Why are Muslims not integrating into Western societies? (...and another puzzle)

Saturday, July 01, 2006
Cut & paste: Why are Muslims not integrating into Western societies? | Opinion | The Australian: "It is the problem of a culture that, for the past 500 years or so at least, has failed its adherents as its inward-looking theocracy has resulted in it falling further and further behind the West.

It is that sense of cultural failure (and) smouldering resentment that fuels the fires so busily stoked by the more extremist Muslim teachers. Fiercely exclusive rather than inclusive, Islam holds that church and state are inseparable; that women, while respected so long as they stick to their appointed place in the Islamic scheme of things, are less than equal to men generally; and that even the most extreme violence is justifiable when applied in pursuit of approved Islamic ends."

So here's another puzzle: provide historical examples of an "inward-looking theocracy" which was "fiecely exclusive" and that held "church and state are inseparable", in which women are "less than equal to men generally", and in which "even the most extreme violence is justifiable when applied in pursuit of approved ... ends"?

Again, my thoughts in the comments.


Seneca the Younger said...

It seems there are plenty of historical examples: Ming dynasty China, the Tokugawa Shogunate. But what stikes me most is the Dark Ages in Europe, say from Charlemagne to, oh, Galileo and Giordano Bruno.

Skookumchuk said...

Tokugawa Japan? Inward looking, though maybe not really a theocracy the way we mean it here. Church and state inseparable, women less equal than men. Extreme violence - maybe, though not an expansionist, conquering violence.

The Aztecs would qualify.

Skookumchuk said...

I wouldn't quite agree about the Middle Ages either, or at least not about the time period you've specified. Certainly folks like the Cathars got the short end of the stick, but there was much more intellectual ferment and inquiry than is generally thought. Jean Buridan, Nicholas of Cusa, all the medieval travelers, open to the world. The various monastic orders, each emphasizing something a bit different, all co-existing happily. Not so intolerant and not a monolith.

The Nazis? Yes on all counts except they didn't exactly subjugate women. Yes, women were supposed to produce Nazi ubermenschen warriors, but women were not slaves.

I think we have to step outside of the Western tradition entirely to see anything analogous.

The Aztecs in my mind come closest.

Seneca the Younger said...

I dunno, Skook. My first impulse was to run it up to the Hundred Years War, or even Martin Luther and the Reformation.

I'd argue that Japan up to at least the Meiji, and perhaps even up to MacAthur, was a theocracy in effect, because the Mikado's real role is not ruler, but High Priest. But legitimacy of any government in Japan was always conveyed by the Imperial House.

Skookumchuk said...


Certainly medieval Europe was a theocracy. But there was a "render unto Caesar" separation of Church and State. Not in our accepted post-Enlightenment sense of the word, but there were always two poles of attraction - the ruler, and the Church. So you could always hike off to Iona or Subiaco and illuminate some manuscripts or learn Greek and in effect tell the State and the warriors to get stuffed.

My point being that even at its most inchoate, medieval society was never in the grip of a totalist ideology, not in the sense of the great 20th Century tyrannies that obliterated all distinction between private and public, between secular and religious.

The same applied - to a degree - in Byzantium, though the relationship between Church and State was much closer.

And between Islam and the State it apparently seems closer still.

Rick Ballard said...

The Barons at Runnymeade were operating under theocractic control? I never realized that.

Skookumchuk said...


Bingo. No, they were not. Not only that, but the Magna Carta was only one of several such attempts to battle growing centralized kingly power. A success, especially in retrospect, since it led to greater things.

We could say medieval Europe was theocratic in the sense that there was only one Catholic faith. But there were many branches on the tree. And there was always a tension between the secular and the religious, reaching a high point with guys like Innocent III.

Not uniform, not monolithic. I once had a history professor who wrote biographies of William the Silent and of Louis XIV tell me as we discussed Stalinist Russia one day after class "I would much prefer to be medieval than to be modern." I know exactly what he meant.

Skookumchuk said...

That is why from what little we know, the Aztecs to my mind are the closest analogues to Islam. A theocracy, fiercely exclusive, where women were less equal than men, and where extreme violence, directed inward and outward was not only justifiable, but the norm. A theocracy with a divine monarch and his warrior-priests, all soaked in blood.

Their ideology held all of Mesoamerica in terror. So much so that a few hundred guys, relatively few on horses, with armor and castoff weapons half a century out of date (in fact, at one point, they tried without success to build a catapult) were able to generate an Indian uprising throughout Mesoamerica that quickly led to the Aztec's downfall.

But Islam holds sway over a billion people.

terrye said...

Oh I don't know there was a time in the Dark Ages when an over fondness for her housecat and a knowledge of pagan medicine could get a woman burned at the stake.

And if I remember right Henry V111 made himself both head of Church and state, but it could be argued that was expediency... Martin Luther once said that a woman had only half the soul that a man did because that was all that was necessary for the child bearing.

The Knights of Templar were put to death by a jealous French King with blessing of the Pope.

The age of Reason and the Enlightenment together with the fact that centuries of bloody religious wars had decimated the population and wrecked nations lead to a change, but it was not a sudden change.

I do think the Aztecs would fit this bill as well.

Rick Ballard said...

It wasn't the Black Death then? I mean the decimation of population that increased the wealth of the abbeys until they became too tempting a target for Henry VII? The Black Death that preceded the wars of the reformation that began well into the age of "enlightenment and reason"?

Myths are wonderful things, except when they aren't.

chuck said...

But what stikes me most is the Dark Ages in Europe, say from Charlemagne to, oh, Galileo and Giordano Bruno.

I think this is a stretch. Copernicus, for instance, was a canon of the Catholic Church. As to Kepler:

Ten years prior to Galileo, Johannes Kepler
published a heliocentric work that expanded on Copernicus’ work. As a result, Kepler also found opposition among his fellow Protestants for his heliocentric views and found a welcome reception among some Jesuits who were known for their scientific achievements.

And don't forget the very clever Gregorian Calender. I would argue that the Catholic Church was positive intellectual force during the Renaissance. The reaction came later and I suppose was connected to events during the Reformation.

IANAH (I am not a historian)

Seneca the Younger said...

The Barons at Runnymeade were operating under theocractic control? I never realized that.

Britain is in Europe?

You're right, i'm thinking of continental Europe. The british were a very different situation, although the status of bishops and archibishops as feudal lords is still reflected in the composition of the House of Lords today.

Skookumchuk said...


The Inquisition put to death between 50,000 and 150,000 people over the course of three centuries. Even the French Terror only killed several thousands.

Peanuts compared to the everyday brutalities of the 20th Century.

If I were offered the choice of being a peasant in medieval Burgundy or a peasant in the Ukraine in 1930, I know which life I'd pick.


Nicholas of Cusa, a medieval Neoplatonic philosopher, postulated an infinite universe. In fact, a central point of the Neoplatonists was the exaltation of the Sun to its "proper" central place in the Universe.

And yes, Luther was quite hostile.

Copernicus thought that the planetary orbits were circles. "Perfect" circles, as it were. The problem is that if they are circles, you need lots of epicycles and deferents to explain things like retrograde planetary motion; some Copernican models were thus mechanically more complex than the Ptolemaic ones. This was one of the main objections to the Copernican theory, aside from the theology. You had to jettison the entire Aristotelian cosmos. And academic types as a rule don't like to do that sort of thing.

It had to wait for Kepler, the Galilean observation that Jupiter has moons, and possibly that Venus has phases (though there is some controversy about that also being explainable in a Ptolemaic system), to prove the theory.

Seneca the Younger said...

Skook, we seem to be arguing over boundaries. We agree that medieval Europe was a theocracy. We agree that it stopped sometime. I suggest that theocracy in Europe effectively ended with the Reformation, although I might buy the plague years as an effective end. On the other hand, the Papal States were a theocracy both in law and in fact up to 1870.

As far as being uniform and monolithic, it's not as if Islam and the various Islamic States are either uniform or monolithic: not when you have to include Iran and Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Morrocco, Turkey and Albania and Bosnia. If we consider all those monolithic, surely we have to consider the Europe of the Tirty Years War monolithic, even with the separation and conflict between the Lutherans and Catholics.

In any case, my underlying point is this: I think Islam is very likely in its own Dark Ages, dating roughly from the time that open inquiry and science moved up to Europe. I can't remember the exact date, but there was a time when the University in Cairo stopped teaching anything but the Qur'an --- maybe at the end of the Fatimid Dynasty? I'm not sure. But assuming that Islam can't have their own Renaissance seems ahistorical.

Rick Ballard said...


You're conflating Lords Spritual (who serve while holding ecclesiastical office) with Lords Temporal (who serve for life). They represent two different estates and the Lords Spirtual did not have an obligation of fealty to the King (a problem which Henry VIII resolved rather decisively - but well after the Middle Ages) and thus not feudal lords at all. The different estates were also separated (to a greater or lesser extent) in most of Europe.

chuck said...

Even the French Terror only killed several thousands.

About 14,000 in Paris and other cities, I believe, and some 200,000 in the Vendee. They were also going to cleanse Alsace-Lorraine by eliminating the German speakers but didn't get around to it.

chuck said...

We agree that medieval Europe was a theocracy.

I don't think so, not a theocracy as I understand it where the chief religious figure, the Pope, rules. There was a lot of politics around the Papacy, but the Pope didn't rule Europe anymore than the medieval kings did. The Barons and Earls were almost kingdoms unto themselves until the time of Phillip II, Louis XIII, and Richelieu. Charles I cleverly managed to cut short, so to speak, similar developments in England. The idea of divine right didn't last long and the need of the secular authorities for religious dispensation didn't amount to much.

Skookumchuk said...


Yes, the Vendee. I had forgotten. Still relatively small potatoes in a 20th Century context.

not a theocracy as I understand it where the chief religious figure, the Pope, rules.

True again. I was using the term to describe a society having only one accepted religion, with penalties of one sort or another for deviating from that religion, which is not the same thing as rule by a religious leader.


we seem to be arguing over boundaries.

Agreed. And agreed also that there have been many Islams. I hope I didn't say that Islam is monolithic, in the sense that Stalin's Russia was monolithic.

Indonesians for example used to be quite synchretic in their beliefs, Mohammed with a bit of Buddha thrown in for good measure.

Used to be. That isn't the way the wind is blowing now.

And there is also the difference between a personal faith that allows one to pick and choose (the old Indonesia) and a society that has experienced the intellectual transformations of a Reformation and an Enlightenment.

terrye said...

I beg to differ. This is not myth. Yes the black death killed people off. So did the floods that preceded it. So did the incessant warring.

For centuries the Europeans fought wars that left the population decimated. When warfare goes on for generations and people are left eating pumpkin soup while one army after another plunders and pillages the countryside it kind of slows down the birth rate.

It was not so long ago Catholics and Protestants fought in the streets of major European cities.

And then there was the blood libel myths against the Jews that lead to periodic purges in both Britain and Europe.

chuck said...

Used to be. That isn't the way the wind is blowing now.

Agree with this. I have the impression that theocracy in Islam is a new thing, come to first fruition in Iran. One could argue that Mohammed was both the religious and temporal head of early Islam, but since then Islam has had no central religious authority. My impression is that the Muslim rulers operated in the standard way, extending their power to obtain wealth, slaves, and soldiers which they then used to extend their power further. Such is the way of kings. Islam may have been the majority religion in the conquered realms after about 1000AD, and Islam certainly prescribed certain laws, but I don't think those ancient states could be described as theocracies.

Summary: theocracy is a modern concept and a branch of the totalitarian tree that grew in the twentieth century. So I too agree with Skook's professor.

Rick Ballard said...


I suppose that it would be rather simple for the ME to return to a more secular type of society. It was certainly headed in that direction until the French nurtured snake Khomeini was returned to Iran - after 'Carter the Cretin' talked Pahlavi into letting go.

I doubt that a return to secularism would even necessitate the measures imposed by Attaturk - although it would go more quickly were they utilized.

Islam was initiated as a cover for thieves, it's the thieves who determine how thick the cover must be.

Have you ever wondered if Ho Chi Minh dealt with the same Frenchmen as did Khomeini?

loner said...

I'm enjoying the direction this thread has taken, but I don't have the time to properly respond to some of the more interesting things which have been written. So...my comment elsewhere from sometime in November 2003 in response to the suggestion that what was needed now was a reformation in Islam (that may be what is happening, by the way):

It's important to remember that at one time Christianity, too, was a deeply conservative and "unreformable" religion which was against scientific inquiry, asking uncomfortable questions, heterodoxy, and had a serious and deadly prejudice against Jews. Yet when that orthodoxy cracked, we had the glories of the Raniassance in Italy and the beginnings of the great opening of the West. Who's to say that the same cannot take place in the Islamic world over the next 100 years?

I can, because that isn’t really what happened. After all, Da Vinci died two years after Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Palast Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Machiavelli died within 10 years and the Italian Renaissance was over, for all intents and purposes, less than 20 years after those most famous of all postings--the 95 that proved to be the watershed event of the Protestant Reformation. Scientific inquiry would effectively come to an end in Italy in 1633 when the forces of religious reaction showed the instruments of torture to Galileo and he abjured regarding the theories of Copernicus.

Just this weekend in the LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW there appeared a review of SHAKESPEARE by Michael Wood. The review includes the story of Ann Line, the only woman known to have been executed under Queen Elizabeth for religious reasons. New scholarship suggests that she and her husband Roger were the inspiration for Shakespeare’s THE PHOENIX AND THE TURTLE. It also suggests that Shakespeare lived and died a Papist, something that could easily have led to an early and particularly gruesome execution of the greatest writer the West has known had his religious beliefs been generally known at the time.

And, of course, there was the culminating event of that first 100 years in Christian reformation: The Thirty Years’ War. There may have been a more devastating war in human history, but there was certainly no more devastating a religious war. When it was all over the biggest loser was Christianity. It was the final nail in the coffin of the Age of Faith and one of the watershed events in the ushering in of the Age of Reason.

And through it all and well beyond the Jews were regularly persecuted by Christians--reformed and otherwise.

One of the last things, maybe even THE last thing, we need right now is some sort of reformation in Islam. What we need, and what we’ll hopefully get, is an unrelenting effort to convince the leaders and peoples of the Middle East that continued, for lack of a better term, westernization will ultimately be more beneficial than it will be detrimental to their way of life.

terrye said...


Yes, I think you are right. This kind of threocracy we see today is different and it began with the Islamic Revolution. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a wonderful book and the author expresses very well the change that came about after the Revolution.

loner said...

Government itself, which is the most unnatural and necessary of social mechanisms, has usually required the support of piety and the priest, as clever heretics like Napoleon and Mussolini soon discovered; and hence "a tendency to theocracy is incidental to all constitutions."

—Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage

Theocracy, no doubt, predates recorded history. It's just outside the norm in this age of the world.

Another science fiction favorite begins:

It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation he returned from the Golden Cloud, to take up again the gauntlet of Heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so. His followers had prayed for his returned, though their prayers were sin. Prayer should not trouble one who has gone on to Nirvana, no matter what the circumstances of his going. The weavers of the saffron robe prayed, however, that He of the Sword, Manjusri, should come again among them. The Boddhisatva is said to have heard...

—Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

I'll say nothing regarding the origins of these gods should any or all not have read the book, but they (and their creator) know human beings only too well.

chuck said...

Theocracy, no doubt, predates recorded history.

I am somewhat struck by a resemblence of Lenin's tomb and Mao's mausoleum to the pyramids. The latter will no doubt last longer and are more attractive, but the progressive appointment with death and the afterlife seems not to have advanced much over the 4,800 year old third dynasty.

I think presidential libraries are another manifestation of the persistent desire rulers have to immortalize themselves in architecture. Here, note the progression of styles from the Hoover through the Clinton libraries. Reagan's seems a bit of a throwback. I wonder if this could be called the Third Dynasty of American history, the First Dynasty lasting up to the Civil War, and the third beginning in 1929?

Luther McLeod said...

Good point on the libraries Chuck.

Honestly, going back to my liberal days, I remember being very disconcerted when Nixon put the pointy hats on the White House guards.

Having visited the A. Jackson home last month, I was struck by how simple it was, really. Overdone for the neighbors perhaps, but tasteful none the less. Not much pretense, but befitting an important, yet, at heart, common man.

As far as the topic, other than Skook's example (Aztec's), I can think of no other period (in Europe) that equals the present state of islamic totalitarianism, when it is allowed to flourish.

Rick Ballard said...


Calvin's Geneva, perhaps. The Inca under Atahualpa for sure. The Mayans, perhaps. It depends upon who selcts the judges and who has the power to appoint the leader.

Right now only Iran in the ME is a true theocracy. The imams in Saudi are selected by the royal family - not vice versa. Certainly the Ottoman empire was not a theocracy - the sultans selected the imams and crossing a sultan could cost an imam his head. I still maintain that Islam is the tool of the despot - in that respect it is no different than communism and in that respect it is very much a totalitarian system.

That's why I would agree with Loner that reform of Islam isn't a worthy objective while encouraging secularization is very worthwhile.

Luther McLeod said...


Did I write something that implied other than that islam is a totalitarian system?

Now here I admit my ignorance. I cannot argue the particulars of European history.

I will just say, if theocracy had ever held major sway in Europe, the world would be different.

Our Greco/Roman heritage, in the end, delivered. Trials and tribulations a plenty, and still ongoing. But the concept of "free man" endured. And, I hope, shall continue.

As to reform and secularization, could you please explain the difference, and realistically, how that might occur.

Syl said...

Islam is not monolithic, and that is the problem. Which 'sect' is in the transcendency is. And that's what we're dealing with today.

Michale Totten interview of a Kurdish Islamist

Syl said...

er is ascendent, or whatever.

Luther McLeod said...


Your link is inoperative. Looking forward to a discussion on "sects."

chuck said...

Luther, Syl is linking to this article.

Luther McLeod said...

Thanks Chuck.

Luther McLeod said...

Re Syl's link, interesting read and food for thought, as Totten usually is. But yet, such a distinct minority he is talking with. Hope for the future? I suppose. But I still hold to my doubts.

Skookumchuk said...

There are a few more things about medieval Europe that are worth mentioning. First, part of the discussion with my professor that I mentioned above centered around the fact that a medieval person lived in a world of multiple, overlapping allegiances - to his family, perhaps to his clan, to his lord, to his Lord, his parish, perhaps his guild, and that these were overlapping and sometimes at odds. And medieval man thought that this made for a fuller life and protected him, or at least helped to check forces normally outside his control. This in contrast to the 20th Century and its totalist systems. We may think of the Middle Ages as being backward, but it was not totalitarian.

The second point is that from before the time of Charlemagne, academics were intensely interested in reconstructing, in relearning, the rich Greco-Roman past that had been destroyed. And not simply interested in a parasitic or narrowly focused way. Not simply to rediscover how to place a keystone in an arch, or how to make an Archimedean screw. In other words, unlike the present rulers of Iran, whose interest in the West seemingly begins and ends with how to make an atomic bomb.

The medieval rediscovery went much deeper than that, to encompass art, law, philosophy. It was therefore qualitatively different than the interest shown by the Islamfascists in modern technology while scorning the rest of the Western achievement. The monks of medieval Europe did not scorn the rest. They admired it. Admired it with a caveat, in that the creators of these wonders were not Christian, but admire them they did. So for centuries monks were puzzling over things like which translation of Aristotle from the Greek or the Arabic was best, which version of the Aeneid was most likely to be closest to the truth. Above all, it is important to remember that this admiration was for the intellectual and artistic achievements of an idealized non-Christian past. An admiration sustained over many centuries. And in fact this was a recurrent philosophical theme - how could these people have produced works of such overpowering wisdom and beauty and not be Christian? Therefore, the other has value after all.

Fertile soil, in other words, for the birth of science and the burst of philosophical creativity in the following centuries.

truepeers said...

What if there's no such thing as Christian theocracy?

Just because some ruler calls himself Christian and supports the church we should believe there is? Don't we have to pay some attention to the nature of Jesus' revelation before we go about so labelling? Would Jesus have given the time of day to many a medieval bishop? Would Mohammed have gotten along with the average Muslim lord? It seems to me there is a heckuva lot of difference between Jesus' and Mohammed's revelations, which makes assumptions that Islam will develop similarly to Christendom, if only later, dubious.

As I understand history, all classical civilizations have a lot in common in terms of the logic of rule. Classical civilization is kind of totalitarian, in the sense that there is only one communal scene on which all the action takes place and on which everyone finds himself. It is a scene largely controlled by lords of one kind or another, lords who control the granaries and hence the modest surplus that makes the civilizaiton possible.

The revolution that really matters is the multiplication of scenes and the liberating of individuals from the public scence controlled by the lords. This process is exemplified by Shakespeare and Hamlet's play within a play: the birthplace of a new kind of modern, romantic, individualizing consciousness.

The neoclassical revolution in the west - which entailed the integration of Christianity and classical learning and the consequent proliferatio of private and personal scenes increasingly detached from the public scene and increasingly attached to a free market - entailed a flourishing of CHristian thought and practice, all the more so for its integration with non-Christian thought from many worlds, from classical Greece to the information turned up by anthropological expeditions to the primitie tribes.

In my opinion, the Christian revelation was far too radical to get anywhere much in its first 1500 or so years. I do not consider medieval Europe to have been a particularly Christian civilization, though of course I know the role the church played there, the great energy put into buildign Cathedrals, etc.

Rather, I consider the west of the last 500 or so years to exemplify Christian civilization, which while maintaining a tradition of faith is also is an inherently secularizing force: Christianity with its assimilation of God to man and its critique of sacrificial violence erodes its own institutional power as much as do the so-called post-Christians who are just taking the radicalism inherent in Christianity another step.

The modern free marketplace - where the price of goods and services bears no relationship to the social positions of those engaged in exchange, e.g. where knowing the merchant's brother in politics, or being his godfather protector, does not get you a discount - is the worldly approximation of the Christian kingdom and Jesus' call to maximize human reciprocity. No marketplace like this existed on earth before about 300 years ago. Its radicalism can only be explained, it seems to me, with reference to Christianity. Much that goes by the name of the Englightenment was a case of continental philosophers plotting out, in a secular metaphysics, what had already happened much more organically in Christian Britain to make it the world-leading nation by the start of the 18th century.

Rick Ballard said...

"Did I write something that implied other than that islam is a totalitarian system?"

Nope, I didn't mean to imply that you did. I just gave a few more examples of theocratic governance - and I would still argue that Calvin's Geneva is a decent example of a functional theocracy. The Roman church did not control the levers of power in any European country to the extent that theocracy overrode the nobility or the monarchy. Very, very few of the laity were ever judged in an ecclesiastical court, primarily because those courts did not have any jurisdiction. Nor could bishops levy taxes or raise armies. That's why I said that Iran is the only ME country even today that is a theocracy. The rest of the ME is a mishmash of monarchies and socialist republics. The despots wrap themselves in Islam as it suits them - much as Christian 'nobility' did in the past.


Very nice summation. The work done in the abbeys and monasteries was amazing and there would have been no Renaissance without it. It's good to remember that most of the nobility of the Medieval period were ignorant louts who considered reading and writing to be beneath them. The division of temporal and spiritual was quite clear and historians have chosen to focus upon the temporal for the most part. Shoddy work but very understandable if you're peddling the concept that there was a magical Day 1 of Enlightment from a fantasized Dark Age.

loner said...


Thanks for the library link. Someday I'll get myself up to the Reagan Library. Everybody I know who's been there has nice things to say.


That is all very interesting, but you're leaving a few thing out and as I have Jacob Bronowski beside me I'll let him do the honors:

In the Middle Ages the ladder of promotion was through the Church; there was no other way for a clever, poor boy to go up. And at the end of the ladder there is always the image, the icon of the godhead that says, 'Now you have reached the last commandment: Thou shalt not question'.

For instance, when Erasmus was left an orphan in 1480 he had to prepare for a career in the Church. The services then were as beautiful then as now. Erasmus himself may have taken part in the moving Mass Cum Giubilate of the fourteenth century, which I have heard in a church that is even older, San Pietro in Gropina. But the monk's life was for Erasmus an iron door closed against knowledge. Only when Erasmus read the classics for himself, in defiance of orders, did the world open for him. 'A heathen wrote this to a heathen,' he said, 'yet it has justice, sanctity, truth. I can hardly refrain from saying "Saint Socrates, pray for me!"'

When Francois Rabelais died seventeen years after Erasmus in 1553 his alleged last words were: I am going to seek a grand perhaps; draw the curtain, the farce is played. In other news, the Middle Ages were over, Christianity was "reforming" and declining as a temporal power and it had been one hundred years since the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

So take me back to Constantinople.
No, you can't go back to Constantinople.
Been a long time gone, Constantinople.
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.

Skookumchuk said...


On top of the towers of Laon Cathedral, builders who were appreciative for the work done by their oxen in hauling stone blocks, carved humorous faces of oxen peering down from the towers. This was common. Little bits of humor, of the common human experience, poking through here and there, presumably being seen by the superintendent and the architect and the abbot himself - and allowed to stand.

Can you imagine something like this on, oh, Lenin's Tomb? Or on any official building in Beijing? That is one of the many differences between that age and ours.

The fact that the horrors of totalitarianism are so recent, so unatoned for by the intellectual classes, the fact that I can stop in a cheesy store next to any college campus in America and pick up t-shirts of the murderers and copies of their little red books, while the essential humanity of the medieval experience goes unnoticed, gives me cause for concern and indicates how much work remains to be done.


Only when Erasmus read the classics for himself, in defiance of orders, did the world open for him.

That sounds like a myth. People read the classics all the time. All those monks, hunched over their desks, translating and analyzing everything they could lay their hands on for centuries on end. That is the only reason why many of these works have survived at all.

'A heathen wrote this to a heathen,' he said, 'yet it has justice, sanctity, truth. I can hardly refrain from saying "Saint Socrates, pray for me!"'

And that is what I was referring to - the belief, the certainty, that the non-Christian Other also had value. And that didn't start when some Reformation struck Europe like a thunderbolt. It started a long time before that.

And we must remember that despite this saying, which could have been uttered by a dozen medieval natural philosophers, Erasmus was a deeply committed Christian who saw his life's tragedy as his being unable to help keep Christianity, the old res publica cristiana, together.

loner said...


Nice try. Answer a question for me. Were any books authored by Erasmus ever on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum? Or don't. We both know the answer. Good night.

Skookumchuk said...


Nice try. Answer a question for me. Were any books authored by Erasmus ever on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum? Or don't. We both know the answer. Good night.

"Or don't?" What do you know of me? And why on God's earth would I be somehow afraid to answer you?

Before we proceed with any more of our little conversations, you need to answer that question to my own satisfaction.

Of course they were on the list, absolutely. But I wasn't talking about the official attitudes of early modern Catholic bureaucracy when challenged by Protestantism.

I was talking about the prior medieval clerical rediscovery of the ancient world, a rediscovery that took many centuries and that was, given that this body of knowledge was not Christian, studied and examined and pieces alternately accepted and rejected over many centuries, in a wide variety of theological climates and in many subsets of the various Western cultures. Why should we expect the official Church reactions to this learning to remain invariant over time?

My point is that many medieval scholars experienced the same ethical and theological dilemmas as did Erasmus. How could they not? But investigation there was. By the way, in the medieval world, your chances of being punished for independent thinking were less than later, in the middle of implacable religious war.

loner said...


Where did I suggest you might be "afraid" to answer me? And I didn't write that what you wrote was incorrect. I wrote that it was incomplete.

The totalitarians of the last century were able to kill so many so systematically largely because of scientific and technological advances. Of course, with all those murders the estimated number of human beings on the planet at the end of the last century was something over six billion, nearly a four-fold increase on what it was at the beginning of the century. This also was largely due to scientific and technological advances. Essential humanity by century or centuries? Can the 20th really be beat?

chuck said...

Can the 20th really be beat?

I think there is something missing from the human experience despite all the progress, disasters, and genocides of the twentieth century. Marx pointed at anomie, and I think this observation of his still stands. There is a spiritual side of life that has gone missing, and that loss drove the legions of folk caught up in the various totalitarian cures. At the base, I suspect that communism, fascism, nazism, islamism were all attempts to add a spiritual side to modernity, too make modern life happier and deeper. Qutb was certainly aware of the problems posed by modernity, which is why he sought answers in the Quran.

I believe the spiritual problem remains unsolved. Is militant feminism the best way for women to live? Does it lead to the greatest satisfaction? How about the "if it feels good, do it" approach? Psychodelics and eastern religions likewise failed to bring the hoped for satisfactions. There is room out there for a new religious movement but I don't see any prophets on the horizon.