“Be on thy guard, also, against holy simplicity! All is unholy to it that is not simple.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spake; Zarathustra”, Commons translation.
The film A Man for All Seasons, like all religiously motivated films, depicts the religious main character, Thomas More, in a sanitized light. His day-to-day activities only detail the expected norms of a stereotypical Catholic family. The filmmakers didn’t go into his barbaric actions regarding beheadings during his time and attempt to normalize the raving stupidity of his time period by implicitly expressing the false idea that it was normal during his time period in the 1400s for religious figures to go around slaughtering people of other religions for crimes of blasphemy. Very few people seem to acknowledge the fact that life was actually more prosperous and less barbaric for Asian regions before Christianity. In fact, Mesoamerica and Asia were some of the most highly technological countries in the world with golden eras before the Abrahamic faiths; specifically Islam and Christianity began wars in their regions and spread their diseases. When Christianity gained a foothold, there began a mass genocidal crusade against people for not believing in Jesus Christ as their savior under the argument that non-Christians souls were eternally damned so there needed to be forced conversions or death. Christians of the ancient era later justified their genocidal tendencies by arguing that the foreign countries were full of savages because they weren’t white skinned and never believed in Jesus Christ. More himself burned at least six people alive at the stake and apparently oversaw this as a holy duty as Chancellor. It is extraordinarily likely that he oversaw beheadings similar to his own.
In the film, Thomas More represented an ignorant stance within the politics of the United Kingdom during the 1400s. The simplistic belief system that he held, often admired and idolized by religious teachings, proved to be a worthless sham. Dynastic blood feuds are the hallmark of European political struggles during the medieval times. If the King wasn’t allowed to remarry then his Kingdom would have massive feuds over a rightful successor to the throne. Even given the supposition that this wouldn’t have happened, it is still true that it was significantly more likely to happen should the King not have an heir and that dynastic blood feuds occurred in times periods prior so he had sufficient reason to be worried. Christian doctrines proved to be unsuitable to keep the people safe from civil wars and without drastic action the King’s legacy would have meant a total failure of the system. Defending the Church’s doctrines is implicitly argued to be the highest virtue, yet the King’s authorized beheading and killings of dissenters wasn’t anything new before that time period. Catholicism demanded people be beheaded, burned at the stake, and slaughtered for crimes of heresy, for the crime of using English words instead of Latin, and conducted a massive amount of beheadings and other forms of brutal slaughter. During the 1800s, the Catholic church’s genocidal tendencies increased in intensity and magnitude against foreigners and foreign faiths that they decried as devil worship. Yet, people think this was normal across the globe, many people don’t realize that the level of violence has, and remains to be, unique to the Abrahamic faiths. Genocide in the name of Yahweh supersedes any other deities. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the Bible is full of stories celebrating genocide in the name of Yahweh.
Thomas More’s “sacrifice” for his belief, that the King didn’t have the right to remarry, proved to be a moot point after his death. Despite the attempts in the film to make his death seem honorable and holy, the underlying reason for his death didn’t foster any continued religious debates that the King should be subservient to the Church, and his death is rendered thoroughly meaningless in modern contexts because we have no concern for how people remarry in our secular lives or what Kings do in their personal time anymore. In fact, religion will never hold such an importance in ruling over us as a government entity ever again because it has been so thoroughly discredited. Does this perhaps seem too cruel of an answer? I would make the counterpoint that “dying for the faith” in order to argue its “truth” is a bizarre and pathological argument. I would strongly make the argument that it isn’t heroic, there is no reward in the afterlife for dying in such a manner, and this viewpoint of dying for the faith – so cherished by many religions – is proven to engender insanity because it asks you to die. If religion truly gains fellowship by self-sacrifice of one’s life then that religion is proven to celebrate death and give sanctity to death worship. After all, can we name another social system that asks people to sacrifice themselves for the sake of living under supposedly moral teachings for the sake of a reward after death? In the end, beyond just being a history of ignorance of science, a history of systematic cognitive biases, and having a history of bloodshed; religion is also just a positive way of saying death cult.
The Man for All Seasons expresses the death cult aspects of religion quite well. First, purposefully ignoring Thomas More’s barbaric tendencies, the film attempts to depict a holy and self-sacrificing figure. This cult of human sacrifice is celebrated and justified by this simplistic, childish, and fairytale notion of heaven and hell. Heaven, representing a good death, is thoroughly celebrated as the positive motivation to do moral actions. Hell, a bad death, is where the unchristian-like are condemned. In all respects, this is a celebration of death and not of life; life is perceived to have less significance for the sake of a higher purpose after one’s death. Heaven, however, is just a sanitized and largely fictitious notion to celebrate death itself. Hell, by contrast, is to give a sense of self-exaltation so that Christian morals are made to feel unique, special, and superior to other belief systems. It is nothing more than an insidious attempt at demonizing other people for living for their own values outside of Christian schools of thought. It is important to understand that this is exactly how Christianity existed in ancient times by people who believed in its literal translation. People believed in talking snakes, Adam and Eve populating the world, Moses and Noah’s Ark, and it was only secularism and capitalism that allowed for Western prosperity after Christianity had finally weakened enough to no longer impede economic progress.
It is important to understand that capitalism, by its very definition of valuing principles of self-interest, has thoroughly discredited Christian teachings. We live in a secular capitalist society and socialism came into a theoretical framework by ardent Christians or former Christians who believed in doctrines of pity and giving to others. While Socialism does have a veneer of secularism, its teachings were still Christianity in origin. However, even disregarding that, Christianity itself has gradually become more impotent because of its harmful effects on society. Society has become all the better for this shift in power because, after all, we don’t behead people for heresy as a spectacle unlike more religiously motivated societies. ISIS is probably following Christianity more truly than Christians in secular countries because they have a more literal slant on their interpretations of religion; besides which, Islam is just another version of Christianity since they value the teachings of Jesus and consider him an important prophet equal to Mohammed. The only reason Christianity and Islam try to distinguish themselves from Judaism and don’t consider themselves a sect of Judaism is because of their historic hatred for Jewish people throughout their history. Yet again, a verifiable indictment against the Abrahamic faiths: Hinduism doesn’t consider Buddhists or Sikhs as “non-Hindu” because they have different interpretations of faith and different concepts regarding God. They’re celebrated as having origins in Hinduism, many Hindu scholars argue that Buddhism is just the teachings of Hinduism re-interpreted for export into other countries.
Apart from extremist groups, there is little to no animosity between these subsets for religious reasons. While violence certainly has erupted in the past and present, it was almost never because of “blasphemy” like the history of the Abrahamic faiths under the time of Thomas More. The violence was usually due to Caste roles or Sikh’s wishing for better representation. Despite that, religious violence still does exist within Sri Lanka between Buddhists and Hindus because of Britain’s dismantling of their lifestyles during their genocidal and imperialistic periods since the 1800s. Most other cases are due to Islamic terrorist groups attacking civilians and Hindus attacking Islamic civilians in reprisal. However, once better education and economic opportunities aid in helping the lives of the people then we will see a shift to the positive; it may take ten years or longer like China but it is a worthwhile endeavor and thankfully secularist organizations like the Gates Foundation and secular Christians have done more to help decrease infant mortality rates in impoverished regions than any religious organization in the history of the world. The Gates have argued for humanitarian and secular reasons, not because of their religious faith and have denounced the Catholic Church’s efforts to curb condom use when it could stop the spread of HIV infections. In other words, capitalism – once religious factors creating imperialism were removed – has done nothing but save the lives of millions of innocent children throughout the world and reduced world poverty to the lowest standard imaginable. That will be the legacy of secular capitalism comparatively to the violence of Thomas More’s time and later imperialistic genocides that engendered more violence under the sanctity of the Christian faith.
I’ve heard arguments in which people have said I should be ashamed of ridiculing such religiously motivated sacrifices because of their importance; but this argument struck me because of its need for thoughtless obedience. Look at it from my perspective as my background permits me to view More’s sacrifice more impartially: If, for the sake of argument, Judaism was proven to be true then what use is More’s sacrifice or any Christian sacrifice? If any other religion is proven to be true, then what use is the pro-sacrifice argument? Furthermore, wouldn’t an apologist only ridicule this counterargument because they need to believe that the lives of these people had a meaning beyond dying pointlessly? Wouldn’t such a high standard for this belief system require people to unquestioningly obey because they need to believe there is meaning in those deaths despite the overwhelming contrary evidence? Therefore, the only argument for pro-sacrifice is the cognitive bias of the sunk-cost fallacy. That is, because there have been sacrifices for 2000 years, it needs to be true and there needs to be more self-sacrifice because otherwise the sacrifice of those in the past will be rendered meaningless and if that is true then all that meant is that the religious belief was not truly divine and Christians don’t have a unique relationship with the one true God. In the end, it is a very pernicious circular reasoning that keeps religion afloat in modern times. Thomas More’s death was meaningless; his arguments against the King remarrying are no longer of any interest or of any significance to people today.
Incidentally, The King’s breaking away from the Catholic Church began the rise of Monarchies and was a small step towards a more secular world. The fact that a Queen took over after him was inadvertently the greatest act of Medieval serendipity because the Catholic Church was forced to acknowledge that a woman could be just as intelligent and command just as much political power as any man; therefore, women’s equality was elevated and the Catholic Church’s arguments regarding women’s roles as inferior in intellect and needing only to be home caretakers was thoroughly discredited. Secularism’s dominance today against religiously motivated violence has given us a conscience understanding of why women deserve equal rights and how we still haven’t fully bridged the gap even among first world countries.
It is imperative to understand, Thomas More’s barbarity was sanitized and explicitly ignored just as Christian imperialist genocides have routinely been ignored throughout history; here is a better understanding of what Christianity has done to the world and continues to do to the world today:
India suffered a genocide of 60 – 80 million people during the British’s imperialistic rule and the lives of Indians were thoroughly ignored and facts regarding these genocides were destroyed by British officials; only fact-checking by Indian scholars who published their works in 2009 have given us the full depictions of how far the British’s systematic mass famines from the 1770s to the 1940s had been conducted. Approximately, 60 – 80 million Indians died during the two and half century of British rule and the British still continue the narrative of civilizing the savages. These genocides were conducted through systematic starvation of the population. The British have a history of starving people to death by keeping food under military control zones; they did the same thing to the Irish. Incidentally, ancient Hindu women only burned themselves on funeral pyres as a last resort to get away from British soldiers as British soldiers are known for conducting crusades in war rape:
The British committed the only known successful genocide in history. They killed all the men in the Island of Tasmania, raped all the women, and forced these raped women into labor camps where they died of exhaustion and exposure. The crimes of the Tasmanian people were that they weren’t Christian and that they were black skinned:
The British were found culpable of destroying most of the evidence of their mass genocides, most of the records today only detail their skinning alive of Mali peoples for being black skinned. The British conducted systematic rape and systematic potato famine of the Irish for the crime of having a different interpretation of Christianity and went so far as to enslave 20,000 Irish people to send them to South America:
To this day, the British lie, deny, ignore, and downsize the actual figures of what they did in so many countries:
It is important to understand that this will be the legacy of Christianity because Christianity significantly promoted or ignored these human rights abuses throughout the British rule. The British still thoroughly deny these human rights atrocities and argue they only civilized “savages” by giving them better rules of law. This isn’t even bringing up the Christian motivations for the Holocaust; in which Hitler convinced Germans to kill innocent Jewish people under the argument that Jews deserved to suffer for killing Jesus Christ. Whether or not Hitler was Christian himself is irrelevant, he still successfully committed genocide under the argument that Jesus Christ’s death needed to be avenged. Also, most Nazis were proud Christians, their belts all had the term “God With Us” in the German language as they were killing Jewish people and others:
Christian attempts to rewrite or ignore this history only prove the following: The lives of these people matter less than the need for an accurate interpretation of the Christian faith. Yet, Christianity now claims to be openly interpretative, so how can there be open interpretation and yet wrong interpretations that lead to genocide? Answer: people are still attempting to justify this argument from ignorance because their families and forebears, who have had far less ability to learn information and less education than them, believed in these superstitions.
Lastly, I’m not particular sure why Christianity gets so much praise as a force of goodness. I begin to wonder whether people truly understand what Christianity really means if it were true, so for the sake of my last argument regarding why More’s sacrifice was irrelevant, let’s assume that Catholicism is true. The major tenant of which is that Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation. Now, if believing in Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation then doesn’t that mean every Jewish person who died in the Holocaust went to hell? If they were in “purgatory” and were asked to accept Jesus then doesn’t it seem pernicious that the very belief system that committed genocide upon them is what they’re being asked to accept? This is also true for the long dead Tasmanians and for my own ancestors in India who suffered under British rule. Yet, this is the sort of thinking that led to savage killings like the ones More conducted during his lifetime and all they would really require is Jesus’s forgiveness for the sin of murder to go right back to killing without remorse. These killings were conducted upon Christians of a different sect of the faith too.
There is no rational justification or reasonable argument for these religious justifications. Thomas More was a crazed fanatic who died for his death cult and it’s best not to lie to ourselves by making him out to be a hero or to celebrate anecdotal aspects of Christianity that thoroughly ignore the extensive damage of the wider impact. I don’t, of course, think ill of any Christians today who have nothing to do with the history of religious violence but it is important to understand that secular values, not religious values, have improved humanity and not vice-versa. A Man for All Seasons simply argues a historically discredited lie and tries to ignore the barbarism of religion to the extent that they ignore relevant facts about Thomas More’s life and actions. People are led to value the myth and not reality; that is a dangerous precedent that people should no longer tolerate from any religion. Finally, these questions and lack of argument against religious beliefs need to stop impeding scholarly discourse because they can and do determine the lives of people and sometimes – rather tragically – their deaths. We must, collectively as a society, be willing to honestly scrutinize religious values as we have evaluated political, social, and educational institutions.