superstition and ignorance as policy

I want my money back. No, I mean I want part of my life back. Actually, I want my civilization back, for all of us. Why did we have to endure institutionalized superstition for a thousand years? Why do we endure it again [still?] today?

I just read a short review in the NYTimes of a new theological and intellectual history of Europe, "THE CLOSING OF THE WESTERN MIND/The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason" by Charles Freeman. The book's author argues that classical rationality was deliberately destroyed by Christianity for its own political purpose. That is to say, the Dark Ages were a deliberate plan.

For at least a thousand years, from late antiquity until the Renaisance, the Church, which is to say the entire European world it controlled, shut down its minds, and for many the doors remain closed today.

Freeman's main thesis has two parts. First, that the Greek intellectual tradition did not simply fade away but was actively suppressed by the rise of Christianity, especially in the fourth and fifth centuries. Second, that the main reason this happened was political. The Emperor Constantine and some of his successors thought that by throwing the weight of the state behind Christianity, and institutionalizing it, they could turn it into a weapon of mass distraction: it would act as a unifying force, at a time when the empire was under threat from marauding invaders, and be an effective means of social control. It was, according to Freeman, because the bishops acquired political power, and were given a rich and powerful institution to operate, that dissent and the tradition of free inquiry were crushed.

. . . .

By the year 1000, all branches of science, and indeed all kinds of theoretical knowledge except theology, had pretty much disintegrated. Most classical literature was largely unknown. The best-educated people (all of them monks) knew strikingly less than many Greeks 800 years earlier. And the few mathematical writings from the time were for the most part downright stupid.

I was raised a Catholic, and in spite of some of the advantages available to me in Augustinian and Jesuit schools, my own mind was really opened only in the first weeks of graduate study in Madison. My dark age ended only then.

I am now an enemy to all superstition, but I look around and I can't help but fear that civilization may be losing the battle once again, and for the same reasons.

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Published on February 16, 2004 11:52 PM.

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