Who exactly are ye of little faith?

Feb 9, 2015

By Bob Ripley

Secularists have a new swagger. It may come from the recent rush of insights into reality advanced by science, but I suspect it comes from the sheer rise in their numbers. A fifth of American adults and, in Canada, a quarter of adults (and a third of young adults) have no religious affiliation.

So who are all these people? If we think of a secularist as someone not subject to the supernatural — rather than religious folks who promote a separation of church and state — the label covers atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, humanists and other assorted non-believers.

For the most part, the label is no longer a fast track to execution, but secularists still face hostility. Teens are tossed out of religious homes. Friends and co-workers flee at the first hint of religious non-conformity.

But now we’re seeing some pushback. The new coalition called Openly Secular: Opening Minds, Changing Hearts (openlysecular.org) provides videos from average folks about the troubles they’ve faced as non-­believers. It’s one thing to be Jodi Foster, Morgan Freeman, Daniel Radcliffe, Keira Knightley or Julianne Moore and be a non-believer. It’s harder for those who are teachers, nurses, business owners and such.

While campaigns such as Openly Secular may embolden non-believers to be open about their skepticism, they also inform believers who are puzzled or even belligerent toward those who do not share their beliefs.


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44 comments on “Who exactly are ye of little faith?

  • If you belong to a minority,, e.g. gay, black, Iranian, short… you are used to the petty exclusions of human society. Being secular is fairly minor in comparison. However, if you grew up always in the majority, it can be quite a shock to realise how irrational humans are when you come out as secular.

    The USA is not the world. Consider moving to Canada or Europe if the Christians are really getting you down.



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  • To be fair, it is just a reference to a well-known phrase, but I generally agree, as my first thought was that it should read “ye of no faith”.
    On the other hand, just as the word “a-theist” would be meaningless (or at least less clear) without the word “theist”, secularists do “need religion in order to define themselves”.



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  • alf1200 Feb 10, 2015 at 6:00 am

    I’m short, old, minority and an atheist. Guess i’m screwed in the US.

    I think the USA has an “Americans first policy” for better jobs.

    When my daughter after achieving a LLB law degree, gained a post-graduate Mountbatten scholarship to do a gap year in New York. The student group was told there were no jobs in America at the end of the course.

    There was a reciprocal group of US students working in London as part of the exchange.

    She passed an international business diploma with distinction, while working as a para-legal secretary and front desk receptionist, for a Wall Street law firm; – and while she did not intend to stay in the US, she could not have done so had she wished to.
    She is now working as a lawyer (solicitor) in England.
    If Americans are deemed to be able to do the job, foreigners are not welcome as immigrants, regardless of skills.



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  • 11
    System Marked Down says:

    I live in Canada. In particular, Ontario. Here, we have a publicly funded Catholic school system. Our PM was originally leader of the Canadian Alliance (a loosely veiled pro-Christian party, imo) before it morphed into the current PC party. Not too long ago, Conservatives were trying to open up the abortion debate.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to label Canada progressive, or less constrained by religious influence. Anyone who lives in a large Canadian city will surely have noticed the large presence of all faith groups. Regarding Christianity, in my city alone (pop. ~ 170K) there are 54 churches with property, and many community centres provide space for small church gatherings.

    Although I think that Canada is probably better off than the U.S.A, I am not happy with the level of religiosity in general.



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  • A fifth of American adults and, in Canada, a quarter of adults (and a third of young adults) have no religious affiliation.

    So who are all these people? If we think of a secularist as someone not subject to the supernatural — rather than religious folks who promote a separation of church and state — the label covers atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, humanists and other assorted non-believers.

    I very much doubt that “people who have no religious affiliation” translates to anything even close to “atheists, agnostics, humanists and other assorted non-believers”.

    Most of those people would be, I guess, non-denominational theists – people who believe in a God (or Goddess, or a “superior force”, etc) – but just don’t think any kind of clergy has any privileged access to such deity, or that such deity has written or inspired any book available to humans.

    That, and the few deists and pantheists, probably beat actual non-believers, numerically speaking, 10 – 1.



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  • It’s just a wry reference to a well-known and pertinent biblical phrase. In no way does it suggest that “…secularists need religion in order to define themselves.” I can’t even begin to imagine how you got that impression.



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  • so, the faith vs non-faith divide is partly based on the 1st/3rd world distinction. ie white people with the exception of southern rednecks tend to not be religious, while the blacks and browns are to a large part still mostly religious. what does that tell you? in poor countries with much lower life expectancies and lower standards of education, people still believe? or that black people are on the whole more stupid than white people? or what?

    i wonder if the economy crashed, and life got much worse in the western countries whether we would see a return to religion?

    however, how does that explain me. I have a postgraduate degree, live in the west, am not specially rich but not poor either, and I believe in God? or someone more famous than me, Terry Eagleton, the literary critic, semi marxist semi catholic thinker, who coined the term ‘Ditchkins’? how do you understand non fundamentalist and intellectual religious people.

    As the great Francis Bacon stated:
    ‘ A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion’.

    while there are ignorant religious people, there are also ignorant atheists, who have never even thought about the possibility of a God and an immortal soul.

    I also like going to church; and i support the Latin mass society. i like religion for the ritual; a religion without ritual is just like going to hear a politician or academic.



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  • Alf1200 – I’m short, old, minority and an atheist. Guess i’m screwed in the US.

    and

    Roedy – The USA is not the world. Consider moving to Canada or Europe if the Christians are really getting you down.

    A tale of two nations, it depends on where one resides in the USA. As the political map shows, there are “red” and “blue” states that delineate social values as well as religious leanings. Religion has much more influence in the red regions than blue. Moving to a blue, more progressive area along the east and west coasts, near Chicago or major metropolises generally, you will find more tolerance and acceptance of everything. The national policy thus far is unfortunately…another matter.

    Caveat: It really depends on specific locations. I’ve spend time in the middle of the country (Iowa, which swings between red and blue) with some friendly, tolerant people too.



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  • Samuel Feb 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    so, the faith vs non-faith divide is partly based on the 1st/3rd world distinction. ie white people with the exception of southern rednecks tend to not be religious, while the blacks and browns are to a large part still mostly religious. what does that tell you?

    It tells us that many third world countries and Southern Red-Necks lack a proper education in evidence-based science and logical reasoning, so believe in tribal gods as explanations, or have been conned by missionaries offering pseudo-education as tools of colonialism.

    in poor countries with much lower life expectancies and lower standards of education, people still believe?

    Yep! That lack of education leads to lower standards of living, lower life expectancies, and supernatural guesses as to how nature works.

    or that black people are on the whole more stupid than white people? or what?

    A lack of education is not a sign of inherent stupidity, but like learning, stupidity can be achieved by following the wrong role models.

    i wonder if the economy crashed, and life got much worse in the western countries whether we would see a return to religion?

    Or to put in another way, if we “invested” our resources in religious “faith-thinking” (belief without evidence or proof) rather than science and technology, would the economic structure crash! ( I think the standards of the ordinary citizens living in theocracies {of whatever flavour} answers that question).

    however, how does that explain me. I have a postgraduate degree, live in the west, am not specially rich but not poor either, and I believe in God?

    Anyone with some intelligence and rich parents can get degrees in something.

    Income does not necessarily reflect ability or merit! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/best-paid-pastors_n_1214043.html
    For the lucky few, being a pastor can mean being a multi-millionaire.

    I seem to recall something about Xtians helping the poor, rather than the poor supporting the millionaires.

    or someone more famous than me, Terry Eagleton, the literary critic, semi marxist semi catholic thinker, who coined the term ‘Ditchkins’? how do you understand non fundamentalist and intellectual religious people.

    That name rings a bell, but I would hardly call its owner who came to this site, a “thinker”!

    http://old.www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/644023-arguments-that-just-don-t-make-sense-in-the-first-place/comments?page=12

    how do you understand non fundamentalist and intellectual religious people.

    Usually by their cognitive dissonance, fallacious arguments, and obfuscation, – but in many self professed cases, the term “religious intellectual”, is an oxymoron, as we normally expect “intellectuals” to be competent in logical reasoning and skilled at seeking verifiable evidence.

    while there are ignorant religious people, there are also ignorant atheists, who have never even thought about the possibility of a God and an immortal soul.

    That is true.. There are millions of Buddhist atheists who do not believe in any gods, or Catholic style “souls”, but believe in reincarnations on Earth.
    There are also numerous followers of other religions who have never heard of catholic a god or mythical “souls” ( for which there is no evidence whatsoever)!

    I also like going to church; and i support the Latin mass society. i like religion for the ritual; a religion without ritual is just like going to hear a politician or academic.

    That is probably why you admire the dark ages of ignorance and backwardness, when the RCC was repressing science in the name of geocentricism. Scientific academics don’t need smoke and mirrors to give their claims credibility with an audience.

    Catholicism only has scientific credibility, if “trooo science” is redefined as dogma-embracing Catholic pseudo science.
    Belief (faith) without evidence or proof, is ridiculously claimed to be identical and part of evidence based science!!!

    *159. Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Catholic_teaching_and_evolution



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  • 21
    Barbara says:

    Same is true for Austria, or at least its westernmost state, Vorarlberg. My mother lives there and I visit and stay there often. The letters to the editor in the local paper are full of annoying Christian proselytizing. Schools have catholic instruction, and the archbishop has something to say in the paper almost every day. Religiosity is everywhere.



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  • Samuel – As the great Francis Bacon stated:
    ‘ A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion’.

    That is contradicted by the Largest Ever Survey of Philosophers showing 73% of them are atheists. Bacon, in his very next essay called “Of Superstition”, also remarked:

    “Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men. Therefore atheism did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further: and we see the times inclined to atheism (as the time of Augustus Cæsar) were civil times. But superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new primum mobile, that ravisheth all the spheres of government”

    Issac Newton, one of the most influential scientists of all time, was also an alchemist. Another Francis (Collins) of the Human Genome project thought he saw signs of the holy trinity in a frozen Pacific Northwest waterfall. I explain the educated religious as humans who must also negotiate incongruences between their neo-cortex and lymbic systems, when culture and emotional preferences for such things as “rituals” still influence behavior.

    Btw, by some measures, the largest group of non-believers globally are not white, black nor brown.

    while there are ignorant religious people, there are also ignorant atheists, who have never even thought about the possibility of a God and an immortal soul.

    Actually, it is serious thoughts about those possibilities and finding no evidence for either that warrant disbelief. Most atheists understand that not all possibilities are probable or true.



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  • Samuel, If you think we never thought about it, why are we here? Do you really think we need to be called ignorant? That is ignorant considering we are discussing this on a secular website.
    Do you know where you are?

    “while there are ignorant religious people, there are also ignorant atheists, who have never even thought about the possibility of a God and an immortal soul.”



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  • One of our daughters (nicknamed the Ginger Ninja by her soccer team-mates) is intensely proud of her gingerness. She almost cut herself off from us, her parents, when we idly mentioned one day that, when she reached our advanced age, only regular hair-colouring would maintain her ginger status. She made it very, VERY clear that neither grey hair nor baldness, neither hair dye nor wigs could ever change the fact that she was ginger to the core of her being.

    I have a feeling that she sees gingers as an advanced form of humanity and she can be a bit scary at times so I’ve never really argued the point.



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  • Meanwhile in secular England – for several years now: –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redundant_church
    Around 30 Church of England churches are declared closed for regular public worship each year.[3] The buildings are only demolished as a last resort; according to The Economist magazine, from 1969 to 2002, 1,600 Church of England buildings had been declared redundant, and of those, 357 have been demolished and 327 preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust.

    So if anyone wants a bit of historic architecture, for a cottage, showroom or offices:-

    https://www.churchofengland.org/clergy-office-holders/pastoralandclosedchurches/closedchurches/closed-churches-available.aspx

    http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/structure/representative-body/property/redundant-churches/



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  • The historical process of secularization rather than various “philosophies” of secularism may be more helpful in understanding how humankind is moving away from religious affiliation. Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon lived in an age of Faith barely phased by Reason when there were no viable alternatives to the Christian or emerging Deist worldviews. Bacon almost certainly believed in a supreme power informing natural law. Newton almost certainly opted for a Judeo-Christian faith with scientific qualification. In the absence of accumulated evidence which makes knowledge of evolution, DNA, the human genome, and a host of other scientific projects fall into the pragmatic category of belief and practice, people have historically been conditioned to internalize the prevailing institutionalized systems of supernatural dogma -namely Religions- which seemed to have compelling explanations for why the universe and we are here.

    Ignorance in the historical-cultural sense means absence of crucial scientific knowledge that challenges the plausible myths of religion. The thread mostly discusses ignorance in the modern sense of not being educated in current science: relativity theory; the big bang theory; the formation of matter and energy in nuclear furnaces over 13 billion years, quantum physics, and most importantly the discovery that “we” evolved from “lower” (less complex) forms of life and happen to share 98% of our DNA with chimps, our primate animal cousins.

    Secularism in the sense of a naturalistic world view devoid of supernatural phenomena or epiphenomena; devoid of supernatural origin, intervention or purpose has made dramatic progress since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 .

    It may be cold comfort to atheists, but scientifically informed secularism is the wave of the future even though it will probably take a century or so to register unambiguous progress. The once “intuitive” explanatory power of religion, still enforced by tradition, social consensus, and clerical authority, will give way to the explanatory power of science whose technology has progressively addressed the needs, purposes, and interests of the human species.



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  • 32
    fadeordraw says:

    Well, being an atheist or a minority wouldn’t matter. And being from US and English speaking are rankable positives. Being oldist is not so good. But if you’ve got money enough to not be a burden on social security systems, you should get in. Though swearing an allegiance to the Queen and her family members (it’s an old meme that’s still stubbornly with us), might raise questions from your side.



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  • Or restaurants, offices, studios, sales rooms, or pretty much anything else. Google “church conversion photography” and there are splendid examples, I did not post the link as it is too long.

    The architecture is wonderful, and the builders certainly built “for the ages.”

    It is wonderful to see these beautiful buildings put to continued use, and it may be worth pointing out that an emerging secular society did not demand their destruction, as occurred with the intolerance of the Taliban to ancient Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.



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  • At last the theists can get some encouragement in that an apparently avowed atheist, has, and in the name of “hatred of religion” murdered three muslim students.

    Just goes to show, dunnit, atheists (all of ’em of course) have no moral compass, and can be shown to behave as badly as the theists commonly behave.

    Can’t wait for this to gather impetus on the “god” websites.



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  • “and it may be worth pointing out that an emerging secular society did not demand their destruction, as occurred with the intolerance of the Taliban to ancient Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.”

    Definitely worth pointing out. Thanks.



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  • “…scientifically informed secularism is the wave of the future even though it will probably take a century or so to register unambiguous progress.”

    I disagree.
    I think it is the wave of the present, and unambiguous (measurable) progress (in the context of the subject) has been taking place for decades (if not centuries).



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  • Sheepdog thank you for sharing news of an atrocity that saddens and shocks secular humanists everywhere.
    The predator and “monster” still lurks in our evolutionary and cultural history.

    Doug: I think it is the wave of the present, and unambiguous (measurable) progress (in the context of the subject) has been taking place for decades (if not centuries).

    I have had similar thoughts and expressed them in similar wording, perhaps omitting the phrase “wave of the present.” Secularists are still a minority and atheists and [hard] agnostics even a smaller minority within a minority. Current religious momentum, sweeping up millennials by the hundreds of millions worldwide notably into Islamic fundamentalism along with Hinduism and Christianity, suggests that the influence of religion in societies may well predominate for at least 50 years and perhaps longer. The rough “century or so” covers the “perhaps longer.” Probably later than sooner, theism and organized religions will start to stagnate on a global scale, given the current state of the world.



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  • It tells us that many third world countries and Southern Red-Necks lack a proper education in evidence-based science and logical reasoning, so believe in tribal gods as explanations, or have been conned by missionaries offering pseudo-education as tools of colonialism.

    What a refreshing piece of bigotry…



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  • In Brazil, according to the 2010 census, non-religious people are 8% of the population; atheists and agnostics barely make 0.4%.

    I doubt these figures are very different in the US or Europe.

    Atheists are a small minority even among those who have no religion…



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  • Or more accurately a knowledge of colonial history and evangelism!
    But for those who prefer stories ; –
    Once upon a time, the African peoples had all the land, and the Europeans had all the Bibles .. . . . . . . . .

    Alan4, I think you have a tendency to over-moralize history. History is the story of the migration of peoples since Homo sapiens first trekked out of Africa about 70,000 years ago through the Middle East into Asia, Europe, and more recently the Americas. When we humans started to record history on stone and papyrus, the story has been one of ceaseless conflict -war, conquest slavery, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Tribes, kingdoms, empires have all engaged in territorial expansion at the expense of “others” occupying the desired land. We remember the Israelites exterminating the Canaanites and taking their land because “God” promised it to his chosen people and gave the marching orders Himself. (The Biblical account is fabricated but appeals to an all-too-real paradigm.) Who grieves today for the Carthaginians or the scores of ethnic groups the Romans conquered, enslaved or put to the sword? The Roman Empire like the Spanish [British, French, Belgium, Dutch, Russian, etc.] empires were part and parcel of the same old narrative about the clash of peoples resulting from migration and territorial expansion leaving the conquerors and the conquered to fill pages in history books.

    Certainly we feel moral revulsion at the atrocities committed universally by conquest and colonialism, but note how we Euros focus on the more recent colonial crimes committed by “our” people against indigenous people (who actually took “their” land from “other” indigenous people). History is what it is: the migration of people seeking New Worlds at the expense of those who happen to be living there. Europeans had the advantage of arriving 500 years ago armed with what Jared Diamond titled “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

    (Colonialism on a geopolitical scale has largely faded from history over the decades following WWII to be superseded by small separatist movements confined with exceptions to internal insurgencies or civil wars.
    A subject for another discussion.)



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  • Once upon a time, the Europeans had all the guns.

    Unless you can establish a relation between having all the Bibles and having all the guns, I fear you are taking the symptom for the cause.

    Of course evangelism was instrumental in the European conquest of Africa (and Asia, and America), but without guns (or some other kind of advantage in military technology), no amount of evangelism would have been able to subdue the rest of the world to Europe.

    And on the other hand, it is certainly not like advanced, civilised, atheist Europeans have lied to belated, savage, faithful Africans about the tales on the Bible. Those civilised and advanced Europeans were quite faithful themselves, and believed in Bible stories and tales very much, which didn’t hinder them in developing gunpowder (and steel, and counter-wind navigation, and whatever other military technology they used in subduing people in other continents)…

    You can boast of your moral superiority now, but such “moral superiority” was only made possible through the enslavement of other people, and that enslavement was only possible through ample use of biblic tales.



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  • Melvin Feb 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Or more accurately a knowledge of colonial history and evangelism!
    But for those who prefer stories ; –
    Once upon a time, the African peoples had all the land, and the Europeans had all the Bibles .. . . . . . . . .

    Alan4, I think you have a tendency to over-moralize history. History is the story of the migration of peoples since Homo sapiens first trekked out of Africa about 70,000 years ago through the Middle East into Asia, Europe, and more recently the Americas.

    Could I recommend some easily accessible basic study of the relevant period of history.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_colonialism

    .Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers[1] and acted in many ways as the “religious arm” of those powers.[2] According to Edward Andrews, Christian missionaries were initially portrayed as “visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery”. However, by the time the colonial era drew to a close in the last half of the twentieth century, missionaries became viewed as “ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them”,[3] colonialism’s “agent, scribe and moral alibi.

    Christianity is targeted by critics of colonialism because the tenets of the religion were used to justify the actions of the colonists.[5] For example, Toyin Falola asserts that there were some missionaries who believed that “the agenda of colonialism in Africa was similar to that of Christianity”.[6] Falola cites Jan H. Boer of the Sudan United Mission as saying, “Colonialism is a form of imperialism based on a divine mandate and designed to bring liberation – spiritual, cultural, economic and political – by sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under satanic oppression, ignorance and disease, effected by a combination of political, economic and religious forces



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  • Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers[1] and acted in many ways as the “religious arm” of those powers.[2] According to Edward Andrews

    Of course they are “associated” because Europeans were Christians to a man and a woman, with a few skeptics hiding in the bushes from the wrath of state or community religious laws condemning heresy, blasphemy, and atheism.. Edward Andrews looks at the past through a modern secularist perspective which provides a recent revision of history at odds with how people of the period viewed themselves. The Israelites had a religious arm, so did the Babylonians and the the Romans who conquered the Israelites. Religion was a front for colonialism not the “cause” of it because religion pervaded the lives of the people alive at the time. Spanish Catholics and English Protestants who hated each other’s heresy were Christians with theological differences. But [virtually] everyone, EVERYONE was a Christian.

    European colonial adventures which spread out to conquer the world from the late 15th century on were obviously the most successful and the most recent. Spanish, British, French colonizers arrived with superior technology , weapons, and, let us not forget, diseases that indigenous peoples could not resist. Behind the fronts (religion, nationalization, civilization) were the pragmatic purposes: territorial expansion for settlement and commerce, access to natural resources and manpower (slaves); markets and manufacturing.



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