Must Civilization Fail Without Christianity?

Continuation from Civilization Fail Without Christianity?

Didymos: Precisely what pre-Alexandrian “civilization” took control of Palestine? I kind of thought Alexander was the first “Greek” to “control” Palestine (yeah, I know he was Macedonian…what language did he speak? where and by whom was he educated? Donʼt quibble overly much.). But I could be wrong, so do correct me.

Must Civilization Fail Without Christianity?

Ed: Hello again! Pleased to hear from you. Pardon me for adding Greek and Alexandrian separately. I replied hastily, mentioning two when there was only one. Yes, I was referring to Alexander the Great, a “Greek or Macedonian.” He died, leaving his kingdom in splinters, ruled by various Seleucid emperors in Palestine.

The Jews revolted against them, and thousands of Jews were crucified as a result, though the Jewish revolt did succeed at one point, as you can read in the book of Macabees (found only in Catholic Bibles today). (the Jews liberated themselves in the years after 165 (the so-called Maccabean revolt) So Israel did become a nation for a little while, after the Maccabean revolt and before the Romans took her over again. So todayʼs Israel is the SECOND time Israel has become a nation since Israelʼs return from Babylon. (That blows a lot of holes in the views of dispensationalist Christians by the way.)

Ed: And Rome also later fell during a time when Christianity was the official religion of the Empire.) In other words, some Christians today argue that civilization must fail without Christianity, and they type out their warnings on computers built by Northern California agnostics and Japanese Buddhists. But what about those “non-religious historical factors” I alluded to above? A number of factors pushed Western Civilization over the top, but how many of those factors specifically had to do with Christianity?

Didymos: The short answer is obviously that all other factors affected Christianity And just as obviously Christianity affected every other factor. It is the task of history to identify all factors that inform and describe the past as can possibly be identified. Obviously, Christianity is a set of operational and condition factors for the rise of the West and its dominance over the remainder of the world in the past four centuries or so. And the rise of Protestant Christianity and Industrialization just happened to have begun and grown simultaneously. Merely a coincidence? May I be so bold as to submit that if a contributing factor can be removed without affecting the outcome, the factor was not at any point a contributing factor, and in fact the events removed from the equation never happened. Kindly demonstrate that Christianity was not a set of factors in Western history. I breathlessly await your learned analysis . . .

Ed: “Kindly?” Just read my article and see that I never claimed Christianity was not a factor at all. As for what is understood by “Christianity” by any particular “Christian” living in any particular country or age — that is a matter worthy of discussion. Also read what someone else added to my article:

Response from Jagan Mohan: “Was the influence of Christianity and theology as prominent a deciding factor in the ascendancy of Western civilization as some Christians have stated, or, did a combination of all the other historical factors above, play as large a role (or slightly larger a role) than Christianity did in the history of the Ascendancy of the West?”

  1. Western Civilization is only a part of the pie which includes other yet surviving ancient Civilizations such as the Chinese and Indian civilizations.

  2. If we closely examine the role of Jews of Europe and their contributions to Medicine, Social Sciences, Philosophy and Mathematics, their role is much larger than their community. One can say that Western Civilization owes as much to the Jews as it owes to the Mediaeval Islamic Civilization.

  3. The influences on Western Civilization from other cultures through the various wide trading links makes western civilization a product of amalgamation of many older civilizations.

  4. The contributions in the religious sphere to European Christianity can be attributed to Mithrianism, Nordic, Druid, Celtic and other older ‘Pagan’ religions.

  5. Christianity had very little to contribute to the rise of Renaissance and Industrial as well as Green revolutions that saw Europe and subsequently US/Australia, etc become World Powers by dint of their industrialization.

    My 2 cents,

    Jagan Mohan

Didymos: Christianity affected the history of the West for the past 19 centuries or so. Period. It cannot be removed. To attempt to do so is merely a silly game of “what if?” that has no semblance to reality.

Ed: I take it then that you are reacting to what you Think I wrote or what you think I have in mind? I was not playing a game of “what if,” I asked To What Degree people can claim that “Christianity” was the sole reason behind many of the advances we take for granted in Western Civilization. I also asked To What Degree “Christianity” was needed today to sustain human civilization. I was reacting to Christians who claim that we owe every good idea and thought and invention to Christianity and who claim that civilization would fail without Christianity.

Keep in mind that I write for people who are thinking about leaving the fold. I do not want to outlaw anyoneʼs faith or religion. That would only make matters terrible for all. I believe in freedom of religion and speech, I believe in the first amendment. But there are fundamentalists taught from birth that the First Commandment overrides the first amendment, because the first commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” while the first amendment states “freedom of religion.” Such Christians are also taught that civilization itself will crumble if Christians should grow less numerous. But we have examples from nations round the world, and throughout history, that demonstrate that an abundance of Christians are not needed for a nation or civilization to run, we have examples throughout history that show even Christian nations/civilizations failing, and/or fighting in an incredibly bloody fashion with other Christian nations.

As for science and the industrial revolution, they are doing quite fine and continuing along, and practiced by people of All Religions Or Lack Thereof. Christianity is not needed to sustain human curiosity, nor to buttress any discovery or invention that works. Concerning the effect that Christianity had upon human curiosity and the scientific frame of mind, Christianity had both a deleterious effect and a beneficial effect. It was not all one or the other. And science as we know it today merely requires human curiosity and the desire to pursue further research, regardless of oneʼs religion or lack thereof.

Didymos: One of the basic properties of a mathematical equation is that the removal of any number from one side of an equation affects the other side. That is, if x equals the total of all factors representing the contributions of Christianity to Western history and x is greater than zero ( which is bloody well obvious), and 2, 3, 4, 2 represent all other factors that lead to the present moment, thus 2 + 3 + 4 + 2 + x = 11 + x is a (grossly oversimplified) mathematical model of the present moment. We cannot eliminate x from both sides because it is screamingly obvious that Christianity is a factor in the past and present of the West. Therefore, if one is silly enough to try to remove x from the right side of the equation, the equation is no longer an equation, because 2 + 3 + 4 + 2 = 11 + x does not represent a state of equality. We are stuck with Christianity as an integral part of Euro-American history, and no amount of earnest atheist wishinʼ and hopinʼ can change that fact. I invite you to falsify that assertion. Good luck….

Ed: Already replied to above. You seem to believe I am an atheist and find Christianity to have been no factor at all in the equation of Western civilization. It was. I asked in my article to What Extent. There are loads of other factors that made the ascendancy of the West happen.

Ed: 1) A new book, Aristotleʼs Children, explains the enormous effect that the rediscovery of Aristotleʼs works had on Medieval Europe. The book explains that Christian monasteries of Europe had preserved very little of Aristotle (some of his poetics I believe), but after the invasion of Moorish Spain, a host of Aristotleʼs works on reason and metaphysics/nature were discovered in Islamic libraries, and those were soon translated into Latin, and spread throughout Europe, igniting human curiosity, jump-starting it, and hence followed Thomas Aquinas, the Renaissance, etc. Prior to that, Europe had been dependant upon Augustineʼs neo-Platonism, and Neo-Platonism was of the opinion that if some bit of knowledge was not revealed, then you should basically leave the mystery alone. Aristotle taught otherwise, namely that mysteries could be searched out. Function matched form, etc. His logic and reason and syllogistic thinking also taught how to avoid obvious errors during such searches for knowledge.

Didymos: Are you sure the sequence is correct? Invasion of Moorish Spain and then Aquinas? Is this book discussing the 12th century “Little Renaissance” or the post 1500 (approximately) movement? There is nothing much new about this. In fact, it seems a rehash of what I was taught in college over 30 years ago, and it was not new at that time. Namely, that there were essentially two strains of Western Christian thought in the West. On the one hand, we have (roughly) the line of Xeno of Citium, Plato, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Knox, Cotton, Hobbes, Mather, Edwards, Franklin, Adams, Madison, Emerson, Thoreau, Lincoln, William James. The other strain is roughly Aristotle, the historical Jesus, Aquinas, Bacon, Galileo, Sir William Petty, Gregoy King, Locke, the Encyclopediasts, Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, Gerry, Calhoun, Jefferson Davis. By the way, Christian influence on Western intellectual history cannot be separated out. If Christianity could somehow be removed, Western thought would be something else, and likely quite different. And we would be quite different in our world view.

Ed: “Quite different” tells me nothing. There was a mystery religion in pre-Christian Rome, Mithraism, that had more adherents than early Christianity. But it was not egalitarian enough, it wasnʼt for the masses and lower classes and women, etc. It thus had a limited horizon of possible adherents. Christianity took many aspects of paganism and Judaism. It was a syncretism, a mix, that arose during a time in ancient Rome when interest in miracles and superstitions, especially about the afterlife, were rife. And that particular mix, the Christian mix, attracted more people. Darwinism in action. Christianity had the most successful advertising campaign. Christianity is the form of syncretized paganism that “worked” for that day and age. Then of course, came the first Christian creeds after Constantine, the first Christian emperor, which effectively made half of all Christians “heretics” based on the degrees to which they adhered or questioned the Athanasian Creed. Then came the Donatists in North Africa, who saw themselves as more Christian than the Catholics. The Donatists claimed they were the true Christians. The story of the “orthodox” pursuing “heretics” and “schismatics” goes on and on throughout Christianity. The greatest minds in Rome being drawn into the Christian faith were then reduced to arguing over Biblical minutia, metaphysical heresies, imploring the government to punish fellow believers, and also promoting virginity above all. Rome might have lasted longer without Christianity, maybe classical learning would might not have grown so dim.

Christians 1, Pagans 0

Constantine [the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity] united the whole Roman Empire under his rule and reigned for twenty-five years. He brought up his sons to be pious Christians, and the last of them reigned for another twenty-five years, having ultimately reunited the empire under his rule. During that half-century the Church had enjoyed imperial protection and paganism had been viewed with disfavor. Christians had been promoted and pagans frowned upon. With only two short-lived exceptions no pagan was to reign as Emperor after Constantine.

- A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe

A spirit of scornful tolerance breathes through not a few of his [Constantineʼs] edicts. As the years passed, toleration of paganism gave place to active repression; the emperor felt that he was strong enough to advance to a frontal attack upon paganism. The important fact to realize, however, is that this alteration in policy entailed no change of spirit, only a change of method. What Constantine would have recommended in 323 he later felt free to proclaim as the imperial will.

- Norman H. Baynes, Constantine the Great and the Christian Church

In a few broad sweeps [by stretching the meaning of a famous pagan poem and announcing that it was a “prophecy of Christ”], Constantine had damned the free use of reason and had banished poetic imagination.

- Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p. 646

Constantineʼs allegiance to his God was backed by massive patronage. Emperors had always honored their favored gods with benefactions and buildings. Constantineʼs patronage was so lavish that he had to strip resources from pagan temples to fund it. One of his early foundations in Rome was the church of St. John Lateran, whose apse was to be coated in gold. Around 500 pounds of it was needed… Another 3,700 lbs was required for light fittings and another 400 pounds of gold for fifty gold vessels.

- Charles Freeman, “The Emperorʼs State of Grace,” History Today, January 2001

Constantine. banned the construction of new pagan temples, the consulting of oracles, and animal sacrifices. That these decrees were enforced sporadically did not detract from their symbolic value.

- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome

Between 315 AD and the sixth century thousands of pagan believers were slain. Pagan services became punishable by death in 356 AD.

The Christian Emperor, Theodosius, even had children executed, because they had been playing with remains of pagan statues.

- K. Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn, (Stuttgart 1962), p. 468-469

[During the reign of Christian Emperor Theodosius] bands of wandering monks attacked synagogues, pagan temples, hereticsʼ meeting places, and the homes of wealthy non-believers in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and North Africa. [Also during his reign] the bishop of Alexandria incited local vigilantes to destroy the Temple of Serapis [also known as the Serapeum], one of the largest and most beautiful builds in the ancient world that also housed a library donated by Cleopatra. Alexandrian Christians whipped up by Bishop Cyril rioted against the Jews in 415, and then murdered Hypatia, a wise and beloved Platonic philosopher.

- Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christʼs Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, p.226-227

Art, philosophy, literature, the very psychology of Western man, all suffered by the victory of the [Christian] bishops.

- John Holland Smith, The Death of Classical Paganism

The Christian zealots for conversion took to the streets or criss-crossed the countryside, destroying no doubt more of the architectural and artistic treasure of their world than any passing barbarians thereafter.

- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire

Examples of destroyed Temples: the Sanctuary of Aesculap in Aegaea, the Temple of Aphrodite in Golgatha, Aphaka in Lebanon, the Heliopolis. Christian priests such as Mark of Arethusa or Cyrill of Heliopolis were famous as “temple destroyers.”

In the early fourth century the philosopher Sopatros was executed on demand of Christian authorities.

In the sixth century pagans were declared void of all rights.

- K. Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn, (Stuttgart 1962), p. 466, 468

Pagans had not been clear or unanimous in their belief in an afterlife, but those who credited it looked to mystery cults for insurance in their future. Christians were much more positive. The Christians united ritual and philosophy and brought the certainty of God and history to questions whose answers eluded the pagan schools. Whereas pagan cults won adherents, Christianity aimed, and contrived, to win converts.

Paganism was reclassified as a demonic system. If Satan was the source of error and evil, false teaching and wrongdoing were not merely mistaken: they were diabolic. The division between a Christian “community of goodness” and an “outer world of evil” could easily become too pronounced. The idea of Satan magnified the difference between “true” and “false” Christians and between Christian sinners and saints.

Like Satan, the Last Judgment was a force that Christians exaggerated and then claimed to be able to defeat. This teaching was reinforced by an equally powerful ally, the Christian idea of sin. Sin was not just the sin of an action, or even an intention, but also the sin of a thought, even a passing interest in an appealing man or woman. This combination of rarefied sin and eternal punishment was supported, as we shall see, by books of vision and revelation that were probably more widely read than modern contempt for “pseudepigraphic” forgeries allows: acquaintance with the Apocalypse of “Peter” would make anyone think twice before leaving the Church (we happen to know that “Peterʼs vision of hell” was still read as a holy text in the churches in Palestine on Good Friday during the fifth century). If fears for Eternity brought converts to the faith, one suspects that they did even more to keep existing converts in it.

- Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1987), p. 326-327, 330-331, 412

Institutions of higher learning had been largely destroyed. The [Christian] emperorsʼ attacks had centered on the chief of them, Athens and Alexandria, in the late fourth century and were turned against them again toward the end of the fifth and in 529 [the year that the School of Athens was closed by the decree of the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian.

— E.T.B.].

As to the initiators of the persecution, the [Christian] emperors themselves, a steady decline in their level of cultivation has been noticed. Thus books and philosophy were bound to fade from sight.

After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Platoʼs books, in Aristotleʼs, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings.

Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world.

Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leadersʼ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil.

- Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Didymos: I would also question your notion that “Neo-Platonism was of the opinion that if some bit of knowledge was not revealed [sic], then you should basically leave the mystery alone.” Anyone care to cite the passages in Augustine that express that notion?

Ed: I cite an entire book, giving the authorʼs name and book title and you spite me for not giving a specific reference. I say, go fulfill your curiosity and desire to debate with that bookʼs author, check out his book. Aristotleʼs views were of a functional nature. Platonism and neo-Platonism were about the “mystery,” the real world and the shadow world, compared, as seen in Platoʼs allegory of the cave. Aristotle studied form and how it matched function, his questions were more practical and pragmatic. If I have time I will search the book for a reference. But I donʼt own a copy, I borrowed it briefly. But I have read Plato and Aristotle, and can tell the difference as clearly as could the bookʼs author, as clearly as could my philosophy professor in college who explained their differences in a likewise similar fashion.

Ed: 2) The discovery of the New World proved a second momentus impetus to Western civilization and made people think in wider terms and challenged previous ideas and ignited once again a great surge of curiosity. Will Durrant in his multi-volume history mentions the many ways that the discovery of the New World revitalized and energized European thought. The West also owes a lot to the fact that the Mediterranean sea was crossable, and brought cultures together from all over Europe, Asia and Africa. That sea itself, with the civilizations along its shores, resembles the convoluted gyruses and sulcuses of the human brain, which increase the brainʼs surface area and make it possible to pack more neurons side by side in the same space. So the West had the advantage of the Med. sea, and then taking journeys of discovery round the southern shores of Africa, and finally, outward bound into the Atlantic Ocean. The West didnʼt have to simply stare at the inconceivably blank face of a Pacific Ocean (like China did). So the West could take baby steps, i.e., from the Med. Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, while the Chinese would have had to have taken one big giant step to reach the New World, which they didnʼt do. Instead, China just sat there, stagnantly dreaming of itself as “The Middle Kingdom” lying at the center of the earth. In fact the Westʼs journeys of discovery were so extensive that other cultures heard about the rest of the world from the West. *smile* So geography appear to have lots to do with the evolution of cultures on a planet (as do the effects of guns, germs and steel, but those three topics have been covered extensively in a book of the same title, Guns, Germs And Steel, which won a Pulitzer).

Didymos: So the sequence was the “rediscovery” of Aristotle thus the “Summas,” then Columbusʼ voyages, eh?

Ed: I did not state what the sequence was, I merely enumerated some major factors that helped drive Western civilization (besides Christianity). Go read Guns, Germs And Steel. Heck, it won a Pulitzer. Must have something in it worth thinking about. [Marker]Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. In this “artful, informative, and Delightful” (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion —as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war —and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of Californiaʼs Gold Medal.

Didymos: What did the technology that led to the voyages down the African coast and to India have to do with anything? How about Copernicus? Wait a minute…wasnʼt Columbus merely looking for a shorter route to India and China?

This guy is citing Will and Ariel Durant? If you want to know about the Mediterranean, read Braudel, not Durant.

Ed: Itʼs not Durant, itʼs the people Durant cited. They agreed that the discovery of the New World had a Tremendous effect on western society.

Didymos: Good grief… read Febvre or Bailyn or Ladurie or any of the masters from the second half of the 20th century, then get back to us. You might begin with Richard Brownʼs fascinating little book “Modernization.”

Ed: Thank you heir professor. But throwing out names without even hinting as to What those authors say, or how their views impact the list of factors I listed, is simply to throw out names.

Didymos: By the way, if you think China was “stagnantly dreaming,” you might consider reading some John K. Fairbank or one of his studentʼs work on the rise of the Manchus in the 16th century.

Ed: Thanks for the correction, which merely reinforces my view that civilizations can and do succeed and do more than just “stagnate,” even Without Christianity.

Ed: 3) The invention of the printing press and the discovery of less expensive ways to manufacture paper. (Such inventions were analogous in their day to the founding a new information exchange highway! If you compare Western civilization to a human brain it was kind of like the brain evolved a new, more efficient neurotransmitting protein!) Renaissance literature and humanist authors led the way to the modern world (while Reformation authors and their theological squabbles are largely forgotten, the humanists with their wit, wisdom and tolerance, have led the charge to the modern world).

Didymos: They did huh? What percentage (roughly) of all books produced in Europe after 1450 and before 1550 were bibles, Old or New Testaments, or other religious works such as those by Luther and Calvin? You obviously need a primer on the economics of printing and book sales and also on the literacy rates in the various socio-economic classes in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. So who read these “humanist authors” who “led the way to the modern world”? What “humanist authors” might these be and what are some of their better known works? Erasmus? Machiavelli? Rabelais? Cervantes? And what were the subjects of their books? Better go back and take Western Civ 101…or read Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel, Max Weber, Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood and then get back to us when you have actually read something about the topics on which you post.

Ed: What part of “their squabbles are largely forgotten” didnʼt you understand? Yes, they printed plenty of Bibles and the works of Luther and Calvin, and counter Reformation Catholics. As well as works by humanists like Castellio, who castigated Calvin in several publications for Calvinʼs defense of the burning of heretics. Yes, Erasmusʼ In Praise of Folly, Rabelaisʼ Gargantua and Pantegruel, and Cervantesʼ Don Quixote did help lead to the modern world, moreso than Luther and Calvinʼs original teachings did, which would have rather kept the world in dogmatic chains. I have studied Luther and Calvin, and Luther signed a paper drafted by Melanchthon that demanded the death penalty for anyone who stubbornly disagreed or taught beliefs that differed from “The Creed.” Luther also wrote his own catechism that was to be taught in Germany, had laws made that people were forced to use it, and forced to attend church. Any preacher with different views was forced to leave or worse if they dared return and continued preaching items that differed from Lutheran preaching. Calvin did the same in Geneva. And in fact Calvinʼs views and Lutherʼs differed in a number of ways that caused Luther to declare for instance, Calvinʼs view of the Eucharist “Damnable.” The Reformers were also split on Calvinʼs view of predestination. Disturbances in southern Germany, riots, etc., resulted when Calvinism began intruding into Lutheran lands. Heck, at the height of Calvinism in Geneva, the late 1550s through the 1560s, when Calvinism ruled Geneva and Calvinʼs final edition of his Institutes was printed and his commentary on the books of Moses was printed, the Genevans had a child beheaded for striking itʼs parents, others whipped, the very young ones strung up by their arms to denote that they deserved capital punishment, adulterers beheaded or drowned, witches killed mercilessly (previously and after this period, a lot of them were banished, but during this period they were simply killed), and two or three people committed suicide rather than even meet with the Consistory. Yes, the works of the humanists did help deflate a lot of religious pomposity and pride. But then the Thirty Years War also exhausted Europeʼs Christian pomposity and pride. Without the previous humanists you mentioned, I daresay, the Enlightenment authors would not have been as inspired to write as they did.

Ed: 4) And another factor that helped forge the modern western world was the “cafe.” In a new Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment there is an entry on “coffeehouses and cafes.” Dubbed “penny universities” in England-reflecting their atmosphere and the price of a cup of joe - they served as meeting points for the public-minded, providing free newspapers and piping hot discussion, in which reason, not status or class, served as the ultimate criterion of merit. Such was their importance as a new locus of public opinion that the contemporary German philosopher Jergen Habermas has argued convincingly that the cafe was a key institution in the birth of democracy.

Didymos: Egads…. Habermas. Do you go to a plumber for appendicitis? Then why do you go to a “contemporary philosopher” for your history? Could it be that no trained historian would countenance — much less publish — such nonsense?

Ed: May I ask what your own point is? Mine is that there are undoubtedly many factors involved in Western civilizationʼs rise. If you want to believe it was ALL due to Christianity, then I disagree. That was the point of my article. I also pointed out that civilizations do not appear to Need Christianity any longer. Many are succeeding quite well with only a minority of Christianity such as in northern and eastern European countries and Japan. We may of course disagree on the extent of influence various factors had.

Didymos: Oh, can you tell us how you differentiate “a key institution in the birth of democracy” from merely an “institution in the birth of democracy”? “Key” is one of those adjectives that just doesnʼt mean one helluva lot but is often used in polemic to emphasize a point.

Ed: I did not write the term “key,” that was copied from the website that reviewed Habermasʼ book. I found a listing for that review at the arts and letters website affiliated with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ed: There were many other factors as well. The British TV series Connections mentions many of them, such as the invention of a new type of plow in Europe and new farming techniques that increased yields so much that even poorer Europeans had more free time leftover from farming in which to learn trades and form a new rising “middle class.”

Didymos: Getting your history from pop culture shows on television? Thatʼs real credible…. Try the first volume of Braudelʼs “Material Civilization and Capitalism,” which is titled “The Structures of Everyday Life.” He discusses the sideboard plow and agricultural technology at some length. Authoritatively.

Ed: And what is the point of citing Braudel? You cite books with no mention of their effect. Did Braudel find some close direct connection between Christianity and the invention of the sideboard plow that would somehow invalidate my own point?

Ed: My Question is this: “Was the influence of Christianity and theology as prominent a deciding factor in the ascendancy of Western civilization as some Christians have stated, or, did a combination of all the other historical factors above, play as large a role (or slightly larger a role) than Christianity did in the history of the Ascendancy of the West?”

Didymos: The question as phrased is nonsense. Not to mention not answerable. First read Brownʼs “Modernization,” then Lucien Febvreʼs “Rabelais and the Problem of Unbelief in the 16th Century.” Then work your way through both volumes of Marc Blochʼs “Feudal Society,” then read Braudelʼs “The Mediterranean in the Age of Phillip II” (2 vols), then Bernard Bailynʼs “Voyagers to the West,” then Max Weberʼs “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” then Braudelʼs “Material Civilization and Capitalism” (3 vols), then Conrad Russellʼs “Causes of the English Civil War,” then Perry Millerʼs “The Mind of New England,” then David Hackett Fisherʼs “Albionʼs Seed,” then Joseph Campbellʼs “Occidental Mythology,” and then Gordon Woodʼs “Creation of the American Republic.” At least then you will have some clue as to what went in to the making of the modern world. Oh, the order is kind of important. Machiavelliʼs “Discourses” (on Livy, mostly) Danteʼs “Divine Comedy” and any other books by Bailyn, Weber, Fisher, Febvre, Bloch, LaDurie, and Campbell are also helpful. Karl Marx is also quite perceptive on certain aspects of Western history, especially economic history. although his writing style can be most dreary.

Hint: history is always, invariably, and forever a combination of all discernible factors. Similar problems have been widely debated for centuries and many books published that discuss the question of modernization. The list above is merely some of my personal favorites, but they are widely used in universities in the UK and USA. You seem oddly unaware of these, yet they frame your apparent question properly and offer historical solutions. Just off the top of my head, is your real question something like: Did modernization (often a euphemism for industrialization) proceed from religious Reformation or did religious Reformation proceed from industrialization/modernization?

Ed: Good questions. But I have studied Luther and Calvin and their view of “modernization” was simply to spread their particular theologies and catechisms and institutes of Christianity in their respective areas of Europe, namely Germany and France. Their minds were about as expansive as those of modern day fundamentalist Christians. I have plenty to back me up on that — citations, chapter and verse, that I am currently collecting.

Didymos: Or did they both arise simultaneously and synergistically from the late Medieval soup of faith and works?

Ed: Or would Europe have modernized sooner had not Christianity demonized classical knowledge and closed the schools?

Didymos: And why did the focus of the Renaissance shift from southern to northern Europe as the Reformation progressed and entrenched itself?

Ed: Probably due to economic reasons. Have you studied the history of the Netherlands and the Dutch East India Trading Company, and the history of the first republic in Europe? (Actually the Netherlands was Europeʼs second republic I believe Poland was one for a very short time before the Netherlands.) The Netherlands republic grew rich, and printed books that no one else in Europe was eager to publish at that time, by “liberals” like Grotius, Hobbes, and Spinoza. The Dutch even ceased trying to convert the foreign workers of the Dutch East India Trading Company during that period of wealth and high trade. But the Calvinists would have none of it, they said literally that they would rather live in a poor republic that honored God than a rich republic that dishonored him by allowing freedom of religion, by denying the people a “king” (which the Bible prescribed), and they plotted and overthrew Europeʼs first successful republic, but it was that republic that later inspired Americaʼs own founders. Please read chapter two of Leaving The Fold for a fuller history with references.

Didymos: Indeed, one must resolve the issue of whether or not unbelief was even possible in the 15th and 16th century? Care to take that on?

Ed: I said nothing about “unbelief.” Absolute “unbelief” in Europe had to wait until after even the Enlightenment I believe. Though some Greeks of course could be classified as atomistic atheists long before even Christianity arose.

Didymos: And how in bloody blue blazes do you propose to separate religion and faith from the events in Europe in the 16th and 17 th centuries?

Ed: Religion in the 16th century was bloody indeed. It was religion of absolute truth against religion of absolute truth. And it was bloody indeed. So were the witch hunts that escalated during the Reformation and even lasted into the 17th century. The worst witch hunts occurred during this period of absolute truth versus absolute truth, more than occurred during all the centuries previous or afterwards.

Didymos: I canʼt wait to read your reply to that question. Oh, kindly include the name of a single atheist from the early modern period and how you know this person was an atheist. Thanks.

Ed: I have said that I am not an atheist. I know not what you THINK you were reading when you read my little article, but you seem to be very agitated by something. And it seems like atheism is what agitates you the most, or perhaps the idea of some Marxist historians that they can explain history without any reference to religion at all. No. That is not my point, that was not my point, so please quit confusing me with atheism and Marxist historians of Europe. My point is that Lutheranism and Calvinism at their height were equal to some of the most rabid fundamentalists today at their height. I am glad I left the fold. I am stunned that Europe chose Luther and Calvin over Erasmus, Castellio, Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, and many other religious humanists of the Medieval, Reformation and post-Reformation periods. But then, Europe chose what Europe chose and got the religion she deserved at that time. Mankind revealed what primate creatures we were and went following after alpha males (rather than quieter less obnoxious males with more expansive minds). I daresay, in coming centuries it will dawn on historians how incredibly farsighted people like the “liberals” I mentioned above were, and how far in advance of their times their writings were. Extraordinarily so. While Calvin and Luther were merely men of their age. Noisy hell threatening, dogmatic imbeciles who cursed the world in more ways than anyone will ever be able to recount. Catholic domaticians as well as Luther and Calvin all practically laid the path to Hitler, to whole peoples bowing down obediently and mindlessly before more alpha males, be they “Yahweh” or “Luther” (did you ever read Lutherʼs own words about how “inspired” he was in particular?) Calvin (likewise, though he did not point to himself but to the Bible, even relishing its harshest commandments), or “Hitler” or “Mussolini.”

I think that without Calvinism, industry still would have arose. People would have still continued to invent things, and been curious.

Ed: P.S., Keep in mind that the groundwork for civilization had already been effectively laid by the Babylonians and Egyptians even before the days of the Hebrews.

Didymos: Oh, really? How so? I do not believe your assertion. Kindly demonstrate its truth using real historical sources that truly exist, and not some polemical atheist nonsense.

Ed: Apparently you didnʼt even read to the end of my first email in which I explained myself. Here it is again:

How much do we owe to ancient Near Eastern culture? The ancient Sumerians/Babylonians, who lived long before Jesus, taught in their Councils of Wisdom, “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.” In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. In The Codes of Hammurabi & Moses W. W. Davies showed how the law code of Hammurabi profoundly influenced the later law code of the Hebrews in both style and content. For a recent general summary see William Sierichs, Jr.ʼs article, “The Pagan Origins of Biblical Morality (Or - Where Did Moses Really Get Those Commandments From?).” There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo listed the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more.

From: The Christian Experience

In The Dawn of Conscience James Henry Breasted showed how the earliest known recorded ethics and laws belonged to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians and Babylonians, who preceded the Hebrews. In The Codes of Hammurabi & Moses W. W. Davies showed how the law code of Hammurabi profoundly influenced the later law code of the Hebrews in both style and content. For a recent general summary see William Sierichs, Jr.ʼs article, “The Pagan Origins of Biblical Morality (Or - Where Did Moses Really Get Those Commandments From?).” There is also the critically acclaimed work, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. And in Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions William W. Hallo listed the debt modern civilization owes to ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian ideas of urbanism, the formation of capital, the order of the alphabet, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, the division of the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the circle into 360 degrees, the coronation of kings, games, cookbooks, and much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment