What fun

The Catholic Church has a reputation for strict unbending theology, but it may have inadvertently triggered the non-conformist and individual culture of today’s western societies, researchers believe.

Academics now believe that rules enshrined in canon law in the 9th century, which limited the marriage of relatives to prevent incest, fundamentally changed the culture of Europe, breaking apart old clans and ushering in a new era of cooperation.

Western societies are generally viewed as quite odd by sociologists because they tend to view individuals as more important than the group, they conform less to a central ideal and they have a far greater trust of strangers.

In contrast, older more traditional societies tend to comprise tight-knit tribes where members show fierce loyalty, obedience, adherence to tradition and a general mistrust of outsiders.

Until now, academics had been puzzled as to what caused the transition, but they have now discovered that areas that were early adopters the Medieval Catholic Church marriage rules transitioned into modern western societies.

Insisting that people marry outside even the wider family grouping does rather break up clans. They’re really quite sure they’ve proven the correlation at least as well.

Which brings on the next question, Why was the early medieval church so insistent upon this?

21 thoughts on “What fun”

  1. Tom Holland in his new book ‘Dominion’ and Larry Siedentop in ‘Inventing the Individual’ both root Western individualism in the teachings of St Paul.

  2. Meanwhile in modern Britain, Pakistanis make up 3% of the births and 30% of the birth defects. Those old clerics were on to something.

  3. ” In contrast, older more traditional societies tend to comprise tight-knit tribes where members show fierce loyalty, obedience, adherence to tradition and a general mistrust of outsiders.”

    Western Elites: ” Let’s bring millions of these people here. I’m sure they’ll fit right in.”

  4. Western Elites: ” Let’s bring millions of these people here. I’m sure they’ll fit right in.”

    The western elites quite fancy a bit of obedience and fierce loyalty (to them), which is why they are importing them.

    Western society has produced living conditions for mankind which would have been unthinkable two hundred years ago, but if it doesn’t deliver perpetual power for the sociopaths, it has to go.

  5. Didn’t that first get published a few months back? The first reports specifically mentioned the ban on first cousin marriages as breaking down clan structures because it forced people towards exogamy, and that leading to the development of civil law to mediate in disputes, rather than asking the clan elders. The Telegraph can be a bit slow on the uptake.

  6. Bloke in Germany in Denmark

    The Catholic rules are prerty much a straight copy of Jewish marriage rules aren’t they?

  7. There was also a slight infusion of the Catholic disgust of sex. Requiring your adherents to sex people who weren’t in your local community made it hard to sex anybody in a age of difficult travel.

  8. I’d say they’ve got this the wrong way round. People create religions, not religions people. Europeans were farmers & there’s self interest in being on good terms with your neighbour. You don’t want to have to stay up all night guarding your crops. The other side of your neighbour is his neighbour. Which makes him your neighbour. As is his neighbour. You reinforce your neighbourliness by marrying out. By making your neighbour part of your family.
    Christianity came out of the middle-east. A faction of Judaism. Jews are goatherding people. Tribal people. Still tribal people or there would be no Jews after 2000 years. And that’s where it would have stayed if Europeans hadn’t adopted it.
    Why Christianity? Religions are a forerunner to science. An attempt to explain the world. Maybe a single god was a better explanation at the time than the pantheons of gods of existing European religions (Although with its angels & its saints Catholicism has tried its best to return to a pantheon in response to European preferences). The cult of Christ was conveniently available.

  9. “Which brings on the next question, Why was the early medieval church so insistent upon this? ”
    As Lud pointed out, to disperse opposition. And, to a very large extend, that meant controlling inheritance too.
    And as a bonus, the Church is more likely to collect a stray inheritance from Sir Geoff the Sterile than from a tightly knit clan.

  10. the Catholic disgust of sex

    Eh, where’d you think all those little Rees-Moggses come from?


    Religions are a forerunner to science

    Eh, mibbe? But this is also sort of missing the point of both religion and science.

    Let’s start with science, or Science! as Magnus Pyke said.

    The scientific method is the dog’s bollocks for helping to explain repeatable physical phenomena.

    We can extrapolate the rules of nature from that and make a bloody good stab at things like positing how the universe developed from a “Big Bang” (incidentally, a theory invented by a brilliant Catholic priest-astronomer and given its supposed-to-be-pejorative name by a brilliant atheist astronomer who preferred the Steady State model).

    All wonderful stuff, but Science! isn’t the sonic screwdriver some folks mistake it for. It has nothing to say about God, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, or even the Spaghetti Monster because it can’t.

    It has nothing to say about how you should live your life (despite the best efforts of “climate scientists”), any more than a pocket calculator can tell you how much you should love your neighbour, your wife, or your neighbour’s wife.

    Religion is partly about explaining the world, but only partly.

    In Latin, religare means “to bind together”. This gives us a big, raging clue, no?

    The main sociological function of religion is therefore what it says on the tin. It’s about creating the social glue that makes society possible. The opiate of the masses, maybe. But human life is punctuated by horror and pain and opiates are actually pretty damn helpful in dealing with that. Telling a cancer patient that’s he’s an insignificant speck of star-dirt in an indifferent universe that will eventually exterminate him and everything he loves, not so much.

    Religious – i.e. binding – ceremonies create positive emotional energy that literally bring people together. Masses, feasts, fasts, prayers, sacraments, hymns, the cornucopia of art and culture that grew up around those things – it’s all about satisfying a fundamental human need – not so much to understand (religion does try to answer the big questions of existence but is also fine with a degree of mystery) but to belong to something greater, more generous, more enduring than the self.

    Now, a wise rabbi once said something about judging things by their fruits. We’ve had a good few decades to see what our society is like in the absence of the social glue and motivating force religion once provided. Is it better?

    On current trends, Western Civ will replace itself with Afro-Islamic Civ within a century or so, so I reckon there’s our answer.

  11. Thought 1: if inter-clan marriage is good, inter-racial marriage must be even better.

    Thought 2: The rule only works if it’s enforced for everyone. At present we have some groups which don’t marry out (Pakistanis, most notably; but also gypsies, Orthodox Jews, some strands of Plymouth Brethren); whose position in society is regarded with suspicion by the rest.

  12. Philip Scott Thomas

    “I was surpised [sic] just how preoccupied medieval Europe was with the fear of incest. Historians also talk about an obsession with incest.

    “This fear was not only about incest with close relatives but included an ever-exapnding [sic] circle of cousins, in laws, spirtial [sic] kin such as godparents and godchildren. Natural disasters such as the plague were attributed to God’s punishment for incest.”

    This is interesting. It fits in with something I noticed a couple decades ago when I was doing some post-grad work on the English Reformation. No accounts there were not written by a Catholic, and specifically a pre-Vatican II Catholic, took the issues of Henry’s piety and devotion into account when discussing his divorce. Every text, every single one of them, written by a non-Catholic framed the issue in terms of political power. Only the older Catholic writers even considered Henry’s guilt over having married his brother Arthur’s widow and his conviction that his failure to produce a male heir was God’s judgement on him for having done so.

  13. I don’t buy the notion that exogamy disperses opposition.
    Wider networks make it just as likely that oppressing one village / clan will inspire resistance from other linked social elements.
    OTOH wider networks improve communication, provide better market information and promote specialisation, all good Smithian explanations of the wealth of nations.

  14. BTW the Catholic Church really isn’t mysterious about this stuff, they have a long history of publishing their reasoning in encyclicals, catechisms and whatnot. Here’s the official left-footer position on why consanguineous marriage is bad:

    The Church was prompted by various reasons first to recognize the prohibitive legislation of the Roman State and then to extend the impediment of consanguinity beyond the limits of the civil legislation. The welfare of the social order, according to St. Augustine (City of God XV.16) and St. Thomas (Suppl. Q. liii, a. 3), demanded the widest possible extension of friendship and love among all humankind, to which desirable aim the intermarriage of close blood-relations was opposed; this was especially true in the first half of the Middle Ages, when the best interests of society required the unification of the numerous tribes and peoples which had settled on the soil of the Roman Empire.

    By overthrowing the barriers between inimical families and races, ruinous internecine warfare was diminished and greater peace and harmony secured among the newly-converted Christians.

    In the moral order the prohibition of marriage between near relations served as a barrier against early corruption among young persons of either sex brought habitually into close intimacy with one another; it tended also to strengthen the natural feeling of respect for closely related persons (St. Thomas, II-II.154.9; St. Augustine, City of God XV.10).

    Nature itself seemed to abhor the marriage of close kin, since such unions are often childless and their offspring seem subject to grave physical and mental weakness (epilepsy, deaf-muteness, weak eyes, nervous diseases), and incur easily and transmit the defects, physical or moral, of their parents, especially when the interbreeding of blood-relations is repeated

  15. My limited understanding is that this 9th century theology only codified what was politically pragmatic. The expansion of Christianity to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe was achieved not through revelation of the sword but by Christian brides marrying heathen chiefs.

  16. Re: the expansion of Christianity Charlemagne’s executing anyone who refused to have their children baptised proved a remarkably effective technique. Crude, but effective.

    Just an anecdotal observation, but non-religious Western societies are much less about the family than religious ones. All the Irish descended people, and certainly Italians and Hispanics lay great importance on family. There is also the Mary cult where the role of the mother is much more important than in non-religious families. All huge generalisations of course, but my observations.

  17. By replacing the tribal and local bonds with allegiance to the church, they expanded their reach and influence.

  18. This theory is not original.. HBDchick blogged about it for ages. Do they give her due credit or are they plagiarists?

  19. “I was surpised [sic] just how preoccupied medieval Europe was with the fear of incest. Historians also talk about an obsession with incest.”

    These people bred cattle. They may not have had our scientific knowledge, but they were *damn* good breeders, and were quite aware of the risks and benefits of in- and outbreeding. And were also very much aware this applied to humans as well **.
    Even before the “benefits” of the christian faith, which already incorporated this knowledge from previous incarnations and influences.

    ** infamously the Spartans, but as archeological evidence proves, at least the Athenians as well, took this to the extreme, and let the priests do the culling. They had a good point at the time.

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