A conservative friend has me on his mailing list. He forwards me diatribes from his circle about how the world will end because of liberals, a term loosely defined as "anything that isn't conservative."
These articles have two things in common. One is that they all border on fear, and the other is their relationship to facts is similar to P.T. Barnum's.
What is unfortunate is that my friend -- and his circle -- accept them all on faith. And the problem of accepting temporal matters on faith is that it doesn't develop the power to think for oneself.
The other day, the latest forwarding was an article by Dennis Prager. It was an essay that, on the surface, appeared to discuss a philosophic argument contrasting religion with the evils of secular world. In reality, it was just bulldozing facts to make a political point.
This below isn't the whole article by Mr. Prager. In fairness, I only got through the first four paragraphs. But I include those four, so that what follows would be in context.
May 25, 2010
The World Is a Cruel Place -- and If America Weakens, It Will Get Crueler
By Dennis Prager
One of the many beliefs -- i.e., non-empirically based doctrines -- of the post-Christian West has been that moral progress is the human norm, especially so with the demise of religion. In a secular world, the self-described enlightened thinking goes, superstition is replaced by reason, and reason leads to the moral good.
Of course, it turned out that the post-Christian West produced considerably more evil than the Christian world had. No mass cruelty in the name of Christianity approximated the vastness of the cruelty unleashed by secular doctrines and regimes in the post-Christian world. The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism.
The amount of evil done by Christians -- against, for example, "heretics" and Jews -- in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity -- was extensive, as was the failure of most European Christians to see Nazism for the evil that it was. The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers.
But there were never any Christian Auschwitzes -- i.e., systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion. Nor were there Christian Gulags -- the shipping of millions of innocents to conditions so horrific that prolonged suffering leading to death was the almost-inevitable end.This is as far as I got. It was either keep reading or stop before my head exploded. I opted for the latter.
The problem, you see, is that there are a great many things Mr. Prager far too self-comfortably and intentionally overlooks. Like, for example, giving a pass to the Spanish Inquisition and its Auto-de-fe torture. He does this by conveniently (and simplistically) self-defining religious mass murder on his own very-limited terms, as systematically killing "every" person of a religion. Of course, in reality, even Nazism didn't systematically kill "every" Jew by his own definition, any more than Spanish Catholics did in the 356 years of the Inquisition. But what the Inquisition did during those 3-1/2 centuries was pretty darn systematic and massive. Not to mention that it was torture.
And though he eases his conscience by insisting, "Nor were there Christian Gulags...", he again intentionally (because if not intentional, it is ignorantly) overlooks 800 years or more of horrors that cumulatively likely were crushingly worse than any Gulag since they defined nearly a millennium of daily culture.
But mainly, I didn't get that far because Mr. Prager showed an unacceptable lack of history and reality when he wrote, "The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism."
While this statement sounds authoritative, it is of course backed up by...nothing. Not a single word of it is backed up by anything. It is words strung together.
I actually read history. I have no doubt that Dennis Prager does, as well. But I can't speak to what he reads, or chooses to remember, or include. But honestly, his above is a numbing statement. Last year, I finally finished reading Will and Ariel Durant's brilliant, epic and legendary 11-volume Story of Civilization. Probably around 8,000 pages. Up until about the year 1600, probably the bulk of wars were religious-based, and many wars beyond that, through 1800. National governments were religious for much of history, as kings ruled their nations by divine right, and fought off opposing armies for fear of another king's religious encroachment. The Holy Roman Empire dominated Europe. Muslimism, Hinduism, Buddhism dominated much of the rest of the world. Pure secular rule only came later. Villages of 20,000 people -- 30,000 or 50,000 people -- would be wiped out without a thought, becoming almost commonplace, century after century for a thousand years or more, from the beginning of history through the early 17th century. (In the early volumes, Durant writes of such ghastly massacres with eloquent horror. Later, as they continued through the centuries, the historian instead wearily addresses them as almost footnotes before moving on to the next.) The continuing Crusades of Christianity against Moslems were almost unendingly devastating to the society it crossed and ravaged. For over 200 years, there were 11 of these Crusades, all of them religiously-approved wars.
But more than that, as Mr. Prager tries to whitewash what was done specifically to Jews throughout history by focusing on Nazis, let me offer a passage from Volume 6 of the Durants' history, "The Reformation." Pages 730-731. An important thing to keep in mind is that this was written in 1957. After World War II. After the Nazis. Written by a renowned historian who made it his life work to study the history of mankind. Durant begins the passage this way:
"The Black Death was a special tragedy for the Jews of Christendom. The same plague had slain Mongols, Moslems and Jews in Asia, where no one thought of blaming the Jews; but in Western Europe a populace maddened by the ravages of pestilence accused the Jews of poisoning the wells in an attempt to wipe out all Christians."Durant then continues with a lengthy tale of how such "fevered imaginations" swept across all of Europe.
"Nevertheless, some Jews were tortured into confessing that they had distributed the poison...Merciless pogroms broke out in France, Spain and Germany. In one town in southern France the entire Jewish community was cast into flames. All Jews in Savoy, all Jews around Lake Leman, all in Bern, Fribourg, Basel, Nuremberg, Brussels were burned."
(If Dennis Prager is looking for "systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion," that long list of "all" is a good place to start. But I digress...)
And then, after this lengthy passage describing these many dark years, Will Durant concludes by writing -- and I repeat, this was written a decade after World War II by a man who made it his life work to study the entire history of man:
"It would be hard to find, before our time, or in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death."
Dennis Prager wants to whitewash history for the sake of making a political point -- shame on him.
Shame on him.
And his shame extends further. It's when Prager writes, "The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers."
"Good news"? That's the good news?
Yes, to Dennis Prager in his political, high-wire, contortionist act, that's the "good news." It all makes up for the Inquisition and a thousand years of torture and persecution. Good news indeed! "Sorry we tortured you and killed you and wiped out entire villages for hundreds of years. Our bad." Good news? That's great news! Of course, it would have been even better news if all Christian leaders and thinkers acknowledged Christian evils, and not just "most" of them, which could mean only 51 percent... But hey, who am I to quibble?
Mind you, all Dennis Prager says is that most Christian leaders and thinkers merely "acknowledge" these "Christian evils" - not that they are horrified, repulsed and mortified by them, or ever did anything to make up for them. Just that they "acknowledge" their existence. Okay, sorry, "most" do. (However many "most" is.) Given that "it would be hard to find," as Will Durant said, "in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death," I guess that in Dennis Prager's politically conservative world the best we can get is to accept that as "good news." Swell.
I got no further than these opening paragraphs. To be fair, maybe in the rest of his article Dennis Prager had a complete change of viewpoint. But I didn't have it in me to keep going and see if such a miracle had occurred. Because I was reading empty and dishonest words. All designed to misinterpret history to make a political point.
None of this is to criticize religion or praise secularism. There is room for an honest discussion of that. It is, instead, to note solely that what Dennis Prager wrote is not acceptable.
Actually, what he wrote is pathetic. And I'm sorry my friend and others accepted it as the truth. Because it ignores the reality of history. If a person wants to share the same political beliefs with Dennis Prager or with anyone amongst themselves, that's fine. But one should still be willing to tell those you otherwise agree with that they're wrong when they are very wrong.
"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters," said Albert Einstein, who knew something about pursuing the truth carefully, "cannot be trusted with important matters."
Dennis Prager says the world is a cruel place. Maybe it just looks that way when you are so careless with the truth.