Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Decline of violence, no credit to Christians

The Jewish Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has a big new highly-promoted book on violence that has many anti-Christian claims:
First, the premise that Nazism and Communism were “atheist” ideologies makes sense only within a religiocentric worldview that divides political systems into those that are based on Judaeo-Christian ideology and those that are not. ...

Nazism received extensive support from many German churches, and no opposition from the Vatican. ... religions have been responsible for 13 of the 100 worst mass killings in history, resulting in 47 million deaths. ...

Crusaders, for example, killed 1 million people in world of 400 million, for a genocide rate that exceeds that of the Nazi Holocaust. Shortly afterwards, the Cathars of southern France were exterminated in another Crusader genocide because they had embraced the Albigensian heresy.

But things started going downhill in 312 when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the historical facts are not consistent with the claim that Christianity since then has been a force for nonviolence: The Crusaders perpetrated a century of genocides that murdered a million people, equivalent as a proportion of the world’s population at the time to the Nazi holocaust. ...

Christians killed 60,000-100,000 accused witches in the European witchhunts.
Several years ago, Pinker attacked a scholarly work on Jews:
Of course I have not plowed through MacDonald's trilogy ... outside the bounds of normal scientific discourse ... MacDonald's various theses, even if worthy of scientifically debate individually, collectively add up to a consistently invidious portrayal of Jews
It seems to me that Pinker is going out of his way to give an invidious portrayal of Christians.

The Crusades were not genocides. They were wars to prevent the Mohammedans from invading Europe. It is a little strange to blame the Pope for being neutral during WWII. He had no army and could not do anything. Pinker ought to be blaming the aggressors in these wars.

If I had Pinker's attitude, I would declare his book offensive to Christians, and refuse to read it. I will be interested to see what historians and other experts say. Eg, Quodlibeta argues that the his death toll for the Albigensian Crusade is way too high.

Steve Sailer's review says:
Unfortunately, the opening chapters of Better Angels — a history of violence — display Pinker’s main weakness. His historical sense isn’t that strong. And a major reason for that is his deep-rooted aversion to engaging intellectually with the effects of Christianity. His distaste for the culture of Christendom before the Enlightenment is palpable. For instance, he responds to historian Barbara Tuchman’s summary of medieval economic theory with, “As my grandfather would have put it, ‘Goyische kopp!’ — gentile head.” This old family attitude seems to make this otherwise very bright scholar’s interpretations of the last 2,000 years rather obtuse.

For example, the single most obvious bit of evidence in support of Pinker’s theory that there has been a long trend away from violence is the change in morality from the Old Testament to the New. Pinker recounts at length some hair-raising anecdotes passed on without criticism — indeed, often with approbation — in the Hebrew Bible, such as the tale of what the 12 sons of Jacob did to Hamor the Hivite. Yet when the author’s attention turns to the New Testament, with its radically different moral climate, he’s barely able to begrudge an acknowledgment of this epochal change. He quickly quotes Jesus saying, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

The Enlightenment historian Edward Gibbon famously argued in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that early Christians were too nonviolent, that their pacifistic tendencies undermined the Roman army’s ability to keep out the German barbarians. But that goes unmentioned in Pinker’s history of violence.
Pinker seems to argue the opposite -- that Roman coversion to Christianity caused more violence, not less. Weird. I think that Pinker's biases are showing.

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