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Christmas, Religion and State
December 20, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Polybius's argument for Religion

Writing in the second century before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Polybius described the merits of Roman religious institutions:

"However, the sphere in which the Roman commonwealth seems to me to show its superiority most decisively is in that of religious belief. Here we find that the very phenomenon which among other peoples is regarded as a subject for reproach, namely superstition, is actually the element that holds the Roman state together. These mattes are treated with such solemnity and introduced so frequently both into public and into private life that nothing could exceed them in importance.

"Many people find this astonishing, but my own view is that the Romans have adapted these practices for the sake of the common people. This approach might not have been necessary had it ever been possible to form a state composed entirely of wise men. But as the masses are always fickle, filled with lawless desires, unreasoning anger and violent passions, then can only be restrained by mysterious terrors or other dramatization of the subject. For this reason I believe that the ancients were by no means acting foolishly or haphazardly when they introduced to the people various notions concerning the gods and belief in the punishments of Hades, but rather that the moderns are foolish and take great risks in rejecting them."

Here we have an early description of religion as social engineering. It is an argument still made today. It is not entirely specious. Some people, and not just children, believe that they will be punished after death for sins committed in life. That helps them overcome temptations to lie, steal, refuse to pay tithes and taxes, and etc.

On the other hand, plenty of humans just are not that gullible. They can separate out fact from fiction. Indeed, Polybius himself in other sections of The Rise of the Roman Empire derides people for believing in miracles and "sons of gods." He essentially says that wise men don't need superstition to keep them ethical. They are ethical because it works out best, or because they have honor.

So here we are, nearly 2,200 years later, and you have to wonder: are the idiots elected to the Ohio legislature true believers in Jesus and in the sinfulness of abortion, or are they just trying to control the masses of idiots who either did not vote, or voted for them? Probably a combination.

We know women have less unwanted pregnancies when they are better educated and have full access to birth control and abortion services. I can only conclude that Republican elected leaders, in Ohio and elsewhere, want women to get pregnant whether the women want it or not.

Then of course we have hypocrites in high places, something Jesus (son of god or not) complained about. Donald Trump is now synonymous with womanizing. Where is the Biblical inspiration for that? What would Jesus think of Miss Universe pageants? Of luxury hotels and gold courses?

Finally, what should the Christmas meal consist of? I propose eating what Joseph and Mary probably ate on Christmas Day: a bit or barley gruel, or perhaps a bit of wheat bread.

Merry Christmas.

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