The Tuloriad Afterword
Where was Secular Humanism at Lepanto?
The moral of this story, this afterword, is “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” Keep that in mind as you read.
In any case, religious fanatics? Us? We don’t think so.
We’re not going to sit here and lecture you on the value and validity of atheism versus faith. We’ll leave that to Hitchens and Dawkins or D’Souza or the pope or anyone else who cares to make the leap. One way or the other. Hearty shrugs, all around. A defense of the existence of God was never the purpose of the book, anyway, though we would be unsurprised to see any number of claims, after publication, that it is such a defense.
Sorry, it ain’t, either in defense of Revelations or in defense of Hitchens’ revelation that there was no God when Hitchens was nine years old. (Besides, Dinesh D’Souza does a much better job of thrashing Hitchens in public than we could, even if we cared to.)
Moreover, nope, we don’t think it’s unethical to be an atheist. We don’t think it’s impossible, or really any more difficult or unlikely, to be an atheist and still be a highly ethical human being. The same, sadly, cannot be said for governments. Thus, consider, say, the retail horrors of the Spanish Inquisition which, from 1481 to 1834 killed—shudder—not more than five thousand people, few or none of them atheists, and possibly closer to two thousand. Compare that to expressly atheistic regimes—the Soviet Union, for example, in which a thousand people a day, twenty-five hundred a day by Robert Conquest’s tally— were put to death in 1937 and ’38. And that’s not even counting starved Ukrainians by the millions. The death toll in Maoist China is said to have been much, much greater. Twenty million? Thirty million? A hundred million? Who knows?
Personally, we’d take our chances with the Inquisition before we would take them with a militantly communist, which is to say, atheist, regime. The Inquisition, after all, was a complete stranger neither to humanity nor to the concept of mercy.
But that’s still not the point of this book or this afterword. Go back to the afterword’s title. Ever heard of Lepanto? Everyone knows about the Three Hundred Spartans now, at least in some form or another, from the movies. Not enough people know about the battle of Lepanto.
Lepanto (7 October, 1571, 17 October, by our calendar), near the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth and the site of several battles from Naupactus on, was a naval battle, the last really great battle of oar-powered ships, between the fleet of the Moslem Ottoman Empire and the combined, individually much inferior, fleets of the Papacy, Christian Venice, Spain, plus tiny contingents from various places like Malta and Genoa. The combined Christian fleet was outnumbered, both in terms of ships and in terms of soldiers—”Marines,” we would say today—who made those ships effective. Yes, they had half a dozen “super-weapons” in the form of what were called “galleasses”—bigger galleys (but much slower, they had to be towed into line by others, and one third of those could not even be towed into position), mounting more and larger guns, and carrying more Marines—but still the odds lay fairly heavily with the Ottomans.
Those odds ran about two hundred and eighty-six warships, some of them smaller (Turk), to two hundred and twelve (Christian), six of them larger. In soldiery the odds were similar. The Christians had a better than two to one advantage in artillery, yet this means less than we would think today, since the bulk of artillery on a galley was intended to be fired once, generally without careful aim, and then promptly forgotten as the ship-borne infantry took over the fight.
Worse for the Christians, the Ottomans had a much greater degree of unity of command. Indeed, for most of the larger individual sections of the Christian fleet, there were long-term, serious advantages to letting the other sections be crushed. It wasn’t, after all, as if Spain and Venice were great friends.
Nor were the stakes notably small. The last jewel of the Byzantine Empire, its capital, Constantinople, had fallen the century prior (after, be it noted, having been badly weakened by being sacked by “Christians” two and a half centuries before that). Since then, the Ottomans had exploded across the known world. The Levant was theirs, as were Egypt and Mesopotamia, along with most of North Africa. The Balkans, too, had fallen to the crescent. Thousands in Italy had been killed or enslaved by Ottoman sea raiders. An almanac of Venice, for the year 1545, showed half a dozen Ottoman galleys, raiders, close offshore.
Times looked bleak, indeed, for Western Christendom. And yet, when the smoke cleared, the Ottoman fleet, despite exemplary bravery on the part of the men, was crushed, never really fully to recover. Christian losses in men had been severe, yet were only about equal to the number of Christian slaves liberated from Ottoman galleys.
It was a victory even an atheist might be inclined to call miraculous, with the Ottomans losing about fifteen ships for each Christian loss; over one hundred and eighty Moslem galleys to twelve.
Now let’s suppose, just for the moment and just arguendo, that God doesn’t exist, that He’s a pure figment of the imagination. What then won the battle of Lepanto? No, back off. What got the Christian fleet together even to fight the battle, for without getting together to fight it it could never have been won?
The answer is, of course, faith, the faith of the pope, Pius V, who did the political maneuvering and much of the financing, and also the faith of the kings, doges, nobles and perhaps especially the common folk who manned the fleet. And that answer does not depend on the validity of faith, only upon its sincere existence. Faith is, in short, a weapon, the gun you bring to a certain kind of gunfight.
They’ve taken to calling themselves “brights,” of late, those who disparage and attack faith. At least, some of them have. One can’t help but note the prior but parallel usurpation of the word “gay” by homosexuals. And, just as gays do not appear notably happier than anyone else, one may well doubt whether “brights” are any smarter . . . or even as smart.
Example: The religious impulse is as near to universal a human phenomenon as one might imagine. Not that every human being has it, of course, but it has been present, and almost invariably prevalent, in every human society which did not actively suppress it (and some that did).
Now imagine you’re a human being of broadly liberal sentiment, much opposed to religion and also much opposed to the oppression of women and gays, equally much against sexual repression, which, by you, and not without some reason on your part, religion is generally held responsible for. You are, in other words, a “bright.” Let’s say, moreover, that you’re a European “bright.”
What has been the effect of your, the collective “your,” attacks on and disparagement of Christianity? Did you get rid of religion? Yes . . . ummm . . . well, no. You got rid of Christianity for the most part. And left a spiritual vacuum for Islam. So, in lieu of one religion, a religion, be it noted, that has become a fairly live-and-let-live phenomenon, you’ve managed to set things up nicely for a religion which is by no means live-and-let-live. You’ve arranged to replace a religion that hasn’t really done much to oppress women and gays in, oh, a very long time, with one firmly dedicated to the oppression of the one and the extinction of the other.
And you’ll insist on calling this “bright,” won’t you? Because it so cleverly advances your long-term goals, right?
Christopher Hitchens even subtitled his recent book on the subject, How Religion Poisons Everything. Odd, isn’t it, that the subtitle fails to note that with poison toxicity is in the dose? Or that some doses are worse than others. Or that, given that near universal religious impulse, to get rid of the nonpoisonous dose sets things up for a poisonous one? Yet this is “bright.”
Did religion poison those Christian sailors, rowers, and Marines at Lepanto? No; it was not poison to them, but the elixir of strength that gathered them and enabled them to prevail against a religion that was poisonous to them and their way of life. And isn’t that odd, too? That such a bright man as Hitchens should claim religion poisons “everything,” when the plain historical record, just limiting ourselves for the moment to Lepanto—something a bright man ought to know about—shows that this is not the case?
Hmmm. Perhaps “bright” doesn’t mean, after all, what “brights” want it to mean.
Theft of the word “bright,” while it doesn’t quite rise to the level of linguistic matricide (the malicious murder of one’s mother tongue), so common in PC circles, is still an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. It’s hardly the only one. For example, it is often claimed that there’s not a shred of evidence for the existence of God. This is simple nonsense; there’s lots of evidence, some of it weaker and some of it stronger. Some of it is highly questionable and other portions very hard to explain away. (And one of our favorite bits revolves around just when and how Pius V knewthat the battle of Lepanto had been won, at the time it had been won, and in the absence of long-range communications. Look it up. Really.)
Evidence, in any case, there is. What there isn’t is absolute, irrefutable proof,. To use the word “evidence,” when what you mean is “irrefutable proof,” is intellectual dishonesty of quite a high order, much worse, much more vile, than simple theft of a word. It’s even worse, in its way, than the intellectual dishonesty of failure to note, when discussing poisons, that toxicity is in the dose.
But then if “brights” are not required to be “bright,” if a disliked religion must give way even if it opens up the world to a loathed one, how can we expect “evidence” not to mean “proof” or dosage to matter to toxicity?
And some would insist, still, that the contradictions claimed to be in the New Testiment render it invalid.
Note, at this point, that we have still not claimed that, in fact, there is a God. We may, and do, believe that there is, and believe that there is evidence that there is. But there is no absolute proof, a point we’ve already readily conceded, and we see no point in arguing for what cannot be proven.
Still, we can’t help but note that much of what masquerades as disbelief in God is really just disapproval. Consider the following pair of claims on the subject, voiced, along with some others, by Hitchens during a debate with Dinesh D’Souza:
1) People are badly designed. No god could be so incompetent.
2) Earth is not paradise. Most of humanity has lived in misery for most of mankind’s existence, though things are somewhat improved now. No god could be so heartless. No real god could have permitted Auschwitz.
These are the criteria by which a god should be measured, his similarity to Himmler, in some particulars, and Stalin, in others?
Never mind. Let “brights” be not very bright. Let dosage not matter to toxicity. Twist word meanings. Make Stalin a god, too. Why not; it’s been done before and likely will again.
Even so, never go to a gunfight without a gun and, if you intend to win, never go to a religious war without religion. You’ll lose.