You know, Perry Stone just can’t seem to help himself. If he isn’t stepping in the dog doo-doo concerning ancient Paganism, he is doing so with reference to the history of the Roman Empire. Frankly, Roman history must be a favorite subject of his, as often as he mentions it. Too bad his history is, apparently, mostly made-up in his own mind.
Case in point, on the most recent airing of his program “Mana Fest” (09/06/2020), a program entitled “Why the Government is Afraid of Christianity” – Episode #1039, he almost began with a description of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West – right after mentioning, for whatever reason, that former president Harry S. Truman believed that our laws in America were founded upon the Bible. Why he even made that statement, I was left unsure. But then he asked why Christianity in the US was being “assaulted”. He then went even further by asking how many atheists had ever started an orphanage or had programs to feed the poor or had assisted in feeding the poor.
Directly afterward, he stated that, in order to show what it was all about, he had to go back to the Roman Empire, and he immediately cites Edward Gibbon. He began to enumerate what he said Gibbon’s reasons for the fall of the empire in the West were. First (1), invasions of ten Germanic tribes. Second (2), taxation within the empire, he said, supposedly still citing Gibbon, was so high that people could no longer afford to live there, “and they pulled out and left”. Stone continued; “[i]t came to a point that farmers would not even farm their land; they just left it to go to another country. Third (3), “[t]hey had something called doles”, which Stone said were started with good intentions, but that people “began to realize that they could live off the government and they could make more money with government assistance than they did working a job”. To support this, Stone asked his oh-so attentive audience if they knew that the Romans had eventually passed a law that if someone had a job they were not allowed to quit that job. Further, Stone insinuated that the latter Roman Empire (in the West) was sort of a pattern for, guess what – socialism (we see where this is going, don’t we?). In short, he said, “they ran out of other people’s money”. Sound familiar? He continued; “[p]eople began to move out of the country – they began to move out of Rome, and foreigners from other countries came into Rome, and into Italy, and completely took it over and overran it. And so that’s how the Roman Empire – the Western branch – collapsed.”
Yet, Stone continued that Gibbon said another interesting thing; that when persecution of Christians began to cease, and it was made the official religion under Constantine, so many people converted to Christianity that Christianity “may have been the cause of the fall of” the Western Roman Empire. How? “When people became Christians, they ceased to go to the Pagan temples [he names off a handful of deities here] all the idols that the Romans had worshipped in these massive temples that they built became empty because people no longer served the idol, they served the true God. Now, what began to happen there is the temples began to decline. And when the temples began to decline, guess what? The second aspect was . . . the silver smiths and those that made idols – and you can read about this in the book of Acts – began to lose business. Paul went to a city and so many people got saved that the silver smith got mad and had a riot and had the government – town government – come against Paul and said ‘he’s affecting our business because nobody wants to buy a silver idol anymore’, and so it affected the temple, it affected idolatry; it affected the making of false gods.
Then in the empire [I thought we were still in the empire….] something began to happen. Jews, as you know, and Christians have what’s called Shabbat. That’s the Hebrew word for . . . the seventh day – the day of rest. The Romans literally worked seven days a week, so they wanted you to work on Saturday and Sunday. Then when the Christians refused to – [began to] say, ‘we have to have a day off’ and the Jews began to say, ‘no, we have to have a day off’, the Roman Empire leaders and governors and the magistrates began to say, ‘the Christians are lazy’. And then they wanted Christians not to be hired, of Jews [not] to be hired in market places because they said they’re not gonna work as hard as we work. It wasn’t that they weren’t working hard; its that they wanted a day off”. So, in essence, according to Stone, the Romans saw the Christians as lazy.
He continued; “[o]f course, for the Roman government, the more you worked, the more tax money that they could gain”. We must also understand something else, he continued, as he went into a little diatribe about meat offered to idols – the point, he said, being that “everything around Rome that turned the Romans against Christians was because of money”. Stone had his willing audience repeat this.
Sounds quite plausible, doesn’t it – at least to a novice who does not understand Roman history or society or even how the empire functioned. But, after all, he got all of this from Gibbon, right? Surely using an authority means that Stone is right, doesn’t it? Well, let’s see, shall we?
But, before we begin to take Stone’s analysis apart, let’s first dispense with the initial statement that former president Truman believed that our laws were/are based on biblical laws. The only thing I am going to state in response to that is, “so what?” Lots of people have come to that conclusion, which is, in part, true. So?”
Secondly, Stone’s retort against atheists, although it does not really fit within the greater scheme of his diatribe either, needs to be reckoned with. It’s not that I want to defend atheists, after all. But, facts are still facts and the truth of the matter is that they have set up at least one orphanage – in Uganda. And, in fact, atheists do have an organization set up specifically to help the poor and the homeless. That Christians, by and large, do more than other groups should not be a point of argumentation. Christians are SUPPOSED to do these types of things, as commanded by their Lord. So, again, I would respond with, “so what?”
Now, also before I begin with the main argument, I want to mention that there are those, especially atheists themselves as well as many religions “scholars” who dismiss Gibbon’s analysis as flawed, at best – especially with reference to the idea that Christianity had anything to do with the fall of the empire in the West. They sometimes even go to great lengths to discredit Gibbon. I, for one, accept his analysis almost in total, even though it is, like any other analysis, flawed at certain points (something he himself acknowledged). The fact of the matter is that no analysis can be perfect, after all. But, because I accept his points, for the most part, I really do take exception to someone like Perry Stone even presuming to use them (which he really didn’t, as we will see). I take just about as much exception to this as I do the idea that he also presumes to even know anything about the Roman Empire. The plain fact of the matter is that he doesn’t. And that will be demonstrated here too. He has a smattering of knowledge and “facts”, but no real understanding.
Stone first (1) cites Gibbon, stating that part of the reason for the collapse of the empire in the West was the invasion of Germanic tribes, ten, to be exact. Well, it’s been a while since I consulted Gibbon in detail, so I am not going to quibble about whether he said there were ten tribes or twenty. The fact of the matter is that this was indeed a factor, perhaps the major factor overall, along with invasions of other groups, most notably the Huns, which Stone somehow leaves out. In fact, one could postulate that the main reason the Germanic tribes invaded the Roman Empire was exactly because of the Huns. But, I suggest that Stone simply does not know this, or he might have at least referred to the Huns in his analysis.
But, before we move on to Stone’s second point, let’s read Gibbon’s words directly as stated in Volune III of his great work, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. He stated that there were four (4) principle reasons for the fall of the empire in the West. The following is his statement on the matter. “The rise of a city, which swelled into an Empire, may deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind. But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians” (Ch. 38). . . . after a diligent inquiry” he listed “four principal causes of the ruin of Rome, which continued to operate in a period of more than a thousand years. . . . (I) The injuries of time and nature [not mentioned by Stone]. (II) The hostile attacks of the barbarians and Christians [the latter also not alluded to by Stone at all – and, in fact, the two were often one and the same, i.e. – Christianized barbarians]. (III) The use and abuse of materials [sort-of alluded to by Stone]. And, (IV) The domestic quarrels of the Romans [not alluded to by Stone].”
In any case, Stone’s second point (2), also supposedly gleaned from Gibbon, is that taxation was so high within the empire that people chose to quit farming and move elsewhere – to other countries. People simply could not afford to live within the empire because of high taxation, so they left for greener pastures, so to speak, according to Stone. In fact, to hear him tell it, they left in droves, even leaving their farmland behind. “Bye, y’all!”
Stone somehow tied these supposed happenings with the Roman dole, apparently not knowing that this was something started at the very beginning of the empire, not toward the end, as he suggested, and also not knowing that the dole was, in fact, not the same as what is termed the “bread and circuses”. To put it simply, the dole was a structure enacted only for the benefit of Roma itself, not any outlying provinces. So, only the populace of Roma herself benefitted from this. The provinces actually paid for it. That, in fact, was basically the entire structure of the Roman Empire. Wealth was systematically taken from the provinces, especially from the wealthy, and transferred to Roma. The citizens of the city herself paid no taxes, period.
Whether that was a good policy or not can be debated. The fact of the matter, however, is that it worked for a LONG time. The main reasons that such a system began not to work so well had to do with barbarian invasions and barbarian settlement within the empire. See, when the Goths were allowed to settle in Dacia, for example, they displaced Roman subjects who had already been living there. Many of these were, in fact, former soldiers who had obtained their lands due to their military service. They had to give up their lands for these barbarian hordes who suddenly came in, invited by the EASTERN Roman emperors. The plan was simple – settle the Goths in Dacia and, hopefully, they would become good, loyal citizens. That way the Romans would not have to fight yet another war to try to keep them out. Essentially, the plan really didn’t work and, on top of that, there were many disgruntled Roman subjects who had been displaced because of this – forced to settle elsewhere within the empire. Roman soldiers, for their part, as well as others allied with them, treated these barbarians with great disdain, even going so far as bringing them to the brink of starvation, and then feeding dog meat to them!
Anyway, policies such as this one helped to cause a lessening of wealth and produce from coming into Roma from the provinces. Yes, fewer farmers meant less wealth and produce going to Roma. Yes, that was a fundamental part of the taxation process that was failing toward the latter part of the Western Empire’s existence. Yes, in effect, taxes were high – for the provinces. They always had been from the very start, but it got worse over time. Thus, as the empire expanded, more wealth flowed into Roma herself. When she ceased to expand, things began to contract. In later times people essentially resorted to feudalism and, thus, did not contribute to the economy of the empire. And the empire overall reverted to more of a barter system than it had already been. Yes, many farmers quit farming because of impossible taxation. But they did NOT move to “other countries”. Constantine and his successors, by the way, did little to nothing that actually helped the situation.
AGAIN, NO, FARMERS DID NOT JUST PICK UP AND LEAVE THEIR ANCESTRAL LANDS FOR OTHER COUNTRIES! MR. STONE – THERE WERE NO OTHER COUNTRIES FOR ANYONE TO GO TO! THERE WERE BARBARIAN LANDS, OR THERE WAS THE SASSANID EMPIRE. THAT WAS IT! I’m sorry, but what sort of an imbecile pictures the Roman Empire surrounded by other countries?!
In addition, no, people did not decide that they didn’t have to work because the government would take care of them. In fact, that statement is completely contradictory to the explanation you (Stone) gave about how the Romans began to see the Christians (and the Jews) as lazy and not willing to work hard.
But it’s even worse than that. See, it just didn’t happen the way Stone describes it. Stone paints a picture of Christians agitating for a day off, and being called “lazy” by the Romans, and the Jews following suit in this, with the Romans also calling them lazy on that account. The fact of the matter, however, is that the idea that the Jews were lazy because they did not want to work on the Sabbath predated any comparison with the Christians on that point. The earliest known extant reference to this is found in the Fourteenth Satire of the Roman poet Juvenal (c67-c145). And this was not, by any means, the only hateful thing said about the Jews by the Romans and others. As a natural result, the Christians were seen in the same way – because Christianity was not seen as separate from Judaism for some time. When the Christians began to insist that they needed the first day of the week off each week (sorry, Mr. Stone, but “Saturday” and “Sunday” were not actual Roman days of the week), they were seen exactly the way the other Jews had been already.
Mr. Stone simply has all of this confused and mixed up, just as he also does the issues with barbarian invasions and the effects of these. See, Mr. Stone cites Italy and Roma as places people left because of being displaced by others who came into the empire. He indicates that people first moved away, and then foreigners came in and took over. That is false. The fact of the mater is that the only major invasion into Italy itself prior to the massive influx of barbarians after the defeat of the Huns, and onward to Roma, was led by the Visigoth Alaric. And it did not come from outside of the empire, but from within since Alaric commanded his own Roman forces (mainly barbarians, to be sure). He moved from more Eastern provinces into Italy because he was denied a greatly-coveted promotion. That barbarians invaded, and settled in, Italy, as well as other parts of the empire later is a given.
That said, Stone is obviously confusing the situation with the Goths in Dacia with Alaric’s invasion of Italy. In Italy, no one simply moved out, to be replaced by foreigners or invaders. NO ONE! And, again, NO ONE packed up and moved to other countries BECAUSE THERE WERE NO OTHER COUNTRIES TO GO TO!
As for this supposed Roman law that a person could not quit a job, there were so many Roman laws, some repeats or near-repeats of older ones, that I suppose there could have been such a law, or a similar one. Certainly, the economy had become so strained by the third century CE that people were essentially forced to remain in the same position and status as they already had. Was there a socialist tendency in some Roman laws? Absolutely – because they were meant for the good of the populace and the empire as a whole. Stone’s insinuation that they practiced an early form of what we today call “socialism”, however, is unfounded. The insulting statement that “they ran out of other people’s money” is so baseless and ignorant of the way things worked that it really does not deserve to be dignified. In addition, Stone certainly ignores the myriad of other laws that targeted Pagans and Pagan worship, sometimes with cruel punishments attached to them, in favor of Christianity.
So, he wraps everything up in a neat little bow, stating that this is the way the Western Roman Empire collapsed. Trouble is – he really didn’t tell us why or how it collapsed. He simply combined misinformation with things he evidently made up in his own head, all the while claiming to have got his information from Gibbon.
Even so, he continues from there. He makes the baseless, yet often-repeated, claim that so many people converted to Christianity (yes, they just willingly converted in droves because of Christian love!) that Christianity may have contributed to the fall of the empire in the West because they didn’t continue to support the economy by participating in “idol worship”. Frankly, I was astonished that Stone would even admit that Christianity might have had anything to do with the fall of the empire because most vehemently deny this even though the evidence is rather hard to miss. But, naturally, he tied this to a reason – that Christians did not support the temples anymore.
In fact, Stone IS right on that latter point, believe it or not. When Christians ceased to participate in sacrifices and other forms of temple worship, it DID affect the local economies in the provinces, and that had a ripple effect all over the empire. Yes, that happened. However, people simply were NOT converting in droves the way Stone suggests. He is simply following the tired mantra of biased Christian history put forth over the centuries, something that Gibbon did not do.
The fact of the matter is that the temples did not become “empty” because people were converting to Christianity. They became neglected and empty specifically because of laws passed by Christian emperors, beginning with Constantine, which proscribed punishments for those who participated in sacrifices and temple activities. These laws, Stone has obviously ignored, if he even knows about them.
Stone, in his grand diatribe (such as it was) also did the same thing many Christian theologians and others have done down through the centuries. He engaged in hyperbole and insult concerning Pagan religious systems, mainly by referring to our deities as “idols” and stating that we worship them (the physical image of the deity). This is a slur that is as offensive as it is unjustified, but one that they can get away with because they always have. Deep down, the Christian actually hates the Pagan exactly because it took Christianity so much effort to overcome Paganism in the Western world. That is just a fact. They want to ignore the history and even claim, at times, that it never even happened, but their obvious hatred towards Pagans and Paganism demonstrates that they know what they did just the same.
In any case, Stone claims that the temples declined because of the Christians, which is partially correct, as noted. Some counter that they were already in decline, ignoring the fact that there was a resurgence of Pagan worship and practice during the early centuries CE. After all, all religions wax and wane over time.
But Stone gets even more confused when he ties this decline to the silver smiths. I actually wanted to laugh when he began this convoluted piece of idiotic sophistry. Why? Exactly because it became immediately obvious that Stone was solely referencing the book of Acts as his source for this. He even admits as much himself. Did Christianity reduce the demand for “idols”? Naturally. Did this have anything to do with the episode from the book of Acts? Not really. The events were so far distant in time that to posit any real correlation between them would be mindless. In essence, Stone posits that such events continued to take place all over the empire, causing an economic downturn. The fact that Christians did not buy animals for sacrifice is mentioned in historical records as an economic concern. The fact that they did not buy “idols” is not. Couple that with the misbegotten statement that people “got saved” in droves whenever Paul preached, and you simply have a picture that never really happened at all. Even the book of Acts shows that most people rejected Paul’s message. As an aside, I am rather proud of the fact that I have lots of – lots of – “idols” in my house!
In any case, it is also important to note that taxation was really not tied to how hard a person worked. I realize that this is difficult for those of us raised in modern capitalistic or socialistic systems to grasp. Yes, the Romans did engage in a type of capitalistic system in many respects. But, there was no system by which one earned a certain wage (except under Diocletian), and might earn more the harder one worked as in our modern capitalist system, and was taxed directly accordingly. That simply was not how it worked at all. It was, more or less, an advanced form of the barter system. And when one was paid directly, an employer could pay a person basically whatever they saw fit. So, if a person was not paid much, then the Romans could not have obtained much by way of taxes from them – if it had even worked that way. No, they focused mainly on the prosperous until they virtually drained them of wealth. Then they focused more on the poorer classes, and didn’t get much.
Finally, Mr. Stone states that everything that served to turn the Romans against Christianity was because of money. Talk about pulling something out of your own arse! That is clearly (1) NOT true and (2) NOT anything like what Gibbon said.
In the end, Stone closed by stating that the government fears Christians because of their ethics. Yes, he said the government fears Christians because they have ethics that they will act upon. Never mind that this is supposedly a nation founded on Christian ethics. The whole diatribe made about as much sense as a kindergartener’s paper might have.