The name of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland is one that every European should know and speak with pride.
In September 1683, the city of Vienna was near to collapse. For months, it had been under siege by the Islamic hordes of the Islamic Ottoman army. Every day now, starvation and surrender grew closer. The city had long since run out of horses and pets to eat and even rats were few and far between now.
Worse, the Viennese knew that other Europeans had been the instruments of their doom. Swiss Calvinists had begged the Turks to attack, so that they could sweep away Catholicism. It beggars belief that Christians could call down the hounds of Islamic hell on their fellow Europeans, but that they had, hoping, no doubt, to negotiate some deal, a reward for their treachery, that might spare them the scimitar or a lifetime of submission to the foul creed of Islam.
The city’s defenders, listening in its basements, could hear the scrape-scrap of pick and shovel as the enemy’s sappers undermined them. Soon they would plant another huge mine and blow up a section of the city’s curtain wall, breaching it and allowing the enemy in. Nobody in Vienna was under any illusion as to what would happen then: the men would be tortured and killed or enslaved, the women would be raped and killed or enslaved and the children slaughtered. The behaviour of triumphant Islamic armies was well known.
Today, the Twelfth of September, was the last. The government of the city knew it. The people knew it and worse, the enemy knew it. They were ready: their final attack was to come on the twelfth of the month. There was nothing left. Vienna would fall. Without a miracle, Vienna must fall, and with it, Europe.
When Islam, in the form of the Ottoman Empire, launched the attack on Europe that ended before Vienna, it was engaged in Jihad — fighting in the name of Allah, to make the world Islamic. The Caliph, his general and all the men who fought, were carrying out their religious duty — to conquer the world for Islam. This is Offensive Jihad, the most aggressive form. We see it today in Daesh and similar bandit groups today, but under the Ottomans, it motivated the biggest killing machine in the world.
There are other forms of jihad, and they may, in the right circumstances, be almost as effective at destroying other cultures and their values. They corrode them just by contact.
The Philippines is steeped in folklore and mythology. The very air seems supernatural at times and even today, Filipinos firmly believe in the supernatural creatures which also populate their country. Best known of these are Aswangs and Engkantos.
Many of these beliefs certainly date from the pre-colonial period and before the establishment of Catholicism as the dominant religion. Prior to this, the Philippines was not a unitary polity, but was made up of many small kingdoms and tribal areas. These all seem to have believed in a somewhat similar form of Animism but were all brought together under one faith and one colonial rule, by the Spanish.
The New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and many others, purported to offer a sane, secular attempt to roll back religiosity for the betterment of society. Instead, their efforts have begat the mother of all calamities.
How did this come to pass?
Scientific atheism, as promoted by the New Atheists, lacks any unifying central structure or code. Essentially it is based on a negative — not believing in God. So it can’t have a defining structure. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent New Atheists, tried to answer this with his ‘brights’ — which was an embarrassment. (Since at least 2014, Dawkins has self-identified as a ‘secular Christian’ anyway.)
After the Enlightenment and especially the French Revolution, European secularism based itself around Reason as the core methodology that would replace, in the minds of those who were atheist, religious belief. This reflected a rejection of hierarchical religious authority, which had begun in the Reformation. The works of philosophers like Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant and Paine promoted the idea of the free-thinking individual whose intellectual scalpel was Reason. Both of these were exported to the US.
Being a European, of course, I had no direct experience of Southern Baptism or any of the other so called ‘Evangelical’ cults until about five years ago, and even then it seemed relatively harmless. They were just a bunch of crackpot fringe-dwellers, somewhat like the Moonies or the Baha’i. Still, I was beginning to see pattern, as I read the writings of Baptist seminarians and ‘thinkers’. Was there any substance to this cult at all, or was it just anything anyone wanted it to be? Was it, indeed, actually dangerous?
I am proud to be a European. Our culture has many faults, yet at the same time it has given the world so much. Science and democracy, equality under law and social inclusion simply would not exist without it. And across culture, art, science, engineering and technology, our culture remains a brilliant star, without which light, we would still be in the Dark Ages. I am very proud and lucky to be a part of that.
Despite this, I believed, for many years, that other cultures were equal.
But I was wrong. Culture is not a level playing field. The very qualities that define Western culture represent a system of morality, which allow us to judge other cultures. And we definitely should judge them.
Ley-lines were invented by an Englishman called Alfred Watkins, who had spent much time cycling around the countryside near his home. In 1925, he wrote a book called “The Old Straight Track”, in which he described a revelation he’d had while looking at a map of Herefordshire four years earlier. He had suddenly seen a network of straight lines that connected points of human activity, such as
“Mounds, Long-barrows, Cairns, Cursus, Dolmens, Standing stones, mark-stones, Stone circles, Henges, Water-markers (moats, ponds, springs, fords, wells), Castle, Beacon-hills, Churches, Cross-roads, Notches in hills,”
The god proposition is supported not by fact, but by faith. At the end of the day, the final word that the religiously-disposed have is to say that “It is so because I believe it to be so,” before covering their ears. For them, this trumps everything.
This is the hook that caught Descartes when he confronted the issue, and then backed off very quickly. “I think,” he said, “Therefore I am.” This is fine. He is self-aware therefore he is sure he exists. He cannot be entirely sure that he exists as he perceives himself or that anything that is around him is as he perceives it, but he does make a very convincing argument, based on the progression of rational logic, that it is so (and thus takes several hundred pages to confirm what any pragmatist already knows. But that’s an aside.) However, when confronted by the idea of God, God must exist, he says “Because he cannot imagine a world in which he does not.” Oops.
Merry Christmas, Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, Holidays…it doesn’t really matter what it’s called, because the meaning is the same: this is the time of renewal, when we slough off the old year and the wearisome encrustations that have built up and look forward to the new. It is the time when our sun, Sol, which has been slipping lower and lower in the sky, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere, stops, and begins to rise again, bringing with it the promise of warmth.