Monday, September 3, 2007

Facts Matter

“Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes”
- Jawaharlal Nehru

On occasion, I post a video blog on Youtube. Typically, it is not much different in tone or style than what I present there on the Atheists Handbook.

Back in June I posted this video addressing the myth that western democracies were founded upon "Judeo-Christian" principles. The thrust of m
y argument, which I will discuss in further detail in a moment, is that western societies in fact were NOT founded on religious ideas at all. That our constitutions are secular, and secular for very good reasons. And that neither our laws, our courts, or our governments are in any way religious institutions or founded on religious ideas. In the video, I asked believers to explain why it is they seem to believe that Canada or the United States are in fact founded on religious ideas. Where, I asked, in the bible do you find anything about democracy?

Well, the response I got from believers was bland to say the least. But then I am not the most popular Youtuber, as they're called. I have only a few videos and a handful of subscribers. Those who agreed with me chimed in, but the the faithful remained silent. Until recently.

I received a reply from a person who goes by the handle of "Sman54" and he posted a
reply to my video that reads:
The question about the judeo christian society thing.
Here's my answer, and i believe it to be 99.999999999% true.
Democracy is based on Judaism, believe it or not. Judaism started the idea that the human should be blamed for his wrong doings. Back then, they blamed everything on the roman, greek, w/e gods who say they suduced the person into doing something bad. The jews basically came along and said "no, it's the humans fault and he should be punished rightfully so." Judaism is Christianity but with a few different ideas, same with Islam, except Judaism is over 3,000 years older. The ten commandments are on the top of the supreme court, if you haven't noticed, everything from judaism is from christianity. That's why they say judeo-christian, the golden rule, sin, heaven, all that is judaism, christianity just popularized it, i guess.

That little pop you just heard in your head was part of your higher reasoning center overloading and burning out.

According to this fellow, democracy is a creation of an
cient Hebrew people because non-Jews were stomping about blaming gods who seduced them into doing wicked deeds:

"Hey man, don't blame me for sleeping with your wife, Zesus made me do it."

"Oh, I see. Well, jolly good then. I will go through stones at the Temple of Zesus..."

The Jewish people, on the other hand, took responsibility for their transgressions and changed the zietgiest from chaos to self restrained order. Then came the Christians who through some kind of slick marketing campaign (Jesus R' Us?) made the ideas popular. And then came George Washington and the rest is history!

Although Sman54 believes this is "99.9999999%" true, and was likely being honest about his thoughts on the matter, he is just plainly damn wrong. He is not even close to being right. He is wronger than the BeeGees playing at Hendrix tribute concert.

It is actually fairly staggering any believer would say that, given the contents of the bible. There isn't a single free nation ever described in the new or old testaments. There are lots of kings, emperors, despots, and even Xerxes shows up once. God himself spends an i
nordinate amount of time threatening, bullying and harassing people, and when that bored him, he went round butchering men, women and children. Heck, the bible even supports the keeping of slaves, and the new testament counsels slaves NOT to rebel against their masters. But never a word about a free society. Never a mention of constitution, or rights and responsibilities, or the right to choose for one self.

The idea that democracy and the idea of personal responsibility was an invention of the people who first cooked up the stories of the old testament is more ridiculous than the fundamentalist view of how the human species developed from only two people. (see the diagram to the right)

Of course, the facts of history tell us a much different story, no matter how much believers wish it were otherwise.

We trace democracy back not to ancient Jews, but to ancient Greeks. The idea that the rights of citizens can be defined not by a holy book, but in constitutional law was first dreamed up by the Spartans, and we still carry a bit of their ideals with us today.

But it was the Athenians who really went radical over the whole idea. They booted out the tyrants, and set about electing their own leaders. Decisions were made, not in a throne room or by some group of religious fathers whose sole qualifications were that they understood the local scribblings of supernatural things, but by the people themselves in open political debate.

It's true the Athenian democracy was not as free as ours. Citizenship was something of an exclusive club. Women and slaves could not vote. And to keep anyone from amassing to much power, Athenains held a popularity contest every so often that would exile someone for a period of ten years. In effect they were "voting people off the island" long before anyone heard of Mark Burrnett. (In fact, it is from Athens that we get the word "ostracize")

Democracy was never a religious institution. It wasn't in Athens. It wasn't in the Roman Republic. And it wasn't when the entire idea was reborn during the Enlightenment. Democracy has always been non-religious, and that is how it is today able to provide freedom of and from religion.

And of course, democracy comes with something else. Personal responsibility. Voting itself is a powerful act of personality responsibility. Democracy is founded upon the idea that we act, all of us, for the collective good. Our responsibility is to ourselves and our fellow citizens.

On the other hand, the
Judeo-Christian outlook places fate in the hands of the sky god. This is particularly true of Christianity, and even more true of Christian fundamentalism. Your first responsibility is to the god of choice, not to your neighbors. And by "believing" your sins get washed away. There is a reason evangelicals like to say "not all good people go to heaven, and not all bad people go to hell." (this means, that faith is the most important thing, not actions. An evil bastard who turns to the bible and becomes a believer, from this point of view, is heaven bound regardless of what they have done. Meanwhile, a non-believer who spent his or her life helping others is doomed to hell for his crime of disbelief.)

Judaism, Christianity and Islam thrive rather well in dictatorships. Not surprising since all three religions were born in parts of the world in the grips of totalitarian regimes. Political freedom wasn't even on the agenda.

So if history tells us that democracy was not Jewish, was pre-Christian and was not in any sense a religious institution, why do some of the faithful today claim that it is? I suspect is it for crass political reasons. This was something created by those with a more theocratic rather than democratic agendas. Because you cannot find in our constitution or laws, any references to their god, their commandments or other scriptural doctrines, it is pretty hard to get people worked up. But if you tell them the nation was based on their interpretation of their faith and the evil heathens are taking it all away, well it becomes much easier to get them to froth at the mouth.

It is the national myth of what Michelle Goldberg calls "Christian Nationalism" in the United States - a kind of twisted historical revisionism which interprets all events through a particular religious lens, all determined to prove that their sectarian view is the only "correct" one and they should rule. (If you have not read Goldberg's book "Kingdom Coming" I highly recommend it.) Fact don't matter to this group any more than they do to any other historical revisionists. It is just dishonest and it twists or even ignores facts. How else can you come up with a statement like emocracy is based on Judaism."

But as the man says, facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes. Smart man that Nehru. India's first prime minister. We need more politicians like him.

The problem of course, is that the more these revisionists push, the more our politicians give ground for their votes. And the more we lose touch with the facts of our past. And if we do that, if we lose where democracy came from and why, we lose a piece of ourselves.

Facts matter

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