Home > book reviews, philosophy, religion, reviews > God is not Great part III: the odd history–and the final installment of this review

God is not Great part III: the odd history–and the final installment of this review

If you could grab a time machine, either Doctors’ will do, and change one point in history. Just one thing: I’m not talking about killing Hitler in WWI or murdering Stalin, but to make a slight change that could alter the course of human events what would it be. Perhaps letting Hitler get accepted into art school, or Stalin into music school, maybe the French could just let Karl Marx be instead of kicking him out. If Athens just decided to let Socrates go on prattling we wouldn’t have Plato’s anger to motivate the Republic, but then again we also wouldn’t have the Symposium or the Apology so maybe that is not a good one.

So let’s give our time machine to Hitchens to see what he would change in order to make the world a better place. There will always be foolishness and solipsism he says, but the world would be much improved if it were carried on the weight of rationality and philosophy instead of monotheism and superstition. What can we change? or erase from history so that the world would be much improved.

Based on historical knowledge it would appear that Hitchens would have wanted to prevent the Maccabean revolt of 165 b.c. so let’s talk about that. Antiochus IV, king of Syria, a division of Alexander the Great’s kingdom failed in his conquest of Egypt due to the intervention of the emerging super power of Rome.  Antiochus, apparently unwilling to admit that the defeat was his own fault sought to blame history’s whipping boy, the Jews. By oppressing them, outlawing their rites and ceremonies; yet as is sometimes the case the oppression has the opposite effect. The Jews united under Judah “the Maccabee (in Hebrew “The hammer”)” and fought back, winning their freedom and entering Palestine. It is here that we encounter the infighting that Machiavelli predicts is often the case when the yoke of oppression is exchanged for the boulder of freedom.

The Jews in Palestine had been “Hellenized” exposed to Greek culture they began to admire and practice it. Having their own tradition of law and analysis the Jews of Palestine found that they were adepts in Greek philosophy (this is what partially saved the works of Aristotle, Plato, and such from the fires of the Christians, the Muslims saved most of it) partook in the gymnasium and the Greek games, in any case this offended the Orthodox Jews who took to forceful conversion. The father of Judah Maccabee, had murderred a fellow Hebrew who was going to offer a pagan sacrifice on the Jewish altar. Judah could not tolerate this abomination, although it should  be said that the murdered man was only going to offer sacrifice in order to save himself and his people from further oppression from Antiochus. The Orthodoxy won the civil war, they cleansed the temple of the Hellenized Greeks and cemented their stay in Palestine, Jerusalem. Eventually the area would be annexed by Rome itself, leading to Christianity and then Islam; which can both be described as Jewish heresies. Hitchens says it himself, “We could have been spared the whole thing.”

All of this monotheism is the fault of a conflict between Orthodox Religious fundamentalists and a metropolitan group influenced by a neighboring culture. The city folk of Jerusalem against the rural religious types, small town versus big city, something was said about this in the last campaign. It is this event, the cleansing of the temple from the influence of the Greeks, that led them to Hannukah a minor of their holidays but lately has been gaining strength as to compete with Christmas, itself being a conglomeration of various Northern European pagan holidays. This is apparently what Hitchens would change.

Yet, by changing something in the causes of the revolt we lost something as well. I don’t mean to just lose the intolerance of certain fundamentalists, or something sarcastic like that. What we would lost are the works of the religious golden ages. The Italian Renaissance while focused on humanism and less on religion, was funded in large parts by the Vatican, the religious Medici family, etc. The work of the churches in the Dark Ages to turn people away from the belief in monsters, witches, and other foul beasts that lived in the great forests, and their focus on the beginnings of science.

Changing one thing probably means forcing Alexander to write a will, thus denying Antiochus his kingdom a century later, but with the expulsion of religion from the west we do lose cultural advantages. Plus there is still the remaining religions of the East to contend with, which aren’t really any better. I wouldn’t wish to remove religion from history but just the idiot fundamentalists and I think we have a much improved world.

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  1. July 21, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Hi,
    What a thought provoking title you have up there in your article?
    Do you mind visiting my blog: http://www.christiandrive.wordpress.com.
    Thanks
    Ivan

    • rdxdave
      July 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

      Is that a question, I’m not following.

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