Monday, February 26, 2007

The Godless, Inhuman Dark Ages

I caught mention of this at Bligbi

The Dark Ages: 600 years of Godless Inhuman Behavior.

This is the tag line that the History Channel is using to promote a new show, as seen in its advertisement. Apparently, somebody got the idea that atheist barbarians were responsible for this period of intellectual stagnation.

I'm thinking that there might be a sequel.

"The Holocaust: A Jewish Crime against Humanity."

If one were to conduct a poll in Europe between 500 and 1100 AD, I wonder what percent of the population would announce that they were 'atheist' or even 'agnostic' or the ambiguous 'no religion'.

I am going to take a guess that the answer will be at or near zero percent.

Yet, for some reason, the History Channel has decided to blame this small and possibly non-existant group with all of the death and suffering, crime and disease of the Dark Ages.

Perhaps the show itself will explain how so few people (at or near zero), who could not even speak their beliefs in public without inviting torture and execution, acquired so much cultural influence that they were responsible for so much bad in the world.

This absurdity of blaming the dark ages on godlessness makes me wonder how this idea got into the minds of those who advertised it. What are the causes that lie behind this effect?

Possible theories may include a conscious conspiracy of hate-mongering and scapegoating. Yet, this seems highly contrived - like assuming that there must be an intelligent designer responsible for the human eye. If we had evidence of a conspiracy - some leaked memo or a string of public statements leading directly to such a conclusion, we would have evidence for an accusation. In the absence of such evidence, we should look at natural explanations.

Promotions are market-tested. There is a lot of money at stake, so it is standard practice to come up with several ideas for a promotion and test them formally and informally. One sensible market test is to call a focus group and ask them, "Which option would make you most likely to watch the show?"

We have surveys that show that atheists are the 'most hated' group in America. That attitude tells us something about the focus group. They are going to respond positively to ant claim that 'the godless' are responsible for anything bad. We do not need to postulate a conspiracy. We only need to postulate a popular attitude of hate, and we already have independent confirmation of that.

Of course, marketers play a role. A campaign such as this requires somebody with an imagination (and with no conscience) to come up with ideas to test before the focus group. Some marketer had to realize that "600 years of godless inhuman behavior" would have a shot at winning the focus group.

Anybody with a shred of intellectual integrity would have asked the question, "What percentage of the population would have called themselves Godless, and did they have positions of significant cultural influence?" They would have them realize that the statement was a historically inaccurate.

Anybody with a shred of moral integrity would have realized that this was not a victimless oversight. Instead, it was quite comparable to advertising a show called, "The Holocaust: A Jewish Crime against Humanity," if it were to pass the focus group test. Instead of, perhaps, using the fact that it won the test to conclude that the culture is moving in a dangerous and wholly immoral and unjust direction.

The next question to ask is: why does it matter? Is this not a trivial transgression of little moral significance in the grand scheme of things?

I think not.

This hatred of atheism is being used as a marketing tool to promote hatred for some very important values. It's hatred against evidence-based thinking. It's hatred against the idea that we live in a universe that cares nothing about human survival, so we must. It's hatred against a number of policies such as stem cell research that can reduce death and suffering.. It's hatred of those who would protest attempting to defend the country from hurricanes and terrorist strikes is to make an offering of homosexuals on some legislative altar to appease God.

It seriously is time to ask how important it is to give our children a better world than we received. It is time to ask how important it is that atheists grow up to have all of the opportunities that intelligent people of good moral character are entitled to, including opportunities to serve in government and to have the respect they deserve from their peers – to be judged by their own actions rather than to be judged as ‘godless, and therefore inhuman’.

The History Channel has a site for accepting comments on specific shows.

You can also participate in its forums.


bpabbott said...

Personally, I find the words and actions of too many self-proclaimed theists to be "Godless" ... I'd hate to know what they might be thinking ;-)

My point being, that the reference to "Godless" may not refer to what people of that age believed, but how we would characterize their actions/morality today.

Even so ... poor choice of words on their part.

If I'm wrong, I hope the History Channel isn't planning a show on our Founding Father's intentions when writing the first amendment ;-)

Shawn Wilkinson said...

I wonder if bpabbott is on the right track. The behavior of some kings, nobles, and evern clergy is hardly able to be described as God-worthy, both in a general abstract way or specific to modern Christiany. But if they refer to 'Godless' in the sense of non-believers being the sole cause, a severe historical oversight incurred in their ad campaign.

Luckily, historians and marketers are a different species. I don't think it's right of the history channel, in any context, to devise a quip which can be misleading. I agree with your post.

Patness said...

I dunno, gentlemen. The reference to death metal is pretty straightforward. Death metal stems strongly from anti-christian rhetoric and proclaimed satanism. However, it requires a little more of me to believe that "600 years of godlessness" in any way matches up with that. I'm curious to see where and how they'll pass blame.

It wouldn't be the first time a group of people deliberately turned their back on history.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

In order to interpret what somebody says, it is useful to look at the context in which it is said.

The advertisement was meant for the general public. As such, the most reasonable interpretation is that it used the general public concept of "Godless" - the equivalent of "atheist".

The fact is, the people at the time very much thought of their actions as God-worthy. Come modern Christians do not. However, this does not change the fact that the people we are talking about thought very much that God gave their actions legitimacy.

Anonymous said...

This title is utter-nonsence. Anyone with half a brain knows that during the Dark Ages 'The Church' was the dominated the old world.

After Christianity aided in bringing Rome to ruin, "The Church" seized control of the rest of Europe and drove the continent into the Dark Ages. It was not "Godlessness" in the sense of being Non-Theistic. It was a brutal and savage time that was ruled by "The Church".

If Rome was allowed to continue things would be different. The rise of the Chistian Cult is what lead to the demise of civil society and the Dark Ages.

The History Channel seems to be moving towards a Xtian/right-wing palette as of late. I used to like The History Channel, but I think I will back off on watching.

Shawn Wilkinson said...

Alonzo, you're argument prevails in context of the audience, if indeed that was their intent. I agree with you there, but a small benefit of the doubt is deserved for those who simply thought it was a cool title without repercussions. As a true believer in hanlon's razor, it is easier to attribute stupidity over malice.

Anonymous, the Germanic tribes which invaded the Western Roman Empire held beliefs in gods and godesses similar to the Norse, like Thor et al. In a sense, 'Godlessness' could be a really oversimplified view on the religious beliefs of the invading tribes. But since the series goes beyond this an into the Crusades, I doubt this is what was meant.

Now, the Church was definitely in power, and the Church definitely did a lot of atrocious things during the Middle Ages. However, I have reservations for blaming the entirety of the 'Dark Ages' on Catholicism and a strict adherence to scholasticism. I am not well verse in this time period as, say, Daniel Smail of Harvard. But from my understanding, Christian Rome had little to do with its own demise but the vigor of the invaders from the North. The cultural infusion which ensued set Rome and Europe back in terms of social progress, not simply Christianity. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

I can't even tell you how glad I am that that I am not the only person frustrated by the History Channel. I remember it wasn't too long ago they had aired a special called "The Rivals of Jesus." Of COURSE they were rivals, otherwise how could Jesus be the "Winner." They could have just as easily called them "Comtemporaries" or something less confrontational. The History Channel seems to have only two real areas of study: Jesus and Nazis.