I just posted this review of God Made Man by Barbara G. Walker on Amazon Reviews. I'll see her next Thursday and I'm anxious to hear what she thinks. I hope the Amazon editors don't think I came on too strong.



If I would have read this book 50 years ago it would have changed my life. Now that I'm retired, as I think back, only two books have had a life-changing effect on me: Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Now I have a third.


Here's why. When I went to Catholic high school I sat quietly and listened meekly to all the magical nonsense that was foisted on me on a daily basis. Believe what you want, was my attitude, just don't try to sell me any of this supernatural boogety-boo. Symbolic cannibalistic rituals were all right with me—just as long as I can sit in the back of the auditorium my comforting, teenage daydreams.


If I would have read Barbara's book back then, I would never have put up with it. “Hey, Brother, is it true the Church tortured and killed millions of people over five hundred years? After the Council of Nicea, Europe was awash in blood and learning was ground to a standstill. The Dark Ages were imminent. Books were burned, libraries destroyed and the peasantry kept illiterate. All I got from your religion classes was the Apostle's creed.”


How come you never mentioned the genocide caused by your religion? After the bloodbath had subsided in the 1800s, a century later Cardinal Angelo Sodano would apologize and call this insane, sadistic mayhem, “a sad episode in church history.” Is he crazy?


How can church officials live with themselves? How come there's no priests listed on the National Sex Offenders list? What's going on?


In short, I didn't become a militant atheist until 40 years later. I was always an atheist but I was close-mouthed about religion and tolerant of it. This very year there will be hundreds of people, mostly women and children, tortured and killed in Africa because of witchcraft, just as Barbara describes it. She even gives the line from the Gospels, Christ's own words, that centuries later the Inquisitioners would use to rationalize burning heretics at the stake by the millions. One town in Germany, states Ms. Walker with accurate annotation, burned as many as 1000 pathetic victims in one year. Outrageous—that's nearly three per day! Watching public immolation must have been a national pass-time, like going to the movies or the Friday-night fights.


Good job, Barbara, it's the scholarship and research that makes Man Made God so powerful. I hope your book goes down in history as one of the most important humanist statements of the modern age. All I can say to any Holy Ghost/heaven-hell/Eve-came-from-Adam's-rib/Noah's Ark believers is: read it and deal with it.


Richard Goscicki, author of Mirror Reversal, Peppertree Press, 2007



Views: 230

Tags: Barbara, Inquisition, Walker, endmeme

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Comment by Matt VDB on September 30, 2010 at 5:54pm
Jo,

"Referencing scholarly material in and of itself, no problem. Treating that material as a closed book, dismissing minimalist opinions as therefore crap, treating people on this forum like school children in need of a spanking and you're the one to deliver it, answering a call for proper citation about a simple body count with a false claim to having done so, again claiming it's there without pointing out where, and a snide remark about people "who can use the English language," ..."

Of all these accusations only the snide remark one is accurate, and for good reason because the answer to your question was perfectly obvious. As for dismissing other opinions, if you actually read the thread you can see that I'm doing no such thing. I've continuously been asking Richard questions about this opinion he has. Fairly obvious ones, like "If the Middle Ages were so dark, why did they yield just as much or more technological advances than the centuries of the Roman Empire?" or "If Christianity supressed learning so badly, why did the more Christian east of the Empire not descend into a dark age?"
Perfectly reasonable questions; and it's hardly my fault that Richard (or anyone else) isn't able to answer them satisfactory and has instead ignored them.

That's not dismissing their opinion as "crap", though I'm happy to dismiss your view of this discussion as precisely that.

"Dodge the call for backup/evidence, insert instead more generic "scholars say that...""

Bullshit. I've cited the research of Hutton already, as far as that of Kohn and Thomas. And not only is the research of Hutton available online, it is reprinted in the wiki article on witch trials in early modern Europe.

In addition, I've showed the reason why the eight-nine million figure is certainly wrong: it is based on the horribly unscrupulous calculations of Voigt, who extrapolated the number of witches burned in one particularly nasty province to all of Europe, and for the entire Early Modern period.

The ball is now firmly in Richard's court to substantiate Voigt's number.

"I'm also willing to bet that not every heretic-killing was written down, sealed, and immaculately preserved for future historians. Documents get lost. Murders don't get recorded. One person's definition of a church-sponsored witch burning does not match another's, Ergo, the real number is likely higher than 30k-60k."

It's amazing how you are actually under the impression that you are the first person in the world to come up with this criticism. Do you honestly believe that historians are so stupid that they don't realise that? No.
That's why the actual method used is far more complex than that. Estimations are made by considering several factors: (i) population density (ii) prevalence of factors for witch craze (iii) estimated zeal of various areas. We then look at the documented cases of witch-burnings in certain areas, add a certain factor for uncertainty (depends on the source, but usually somewhere in the x2 or x3 range) and extrapolate for neighbouring areas with similar attitudes and characteristics, for the required time periods.

That's a little more complex than expecting some "immaculately" preserved material, isn't it? We require no such thing: some old-fashioned critical thinking and careful analysis (as well as the obligatory error bars for uncertainty) gives us a fairly good estimation - the best the information can give us.
Does that mean I think we should take this figure as dogma (as you ludicrously imply)? Of course not; but it remains the single best figure we have, and to accept some other number based on no evidence at all but the fancy fantasies of polemicists - purely because that appeals to our biases more - is ridiculous. Which is why I'm calling Richard on it (as well as a bunch of other stuff).

"On another note, I for one most definitely would like to see governments and organizations to acknowledge and atone for past crimes against humanity. In so much as making an active and public effort to say "We will not let this happen again" and the de-sanitizing of history books."

If we're talking about crimes which have happened in our lifetime, sure. Or which have happened to people whose immediate descendants are still alive and are pushing for acceptance. But crimes hundreds of years old? Come on.
So no, sorry, I'm not holding my breath for a public apology from the Macedonian government that they solemnly swear to make sure invading Persia "never happens again", as well as the enlightening dissertation of the Privy league about how sorry they are that their organisation used to boil people in oil hundreds of years ago.

If we were continuously apologizing for the crimes of our ancestors of centuries past, I think very few things would get done.

"I'm surprised to hear any Atheist mock that idea."

And here I was thinking that the only thing atheists are required to have in common was a non-belief in God...
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 12:31pm
As to my thoughts on a "better way of learning about these things:"

- Look not just at the material but the presenter. Not just at the snake oil, but at the salesman.

- Know, acknowledge and accept that people tend to be highly vulnerable to their own biases, experiences and popular opinion. Is the salesman openly acknowledging this or trying to present him/herself as the grand poohbah of unbiased authority?

- Know that there are many, many crackpot ideas/opinions/interpretations out there, often as a result of not acknowledging one's own bias.

- But also know that most scientific/historical breakthroughs began as a crackpot idea, woefully minority to the ideas held by the majority of "scholars."

- Know that it's very possible to get degrees having learned little.

- Know that it's very possible to learn a lot more without having earned the degree.

- Know that anyone can publish a book. From Stephen Hawking down to Sarah didn't-realize-Africa-is-a-continent Palin.

- Know that a mass, popular following does not necessarily equal smart-guy-who-must-be-right. Case in point: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh. FOX News is the number one cable news program. A majority of people on this planet firmly believe in god/s.

- Know that sometimes, we just don't have the evidence we wish we had. We just don't have a cut-and-dry answer and possibly never will.

- Know that if there are three solid hypotheses to answer a puzzle and one of them is deemed "most likely," that doesn't necessarily mean that the other two are therefore completely implausible or unlikely.

- Recognize misdirection. E.g.; a request for citation answered with a non-citation and bullying tactics.

- Taking all of this and more into consideration, read everything with a critical eye. Some things in history we can be certain of beyond a reasonable doubt. E.g.; The Holocaust happened. Some things, many things, reasonable doubt exists to whatever degree. We do well to limit the use of absolute language and insert those qualifiers enough to serve as a reminder that we are working with a best guess rather than a mathematical certainty.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 30, 2010 at 11:55am
--- Matt - OK, but if you think referencing scholarly material is an argument to authority and therefore invalid, that's not rational.

Referencing scholarly material in and of itself, no problem. Treating that material as a closed book, dismissing minimalist opinions as therefore crap, treating people on this forum like school children in need of a spanking and you're the one to deliver it, answering a call for proper citation about a simple body count with a false claim to having done so, again claiming it's there without pointing out where, and a snide remark about people "who can use the English language," ...

That is exactly the kind of snake oil sales pitch I speak of. Dodge the call for backup/evidence, insert instead more generic "scholars say that..." and either snide or not-so-snide remarks about the challenger's intelligence/education/use of English Language. When applied to minority historical views, it makes it feel like that much more of a minority. When applied to majority views, it looks like insecurity about that view being held to critical scrutiny.

Using the current hot-button issue as an example: I personally am willing to bet that doing a head count of historical court records, articles and other hard sources, the number is indeed far closer to the 30,000-60,000 range.

I'm also willing to bet that not every heretic-killing was written down, sealed, and immaculately preserved for future historians. Documents get lost. Murders don't get recorded. One person's definition of a church-sponsored witch burning does not match another's, Ergo, the real number is likely higher than 30k-60k.

I'm also willing to bet that the 8-9 million is an extreme stretch based on wishful thinking of people wanting to hold the church accountable for its crimes.

Final count: Somewhere *probably* well above 60,000, and well below 8-9 million, but we'll never know for certain. And all the while, as we take the higher number with a large grain of salt, I'm also not going to watch the number be overly sanitized as not that big a deal.



On another note, I for one most definitely would like to see governments and organizations to acknowledge and atone for past crimes against humanity. In so much as making an active and public effort to say "We will not let this happen again" and the de-sanitizing of history books.

I'm surprised to hear any Atheist mock that idea.
Comment by Matt VDB on September 30, 2010 at 8:57am
Richard,

"Matt, to my thinking your actions and behavior are in conflict. If we were on the same side, I would think you'd want the Church to own up to and atone for its crimes. The current sex scandals are nothing compared to the atrocities of the past."

You want the Vatican to apologise for events which occurred 500 years ago? Are you also going to ask Spain to apologise for the Spanish Inquisition? Bourgondy for the burning of Joan of Arc? The US because the civil war didn't accord with the Geneve Treaty? The Macedonians because they invaded Persia?
And if not, why not?

I think your pleas for atonement are motivated more by bias than anything else. But that's not even what I have an issue with: my main issue is that though you've repeatedly been talking about crimes and making a big deal out of them, on closer examination those crimes seem to be vastly exaggerated by a factor of 100 or more.

"I, of course, hold the latter view, but although you say you're a non-believer, you're reluctant to see Christianity as evil. I made the claim that the number of murdered is in the millions, and you refute that saying the number is as low as 30 thousand. As Henry David Thoreau once said, once you know the phenomenon is possible the number of times it occurs is irrelevant. By your stubbornness, you detract from the egregiousness of the crime."

See, this is what bothers me about you. All I want you to is you to get your facts straight and do your research well; what you do with that doesn't interest me.
Your claim was that the number of witches burned is around eight million, even though the number commonly cited for that is more than a hundred times lower. That's what I care about: you exagerrating to make a point.
If you think that burning 50,000 people (mainly by protestants) is just as bad as eight million people being burned (which is actually absurd) then why am I seeing all this resistance when I point out that it really is 50,000?

"That's why I referred to you as an Christian apologist or mole. Your behavior contradicts your beliefs, hence the conflict on this blog."

Sorry Richard, but all that I'm contradicting is your (narrow) view of how atheist should think and how they should act.

"So let me ask you, do you think this question of the Inquisition should be swept under the rug, forgotten and, as a church spokesman once said, "it's a sad episode in church history," and nothing more. Or do you feel, as I believe most atheists naturally and logically do, that atheists should rouse public attention to it, so as to let the sheep know what the Good Shepherd is really like and really up to?"

I hope we don't ever forget anything about history. But no, I don't think rousing public attention to things the Church has done 500 years ago does anything more than rousing public attention to what the Spanish government has done 500 years ago, or what the Normandians did 1000 years ago, or the Macedonians 2500 years ago.

It's completely irrelevant. Nobody would even think of holding the Macedonians personally responsible for the invasion of Persia, yet here you are insisting on an apology from the Vatican for (vastly exagerrated) crimes of hundreds of years ago. This makes sense to you? Really?

"The best is Henry Charles Lea, naturalist, historian, and publisher. Matt said he “had an ax to grind.” Barbara said he lived in Rome for years and spent much of his life in the Vatican Library. Read his biography on one of the search engines. Does he look like a man who would fudge history?"

Wait, Lea says that eight million witches were killed? Where? Think carefully before answering.



Jo,

"It's exactly the tactic that Theists use and that I believe is a big part of why Matt is garnering suspicion from some here as a Theist in wolf's clothing. He might not be, but his forum style is barely distinguishable from one."

In contrast to other people's statements about history, who are always referenced, correct? Give me a break, I've referenced more scholarly works than anyone else here.

"Matt, do you have a link other than Wikipedia or Christian apologist sites for the 30,000 number?"

The number commonly cited number is actually somewhere in the range of 30,000-60,000. And I've already referenced three scholars who would give you exactly that number.

"I would like to see this international panel of judges who gives someone an official stamp of "scholar" or "non-scholar." Or is the title simply given by other scholars based on whether or not they agree with that individual's findings? If no such panel exists, then I would like to know what criteria we are using. That the person has a degree in this or that field? That they teach? That they are published?"

The title is defined by people who can use the English language. A historical scholar is a qualified (= degree at an accredited university) historian working at, researching at, or teaching at, an accredited university. Easy enough.

"I would encourage everyone here to look critically at all sides of the issue. And if someone is telling you not to, look at that advice with a critical eye as well. Call me a party-pooper, but I like to question pretty much everything."

OK, but if you think referencing scholarly material is an argument to authority and therefore invalid, that's not rational.

Have you gone through all the research material and sources on the witch-hunts in Early Modern Europe? No? Me neither. So, unless we want to spend ten years of my life actually doing so, we need to rely on peer-reviewed publications by scholars to tell us about the things that only decades of research can teach you.

That's all we can do. If you some better way of learning about these things, do tell.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 29, 2010 at 2:45pm
Wasn't Barbara specifically I had in mind. Snake oil salesmen in general.
Comment by Richard Goscicki on September 29, 2010 at 12:30am
Jo wrote,

Why he must know what he's talking about! Just look at that snappy lab coat! I'll buy a case of that snake oil please!

Don't forget Barbara is a pretty close friend whom I've know about five years. If you knew her as I do, you wouldn't make such cynical and sardonic assertions. For one thing, she has about six screens of books on Amazon and has been writing since the early days of the feminist movement.

And when the guy in the lab coat insists he has the truth and no one else does, insists his 2 or 3 sources are golden and everyone else's is crap, bullies and insults those who dare question him, I for one get suspicious of what he's selling.

I wasn't insisting that I have the truth and no one else has, but honestly trying to defend my position. It's a debate and Matt is tough to convince.

If no such panel exists, then I would like to know what criteria we are using.

Jo, you're talking about the author of A Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, with OVER 150,000 COPIES SOLD printed on the cover, 1136 pages, edited by Harper Row, 1983. I happen to know Barbara wrote it without the help of a computer. Please browse through it (you can use the “Look Inside” on Amazon) and tell me if it is not a work of extraordinary scholarship.

I already cited three sources for the eight million number. The best is Henry Charles Lea, naturalist, historian, and publisher. Matt said he “had an ax to grind.” Barbara said he lived in Rome for years and spent much of his life in the Vatican Library. Read his biography on one of the search engines. Does he look like a man who would fudge history?
Comment by Richard Goscicki on September 28, 2010 at 11:36pm
I'll get to the questions below presently. Right now I just got back from Tampa and the D'Souza/Shemer debate at USF. Fun stuff, lasted about three hours. I say around a thousand people filled up the auditorium.

I got to ask a question after the debate: Dinesh, you said you accepted evolution, so why did it take over four billion years for intelligence to evolve on the planet. Shemer was smiling all along as Dinesh made like there was a plausible answer other than God works in mysterious ways.

Here's a link to pretty much the same debate a couple of years ago.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 28, 2010 at 3:34pm
P.S. Before the snakes turn on me...

True, many of my own posts have been just as light on the MLA citations (my main part in these threads is my assertion that while Historical Jesus *probably* existed, it's not proven beyond reasonable doubt). Although in my own humble defense, many of my posts do not disagree with the evidence put forth for HJ's existence: The bible, the apocryphal scriptures, the 2 Josephus + 1 Tacitus entries. My argument is that I personally fail to see how these three sources are inerrant.

But I digress.
Comment by Jo Jerome on September 28, 2010 at 3:20pm
Looking not at the Snake Oil, but at the Salesmen...

What tends to happen in a lot of these threads is a whole lot of tossing out facts, counter-facts, this-scholar-is-awesome/this-scholar-is-crap. Yet with little support. Watching the film Here be Dragons: It's a guy in a lab coat, standing in the foreground with books or a science-y looking lab behind him, or what looks like university degrees on the wall, using lots of authoritative language. Why he must know what he's talking about! Just look at that snappy lab coat! I'll buy a case of that snake oil please!

When in fact, anyone can don a lab coat and use a thesaurus.

And when the guy in the lab coat insists he has the truth and no one else does, insists his 2 or 3 sources are golden and everyone else's is crap, bullies and insults those who dare question him, I for one get suspicious of what he's selling. It's exactly the tactic that Theists use and that I believe is a big part of why Matt is garnering suspicion from some here as a Theist in wolf's clothing. He might not be, but his forum style is barely distinguishable from one.

What I would love to see, from either side:

How many killed in the burning times? Citation please.

Richard, can you provide the chapter/page number in Walker's book? Does she cite a reference for whatever number?

Matt, do you have a link other than Wikipedia or Christian apologist sites for the 30,000 number?

My understanding is that the number is a huge variable depending on how we are defining "Burning times," killed by the church proper or by local Theists, etc. Plus a question mark over how many might have been killed but not reported. Hence, when I see the 30,000 number, I'm wondering where *they* got that number, just as much as I wonder where the 8-9 million truly came from. Just looking at the sales pitches here, I'm inclined to think the truth lies somewhere in between with a really, really big margin of error.

Define "scholar."

The word gets tossed back and forth like a dodgeball. I would like to see this international panel of judges who gives someone an official stamp of "scholar" or "non-scholar." Or is the title simply given by other scholars based on whether or not they agree with that individual's findings? If no such panel exists, then I would like to know what criteria we are using. That the person has a degree in this or that field? That they teach? That they are published?

Further criticizing argument-from-authority

A majority of people believe in god/s, and I hope we can all agree that belief is misguided; led by wishful thinking, and/or tradition, and/or not wanting to admit 'wrongness' ("Oops, I believe a lie and a fairytale for half my life, preached about and wrote books about it. My bad"). Though I've seen no studies on this particular stat, I'm willing to bet that the majority of people who have degrees, and/or teach, and/or have published books, are Theists. So right there, we on this site hold a minority opinion in direct conflict with "a majority of scholars."

I have known many people who simply could not afford that ivy league degree, or any degree for that matter, but that makes them no less smart or capable of going out and researching on their own. A hole in the research is a hole in the research, whether that hole is pointed out by the scholar's peer or by a 5 year old asking "But how do we know everything in the bible is true?"

I would encourage everyone here to look critically at all sides of the issue. And if someone is telling you not to, look at that advice with a critical eye as well. Call me a party-pooper, but I like to question pretty much everything.
Comment by Richard Goscicki on September 28, 2010 at 1:16pm
Matt, to my thinking your actions and behavior are in conflict. If we were on the same side, I would think you'd want the Church to own up to and atone for its crimes. The current sex scandals are nothing compared to the atrocities of the past. The Nazi retribution and atonement for the murder of millions was to have Germany literally pulverized, its people dying in the streets ignominiously, and its leaders hanged or driven to suicide.

There's a debate tonight in nearby Tampa, Fl between Michael Shermer and a Christian apologist Dinish D"Sousa on the question: Is religion good or evil.

I, of course, hold the latter view, but although you say you're a non-believer, you're reluctant to see Christianity as evil. I made the claim that the number of murdered is in the millions, and you refute that saying the number is as low as 30 thousand. As Henry David Thoreau once said, once you know the phenomenon is possible the number of times it occurs is irrelevant. By your stubbornness, you detract from the egregiousness of the crime.

That's why I referred to you as an Christian apologist or mole. Your behavior contradicts your beliefs, hence the conflict on this blog.

So let me ask you, do you think this question of the Inquisition should be swept under the rug, forgotten and, as a church spokesman once said, "it's a sad episode in church history," and nothing more. Or do you feel, as I believe most atheists naturally and logically do, that atheists should rouse public attention to it, so as to let the sheep know what the Good Shepherd is really like and really up to?

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