Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Liberte, Egalite, Apoplexie

I admit it. I got a little bent out of shape when I read what Gus DiZerega had to say about Atheists, Christians, and Pagans. Here's why:

(1) In any context I would consider it a grotesque distortion of the last 1700 years of human history to proclaim that Christianity should be credited for the promotion of the ideal of human equality.*

(2) This distortion is especially egregious when it comes from a Pagan, that is, a follower of a religious tradition that every major sect of Christianity has done everything in its power to wipe off the face of the earth. While it would be very difficult to find any religion anywhere that Christianity has not sought to "extirpate", as the Christians themselves have historically put it, Pagans can claim pride of place as the first religious tradition to be so honored.

(3) But to say this and then add to it an indictment of Paganism itself (coming from a Pagan!) for our supposed failures and deficiencies with respect to human equality, well, that, as the saying goes, takes the freaking cake. As a matter of fact, our modern conceptions of democracy, freedom of speech, justice, equality, and compassion, as well as our notions of the republican form of government and "the rule of law" in a constitutional system, all derive from Pagan Greco-Roman antecedents.

The reason I am bringing this up now is because of a wonderful post over at Impotent Rage on the proposal by some Christian fundamentalists to make 2010 the "Year of the Bible". In that post is an extended quote from Michael Lind's April 14th piece titled America is not a Christian Nation, in which Lind puts the lie to the claim that the ideas behind phrases such as "we hold these truths to be self evident" and "all men are created equal" are somehow inspired by or based on Christian theology.

As Lind rightly points out, and as Guz diZerega as a scholar of politics and history should certainly be aware, "the actual intellectual roots of the Declaration of Independence" are to be found "in Greek philosophy and Roman law", not in the Old and New Testaments.

Some closing thoughts from old Tom Paine:
Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time do they speak? It was impossible that twelve men could begin with the sword: they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword than they did so, and the stake and faggot too; and Mahomet could not do it sooner. By the same spirit that Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (if the story be true) he would cut off his head, and the head of his master, had he been able....

Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.
The Age of Reason,
Thomas Paine, 1796
[* This is not to deny the contributions to social justice made by individual Christians, but diZerega specifically said that Christianity itself as a religious tradition is to be singled out (from among all the religions of the world) and credited with the "ideal of human equality". In any event my negative assessment of Christianity's net "contributions" to humanity is no more extreme than that of Thomas Paine or Bertrand Russell.]

George Gemistos Plethon: Sources

I will add more to this eventually, and clean it up some, but for now here is a rough and ready list of English language sources of information about George Gemistos Plethon (and to those who don't know who Plethon was, or what he has to do with anything, please see this previous post):

John Monfasani: "Platonic Paganism in the 15th Century"

Colin Wells: "Sailing from Byzantium"

Christopher Woodhouse: "George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes"

Basil Tatakis: "Byzantine Philosophy"

Katerina Ierodiakonou (ed): "Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Source"

Joscelyn Godwin: "Pagan Dream of the Renaissance"

Edgar Wind "Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance"

Steven Runciman: "Mistra, Byzantine Capital of the Peloponnese"


ALEXANDER ALEXAKIS : Was There Life beyond the Life Beyond?
Byzantine Ideas on Reincarnation and Final Restoration :

Darien C. DeBolt: George Gemistos Plethon on God: Heterodoxy in Defense of Orthodoxy:

Demetrios Constantelos: A Conflict between Ancient Greek Philosophy and Christian Orthodoxy in the Late Greek Middle Ages: