Take a look at this. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure. I heard it a lot growing up. It’s taught (at least in summary format) in every academic discipline. It’s referred to in politics and all matters of historical discourse as if it is something nobody, not even Christians, deny. It’s a wonderful story about the goodness of man rising up to overcome evil. It just so happens, that when you look at each detail of this story closely, every element of it is baloney.
…modernity’s first great attempt to define itself:
an “age of reason” emerging from and overthrowing and “age of faith.”
Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale.
Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, supersition, and the unholy alliance of church and state. Withering blasts of fanaticism and fideism had long since scorched away the last remnants of classical learning; inquiry was stifled; the literary remains of classical antiquity had long ago been consigned to the fires of faith, and even the great achievements of “Greek science” were forgotten till Islamic civilization restored them to the West. All was darkness.
Then, in the wake f the “wars of religion” that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowering of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress, the riches of scientific achievement and political liberty, and a new and revolutionary sense of human dignity. The secular nation-state arose, reduced religion to an establishment of the state or, in the course of time, to something altogether separate from the state, and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. Now, at last, Western humanity has left its nonage and attained to its majority, in science, politics, and ethics.
This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in its explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail.
-David Bently Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, p.33
Hart goes on in several following chapters to completely demolish this legend. One of his best chapters debunks the legend of the knowledge-hating Christians burning the magnificent Library of Alexandria in 390. I’ll have more on this later. (He argues), careful historians recognize that the library was attacked three different times from 47 B.C. onward. When the “christians” dealt the final blow in 390, it was collateral damage from a Roman political war, not some kind of church-backed anti-pagan religious crusade. Also the numbers about how many scrolls were burned (700,000+) are completely made up by contemporary critics. Numbers like this appear absolutely nowhere in old documents. Despite all the credit given to the Muslims, it was actually Christian monks that preserved the bulk of old Greek works by Plato, Aristotle, etc. that we still have today. How about that?
Update: Here, Leithart reviews a book that suggests the high technology and scholarship of the Muslim world during the middle ages is ALSO a myth.
Unfortunately, Christian’s themselves have sometimes added fuel to this silly secular non-history in their attempts to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism. That’s too bad. It’s like swinging the battle axe down, scraping your perceived enemy, only to bury the blade into your own foot.