Wednesday, August 29, 2018

September and October Lectures

Topics for the lectures this September in our Tuesday History, Theology, and Philosophy Meetup.

The centuries following the renewed 1492 contact between the world's eastern and western hemispheres were devastating for the indigenous peoples of the Americas whose population was continually decimated by imported diseases for which they lacked immunity.  By the early 19th century, so few indigenous people remained that European Americans doubted they could have ever built the massive number of earthworks that covered the North American landscape. Instead they created a myth that the mounds must have been built by a lost civilized race that was ultimately exterminated by the American Indians.  The most successful telling of this myth is found in Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.  We will look at how the myth of the moundbuilders evolved and its continuing consequences.

The art of the theater died out in the West with the fall of the Roman Empire.  But in the unlikely setting of Germany in the 10th century, a remarkable woman revived both comedy and drama.  Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim was a secular canoness (a member of a religious community living a monastic life) who read the ancient Roman playwrights Plautus and Terrance and used them as models for her own plays. Produced for the edification and entertainment of her fellow sisters, Hrotsvitha's comedies featured the exploits of saintly heroines humiliating their lecherous pagan captors.  We'll read from Hrotsvitha's work (some of the humor is still funny today!) and look at her context and legacy.

Is pleasure good?  Shouldn't pain be avoided?  We'll explore the ancient Greek philosophy of Epicurus, caricatured in antiquity and today as “eat, drink, and be merry.”  Following up on our lectures on the Greco-Roman moral philosophy — Platonism, Stoicism, Cynicism — we'll consider the great rival of these more accepted schools: Epicureanism.  Epicureans were connected with atomist theory and atheism, both of which were reviled in antiquity but have been revived and reconsidered in modern times. We'll sweep past some modern misconceptions and take a deeper look at the teachings of Epicurus and his successors.

"Truth isn't truth!" Rudy Giuliani recently asserted in defense of his client Donald Trump.  In an era when so many people are insisting the anything they believe or say is just as valid as anything anyone else might say, society sometimes seems to have lost track of basic rules of logic. Our presentation tonight will offer a refresher course, mapping out common logical errors from the law of non-contradiction (which Giuliani lost track of) to old favorites like “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” 

Jesus of Nazareth famously advised "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" and taught his followers to "love your enemies."  In the first centuries AD, Christians frequently questioned whether the role of soldier was compatible with their faith.  Although the Emperor Constantine converted after winning a battle under the symbol of the cross, he delayed his baptism until his deathbed to wipe away the sins incurred as head of the Roman army. By the Middle Ages, however, Popes called upon Christian knights to attack the enemies of the faith: Muslims, pagans, Cathars, and Christian heretics alike. In the modern era European Empires brutally conquered and colonized much of the world hand-in-hand with Christian missionaries.  How did Christianity get from point A to B and C and where do we find ourselves today?

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" is a hilarious Monty Python sketch that proves the adage that comedy = tragedy + time. In its time in early modern Spain, the Inquisition was infamous for its activities against Spanish Jews, Muslims, Christian converts from both groups, as well as heretics, Protestants, and other perceived enemies of the Spanish crown.  There is no doubt the the persecution, expulsions, torture, trial and execution of members of these groups resulted in horrific tragedy and suffering.  But we will also look at the extent to which some of the reported atrocities of the Inquisition may have been exaggerated by Protestants as part of a program of anti-Catholic polemics. 

Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and Norse paganism was deeply rooted in European customs, including holiday festivals. In honor of Halloween we'll consider how our present-day customs echo practices in the Medieval Celtic holiday of Samhain. We'll also look at other pagan legacies that were Christianized and ultimately secularized to form our contemporary calendar of holidays in Canada.