Reviews for ‘The Terror of History,’ ‘The Bronze Lie,’ ‘Faith and the Founding Fathers’ and ‘Common Sense.’

The Terror of History

This is a lecture series about the unseemly religious history of Europe (and to a lesser extent the Americas). Specifically, the advent of christiantiy, the death of paganism, the witch trails, various heresies, the reformation, and various mystical stuff which went on. The lecturer provided a holistic picture of the passage of an old age, and the beginning of a new one. Specially, how the last surviving pagan traditions of Europe were eradicated by the witch trials. The witch trials which were often as not a political tool used to punish socially undesireable people. Meanwhile the Churches of Europe elevated socially desireable people who had mystical experiences, declared them not-witches. It was a very haves-vs-have nots sort of situation.

If I were to describe this lecture’s weak point, I’d say that it doesn’t cover Orthodox Christianity or Islam in much detail. This mainly focuses on the Catholic and Protestant histories, as well as a tiny bit of Judaism; the lack of even a single lecture on either Orthodoxy or Islam feels weird. Even a single lecture on the topics would have been good.

The Bronze Lie

This is a work of nonfiction discussing Sparta’s military history, it’s successes and failures. It seeks to pop the bubble of Sparta’s indestructible reputation, by providing factual information about their foibles, flaws, and inability to adapt to changing circumstances. It even explored their culture’s everyday functions, from marriage, to their slave society, to the mundane hypocrisies all cultures are built upon.

Where could it have been improved upon? I’d say that it was a bit dry. This reads like a work of pop-history- aka part of the genre of history books written for a lay audience to get them interested in an esoteric corner of history. This is different from a history book written for students, or a history book written for historians. An important part of pop-history is approachability. This book felt a little too dense at times given it’s target audience. The density was nothing too severe, so don’t take this critique seriously.

Overall, I had a great time reading this and heartily recommend it.

Faith and the Founding Fathers

This was an insightful nonfiction lecture series about religiosity in the US at the time of the Revolution, specifically of the Founding Fathers. It discusses topics like Deism, rationalism, Catholic/Jewish/Quaker prejudice, and more. Just as religious pluralism is a contentious issue today, it was an equally (or greater!) issue in yesteryear. This lecture’s only 5 hours long, so check it out.

I found it insightful how the lecturer brought the information forward, discussing how modern day politicians use the Founding Fathers inaccurately as graven icons to justify their modern religious opinions. For example, a LOT of the Founding Fathers were staunch Deists who focused on making the US a religiously diverse nation, however modern Christian politicians might use the Fathers as justification for passing laws to enshrine Christian morality into law. Washington was a Deist Christian, but he was also a staunch defender of religious freedom (including of Jews, Muslims and Hindus), however today Washington’s personal Christianity is used as a justification for legislating Christian Morality.

The reason why the Fathers were focused on enshrining religious diversity into law is because the early US was a religiously diverse place, with Catholics, Protestants and many, many more religious groups thriving. In order to rally a rebellion/infant nation to their cause, they enshrined diversity and tolerance into law for the pragmatic reason of holding the colonies together after. If you legislate against Catholics, the Catholics will fight for the British; legislating against Protestants will cause Protestants to fight for the British. Therefore diversity and tolerance was a survival strategy.

However, the Fathers were NOT anti-religion. The Fathers REALLY cared about sponsoring civic virtue in their citizens, and saw religions/Churches/synagogues as an important method for sponsoring that virtue. Franklin gave money to every religious organization in Boston(I think), including Jewish ones, for this cause.

Common Sense

After reading the above lecture series, I wanted to do more reading. This is by Thomas Paine, a man influential on the Founders. I found this short novella to be insightful on the thoughts passing through the minds of the Founders. Note that this is an anti-Catholic, anti-Quaker book.

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