The Burning Blade - Supplement

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 9.4.1

June 16, 2006

I enjoy hearing from the subscribers to this newsletter and often wish that I got more responses, especially when I bring up unique and often controversial viewpoints. The last newsletter, edition 9.4, was no exception and Steven Bissonett called me on my contention that Christians conquered the Roman empire through non-violent means. After a hearty e-mail exchange I decided that it would be a good idea to expound further on the subject and share some of the e-mails with everyone on the mailing list.

Emperor Constantine and the birth of Christian Apologism

From Steven:
Hi, just wanted to give a quick response to your recent newsletter. Perhaps I misunderstood what you were getting at, but one passage caught my attention:

"I think that Christians who think that way should read up on how the early Christians conquered Rome, perhaps the greatest empire in history. I'll give them a hint, it wasn't with swords."

I found this a strange statement given your stance on the violence of ideologies, and even more so my "history nazi" (similar to a "grammar nazi") side was a bit perturbed. The Christian domination of Rome, historians would point out, began mainly with Constantine. If you looked up how this Emporer came to power, you might read about the Battle of Milvian Bridge, wherein Constantine reportedly saw an image of the cross in the sun and a voice that told him he would be victorious. And certainly, he was victorious and with that battle cemented his place as Roman Empire and the place of Christianity as the dominant religion.

I'm aware of that portion of early Christian history, and I even referenced it in "Food for the Gods" in the track "The Prophet", at the end of "The Lesson Learned". Having the Emperor convert to Christianity was basically a coup for the Christians, but history is a little vague on the particulars. The official story is the one that you state above, where the emperor had a religious experience and converted after a great victory. Now, if you're a believer it's easy to say that the Christian god performed a miracle, but for us analytic atheists we need to look a little deeper to figure out what actually happened.

I probably should have expounded upon this a little more in the newsletter as a footnote or something, but you raise a good question. Did the early Christians actually "conquer" Rome? Or did they just get insanely lucky? After all, Constantine could have just as easily seen a six pointed star in the sun, or the symbol of Mithras.

It's here where I think that the influence of all those Christians getting thrown to the lions and persecuted in many other ways and yet persisting and growing more numerous in the face of adversity had to have been highly influential when it came to the symbolism in Constantine's conversion. Why didn't he see the symbol of Mars or any other Roman god? Why did he see a cross?

I can only guess, but it seems reasonable that somewhere in Constantine's mind the symbol of the Christian god had taken on an aura of strength and perseverance that was stronger than the symbols for any other god that he knew. Perhaps this was due to the examples that the early Christians set by enduring so much adversity. Perhaps the emperor was feeling persecuted or at least beset on all sides by his enemies and that feeling made him feel more like a Christian than a Roman, who rule by domination and ruthlessness.

But setting aside specifics, if you look at it from a "religion as a virus" perspective it seems clear that the virus of Christianity spread through Rome and infected the Emperor via a mechanism that is not well understood but which I guess at above.

So I stand behind my contention that Christianity in essence conquered Rome and did so in a non-violent way.

If you're looking for the spread (rather than origin) of state- sanctioned Christianity in the empire through violence, you can look at such examples as Alexandria in the late 4th century, and what the Christians did to pagan symbols, archtecture, and people there (most notably the mathematician/philosopher Hypathia).

Oh yes, I agree completely. Once in power Christians completely forgot about their pacifist roots. I alluded to that too in "The Lesson Learned". Check this out:

"And in the end the emperor knelt before the Lord.
And in the end the lesson was learned.
The emperor knew you must suffer to be saved.
And he set out to save the world."

Maybe I was too subtle, but here is what I was implying: The emperor knew that to be saved, you must suffer, and so when he went out to save the world that means that he had to make the world suffer first. That probably wasn't his intent, but something like Christianity can only be spread that way. In "Food for the Gods" I jump from there directly to the Crusades in "Them", skipping a number of centuries, but after Constantine the plowshares got beaten into swords in a big hurry and have never been set down for very long since.

I can definitely see your point now in showing how what we know of a religious figure and how his supposed followers are acting conflicts, and the purpose of pointing that out. I guess I misunderstood when I thought it was directed at people like me, atheists, when really it's more directed at christains. There's egocentrism for you ;)

I think it could be said that in the wake of Constantine's conversion followed the birth of Christian apologism. "Sorry about all this bloodshed, but God loves you and wants what's best for you. And we'd set our errant brethren on the path to righteousness if it wasn't for the fact that they'd have us killed for telling them that they were wrong. But hey, no hard feelings?"

From a "Fireaxe Theory" perspective, the versatility of religion to embrace wars of conquest and brutal theocracy as well as martyrdom and rising above oppression, is a powerful survival mechanism. I doubt the ability of Christianity to survive nearly as well as it has if Christians were to strictly follow the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps it would be on par with Judaism pre-Israel in terms of numbers and stature.

Note that believers can always justify an about face when things go wrong. Recall how the church tolerated the Templar Knights when they served the purpose of the church, but when they threatened the power structure, the Knights were put to death. I think that Muslim governments are tolerating terrorism in much the same manner. Sure, they denounce it publicly, but there will be no crackdown until the Crusaders are chased out of the holy land (or the terrorists get too many followers)**. Moderates seldom give back what the extremists have won for them. That's true for any ideology.

Max Weber wrote that Religion has many faces depending on one's standing in society. The commoners are more likely to emphasize the ethical standards part of the religion while those in power tend to emphasize the messianic part. In effect it's like hedging your bets. No matter how things turn out, there's always a way to make the Holy Book agree with popular trends.

** The statement about Muslims cracking down on Muslim terrorists was written a day before Al-Zarqawi was killed. As was reported by the L.A. Times credit for this feat goes mainly to the Jordanian intelligence service who decided to go after Al-Zarqawi after he bombed a pair of hotels in Jordan. The Jordanian agents proved extremely effective and did in eight months what the U.S. had been unable to do in over three years, pinpoint the exact location of the man dubbed as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. To me this not only supported my point, but also showed two very important things about the strategy that the U.S. is employing against violent extremism. First, it shows that the correct way to fight terrorist organizations is with counter intelligence, not military forces. And second, by alienating most of the world, the U.S. is far less able to fight terrorist organizations effectively. Other intelligence services can go where we cannot and having them sit on the sidelines or even work against us puts us at a huge disadvantage.

Oh, and one last note, I think it was pretty risky quoting the president of Iran. Of course he is right, but many people have a hard time drawing a line between the argument and the arguer. Still, for those who can draw that line, it packs a very powerful message that might not have had he same impact if it came from a more "likeable" source. It was a ballsy move, and I respect that.

Thanks. I've read Christians who have made the same points, none of whom I recognize though. It's a sad commentary about America when our "religious leaders" are such whack jobs like Falwell, Robertson, and Bob Jones. These guys are mental midgets next to someone like Al-Sistani. I have a lot of respect for a Christians who can put forth well reasoned arguments concerning their faith, but "The Purple Teletubbie is Gay" just doesn't cut it. Maybe a Christian version of Al-Sistani could help to pacify our non-stop culture wars, or am I just dreaming here? :)

You're right that few Christians are going to accept any "guidance" from a Muslim or an atheist about their faith. And Bush isn't going to lose much sleep over either Colbert's or Ahmadinejad's challenges. But just that what they said was said, and said publicly was what impressed me the most.

And I wholeheartedly agree with the slipperiness of religious ideologies, and how easily they can justify atrocity and then get away with it because of all the "good" things about them. Any ideology based on mysticism, based on personal feelings, faith, and basically personal subjectivism, is hard to pin down. There effectively is little objective standard of religious truth, since a person can always say, "That's not the way I feel about it." And the real danger is that religious people take these subjective feelings as absolute truths, and thus we get the inherent violence in spreading these ideologies (I tend to think of "River of Madness" in this case, but a number of other songs on FFTG fit as well).

Very good point. Believers of all persuasions like to have it both ways. On one hand they want to claim that their beliefs are outside of the realm of science, meaning that while based on reality they are only knowable through faith and not provable or disprovable. This is fair enough based on the modern western philosophy that we are all entitled to our own opinions. However, on the other hand they often desire to use their faith-based knowledge to dictate social policy as if it were proven fact, even trumping hard science. While the intrusion of the religious right into American politics is one example of this, other ideologies are fighting for dominance too, as well as things which could be called sub-ideologies such as neo-conservatism, feminism, etc., which are not complete ideologies, but function comparably to them when it comes to a few key issues. Ideally we should study these issues, discover the sources and extent of the problems, theorize solutions, test those solutions, and have the results critically reviewed before implementing them. We really need consensus, badly, and the lack of it at all levels is testament to the seductive call of subjectivism.

And of course, religion is often the handmaiden of warlords for the exact reasons you describe. Another way to look at the relationship between the mystic and the warrior is thus: the warrior fights for control and establishes the power of the mystic and his religion, so the mystic can gain power while keeping his hands clean. And once in power, the mystic uses his religion to justify the actions of the warrior. And so, one hand washes the other. Now imagine trying to pin down either? The warrior simply states, "I was just doing the will of God," while the mystic can come in and say either the same thing, or even more obfuscating, "The warrior isn't a true follower of religion like I am. Look at how peaceful I was? I didn't try to conquer at all! But now that he is in power, I'm not going to do anything that challenges the authority of the warrior. After all, that wouldn't be peaceful. Therefore, we should all just accept his rule and let God judge him." Religion is just one big smokescreen for this abhorrent drama to play out time and again. It's more than just an "opium for the masses," its also a motivation to violent conquest, a justification for violent conquest, and a justification for peacefully accepting the rule of tyrants. All of those things are rolled into one package. Like you said, though, that is the major survival mechanism of religion, and how it can adapt to spread itself in changing social climates.

Well said. The disturbing part is that though ideologies mutate, adapt, and take control of "host nations" to improve their chances of survival, they also tend to show no restraint when it comes to actions which will lead to their own self-destruction. While living in a world which shifts back and forth from one ideology becoming dominant to another becoming dominant and then to another is tolerable, although by no means free of war, suffering, and mass injustice, the idea that no ideology, once it becomes dominant, can pull itself back from the brink (when restraint becomes necessary for survival) is completely unacceptable considering the amount of destruction that humans can wreak upon the earth. Human nature shows this weakness very often in things like stock market and real estate bubbles, drug addiction, and over-consumption in many other areas. Self-restraint, while given so much lip service in holy books and by wise men, never seems able to hold back the addicted. Our ideologies are not restrained by thoughtful quotes from wise old men, they are only restrained by rival ideologies, and once those are removed, self-destruction is inevitable.

The Fireaxe theory - Outline

I. Basics - well established theories

  • 1. Emergent systems - that complex systems can arise from the interactions of simple things
  • 2. Natural selection - that organisms mutate, proliferate, and compete, with the "losers" becoming extinct
  • 3. Behavioral science - that neurological systems, at their core, function according to the rules of conditioning
  • 4. Entropy - that within a closed system, entropy always increases, which limits the amount of transformation that can occur

II. Extensions

  • 1. That consciousness is an emergent system: a complex system arising in the human mind from the interaction of simple neurons.
  • 2. That civilizations are emergent systems arising from the physical interactions of humans whether conscious or not.
  • 3. That ideologies are emergent systems arising from the psychological interactions of conscious humans
  • 4. That emergent systems follow the laws of natural selection in much the same way that organisms do
  • 5. That the universe is, by definition, a closed system

III. Contentions regarding consciousness

  • 1. That consciousness is a survival advantage
  • 2. That being a member of an ideology is a survival advantage
  • 3. That making its members conscious is a necessary part of an ideology's survival
  • 4. That consciousness is created by instilling within a person a permanent sense of inadequacy - in essence a state of constant fear
  • 5. That the deeper the sense of inadequacy, the stronger the person is motivated - generally to serve their ideology

IV. Contentions regarding ideological struggle

  • 1. That ideologies fight for survival using many methods including, but not limited to, war and enslavement
  • 2. That aggression is a survival advantage
  • 3. That aggressive ideologies make members of rival ideologies feel afraid and inadequate which in response become more aggressive, thus creating a vicious circle
  • 4. That aggressive ideologies must continue to grow or face internal strife as their aggressive members will feed on each other to satisfy their needs
  • 5. That internal struggle results in ideological mutation

V. Contentions regarding the future

  • 1. That internal strife is inevitable since the laws of entropy imply that continuous growth is not sustainable
  • 2. That the abstract bases for ideologies transcend mortality and thus suicidal aggression is not restrained by fear of death
  • 3. That ideological mutation will eventually result in the creation of a suicidal ideology which will attempt to save the human race by destroying it

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Food for the Gods: $12 / $14
Victory or Death: $5 / $7
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $7 (SOLD OUT)
A Dream of Death: $3 / $5 (booklet out of print)

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

For the rest of this year and part of the next I will be recording the next Fireaxe CD entitled "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess". I'd like to have it complete by the end of 2006. The new CD will dig deep into the dark crevices of our society and our minds, pull forth the myths that we cling to and hold dear, and expose them all for what they are. While “A Dream of Death” explored the madness of dreams, and “Food for the Gods” described the chaos wrought upon the earth by ideologies, “Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess” will depict the psychological enslavement of the individual in modern times. It will be the darkest Fireaxe work ever.

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the CDs for $5 each which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge $7 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. You are food for the gods.
  • 6. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 7. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 8. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 9. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

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