This article is not an endorsement of 'either side.' It simply summarizes how radical Islamic terrorism picks up on Augustinian ideas of divine law's precedence over human law (as restated in the Qu'ran), with results exactly the same as from Augustinian doctrine in early Christian history. Then after summarizing how the division between church and state came about in the West, it discusses what's best to do about it. By way of preface, there is a very good explanation why you never heard this before, and it is not because the facts are unsound. A truly neutral analysis is beset not merely by criticism, but rather outright condemnation, from all sides. Immediately after sharing this on Facebook, I was banned from three groups, without even an attempt to open the link. Most others said I was wrong for reasons countermanded in the next paragraph. Also I am obligated to state first, I am an American citizen, a Satipatṭhāna Buddhist, a retired Oxford scholar, and have no affiliations with any religious or political organization.
In "City of God" (ca. 400AD), Augustine started the process by denying the idea of a mythical golden age, as originally stated by Hesiod (ca. 700BC), because it was contrary to Biblical Eden. The golden age was the basis of theories of rational law (such as Cicero's in 50BC), which use the goal of a new golden age to justify the righteousness of punishment. Then Augustine substituted a personal divine law of salvation in place of the golden goal. Augustine reasoned that no mortal, secular justice could ever be meaningful, by comparison to the far better achievement of all attaining eternal life. That first part much might have been OK by itself, but Augustine then went further to add a second part. He claimed that secular justice is not the virtue it appears to be, but rather results from the first deadly sin, pride, and thus is not safe, and moreover a danger to faith itself. He even went as far to call secular justice a 'weakness, plague, and disease' (see Footnote 5).
The resemblance of at least the first half of Augustine's thought to Islamic doctrine might not be a coincidence. The consequences of the second half of this doctrine, in both religions, has been rather similar. If one considers the topic without bias, it is not unreasonable to postulate that Mohammed actually picked up the first part of this doctrine from Augustine's doctrine directly, and acknowledging that would go a long way to resolving problems which the second part is still causing. So before discussing the real issue, the possibility of 'direct transmission' is first explored.
With all the Christians killed for public enjoyment in Roman games, one might be sympathetic with Augustine's condemnation of human law. Augustine was certainly well received at the time. He was incredibly popular, and his message indisputably powerful. His ideas spread like wildfire, as new and ever larger armies of evangelists took his message to all corners of the earth, unafraid of suffering or death, due the far greater joy of bringing others to eternal life. This of course included Syria, where St. Paul famously received his conversion.
At the time of Mohammed's birth, Syria had become a prosperous province of the Byzantine empire. Mohammed was taken to Syria as a child, so he first encountered the glowing promises of eternal life there somewhere around the age of 10 (~580AD). By that time Syria had perhaps a quarter million Christians in about a hundred different ecclesiastical systems, so it's really impossible to know what he specifically encountered there, except for one meeting with a heretical Christian hermit who named him the new living God. Details have been recast by generations of both Christians and Muslims in accordance with their own beliefs, so now there are half a dozen legends that describe the specific facts in rather incompatible manners. What we do know is that Mohammed was not a scholar himself, and was never taught Latin or Greek, or even how to read and write. So he would have learned whatever he did about Christianity from derivative sources in sermons and personal accounts by the Christians of the time.
When Mohammed was about 40 years old, he then wrote the 'pulpit rhetoric' equivalent of Augustine's more academically stated conclusions in "City of God," most prominently in a Surah sometimes labeled as 'the citadel,' or 'the fortress' (see footnote 6). Most major cities were already walled by then, so the correlation is so obvious, it is rather puzzling why no one else points it out.
In the Middle East, derivative rhetoric persists to this day, and it is on these specific passages in the Qur'an about divine law of salvation superseding secular law that radical Islamic terrorism draws the most, using exactly the same Augustinian concepts which caused the Roman Empire to collapse. Whether such a notion was directly inspired by Augustinian thought or not, from the perspective of ideology, it was rather irrefutably Augustinian first. Augustine is a founding father of the Christian church, and this notion was part of his doctrine first, regardless how right or wrong it was then, or is now. It had the same consequences to Rome as it is having in Islam now. No one has ever challenged the power and influence of Augustine's "City of God" in causing the downfall of Rome. No one can challenge that Augustine's opinion of secular law is repeatedly cited in defense of radical Islamic terrorism. Thus I can stand behind the title of this article with fair confidence as to its veracity.
Meanwhile, for several years now, ISIS has been destroying historical sites in Syria with justifications that are exactly the same as those leading to the purge of secular Roman philosophy in early Christian history (most recently noted in "Expert says Islamic State has badly damaged major Palmyra monument," Reuters, 20 Jan 2017). The parallel with similar actions in Christian history continues to be ignored, which could be a main reason why the West has been so ineffective in stopping it. As far as the terrorists are concerned, we are not only heretics but hypocrites.
If we really want to stop terrorism, we should start by condemning the second part of Augustine's doctrine, as first described, rather than declaring war against a supposedly alien belief.
So that is how early Christian doctrines cause radical Islamic terrorism now. Cynics seeking something more specific either way that fits in 144 characters will be disappointed. Deeper corroboration would require extensive structural analysis of the type even academics avoid the most. This is because, after Augustinian ideas had taken total hold of the West, there was really no rational idea of justice at all, just as in most of Islam now. Divine justice had taken its place, just as Mohammed caused in the Middle East. And as the Roman Empire collapsed, in the interests of furthering even more personal salvation, early Christians destroyed most scholarly texts as useless, blasphemous, and an endangerment to eternal life--unless they either contained evidence of how right Augustine was, and how wrong the people he condemned were--or had some other bearing on the life of Christ as approved by the third Nicene council (other unapproved texts were heretical, and also destroyed).
So the actual surviving works are really a very sparse representation of the knowledge at the time, and we have to draw on very few sources. Anything showing that the hated Islamic faith was inspired by Christian doctrines would certainly have been destroyed as fast as system admins now block me from sharing this post on religious, political, and even philosophical forums.
Fortunately, the purge of secular work which started the Dark Ages was not total. For example, Cicero survived the purge because the early Christians were confident that Augustine had totally debunked his ideas of law. So his work was merrily demonized for centuries. Cicero was finally restored to heroic status again by Henry VIII, for whom Cicero's ideas of rational law were the main inspiration of the Restoration. That set the stage for the division between church and state that we now consider so obvious in the West.
Even academic circles first construe this as an attack on Christianity. But it is not. So I am required to add, disentangling the original ideas of natural law from divine law is not so easy. Overall there are three main categories for all responses:
- Most fall in the 'virtual Dark Age peasants' group. Most are now trained to believe that anything worth knowing can be said in 144 characters or less, and if understanding what was said in 144 characters takes more than an instant intuitive reaction, it is so unworth knowing that it must be wrong. One does not even need to purge dangerous literature from the world as the early Christians did. They only read what they are forced to read and memes. They will agree or disagree with views on any side of any division as common sense, without considering the paradoxes.
- Second, there are still those who insist that God alone controls what is right and wrong, and they will not tolerate secular ideas of ethics independent from their own. This is the group most frequently blamed for everything wrong with the world.
- Third, there are the militant atheists seeking to remove any form of divine imagination from the world altogether, with equal force of fanaticism. I encounter the latter most frequently when stating that the Jeffersonian natural rights of 'life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness' are theistic, and require the existence of God as a premise. That frequently causes apoplectic shock, followed by extensive unbridled rage.
It is perhaps understandable that those who place divine law in supreme regard over the laws of man are so often blamed for all problems, because discussions with such people often cannot move past a myopic and minimalist interpretation. For example, one person insisted that Augustine was repeating Jewish law, citing Moses' destruction of the golden idol as proof. I tried indicating to him that ideas of secular law did not even exist at that time, so deductions from that to apply to secular law are just opinions of interpretation, and Augustine's own doctrine on secular law had no actual precedence in Hebrew. But that made no difference. After he refused to read Augustine at all, I was then told to just 'read the bible.' So I promised to add his statement to this piece, however trite it may seem.
But most debates with atheists are no better. Imagine a red-faced American pounding the table, shouting "CHURCH AND STATE MUST BE SEPARATE! CHURCH AND STATE MUST BE SEPARATE!" and me replying quietly, "maybe that would be nice, and it is true that Jefferson himself said that citizens must have freedom of religion, and that no one church should control the state. However, to justify that, Jefferson chose an empirical philosophy that is predicated upon the existence of a Christian God, as the foundation of the nation's constitution and rights. It doesn't matter how much you shout, I can't change it. That's what he chose, and neither of thus can change that. We'd have to reject the Declaration of Independence and revert to British rule to achieve the absolute separation that you demand." Eventually I produce a 20,000-word proof, but he still bangs the table and shouts "CHURCH AND STATE MUST BE SEPARATE!" without reading it.
All sides of that division thus seem to me ethically immature. experience has shown few fall outside is purview. Yet for a society to function, the principles of ethics hold that there should be some acceptance of alternate derivation of the ideas, and in every way the final conclusions are consistent, they should be able to coexist. But that is not what happens. One instead observes a continuous and rather banal bickering of trivially wrong points in 144 characters or less. All the effort is to disprove the other, and none of the effort is to refine and expand the common ground of coexistence. This problem is in fact now rife almost to the point of civil war throughout American culture, and exemplified with the total inability of the USA to understand Islam at all. As such, we seem to be repeating the same error that led to the Dark Ages, albeit proceeding into it on a different basis.
Does it seem possible that the USA could reverse the process? Currently, no, there appears no hope of that, unless the USA really does try to understand Islam, as Trump wants; but in the way I describe, rather than the way most now prefer. That starts with both sides understanding law should mean for us now, and not how it was thought it should be understood 1,500 years ago.To understand law, I suggest we must start with the first principles of law: we are all mortal, we all require food and water, we all require families, and we all require shelter for ourselves and our families. Those are the laws of nature which define the human condition. No aggressions, no battles, and no wars are justified if they deprive any innocent person of those basic needs by intention or by avoidable oversight. Those laws of nature exist, regardless whether one considers the human condition a product of divine will alone, or simply a product of a mechanical world. No human can change those facts through our own faculty of reason alone. We cannot escape the human condition. The human condition provides the necessary preconditions on which Hobbes defined the modern social contract, the necessary preconditions of the Lockean social contract, and the basis of the Jeffersonian rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson himself called those rights 'sacred,' which by itself might have been enough.
Unfortunately, when Thomas Aquinas first stated this, some 10 centuries ago, for the Western culture we know now, he called it 'divine law,' whence 'natural law' promulgates. Since then many have attempted to remove the divinity, and in the process, removed the precondition of natural law itself. Many have attempted to define morality and ethics via reason alone, as if we exist in some eternal, immortal state. Many have attempted to assert divine law as absolute for all. Many have tried. All have failed.
Law cannot be considered in isolation from the human condition. Some consider the condition divine, and some object to that. In my opinion, the necessity of God's existence, or not, is the real distraction from the purpose of law--civilized peace--that has persistently clouded the judgment of many much better minds for a millennium. The purpose may be attained whether it is divine or not. As we have no choice in the human condition, it is a reasonable inference that we have equally no choice in our ability to reason that which is right and wrong; and that is the state which Thomas Aquinas referred to as 'promulgation of the divine law' some 10 centuries ago. It remains a reasonable inference. One may disagree with the inference. One cannot disagree with the human condition. (for all references and citations, see another longer essay of mine, "Divergence of Divine and Natural Law")
One might try to believe such rational thought could solve the problem, as I have tried. For example, one could state it's a reasonable inference that Aquinas took his ideas of divine promulgation from a Muslim called Averroes. While one might believe that would lead each faith to accept the other more, exactly the opposite happens. One person wrote "thank you for proving a direct line of transmission of Allah's will from Mohammed to current Western law. Now you have done the entire world a favor" (sic). And Christians should likewise find it irrelevant to their own faith, but instead they mostly find it offensive, especially many scholars of Aquinas, who have elevated his thought to semi-divine state. While one might believe such scholars would be most interested in promoting the point of this essay, they instead shower me in their own books and videos, repeating their own views with fervent reverence and dismissing any alternative possibility besides their own interpretation of 'The Truth.'
It thus transpires that even attempts to perpetuate rational thought, rather than absolute ideology, are continually thwarted. The first formal statement promulgating 'human law' from 'natural law' was actually in the codices of Justinian, in the 6th century AD, which were themselves based on Cicero, which in turn was based on the Socratic social contract, recorded by Plato some 2400 years ago. Justinian created a division of philosophers and lawyers to create the first unified system of legal code. One of its most famous examples happens to be bees. If you keep a beehive, and a bee stings a neighbor, are you responsible? The answer is no. The bee is following the law of nature, and like uncaged birds, their flight is beyond human control. The laws of nature take precedence over all other law, bees are necessary for pollination, and so, a beekeeper is not responsible for others being stung by bees.
That was too much sanity for the world to endure. During the Augustinian purge, the laws of Justinian were of course destroyed, and only eventually found again in the 10th or 16th century, depending which source on that you believe. Some tell you the Dark Ages ended because reason reasserted itself, but even now, due to law cases about bee stings, no one is allowed to keep bees at all where I live now. For a thousand square miles. Meanwhile, due to disease and blights, many bee species are going extinct.
From that perspective, the rationality of humankind for the last 1,400 years or so has overall been going backwards in more ways than the majority, of whom not even attorneys are educated in the thoughts of Cicero and Justinian, nor even permitted education in alternative religious ideas throughout the public high schools of the USA, are aware. Most recently, Americans have taken to stating contrarian opinions as necessarily true with no respect at all for any authority, or any knowledge, and even forgo any actual fact on which to base their opinions, in a massive trend of vapid insult now even nobilified with a moniker as the 'post-truth era.'
With the advent of social media, ever more sub-communities form where the less educated validate each other's naive ideas and mutually condemn more rational thought by the better informed. Neither terrorism, nor those who seek to end it, are immune from that problem. So both sides exploit it instead, making both the problem and terrorism even worse.
It is beyond the capacity of any person such as me to rectify the problem, as I had so much once hoped when I started writing on natural law two years ago. All I can do is offer knowledge given to me by those far better than me, and put it in current context. Yet no matter how relevant the truths might be to each and every person in this self-infatuated nation, they also display no interest whatsoever in learning better, just like the far more ignorant terrorists they so despise, yet for whom no better knowledge is even possible. The result is no real democracy at all, with misunderstood natural rights in post-truth name alone. Instead there is an imperial oligarchy in war with its own culture and incapable of recognizing it, where most are innocent, and far too many die for it, and all for immaterial justifications.
Many have now remarked on the dismissal of facts as important; the dismissal of rationality is only considered secondary and less important collateral damage. Putting aside the pervasive lack of interest in rationality, is the 'post-truth era' itself actually real, or is it just more 'fake news'? Sadly it seems not only real, but a genuinely new phenomenon, created by by the same technological forces that supposedly improved communication. And even more disturbing, the post-truth era could even be our last era, due to the total havoc it makes so much more possible.
Certainly similar trends have existed in the past, but I believe what is happening now is truly different and greater in scale, simply because of social media. For a while, it was a fantastic innovation, as people with particular obscure interests could find each other, which previously was totally impossible. But another corollary assemblage formed. Now people with any particular view can find others to validate it, regardless of the view's actual sensibility. When I first pointed out the trend to 'post truth' seven years ago, academics scoffed at me, and continued to scoff; until last year. Now others write about it as if it suddenly happened, but it has been gathering in force for at least a decade.
People can now easily find find reinforcement for hostile, violent, socially unacceptable views now, which would rapidly have been terminated in real-world scenarios, but which now can build impetus in anonymity until the group reaches critical mass. During the process, they create their own interpretation of world events which is published as 'fake news,' then they rapidly share it as propaganda to substantiation for their opinions. After that, they can organize to gather at some rally, when previously they would not have been able to find each other. Political parties have figured this out and now refer to it as 'new grass roots organization on the Internet.'
In concert, the remain immune to any fact or rationality contrary to their position, because they can find many others believing the same falsity. They then mutually reject any authority or academic qualification over their own opinion, and as I state, are not even open to discussing it. They simply ban or ridicule anything different to their agenda.
The aggregate of these micro communities creates a hostile dichotomy through the midst of every society, across which each side does nothing but attack and blame the other side, no matter how inconsistent or directly wrong each side's view is on any one particular point, because as I say, the discrepancies in rationality don't matter any more. There is no real interest any more in understanding what MIGHT be true, and what that would mean; instead there is only a continually mounting pressure to say that everyone outside one's own camp is wrong, accelerating into some future mutual assured destruction.
The frequency of usage of the term itself shows how rapidly an idea can overtake the minds of all. Regardless how sensible it is, the march to the devastation of nuclear war continues as necessary and unavoidable, defying all rationality altogether in its fervent imminence. The ease with which nuclear devastation could start has never been closer than in this new era of post truth.
This is no longer the fantasy it once was, as the post-truth era has also permitted development and deployment of the nuclear provocation. President Trump's planned $48 billion military upgrade will include the 20~50k kiloton B61-12 nuclear bunker buster. The plan includes placing 180 of these in Europe on the F-35 stealth bomber.
The problem with 'nuclear bunkerbuster' technology is threeefold: first, it is now argued that it is small enough to use as a tactical weapon without breaking existing treaties against nuclear weapons; second, that the detonation is too small to create a rock-glass shell to contain the radioactive residue from the explosion core, and the contamination will simply spread into the groundwater supply, thus constituting the exact unstoppable threat to civilian life which the pentagon claims it is not. Third, that the deployment of these weapons, with the statement as to their planned use without accepting treaties against nuclear weapons as pertinent, is itself an invitation to proactive nuclear strike by those under threat.
It has already been pointed out that its development broke existing nuclear weapons treaties, or rather, reinterpreted them as being irrelevant, in lockstep with the post-truth political farce which leads national leaders to claim a nuclear bunkerbuster is not a nuclear weapon. In the midst of continual and far more immediate post-truth farces, this effort continues with no noticeable public concern at all.
So it's only a matter of time until the mere existence of this bomb starts a global nuclear war.
With that I draw the curtain closed on two years of endeavor.
- This page is myne. Ernest Meyer