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Meeting of the Minds
updated: Jul 19, 2011, 11:45 AM
By Robert Bernstein
The Meeting of the Minds drew a full house at the SBCC Fe Bland Auditorium. This re-enactment of a re-enactment (originally by Steve Allen) had Dick Cousineau as host Steve Allen, Andrew Hankin as Bertrand Russell, Ray Stone as St Augustine, Roger Schlueter as Thomas Jefferson and Meredith McMinn as Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire.
See photos of the event right here
Few had heard of Theodora before, not even Meredith, but she was a big hit. Both Theodora and Augustine had become devout Christians after a very un-Christian youth. In the case of Theodora it was poverty that forced her into a life of prostitution and acting. In those times, an actor was of equally low status as a prostitute. Augustine was something of a playboy with a number of mistresses before finding his God.
Augustine supported the unification of Church and State brought by Constantine, while Jefferson showed how it is never good for the minority. Christians did not like it when they were the persecuted minority so it is clear Christians should not be persecuting others just because they are the majority. Theodora did not agree and sided with Augustine.
Theodora recounted her story: She met Justinian who fell not only for her beauty but also for her wit. They were married and just two years later Justinian was declared Emperor. And she was his Empress. In many ways she was the brains behind him.
She talked of how they waged war to maintain the empire, which led to a discussion of the ethics of war.
Augustine said he is not a pacifist; it depends on the causes. Jefferson agreed. Augustine said that even offensive wars could be justified. Bertrand Russell interjected that our terrorists today would no doubt agree.
But Augustine deplored the horrors of war. And said that wars of pure power to maintain empire are not justified. Theodora pointed out to him that it was imperial war by Constantine that allowed Christianity to spread.
Augustine reiterated the horrors of war and the joyousness and vengeance of soldiers when inflicting misery. Just when Jefferson thanks him for pointing this out, Augustine goes on to say that the people must still obey the orders of the state!
This leads to a long debate with Russell on the evils of following leaders like Nero, Hitler or Stalin. Augustine says you can morally oppose the leaders while peacefully submitting. Russell showed that the horrors for the innocent victims are there regardless of your peaceful moral opposition.
Augustine went on to claim that the history books emphasize the bad events and ignore all of the good that happens every day. This is true of the wars of Christians while ignoring the good deeds of everyday Christians.
Jefferson said that people should be free to be heretics. Augustine said government must be coercive as men are sinful. Russell said OK, but there are matters of degree.
Jefferson grew up in comfort. He envisioned a government for his times and felt that each generation should choose its government. There is progress. Government must stay abreast of new discoveries and new truths.
Augustine said that man will reform in the grace of God. He did not know why this had not happened.
Russell points out the inconsistencies of the bible. Theodora wonders why he hates God. Russell does not hate God, just doesn't believe in him.
Augustine agrees that there is much that a believer cannot explain, but says non-believers have the same problem. Jefferson points out that religion does not grow while non-believers can grow.
Theodora asks if he finds anything good in Christianity? Russell says that some Christians are good, but probably just by their nature. Jefferson points out that Christianity defended slavery.
Augustine said reason has its limits and cannot even decide among Christian beliefs. In 320 Arius claimed that God is the one uncreated being that is the source of all other creation. Hence anything created is inferior to God, including Jesus. This was opposed by Athanasius who created the idea of the Holy Trinity.
Jefferson challenged the idea of mutually contradictory versions of truth all deserving respect. Augustine disagreed, saying this just shows that it all is true within the one Christian faith.
Russell says faith is subject to delusion. Jefferson says that education and discourse is what allows us to progress and become more humane.
Theodora says you cannot know what it is like to be hungry and desperate. Most people live by subsistence and can never know education.
Augustine challenges the right to spread falsehoods. Jefferson is given the last word by saying that the answer to published falsehoods is to publish truths. Indeed, this event showed the value of a most refreshing and enlightening discourse!
Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)
2011-07-19 12:01 PM
Thanks for the summary! I wish I could have been there, but was away on business. It sounds as though it was quite good and well received!
2011-07-19 12:09 PM
Thanks! Yes, very well-attended and well-received!
Please note: This event was sponsored by the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara! They have wonderfully interesting events on the third Saturday of each month!
2011-07-20 11:34 AM
Usually the Humanist Society just hosts a speaker, but this time they put on a show -- all the actors were members of the Humanist Society.
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