Have a morality drenched Christmas, my friends!

Mr. Bookworm and I, with great pleasure, watched the first season of Rome, an HBO show that begins shortly before Caesar crossed the Rubicon and ends . . . well, I won’t tell you. It’s a fabulous production — gorgeous to look at and, aside from a few historical inaccuracies aimed at punching up the story-line, extremely accurate historically. As such, it gave a window into what an incredibly cruel and violent people the Romans were. I mean, really frighteningly violent, with every powerful person his own little Marquis de Sade.

As we were nearing the end of this season’s production, Mr. Bookworm, who is a committed atheist, launched into an impressive, but somewhat ill-informed attack, on the Bible. He contends that the stories are terrible and that it’s just a big canard that there’s some sort of morality involved. It would have been a more impressive declamation if he’d known that the Hanukkah story isn’t in the Bible, and had been able to distinguish the Old from the New Testament.

This little riff would have vanished into the ether if we hadn’t immediately after watched the “Making of” video about Rome. Both the historical advisor and the producer made precisely the same point. Both noted that the Romans were incredibly religious, contantly praying and sacrificing (often violently or sexually) to a vast panoply of Gods. Then, both pointed out that the Roman religion was completely unrelated to morality. Finally, each added that cultural morality as we know it today — and with it a huge decrease in casual, day-to-day cruelty, came after the Judeo-Christian religion arrived. I forebore to say anything.

While I kept quiet with Mr. Bookworm, I do have something to say to all of you who celebrate Christmas this year. Have a wonderful holiday, and one made particularly wonderful by the knowledge that your religion — while it has had some fits and starts, and while some practioners have taken longer to back off from cultural cruelty than others — has been one of the great civilizing institutions in our world.

Merry Christmas!

(I’ll be blogging intermittently, if at all, over the next couple of weeks. However, DQ has promised to try to blog and all of you know that he does some of the most fascinating posts ever to grace this blog.)

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Comments

  1. says

    Book,

    Thanks for the wish for Christians for a Merry Christmas.

    Sweet Wife and I wish you and yours a Happy Chanukah if that is appropriate or most of all a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

    A Happy (or droll) Atheism to Mr. Book… however having been there for the first 35 years of my life, I don’t recall a whole lot in atheism to be happy about compared with now.

    You are a great friend!!! Thanks.

    ExP(Jack)

  2. says

    Mr. Bookworm does have a good point that religion is and can be used to control people. But that is the same role as government, really. In the absence of any authority or power, something has to fill the gap. It just so happened, that if you know your history, the Western Roman Empire fell just around the time of Atilla the Hun. And Attilla the Hun was killed a short time after the Pope visited him. So the eyes of a demoralized Europe, the Pope was mightier than Rome. When Rome faded away, the Pope setup the Vatican. And there you go. One power goes away, another fills in the gap, very natural.

    But of course, the question is, does Mr. Bookworm know enough ancient history, both political and military history, to be able to analyze off the top of his head, the different ramifications and styles to power, whether religious, military or government based? I don’t believe so, do you?

    The Romans started out with ancestor worship. That was their real religion. All that Greek stuff came after they conquered Greece, and brought in the Greek decadence. The Roman Legions may have conquered Greece, but Greek culture surely conquered the romans.

    Both early Catholicism and Islam are good examples of how religion functions as a center of authority and power. Either as a justification or as a means to an end, divine or otherwise.

    No powerful religion is “baseless”. Though you might disagree with whether it is true or not. The power of a religion has a base, otherwise it wouldn’t be powerful. You can say that Islam and Islamic Jihad are “baseless”, but that is ignoring the reality that they have real power and a real base. Which means, it is based on “something”, something real. So it might not be true, but it don’t mean they can’t make it true. Is it true that Allah gave Islam the authority to use Islamic Law to regulate human behavior? *shrugs* But Islam controls 99% of the human population with Shariah Law, then it don’t really matter what was true, does it, all that matters is what is true NOW.

  3. Marguerite says

    I know what you mean about the cruelty and brutality of life and death in ancient times. Remember that the law of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ was an IMPROVEMENT over the capriciousness of what it supplanted, and Jesus raised the bar still higher when he said “You have heard it said to you, an eye for an eye . . . but I tell you to resist not the evil person . . .”

  4. highlander says

    A Merry Christmas to you, too, Book!

    And let those of us who try to follow Jesus remember to be compassionate toward those who do not — especially toward those who are upset by the icons of Christmas. True Christmas is not in the icons. It’s in our hearts.

  5. Zhombre says

    I love the Rome series on HBO. Can’t stand most of the other stuff HBO puts out, but Rome caught my fancy and kept it.

    I get quite annoyed these days when some speaker emphasizes the Judeo-Christian roots of our culture but ignores the exigent fact we have a Graeco-Roman legacy too, and much of our cultural behavior is incomprehensible without a familiarity with that legacy. The roots of words like citizen, republic and democracy are Greek and Latin not Aramaic, and I think it foolish to ignore that legacy. It’s like denying half your DNA.

    As for atheists, well, as a believer I think atheists will eventually be quite disappointed. We all die, and for atheists, if there’s some form of existence after that, it will be quite disconcerting.

  6. says

    Hi Bookworm,
    Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you and your family. You create a lot of thought provoking enjoyment by hosting this blog, and you stimulate me to (as I said in the Jimmy Carter thread) think about what I think.
    I hope your holidays are peaceful and filled with fun (and that everybody in the house is over that pesky cold).
    Judy

  7. Al says

    The Ten Commandments are yet another example of the civilizing
    aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As is the much mialined exhortation for men to respect their wives, and wives to obey their husbands. The prior custom of care of the wife resembled what the Taliban do to their women.
    All this behavior creates a more stable society, one that can grow in numbers and in ability. (like going the the Moon)(ie. acting like an ancient god)
    So, who or what creates the motivation to develope a more stable society? I call it God.
    Regardless, I enjoy the Blog, BW. May the warmth, and joy, and love of the season bless your home and family, and all those who think and type on this site.
    Al

  8. says

    Best wishes of this warm and lovely season to you, Bookworm, and may you have a wonderful New Year. Thanks for making my year interesting and more rewarding by sharing your thoughts and time with us in keeping up this terrific blog.

  9. Danny Lemieux says

    Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukka and Happy New Year, Book. I sometimes wonder if Mr. Book is an artistic creation but, if not, I challenge him to read through just one of the Gospels of the New Testament and find the words to support malice and hate, however badly Christianity may have been used in the past (as distinct from the Koran, for example). You will both be in my thoughts this Christmas as I give thanks for all the good people that have worked to make our society and civilization a better place.

  10. says

    Happy Holidays to you and yours, Book.

    That phrase, by the way, is a fine old one with a wonderful meaning (not unlike “gay” before it was co-opted). Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.

    And I hope that happiness extends to Mr. Book, committed as he is in the so-often-unhappy belief of atheism.

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