book review · Evolution · history · Learning · Philosophy · politics

A brief history of Christianity (part 4 of 4)

Based on the book Dominion by Tom Holland, this post covers the period of the Enlightenment c 1750 through to the modern Era

A Jewish student of Manasseh, Baruch Spinoza, expelled by the Jewish synagogue in Amserdam, in 1656, writes a book, his Theological-Political Treatise in defence of religious liberty. He brought a new philosophy, that God was not beyond the laws that governed the universe, but that God was the whole universe. He argued against many basic Christian beliefs such as the trinity, Christ’s divinity, the authority of scripture. He argued that that ministers of sacred things should not be allowed to make decrees or handle the business of government. But he argued very much in favour of the New Testament teaching of Paul when writing to the Galatians (5:22) the idea of true liberty found in the light and ‘fruits of love, joy, peace long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’. By 1674 his book is banned and he is considered by many to be ‘the chief atheist of our age’.

Voltaire, frances most admired writer, baptised a Catholic and educated by nuns, views the Catholic church as an abomination. Denis Diderot, another philosopher, labels him admiringly as the anti-Christ. Increasingly he, with the foremost thinkers of the age view the church with its superstitions and unwarranted privileged as anethema. Despite admiring the tolerance in England, Voltaire is convinced Christian sects will always persecute each other. He still claimed worship God, but ‘a Just God whose acts are beyond human comprehension’, free of any particular religion.

Others went further claiming in blatant atheism, for example in an anonymous Treatise of the Three Impostors, also known as he Spirit of Spinoza, a mythical book title appropriated by several authors from the 13th to the 17th century, reappears in 1719 claiming that Jesus, Moses and Muhammed are all derided as impostors.

By 1753 people start popularising history as having distinct ages, referring to the Middle ages, that it was Luther who banished the shadows from the world corrupted by the Popery of the Catholic Church ushering in the Reformation. And now a new Age of Enlightenment lead by reason.

In 1783 George Washington hails the United States as a monument to enlightenment: ‘The foundation of our empire, was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than ever before’.

In America New England provided its model of democracy and Pennsylvania its model for tolerance. ‘That all men are created equal, and endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we hold self-evident.’ These were built on fundamentally Christian beliefs. ‘The genius of the authors of the United States Constitution was to garb in the robes of Enlightenment the radical Protestantism that was the prime religious inheritance of their fledgling nation.’ No one represent this better than Benjamin Franklin, one of the authors of the US Declaration of Independence and the US constitution who was born in the Puritan homeland of Boston, New England and ran away to the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia with his lifelong admiration of Puritan discipline, his liberal theological views through to his publication of Benjamin Lays exhortations against slavery.

Along comes the French Revolution of 1789, enlivened by the Spirit of Enlightenment, France was to be ruled by new philosophers. Many wanted to sweep away Christianity completely, the counting of years was restarted at the start of the revolution and Sunday’s were to be swept away. ‘In the pagan world, a spirit of toleration and gentleness had ruled all. It was this that the sinister triumph of Christianity had blotted out. Fanaticism had prevailed.’ Now the revolution would change that. But the founding documents of the new republic were built on the example of the US and Christian thinkers : ‘the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.’ As much as the thinkers of this age claimed to harken back to the period pre Christianity, the democracies of Ancient Greece and Rome, their true foundations lay in Christian thinking from the Cannon lawyers of the Middle Ages about the value and rights of the individual. (This declaration also restored he rights of full citizenship to the Jews).

And even in their fervour to separate church from state, their violent actions harkened back to the same actions that the Church had taken in establishing its authority: Maximilien Robespierre leader of the revolution, once an opponent of the death penalty now lead a bloody revolution set on the execution of the king and the nobility, purifying the nation of all the taint of what had gone before in a very familiar pattern. In echoes of the slaughter of the Crusade against Beziers the revolutionaries marching to pacify the town of Vendee in 1794 are told ‘skew with your bayonets all the inhabitants you encounter along the way. I know there may be a few patriots in this region – it matters not, we must sacrifice all.’ A quarter of a million civilians end up dead.

Following on from the revolution there is much enthusiasm for pre Christian symbols: the revolutionary leaders model themselves of Cicero, and much like Ancient Rome, France ends up with a military dictatorship, with Napoleon modelling himself on Caesar, taking on the title of emperor (of France, not the Holy Roman Emperor) complete with laurel wreath and eagle banners.

In 1806 the last of the Holy Roman emperors Francis the II abdicates, bring to an end the lineage since Otto the Great as Napoleon disrupts Europe. By 1814 the monarchy is restored in France in the Bourbon Restoration, but this time as a constitutional monarchy, unable to roll back many of the changes wrought by the revolution and Napoleon. A monarchy continues until 1848, when the French Second Republic is formed under a President Louise-Napoleon Bonaparte (who then goes on to declare himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852 until 1870) before the Third French Republic from 1870.

Slavery continues to be a key issue. The passages of the bible that appear to sanction slavery continue to be used by the southern United States , and the West Indies. But the tide is rising against it. To be a Quaker or a Baptist or an Anglican was to understand the Good News, that God was a not only the God of Justice but also of Love. ‘Slavery was ever detestable in the eyes of God’. In 1807 Britain passes the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, though other nations were slower to come around. In 1815, eight powers in Europe sign a declaration stating that slavery is repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality. Human Rights were increasingly the values that Europe promoted to the world.

Prussia had been key in defeating Napoleon and at the Conference of Vienna the focus is on redrawing the map of Europe. Frederich Wilhelm the King of Prussia, in the face of potential revolution in 1848 is forced to concede a constitution entitling male citizens to vote for parliament and granting equal citizenship to Jews.

An interesting concept that becomes more widely applied in contexts it had not previously been applied is that of the separation of religion and the secular. For example the Jews are now unified by a religion termed Judaism, rather than being a people where the religion and culture were not really differentiated. The Jewish Law was not the law of the countries they live in. This lead to the development of a split amongs Jewish thinkers with the Jewish ‘Reformed’ branch (emphasising faith over Law) and ‘orthodox’ branch (emphasising the definitiveness of Mosaic Law) (I am not very clear here on the exact differences in thinking that lead to this split). Similarly in India the people had no word or concept of religion, but the British imposed a separation between the state and the beliefs that they termed the ‘Hindoo religion’.

Despite the European attempts to halt Slavery it is an ongoing issue. In 1842, this is taken a step further when an American Diplomat defines slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’, the first time this term is used. While it is increasingly halted in the West, it is still common place in

Muslim countries had a different view. Slavery is licensed by Muhammed in the Qur’an and the Sunna, the Islamic collection of traditions and practices. There are more slaves exported from Africa to the Muslim world than were exported to the New World. The British continue to push Morocco and the Ottoman Empire to abolish slavery. In 1854, when the Ottomans need financial assistance due to a series of financial and military crises, the price is the abolishment of slavery and the jizya, the financial tax on Jews and Christians that reached back to the beginnings of Islam. Of course banishing slavery does nothing to dampen Britain’s expansionary colonisation policies, with the typical justification that the barbarians will be better off under their ‘civilising’ rule.

In 1861, the secession of the southern states of the United States from the Union to form the Confederacy over the issue of slavery leads to the Civil War. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln issues a proclamation declairing all Slaves on confederate territory to be free.

In 1859 Charles Darwin, the grandson of two prominent abolitionists, publishes the Origin of Species, promulgating the theory of evolution ‘One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, like the strongest love and the weakest die.’ Of course people were already struggling with the conflict between the age of dinosaur fossils versus the age of the world according to the scriptures. Now there was a direct challenge to the narrative that Man and Women were created in God’s image. In addition the very essence of natural selection of survival of the fittest was a challenge to Christian belief in part because of its contrast to Jesus’s teaching that there might be strength in weakness, victory in defeat and that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Thomas Henry Huxley is a huge champion of science ‘In matters of intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstratable’. This was what he described as the principle of ‘agnosticism’. As before thinkers of the new Age of Enlightenment attempted to paint the new thinking as a contrast to the previous thinking, picking out the example of Galileo that the Church had opposed all science and that some how in past more enlightened times the ancient Greeks and Romans had allowed science to flourish.

Also in terms of sexuality the new age started to rethink things. Homosexuality was a term first coined in 1869 in Prussian morality writing. Why in seeming defiance of Darwin’s law did some choose to sleep with people of their own sex? German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing studied sexuality. He came to the view that homosexuality should not be regarded as a sin but as an ‘immutable condition’, and that the correct Christian response should be one of generosity and compassion. He argued that sodomy should be decriminalised and that ‘homosexuals are no less familiar with the noblest inspirations of the heart than any married couple.’

Capitalism vs Communism vs Fascism in the 20th century

The theory of evolution led to some radical different concepts when different thinkers extrapolated what it meant for society.

Andrew Carnegie, Scottish immigrant, rose to dominate the American steel industry and become one of the wealthiest men alive. Applied evolution to capitalism, believing indiscriminate charity served no purpose but to subsidise the lazy and the drunk. ‘In days when men acted by ecclesiastical rules these prejudices produced waste of capital, and helped mightily to replunge Europe into barbarism,’ said Yale professor William Graham Sumner. But, in Carnegie’s view, that charity was only pointless if it failed to help the poor to help themselves. His objective was to help the poor become rich ‘The best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise’. He went on to find many community libraries, schools, parks and endowments which last to this day. (There are many examples around London actually for example on the Isle of Dogs in east london a poor area, there is a library sponsored by Carnegie).

At the other end of the spectrum, was Karl Marx the grandson of a rabbi and son of a Lutheran convert, he was exiled from the Rhineland for mocking the religiosity of Frederich Wilhelm IV.

‘Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution as it applies to organic matter, so Marx discovered the law of evolution as it applies to human history,’ so it was said at his funeral in 1883. He believed that over time different classes of society had emerged. Exploitation become the norm. The struggle between the rich and the poor became an unforgiving tale of greed and acquisition. Under the likes of Carnegie it Capitalism became as pitiless as never before, workers were reduced to machines. Marx believed that ultimately this must lead to a great climactic class struggle inwhich capitalism would devour itself and there would emerge a class-less society. Within such a society there was no need for God. Religion was a mechanism of the exploitative class, a stage in the development of the human mind, a snake skin that could now be cast off. ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ was the belief he developed, eerily reminiscent of the early Christian society in the Book of Acts. Throughout history the early church has inspired radicals looking for this holy society. While his theories sounded scientific they continually painted a picture of cosmic forces of a good communal society and an evil and greedy society based on capitalism.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, or Lenin, took up these beliefs most literally, believing that Capitalism was doomed to fail, the workers of the world or ‘proletariat’ were destined to inherit the earth as the gap widened between ‘the handful of arrogant millionaires who wallow in filth and luxury, and the millions of working people who constantly live on the verge of pauperism.’ Religion, the opiate of the masses, needed to be eradicated. Oppression had to be eliminated but his belief that the end justified the means split the ranks of Marx’s followers, with those following Lenin calling themselves ‘the Bolsheviks’ or ‘the Majority’.

In philosophy in 1882 Frederich Nietzsche proclaims ‘God is dead’. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor, a professor by 24, resigning at 34 and then having a mental breakdown and dying in 1900. Not well known during his life, his writings become more popular after his death. More than Spinoza, Darwin or Marx he is the bastion of atheism. He rejected not only Christianity but also some of their associated virtues: ‘such phantoms as the dignity of man, the dignity of labour. Concern for the lowly and suffering is a form of poison. Helping and caring for others, being of use to others, constantly excites a sense of power. Charity in Christendom had become a means to dominate.’ A society focused on the feeble was a society enfeebled itself. He believed that there was no truth, no value, no meaning in itself – and that only be acknowledging this would man cease to be a slave.

By the 1910 Prussia became the centre of a German Empire with a Kaiser (modelled on Caesar). France and Britain push back on the expansion of the Prussian empire and are mired in the standoff of World War One. In the battle of the Somme there are a million casualties.

In November to December 1917 in Palestine, the British win a battle against then Turks of the Ottoman Empire and take back Jerusalem. The British Foreign Secretary issues a declaration supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land, a development many Christians believed would herald the return of Christ.

At the end of the war the Kaiser abdicates. But in Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks led by Lenin overthrow the monarchy and seize power. A quarter of the world’s Christians live in Russia under the Orthodox Church with its Byzantium lineage. Lenin is convinced ‘In practice, no less than in theory, communism is incompatible with religious faith.’ In 1918 churches were nationalised. Bishops were shot, crucified upside down or imprisoned. In 1926 a monastery is converted into a labour camp. In 1929 the responsibility for religious affairs is given to the organisation ‘the league of militant atheists’, their stated goal: to eliminate religion once and for all.

By the 1930s we have the rise of Fascism. Benito Mussolini’s reading of Neitzsche inspires him to become a new Caesar at the head of a new elite state. Similarly in Germany the rise of the National Socialists or Nazis under Hitler, in the belief of a state for the elite race in society, so superior to other races that it justified the extermination of inferior races, and the subordination of personal interests to a common good. This was rooted in Hitler’s interpretations of Darwin: that he had a responsibility to ensure the purity of the German race. Goebbels compares a young Nazi to Christ. By 1937 Hitler is envisaging the elimination of Christianity, largely due to the Churches objections to some of his policies like forced sterilisation. Many Christians hesitated to support the Jews given old emnities that condemned then as the murderers of Christ and in league with the Devil. In contrast some Christians were identifying themselves with Jews in the face of Nazi persecution: in Sept 1938 Pope Pius XI declared himself spiritually a Jew and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1933 saying Christians had an unconditional obligation towards victims of any social order, even when those victims do not belong to the Christian community. He was later executed in a concentration camp. Pius was later ciriticised for not saying enough though he does recognise the limits of his power ‘But the Pope cannot speak. If he spoke, things would be worse.’

The allies were also responsible for atrocities. The bombings of Dresden and Hamburg killed many civilians. George Bell, a british bishop and friend of Bonhoeffer’s spoke out ‘if it is permissible to drive inhabitants to desire peace by making them suffer, why not admit pillage, burning, torture, murder and violation?’ In the end many felt the end justified the means.

The country of Israel promised by the British in 1917, is finally founded in 1948. Communism grows to envelop much of Eastern Europe and the Cold War and proxy wars are fought across the globe. Korea, Vietnam.

Post World War 2 the United Nations is formed and with it a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement rises up against continued segregation and discrimination in America. The campaign for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s gave Christianity an overt centrality in American politics that it had not had in the preceding decades. The renewed spark of the abolitionists living on. Following his assassination riots break out and many push for less peaceful, more violent revolution.

In the 19th century Africa has been largely carved up by the European colonial powers. In the 20th century, despite the end of colonial rule, it became the area of fastest growth in Christianity.

In South Africa the doctrine of Apartheid was defended to the fiercely religious Afrikaaners, attributing incorrectly to Calvin a theology that claimed certain people were more likely to be saved than others. They claimed that separate development was needed for each race to come to God. Desmond Tutu and others worked to convince them this was not the case through forensic examination of Calvin’s writings. In the end it was Tutus words that allowed FW de Klerk to trust in a path forward for his people: ‘when confession is made, then those of us who have been wronged must say “we forgive you.”’ A promise Nelson Mandela was then able to execute on as power transitioned peacefully.

The late 1980s also saw the fall of communism.

Many secular countries have become skilled at repackaging Christian concepts for a non-Christian audience. The concept of human rights is far more likely to be accepted if its origins in Catholic cannon law is disguised. The insistence of the United Nations agencies on ‘the antiquity and broad acceptance of the conception of the rights of man’ was a necessary precondition for their claim to a global, rather than merely Western, jurisdiction. While Charle Hebdo attacks the ‘the myth of a God as architect of the universe, the myth of Mary‘s virginity, the myth of Christ’s resurrection’ it was easy to forget that secularism too was founded on a myths that are today accepted as orthodoxy. And today’s orthodoxy in secular society is to accept today’s liberal Western ideals, and expectations: freedom of speech, association and human individual rights.

Thus it appeared to many in the West that it was their own political and social order that constituted the ultimate, the unimprovable form of government. Secularism; liberal democracy; the concept of human rights: these were fit for the whole world to embrace. The inheritance of the enlightenment was for everyone: a possession for all of mankind. It was promoted by the west, not because it was western but because it was universal: It was no more Christian than it was Hindu, or Confucian or Muslim, so its proponents claimed.

The rise of militant Islam in the subsequent decades claimed otherwise. ‘Islam, as practised by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others,’ said George Bush. To fundamentalist Muslim clerics like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , there was only laws authored by God. Muslim countries, by joining United Nations, had signed up to a host of commitments that derived, not from the Qur’an or the Sunna, but from law codes devised in Christian countries: that there should be equality between men and women; equality between Muslims and non-Muslims; a ban on slavery; a ban on offensive warfare. Islam was in his and those like him in need of a return to the Salaf, ‘the ancestors’, to be reformed. He orchestrated a car bomb targeting UN headquarters in Iraq in 2003. The lead to the attempt to set up an Islamic State across Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, reintroducing many of the original laws.

But for the vast majority of Muslims, many have come to accept some of these Protestant inspired ideals, in states where religion is separated from the secular, and religious beliefs are something private and personal.

On the other side of this, historically Christian European countries are struggling to grapple with an influx of refugees, many of them Muslim, and the implications for their cultures. Look no further than the Charlie Hebdo related violence in recent years..

Charlie Hebdo defines itself a ‘laic, joyful and atheist’, satirising popes and priests, Christ and the Virgin. And while Catholics have repeatedly been obliged to test their faith against the satire, blasphemy and desecration of the magazine, in 2011 Islam started coming under the same obligation: this is what it is, in a secular society, for Muslims to be treated as equals.

The tensions remain today. In 2017 millions of Evangelical Christians in the US voted for Donald Trump, a proven bullying ‘pussy-grabbing’ misogynistic philanderer because he claimed to stand for Christian values that they felt were even more important: family values, abortion, transgender rights (or against these) and immigration controls.

In the latest iteration in 2020 we are now focused on the current issues. #metoo, gender pay gaps, George Floyd, racism , feminism and the patriarchy. Any condemnation of Christianity as patriarchal and repressive derives from the framework of values that is itself is utterly Christian.

There will always be a tension in Christian people between the demands of tradition, scripture and the claims of progress, between the prerogatives of authority and structure and the longing for reformation, between the Christian supposition that every woman’s body is her own and to be respected by every man, and the rights of an unborn child to life, between the churches enthusiasm for monogamous relationships and its celebration of love, and the biblical condemnations of homosexuality. A retreat of Christian belief does not seem to imply a retreat of Christian values. To the contrary, even in Europe with churches far emptier than those in the United States, the trace elements of Christianity continue to infuse peoples’ morals and presumptions so utterly that many fail even to detect their presence.

And in the secular world, as in the days of Darwin and Huxley, so in the 21st-century, the ambition of agnostics to translate values into facts that can be scientifically understood is a fantasy. The wellspring of humanist values lies not in reason, not in evidence-based thinking, but in history. Securalism owes its existence to the mediaeval papacy. Humanism derives ultimately from claims made in the Bible that humans are made in God’s image; that the son of God died equally for everyone; that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

Christianity has repeatedly sent its reverberations across the world. First it was the primal revolution preached by St Paul. Then the after-shocks: the revolution of the 11th century that set Latin Christendom on its course, then the revolution of the Reformation; then the Elightenment that killed God. All bore an identical stamp: the aspiration to create a world view, to reform and replace the old, the claim to universalism, and the claim that all human beings are born equal with human rights. While the foundation of its morality are a myth, a myth need not be a lie. As Yuval Noah Harari argues, our myths define our societies and allow homosapiens to achieve great things.

book review · history · Learning · Philosophy · politics

A brief history of Christianity (1 of 4)

This is based on my reading of Dominion by Tom Holland, who gives a detailed narrative the history of the development of Christianity and its influence on global thinking over two millennia.

In the words of Jewish scholar Boyarin, Christianity emerges from the Roman Empire as ‘the most powerful of hegemonic cultural system in the history of the world’.

For me, this book was really helpful in several ways:

1. Giving context to many of this historical figures we hear referred to in the context of Christian history,

2. Understanding the historical development of philosophical thinking from the amalgamation of the Greek and Jewish philosophies into early Christian beliefs, to then understanding the development of Christian philosophy itself, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and then contextualising it with the Enlightenment and more modern philosophy in the 20th and 21st century.

3. Understanding the very strong Christian values that underpin modern democratic liberal and secular values worldwide

4. And in dispelling some of the myths of ‘the dark ages’ and to giving a more subtle understanding to the developments of history…

In the rest of this post and the next 3, for the purposes of helping my own memory, here is a brief history of the development of Christian thought focused on the characters, events and philosophical stances along the way and the key role that they played in the development of the story. This post covers 2000 BC to 1000 AD. The next three posts will cover 1000 AD to today! What I initially thought would be one post, has ended up being 4 : its a very dense book and history! I have quoted very liberally, directly from Tom Holland throughout, so cannot claim any ownership, though if there are any errors those are entirely mine.

To set the scene, for anyone less familiar with some of the key religious background, there are three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity that all claim a common patriarch in Abraham, a man who worshiped the ‘one true God’. Abraham has two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Islam claims its lineage through Ishmael, an ancestor of Muhammed. Jews claim their linage through Isaac who has a son Jacob, who has twelve sons who go on to form the twelve tribes of Israel. The Jews come to live in the Promised Land, in Palestine under their most famous King, King David and then his son King Solomon, who builds the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Christianity claims its lineage through the Jewish tradition, but that Jesus Christ, born of the line of David, and of the Virgin Mary, came to earth as the promised Messiah, prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. He starts his ministry at around the age of 30, recruiting 12 Jewish disciples. At 33 he is crucified by the Romans having offended the Jews. But 3 days later he rises from the dead and 40 days later ascends to heaven. His disciples, later called the apostles set out to tell the Jewish world of his story, led by Peter and are joined by another Jew, Paul who meets Jesus in a vision, and is tasked with taking the Good News to all of humanity.

Much of history can be traced through the rise and fall of empires each with their own religious and cultural beliefs. To understand Christianity it is important to understand some of these empires and cultures, particularly the Greek and Roman empires. Of note slavery is common place in the ancient world and it is fairly normal for societies to have hierarchical patriarchal structures. Very few societies place value on the poor and wretched, with the possible exception of the Jews.

Homer gave the Greeks the Odyssey and Iliad, a written account of the Greek Gods myths and legends and the story of Troy. This gives a good sense of Greek polytheistic (many-gods) religious belief.

The bible relays much of the history of the Jewish people. For our purposes we will start at King David, a shepherd from Bethlehem who rises to become king of Israel. His son Solomon builds a Temple on Mount Moria, in the city of Jerusalem, in Judea, the country that the Jews have claimed as their own. In the temple is the Holy of Holies, and in that, the greatest treasure, the Ark of the Covenant, originally housing the stone tablets setting out the 10 commandments written by God for Moses. The Holy of Holies is said to be the very dwelling place of God on earth.

Several centuries after the Jewish temple is built, the Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and take the 10 tribes of Israel into captivity, and they vanish completely from history.

In 612 BC Assyria falls to the Babylonians. In 587 the Babylonians capture Jerusalem. The Temple is razed to the ground and the treasures carted away along with many of the elite Jews who are assimilated into Babylonian culture but remain distinct. The Babylonians supreme deity is Marduk, king of the heavens. But the Jews refuse to bow to him (see the bible book of Daniel).

The Persians defeat the Babylonians, and King Cyrus gives some of the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, but the Ark is lost.

The Jews have a strong tradition of meeting in synagogues and have transcriptions of God’s Law, called the Torah, typically stored in a box to echo the Ark.

500 BC, Philosopher Xenophanes proclaims the existence of a single morally perfect deity who guides everything through the sheer power of his consciousness.

The Greek word Philosophos means ‘lovers of wisdom’.

Aristotle, from northern Greece establishes a school in Athens, he dies in 322 BC. Studying order in the universe: orbits of stars and planets, structure in nature, the way society organised itself. Apparently he said “I thank Fortune, first that I am human and not a beast; second, that I am a man and not a woman; third that I am a Greek and not a barbarian” – not hard to find the patriarchy then! An early indication of the beliefs that man was the master of woman and barbarians were fitted to be the slaves of Greeks. ‘That one should command and another obey is not just necessary but expedient.’ Also he believe in Fortune, goddess Tyche to the Greeks, ‘it is not intelligence that guides the affairs of mortals, but Fortune’

In 312 BC another philosopher Zeno arrives in Athens from Cyprus, teaches students in a painted stoa colonnade, founding the Stoics. They argued Nature itself was divine, God was active reason or ‘logos’ animating the entire universe. Living in accordance with nature was to live in accordance with God. All male/female, Greek/barbarian were equally endowed to distinguish right from wrong. The spark of divine in every mortal was Syneidesis, ‘conscience’. They did not believe in Fortune, but rather that everything was connected and deterministic.

In 334 BC Alexander, king of Macedon, a student of Aristotle, Later known as Alexander the Great, crosses the Hellespont and 11 years later when he dies has defeated Persia and rules an empire from Europe to the Indus. He founds the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

Many Jews are by now living outside the Promised Land eg. speaking Greek in Alexandria.

Demetrius of Phaleron, born 350 BC, by 307 BC, student of Aristotle , leader of Athens, disenfranchised the poor making owning property a qualification to vote. He flees from Athens as to Thebes as another Macedonian general takes over Athens. He helps to establish the library and centre of learning in Alexandria, bringing together scholars from all over the world. Demetrius orders the translation of the core of the Torah the 5 scrolls of the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Greek and imports 72 scholars from Jerusalem to do the task. More translations of other Jewish scriptures follow. They are hailed by the Greek speaking Jews as ‘ta biblical ta hagia’ or ‘the holy books’.

Then we have the rise of the Roman Empire. Pompey the Great arrives in Rhodes in 67 BC. Posidonius a Stoic is a philosopher who claims Rome’s rise is in obedience to ‘natural law’ and fated to happen. Cicero is a great admirer of his. They did not really have a notion of a battle between good and evil, it was more that their destiny through courage, unbending discipline and mastery of the body and soul led them to lead the world to set it in order.

Pompey goes on to conquer Jerusalem for Rome in 63 BC. The Jewish Temple on Mount Moria – the House of God – is captured and Pompey visits it, probably equating the supreme God of the Jews, to Zeus or Jupiter in Greek and Roman beliefs. Curious about what is inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies he is bemused to find it empty. He appoints a new high priest, leaves the treasures of the Temple in place and allows the priests to continue with their daily sacrifice.

Jewish scholars when asked why God allowed this calamity to occur, concluded that the repeated disobedience of the people, in following God, is why they were punished thus. The book of Job (written between 700 and 400 BC) also grapples with a novel problem: the origin of evil. It refers to Satan. This may come from the Persian idea of equal and opposite forces, Arta and Drauga in the battle between the embodiment of good and of evil.

The scholars are also wrestling with the incongruities of a omnipotent God, who was all-just, who was powerful but intimate with his people, combining menace and jealousy with compassion. God speaking to Cyrus in the scripture says ‘I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things’

The Jewish prophecies In the Old Testament however look forward to a new universal kingdom of righteousness, with Jerusalem as its capital and a new king in David’s line, destined to rule as Messiah, translated into Greek as ‘Christos’.

The Roman world collapses into civil war in 49 BC and a new general Julius Caesar defeats Pompey in battle.

Julius Caesar declared himself a god.

Next came Caesar Augustus (the adopted son of Julius Caesar), also known as Octavian, the first Roman emperor. Augustus, born in 63 BC, was also deified, and proclaimed Divi Filius or ‘Son of God’ and cults set up statues to worship him. He is the Caesar who ordered the census, for which Mary and Joseph were compelled to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town, and thus when Jesus was born. A proclamation in Galatia states of Augustus, ‘He brings war to an end; he orders peace; by manifesting himself, he surpasses the hopes of all who were looking for good news’ (Euangelia) – from an inscription in Priene on the Aegean coast, 29 BC.

In Ancient Rome death by crucifixion was considered to be the most repellant and wretched of deaths, suitable only as a punishment for slaves. Roman citizens could not be executed this way. Romans refused to countenance that the practice even was started by them, claiming it was a practice of the barbarian tribes. Jesus’s crucifixion in one of the only detailed written accounts of such an event. Crucifixion was not unusual, but the fact that his body was taken down and given a proper burial afterwards was very unusual.

The book, Dominion, does not dwell on the details of Christ’s life, but moves on to the experiences of Paul.

Paul of Tarsus, was a Pharisee, a zealous Jewish scholar, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and possibly a Roman citizen. He was well-versed in the Torah and Jewish Law and a fierce defender of the Jewish faith, persecuting early followers of Jesus. On the road from Jerusalem to Damascus Paul has a vision of Jesus Christ and his life is wholly transformed and he comes to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that he is called to spread the Good News (Euangelion) to all nations (not just the Jews to whom Jesus had preached) and be an apostle of Christ (the first and direct disciples who hear directly from Christ).

The idea that a ‘crucified criminal might somehow be a part of the identity of the One God of Israel’, was shocking to the Jews and the Romans. Caesar embodied the very idea of a God and the ‘Son of God’. That the Messiah might had suffered the death of a slave, submitting willingly to suffering on the Cross was scandalous. According to Paul ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ And a philosophy that ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ Throwing out the need for Jewish adherence to rituals such as circumcision as a sign of belonging to God. The ‘Old Covenant’ between God and the Jewish nation established in the promises to Abraham, had been replaced by a ‘New Covenant’ for anyone who believed in Christ. The believers came to be known as Christians.

To state it clearly, Christians believe that Jesus Christ, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit are One God, the same God as the Jewish God; that Christ was God incarnate, made flesh who came to earth to be the prophesied Messiah, and that he died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins in God’s sight, thereby redeeming anyone who believes in him to a renewed relationship with God. Not only did he die, but he rose from the dead three days later, and 40 days later ascended to heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father, and that he will return to judge the living and the dead. This is the concept of his impending return or the ‘parousia’ of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul challenged many of the societal norms including slavery. Yet freedom from these laws did not mean Christians could do anything ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’. The law of Christ served the good of those who obeyed it – the common good. His creed was to focus on the primacy of love (‘if I have faith that can move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing’) and that God’s Law was written on the believers heart (not needing the Jewish Law). How was God’s Law to be recognised? From the Stoics he adopted the idea that God’s Law was revealed through our consciences, ‘syneidesis’. In this way Paul fused Jewish morality with Greek philosophy in a world-changing way.

Paul preached Christ, and his understanding of him, across Europe, travelling almost 10,000 miles in his lifetime. However he was unable to escape his schooling as a Pharisee. He preached that Christ had freed the believer from the Law, but he clung to various traditionally-held Jewish ideas like monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the only model for sexual relationships (in contrast to Greek beliefs at the time); and the traditional roles of women and men.

By now Nero, the great, great, grandson of Augustus had risen to become Caesar. He turned out to be a particularly vindictive and sadistic emperor. When in 64 AD a deadly fire breaks out in Rome, Nero blamed Christians and had many condemned to death: tied to crosses, smeared with pitch and burned as human torches. Among those put to death are Peter, Jesus’s disciple, and traditionally held to be the first Pappas (Pope) or Father of the Church. Before Jesus own crucifixion, he commanded Peter to look after his flock. Peter is crucified upside down. Paul is also put to death, beheaded, as befits a Roman citizen. (It is not clear in the history books whether this was after the fire or before).

Many of the earliest extant Biblical manuscripts are Paul’s letters to churches in Galatia, Ephesus, Rome and Corinth. These typically predate the gospels which were recorded somewhere in the period 50 to 90 AD.

The Gospel of John, the youngest of Jesus disciples and often referred to as ‘the one whom Jesus loved’, starts with the words… ‘The Logos, which was with God, and was God, and through whom the world was made, had come into the world, but the world did not recognise him.’ Usually, Logos is translated as ‘Word’, but the Stoic understanding (See Zeno above) gives new understanding of why he chose this wording.

In AD 66 the Jews in Judea revolt. Four years later the Romans crush the rebellion, burning down the Temple and taking its treasures.

Justin, a Christian apologist 150 years after Christ defends the morality of the Christian life to the emperor Antoninus.

Ignatius Bishop of Syria defines the Church as katholikos : universal. Christians are viewed with suspicion in the Roman world because of their distinctive worship and rituals (eg. Misunderstanding the communion wine and bread, becoming the blood and body of Christ, which leads to assumptions of cannibalism) In AD 177 in Lyon, many Christians are killed, and jailed and tortured. One particular slave girl, Blandina, refuses to renounce Christ despite being tortured and becomes a martyr.

Irenaeus (130 to 202 AD) is an early ambassador of the church who is sent from Lyon to Rome. He had direct links to the apostles. He trained under Polycarp who knew John. Irenaeus starts to define Christian orthodoxy. Iraneus suggests a cannon: the writings of the apostles and Paul plus gospels of Luke, John, Matthew and Mark, the new testament. He sets out to repudiate the gnostics who claimed ‘special knowledge’ beyond the cannon.

The emperor Carracella in 212 AD grants everyone (every free person) in the Empire, Roman citizenship. But he then proceeds to persecute Christians in Alexandria for not offering sacrifices to the gods. In 250 AD everyone except the Jews are instructed to offer sacrifices to the gods, and again many Christians are persecuted.

Alexandria was a melting pot for philosophy. Origen, the son of Christian parents executed in that city, develops a theologia : a science of God. He further mixed Jewish scripture and Greek philosophical thinking. He embedded the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament as the full Cannon. He also clearly articulated the concept of the Trinity – three in one (though this is not the final form in the Nicean creed). He was then tortured to death in 250 AD, after everyone was ordered by Caracalla to offer sacrifices and he refused.

303 AD an edict is issued by the Emperor Diocletian, all Christians are ordered to comply with traditional Roman religious practices and to hand over their scriptures or face death. Many are persecuted for refusing, but many Christians also choose to deny Christ and hand over their scriptures.

In Carthage, Donatus and his followers are unwilling to forgive those who surrendered scriptures. Those who surrendered the scriptures, referred to as ‘traditores’ by Donatus and his followers, elect their own bishop Caecilian, who proceeds to stand against Donatus.

In 312 AD Constantine marches on Rome, winning a battle at the Milvian bridge on the Tiber River against a rival. Prior to the battle he sees a cross in the sky and in a dream is visited by Christ and is convinced Christ granted him victory. He becomes the first Christian emperor. Constantine has Christian sympathies and restores confiscated possessions to the churches. In 313 AD he wants to create a single, roman ‘religiones’, and issues a proclamation to serve ‘the divinity who sits in heaven’ – a deliberately obscure reference because direct support was not yet politically palatable. Constantine bans crucifixion.

Donatus complains against Caecilian to Constantine, but his request is denied. Constantine believes it is his mission to uphold the unity of the church.

Donatus is exiled and dies three decades later, but for many decades thereafter the schism continues, with Donatists killing or torturing Catholic bishops in Carthage.

Throughout Christian history the yearning to reject a corrupt and contaminated world, to refuse any compromise with it, and to aspire to a condition of untainted purity would repeatedly manifest itself.

In 325 AD Constantine convenes bishops from across the (Western) world and after a month of debate they finalise a common creed and cannon. The Nycean Creed declares the Father and Son ‘homoousios’: ‘of one substance’. ‘the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God fron true God, begotten not made.’

Flavius Claudius Julianus, Constantine’s nephew, becomes emperor in 361 AD and repudiates Christianity. He tries to roll back reforms and reinstate the goddess Cybele.

At the time, society looked down on the poor and destitute – in Rome, Greek, Persian societies, people who find themselves in this situation are not deserving of sympathy nor do they merit assistance.

In Cappadocia, Basil, initially a lawyer, is elected bishop of Ceasaria in 370 AD, and his younger brother Gregory, a theologian, is appointed Bishop in Nyssa. Gregory introduces the idea that the poor have taken upon them the person of our Saviour. God’s love for the outcast demands that mankind love them too. Basil builds a huge Basileias in 369 AD providing shelter and a hospital for the poor. Gregory preaches that ‘not all the universe would constitute the adequate payment for the soul of a mortal.’ However, when he spoke out against slavery, it was rejected by Basil and others.

Also at this time, babies were regularly abandoned across the Roman world (this was not a Jewish practice), whether due to deformity, or gender. Many would end up as slaves or in brothels if they survived. Basil and Gregory’s sister, Macrina (the Younger), sought out baby girls and raised them as their own. She is now venerated as a saint.

Martin was a soldier under Julian. His most famous story is that outside Amiens in Northern Gaul he found a beggar shivering in the cold. He cut his cloak in two and gave it to the beggar. Later Christ appears to him in a dream. Much like the (parable of the) Good Samaritan. When he left the army he became ‘servant of Christ’ choosing to live a life of chastity and solitude as a ‘monachoi’ (monk): those who live alone. He developed a reputation though he wanted to avoid any form of grandeur. In 371 AD without putting himself forward he was elected as Bishop of Tours (when he heard this he ran away and hid in a barn but was betrayed by geese). Even as bishop he refused to move into the palace. There were reports of healings. This proved threatening to the rich and elite bishops of the church. He died in 397 AD and there ensued a fight for his body, by different groups. He was eventually buried in Tours in a small tomb.

In 394 AD a very wealthy man Meropius Pontius Pailinus, admirered Martin who had miraculously healed his eye. After losing a son at 8 days, he and his wife Therasia sold all of their many properties and possessions, and gave all their wealth to the poor. They then pledged to live out their lives, in poverty, in a hut near Naples. He continued to fund many projects including the building of churches. ‘..It is not riches themselves that are either offensive or acceptable to God, but only the uses to which they are put by men.’

Pelagius (360 to 420 AD) believed man was created free, and whether he lived in obedience to God’s instructions or not, the decision was his own. He believed that sin was merely a habit – which meant that perfection was attainable. He zoomed in on the book of Acts where Christ’s followers sold their goods and shared everything they had.

Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 AD) believed more in the diversity of the church: ‘the poor will always be with you’ All are equally fallen – whether rich or poor. He saw Pelagius’s belief as heresy that could risk damnation. Original sin needed daily repentance including the giving of alms to the poor and protection of the weak, by the powerful, which might secure favour from heaven. This was a new model of Christianity for those with power and riches: it would later develop into the belief and practice that a place in heaven could be bought.

100 years later in c500 AD Martin’s tomb is venerated. Clovis, a Frankish warlord prays to him for favour in battle and the cloak, the ‘capella‘ Martin gave away, is recovered and guarded by a special class of priests, or ‘capellani‘, or chaplains in times of war. And the word “Saints” rather than applying to the living faithful as Paul used it in the Bible, is now applied to those who have died.

Emperor Heraclius in 632 AD commands visitors, residents, children and slaves to be forceably baptised. This decree was partly due to the Jews who refused to do so. 

In 636/637 AD Palestine is invaded by the Saracens (Muslims). Claiming the same lineage to Abraham as the Jews and the Christians, they acknowledge Jesus as a ‘messenger of God’ (but denying his deity and crucifixion). They believe that Muhammad was given the one true Deen, the one true expression of allegiance to God, ‘submission’ to him in Arabic Islam. His texts, the Qur’an are believed to be the direct words of God as revealed by the angel Gabriel.

Islam spreads across North Africa, with many Christians captured into slavery in 670 AD. In 695 AD Carthage falls following two sieges. It is razed to the ground and a new Muslim capital is built in Tunis. 

In 689 AD work begins on Mt Moria in Jerusalem to build the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the site of the old Jewish Temple.

Muslims compile a corpus of law called the Sunna, every word said to have been spoken by the prophet, much like the Jewish Talmud. In contrast to this Muslim belief, stands the Christian belief that God would write his commandments on the hearts of his followers – to follow conscience and act in love. Universal salvation is available to anyone who believes in Christ, without the need to follow very strict laws to earn God’s favour and therefore, salvation, this is in contrast to strict Judaic and Islamic requirements.

Britain had fallen to the pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes, as the Roman Empire collapsed and the original Christian influence of Patrick and Pelagius was lost. In 597 AD Pope Gregory sends monks to Canterbury. The King of Kent is baptised (by Augustine) and over the subsequent decades many more warlords turn to Christianity in Britain.

Theodore in c665 AD from Tarsus who studied in Syria and Constantinople is sent from Rome, to Marseille, then on to Paris and on to Britain, (and specifically Canterbury in Kent). He was accompanied by Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame). They set up a school at Canterbury teaching Greek and Latin.

Bede, an Anglican monk is taught by them. Bede devised the method of calculating the year’s date from the time of Christ’s incarnation, the system of Anno Domini, ‘year of our Lord’ is born. Bede was based at Jarrow monastery, where he was instrumental in building a huge library collection of books from Rome, funded by Biscop Baducing, the local Lord. He in turn, had travelled back and forth to Rome six times bring a ‘boundless store of books’ back with him. Biscop is renamed Benedict in Latin. Irish monks also contributed to Jarrow. Bede works on the idea that the Angles (a pun on the conceit that their ‘faces are those of angels’), Saxons and Jutes are like a new ‘chosen race’, having made an exodus across the sea to Britain. Thus the narrative develops, of a single people-group, which in time becomes a uniting of kingdoms known as Anglia and their own language ‘Engalonde’ later to become the English.

This motif of a new group of chosen people, is set up to reflect ideals of the early church as described in the book of Acts. This mythology of origin-narrative reoccurs throughout Christian history.

In c711 AD Muslims start to invade Spain. The Visigoth Christian King’s of Spain fall and over the next two decades Spain becomes al-Andulus, a Muslim kingdom. By 731 AD Arab raids are intruding into the south of modern day France. In 732 AD the Duke of Aquitaine is defeated and Bordeaux is torched. In October 732 AD the Arabs aim to take Tours and the shrine of St Martin, but the Franks repel them and the tide of Arab westward expansion is turned.

The Franks counter-attacked at Poitiers led by Charles ‘Martel’, ‘the hammer’, a leader who fused the Eastern Rhine-based kingdom with the Western Paris-based kingdom (previously led by the heirs of Clovis) of the Franks. He reclaims Provence and Aquitaine, Arles and Avignon and by 741 AD commands a kingdom from the Pyrenees to the Danube.

In the east, around 725 AD, the Saracens carry out a three-year seige of Constantinople that ultimately fails, however most of the lands of the middle East and North Africa are now under their control. 

Charles Martel’s son is Pepin, who gives rise to the Carolingian empire, a Christian empire. Charles does not look to the emperor of the Byzantians, besieged by the Saracens, but instead defines new Western Christian Empire. The east including the original home of Christianity in Syria, Palastine, Egypt and Africa is lost to the Saracens.

Boniface a missionary, born in Devon in the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, travels to convert the Saxons (modern day Germany) with the backing of the Pope and of Charles Martel. In 722 AD he cuts down a great tree: Thunor’s oak, a Saxon totem. In 772 AD he fells Irminsul another tree believed by the pagans to uphold the heavens.

From Saxon we get the word hel, for the pagan underworld and the spring festival Eostre, both of which are adopted into Christian teachings as Hell and Easter. He is martyred in Frisia, but the swift retribution visited on those who kill him, by the Christian Franks, subsequently convinces (or forces) most pagans to convert.

In 771 AD Pepin’s younger son, Charles, becomes sole ruler of the Franks. He is a strong promoter of the Christian religion and is later known as Charles the Great or Charlemagne.

Many bloody battles with the Saxons ensue, who rebel and massacre of the local priests. In 776AD Charles imposes a treaty on the Saxons obliging them to accept baptism. But the Saxons remain obstinate. In 782 AD he orders the beheading of 4500 prisoners in a single day.This sets a bloody precedent in forcing people to convert to Christianity. 

Charlemagne goes on to recapture Barcelona, northern Spain from the Saracens.

In 789 AD he sets out his ambitions: to have his subjects ‘apply themselves to a good life’ through ‘correctio‘: their schooling in the authentic knowledge of God. 

From Tours, under an Abbott called Alcuin, many copies of scripture are produced called biblia, ‘the books’ containing both the old and new testaments in Latin, are distributed across Charlemagne’s empire, together with a program of educating the priesthood. Everyone in the empire must know the Creed and the Lord Prayer.

In 800 AD on Christmas day, Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne, (Charles, son of Pepin, grandson of Charles Martel) as ‘Augustus’, the King of the Franks and the Emperor of the Romans in St Peters in Rome. He is the first Emperor to Rule from Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476AD. This is a break with the tradition of Pope submitting to the Emperor in Constantinople.

Charlemagne dies 814 AD but his programs endure, forming a uniform basis of Christianity across the Frankish empire and beyond to Britain, Ireland and Spain. 

By 840 AD Charlemagne’s Empire is starting to fray with Saracen pirates raiding the Italian coastline and enslavement of captives; they even manage to sail up the Tiber and loot St Peter’s in Rome. Britain and Ireland are overthrown by armed marauders: the Vikings.

By 905 AD the last descendent of Charlemagne is deposed and there is no Emperor – the kingdom of the Franks fractures, with the two largest, eastern and western flanks, later becoming France and Germany. For 50 years there is no Emperor.

In 937 AD the last King in Britain to hold out against the Vikings – Athelstan of the West Saxons, King of Wessex –defeats a Viking invasion and secures a Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdom from Northumbria to the Channel.

From the steppes of the Carpathian mountains, in 955 AD, Hungarians mounted on horseback invade the Bavarian lands.

They are repelled by Otto the Great who came to rule France, ‘heir of Constantine’ (The first Roman Christian Emperor). Ironically he came from Saxon stock, but was now champion of the Christian world. He fought back with three thousand horseman and the ‘spear that had pierced Christ’s side’. Following the victory he was crowned Emperor by the Pope in Rome.

In a short space of time, this renewed tide of Christianity draws in surrounding kingdoms from Scandinavia to Hungary where King Stephen heartily pursues Christianity. He is rewarded with a queen, the niece of Otto the Great, and is proclaimed a saint after his death in 1038 .ad

In 1033 AD the Christian world holds its breath, expecting the return of Christ, a thousand years after Christ’s death – with many pilgrimages made to Jerusalem via the newly christianised Hungary.

In 1054 the Great Shism is the formal breaking of the commune of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Western Roman Catholic Church due to a series of theological, jurisdictional and organisational disputes that built over several centuries.

Anselm, a scholar from North Italy, of noble birth, who is very sensitive to all living creatures (eg. he commands a trapped hare be freed, having burst into tears seeing it) is appointed to lead the English Church, (suffering a spectacular nosebleed when told this) in 1093 AD. He shifted the emphasis away from Christ’s triumph over the Cross (and Death) and to his suffering humanity. There follows a shift in the visual art’s depictions from serene-Christ to suffering-Christ.

artifical intelligence · Culture · decision making · Learning · Philosophy · politics · Psychology

21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari

  • The book picks up on several themes that I think are very important for understanding where the world is trending over the coming years.

    Politics

    • Disillusionment picks up on the rise of anti ellitest autocratic and populist rulers (connections to The Demise of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce).
    • Issues of identity, nationalism clash with global problems. Identity and the definition of your tribe are themselves changing rapidly in today’s world.
    • Immigration also poses growing challenges in many parts of the world, both to the countries from which people are departing and those to which they are aiming to immigrate to.
    • Traditional democracy offers no solutions to the global technological disruption and ecological challenges we are facing.
    • All the existing human tribes are absorbed in advancing their particular interests rather than understanding the global truth.
  • Many are writing about the potential impact of AI on jobs in future (connections to Deep Thinking by Gary Kasparov). Yuval draws out some interesting insights:
    • In the past machines competed with humans in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition. AI has the potential to change that.
    • In the future machines will become better at analysing human behaviour and predicting human decisions. (Already happening with social media’s ability to draw and captivate us). AI May out compete us in jobs that require intuition about other people, it may be able to more accurately assess people’s emotional states.
    • AI gets its power and ability to outcompete us not from replacing a single human but through integrating the experience of millions in a single network. AI cars will have far more driving experience than any human. AI doctors similarly. Healthcare could become far better and far cheaper.
    • What jobs will be more immune from relegation? Jobs that require a wide range of skills and an ability to deal with unforeseen scenarios. Human care for young, sick and elderly will probably remain a human activity. Human creativity is often lauded as the area AI will least impact but there he argues as AIs get to understand what touches human emotion they will start to impact this.
    • The idea of human being augmented by machines in all of these areas will inevitably be correct, hopefully greatly improving productivity but continuing the acceleration of change.
    • What do we do to try to create enough new jobs? Will governments create effective retraining programs? How will we cope with the psychological challenges of having to retrain multiple times in our careers?
    • And what happens if job losses far outstrip job creation? What if we get to the point where a large portion of society just don’t have much of a relevant role to play in the work that is economically valued and paid for?
    • What sort of changing social policies will we need eg. Universal Basic Income and what sort of tax policies if the value creation is owned by a few large data owning corporations?
    • Will we start recognising the enormous value of jobs that are not currently paid for such as careers and parenting?
    • Can we envisage a society where work is not where most people find their meaning and purpose? How will we pay for that?
    • Human happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations, and how we compare our condition to those of other people. How will we adjust our expectations in this new world.

    The other big questions he raises

    • How do we regulate the rise of big data and protect freedoms, who owns the data (see Kasparov’s comments about us sacrificing our privacy for service willingly, and the need for transparency from the big data owners)
    • What does terrorism look like in future?
  • On spirituality, ethics, secularism and religion
    • The future of spirituality, our concept of God, the contradictions between religions preaching individual humility but exercising collective arrogance in its exclusive demands. Marrying this with secularism and science, a seeking of objective truth, the development of secular ethics around concepts such as compassion, equality, freedom, courage.
    • “Questions you cannot answer are usually far better than answers you cannot question.”
    • But even secular movements repeatedly mutate into dogmatic creeds, especially in times of war or economic crisis where societies must act promptly and forcefully. Eg. communism’s of capitalism both become dogmas. Even the right to freedom can become a dogma against all censorship. At some point in time a search for objective truth is circumvented by the desire for expediency and simplicity.
    • “Every religion, ideology and creed has its shadow, and no matter which creed you follow you should acknowledge your shadow and avoid the naïve reassurance that ‘it cannot happen to us’.”
  • On truth and power
    • Ignorance: you know less than you think. “People rearely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like minded friends and self confirming news feeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.
    • Providing people with more and better information is unlikely to improve matters. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we hold these views out of group loyalty. Bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance is likely to backfire.
    • “If you want to go deeply into any subject you need a lot of time, and in particular the privilege of wasting time. You need to experiment with unproductive paths, to explore dead ends, to make space for doubts and boredom, and to allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom. If you cannot afford to waste time you will never find the truth.”
    • Power inevitably distorts the truth. Power is all about changing reality rather than seeing it for what it is.
    • Power depends on creating and believing fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively.
    • For better or worse, fiction is among the most effective tools in humanity’s toolkit. By bringing people together religious and cultural creeds make large scale human cooperation possible. The power of human cooperation depends on a delicate balance between truth and fiction.
    • As a species, humans prefer power to truth. We spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it – and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control it.
    • How to avoid fake news? If you want reliable information, pay for it. If some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the scientific literature on it.
  • On education
    • You will need to reinvent yourself again and again in order to keep up with the world.
      To survive and flourish in such a world you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. Unfortunately teaching kids to embrace the unknown and keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them a physics equation.
      People don’t need more information, they need the ability to make sense of the information, to tell the difference between the important and the unimportant and to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.
      What should we teach: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity
      To do this you need to work hard on knowing who you are, and what you want from life, know thy self.
  • How do we usually get to know ourselves? The power of stories
    • We usually do this by telling ourselves stories to give meaning to our lives. My story must give me a role to play, and it must extend beyond my horizon, giving me an identity and a meaning to my life by embedding me in something bigger than myself.
      However when you believe a particular story, it makes you extremely interested in its minutest details, while keeping you blind to anything that falls outside its scope.
      Often we want our personal story to carry on beyond death, either through religious reassurance or through something tangible in either cultural or biological form.
      Why do people believe in these fictions? One reason is that their personal identity is built on the story. By the time their intellect matures they are so heavily invested in the story, that they are far more likely to use their intellect to rationalise the story than to doubt it. Most people who go on identity quests are like children going treasure hunting. They find only what their parents have hidden for them in advance. Second, not only our personal identities but also our collective institutions are built on the story. Once personal identities and entire social systems are built on top of the story, it becomes unthinkable to doubt it, because its collapse will trigger a personal and social cataclysm. Once you suffer for a story it’s usually enough to convince you that the story is real. And in following our own story we may even inflict suffering on others. We do not want to admit either that we are fools or villains and so we prefer to believe that the story is true.
      Throughout history almost all humans believed in several stories at the same time, and whenever absolutely convinced of the truth of any one of them. This uncertainty rattled most religions, which therefore considered faith to be a cardinal virtue and doubt to be amongst the worst possible sins. With the rise of modern culture the tables were turned. Faith looked increasingly like mental slavery, while doubt came to be seen as a precondition for freedom.
      Modernity didn’t reject the plethora of stories it inherited from the past. Instead, it opened a supermarket for them. The modern human is free to sample them all, choosing and combining what ever fits his or her taste.
      One common modern story is the Liberal story. Like all of the cosmic stories, the liberal story to start with a creation narrative. It says that the creation occurs every moment, and I am the creator. What then is the aim of my life? To create meaning by feeling, by thinking, by desiring, and by inventing. Anything that limits the human liberty to feel, to think, to desire and to invent, limits the meaning of the universe. Hence liberty from such limitations is the supreme ideal.
      In order to understand ourselves, a crucial step is to acknowledge that the ‘self’ is a fictional story that the intricate mechanisms of our mind constantly manufacture, update and re-write. There is a storyteller in my mind that explains who I am, where I am coming from, where I am heading to, and what is happening right now. And like government Spin Doctors, the inner narrator repeatedly gets things wrong but rarely, if ever, admits it. My inner propaganda machine builds up a personal myth, with prized memories and cherished traumas that often bear little resemblance to the truth.
      We humans have conquered the world thanks to ability to create and believe fictional stories. We are therefore particularly bad at knowing the difference between fiction and reality. Overlooking this difference has been a matter of survival for us.
  • Philosophy and the final frontier: our minds
    • In Yuval’s view the big question facing humans is not “what is the meaning of life?” But “how do we get out of suffering?” (Vs Victor Frankl who looks to find meaning even in suffering). He believes “suffering is the most real thing in the world”.
      He goes on to discuss how he can, as a sceptic still wake up cheerful in the morning.
      He turns inward on himself in mindfulness meditation.
      How does one study the mind? The only mind I can directly observe is my own. If I cannot observe some external thing without bias, how can I objectively observe my own mind? But the only tool available is meditation: the direct observation of one’s own mind.
      “The most important thing I realised was that the deepest source of my suffering is in the patterns of my own mind. When I want something and it doesn’t happen, my mind reacts by generating suffering. Suffering is not an objective condition in the outside world. It is a mental reaction generated by my own mind. Learning this is the first step towards ceasing to generate more suffering.”
      Serious meditation demanded minutes amount of discipline. If you try to objectively observe your sensations, the first thing you notice is how wild and impatient reminders.
      We had better understand our minds before the algorithms make our minds up for us.