Because of Christianity, or In Spite of It

Not long ago I wrote a blog about the need for more outspoken women in the atheist community. On that blog, I drew a very persistent commenter who felt the need to steer the direction of the conversation away from the point of the blog. That did irritate my a little, because the subject of role models is a very important one to me. My life was bereft of people who were close to me, and had the ability to inspire and motivate me. I walked aimlessly for years before relying on my own inspiration to guide me. Perhaps others can be spared that aimless struggle if they had something or someone, even if from afar, to aspire to.

Once again I am wandering off point. The troll **ahem** I mean, commenter, kept trying to make the point that without Christianity, western society would not exist. Let’s look at some of what he said:

“Did you know that all the great civilizations grew up around religion? And the greatest religion of them all, Christianity, powered the rise of mankind’s greatest civilization, Western Civilization.”

“The Catholic Church is the oldest institution on the planet. And name even one civilization that progressed past the slave, beast of burden and bone grinding manual labor besides Western Civilization. Thanks to Christianity, Western Civilization developed modern science which permitted mankind to quantum leap into a future of internal combustion and jet engines, flight, mass production, modern medicine, human rights, etc., etc. There simply is no comparison between any civilization Western Civilization with regard to technological, social and political advancement.”

“The Catholic Church was the most powerful institution in Europe if not the entire world for the 1000 leading up to the Reformation. It controlled or greatly influenced EVERYTHING, especially thought and worldview. Any intellectual was subject to Inquisition. Consequently, science developed because the Catholic Church guided intellectual thinking away from the tar pits of alchemy, magic, astrology and the secular commandeering of religion, education and science that prevailed in almost all other civilizations. Nevertheless, it was in alchemy that the precise measurement necessary for modern chemistry was developed and it was in astrology that the mathematics of astronomy, physics and cosmology was developed. The major mover of the efforts behind the study of alchemy and astrology was boo koo bucks. Royalty paid handsomely for good astrological forecasts. The study alchemy was outrageously expensive but the promise of being able to turn a base metal into gold or silver made expenditures seem like investments. This according to James Hannam in his most recent book, “The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched Scientific Revolution.”

I will not deny that humanity is prone to superstition. When people cannot explain something, the first thing they do is rarely find a logical explanation. Most of the time, people come up with ridiculous, and off the wall scenarios that evolve into crazy legends. Legends of old include the headless horseman from Sleepy Hollow, vampires, werewolves, king Arthur (and everything that comes with him: Excalibur, the lady in the lake, ect.), and many more. More recent legends, often referred to as “urban legends” include: Bloody Mary, the hook man, the hatchet killer, Candyman, and man more. When someone else sees the crazy stories for what they are, and produces evidence that shows a logical and rational explanation for the phenomenon that started the story, people become defensive. Once they’ve invested time and emotion into a story, the concept of letting it go is upsetting.

The Catholic Church is quite old, and it holds tight to its traditions, much as it always has. Much like people who get upset at facing the possibility that their legends might not be true, an organization, whose entire foundation hinges on the words written in an ancient book, gets very upset when those words are challenged. So upset that they will go so far as to ensure that those words do not get challenged. If that means silencing the challenger, so be it. If that means covering up the challenge, so be it. Whatever it takes to protect the sanctity of the institution, that’s what they will do.

There were people who believed that our solar system could be heliocentric as early as the 3rd century. This view contradicted biblical teachings and was generally frowned upon. In the 16th century, Copernicus set after this train of thought against popular thought and belief, and amid heavy criticism. Despite the obstacles he faced, Copernicus was able to show through a mathematical model that his hypothesis was correct. Even then, many did not believe him. Even now there are some that claim that the earth is flat because that’s what the bible says. The Flat Earth Society believes that because the bible claims that the Earth is flat, it is.

The commenter said that we should believe that Christianity is responsible for the rise of western society because the church micromanaged everything. This means that the church controlled everything; they could approve, disapprove, suppress, or do whatever they wanted to with research, technology, politics…well…everything.

He also says that no other civilization could do what we have done. Is that true? Greek and Roman artists, philosophers, engineers, and so on were taking the world by storm long before Christianity ever came onto the scene. The gods in both Greece and Rome were much more adaptable to the changing times. Their human attributes meant that the gods, along with the religion they represented, evolved along with its people.

The ancient Egyptians were quite innovative in their own right. Many of the Egyptian gods were not as versatile as many of the ones found in Greece and Rome, but they still were more capable of evolving with their people than the Christian god was.

Before the Catholic Church came around, Roman engineers had built amazing architectural structures, improved the quality of concrete to ensure its strength and longevity, created central heating, and much more. The Egyptians had produced mortuary practices that could preserve a body for eons, created structures that would last even longer, and created an equal opportunity society. Both societies had produced beautiful works of art.

Once Christianity began to spread through the known world, these advancements slowed. For many years the church forbade literacy for ordinary people. It was an exclusive privilege reserved for the clergy. This ensured that any “scientific inquiry” could only be done by the church. It took the people waking up and realizing that they were being denied basic knowledge that should have been a right before anything was really done.

What if Constantine had not seen the potential for control in Christianity? Christianity became a force in the western world because a very powerful man saw the potential for control. In a polytheistic system, there is no central control. There will always be different factions who believe differently and have quarrels with one another. A monotheistic system resolves those issues. There are no different gods to angle against one another. Everyone worships the same god, has the same beliefs, and strives for the same goals. If one leader (Constantine) could be the figure head for such a movement, nothing could stop him…or so was the plan. It worked quite well…for a while. Once Martin Luther came along the all for one, one for all stuff went down the drain. Now there are over 4000 different denominations of Christianity, and they are probably just as bad at bashing each other than any of the ancient polytheistic religions were. In fact, if you look at the history of Ireland, you’ll find that some of these factions have even gone to war against each other.

Without Christianity, would western society exist? I don’t have a “what if” machine to check, but my guess is, yes. In fact, I’d wager that we would have gotten where we are a few centuries faster without the church being so worried about scientific discoveries contradicting their holy texts. The Roman Empire was the dominant force in the western world when Christianity came into its own. The only reason Christianity went from a few stories told by goat herders to a world-wide religion is because a cunning leader saw its potential for controlling the masses. Within the Roman Empire there were artists, philosophers, engineers, scientists…everyone necessary to bring technology and advancement to a society. Even today people quote the wisdom of those philosophers, scientists, engineers, and artists that had nothing to do with Christianity.

Did we need Christianity then? Obviously not. Someone used it to take control. Do we need it now? Not at all. Much like those legends we spoke of earlier, people have a hard time letting go of stories they’ve grown attached to, even if all of the evidence shows that the story isn’t true.

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