Handling conflicts in religious beliefs;
|Are translated into English in an obscure manner;|
|Are simply ignored;|
|Are reinterpreted -- often symbolically;|
|Are regarded as having been valid at the era and/or the society in which they were written, but are not for guidance for people today.|
Every age since Galileo has had at least one public debate with a religious component.
|Most frequently, the conflict has been between established religious organization(s) and a secular movement which is promoting change. The latter can represent physical science, medicine, a social science, etc.|
|Other times, the conflict is between a religion and a group attempting to obtain equal rights and protection under law. In the past, this often involved discrimination on the basis of race, or gender. In the early 21st century it involves equal rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals including the right to marry.|
|Finally, in some cases, the conflict has been between liberal and conservative faith groups as in the case of abortion access.|
In 1898, Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), a professor and co-founder of Cornell University, wrote a rather notorious book called "A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom." 1 He tracked many religiously-based conflicts, and showed that they often take decades or even centuries to resolve. Although his book exhibits a heavy -- sometimes vicious -- bias and opposition to religion, he did notice a pattern in these conflicts: they often go through eight stages before being finally resolved:
Since the advent of the modernist/fundamentalist divide in Christianity, religious liberals have tended to readily accept scientific findings and incorporate them into their theology and morality. Thus White's eight step process no longer applies to all of Christianity, only to the conservative wing.
|In the 1960's, many people of different Christian denominations believed that racial integration was against God's Law because it led to the "mixing of seed". The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) mounted boycotts against restaurants and hotels that served people of all races equally. (We mention the SBC because it remains the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one of the most active in the area of social and legal change). Laws in many states did not allow persons of different races to marry. A few decades after the US Supreme Court ended racial separation in the schools and declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, the scene is very different. Those Biblical passages which were so often cited to condemn mixed-race marriages are now ignored or reinterpreted. The SBC has had the decency to apologize recently for the pain that it caused African-Americans and for any residual racism that remains in the organization. Many Christian denominations are now in the forefront fighting racism.|
|Many decades ago, some Christian denominations quoted Gospel passages which blamed the Jews for executing Jesus. Included were verses in which the Jewish people at the time were said to have accepted responsibility for this immoral act, both upon themselves, and upon their children, and upon their descendants forever. Probably triggered by the horrors of the Nazi holocaust, these beliefs are now rejected by almost all Christian faith groups. The Biblical verses that were once quoted now lie almost dormant in the New Testament, or are interpreted as an example of early and regrettable anti-semitism by the early Christian church.|
|A century and a half ago, some Christians supported institution of slavery by quotations from the Bible. Other Christians (often within the same denomination) fought for its abolition. Secularists and followers of other religions were similarly split. Many Protestant denominations were severed into two groups over the slavery question. The issue was settled through negotiation in the late 18th century in Canada and by a disastrous war between the states, some seven decades later in America. Today, references to slavery in the Bible are largely ignored. Often they are obscured in English translations by substituting the title "servant" for "slave."|
Many "hot" religious debates are active today. Until the late 1990s, abortion access was the main concern by religious conservatives; equal rights for gays and lesbians was the second major concern. The order has since been reversed. During the life of this web site (1995 to the present time) corporal punishment of children has risen from obscurity to be a major topic of debate.
If the past is any indication, all of these disputes will eventually be settled. It is unfortunate that the process cannot be accelerated. Many people suffer while various groups within society laboriously work towards a new consensus on these religiously-based conflicts.
Some topics which were once hotly debated and which are now settled include:
The writers of the Bible adopted the Hebrew concept of a flat earth with a solid dome a few thousand feet up. Above the dome was Heaven. This cosmology was derived from Middle Eastern Pagan religions. The Christian church subsequently adopted Plato's ancient Pagan Greek geocentric principle: the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe and that the moon, sun and stars rotated around it.
Copernicus sounded the initial death knell of the geocentric principle in his most important book De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs) in 1543 CE. It described a crude model of a sun-centered solar system which is correct in many ways. However, he was unable to break away from an obsession with perfect circular motion by the planets. A Lutheran theologian wrote the preface to the book, which presented it as an hypothesis - a work of imagination. This minimized friction between Copernicus and Christians.
There is a great deal of misinformation circulating about the reaction of the Catholic and Protestant churches to the Copernican theory. For example:
|Giordano Bruno, (1548-1600) an early supporter of Copernicus' theory, is commonly believed to have been burned at the stake because of his support for the geocentric principle -- specifically that the earth was not the center of the universe, and that it was a mere planet revolving around the sun. 7 He was in fact tried by the Court of the Inquisition on theological charges for his many heresies -- largely dealing with salvation and the human soul. 8 "There is nothing in his writings that contributed to our knowledge of astronomy in any substantial way, indeed his astronomical writings reveal a poor grasp of the subject on several important points." 8|
|Martin Luther is often quoted as having mentioned Joshua's command in Joshua 12:13 that the sun stand still as proof that the Copernican theory was false. This citation is in doubt.|
Initially, the Church took no action against the geocentric principle. It was not until 1616, that De Revolutionibus and other similar books were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. It was removed from the Index and published in Italy after 1616 after minor editing changes were made. The concept of heliocentricism was finally condemned by Pope Alexander VII who banned "all books which affirm the motion of the earth.'' 8
To defend the status-quo, Protestant and Catholic churches often quoted biblical passage. for example:
|Psalms 19:4-5 in which the sun "cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber".|
|Ecclesiastes 1:4 which refers to: "The earth standeth fast forever".|
Early in the 17th century, Galileo's telescope revolutionized astronomy. He observed that the planet Venus went through phases, that there were spots on the sun and that Jupiter had moons. The church arrested Galileo twice; the Inquisition showed him the instruments of torture that would be used to force his recantation. He abandoned his teachings under pressure and retired. It was not until the year 1835 that the teachings of Copernicus and Galileo were finally accepted by his Church.
|Roger Bacon (13th Century) was imprisoned for 14 years for his experiments in time pieces, optics, chemical extractions, refraction of light, etc.|
|John Barillon (14th Century) was jailed because he possessed chemical furnaces and apparatus.|
|Antonio de Dominius (15th Century) was killed by the Inquisition for his experiments into the properties of light.|
|"Since the astronomy of antiquity it had been considered a sacred truth that planets moved along exact circles: The circle was the most perfect curve and the celestial bodies were the most perfect bodies." 9 (They actually move in ellipses; "the sun being stationary in one focus of the ellipse.") 9|
|Theologians believed that we see lightning before thunder because "sight is nobler than hearing."|
|The Greek Phythagoreans believed that the number seven pointed symbolically to the union of the Deity with the universe. This association was picked up by the Christian church, especially during the Middle Ages. Seven was regarded as having sacred power, as in the seven cardinal virtues, seven deadly sins, seven sacraments, seven churches mentioned in the last book in the Bible, Revelation, etc. Thus it was held that there must logically be exactly seven planets. Most astronomers considered Pluto to be the ninth planet, until 2006-AUG when, by a majority vote by the International Astronomical Union's (IAU), its status was reduced to a "dwarf planet," leaving only eight planets. 12|
|Religious leaders believed for a time that a vacuum was impossible, because a vacuum implies nothing; that would mean that there would be at least a small area of the universe where God was not present. That was believed to be theologically impossible.|
Leviticus 25:36, Deuteronomy 23:19, Psalms 15:5 and Luke 6:35 prohibit interest payments on loans. This policy was carried over from Judaism into Christianity. The rationale given by theologians was based on "natural law:" Only living entities can grow. Since money is not alive, it must remain fixed in size. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas lent their support. Usury was defined as the charging of any interest whatsoever by 28 councils of the Church and by 17 popes. Pope Clement V made it a heresy to even suggest that the idea of interest could be acceptable.
Fortunately, Calvin argued that usury really meant oppressively high interest rates. The Roman Catholic church reluctantly followed the Protestant lead. By the 19th century, interest had become a non-issue.
The churches had always held that Satan, the "Prince of the Power of the Air", controlled all lightning and thunder. But in 1752, Franklin's experiment during a thunder storm proved that lightning was an electrical phenomenon. He was lucky. The experiment was replicated by an experimenter in France, who was electrocuted.
Lightning rods were a logical development; they protected buildings wherever they were installed. Unfortunately, to install a "heretical rod" was to admit that centuries of theological teachings were false. Churches were reluctant to use them. Seventeen years after Franklin's experiment, lightning struck the unprotected Church of San Nazaro, near Venice. This ignited 200,000 pounds of powder which had been stored there for safe keeping. The explosion wiped out one sixth of the city of Brescia and killed 3,000 people. Lightning rods soon appeared on spires across Italy.
In 1846 James Simpson, a Scottish physician promoted the use of chloroform to relieve pain during childbirth. This was opposed by the Church, citing Genesis 3:16 "...I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children". The avoidance of pain was seen as thwarting God's will. Fortunately, Simpson found a competing passage (Genesis 2:21) which describes the first surgical operation; it seems to support the use of anesthetic: "...God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam.....he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh.." In time, the Church's opposition dissipated; pain killers have since lost their religious significance.
Early in the 17th Century, physicians in France and Great Britain promoted inoculations to prevent small pox. Theologians were quick to respond. Rev. Edward Massy in England preached a sermon blaming the distemper experienced by Job in the Bible upon an inoculation by Satan. Other clergy preached that the technique was being promoted by evil sorcerers and atheists. Smallpox was regarded as "a judgment of God on the sins of the people......to avert it is but to provoke him more". Inoculation was "an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite."
Jenner's development of vaccination was similarly opposed on religious grounds. By preventing the spread of disease, they were "bidding defiance to Heaven itself - even to the will of God." In 1885, a serious epidemic of smallpox broke out in Montreal Canada. Few Protestants died because they had been mostly vaccinated. However the Roman Catholic clergy were generally opposed to the practice; their parishioners died needlessly, and in great numbers.
Birth Control appears (at most) only once in the Bible. See Genesis 38:1-10.
Judah (circa 1730 BCE) had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. The eldest son, Er, was "wicked in the sight of the Lord", and so God killed him. This placed the responsibility on the next eldest son to marry Er's widow, Tamar and to have a male child. The child would then be considered the son of Er.
Onan married the widow, but was unwilling to conceive a child which would not be considered his own. He practiced an elementary form of birth control (coitus interruptus). God did not approve of this, and so He killed Onan as well. It is not clear whether God disapproved of Onan's refusal to follow Jewish custom and provide an heir for his brother, or of his use of birth control. Most modern commentators believe the former; many ancient Christian leaders selected the latter.
St. Augustine (354-430 CE) commented on this biblical passage. He wrote that "where the conception of the offspring is prevented", sexual intercourse is "unlawful and wicked". St. Augustine did not differentiate between coitus interruptus and the rhythm method. This established Church policy for centuries. Interestingly enough, later clerics totally misinterpreted this same chapter; they said that Onan's crime was masturbation, not coitus interruptus. It was believed that God killed him for what became known as "self abuse"; Onanism became a synonym for masturbation.
The Christian Church's stand on artificial birth control was adopted by the Protestant sects after the Reformation:
|Martin Luther equated birth control to sodomy.|
|The Synod of Dordt stated that "contraception is the same as abortion".|
|John Calvin said that birth control is "the murder of future persons."|
|John Wesley declared that contraception is "unnatural and destroys the souls of those who practice it."|
All churches remained totally opposed to contraception until the Church of England took a courageous stand in 1930 by stating that birth control might be allowable under certain conditions. Other Protestant churches quickly followed their lead. Pius XI issued an encyclical in 1930 which reiterated the traditional view of the Roman Catholic Church which bans what they describe as "artificial" methods of birth control.
All birth control methods can be considered "barrier" methods:
|Some use the barrier of time by attempting to schedule sexual intercourse for those intervals when it is unlikely that the woman is ovulating.|
|Others use a physical barrier to attempt to keep sperm and egg apart or by preventing attachment of the fertilized egg to the lining of the womb.|
|Still others use a chemical barrier which prevents ovulation.|
In 1951, Pius XII made the first break with tradition. He said that the so-called "safe period" or "rhythm method" was lawful under certain circumstances; however other techniques remained forbidden. Pope John later set up advisory committee of specialists to study the legality of "the pill". Although the committee was stacked with individuals opposed to birth control, the majority altered their opinion during the life of the committee, after they had learned of the worldwide necessity for some means of lowering the birth rate in order to prevent unbearable levels of suffering. In 1968, Pope Paul VI ignored the majority recommendation of the panel and ruled against all "artificial" methods of birth control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. 11
Pope Paul's decision was met with widespread criticism from many within and without the Church. The laity in North America has generally ignored the encyclical and is now widely practicing birth control. It has proven difficult for the Church to maintain control over its flock in a multi-faith, and highly secularized culture. The family size of Protestants now differs very little from that of Roman Catholics.
This conflict is different from those described previously, because it is still an active concern within the Roman Catholic Church - at least among the leadership.
This is a special conflict between religion and science which we include here because:
|It is a hoax, and|
|It is still widely believed.|
There is massive documentary evidence that the Medieval Christian Church generally accepted Pagan cosmology developed by ancient Greeks which taught that the earth was spherical. However, an opposing belief that the church taught a flat earth began in the early 19th century, became near universal, and is only slowly dissipating today. The "Historical Society of Britain some years back listed [this belief] as number one in its short compendium of the ten most common historical illusions." 2 Some sources of the hoax were:
|Washington Irving (1783-1859) wrote a history of Christopher Columbus in 1828. 3 The book includes "a fictitious account of Columbus's defending a round earth against misinformed clerics and university professors," in 1491. This fictional account was accepted as a historical documentary.|
|A strongly anti-religious French author, Antoine-Jean "...Letronne falsely claimed that most of the Church Fathers, including Augustine, Ambrose and Basil, held to a flat Earth. 2|
|This idea was repeated by two leading anti-religious writers, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, later in the 19th century. 4|
This hoax became imbedded in school books as early as the 1860's. It continues in some texts to the present day. Author Daniel Boorstin, wrote, as late as 1985: "A Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia...afflicted the continent from...300 to at least 1300 [CE]. During those centuries Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers." 5
The hoax continues, in ever diminishing strength. More details
Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2007-AUG-03
Author: B.A. Robinson
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