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In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: gjm 30 January 2017 01:08:24PM 1 point [-]

there should be enough data on what happens when a mission is abandoned to be able to tell how successful it can be.

I remain doubtful, but perhaps you're right.

where language barriers don't get in the way

Also a reasonable hypothesis. Hmm, do we have cases where the boundaries of the Roman Empire don't match up well with linguistic boundaries? Probably not, simply because anywhere conquered by the Romans would probably have tended to learn to speak Latin, producing an artificial lowering of language barriers within the empire.

cases where non-Christian rulers [...] made practice of the religion illegal

Yes. Though in the most famous recent case I can think of -- the Soviet Union -- it seems that they weren't very effective in suppressing Christianity; it came back pretty strongly once the communists lost power. Still, paying a lot of attention to the ruler(s) does seem like an effective strategy for those wanting to spread a religion to a new place.

Going back to the higher-level question of how necessary conquest is to the spread of Christianity: there are apparently something like 100M Christians in China, and not because China was ever conquered by Christians. On the other hand, in the past there seem to have been multiple instances where Christian missions produced a fair number of converts but then the religion largely died out until the next wave of missionaries came in.

My impression after all this is as follows. (1) It is certainly not impossible for Christianity to spread without conquest, and there are a few major instances where it has done so. (2) Most of the world's Christians, however, are part of Christian communities that got way way by conquest. (3) Attempts to spread Christianity by mere persuasion are sometimes very effective but often very ineffective.

I would expect that all these things apply equally to any other major religion. #2 will of course be untrue for religions that have never gained official approval by any political power, but we should expect all such religions to be pretty small in numbers for that exact reason. Maybe Hinduism is a sort of exception, being found almost exclusively in India, but I am shockingly ignorant of Indian history and don't know whether e.g. there's a history of conquest within what is now a single country.

In response to comment by gjm on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 06 February 2017 08:08:52AM 0 points [-]

Hmm, do we have cases where the boundaries of the Roman Empire don't match up well with linguistic boundaries? Probably not, simply because anywhere conquered by the Romans would probably have tended to learn to speak Latin, producing an artificial lowering of language barriers within the empire.

Hmmm. I don't know enough history to be able to name specific situations, but what about the other way round - countries that learned Latin without being conquered? (Perhaps for ease of trading?)

Though in the most famous recent case I can think of -- the Soviet Union -- it seems that they weren't very effective in suppressing Christianity

I believe the Roman Empire once tried to suppress it as well. It doesn't appear to have worked then, either.

Going back to the higher-level question of how necessary conquest is to the spread of Christianity: there are apparently something like 100M Christians in China, and not because China was ever conquered by Christians. On the other hand, in the past there seem to have been multiple instances where Christian missions produced a fair number of converts but then the religion largely died out until the next wave of missionaries came in.

Yes; there seem to have been specific instances where missionary conversion worked, and specific instances where it did not.

My impression after all this is as follows. (1) It is certainly not impossible for Christianity to spread without conquest, and there are a few major instances where it has done so. (2) Most of the world's Christians, however, are part of Christian communities that got way way by conquest. (3) Attempts to spread Christianity by mere persuasion are sometimes very effective but often very ineffective.

Those conclusions do not seem unreasonable to me.

I would expect that all these things apply equally to any other major religion.

I think it also depends somewhat on the structure of the religion in question. Judaism doesn't have missionaries, for example, and I don't think there's any way for a non-Jew to become a Jew (I may be wrong on that point, but if there is, the Jews certainly don't advertise it).

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: Lumifer 30 January 2017 04:19:26PM 2 points [-]

learning climate science is not memetically dangerous

If you are an autodidact and study the climate science by yourself from first principles, yes, it's not dangerous. However if you study it in the usual way -- by going to a university, learning from professors and published papers, etc. -- you will absorb the memes.

In response to comment by Lumifer on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 06 February 2017 07:59:34AM 0 points [-]

Hmmmm. Depends how ingrained the memes are in the material. Oh, you'd certainly have awareness of the memes - but accepting them is a different story, and a certain skepticism in a student (or in a professor) can probably blunt that effect quite a bit.

Even if the memes are that thoroughly integrated, though, the only effect is to make the establishment of a parallel infrastructure that much more appropriate a solution.

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: gjm 25 January 2017 11:20:17AM 0 points [-]

[...] or they have no success (as evidenced by every missionary outreach pretty much collapsing as soon as the missionary either leaves or dies).

I think missionaries are usually sent to particular places by organizations, and when one leaves another goes. So there isn't opportunity to identify where they aren't making progress. And the actual question isn't really "no success" versus "any success"; no one claimed or implied that converting people is literally impossible, only that generally when Christianity spreads successfully it does so along with military conquest.

I'm not surprised.

You're welcome to be (having had the facts pointed out to you) as surprised or unsurprised as you please; I remark that much the simplest explanation would seem to be that Christianity mostly spreads by military conquest.

would Japan count?

It's hard to tell how big a Christian community the missionaries there were able to produce. (Right now, as I understand it, Japan is one of the world's least religious countries, so I guess you are thinking of the 17th century.) So, I dunno: maybe?

... Oh, I thought of another way for Christianity to get into a new area that's consistent with the "converting people is really ineffective" narrative. Again, no one claims that converting people is 100% ineffective. So, what you do is to find a place whose rulers are very much in control of the population, and send your missionaries to the royal court or whatever. They probably won't convince the ruler, but if they do then bingo, you've got thousands or millions of new converts fairly immediately. I think this has happened once or twice. I bet it's been attempted a lot more.

In response to comment by gjm on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 30 January 2017 11:01:14AM 0 points [-]

I think missionaries are usually sent to particular places by organizations, and when one leaves another goes.

It's not going to be perfect. Sometimes there will be more missionaries than established places to send them, and new missions can be opened - but sometimes a missionary will, through mischance or malice, die before he's expected to do so and there will be no replacement ready to send.

I don't actually know about specific incidences, but there should be enough data on what happens when a mission is abandoned to be able to tell how successful it can be.

You're welcome to be (having had the facts pointed out to you) as surprised or unsurprised as you please; I remark that much the simplest explanation would seem to be that Christianity mostly spreads by military conquest.

That is a simple explanation, yes. Another simple explanation is that Christianity mostly spreads where language barriers don't get in the way.

I don't see either of these two explanations as being significantly simpler than the other.

... Oh, I thought of another way for Christianity to get into a new area that's consistent with the "converting people is really ineffective" narrative. Again, no one claims that converting people is 100% ineffective. So, what you do is to find a place whose rulers are very much in control of the population, and send your missionaries to the royal court or whatever. They probably won't convince the ruler, but if they do then bingo, you've got thousands or millions of new converts fairly immediately. I think this has happened once or twice. I bet it's been attempted a lot more.

Hmmmm. That would be a sensible scenario. There have also been cases where non-Christian rulers, perhaps fearing the political power of the church, made practice of the religion illegal, with severe punishments for doing so. Taking the two together, it seems fairly clear that converting the ruler would be a very important step for many successful missionaries.

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: Lumifer 25 January 2017 03:18:19PM 4 points [-]

If all experts are infected with meme plagues, and are able to prevent alternative views from being presented, then you have a problem.

Real-life example. A relevant quote:

A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc.

How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide (I have worked through these issues with a number of skeptical young scientists).

In response to comment by Lumifer on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 30 January 2017 10:52:14AM 2 points [-]

Huh.

Okay. In this particular real-life example, though, it is clear that the politicisation is in the infrastructure around the science, not in the science itself. That is to say, learning climate science is not memetically dangerous - it is simply difficult to get a paper published that does not agree with certain politics. And that is bad, but it is not the worst possibility - it means that someone merely studying climate science is safe in so doing.

So, in this particular case, the solution of studying climate science oneself, becoming an expert, and then forming a suitable opinion is a viable strategy (albeit one that takes some significant time).

(An alternative solution - which will also be a hard thing to do - is to create some form of parallel infrastructure for climate science; another magazine in which to publish, another source of funding, and so on. There will likely be serious attempts to politicise this infrastructure as well, of course, and fending off such attempts will doubtless take some effort).

Comment author: Jiro 24 January 2017 05:28:02PM *  1 point [-]

I think there's some equivocation here between different meanings of "expert". Experts in Shakespeare are experts in what Shakespeare said and what things mean within the context of Shakespeare's plays and Shakespeare's life. A comparable "expert in Christianity" would be able to tell me what Christianity claims and put it into context as a whole.

But "amateurs should defer to experts", in reference to Christianity, doesn't mean "amateurs should accept the experts' word about Christianity," it means "amateurs should accept the claims presented by Christianity". There's nothing comparable for Shakespeare. In this sense, neither experts nor schools teach Shakespeare at all.

In response to comment by Jiro on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 25 January 2017 07:58:14AM 2 points [-]

But "amateurs should defer to experts", in reference to Christianity, doesn't mean "amateurs should accept the experts' word about Christianity," it means "amateurs should accept the claims presented by Christianity". There's nothing comparable for Shakespeare. In this sense, neither experts nor schools teach Shakespeare at all.

Um.

Going back to the comment that started this all - over here - shows that the quote originally comes from this page, which is an essay written from the atheist perspective on how to go about arguing the historicity of Jesus. The 'experts' in question appear (to me) to be not theologists but historians, seeking whether or not a given person, referenced in certain historical documents, actually lived at one point or not, and the author bluntly states that he expects the odds of said existence, using his best estimate of requisite probabilities, to be about one in twelve thousand. (He then goes on to say that this is far from the least likely claim in the Christian faith; supernatural miracles are far more unlikely, and thus far better things to call into question).

So, no, the original context does not say that amateurs should accept the claims made by Christianity (and it does not define professionals by their religious leanings). It says that amateurs should not take a firm position on a question where the experts do not take that firm position. (It does not say that the amateurs have to agree with the experts when those experts do take a firm position, amateurs are allowed to remain uncertain).

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 23 January 2017 10:29:03PM 1 point [-]

Or latin. Theres a bedrock sense of what works, and there is a more socially defined sense. If your society values some religion, dead language or author, then it works to teach it, because it gives people acceptability and status.

Comment author: CCC 25 January 2017 07:46:52AM 1 point [-]

Schools still teach Latin?

...mine didn't. (It did teach Shakespeare, though).

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: waveman 24 January 2017 02:50:17AM 0 points [-]

What to do then, when experts sometimes are infected with meme plagues, have conflicts of interest, are able to prevent alternative views from being presented?

In response to comment by waveman on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 25 January 2017 07:45:47AM 0 points [-]

If all experts are infected with meme plagues, and are able to prevent alternative views from being presented, then you have a problem. This implies that one of the following is true:

  • Studying the subject at all carries a strong risk of meme plague infection
  • Only those pre-infected with the meme plague have the interest and/or the ability to study the subject
  • You're wrong about something - either the presence of the meme plague or its spread or... something.

You could attempt to study the subject to expert level yourself, taking appropriate anti-meme-plague precautions; but you have to be very careful that you're not shutting your ears to something that's really true (you don't want to become a climate-change-denying weather expert, after all) so you'll need to seriously consider all necessary data (maybe re-run some vital experiments). This would take significant time and effort.

I don't know what other strategy could reasonably be followed...

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: gjm 24 January 2017 03:00:50AM 1 point [-]

I would expect missionaries to either have been abandoned, or to be given a sword as standard equipment on setting out.

You would expect (peaceful) missionaries to be abandoned (at least as a tool for spreading Christianity to places where there is no Christianity) if there were a careful effort to track their effectiveness. I do not believe there usually is. Is your impression different?

If you look at the places where there are a lot of Christians, they do seem to match up pretty well with (1) where the Roman Empire was plus (2) places colonized by countries that used to be part of the Roman Empire.

One obvious counterexample is Korea, which (I think) is evidence that missionaries can sometimes introduce Christianity to a new place with long-term success. But what others are there?

(Incidentally, I think your analysis is incomplete. Another way to introduce Christianity to a new area would be immigration. I don't know to what extent this has actually happened.)

In response to comment by gjm on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 25 January 2017 07:38:54AM 0 points [-]

I don't think you need a careful effort to track their exact effectiveness. It would be fairly obvious in a couple of generations that peaceful missionaries would fall in one of two categories - either they have some success (as evidenced by some number of converts that they win over) or they have no success (as evidenced by every missionary outreach pretty much collapsing as soon as the missionary either leaves or dies).

A careful effort to track effectiveness could tell the difference between slight success and strong success, but I think that even with a merely cursory checkup people could tell the difference between some success and no success at all.

If you look at the places where there are a lot of Christians, they do seem to match up pretty well with (1) where the Roman Empire was plus (2) places colonized by countries that used to be part of the Roman Empire.

I'm not surprised. There are many possible explanations for this; a sufficient explanation might be that these are places that early (Latin-speaking) missionaries could be reasonably sure of finding Latin-speaking people, and thus were not required to face the additional hurdle of learning a new language first.

One obvious counterexample is Korea, which (I think) is evidence that missionaries can sometimes introduce Christianity to a new place with long-term success. But what others are there?

Hmmm... would Japan count?

(Incidentally, I think your analysis is incomplete. Another way to introduce Christianity to a new area would be immigration. I don't know to what extent this has actually happened.)

That is true. I don't know to what extent that has happened either, but I imagine it would be accompanied (if successful) by a very strong spread of the immigrant's culture in other ways, as well. (Such as language).

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: hairyfigment 23 January 2017 03:32:30AM 0 points [-]

there seems to be a rather large gap where a single missionary, armed with nothing more than information and presumably a fairly persuasive tongue, can go into a large enough group of humans who have little or no previous knowledge of religion and end up persuading a number of them to join.

When do you believe this happened, aside from cases where "Jesus" was translated as "Buddha"? Missionaries today typically harass other Christians.

Comment author: CCC 23 January 2017 02:36:58PM 2 points [-]

A brief Google points me at this fellow. He was a medieval Fransiscan missionary to China, and established what appears to have been a reasonably successful church there that stayed around for about forty years after his death (until the Ming Dynasty arose in 1369 and expelled them from the country).

In response to comment by CCC on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: Jiro 22 January 2017 09:17:37PM *  0 points [-]

It isn't all or nothing. These methods of transmission exist for Newtonian physics, but they are much less fundamental to how Newtonian physics spreads.

If it's medieval times, and I announce to the members of my village that I'm not a Christian and act accordingly. I may end up dead, lynched, expelled, tortured by the Inquisition, or sent to a ghetto. If i get up now and announce that I don't believe in Newtonian physics, not much is going to happen to me unless I have a job that depends on Newtonian physics. The social ostracization may not be completely missing (people can still laugh at me), but it's far weaker than for Christianity.

And parents teach Christianity to their children because Christianity directly asserts that it is good to teach itself to your children, and implies that their children will be in terrible supernatural peril if they don't. There really isn't anything comparable for Newtonian physics that isn't related to the fact that Newtonian physics works--if parents don't teach their children not to walk off cliffs, the children won't grow up to refuse to teach Newtonian physics to their own children.

In response to comment by Jiro on Crisis of Faith
Comment author: CCC 23 January 2017 02:33:31PM 4 points [-]

I'm pretty sure that the main modern transmission vector for Newtonian physics is schoolteacher-to-child (which is very similar to parent-to-child, except that the parent hires an intermediary). Mind you, I don't have any stats or data handy to back that up, it's just a general impression.

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