Striking the Root of Religious Extremism

Column by Robert Johnson.

Exclusive to STR 

We are all appalled and disgusted when we hear about Islamic courts sentencing people to be whipped or beheaded for blasphemy against Islam or Mohammed.
We wonder how injustices can be justified by their perpetrators when we see images of Muslims being forced from their homes by Israeli settlers or hear Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu justify Israel's illegal and violent occupation of Jerusalem by saying, “[Jerusalem] is not a settlement. It is the sovereign capital of the State of Israel. We have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years.”
When we see a news report on an innocent child who died because their Christian parents refused to give them life saving medical attention due to their faith, we can't grasp how any loving parent could do such a thing.
These and other forms of religious extremism all have a common source: holy scripture. If we are serious about wanting to stem the tide of these atrocities against humanity and God-given reason, we must objectively address the source. If we do not address the source, we cannot correct the problem.
The three Abrahamic “revealed” religions of Judaism and its two offshoots, Christianity and Islam, all have holy scriptures which they are based upon. Judaism has the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Christianity has the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament. Islam has the Koran and Sharia/God's law.
The clergy of these Abrahamic religions all claim that these different ancient books are the word of God. This belief in their divine origins is what prevents many sincere believers from objectively questioning the holy scriptures of their religion. They falsely believe that if they question and reject their particular holy book and “revealed” religion, they are questioning and rejecting God. If we are to break the cycle of religious violence and extremism, we must educate the sincere followers to the fact that their holy books did not originate with God and that they are, in fact, denigrating to God.
Starting with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, we see it is primarily a form of psychological warfare designed to put fear in Gentiles and confidence in Hebrews/Jews. And, of course, it attempts to put fear in any Hebrews/Jews who may question it. The reason it is designed this way is so Israel will be “on high above all nations of the earth” and “all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.” (Deuteronomy 28:1 & 10)
When Israeli fighter pilots drop American-made cluster bombs on civilians or Israeli troops shoot Palestinian women and children, they are following closely the example of their sacred scriptures and Hebrew/Jewish holy men. Reading this account of Moses instructing the Israeli army in Numbers 31:14-18, we see war crimes, genocide and the raping of children are a bedrock of the Hebrew/Jewish scriptures. Moses instructed his troops, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” Verse 35 informs us the number of “women children” kept alive for the troops' own pleasure was 32,000!
To condition the minds of the Israeli troops to act in such a despicable and horrendous way, the Hebrew/Jewish clergy painted a picture of God that is in line with merciless brutality. The famous/infamous Passover story has God personally killing the first born of the Egyptians. Exodus 12:12 has God saying, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast.” Many Jews and Christians would say God had to slaughter the first born because Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel leave Egypt. However, Exodus 10:20 makes it very clear that the Bible god made it impossible for Pharaoh to free the Hebrews/Jews. It reads, “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.” And there are at least ten other examples in the Bible which claim God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he would not free the Hebrews/Jews. As the American founder and Deist Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, (for the Kindle version click here) “Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”
When we look at Christians and Christianity, we see they are not shy about using violence whenever they are able to in order to enforce their dogmas on humanity. A great example is the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which was fought between warring Christian factions, the Catholics against the Protestants. It was so destructive it killed off 30 percent of the population of Germany! It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the clergy who brought about the Thirty Years War used Matthew 10:34 to rally their troops. This verse says that Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
The Inquisition is another glaring example of Christian intolerance and violence. It is responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent people. Many of the people who fell victim to the Inquisition were only guilty of using their God-given reason. For example, Giordano Bruno was a Catholic friar. However, he applied his God-given reason to the Bible and Christian dogma and found that his reason rejected them both. He was charged with and found guilty of, among other charges, not believing that Jesus was the son of God, not believing the Earth is the stationary center of the Universe and holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers. On February 17, 1600, the Catholic Church had him burned alive for using his God-given reason. In an act which shows the Catholic Church would still use violence against dissenters, in 2000 Pope John Paul declared through two cardinals, Angelo Sodano and Paul Poupard, that Bruno had deviated too far from Christian doctrine to be granted a Christian pardon!1
Another scriptural source of Christian extremism is the Bible promise of healing through faith. Mark 16:17-18 says that Jesus said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak in new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Belief in this Bible promise along with several others that promote faith healing is responsible for the deaths of innocent children every month in the United States alone. As Shawn Francis Peters points out in his book, When Prayer Fails – Faith Healing, Children and the Law, due to the desire of many Christian groups to remain secluded from “the world,” there are many more children who die due to religious-based medical neglect than are reported.
In Islam, the Koran is considered the word of God and Sharia law is believed to be God's law.
Muslims believe that the Koran is the final word of God. It contains many verses and teachings that promote violence and religious extremism. Verses such as Surah 9:5 instructs, “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” With this “holy” scripture in mind, it's not difficult to understand how a believer in Islam could ambush idolaters and blasphemers like the Dutchman Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim for religious reasons. The Islamic killer's religious motivation for the murder was so strong he even left a written testimony of the religious reasons stuck to van Gogh's chest with a knife!
Sharia law is what allows Islamic clergy to issue fatwas. Not all fatwas call for the murder of someone an Islamic clergyman believes has insulted Islam or one of its teachings or leaders. However, fatwas are issued to bring about the murder of people who are seen as a threat to the religion and clergy. A famous example of this is the case of Salman Rushie. His book, Satanic Verses, was offensive to many Muslims. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa for the murder of Mr. Rushdie for writing Satanic Verses. And just last August Islamists issued a fatwa for the death of comedian David Letterman for telling jokes about jihadists.
If we really do want a world with less violence and more progress, we need to objectively address the violence-promoting and harmful scriptures. We need to educate sincere believers that by following the teachings of the holy books and scriptures, they are not following God. They can determine the truth to this by realizing that God gave them reason and the scriptures violate that gift to them from God. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “A man cannot serve two masters: so it is either reason or the scriptures.”

1Giordano Bruno Philosopher Heretic, Ingrid D. Rowland, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p.

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Robert L. Johnson's picture
Columns on STR: 94

Robert Johnson is a paralegal and a freelance writer in Florida. He was raised Roman Catholic, but after reading Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, he became a Deist. In 1993 he founded the World Union of Deists and in 1996 he launched the first web site devoted to Deism,  He is listed in Who's Who in Hell and is the author of Deism: A Revolution in Religion, A Revolution in You and An Answer to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.  He wrote the introduction to The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition and also writes for


mjackso6's picture

I agree with Mr. Johnson in principle, but I find the chance of a great theological 'awakening' to be less than probable. People believe what they want to believe, not what makes sense, and most of them get their beliefs from their parents/family/community. In order to make that 'clean break' with the 'bad old ways' of thought indoctrinated into most people practically from birth, I'm afraid that the only practical way would be that Judeo/Roman 'cleansing' of the adults as mentioned in the article. Barring that, I can only see more of the same kind of subtle pressure for reform that's been going on for centuries, and I can't see any real results under those conditions taking anything less than centuries to come.

Suverans2's picture

"People believe what they want to believe, not what makes sense, and most of them get their beliefs from their parents/family/community." ~ mjackso6

And there it is, with emphasis on, "not what makes sense".

If you listen to the 'reasoning' of virtually all superstionists[1] it goes something like this. When a prayer appears to get answered, "it was God's will", and when it does not get "answered", which is most of the time, by the way, it is explained away by saying, "it was not God's will". How convenient!

Meaning no disrespect to any superstionists we may have in the crowd, one could pray to a can of WD-40 and effectively use these same 'convenient' answers; when one's wish appears to be answered, "it was the will of WD-40", and when one's desire does not manifest itself, "it was not WD-40's will"; "WD-40's way is not our way"; "your belief wasn't large enough"; "you had an iota of doubt", etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum. But, instead of seeing the logic of that, most superstitionists will very likely, instead, choose to get offended by it.

Whatever happened to the good old days of Elijah, when there were REAL tests of faith. " ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of [Jehovah]: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken."

How many of today's "believers" would answer that challenge and say, "It is well spoken", meaning we will live by it? Not many, I suspect.

Voltaire was right, “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”

[1] SUPERSTI'TIONIST, n. One addicted to superstition.

superstition NOUN 1. An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome. ~ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

What "influences its outcome" are the "laws of nature", and nothing more.

Suverans2's picture

The only god that "answereth by fire" these days, unfortunately, is the STATE.

    ″…in modern society, with its religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity, it would be much harder for any single group to demand allegiance — except for the state, which remains the one universally accepted god[1].″ ~ Roderick T. Long, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


[1] GOD, n. ...4. Any person or thing exalted too much in estimation...and honored as the chief good [benefactor]. ~ Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language

Darkcrusade's picture

Mat 16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
(That is what happened.)

I much perfer 'power blaster' mo-better than wd-40.
As you would say these superstionists get beter results>

'God can work miracles': Boy survives 25 minutes under water=

Or +

I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us- everything that exists - proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision.
--Thomas A. Edison

The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy.
--Florence Shinn

Gal 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

I wonder,what you believe, did the universe will itself into existence?

Suverans2's picture

Yeah, you're right Darkcrusade, another built in excuse; "There shall no sign be given unto this generation." (Mark 8:12)

So-called Christian superstitionists love to throw that one around, when, in fact, JESUS [sic] was obviously dedicating that to "this", i.e. his, current "wicked and adulterous generation", not every "wicked and adulterous generation" before, or after, he made that declaration. Otherwise the very "wicked and adulterous generation" of Elijah would not have been given a sign. Otherwise you can't call that "Boy survives 15, 20, 25* minutes under water" a miracle of God, because that, of course, would be a "sign", from God. And, I am curious to ask, wouldn't you call JESUS' resurrection from the dead a "sign" to "this", i.e. his, current "wicked and adulterous generation"?
* The reason the length of time varies from report to report is because it is based on the hearsay evidence of purported witnesses.

Think about it rationally, if "there shall no sign be given unto this generation" were true of every generation, then all the prayers that appear to be answered are just coincidence, because the Christian god named JESUS said, unequivocally, "there shall be no sign given" (Mark 8:12). So, why would those who believe that "there shall be no sign given", seek a sign by praying? It makes no sense.

Yes, PB Blaster is some really good stuff. One time I prayed that it would loosen the nut on my lawn mower blade, and it answered my petition...well, it seemed to anyway.

A miracle is a "supernatural event", which in turn is, "a deviation from the known laws of nature".

Therein lies the key, viz. "from the known laws of nature". Man, by his very nature, is an inquisitive animal; he always wants an explanation for everything he sees, hears and feels around him. The explanation for all those things he cannot yet explain "from the known laws of nature", he calls "supernatural", "Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces[1]." Some individuals call this "power" God, others call it magic, and some simply call it unexplained, with what we know at this time.

Then, of course, there are all the faked and lied about "miracles", designed to profit the "miracle worker", either by gaining him, (or his group), more believers/proselytes, more power, or more babel bux, or any combination thereof.

As a individual secessionist ruled by the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God", I am pretty much in agreement with these, "I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us- everything that exists - proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision" and "The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy."

And, last, but not least, of course, I could be wrong about all of this.

[1] American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Darkcrusade's picture

“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed.While the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

You are right Suverans2, In Mark 8:12 Christ Jesus was refering to that instant generation.
Christ had already performned miracles and healings,and similiar to when the Devil tempted him in the desert,the lawyers and liberals would still not believe.(even if some are brought back from the dead.)

Mar 8:11 ¶ And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, TEMPTING him.

Also the devilish tempting recorded in Mat16-

Mat 16:1 ¶ The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and TEMPTING desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. (To this very day a wicked person will try and tempt the Lord.)

Christ states ''there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.''

The Bible uses types and foreshadowings. Jesus Christ is throughout the Old Testament in a variety of details. For instance, before his death and resurrection, Jesus offered simply the "sign of Jonah" as a foreshadowing of how long he would be dead.

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the fish's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." - Matt 12:40

[Jonas survived for three days and nights in the big fish.
(One man, Marshall Jenkins, was swallowed alive by a sperm whale in 1771 and survived. Another incident concerns James Bartley. In 1891, Bartley was swallowed by a sperm whale that his whaling crew had harpooned. The whale slipped away, was found and killed a day or so later. Bartley was found alive, but unconscious, in the stomach of the whale. He was revived and in a few weeks regained his health (for documentation see Ambrose James Wilson, Princeton Theological Revue, October, 1928).]

God called Jonah to minister to Nineveh, which had served as the capital of the world for several centuries. It was the enemy of Israel, and Jonah was not attracted to the assignment until God explained it to him a bit more clearly.When he finally did go there, he didn’t present a polished, “seeker friendly” sermon! God had declared that they were 40 days from being destroyed. Jonah went through town proclaiming, “Forty days and you get yours!”
Jonas was sent unto the pagan city of Nineveh as a prophet,gleefully pronouncing Gods judgement.The King of Nineveh surmised that if their was a God,than he was just,and if they repented he(God) might be merciful.
Mercy is not receiving the punishment one deserves.

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God … I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath …”(Acts 2:17,19)

Critics discounted the Bible for hundreds of years because their was no evidence of Nineveh.................

“It wasn't until 1850 that Nineveh was discovered by archaeologists. It is interesting to read liberal commentaries from before 1850 because they had problems with believing the books of Jonah and Nahum
because there was no record of Nineveh.” (Source: article: ‘Nahum’ by Hampton Keathley IV Th.M.)

Many arguments against the Bible are based on information that has not yet been found. One will say, “Well, we haven’t found a record of this city, or of that king, and so it (or he) probably didn’t exist!” Then in time a discovery is made, and the doubtful speculation is proven to be false. This has been the repeated history of archaeology and the Bible throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Bible also anticipates the critics.

Rom 1:18 ¶ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Rom 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. (We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, We know right from wrong;unlike the beasts.We can create unlike any beast.)

Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Rom 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Rom 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

Rom 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Rom 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
(when God is rejected as Creator he is apt to give one over to their own early demise! In his mercy!!!)

Rom 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

newjerusalemtimes's picture

There's some valid and good criticism of the three so-called Abrahamic religions, or at least of their adherents.

But, the author is either biblically ignorant when it comes to the New Testament, or intentionally conceals the fact about the last 12 verses of Mark 16 not appearing in some of the oldest Greek manuscripts, like Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Sinaiticus, and others.

So, this guy misses striking a root in New Testament scripture, since the root there is God's love for humanity, embodied in Christ and his peaceful Kingdom, who also suffered a State execution, after being handed over by a snitch and the High Priest, who stated at the time, "We have no king but Caesar". And, of course, within a generation, Jerusalem and the Mosaic World was gruesomely leveled to the ground in 70 A.D., just as Christ warned it would, at Matthew 24, and elsewhere.

Here's a little bit on Mark 16 from Wikipedia:

Peace be with you all,
Christian Livingstone

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

newjerusalemtimes: It might not be such a great idea to accuse others of ignorance due to incomplete information. Textual critics such as Bart Ehrman, Metzger, and others (including Saint Jerome) have provided a long list of additions that were made to the gospels in an effort to combat the "enemy of the moment" -- from co-religionists within the Jewish faith to gnostics and heretics of various stripes. Let's temper our speech. This arguments contained in this article were all on target -- despite this minor lapse. Your suggestion is good and encouraged, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, ok? More and more, I try to temper my commentary. Here's a link to Ehrman's page; his books are terrific:

Darkcrusade's picture

Mark 16 and Ivan Panin.
( Ivan Panin, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, B-761, Bible Numerics, Suite 206, 121 Willowdale Ave., Willowdale, Ontario, M2N 6A3, (406) 221-7424. )

The Heptadic Structure of Scripture

Everyone who explores their Bible quickly discovers the pervasiveness of Seven: there are over 600 explicit occurrences of "sevens" throughout both the Old and New Testaments. As many of our readers are aware, there are also prevalent evidences of design hidden behind the text.

The "Heptadic" (sevenfold) structure of Biblical text is one of the remarkable characteristics of its authenticity. What about these disputed 12 verses?

There are 175 (7 x 25) words in the Greek text of Mark 16:9-20. Curious. These words use a total vocabulary of 98 different words (7 x 14), also an exact multiple of seven. That's also rather striking.

Try constructing a passage in which both the number of words and the number of letters are precisely divisible by seven (with no remainder)! The random chance of a number being precisely divisible by 7 is one chance in seven. In seven tries, there will be an average of six failures.

The chance of two numbers both being divisible by 7 exactly is one in 7^2, or one in 49. (This is a convenient simplification; some mathematical statisticians would argue the chance is one in 91.) This still might be viewed as an accidental occurrence, or the casual contrivance of a clever scribe. But let's look further. The number of letters in this passage is 553, also a precise multiple of seven (7 x 79). This is getting a bit more tricky. The chance of three numbers accidentally being precisely divisible by seven is one in 7^3, or one in 343. This increasingly appears to be suspiciously deliberate.

In fact, the number of vowels is 294 (7 x 42); and the number of consonants is 259 (7 x 37). Do you sense that someone has gone through a lot of trouble to hide a design or signature behind this text?

As we examine the vocabulary of those 98 (7 x 14) words: 84 (7 x 12) are found before in Mark; 14 (7 x 2) are found only here. 42 (7 x 6) are found in the Lord's address (vv.15-18); 56 (7 x 8) are not part of His vocabulary here.

This is, conspicuously, not random chance at work, but highly skillful design. But just how skillful?

With 10 such heptadic features, it would take 7^10, or 282,475,249 attempts for these to occur by chance alone. How long would it take the composer to redraft an alternative attempt to obtain the result he was looking for? If he could accomplish an attempt in only 10 minutes, working 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, these would take him over 23,540 years!

It gets worse. Greek, like Hebrew, has assigned numerical values to each letter of its alphabet. Thus, each word also has a numerical ("gematrical") value.

The total numerical value of the passage is 103,656 (7 x 14,808). The value of v.9 is 11,795 (7 x 1,685); v.10 is 5,418 (7 x 774); v.11 is 11,795 (7 x 1,685); vv.12-20, 86,450 (7 x 12,350). In verse 10, the first word is 98 (7 x 14), the middle word is 4,529 (7 x 647), and the last word is 791 (7 x 113). The value of the total word forms is 89,663 (7 x 12,809). And so on.

This all is among the legendary results of the work by Dr. Ivan Panin. In fact, he identified 75 heptadic features of the last 12 verses of Mark. We have highlighted only 34 heptadic features. If a supercomputer could be programmed to attempt 400 million attempts/second, working day and night, it would take one million of them over four million years to identify a combination of 7^34 heptadic features by unaided chance alone.

Authentication Codes

Just as we encounter coding devices in our high technology environments, here we have an automatic security system that monitors every letter of every word, that never rusts or wears out, and has remained in service for almost two thousand years! It is a signature that can't be erased and which counterfeiters can't simulate.

Why are we surprised? God has declared that He "has magnified His word even above His name!" We can, indeed, have confidence that, in fact, the Bible is God's Holy Word, despite the errors man has introduced and the abuse it has suffered throughout the centuries. It is our most precious possession-individually as well as collectively.

And it never ceases to unveil surprises to anyone that diligently inquires into it.

Tony Pivetta's picture

Man is a religious animal. Conscious of his movement through time, he contemplates his own non-existence. Questions of ultimacy confront him.

His religion may be irreligion. He may conclude there is no God, that his destiny lies in worm meat. He may be convinced of it--so much so that he persecutes those who conclude otherwise.

What scripture, pray, drove the ancient Roman authorities to throw Christians into amphitheaters filled with large and hungry beasts? To torch them as lamps to illuminate Nero's gardens? Yes, the Christians refused to light incense to Rome's idols. Still, the punishment meted out seems a tad disproportionate to the crime. As happy-go-lucky pagans, they could have exercised a little more tolerance, no?

What religious extremism impelled Robespierre's minions in Revolutionary France? Sure, they had no use for that reactionary Church of Rome and her benighted followers. Did they have to wreak havoc through the Vendee countryside, putting priests and faithful peasants to the blade? As apostles of the Enlightment, couldn't they have practiced a little reasonableness and restraint?

The fanatic's creed is that his enemies are the enemies of Truth. But belief in God is not the *sine qua non* of fanaticism. History's bloodiest dictatorship was an officially atheist state.

Chris Dates's picture

Jesus was asked: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matt 22:36-40 (Amp)

"with all your mind"

People always seem to leave that part out.

Tony Pivetta's picture

"Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!

"A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, 'What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.'"

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 A.D.-430 A.D), Doctor of the Church, from his magnum opus *City of God*. It would not appear that St. Augustine left that part out.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

By accident, this entry duplicated the one below.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Tony: Thanks for this reminder from Augustine. It is so sad to know that despite the wonderful awareness and acuity of thought contained in this quotation from Ch. 4, Book 4, that Augustine himself was guilty of using the state to persecute heretics of one stripe or another -- from the Donatists to the Pelagians (such as Julian of Eclanum). Professor Peter Brown even dubbed Augustine the father of the Inquisition as a result of his behavior. Although Professor Brown backed down a bit from this accusation in later years (this happens as people grow older), his observation is not without merit. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning about Augustine to read not only his "Confessions" and his "City of God" (a long a tedious read, despite the brilliance of the argumentation) but also the biography of Peter Brown.

Tony Pivetta's picture

Was there anything else going on, Lawrence? Did the Donatists and Pelagians do more than preach heresy? If you do some research, you may find there was.

For example, the Church is vilified for its crusade against the Albigensians in 13th century France. Rightly so: there can be no justification for wholesale civilian slaughter. (Unless, of course, you're a secular politician representing the democratic Coalition of the Good and you're firebombing and nuking civilians in Germany and Japan, in which case, well, you know, they started it, kind of, plus there's that whole Overriding Public Interest thing to uphold.) But the Albigensians did kill a bishop sent to preach Catholic orthodoxy to them. That was hardly the sporting thing to do.

I am not interested in defending monarchy or democracy. I favor natural-order anarchy. But medieval Catholic monarchies were clearly superior to, i.e., more libertarian than, the Western democracies of today. (Read Hans Hermann-Hoppe for more on this.) Catholic monarchs didn't jail people for ingesting intoxicating plant products. They launched the Crusades only after centuries of Saracen attacks on Catholic Europe. Inquisition notwithstanding, people in Catholic Europe were free to express a wide range of opinion *as long as they didn't represent their views as Catholic when in conflict with the Deposit of Faith.*

By contrast, upwards of 60 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons are there for non-violent drug law violations only. Founding Father John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act. The U.S. has been in a perpetual state of war for at least a hundred years. People in Western Europe get tossed in the hoosegow for questioning aspects of the orthodox World War II account.

This is progress? Oh, democracy! Where is thy blush?

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Tony: While I agree with your point -- namely that privately owned government is better than democracy in many ways -- most of your post does not even address the topic I raised. I simply criticized Augustine for his inconsistency. Further, the one point you make that purports to do address the issue I raised is dishonest -- and patently so. Why? You raise a question but cite no answer -- probably because you are resting on a very weak reed or do not wish to do the necesary research. You should have done some homework before replying. The Pelagians are guilty of nothing except claiming that man is not born with the chips stacked against him by Original Sin and thus condemned. They believed in free choice -- or "liberum arbitrium." The Pelagians were willing to let people prove who they are by their actions in addition to their belief in the power of Christ -- not something as limited as their belief alone (a Protestant doctrine derived from Augustine's work). So why do you imply otherwise? That's dishonest.

Second, regarding the Donatists, Augustine never attacked the Donatists because they engaged in the behaviors that he himself was guilty of -- using the state to get their way. He was angry that they wanted to defrock the priests and bishops that had betrayed their fellow Christians by turning them over to the state authorities during the persecution of Diocletian. The anti-Donatists also recanted their Christian faith by "handing over their scriptures" as "traditores" (those who hand over) during the persecution -- while those who did not betray the faith were harmed. But when the persecutions were over, the "traditores" wanted to resume their high positions in the church. And Augustine supported them. Those who suffered and survived the Diocletian persecution did not think that the ones who betrayed the faith were fit to resume their high church positions. Further, the Donatist hereteics declared that the sacraments administered by the "traditores" were invalid. Regardless of which side you support on that doctrinal question, you only have to imagine the anger and feelings of betrayal among those who suffered to understand why they became Donatist -- and consequently heretics. That riots occasionally broke out and that the Donatists used state power in some instances to get their way is not something I am excusing. I merely pointed out that Augustine's previous insight about the nature of the state as a crime syndicate was undone by his later use of state power to use violence to get his way in a doctrinal dispute. And you have done nothing to show that mine is an unsupportable position -- not as a Christian, but as one who abhors the initiatory use of violence. What is the problem?

Finally, your anger about drug laws -- about which I concur completely (these laws resulted in the death by beating of my grandmother) -- does not address my central argument. Why do you go on so instead of discussing Augustine? That was not the point. I agree that private government is better than democracy. Hans-Hermann Hoppe's collection of essays in "Democracy: The God That Failed" contains some great arguments about this point, and I am not afraid to cite my source for this belief. It would, however, have been helpful if you had cited it yourself. My post addressed only Augustine and his tragic inability to live up to the standards raised by his own insights in "The City of God." Do you feel better now that you have vented your spleen on me?

Tony Pivetta's picture

Lawrence: Venting spleen? Talk about the pot calling marijuana a weed.

I don't necessarily dispute Augustine's inconsistency. Who among us is fully consistent? I'm not sure your account of Augustine's treatment of Pelagian and Donatist heretics is complete and accurate, but for the sake of argument, I'll accept it. (I''ve been through discussions like this with people who fulminate against the Church for, e.g., the expulsion of the Jews from Spain or the conduct of the Crusaders during the Sack of Constantinople, and my research inevitably brings to the fore context placing the events in a different light.) I'm too lazy to explore the controversies surrounding Augustine right now.

So maybe Augustine was only head and shoulders above his time, not a full body length? He recognized the evil of empire but not of religious intolerance? He was a mere human being after all? Fine. My initial comment was in response to Chris Dates, who suggested Christians don't like to think, notwithstanding Christ's command we love God "with all our mind." I submitted Augustine's quote to suggest otherwise. That was the original point.

You found my point mooted by Augustine's alleged inconsistencies. I found your point mooted by your inconsistency: you point at specks in Augustine's eyes while ignoring the planks in our enlightened and democratic age's.

If you oppose the persecution of heretics you might start by issuing one of your finely-crafted screeds against the incarceration of American drug users and raw milk traffickers and Western European negationists. That thought-crime persecution is real. It's going on now.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Tony: The source of your anger, then, appears to be OTHER people who spout vitriol about the church. I did none of that in my comment, and I even indicated my sincere sadness that Augustine betrayed himself -- which is exactly what you just did in pointing out that he was a man of his time. You have ASS-U-ME-ED that I am one of the angry atheists, and as a result felt it necessary to sweep me up in your grand drama as you battle them fearlessly from your laptop. We all know what happens when we assume, don't we? But since you have not read Augustine, perhaps you should not imply that I have misrepresented him. I am dealing with facts, not opinions . Similarly, Peter Brown's books and essays on Augustine are among the most widely respected in the medieval field -- which I have studied for more than 35 years. I've read all of Augustine's major works -- and those of Jerome as well. Not to mention the correspondence between them. And their theological essays. I have great respect for much of what they have written -- which was easy to see in my initial comment. Perhaps you should reign in your anger at atheists and not project their qualities into the minds and hearts of others. If you took the time to read my other writings at STR and elsewhere, you would see that I have treated the church and its subject with a degree of respect: at STR see my essays on Jesus and taxation and on the environment, and see my essay on Pope John-Paul's death at (Autopsy of a Funeral).

Tony Pivetta's picture

Lawrence: Lighten up. I don't understand where you're getting that I'm filled with vitriol. Neither did I ever accuse you of being an atheist. For that matter, I don't care whether you are an atheist. Some of my best friends are atheists. Honest. But we're talking past each other at this point. Peace.