Subject: European History

Sex in Medieval Convents

The history of celibacy and the Christian religion, most specifically the Catholic faith, is well known.  Christianity is a sex negative religion.  But when historians write about sex, celibacy and the convents of the Medieval Era, several different viewpoints emerge, viewpoints which seem to be conflicting in many aspects.  The history of women in convents during the Middle Ages appears to consist of different perspectives about nuns’ reasons for entering religious retreats and their conduct after they had taken vows of celibacy.  I do not believe some of the scholars who write from different frames of reference about women and the convents are wrong.  There is not one answer, but rather varied historical perspectives.  Therefore, I have decided to discuss the most salient approaches and then try to reconcile the contradictions by arriving at a middle point. The first argument, that women prized their virginity to the point of committing

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World War One and the Rise of Spiritualism

In earlier lectures at AtheistScholar.org, I have interrogated the concept of the desire for human immortality and its causes.  (Please see two lectures:  The Illusion of Immortality, Part 1 and The Illusion of Immortality, Part 2.)  Many scholars and researchers have reached the consensus that for numbers of people, the Western concept of immortality, with its promise of heaven as a place of reward for desirable behavior on earth, and fear of hell as a place of everlasting torment for the wicked, assures the satisfaction of two very important human desires.  The first need of people is to be assured of a life that never ends. The second is the satisfaction of the wish for recompense.  People want to believe that the wicked on earth will receive their just punishment, an everlasting one, in hell. This paper will explore how war and societal change in America and in England weakened the grip  of

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The Inquisition: An Atheist Perspective

This lecture will discuss some of the reasons for the Inquisition, an ecclesiastical tribunal of the Catholic Church, first established formally between 1227 and 1233, during the pontificate of Gregory IX.  It will discuss the three main divisions of the Inquisition, which was never a secular institution, although we shall see the role the secular authorities played in carrying out the sentences of the condemned. We shall also see how the Inquisition in Spain was under the control of the monarchy rather than the Pope. There was the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, which ultimately spread to Portugal and other areas as well, and the Roman Inquisition, which was the one that ensnared Galileo. (Please see the text and link to the lecture titled The Conflict between Science and Religion, Part 1 for a more thorough discussion on the trial of Galileo.) There were smaller tributaries of the Inquisition, as

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Introduction to the Crusades: An Atheist Perspective

In this lecture, I shall discuss the Crusades, or so-called Holy Wars, of the Middle Ages.  I have limited my lecture to the first five Crusades, spanning the years from 1095 to about 1229.  The lecture will exclusively survey the Crusades that were undertaken against the East, which encompasses the first five.  Our talk will glance at the battles, the reasons for the Crusades, both overt and covert, and the communal acceptance of violence in the cause of religion. I shall touch on the role of women during the Crusades as well. I shall be discussing these strange wars from the vantage point of the Western crusaders, but make no mistake, although I am pointing out much of the gratuitous violence of the Christian armies, I am not an apologist for the Muslim cause.  The Christians, the Saracens, and the Byzantine Emperors, all active players in the Eastern wars, were

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How Atomism and Lucretius Made the Renaissance Modern

Our lecture will attempt to present a brief overview of atomism and the idea of the immortal soul.  The topic of our presentation is the Epicurean school of philosophy, its brilliant exposition by the philosopher/poet, Lucretius, in On the Nature of Things, and the return of the naturalistic philosophy to Renaissance Italy.  It is an exciting story, how Lucretius’s 50 B.C.E. poem was almost lost, how copies were made and spread across Italy in the 15th and 16th Centuries, and how its influence proliferated throughout the Western world.  The Epicurean contribution to the Renaissance helped with that world’s advance into the modern spirit.  It benefited and reinforced thinkers’ unbelief in the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Church.  Some people embraced an early atheism, as well.  I will begin the lecture with some definitions of essential ideas, go over some of the history and philosophic stances of the Epicureans, and then relate how the humanist

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The Enlightenment, Part 2: Radical Enlightenment

Next, I am going to be discussing the Radical Enlightenment of the 18th Century.  The Radical Enlightenment has not been covered properly by historians until recent years and should be of great interest to atheists and other secular people.  We shall be covering its roots in the 16th and 17th Centuries, its fruition in the 18th, and its relation to the French Revolution of 1789.  We shall also briefly glance at the Terror and the Counter-Enlightenment, both reactions to the entire progressive project undertaken by many philosophers of that era.  We shall be concentrating on France, Holland and England, with some mention of Germany’s secret societies.  Many European nations experienced similar awakenings and drastic changes that were part of the new ways of viewing the world, human nature, and social and cultural perspectives.  Jonathan Israel, the author of an important trilogy on the radical Enlightenment and of A Revolution of the Mind, 2003, has

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The Enlightenment, Part 1

Our debt is to the philosophers who were harassed and sometimes imprisoned and executed for their brilliant thought and their courage in giving voice to their desire for freedom. What was the Enlightenment?  The period from 1650 to 1800 was an unprecedented moment in European history.  Dates vary according to each historian, but there is no question that the Enlightenment represented a profound break with past assumptions.  Theology had previously ruled over philosophy; people were under the domination of the churches and the monarchies of Europe.  As science and secular philosophy advanced, however, so did peoples’ minds from the darkness of religious dogma and belief in the divine right of kings. Instead, new and daring ideas held sway- ideas of democracy, freedom of expression and the press, universal education, the rights of man, abolition of slavery, and separation of church and state.   In short, as Van Dulmen states, the subordination

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Atheism in the Renaissance

Lucien Febvre committed conceptual harm with his still too influential 1982 volume, “The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais.” Febvre made the flawed case for denying that systematic atheism was impossible before the end of the 17th Century. He argued that people did not have the conceptual tools to develop a lack of belief in the Christian god any earlier than the end of the 17th Century. He dealt with the fact that accusations of atheism were being brought against people during the Renaissance by alleging that such accusations were: “… insults rather than accurate descriptions.” Febvre’s theory is not salient. We shall see how he contradicted his own theory in a later work. During the era he described, there were accusations of atheism leveled against suicides, people who did not believe in witchcraft, and people believed to be immoral and/or physically self-indulgent. Should contemporary

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Atheism from Greece to the Modern World

This lecture will be divided into two sections: Atheist History from classical times to the present, and Atheist History in America from colonial times until the present day. Atheist History from classical times to the present. Theories that there was not the concept of atheism as we define it currently until the late 1700’s, and the biased historians who influenced such thinking. Atheism’s probable beginning in the Ionia of ancient Greece in the 6th Century BCE. Thales and other philosophers. Their philosophy was more naturalistic than atheistic. Democritus in 5th Century Greece and his atomic theory. Post classical ameliorating philosophies in Greece and the Roman Empire: stoicism, epicureanism, and the great skeptic, Sextus Empiricus. Middle Ages produced mainly Christian philosophy, with Thomas Aquinas borrowing from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Dons Scotus and Ockham’s theology put theology dependent on faith and weakened it.  Renaissance- 15th, 16th, 17th Century Europe. The Padua

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