Stocism had led the way.

  34. Pingback: Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 196 - Glen Davis

  35. Anonymous says

    ” Shapiro first has to rig up an argument for why Greek ethics alone are insufficient, despite the overwhelming superiority of Athenian civilization over anything produced in ancient Judea.”

    Talk about sweeping generalizations unencumbered by proof or even evidence !
    Socrates gave some speeches in Athens about ethics and the good citizens of Athens responded by forcing him to drink poison.

  36. ga gamba says

    There was no ‘India’ before the regions now called India were unified by the British.

    … bring up a red herring, albeit a very common one.

    Actually, there is some relevance, though perhaps not as codadmin states.

    For the sake of readers’ background, pre-independence India was governed In two ways. There was British India, which was run by the British, and there were the princely states. This map may help. Britain handled the foreign policy and international relations of these state in ways similar to how India deals (or dealt with) with Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan. The princely states retained internal autonomy.

    One of the largest Princely States was Hyderabad. At 82,698 square miles, it was larger than that of England and Scotland put together. The state was a typical feudal structure of land tenure and agrarian relations between ruler, called the Nazim (of the Asaf Jahi Dynasty), and the ruled. It was a patron-client relationship and many kinds of intermediaries were in use. Revenue administration was corrupt and extortionist. There were also many semi-autonomous local rulers. The Nazim himself owned about 40% of the state’s land. Hyderabad had an overwhelming Hindu population, but the dynasty, the ruling elite, and important elements of the urban population were Muslim.

    Writes Venkatanarayana Motkuri of Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram: In 1901, only 3 per cent of Hyderabad’s population was literate. The literacy rate varied with class-hierarchy where upper castes like Brahmans had the highest literacy rate and
    in the lower castes, particularly scheduled caste community (aka untouchables), the literacy levels were insignificant and negligible.

    Vidar will have us believe it was bad under the British, and it may have been, but it was even worse for Indians under the rule of many of the Princely States, i.e. under Indian rule of local affairs. He makes it a point to mention the life expectancy of Indians three years after independence, contrasting it to the low of 23 in 1911. But, somehow it’s omitted the life expectancy in 1947 was 32 – still under British rule.

    Adds Motkuri of Centre for Development Studies: With respect to the supply of schooling, the state policy of the colonial regime was more favourable towards the expansion of schooling facilities when compared with that of the Nizam’s rule. The colonial government encouraged the private initiatives while giving them aid whereas the Nizam’s government literally discouraged private and philanthropic initiatives. . . . the socio-economic conditions too, in this Nizam’s Hyderabad state were not favourable for the educational development. The corrupt and extortionist nature of the Revenue administration in the state left people penniless and many times led them into debt traps. The structure of society was such that it did not allow the lower strata to reveal their preferences and imposed a false consciousness that education is not good for the working poor.

    After independence Hyderbad’s Nazim declared his intent to establish an independent nation. He had a legitimate claim and his state was large and populous. This, however, caused the new rulers in Delhi heartburn, so the military was sent in to wrest control from the ruling dynasty, which flew in the face of Gandhi’s non-violence. Was this not an invasion and conquest?

    India repeated this violent action with “the pimple on the face of India”: Goa. Locals were mixed on union with India, in large part because the colony had a large Catholic minority (40% in 1960, down from 55% in 1900 due to immigration). There were greater demands to seize the colony coming from outside Goa from Indian nationalists. Again, like Hyderabad before, India tossed aside nonviolence and used military force. At the time Nehru was also fighting a stiff electoral battle with a socialist candidate in Bombay. The operation to reclaim Goa advanced his own political interests, so it was approved and ordered.

    Though Delhi promised to respect culture, customs, and language, it has undermined these. In declaring Konkani as the official state language, which should have pleased locals both Hindu and Catholic, the government stated it was a Devnagiri script – a shrewd move by Hindus to isolate the vast majority of the Catholic community who used the Roman script learnt at school, making it difficult for Catholics to find state jobs.

    Lastly, there was the invasion of Sikkim ordered by Indira Gandhi in 1973. She had two years earlier ordered the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), which is like Britain’s MI6, to foment changes to the geopolitical situation on India’s eastern border that threatened its Siliguri corridor. Since 1950 the Kingdom had existed as a protectorate of India, which controlled the military, foreign affairs, commerce, and communications. The King had informally asked Gandhi to end its protectorate and recognise the full sovereign rights of his state. India feared Sikkim might fall under China’s or America’s sway – the Queen was American. R&AW’s goal was to isolate the King, fortify the anti-monarchal “democratic” forces, and create the pre-conditions for annexation in response to “the people’s demand”. The key here was to exacerbate communal tensions by using the predominantly-Hindu Sikkimese of Nepali origin who complained of discrimination from the Buddhist king and elites to rise up. After locals began to demonstrate against the monarch, Indian troops were sent in to quell the protests. In 1975 the king was deposed.

    Wrote G. B. S. Sidhu, the Indian political officer who was Delhi’s political supervisor-cum intelligence operative of the protectorate in his Sikkim – Dawn of Democracy: The Truth Behind the Merger with India: “The operation was so secret that its ultimate objective of merging Sikkim with India was known only to three officials – [Rameshwar Nath] Kao [founder of R&AW], [P.N.] Banerjee [eastern director of R&AW] and myself.”

    Ashok Raina writes of Sidhu corresponding: “Sikkim’s merger was necessary for Indian national interest. And we worked to that end. Maybe if the Chogyal (the monarch) had been smarter, and played his cards better, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.”

    • Vidur says

      @ga gamba

      Unfortunately, your comment is a prime example of the practice known as “cherry-picking”. Hyderabad was one of a number of princely (or native) states. There were, indeed, 565 princely states in total, by the time of Indian independence.

      You write of Hyderabad’s literacy rate in 1901 being 3 percent, yet fail to note that the literacy rate across the whole of India in 1901 was a bit over 5 percent.

      Instead of merely focusing on one of more than five hundred princely states, let’s look at a more systematic analysis. The economic historian Lakshmi Iyer, of Notre Dame University, writes: “the British annexed areas with the greatest agricultural potential, but did not invest as much as native [princely] states in physical and human capital.” In other words, public goods such as health and education were prioritized more in the Indian-controlled areas than in the British-controlled areas.

      Wrote the US-based economic historian Latika Chaudhary: “government expenditures on human capital in British India were among the lowest in the world from 1860 to 1912… Government expenditures [on education] per capita averaged less than 0.01 pounds in British India, lower than average government spending in the Indian Princely States (0.02)…”

      In other words, the Indian-controlled areas spent double the amount of money, per capita, on education, than the British-controlled areas. She goes on to note that the princely states, allocated 10 percent of their budget to human capital; the British-controlled areas allocated only 4.1 percent.

      As late as 1931 spending on education accounted for only 0.74% of national income. After independence, in 1950-51, spending on education was increased to 1.2% of GDP, and then doubled to 2.4% by 1960-61.

      The fact of the matter is that the British Empire never had a real interest in educating the vast bulk of the Indian population – though gestures and largely symbolic moves were sometimes made. They wanted to educate a small class of Indians; mass education would have undermined colonial rule.

      “He makes it a point to mention the life expectancy of Indians three years after independence, contrasting it to the low of 23 in 1911. But, somehow it’s omitted the life expectancy in 1947 was 32 – still under British rule.”

      My point there was to demonstrate that the regression or stagnation in life expectancy that I highlighted did not continue – there was some improvement from 1920 onward. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is when Indians began to take back control. By 1942 even the cherished Indian Civil Service was predominantly Indian, the judiciary having been almost wholly indianised by the 1920s.

      It was also only from 1920, when Indian ministers took charge of educational matters, that universal compulsory primary education was finally put into legislation in the British-ruled areas of India, after decades of British resistance to the idea (in spite of the protestations of many Indian campaigners and politicians). And even then, actually enacting this legislation proved difficult and in many cases impossible, due to the British bureaucracy.

      By contrast, some of the Indian-ruled princely (native) states had promoted mass education far earlier. For instance, the princely state of Travancore announced a policy of free primary education as early as 1817, and the state of Baroda was the first to introduce compulsory primary education in 1892.

      • ga gamba says

        Hold on, chum. Weren’t you the one who picked a Princely State as an example of education done right? Hmm…

        Meanwhile, in the Indian-controlled princely (native) states, the promotion of education occurred much sooner. The state of Travancore announced a policy of free primary education as early as 1817, and the state of Baroda was the first in India to introduce compulsory primary education in 1892.

        Indeed you were. Is that not cherry picking? Indeed it is. And you have the neck to play this gambit? Sod off.

        Further, I know it was Princely state. I said so in my comment, provided an explanation for the readers, and even provided a map. Why are you telling me something I already know? What game are you playing?

        I used an alternate Princely State, one of the largest, to contrast what happened when the Indians were left to run to things themselves. You complained about the low success of British India. I contrasted it wit the lower success of Hyderabad.

        It was a mixed bag. Some were more successful. Others, such as Hyderabad, were less successful. Of course, the British government running things was only about 70 years prior to independence (with two world wars disrupting things a lot) and had just implemented universal education to its own people. Prior to that, it was a company running the show. Most companies in the olden days weren’t providing schools and hospitals to their own workers much less their fellow citizens. Heck, most companies today don’t do so today.

        Moreover, you made that point that today’s younger Indians are more literate than the older ones. That’s true. It was true as well during colonialism. More children went to school than older people. Carrying on with that, many more younger people today have literate siblings, parents, and other family members who help them with their studies. That was much less likely 100 years ago. They also have electricity so they may study at night. And the household chores for many people have become easier, so not as many young people need to wash clothes beside a river for hours. More time available for studies. And if you’re a middle-class Indian, you likely have a maid or two taking care of much of the housework. We should expect the literacy rate to increase much faster than when it was starting at near zero in the olden days of poverty and darkness.

        You might object that British India only attained 5%, but that was almost double Hyderabad’s, wasn’t it?

        Lastly, what was going on in India before the British arrived? They didn’t take over everything on day one, did they? Of course not. So that literacy rate was abysmally low. It was just as awful as it had once been in Europe and elsewhere. Most Indians lived a feudal existence stuck on the farm. The British knocked many of them out of that.

        • Vidur says

          Oh dear, you evidently fail to understand the difference between a systematic analysis, and an example used to illustrate a broader point.

          I’ve cited statistics which look at education, healthcare and investment in public goods in all of the Princely States, which were in turn compared to the British-ruled areas. On average, the Princely States invested more in human and physical capital than the British-ruled areas. That’s simply a fact. They spent more per capita, a larger proportion of their budgets, and some of them promoted education long before any, yes any, of the British-ruled areas did.

          Moreover, as the historian Jon Wilson writes: “economic growth and institutional dynamism [in India] occurred in the places that were furthest from the rule of British bureaucrats”. For example (and remember, this is just an example used to illustrate the point, lest you forget again), the first Tata steel plant was built in Jamshedpur, an area outside British control.

  37. Ray Andrews says

    Many have been at pains here to explain that Christianity was, if anything, an impediment to progress and that most of what we now consider to be good was really invented somewhere else. The Christian West is notable only for it’s cruelty and barbarism and ignorance and backwardness. We invaded Wakanda and stole all their technology before destroying the place and enslaving everyone. Fine, but it does seem strange then that all the world’s refugees seem to want to get IN to our deplorable, racist, patriarchal, oppressive countries and we do not see boatloads of desperate people trying to get out. Why are they not heading for Africa and the Muslim world where everything is so much better? Just sayin’.

    • Vidur says

      A nice strawman argument, of the kind you’d expect to find in a YouTube comment section. The “just sayin'” at the end of the comment, as well as the reference to Wakanda, accentuate the frivolity of the comment.

      Nobody here, insofar as I can tell, has claimed that the “West is notable only for its cruelty and barbarism and ignorance and backwardness”.

      However, much of the intellectual, scientific and moral progress that undoubtedly occurred in the West, particularly during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, did not require Christianity. It was not even a necessary condition for this progress. In fact, much of the progress was made in opposition to Christianity. The bottom line is that it is the human capacity to reason and generate ideas, not the influence of Judeo-Christianity, which has led to this progress. The example of Bentham’s Utilitarianism is the most striking example of this.

      Some commenters have also proceeded to demonstrate that in the ethical sphere, many of the ideas that we consider to be good and useful today have been found in cultures around the world, not just those with a Judeo-Christian heritage, further severing the alleged link between Judeo-Christianity and “progress”. Similarly, the progress made in Europe during the Scientific Revolution built upon the work of cultures without a Judeo-Christian heritage, chiefly Greece, India, Arabia and Persia.

      • ga gamba says

        However, much of the intellectual, scientific and moral progress that undoubtedly occurred in the West, particularly during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, did not require Christianity.

        It needed Catholics battling Protestants. And Catholics beating back the Muslims from southwest France and Iberian Peninsula as well as the Central Europe and Balkans. War is the mother of most innovation.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Vidur

        “A nice strawman argument, of the kind you’d expect to find in a YouTube comment section.”

        As bad as that? I was just trying to amuse but I thought my satire wasn’t too twitterish. Olson blows off steam the same way, it should be taken tongue in cheek.

        ” did not require Christianity”

        You know this? It seems to me that we can’t rerun history, so a West without Christianity will never be knowable. But however you might like to minimize it, it seems to me overwhelmingly true that it was the Christian West that invented the science and humanism that have now spread around the world. And yes, with all credit to various other cultures. Credit that is rarely withheld — I have understood my culture to be as much Greek as anything else for as long as I’ve had an understanding of the question. Who doesn’t know that their numbers are Arabic, etc? But it’s the West that really took off with it all and that’s just a plain fact. And maybe it is just a coincidence that almost all of the world’s liberal democracies are found in the Christian world, but I doubt it personally.

        I’m with Peterson (vs. Harris): The secular moralists are holding the bones of the saints in their hands and they don’t even know it. The secular rationalists have forgotten what Newton considered to be the bedrock of inquiry.

        “Cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research” and “the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are capable of it.”

        Albert Einstein

        • S. Cheung says

          Ray,
          I don’t think reasonable folk would deny the correlation, since that is what was observed. I also don’t think reasonable folk would argue there is evidence for causation, cuz obviously that’s not possible (note that to be different from me saying “cuz there isn’t”…because absence of proof is not proof of absence, scientifically speaking).

          Most would also seemingly agree that other cultures made progress in their own way. It seems to me the difference was that East Asians, for example, kept that progress internally and did not seek to share/spread it beyond their society, as Olson mentioned several days ago. To their detriment also, because the sharing of ideas is an accepted social structure to spur new ideas and insights (raison d’etre for universities, for example).

          But that missionary aspect does seem to be a core tenet of the J-C sphere. It may even factor into the ongoing colonialism discussion which is beyond my depth. So “the west”, sustained by a J-C mentality that wishes to carry its ideas outward, allowed for and encouraged that spread, and hence, exchange of ideas, which enabled a feedback loop that spurred and accelerated its progress, compared to other societies that did not have that characteristic.

          Even to say that, though, is some distance from invoking some intrinsic J-C “morality” as the driving force for the observed correlation. I would say that is more of a cultural/behavioral characteristic, rather than a spiritual/theistic one.

          Further to that, i would say, in Harris-fashion, that “reason can get you there” to the realization that a cultural tendency to encourage an exchange of ideas beyond one’s tribe is a net benefit, without the need for any supernatural intervention. Admittedly, that would not explain why reason in all cultures did not come to realize the benefit of this exchange of ideas, simultaneously and/or to the same extent. So it may be that culture can sometimes be a constraint on reason. But then that would hardly be an exotic realization either.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @S. Cheung

            What a pleasant and well thought out comment S!

  38. Jim Gorman says

    Your own argument shows that it was the synergy between reason and Christianity that allowed a great culture to be created. Otherwise those cultures that you named, without a Judeo-Christian heritage, would be places that would currently rival the West.

    Someone above ridiculed as a strawman argument that the world is trying to enter areas with a Western European culture. That’s not a strawman, it is a fact. Reason alone will not create a lasting culture that values the individual. Only the combination of the two has been proven to create a culture that endures.

    Ben Shapiro’s hypothesis is not unreasonable. It may prove to be incorrect, but I have not seen anyone provide any proof that there is a better culture based on theology/reason currently existing on this earth. Until his hypothesis is proven false, it remains true.

    • Vidur says

      Your own argument shows that it was the synergy between reason and Christianity that allowed a great culture to be created.

      You’re confusing correlation with causation. Moreover, your analysis is ahistorical, because for many centuries India, China and indeed the Islamic Middle East were more advanced than Europe, even after the adoption of Christianity. Economically, and in terms of advancements made in mathematics, science and medicine.

      would be places that would currently rival the West.

      Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are better places to live in than many countries in Christian Europe, in terms of wealth, health, education, and so on.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Vidur

        “Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are better places to live in than many countries in Christian Europe”

        True enough, mind they’ve take the best of what we created while keeping the best of their own cultures, and they continue to advance while we are now in advanced decay.

    • S. Cheung says

      Jim,
      “Until his hypothesis is proven false, it remains true.”
      As a scientific statement, that would be completely and utterly backwards. His hypothesis was “J-C foundation was necessary” (paraphrasing extensively for sake of brevity). Null hypothesis is that “J-C foundation was NOT necessary”. THe job is now Shapiro’s to prove his hypothesis (and he can’t, because of the difference between correlation and causation Vidur mentions). So when you can’t sustain your hypothesis, you have to accept the null.

      If you prefer this argument in a more philosophical framework, I give you Hitchens:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitchens%27s_razor

      And for a more legal bent, like Shapiro himself:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_defense

      “an affirmative defense requires an assertion of facts beyond those claimed by the plaintiff, generally the party who offers an affirmative defense bears the burden of proof” (recognizing that there is no plaintiff or defendant here, but the rules of evidence/debate regarding an affirmative assertion still apply).

  39. Yoon Lee says

    I thought this review was fair until it linked Adolf Hitler to Christian thought and referenced the Vatican’s concordat with Nazi Germany. This is almost Internet-rabble level argument – and I have no respect for any professional who makes these claims.

    The idea that Hitler was somehow driven in any measure by his nominal Catholic faith is historical revisionism. The clash of power between the Nazis and the Vatican in the 1930s ought to be enough proof that Catholicism and Nazism were not bedfellows of any sort.

    Same goes for the Vatican’s deals with Nazi German government and Mussolini’s Italian one – why is a powerless city-state with no military expected to NOT make diplomatic deals with major powers that hold its fate in their hands? Are Britons somehow tainted by their own government’s numerous dealings with Nazi Germany in the 30s?

    I have nothing but the harshest regard for this review and its writer.

  40. Joel says

    I have plenty of reservations about Shapiro’s case, but this review seems to skirt the case Shapiro is making instead of confronting it. Shapiro at least has reasonable answers to difficult questions that this reviewer finds no need to face or acknowledge or even attempt to answer. Ethics/Morality/political rights need to have support, grounding. They cannot be perched on the nothingness, resting on air. There are also numerous misreadings of history. The reviewer gets the Hitler/Nazi attitude toward religion completely wrong. Hitler was a powerful persecutor of anything like the Christian church. His only use for it was as a symbol of Germanic culture that was to be coordinated into the Nazi revolution. It’s hard to take a review seriously that doesn’t register this.

    • Vidur says

      I have dealt with the Hitler/Christianity point elsewhere in this comment section.

      On your point about morality, religion does not provide any grounding for morality whatsoever. By contrast, there were/are many secular philosophers – from Sidgwick to GE Moore to Derek Parfit to Peter Singer – who have convincingly argued in favour of objective moral truths, or object-given reasons for action.

      Has Shapiro read them? I somewhat doubt it, though I’d be interested to learn otherwise.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Vidur

        “religion does not provide any grounding for morality whatsoever”

        None whatsoever? Have you read the gospels? Billions of people would consider your statement exaggerated.

        • K. Dershem says

          Ray, I think Vidur was making the point that religion is not necessary for morality. Historically, religion and morality have been deeply interconnected in every culture that’s been studied. In the modern West, many individuals still derive their ethical convictions from religious teachings, but philosophers like the ones Vidur mentioned have developed purely secular systems of ethics. Some societies (e.g., Northern European countries) are post-religious for all intents and purposes — with the exception of recent Muslim immigrants — and provide evidence that societies can flourish in the absence of organized religion. It’s possible that Danes, Swedes et al. are living off the “moral capital” accumulated from their Christian past, but this is a speculative claim that seems (so far) to be unsupported by evidence.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            Good morning K:

            ” that religion is not necessary for morality”

            Yabut he doesn’t say that. It is one thing to say that there are other groundings for morality, or that religion is not necessary for morality, it is another thing to say that religion provides no grounds for morality whatsoever. Religion grounds morality in the strongest of all possible (hypothetical) grounds, namely the commandments of the deity. If “Thou shalt not …” isn’t a grounding, I don’t know what is.

            “It’s possible that Danes, Swedes et al. are living off the “moral capital” accumulated from their Christian past, but this is a speculative claim that seems (so far) to be unsupported by evidence.”

            The evidence will come when the moral capital of Christianity finally is exhausted. How much is left in the bank? Note that a perfectly coherent and far more scientific ‘morality’ can be advanced –as it was by Hitler — that what is good is the continuing of the evolutionary struggle, thus superior races have an obligation to exterminate the inferior exactly as Gaia would do. And we note that humans are galvanized to their most creative during war and that peace ends up as fat, lazy stagnation. Any ‘morality’ beyond that is mere human invention, has no reality, and nature should teach us what is proper. What is proper is maximum human vitality, not the coddling of the inferior, but their elimination.

            Not that I believe that, I’m a Christian, but the case can be made, no? I submit that once Christianity is out of the way, the above logic will seem compelling.

          • E. Olson says

            K – Wow – so these philosophers were raised by wolves in some remote cave and thus developed their ethical frameworks without any exposure to any religious texts or teachings from schools, church, law, or popular culture? Amazing, I would almost suggest they must have gotten their ideas directly from the voice of God, but that wouldn’t be possible would it?

            Also amazing that those Danes and Swedes have similarly developed their flourishing secular cultures with absolutely no influence from Lutheran doctrine that until very recently was taught in public schools and/or by the official state church they all supported as taxpayers, or by the laws that largely follow Christian-Judea ethical traditions. If only we all could be so independent minded.

          • K. Dershem says

            E., you’ve misrepresented my position (intentionally?). It’s hard to know whether you’re arguing in good faith since you do this so consistently.
            Christianity has obviously been an influence, as I acknowledge by stating that “religion and morality have been deeply interconnected in every culture,” but secular systems of ethics are not dependent on their religious influences. The same is true of religion and science.

            Ray, religion can, of course, provide powerful grounding for morality. However, that approach to ethics is beset by difficult questions. Which religion should we follow? (This is especially problematic in religiously pluralistic societies like the U.S. and Canada.) Moreover, which version of any given religion should we follow, since adherents of every faith interpret their holy books in dramatically different ways? What should we do with the parts of scriptures that seem egregiously immoral by contemporary ethical standards? Biblical literalists strain mightily to reconcile atrocities and immoral teachings with modern understandings of justice, but only succeed in persuading themselves and fellow fundamentalists. Moderate and liberal believers take a more promising approach, acknowledging that the Bible is fallible and must be filtered through a higher set of principles. This represents progress from my point of view, but I think it makes more sense to simply affirm those principles directly. Instead of constructing complex exigetical arguments which “prove” that Christians (for example) need not condemn homosexuality, I’d rather affirm the equal rights of gays and lesbians on the basis of humanistic principles.

            “‘Morality’ beyond that is mere human invention, has no reality, and nature should teach us what is proper.” In my view, all morality is a human invention, including religious moral systems (despite their claims to the contrary). Morality consists of sets of rules that human societies developed in order to regulate behavior and promote harmony. Moral norms are not completely arbitrary. Despite obvious differences, there are a significant number of moral universals that virtually all cultures share. This is unsurprising, since a culture that failed to prohibit lying, theft, unjustified acts of violence, etc. wouldn’t last very long. Contrary to the claims of cultural relativists, some moral systems are better than others at enabling human well-being. Moral progress consists of reforming and refining these systems to maximize opportunities for humans to flourish. Even early defenders of evolutionary theory like Thomas Huxley recognized that it’s impossible to derive moral principles from nature (attempts to do so commit the “appeal to nature” fallacy). See, for example, https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/evolution-and-ethics-revisited

          • K. Dershem says

            “The evidence will come when the moral capital of Christianity finally is exhausted.” In my view, Humanism has incorporated the most valuable insights of Christianity and corrected (or supplemented) them with Enlightenment ideals. I think the biggest problem facing Northern Europeans today is the influx of devoutly religious immigrants. Aside from this challenge — which is serious but hopefully not insurmountable — their societies seem to be healthy and stable. I recommend Phil Zuckerman’s book Society without God, which is reviewed here:

            https://thehumanist.com/magazine/january-february-2010/arts_entertainment/society-without-god-what-the-least-religious-nations-can-tell-us-about-contentment

  41. Joel says

    I have plenty of reservations about Shapiro’s case, but this review seems to skirt the case Shapiro is making instead of confronting it. Shapiro at least has reasonable answers to difficult questions that this reviewer finds no need to face or acknowledge or even attempt an answer to. Ethics/Morality/political rights need to have support, grounding. They cannot be perched on the nothingness, resting on air. There are also numerous misreadings of history. The reviewer gets the Hitler/Nazi attitude toward religion completely wrong. Hitler was a powerful persecutor of anything like the Christian church. His only use for it was as a symbol of Germanic culture that was to be coordinated into the Nazi revolution. It’s hard to take a review seriously if it doesn’t register this.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @K. Dershem

      “E., you’ve misrepresented my position (intentionally?).”

      I honestly am never sure what to make of comments like that. He’s being sarcastic of course, but is that meant in a nasty way as a misrepresentation of you, or is he merely pointing out the very real problem that folks can have trying to divorce their ‘modern’ views from their cultural matrix? I use sarcasm all the time in a similar way and I’m not sure if it’s good style or not.

      “However, that approach to ethics is beset by difficult questions.”

      Yes, certainly. But I must object to what @Vidur said. But of course the ‘morality from authority’ view has just the issues you raise. The counter is perhaps that most religions do adhere to very similar ethics. Which is something that religious equalizers love to point out.

      “In my view, all morality is a human invention, including religious moral systems (despite their claims to the contrary).”

      Sure, and the humanist can view them that way. But of course the believer must take a non-negotiable stance. But both sides can agree at least in principal that our morals are those that ‘work’. One says we choose such morals, the other merely says that God figured them out for us, but the intention is the same. You expound it quite well yourself and answer your own claim above of ‘dramatically different’ — not really so dramatic, tho there are the red-flag exceptions, like the quite up to date Muslim belief that apostates should be killed.

      “Humanism has incorporated the most valuable insights of Christianity and corrected (or supplemented) them with Enlightenment ideals.”

      It’s not to be condemned, but as a conservative I do note that some ideas of ‘progress’ seem very regressive. And some liberations seem even unwise. It’s a dilemma, but one of the comforts of the Law Of God view is that no tinkering by SJWs is permitted. Some say the Old Rules got that way after thousands of years of field testing and that we should tinker with them only with great caution — which isn’t what’s happening.

      • K. Dershem says

        Ray, I agree that radical change can be very dangerous, and that liberals often neglect the importance of tradition. That’s why both conservatives and progressives are essential to a well-functioning political system. Unfortunately, I think that extremists on both sides of the spectrum are disrupting this balance. (We probably disagree about how “extreme” the contemporary Republican Party has become, but we obviously agree about the pernicious influence of SJWs.)

        Although I’m an agnostic, I’m not in any way opposed to religion. As a pragmatist, I care much more about results than religious differences or ideological purity tests. I have far more in common with a moderate Christian who’s concerned about wealth inequality than I do with an outspoken atheist who worships at the altar of Ayn Rand. Insofar as religious believers share my moral views and advocate the same kinds of policies, I regard them as allies rather than enemies.

        Personally, I don’t think that sarcasm works very well in forums like this. Whenever I give in to temptation (the spirit is willing, the fingers are weak) and indulge in sarcastic comments, I tend to regret it.

        • S. Cheung says

          KD-
          “This represents progress from my point of view, but I think it makes more sense to simply affirm those principles directly. Instead of constructing complex exigetical arguments which “prove” that Christians (for example) need not condemn homosexuality, I’d rather affirm the equal rights of gays and lesbians on the basis of humanistic principles.”

          That’s it in a nutshell for me. Take lessons from the holy-book-of-choice that are worth taking. Definitely discard the rest. Be a deist in doing so, if necessary. But definitely leave the theism out of it.

        • Ray Andrews says

          K. Dershem

          ” That’s why both conservatives and progressives are essential to a well-functioning political system.”

          You’re a natural born centrist, as I am.

          “We probably disagree about how “extreme” the contemporary Republican Party has become”

          Maybe not. I find them beneath contempt. Ass licking toadies, trying hard to keep Trump’s favor lest he not support them in the next election. And it was a hostile takeover let’s remember, hardly any of them do not actually loathe the man, but only a tiny handful have the integrity to say so. They don’t even rise to the level of being evil. It takes some spine to be evil, some dedication to evil principles. Hitler stuck to his evil guns to the very end. They are merely a gutless, pack of … well, I could go on like this for some time, but you get me.

          “Personally, I don’t think that sarcasm works very well in forums like this.”

          Yeah. It can be useful tho. Dunno, maybe a [sarcasm] warning is a good idea.

      • S. Cheung says

        Ray,
        i gotta say, when I bring snarkiness and sarcasm, you call me out. And I’ve toned it down. But when Olson and Gamba do it, they’re using it as a literary device for “merely pointing out” stuff. That reeks of a double standard.
        K.D and Vidur are likely of a more cultured lineage, cuz I would not be so tolerant of comments conjuring wolves and caves, “setting a good example” be damned.

        • K. Dershem says

          S., in the past I’ve responded on kind to E. and it just adds fuel to the flame war. (I’ve been much better behaved since I started using my actual name.) I suspect Olson is the kind of conservative who likes to “trigger the libs,” so he probably regards it as a victory when his interlocutors descend to his rhetorical level. I’ve concluded that it’s better to acknowledge but mostly ignore snideologues like GG and EO in favor of engaging with commenters (like Ray) who are interested in an actual exchange of ideas.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @K. Dershem

            I knew it. DellingDog, yes?

            ” I’ve concluded that it’s better to acknowledge but mostly ignore snideologues like GG and EO”

            Yet there have been some good exchanges. I don’t take their sarcasm personally. I think both gentlemen do want to discuss ideas. If I’m rubbed the wrong way I’ll try to ignore it. Yeah, like we were just saying, what to do about the sarcasm. Seems to me that E was making a valid point with the wolves in the cave, however personal it might have sounded. For me, the doctrine of Charity dictates that I see things in the best possible light. I fault S for being too quick to see things in the worst possible light, but it just ends up with flaming, and that’s not what we’re here for. The topic is what matters.

          • K. Dershem says

            Ray – yes, it’s DD. You may find it easier to be charitable to EO et al. because you’re closer to them on the ideological spectrum. From my perspective, what they have to say isn’t very interesting because it’s so predictable.

            Glad to hear we have similar views on the GOP! Although he wasn’t perfect, John McCain was a true patriot and a principled conservative. The failure of his former colleagues to stand up to the Bully-in-Chief in his defense is just the latest in a long line of betrayals and humiliations.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @S. Cheung

          “I’ve toned it down.”

          Good. When we stick, coolly, to argument, it is much more persuasive. Rude people are rude because it’s all they have. Best to avoid it. You have much to say that’s worth reading, but the flame wars achieve nothing.

  42. One of the key ideas of Judaism is that everyone in the nation is equal and the king is subject to the same rule of law as everyone else. Poor people and criminals can be sold into slavery but only for a limited time. This wasn’t how they thought in Athens. Islam somewhat universalised these ideas – seems that there were slaves still though… When the Protestant church rediscovered these ideas the enlightenment happened, democracy happened – in Athens only the upper class could vote, slavery was eventually abolished etc. This is one of the main things the West has gotten from Jerusalem and why it is necessary. Where did the Israelites get these ideas? Well they were groups of nomads, escaped slaves settling down. The central story written into the Torah is about the escape from slavery… and Genesis is about nomadism.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @David Stern

      “everyone in the nation is equal and the king is subject to the same rule of law as everyone else”

      Yup. the Jews certainly invented that idea. Tell Pharaoh or the king of Assyria that they are bound by the laws of God exactly the same as anyone else, and see how long you live. The OT is probably the only national history ever written that is 90% a record of the failures of the people and the king rather than their glories. It really is a unique document.

  43. Hestia says

    Pollin claims that the Church was anti-intellectual. And yet, the most prestigious universities in Europe, from Bologna to Oxford, were founded by clerics as early as the 11th century, at the very height of Church power.

  44. While I generally agree with the author’s assessment of Shapiro’s religious take on history, specifically wherein he tries to attribute 20th-century totalitarianism to the elevation of reason over faith, I must register my disapproval of his assessment of Kant as a proponent of reason. Kant was actually explicitly anti-reason and sought to retain faith, as opposed to the better and actual Enlightenment thinkers. Kant worked ingeniously to undercut the very ground on which reason rests, an objective reality, with a metaphysics and epistemology that sought to deny the validity of the senses as the basis to know reality. Kant wrote: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.”

    As Ayn Rand perceptively wrote about Kant:

    “Even apart from the fact that Kant’s theory of the ‘categories’ as the source of man’s concepts was a preposterous invention, his argument amounted to a negation, not only of man’s consciousness, but of any consciousness, of consciousness as such. His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears—deluded, because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.”

    So, while Shapiro is correct that certain philosophers who wrote during the Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason) were ultimately a cause of Communism and Nazism, but that is because, as with Kant, they were fundamentally anti-reason and proponents of faith, religious and secular. Take note: a secularist can have just as much faith as a religionist like Shapiro, the difference is what they have faith in. Mystics, all!

    • K. Dershem says

      I think you’re misinterpreting Kant. He held reason in extremely high regard, but believed that there are limits to what the human mind can understand. Certain principles (e.g. free will and the existence of God) cannot be demonstrated by reason and must, instead, be accepted on the basis of faith. In contrast, reason reigns supreme in Kant’s ethical system.

  45. William Pemberton says

    As a man of the Jewish Faith, I suspect that Shapiro would look for commonalities between the Jewish and Christian faiths (common heritage) to underpin his argument. But Christianity claims to be a fulfillment of Judaism, not just a complement. Christianity thus claims to offer something “in addition” to whatever Jerusalem, and indeed Athens, have on offer. This additional item is not “the ten commandments” which Thomas Aquinas, for instance, included among the “revelabilia”, i.e. things that could be known by reason alone, but which most people may not have the time, interest, or capacity to reason toward for themselves, thus the utility of their “revelation” and acceptance on the basis of faith. Secular humanists can suppose all they want that the whole of a society will have the time, interest, and capacity to reason toward a healthy public morality, or that the laws put in place by reasonable people with sufficiently restrain disordered human appetites. The fact is, that with the widespread abandonment of religion, western society has not become more orderly or fair, but is currently breaking apart into fractious, irrational tribalism.

    What Christianity offered to Western civilization was a vision of the human person as an image of God, with a divine eternal destiny and an infinite value. To say that Christians repeatedly violated this vision is true, both individually and institutionally, and deserves a large conversation as to scope and causes. However, that is to leave unstated the vast history of caring for people committed by men and women inspired by the Christian vision: hospitals, orphanages, monasteries with their development of progressive farm and machine technology shared with wider communities, and which fed the local poor people. Care for the poor and marginalised is the legacy of the Christian church to the extent which no other group can compare. Historically, it is the Christian church which bequeathed to the West the instruments of refined reason, but some other institution could have done this, and indeed the Arabic centres of learning played a fundamental role in this transmission. The distinctive legacy of Christianity is not reason, but Faith, Hope, and Charity. This can be dismissed only either in ignorance, or because of biased blinkered view with no interest in discovering historical truth.

    • K. Dershem says

      I think you make some good points but I have to take issue with with this assertion: “with the widespread abandonment of religion, western society has not become more orderly or fair, but is currently breaking apart into fractious, irrational tribalism.” If you want to see “fractious, irrational tribalism,” you could visit any one of the devoutly religious countries in Africa or the Middle East that’s a hotbed of violence and social ills (Israel is an obvious exception). In contrast, the most secular societies (Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand) tend to be the healthiest, happiest and most stable. (The same correlation can be found within the U.S., comparing less religious and more religious states.) I’m not claiming that the decline of religion is responsible for the success of these societies, but your implication (that decline causes chaos) seems to be contradicted by the evidence. Along these lines, I recommend Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and Phil Zuckerman’s Society without God.

  46. Andrew Shaw says

    See if you can spot how many times Christopher Hitchens was plagiarized without mentioning him once.

  47. Joseph Pratt says

    All I’ll say is, “Holy shit, an educated and reasonable review of something not everyone agrees with!” I’m relatively new to Quillette, so you’ll have to pardon me for being a bit emotional from reading a critical review that doesn’t resort to name calling, group labeling, or general stupidity. It’s very refreshing. Thank you.

    • Joseph Pratt says

      The article even used a nice picture of Ben! It’s so common to see articles that use an intentionally bad photo of the person under criticism to influence the reader without the reader realizing that are forming a bias based on the picture. Again, thank you.

      • S. Cheung says

        Joseph-
        so true. Veins bulging and spit hanging in mid-air usually signals one way, and smiling while kissing a baby usually means the other.

    • GregWA says

      Quillette is wonderful. The articles and the comments sections. It gives me hope.

      • davelenny says

        Yes indeed! Such a pleasure to read the detailed, informative, non-vituperative comments.

        My minute contribution: David Hume, obviously not everyone’s favourite philosopher here, famously said, ‘Reason is and ought only to be the slave of passion.’

  48. GregWA says

    Pollen’s description of how Reason operates sounds like he thinks it’s the same as mathematics: any competent reasoner will arrive at the same conclusions if given the same problem to solve. But we are talking about reasoning to a moral code. If Pollen wants to think of this as being as straightforward as a mathematical problem or the operation of computer code, then he should please specify for us what the inputs are. I think the problem with his reliance on Reason is that he doesn’t describe the nature of the things to be reasoned about. And it’s these things which are difficult, which different individuals will view differently (and perhaps all be correct!). He gives Shapiro a hard time for being overly simplistic in places, but it seems to me Pollen has glossed over a fair bit with respect to the potential of pure Reason to do the job he claims.

    • Gene McLaughlin says

      Indeed. And Pollen completely avoids the question of why should be moral in the first place? Why do we feel compelled (even if only by lip service) to do good and not do bad? Where does this impulse come from. Why do we feel the automatic need to justify ourselves if caught doing something bad? This cannot be understood by reason alone.

  49. Isaías says

    I haven’t read Shapiro’s book, yet, though I have already bought it. Nevertheless, I have a general idea of what he says in it through some lectures Shapiro has recently delivered presenting his book. A thoughtful review. Thanks!

  50. I am independent – neither conservative nor liberal. I have listened to Shapiro. He is such an OVERBEARING BULLY. How vulgar to get one’s kicks from beating others down. I can’t stand to listen to him.

  51. CameronH says

    A civilised society , as we conceive it, can not exist long term without a belief in something like God’s law as a final arbiter. In an analysis of what is and what ought to be there must be a final arbiter on what we are allowed to do to advance our desires. If man himself is to decide this then it is easy for him to rationalise any actions that he thinks necessary. The breaking of eggs to make omelettes as an example. If he is to abide by God’s law as the final arbiter it limits his ability to rationalise the types of horrors that we have seen with atheist ideologies like Marxism or progressivism.

    Our society and civilisation has been able to flourish as it has because our God’s laws, as laid out in the Judeo-Christian theology, allows and encourages it. This has gone off the rails at times but, because God’s laws are constant, with time the system is self correcting. Looking at Venezuela at present it is hard to see any self correction going on with that socialist regime.

  52. Lucillalin says

    Ah, I just finished Shapiro’s book and was looking for interesting reviews and discussions on it. This was the right address! I disagree with the author here both as history student and Christian, but really refreshing to see a review that deals with the topic instead of name calling and nastiness.

    Nothing in Shapiro’s book was new to me from academic point of view, but well researched basic work on the topic and refreshing take as I was taught the “root of all evil version about West abs Christianity in university.

    On Robespierre, French Revolution and religion – French Revolution was a series of power grabs by different factions and originally the more moderate constitutional monarchist in power declared freedom of religion. Later more totalitarian groups started religious persecution and mass murder of clergy and nuns, this coincided with the centralisation of power against the provinces who were brutalised in to submission by massacres. The atheist faction responsible for many of the massacres was killed by Robespierre who was a deist and saw atheism as “aristocratic”. He made himself the high priest of cult of Supreme Being, but that fad didn’t really take off and the eve of Napoleon saw the return of the population to Catholicism again. In many ways Revolutionary France resembled later fascism from the total militarisation of the nation to the symbolism (they already used fasces). Interestingly there was a fashion for non-Christian antiquity so many revolutionaries changed their Christian names in to Greek ones. Gracchus Babeuf and the like.

  53. Gene McLaughlin says

    Pollen misunderstands Kant’s Categorical Imperative, seeing it as essentially a teleological argument instead of the ontological argument it is. It does not mean “Don’t will X because you wouldn’t like it if others willed X.” It means “Don’t will X because it defies reason to do so.” It means “You cannot will a four-sided triangle because that violates the logical definition of triangle.” It means (in an example Kant cites) that you cannot will a lying promise because to lie is the contradiction of to promise.

    By this misunderstanding, Pollen’s entire argument falls apart. And that’s before we get into his naive view of human nature and how it has played out in history.

  54. Jared Pollen appears to be of one stunningly historically ignorant origins. Pollen clearly believes in the conflict thesis, the idea that science and religion have been historically opposed – taken seriously by no modern historian of science. Pollen, for one, regurgitating the totally absurd myths about Copernicus that he somehow feared for his life despite … no evidence being offered for this. In fact, Copernicus received approval from the Pope himself and other major figures in the Church. This is one amazing omission on Pollen’s part. Tim O’Neill, an atheist medievalist, tears this fancy fiction into shreds.

    https://historyforatheists.com/2018/07/the-great-myths-6-copernicus-deathbed-publication/

    Not to mention the fact that neither Copernicus nor Galileo had … any evidence for heliocentrism, and until James Bradley and Isaac Newton’s work, the scientific argument around the motion of the Earth remained decisively on the side of the Inquisition. No heliocentrist could explain, for example, the lack of the observation of stellar parallax without tearing the principles of parsimony into smithereens.

    Even more historically ignorant is that Pollen thinks the Index (not “List”) of Forbidden Books, alone, tears apart Shapiro’s challenge, let alone offers any challenge to it at all. Just like the inconsequential Condemnations of 1277, no one really took this Index seriously and it wasn’t really enforced either. It was just really kind of “there”, irrelevant, didn’t eliminate a pinte of intellectual inquiry, etc. John Hedley Brooke writes;

    It is important not to exaggerate the oppressive effects of Index and Inquisition. The Counter-Reformation did not prevent Italian scholars from making original contributions in classical scholarship, history, law, literary criticism, logic, mathematics, medicine, philology, and rhetoric. Nor were they isolated by the Index from European scholarship. Prohibited books entered private libraries where they would be consulted by those prepared to break the rules in the interests of learning. One such collection was in the hands of Galileo’s Paduan friend, G. V. Pinelli. One can lose a sense of perspective if the condemnation of Galileo is taken to epitomize the attitude of Catholic authorities toward the natural sciences. Relatively few scientific works were placed on the Index. The attempt to put a stop to the moving earth stands out because it proved so tragic an aberration – a personal tragedy for Galileo and, in the long run, a tragedy for the Church, which overreached itself in securing a territory that would prove impossible to hold. (Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 1991, 145)

  55. Tyler Swiezy says

    “Naturally, as with Marsilius, the Catholic Church banned Machiavelli’s Prince in 1559.” (pg. 81)

    But sure, Ben writes as if the Church has never banned a book or burned a heretic.

  56. Sydney says

    This is not a male-friendly moment in history, and I’m raising boys. So I led my sons to Shapiro (among other public figures) so they can appreciate the smart things he has to say about a limited number of issues.

    HOWEVER, I’ve had to offer Shapiro to my sons with a MAJOR DISCLAIMER. I’ve educated them on the PRO-CHOICE side of the abortion debate, because Shapiro’s position, and constant ‘fish-wife’ harangue, is fundamentalist, ridiculous, and anti-female.

    American conservatives are lock-step with Sharia when they want to control women’s bodies. They might as well make burkas in red, white, and blue.

    Conservatives yell, “Small government! Small government! Small government,” except for the part where they want women’s bodies ruled over by the state. Then they’re all for fundamentalist religious and state law.

    My sons are lucky they’ll never be faced with the cognitive dissonance of the unplanned pregnancy issue. Women have always ended pregnancies. They’re ending pregnancies as we speak. They’ll always end pregnancies.

    Thanks goodness for the so-called ‘abortion pill’ that takes women’s bodies out of the intrusive grab of fundamentalists of all stripes. And thank goodness for all the SANE nations that remove women’s pregnancies from the public sphere and into the privacy of safe and hygienic clinic settings.

    Shapiro gives me gas.

  57. Pingback: History of science on the Internet – the gift that keeps giving | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  58. Judeo-Christian says

    We really, really need to stop talking about “Judeo-Christian” anything. Christianity supersedes Judaism and all its practices. The includes the entirety of the books of Numbers, Leviticus, etc. In fact, there’s a 1:1 mapping of most Christian rituals to the Jewish ones they replace.

    The “shared history” myth only serves to legitimize an outdated tribal religion that commits genital blood sacrifice against its own members (pun intended) and trades in myths of endless persecution. Anti-Semitism resides in the Jew, and the Jew is marked by circumcision. We really need to make this distinction crystal clear, especially in nations like America that practice newborn circumcision.

    If you need an example of the above, just look at Ben Shapiro’s recent propaganda book and the Holocaust remembrance industry that morally subsidizes Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians. Sorry to tell you guys, the culture’s compromised and it’s the Anglicans’ fault for not suppressing Jews as much as the rest of Europe.

    P.S. To those talking about Kant, his philosophy was unnecessarily abstruse and he died a virgin. Trying to understand it does not make you smart.

    • Sydney says

      @Quillette

      Haha, if it’s got Shapiro’s name attached it naturally attracts filthy, racist anti-Semites!

      Look at the racist, anti-Semitic, mentally deranged vermin (see comment above) that crawled out of the sewer to attack him.

      Shapiro is correct about being the most-attacked individual by anti-Semitic freaks and weirdos.

      • Judeo-Christian says

        I think the burden of proof is on you here, not that I think you’re capable of operating in this prehistoric and limbic problem space.

        Maybe the persecution of Jews, something that’s been a fixture of their “identity” since the Old Testament, might have something to do with their committing genital blood sacrifice. It’s a long shot, but just hypothetically speaking, maybe cutting off the penis would draw scorn from basically all humanity no matter what time or place. It’s a literal crime against humanity.

        For the record, I don’t hate Jews. That’s pointless and it only serves to further entrench their suicidal masochism. It also nullifies the sacrifice of my own circumcision. My feelings toward Jews are much worse than hate: disappointment and pity.

        They got trolled into worshiping a sex criminal and their ego-investment in the practice runs so deeply that even “secular” Jews who don’t keep kosher or observe the Sabbath will still circumcise their sons. In a word, they’re sick.

  59. Rob G says

    “Reason, properly practiced, is unarguable …”

    The point Shapiro is making is that Reason must inevitably gaze into the mirror of its own origins. What we see there is a universe of atoms dancing to the cause and effect of the laws of physics without respite.

    Similarly Hume pointed out “ought” can never flow from “is” … if the random ordering of a collection of marbles in a bag (the ”is”) can’t tell me if I ought to help an elderly person cross the street, where do such notions spring from in a purely molecular brain – derived by nothing more than the self-same stochastic happenstance of physics?

    He could have made this case for Reason …

    A rational explanation for the evolution of Reason from purely molecular, stochastic origins would be worthy of a Nobel prize.

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