AC Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, seems to have some issues with the Catholic Church, as well as with reality and historical facts (the three do tend to hang out together). Writing in The Guardian, Professor Grayling embarks upon a childish rant with this bit of reality-skewing rhetoric:
Emboldened by its victory over the government in the matter of keeping faith schools discriminatory and exclusive, the Roman Catholic church in England is now again flexing its biceps to preserve its tradition of discrimination and prejudice against gay people. Just as active in keeping its own paedophile priests safe from the law, it is determined to secure exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation too.
He is referring to a new "anti-discrimination law" in England (the "Equality Act") that will, when passed this spring, require equal treatment for same-sex couples seeking to adopt children. Nevermind that it will likely force the Catholic Church in England to close down adoption services, similar to what has happened in the past year in San Francisco and Boston. But Grayling's ire is even more sharply directed at the fact "that Angela Merkel and the Pope are planning to revisit the question of having references to Europe's 'Christian traditions' written into the preamble of a redrafted European constitution," a fact that obliges the professor to provide the masses with a short "history" lesson:
Seven centuries after the beginnings of classical civilisation in the Greece of Pericles and Socrates, an oriental superstition, consisting of an amalgam of dying and resurrecting god myths and myths about the impregnation of mortal maids by deities, captured the Roman Empire. Such was the beginning of Christianity. By the accident of its being the myth chosen by Constantine for his purposes, it plunged Europe into the dark ages for the next thousand years - scarcely any literature or philosophy, and the forgetting of the arts and crafts of classical civilisation (quite literally a return to daub and wattle because the engineering required for towers and domes was lost), before a struggle to escape the church's narrow ignorance and oppression saw the rebirth of classical learning, and its ethos of inquiry and autonomy, in the Renaissance.
From that point to this day every millimetre of progress in liberty and learning has been bitterly opposed by the organised institutions of Christianity, which at the outset burned to death anyone who disagreed with its antique absurdities - none of its officers ever being arraigned for these vast numbers of murders, or the literally millions of deaths caused by the wars of religion that plagued Europe, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. But bit by bit religion was forced back into its own shadows by the new learning and the larger freedoms of mind and action that increasing secularisation brought, liberating individuals and societies to the extent enjoyed today.
The errors/lies contained herein are so glaring that I suspect that even Jack Chick or Tim LaHaye would recoil in horror at the sight of most of them (except for the one thousand years of darkness and bad plumbing, which is standard Fundamentalist fare). As the entry for "Dark Ages" over at Wikipedia correctly notes, "Most modern historians dismiss the notion that the era was a 'Dark Age' by pointing out that this idea was based on ignorance of the period combined with popular stereotypes: many previous authors would simply assume that the era was a dismal time of violence and stagnation and use this assumption to prove itself. The term is now widely considered to be pejorative."
More specifically, what about the bold claim that Constantine's conversion in the early fourth century "plunged Europe into the dark ages for the next thousand years - scarcely any literature or philosophy, and the forgetting of the arts and crafts of classical civilisation (quite literally a return to daub and wattle because the engineering required for towers and domes was lost)"? A few clear facts:
- Literature and Philosophy: There is the small matter of Beowulf, Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, The Dialogue by Catherine of Siena (a woman!), La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri, Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, Piers Plowman by William Langland, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich (another woman!), Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas, and many, many other great works. A longer list can be found here. Just because people haven't heard of them or read them doesn't mean they don't exist. But, as the saying goes, "Out of sight, out of mind." Or is it, "I don't read books; I watch 'The Today Show'"?
- Arts, Crafts, Technology: Without the great advances in scientific and mechanical application that occured during the Medieval era, the modern world would not exist, or at least would be very different than it is. Consider: "During the 12th and 13th century in Europe there was a radical change in the rate of new inventions, innovations in the ways of managing traditional means of production, and economic growth. The period saw major technological advances, including the invention or adoption through the Silk Road of printing, gunpowder, the astrolabe, spectacles, and greatly improved water mills, building techniques, agriculture in general, clocks, and ships. The latter advances made possible the dawn of the Age of Exploration." And: " The compass, astrolabe and sextant, along with advances in shipbuilding, enabled the navigation of the World Oceans and thus domination of the worlds economic trade. Gutenberg's printing press made possible a dissemination of knowledge to a wider population, that would not only lead to a gradually more egalitarian society, but one more able to dominate other cultures, drawing from a vast reserve of knowledge and experience."
- Towers and Domes: This nonsensical remark is especially laughable considering that Grayling has likely seen a few of the towers, domes, and buildings that Christians built during the "dark ages" despite (he says) their inability to do so. Two examples will suffice. First, the Cathadrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, built right in the middle of the dreaded "dark ages":
Construction of a new building on the Romanesque foundations was begun in 1145 in a blaze of enthusiasm dubbed the 'Cult of the Carts.' During this religious outburst a crowd of more than a thousand penitents dragged carts filled with building provisions including stones, wood, corn, etc. to the site . In 1194 a fire destroyed all but the west front of the cathedral (and much of the town), so that part is in the "early Gothic" style. The body of the cathedral was rebuilt between 1194 and 1220, a remarkably short span for medieval cathedrals. It has a ground area of 117,058 square feet ...
And, in case you were wondering, "its two contrasting spires: one, a 105 metre (349 ft) plain pyramid dating from the 1140s, and the other a 113 metre (377 ft) tall early 16th century Flamboyant spire on top of an older tower..." Not bad work for a bunch of supersititious morons who never knew about universal health care or post-modern European philosophy.
Second, consider the Hagia Sophia, still considered to be one of the great achievements of architecture and engineering, despite being built originally in the 500s:
The dome of the Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians and architects because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome. The dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentive enables the round dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below. The pendentives not only achieve a pleasing aesthetic quality, but they also restrain the lateral forces of the dome and allow the weight of the dome to flow downward.
Of course, all of this is rather meaningless if the point is simply to fisk a bigoted, unlearned piece of commentary. But Grayling isn't simply the village atheist, but a professor and an educator whose views no doubt reflect quite well the prevailing "thinking" of those who gorge themselves at the politically-correct troughs of the ivory tower. In addition, as the success and influence of The Da Vinci Code readily indicate, many people are less interested in the facts of history as they are in the fabrication of alternative (i.e, false and sensational) histories. Columns and attitudes such as Grayling's simply throw more fuel on the fires of both bigotry and falsehood. In turn, that bigotry and falsehood is interjected into contemporary political and social debates, distorting the issues and making it even more difficult for people to carefully assess what is best for society and institutions.
For much more about the true history of the "dark ages" and related matters, check out these books:
- Those Terrible Middle Ages! Debunking the Myths, by Regine Pernoud
- The Crusaders, by Regine Pernoud
- What Were the Crusades? by Jonathan Riley-Smith
- Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church, by H.W. Crocker III
- How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas Woods
-The Cube and the Cathedral, by George Wiegel
- Dynamics of World History, by Christopher Dawson
- Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church, by Glenn Olsen
- The Catholic Church: The First 2000 Years, by Martha Rasmussen