Sunday, June 13, 2010

AtF: Persecution, Persecution Most Foul!

And here we go. Another chapter, another collection of pointless and bizarre non sequiturs waiting to be explored. I’m well armed with some New Belgium Skinny Dip and I’ve got some St. Arnold Brown Ale to back it up if need be. And as we all know, need will be.

Fortunately, though, Bill Cooper starts the new chapter by making well-supported points backed up by proper citations. It’s really quite refreshing. I’m deeply impressed.

I had you going there for a minute, didn’t I?

What he actually begins with is a bunch of unsupported supposition.

What follows is a summary of the history of the early kings of the early Britons as it is given in both Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh chronicles. It is a recorded history that was consigned to oblivion after the massacre, at the instigation of Augustine, of the British monks at Bangor in AD 604 and was thus entirely unknown or ignored by the later Saxon and Norman chroniclers of England. Consequently, it came to be generally and unquestioningly assumed amongst English scholars by the 16th and 17th centuries that no such record had ever existed, and that works such as Geoffrey of Monmouth's or the Welsh chronicle were forgeries and fairy tales. That opinion persists today.

Think about the image being presented here. Specifically, let us consider the narrative being advanced by Mr. Cooper in terms of his larger goal in presenting After the Flood.

Christianity took root in Britain between the period where it was adopted as the official Roman religion and the withdrawal of Roman forces from the British Isles. When the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes arrived they drove what Christian communities there were in to hiding, leaving the main Christian enclaves on the island in Wales and Cornwall. At the tail-end of the Sixth Century the Pope sent a mission to Britain to bring the island under Papal authority. This mission was lead by Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo, who was kinda dead at the time).

Augustine built up support in Kent and Essex, specifically with Ethelbert of Kent. But reaching the Christians in Wales and Cornwall was going to be far more difficult. In their time of separation from Rome they’d developed their own customs and traditions, a notion that’s roughly as surprising as the fact that the sun rose this morning.

One of the not-so-deep, dark secrets of Christianity is the sheer number of varieties of Christianity that existed throughout history. Denominations are not a modern invention by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if you read between the lines of the New Testament, the first sects of Christianity appeared basically from the moment of Jesus’s death. There was the Pauline idea of Christianity, which clashed with Peter’s group in Antioch and James’s group in Jerusalem. There was the conflict between the followers of Paul and the followers of Apollos. There were also the Gnostics and the Judaizers, who got a lot of play as opponents but don’t have their own voice. But the point is that there were already sects of Christians from the very beginning.

So the idea that there wouldn’t have been some division between the Welsh churches and the Roman church after a couple centuries of non-communication is laughable. When the Welsh bishops showed up to talk to Augustine in 603 he was all, “Hey, join us,” and they were all, “Nah, thanks, we’re good.” Legend has it that they consulted with a wise old hermit who told them that if Augustine didn’t rise to greet them then that meant he was a disrespectful jerk and they shouldn’t hang out with him. Chances are that the mention of disagreements over the observance of Easter and the tonsure (although, maddeningly enough, I haven’t managed to find anything that says what, precisely, those disagreements were) that were actually the source of the continued schism.

The monks of Bangor, as best we can tell, then went back to their monastery and did monkish things. Augustine of Canterbury let slip the mortal coil in the year 605. Ethelbert did the same in 613.

Then, sometime around 616, the monks of Bangor were killed. It’s just that they were killed by AEthelfrith, a pagan king. And what their slaughter had to do with an ecclesiastical council from the previous decade escapes me completely. But since when has Bill Cooper been willing to let logic and the real story get in the way of a good narrative about persecution?

Because, you see, that’s what Bill Cooper’s real narrative is. It drips from every paragraph, every sentence, every word of every sentence: persecution. Those evil intellectuals are persecuting the people with the real story to keep them quiet. And according to Cooper that persecution goes back to the very point when the Roman Catholic Church put the brave Welsh monks to the sword to force them to toe the party line. It doesn’t matter one bit that Augustine had been in the grave for more than a decade and a pagan king killed the monks of Bangor.

The facts are inconvenient to the story. And, really, who is going to go to all the effort of fact checking? We should simply believe Bill Cooper because he is a man of truth who is presenting the Truth and there is nothing else to be considered.

Anyway, he continues:

We have seen, however, in the previous chapter how these records enjoy a great deal of historical vindication in spite of modernism's cursory and fashionable dismissal of them. But here, plain and unadorned, is the story that the chronicles themselves tell, a story that no child will have learnt at his desk in any school of this land. It spans over two thousand years, and its survival to the present day, being little short of a miracle, is a tribute to those Welsh scholars of old who recognised its importance and preserved it entire for our reading.

Yeah. Not so much. But do you see it? Do you see the persecution brought about by that horrible modernism? Do you see the way the lie to the children? Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?

Anyway, we’re now going to get the same goddamn story we got in the last chapter. No. Seriously.

Anchises, known to us from other histories[1], fled with his son, Aeneas, from the burning ruins of Troy, and they made their way to the land that is nowadays called Italy, settling with their people on the banks of the river Tiber around what was later to become Rome. The indigenous population was ruled over by Latinus who received Aeneas and his people with kindness and hospitality, in return for which Aeneas defeated Latinus' foe, Turnus, king of the Rutuli.

Here’s a tip for deciding on the veracity of any historical origin story: if there’s an eponymous ruler, chances are it’s not real. Rome was not founded by a dude named Romulus. There was probably nobody named Latinus, either. I knew a guy named Troy in high school. Chances are really, really good that he did not found the city of Troy.

I mean, imagine if, for a moment, you walked in to a history class and learned that the initial ruler of the United States of America was George Americus. You’d think that’s crazy (I hope). Civilizations are generally not named by a single ruler. Most civilizations are named by other people, but those who actually had the wherewithal to name themselves generally go with some variation of “all of us who live right here” or “the people who were made the most awesome by [insert god here],” but in their native tongue.

The lesson, which a lot of people seem to miss out on, is that civilization is not the work of an individual. The concept of one man starting a city, or a nation, or an empire, is the very antithesis of the idea of civilization. Say you’re looking at the book of Genesis. There’s a bit where it says that Cain went off and founded a city somewhere. This is a confusing passage to those of us who understand the idea of what a city is. One guy by himself does not a city make. What the writer of Genesis was attempting to do was connect Cain to a specific geographic location. But to take that story as an indication that Cain actually founded a city when he was one of three people on the planet is utter foolishness.

Of course our good friend Bill Cooper believes this to be true. So he has no problems with the idea that there was a Roman king named Latinus, nor does he have a problem with the idea that there was a fellow named Brutus from which we can derive the word “Britain.”

It’s sheer intellectual laziness. Of course by pointing that out I’m persecuting the poor man.

Convenient trap of logic, that…

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[1]Fun fact: in Greek mythology Anchises was the lover of Aphrodite, making Aeneas the son of Anchises and Aphrodite.  While the idea of a classical Greek goddess being loved by a Trojan is kinda silly (what with the Trojans not being Hellenes.  And the inhabitants of Greece not really being Greeks in that sense yet, either), there's a bigger issue at play.  Is not Bill Cooper tacitly allowing for the existence of the Greek Pantheon here?  I mean, he's telling the story of a son of a Greek demi-god as the founder of Britain...

2 comments:

thomas said...

Of course, you have to allow for one dude naming a city after himself. That is, if he is Constantine or Alexander. Or one dude naming a city after someone whose favour he is trying to curry. Jamestown, Boston, or Halifax. But your point holds that you are very unlikely to meet the people the cities are named after if you visit the city.

Geds said...

Oh. Yeah. Those guys...

Okay, let's modify things slightly: if there's a conveniently named eponymous founder figure who exists only in the shroud of some legend, he probably didn't exist. We at least have plenty of information about Alexander and Constantine and the various people who named cities after their patrons...