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« Jan 2007 HPR | Main | Speaking of Anti-Catholic Nonsense... »

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


A. C. Grayling

Dear Mr Olson
I enjoyed your robust response to my Guardian blog, and thank you for taking the time and trouble to write it. Let me say straight away that you are quite right to pick me up on the rhetorical flourish of "a thousand years"; more accurately I should have nominated the period between (say) 320 and - shall we choose your date of 1145 as the beginning of the construction of Chartres Cathedral? - a mere eight hundred years rather than a thousand, as the period when so little poetry, so little philosophy, so little architecture, so little art, so little literacy, so little progress, was made under the hegemony of your church. Almost all the names and achievements you cite date after 1145. Eight hundred years is doubtless as an evening gone in the sight of the church, but I wonder what it was like to be anything other than an aristocrat or a bishop in those many centuries. I think of the medieval alterpieces on display in the Altepinakothek in Munich, showing the violently terrifying penalties waiting in hell for those who would not obey their priests: and wonder again. - Your remarks are of course predictable, given where you are coming from. When I look back over the landscape of your church's history, I see it illuminated by the pyres lit by Torquemada; I see it through the windows of the house where Galileo suffered house-arrest; I see the cruelty of its discrimination against women and gay people. You and yours are keen to claim the glories of art and music associated with faith; I note that the moment there were patrons other than the church rich enough to encourage artistic endeavour, painters and composers turned with delight to lanscapes and still-lifes, to portraiture, to historical and mythological subjects, to the nude, to abstraction, to secular songs and symphonies, to operas about human love. Count the pictures and compositions by subject matter from the Renaissance onwards and see if you spot a major trend, and ask yourself whether it is not just one more straw in the wind of liberty that began to blow as soon as the hegemony of your ancient superstitions started to lose thier grip on those whom you tried, through such means as the Index of Forbidden Books, to keep as ignorant and under control as possible for as long as possible. I sorrow for my fellow human beings who languished under so long an oppression, and as you see, join with fellow humanists and secularists to save us from being dragged back into its shadows. We say to you: be free to believe what you like, but do not impose it on those of us who do not agree with you. That is our message; for then we can live in peace, you with your private beliefs in the private sphere, the public domain a neutral space where we can all meet as human beings, and respect one another on merit, not because of labels. - My very good wishes to you - Anthony Grayling
PS with due diffidence may I mention, in resonse to you adversions on my grasp of history, that two of my books address in some detail the matters alluded to in my original blog, which was of course brief, conversational, rhetorical and polemical only: if you would refute me properly, read me in full. It would be a pleasure to send the books to you if you wish.

Cristina A. Montes

I have something to add to Carl's enumeration:

Military History:

An excerpt from THomas Madden's "A Concise History of the Crusades" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999), on p. 77:

"Saladin could not let matters rest as they were. He needed to provoke the Christians into attacking before the season was over. In a desperate move, he marched against Raymond's city of Tiberias. The city fell, but the citadel, commanded by RAYMOND'S WIFE , Eschiva, held out." (Emphasis supplied.)


The professor's inability to get the dates right reminds me a little of
American undergraduates - in one college newspaper the editor claimed that
Karl Marx decided to keep the Soviet team out of the Olympics in the early 1920s.

1) he claims that that Classical Antiquity begins with Pericles -No.
Let's try Homer (about 800 B.C.) followed by Thales (650 B.C.).

2) He chooses 1145 in order to bolster his argument, but the term Dark Ages is
generally attributed to Petrarch (About 1330 A.D.) who considered himself to be
living in the Dark Ages.

3) He claims that millions of deaths were caused by religious wars.
There is no justification for this satement except that most humanists know
that the secularist governments in the last century were
in fact the cause of millions of deaths. In addition the Catholic Church
was the first organization to proclaim that wars can be immoral.

In any case, the justification of the Church is not from its great accomplishments (hospitals, universities, argiculture, architecture, culture, etc. etc.) but in its saints.

Brian John Schuettler

"...the public domain a neutral space where we can all meet as human beings, and respect one another on merit, not because of labels."

I will leave to Carl whether he wishes to respond to your comment, Professor Grayling, but I wish to state my appreciation for the above quoted thought. In this age of intolerant castigation by both sides it is refreshing for me to hear the expression of support for dialogue based upon respect for the merits of the argument and not on personal vitriol. I am rather discouraged when I read some of the public statements by dogmatic darwinists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett that demean the human dignity of their opponents and thereby effectively cut off the capacity for serious discussion of decidedly different positions on the role that faith and reason play in present day culture. It is refreshing to hear an atheist express himself in the tradition of George Bernard Shaw, who was willing to stand and debate in the public square with G.K. Chesterton the important intellectual and philosophical issues of their time. I can only hope that we can return to that amiable form of exchange.

Mark Brumley

What a hoot. Three cheers for the oriental superstition.

I know, I know. That's not a rebuttal to the philosophy professor. But sometimes things are so silly you don't know where to begin. This is one of them.

A. C. Grayling

Dear Padraighh
Thank you for your post, which if you reflect for a moment you will see helps my case greatly. I was being conservative in accepting Mr Olson's strictures on my dating, for it was he who chose 1145 (the year in which Chartres Cathedral began to be built) as an end-point for the period of cultural dearth that followed Constantine's adoption of Christianity. And by going back several centuries before Pericles you extend to a millenium the period in which classical, Hellenistic and Roman civilisation flourished before being brought to an end by Christianity (read Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" chs XV and XVI). I leave to you to find the dates on which the bishops of the newly dominant church ended the Games (such as the Olympic Games) because they objected to the competitors' nakedness, and closed the Schools of Athens (founded nearly a thousand years before by Plato, Aristotle and their successors) because their teachings were inconsistent with Scripture, but you will find that the general atmosphere of which these events are expressive explains much about what Petrarch rightly called the "dark age", as you point out. Thank you for these comments; my good wishes to you. - To Mr Schuettler my thanks;
we might discuss with vigour and commitment our differences, but I hope always with courtesy and tolerance for one another as individuals. My quarrel is with ideas and institutions, not with individuals, whom I should wish always to encounter as brothers and sisters in the endeavour of life. My good wishes to you too. - Anthony Grayling

Stephen Sparrow

Professor Grayling must have been trawling for his name using the Google blog search engine. Yes Anthony we all do it but its at least good to see somebody coming out swinging.

Actually if you are looking for a period to pin that appellation to then there is no higher qualifier for the title of Dark Ages than the last 100 years. How many innocent people have been slaughtered by folk whose religion was self centred shall we say? Art, architecture and literature which the "professional critics" hail, being clearly obvious to the rest of us as degraded. Yes we ordinary people have a sense of taste denied the self centred pouting chatterers who claim to speak for the "civilised world".

I cannot help contrasting Professor's tirade with Osbert Sitwell's comment from part 4 of his autobiography published in 1953 (I think). Sitwell was speculating on the coming collapse of Western Civilisation and he used the supremely apt analogy of a chasm to illustrate the rupture – the place – where one civilisation (this one) ends and another emerges. What would a future civilisation looking back across the chasm make of us? He thought it a good thing that we should never know since, “it is unlikely that we either should see much that would please us or hear much good of ourselves.”

Yes Professor Grayling, look around, the Dark Ages are already here.

Tom Woods

With regard to the suggestion that the Olympic Games were suppressed because the stupid, culture-destroying Christians were opposed to the athletes' nakedness (why not simply clothe them, then?), I recommend this useful article.


Educating the Masses on history. In the Guardian? I think not. Chronically declining circulation for years, dear. And not even read by all of the liberal classes even.


Professor Grayling perfectly illustrates the decadent cultural and educational poverty of today's U.K. The Brit Theodore Dalrymple brilliantly analyzes this situation in these books:

-Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses

-Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass

Britain's decline under today's secularist regime is truly sad.

Sandra Miesel

To respond to Professor Grayling first requires some boundary definitions on geographic scope and periodization.

Are we talking about all the lands of the pagan Roman Empire or just the western half? If the eastern regions are included, let's remember that large chunks were conquered by Isam in the 7th C and thereafter belong to a different cycle of civilization. But the achievements of the Byzantine Empire in art and architecture were notable and of enduring influence. (See the two catalogues of recent blockbuster exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, THE GLORY OF BYZANTIUM and BYZANTIUM: FAITH & POWER.) Even at the end, Byzantium produced an original philosopher Gemistos Pletho and the lovely paintings of the Paleologan Renaissance. Then for literature there were Christian poets such as Romanus the Melodist and Ephrem of Syria and sundry historians. And oh yes, the University of Athens at the time of its closure by Justinian in 529 (the year St. Benedict founded Monte Cassino) consisted of a few neo-Platonists. They tried living in Sassanid Persia for a few years but eventually returned.

Contemporary historians like to call the Roman centuries after 180 AD "Late Antiquity." The transition predates Constantine's legalization of Christianity. The economy of the Western Empire was in decline from internal causes as well as barbarian attack and waves of plague. The educated classes and skilled workers were such a small part of the population that untimely deaths cost society irreplaceable expertise.

Christianity set social changes in motion that transformed Greco-Roman society: all classes limited to permanent monogamous marriages; protection of the unborn and newly born; recognition of the dignity of labor; institutional efforts to mitigate poverty and sickness; respect for women without regard for their sexual utility.

I'll take up medieval achievements in a later post.

Celestial SeraphiMan

But what about the lack of sanitation? What about diseases? How would that be addressed? Moreover, weren't there people who demanded that women be confined to childbearing roles? Weren't there autocratic tyrants? Wasn't there torture? Surely the stereotypes have some basis in truth, however meager.

Kyro R. Lantsberger

I hate to enter a discussion like this off of the top of my head, but wasnt the final nail in the coffin of the olympics a riot set off by the wrestlers and pankrationists?

"more accurately I should have nominated the period between (say) 320 and - shall we choose your date of 1145 as the beginning of the construction of Chartres Cathedral? - a mere eight hundred years rather than a thousand, as the period when so little poetry, so little philosophy, so little architecture, so little art, so little literacy, so little progress, was made under the hegemony of your church."

Doesnt the "Hegemony of the Church" not even really BEGIN until the 11th century? Worship of Odin, and not oriental mystery gods dominated the north up until about this time, correct? close? I share Prof. Grayling's longing for art and culture, but if he truly wishes to place historical blame for the drabness of this era, wouldnt it be more appropriately laid at the feet of the Arian Visigoths and the Vikings?


What a great thread. Why, I feel somewhat inadequate to join this fray, but I feel compelled to point out a number of things:

...When I look back over the landscape of your church's history, I see it illuminated by the pyres lit by Torquemada; I see it through the windows of the house where Galileo suffered house-arrest; I see the cruelty of its discrimination against women and gay people.

On the first two points, I barely see any great improvement made by the torch-bearers of secularism in the dubious fields of tyranny: the Gulags, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Cultural Revolution, they were all pursued with scientific rigor by Professor Grayling's intellectual fellow-travelers. It seems to me that wherever and whenever secularists attain power, massive death follows.

At least Pope John Paul II had the decency to apologize for the Inquisition and the (mis)trial of Galileo. I am still awaiting the British intelligentsia's apology for its decades-old cavorting with Communism and anti-Semitism, which in my view makes hollow the good Professor's misguided attempt at casting aspersions.

I must address Professor Grayling's remark about the Church's supposed "cruelty" against gay people. There are two ways to approach this:

A reasonable person can say without sliding into vulgarity that the misuse of the gift of sex by forcing its physical morphology into or onto inappropriate receptive organs represents a grave defect of such action which will have profound psychological repercussions on all involved, even unto their very souls. Now, the Church happens to think this very thing and for this the good Professor labels her "cruel." It goes without saying that the good Professor probably thinks that there's no such thing as a "soul" either and that therefore, those who engage in homosexual acts have really nothing to lose. Because the Church disagrees, she must be penalized.

Or, we can look at it another way: Professor Grayling belongs to that crowd of enlightened beings that sees morality as an eminently mutable construct; as something changeable, temporary, and provisional. Members of this crowd truly resent the Church for her daring to tell them that such-and-such-a-thing is evil in itself. We cannot have people walking around with guilty consciences, can't we? It is most unhealthy and it affects the self-esteem of otherwise well-adjusted people, in spite of their peculiar preference to engage in reciprocal onanism with partners of their same sex, those who see their behavior as benign, or as an inalienable right, or as "love," or as something beneficial and constructive for culture and society. Because the Church questions this so-called "wisdom," she must be put in her place.

The good Professor thinks that before so much churchly chutzpah, the only decent option open for rational, thinking human beings—a set that in the good Professor's mind is probably coterminous with that of the enlightened electorate—is to push the Church aside and invalidate her right to participate in the public sphere and to shape public mores, and to deny her the right to oppose legislation that she deems prejudicial to the common good. Let autonomous men and women decide by themselves what is good and evil for them even if the consequences of those choices don't remain within themselves, but impact the rest of society. Let the believers' narrow objections be damned. Somehow, the moral minority is endowed with more civil and political rights than the moral majority--or, I concede, the indifferent.

Professor Grayling seems to imply that the state is to be used as a tool to shove down the throats of objectors the moral choices of his group. Oh, yes, a choice for the legalization of homosexual behavior is in itself a moral choice, and to use the state's power to obtain conformity from those who in conscience cannot accept the moral antivalues people like the good Professor propose as a universal human right is an exercise in raw tyranny.

I find it ironic that, although Professor Grayling wastes no time to point those instances in which the Church behaved tyrannically and/or arbitrarily throughout history, now that the Church in his country is taking a principled stance against the arrogance of power with which European and British elites have invested themselves, their ultimate goal being criminalizing the Church's moral stance on homosexual activity, he finds it convenient to turn a blind eye.

I think this is self-serving and hypocritical on the part of the good Professor.

The world has yet to behold an atheist Mother Theresa working in the streets of Calcutta, or an enlightened Maximilian Kolbe taking the place of a fellow prisoner in a concentration camp and dying in his place. For all their enlightenment and supposed moral and intellectual superiority, when push comes to a shove, the percentage of militant atheists or agnostics seeking to save their own necks far surpasses the number of those giving their lives for the good of another. In fact, I don't know of any. But like Mother Theresa and Maximilian Kolbe, we have myriads.

You know, Professor Grayling, the Church has survived 2,000 years. During those 20 centuries, we have made plenty of mistakes, but we have also learned a whole lot. I happen to think that what we have given the world far surpasses all of our mistakes combined. You will die tomorrow or perhaps the day after, or 10 years from now. I wish you a good, long life, in fact. But eventually, you will die. You will decay and be turned to dust; your only palpable legacy will be a slowly eroding tombstone or perhaps a sober obituary in the college newspaper listing your great many achievements. We, the Church, have survived greater challenges in the past. We will surely survive yours, I am sure.

Ed Peters

320-1145. No progress? Or very little. The canon lawyer in me cringes.

Cristina A. Montes

Prof. Grayling contrasts the middle ages with the renaissance and presents the renaissance as a more progressive age than the middle ages. Then he implies that it was the church all along that was suppressing all the progress in the middle ages. What he fails to explain is, how did the renaissance happen? Could it have happened without some momentum from the middle ages? AFter all, history is a story. A story is a succession of events whereby one causes another.

In addition, the events that Grayling cite to prove that the church suppresses progress should be analyzed in the context of the whole picture. While there was certainly some degree of religious intolerance involved, a whole combination of political, cultural, historical, and personal factors (GAlileo's temper, for example; I've read that the Church was initially open to his theory until he got polemical and criticized the Church for believing in certain biblical verses) were also involved. It is therefore unfair to see only the bad side of the CAtholic Church as behind these events.

Ed Peters

CAM: that very point (about GG's provocation of a fight) is well documented in the record, and was, most regrettably, terribly blurred during the apology parade of the 1990s.

a. c. grayling

Dear friends
Thank you for the points you raise. I respond to Teofilo as follows: a "tu quoque" argument is no defence. If grave wrong was done in the name of the church, you cannot defend it by pointing at the wrong done by others. Secondly, gay people are people; they have exactly the same feelings, exactly the same rights, exactly the same claim on our understanding and respect and equal treatment, as the rest of us. Prejudice and discrimination against them is horrible and unjustified, unkind and ignorant. It is to be deprecated that any church should condemn them for what is natural to them, as it would be to condemn someone for other natural facts, such as being female, or black, or white, or heterosexual. Thirdly, the major religions and the major ideologies of fascism and communism are the same thing, namely, totalitarian ideologies - systems that seek to impose a monolithic outlook to which all must conform on pain of punishment including torture and death. They are orthodoxies insisting that all must believe and act the same, under threat. In religion the threat is damnation; it used to be psothumous damnation PLUS the rack, the water torture, the auto de fe. Fascism, communism, religionism: the one difference is that the enlightened world rose up and defeated fascism and communism (at least the Soviet kind), the first in 12 years and the second in 70 years; but the resourceful reinventions of religion keep it alive, even through the liberating and enlightened centuries which have followed the breaking of the Catholic Church's hegemony over Europe and its extension round the world (and alas! what a chapter that was - think of South America and what your church did to people there!) If you lived 500 years ago you would not recognise your own religion; the church claims to be "semper idem" but it is a pussy cat now in comparison to the ravening lion it once was - it is so important to know this history. For only consider: if you think that the earth orbits the sun - do you? - 500 years ago you risked being burned to death, tied to a wooden pole, for thinking this very thing. Be honest, really honest, about this, and challenge yourself over what this means. And to think that your church offered an apology - how easy words are! after two thousand years of oppression! That it accepted its injustice to Galileo, and thereby the non-truth of Joshua and Psalm 102 - so recently! I don't know how you can defend this. - To Ms Montes: Petrarch described his age as one of rebirth - Renaissance - precisely because of its rediscovery of the wonderful, rich, insightful, humane "pagan" literature of the classical epoch, and of the beautiful and powerful insights of the Greek ethical schools. In other words: its rediscovery of a time BEFORE Christianity. Read my earlier post on how Christianity worked to uproot the classical tradition to assert its own far less civilised hegemony. It is with real diffidence that I mention this, but I've written at length on the relationshipship between the legacy of classcism and its tension with religious outlooks in Western history from the time of Pericles to our own age, in a book called "What Is Good?", and if you have a chance to look through its pages you will see there a more detailed account of this point. - To return to Teofilo and the point about Mother Theresa: my friend, there are millions of people who labour to better the lot of their fellow man - in hospitals, schools, social welfare offices, aid projects, personal life, and many other places, not because they think a deity instructs them to do it, not because they aim to get to heaven or spend less time in purgatory, but out of respect for their fellow human beings, and kindness. Look at the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: there is no mention of gods there, no claim that it's inspiration is anything other than the kindliness and concern of the human heart. It is a remarkable and wonderful fact about us, that for all the wrong humans do, we also do far more that is right and good. I am a humanist - that is, one who believes that our ethics should be based on our understanding of human nature and the human condition, enough by far to demand of us our best endeavours to make the world a better place, and to succour our brothers and sisters in the human species - and, by the way, the world of nature too: even the fig tree that bears no fruit. Do you mean to say there are no deeply moral atheists? I strive to be one, and know many who succeed: they have to think about their principles, they don't take them wholesale from the supermarket shelf marked "Pre-packaged Ethics, Ready to Go"; they were not brainwashed into them as children. Do you mean to say that there are no impulsions to ethical endeavour other than superstition? Surely you cannot mean this! The best in humankind is the motive of humanity. - My good wishes to you - Anthony Grayling

Stephen Sparrow

Anthony I'm just about to board a plane so this is brief.

You said, "Prejudice and discrimination against them (Gays) is horrible and unjustified."

No argument. The Church is not against those with same sex attraction, but the Church calls it sin, that sexual activity which is an end in itself. That applies to heterosexuals and homosexuals. So yes the militant 'gays' (those who insist on the right to recruit others into their activities)are viewed with deep suspicion by all right thinking Catholics.

Carl Olson

My thanks for Professor Grayling for visiting this blog and responding to my post. I am working on a response to his comments, which I hope to have posted by tomorrow. But other duties and deadlines must take precedence at the moment.

Cristina A. Montes

"Petrarch described his age as one of rebirth - Renaissance - precisely because of its rediscovery of the wonderful, rich, insightful, humane "pagan" literature of the classical epoch, and of the beautiful and powerful insights of the Greek ethical schools. "

But what led to this discovery? Did people just suddenly stumble upon the cultural richness they were deprived of? Or was it caused by specific events -- among them, as I recall, the rediscovery of Aristotle when Christians came in contact with Muslims during the Crusades and in trade, among others, and the founding of universities?

History, we forget, is a succession of concrete events, not just shifting trends in thinking and attitudes. While these also affect events, they are also affected by concrete events.

"- think of South America and what your church did to people there!)"

The very first university in my country (founded 1611) is a pontifical university.

"Read my earlier post on how Christianity worked to uproot the classical tradition to assert its own far less civilised hegemony."

So what about the monks preserving the classics? And St. Thomas Aquinas using the philosophies of Plato and ARistotle (more of the latter) to explain theology? And the scientific method promoted by St. Thomas Aquinas?

"and to succour our brothers and sisters in the human species"

It makes no sense to refer to ourselves as brothers and sisters if we have no common father.

"The best in humankind is the motive of humanity."

Using the word "best" only makes sense if there's such a thing as "good" and "Better". When you say "good", "better", and "best", you are referring to a standard. When you say "best", you mean having the fullness of good, or the fullness of hwat should be. To say that the best in humankind is the motive of humanity begs the question, because it raises the questions, "What is the best in humankind?" And what makes you say it is the best?

"Do you mean to say there are no deeply moral atheists?"

I believe that there are deeply moral atheists. But there are also deeply moral theists, and there are also theists who are theists not because they're brainwashed but because they considered the case for theism with an open mind and are convinced of it.

Cristina A. Montes

BTW, clarification about my post:

"- think of South America and what your church did to people there!)"

The very first university in my country (founded 1611) is a pontifical university.

I'm not South AMerican. I'm Filipino. But it's the same period of history that Grayling is referring to.

(Off topic: Actually, if I had time to get into it, I'd like to read more about what happened in our country. I read in passing somewhere that what distinguishes the Spanish conquest of our country from the Spanish conquest of Latin America is that the ideas of Francisco da Vittoria and Felipe de las Casas intervened. By the time the Spaniards reached our country, the thinkers I referred to earlier already came up with the notion that have souls.)


I think the good professor's most revealing comment is this:

"It is to be deprecated that any church should condemn them for what is natural to them, as it would be to condemn someone for other natural facts, such as being female, or black, or white, or heterosexual."

The "natural." This encapsulates the modern demonology of fatalism (or material determinism), peculiar to the modern mind, and finding flowering expression in the great reductions, such as Darwin, Freud, and Marx. These reductions are usually advertised as "progress" in human thought, even "liberating."

But, by now, we all know about advertising.

By this way of thinking, we are all captive of "the natural," and must submit -- for own good, I suppose -- to our Unconscious (or is it the Collective Unconscious?), to economic determinism, to the random non-teleological process labelled "life."

C.S. Lewis wrote extensively about this peculiar worship of "the natural," and I won't repeat it here. He summarized its trajectory and effect as "the abolition of man."

It's curious that human reason, and that oh-so classical sensibilility for the true, the good, and the beautiful, become lost in this material reduction of all human experience and teleology to "the natural." But it's consistent with the modern principle of intelligibility, which is no longer reason or the Logos or the agathon, but the eternally recurring will-to-power, which today, at least in some circles, is considered the animating principle of reality.

As Eric Voegelin observed, the price of progress, at least as experienced and defined by modernity, is the loss of the soul.

Our consolation is that "the natural" will be defined, imposed, and administered by bureaucrats who are highly confident that they inhabit an elevated state of consciousness, so elevated that they can not only pass judgment on their ancestors but banish them from the public square and the good will of the people.

Sandra Miesel

The thread is long gone but I said I'd add further comments.

Yes Tertullian famously asked "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" but he ended up a heretic. Over the first millennium, churchmen wrestled with the question of how to reconcile the two, culminating in the Renaissance of the 12th C when full texts of Aristotle finally became available.

Medievalists restrict the term Dark Ages to the centuries 500-1000. The Middle Ages run 1000-1500, sometime subdivided into Early, High, and Late. The different regions of Europe move at a different pace and sweeping generalizations are tricky about either the Middle Ages or Renaissance.

Professor Grayling's idea of "art' seems to mean stand-alone painting and sculpture. He seems unacquainted with manuscript painting, the highest form of medieval pictorial art and by no means always religious. Sculpture in and around medieval churches isn't restricted to religious subjects either. The Church was the primary patron of medieval art, learning, and the preservation of the classical heritage.

Art requires some economic surplus and a market. Neither is available in the dangerous, economically depressed and depopulated Dark Ages except in Ireland and early Carolingian and Ottonian eras. 90% of all our classical Latin literature comes down via Carolingian copies funded by Charlemagne--so much for suppression of ancient pagan authors. Knowlege of Greek was almost entirely lost after the fall of Rome. And even the court of Charlemagne's grandson was home to the highly orginal philosopher John Scotus Erigena.

Once the new barbarians had been minimally Christianized and civilized, Western Europe pacified, and agricultural productivity increased by new devices after the Year 1000, people had the means to support art, architecture, and learning. When there's no art market art isn't produced and the market also determines what subjects will be depicted. (Low Countries genre painting is lovely but Rembrandt continued with religious subjects as did Titian, El Greco, and Rubens.)When major buildings are affordable, cathedrals, castles, bridges will be built--and built beautifully

Medieval prosperity rested on technical advances the Romans didn't apply or know such as wind and watermills. (There were 5,000 watermills in England before the Norman Conquest and they did more than grind grain.) See Lynn White's MEDIEVAL TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL CHANGE and Jean Gimpel's THE MEDIEVAL MACHINE. Clocks and eyeglasses are among medieval invention that quickly spread and became commonplace. The Middle Ages didn't do as much in science and medicine as the Renaissance but one of the things holding things back was an excessive reliance on classical authorities. Medieval thinkers and innovators made Renaissance progress possible through their technical skill and a fundamental Christian concept that the universe is an orderly place that's good to study.

All the national epics of Western Europe are medieval. Christians wrote down the pagan stories of Ireland and Scandanavia. Christians created vernacular literature, polyphonic music, printing (first by woodblock, then by moveable type, and universities with set programs of study and formal degrees. Because of Christian preference for Bibles in codex form, we use books rather than scrolls and read them in separated words, not runalltogether as in classical times. At least a million books were made in medieval Europe, many of these objects great beauty.

Ironically, one thing that the Church worked hard to suppress unmentioned by Professor Grayling was lending at interest. Her suspicion of the money economy would affect social teaching even after the Renaissance.

Professor Grayling really needs to chat with some medieval academics and update his knowledge of the period.


Who was burned at the stake for believing the earth revolved around the sun? Who was threatened? This is news to me. I thought Galileo was asked to present his works as theory, and confined to house arrest.

Carl Olson

Who was burned at the stake for believing the earth revolved around the sun? Who was threatened? This is news to me. I thought Galileo was asked to present his works as theory, and confined to house arrest.

Ah, details, details. Heck, for all we know, Galileo was sent to the Gulag for 200 years, flayed daily with barbed-wire whips, and made to watch "The View" for 10 hours a day. The Myth of the Persecuted Galileo has become so ridiculous, so out of control, one almost despairs that the truth will ever reach more than .002% of the population. And then there is the Myth of the Murdered (by the Church, of course) Copernicus, as described by Dan Brown in Angels & Demons. Nevermind that Copernicus died of old age and illness and was a loyal son of the Church. Who knows, perhaps Socrates was also killed by the Catholic Church?

John Michael Keba

"... 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..."

The Carolingian schools at Aachen and Noyen; University of Magnaura, founded in 849; University of Salerno, also in the 800's; University of Bologna, (1088); University of Paris (c. 1100); University of Oxford (11th century) in England: the level of deception the professor operates at revivals that of the Institute for Historical Review.

Brian John Schuettler

" and made to watch "The View" for 10 hours a day"...oh, please, no sir, please! not The View! I recant, I recant!

"Who knows, perhaps Socrates was also killed by the Catholic Church?" The subject of Dan Brown's next book!

El Perro

While this may be off-topic, I'm not the first. Stephen Sparrow brought up the concept that we may be in the midst of a new "dark ages." While he may be correct in a fashion, I think if we are in the beginnings of a new dark age, it's due to the prevalence of corporatism and commercialism, not secularization.

Advancements in science and critical thought processes have defeated most of the old superstition. And that is a good thing. However, that same science failed to provide meaning and beauty to replace the superstition and mystery that it helped to defeat. In place of meaning, modern man now has and endless supply of trinkets mass-produced in China and sold in stores whose size rivals the cathedrals of old. Consumerism is the new religion and The Marketplace is the new God.

I think what is driving our world to the brink is the battle between those who merely view reality as an endless series of balance sheets and those who seek beauty and meaning by attempting to turn the clock backwards, to a time of religious authority over the everyday lives of the people. This regressive desire cannot save us. Nor can crass commercialism and Market Fundamentalism.

I think the battle between these two elements is what is driving the world to the brink of destruction, or toward a new Dark Ages.

El Perro

By the way, I have to congratulate Grayling for his ability to be so gracious and pleasant in the face of the level of scorn, smarm and namecalling he had to endure in here.

Carl Olson

By the way, I have to congratulate Grayling for his ability to be so gracious and pleasant in the face of the level of scorn, smarm and namecalling he had to endure in here.

You apparently didn't read his column, which was nothing but scornful in addressing Christianity. Not that responding to scorn with scorn is the answer, but standing up to rhetorical bullying with firmness is hard to fault.

John Michael Keba

Near the end of his polemical rant, Grayling opines ‘How sharply true is the implication of Bertrand Russell's remark that "Jesus was not as intelligent as Socrates or as compassionate as the Buddha."’ That this quote is so meaningful to Grayling more than adequately explains the facile ease with which he condensed more than a thousand years of complicated history into a distorted, six paragraph hate tract.

I am not quite sure from just where Grayling’s quote comes: perhaps it is paraphrase of this passage from Russell’s essay "Why I am not a Christian,"

"I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above him in those respects."

But no doubt Russell repeated this in many different ways ad nauseam during his life. But it is its use in "Why I am not a Christian" that tells us about the character of both Russell and his fan. It comes at the end of this passage:

"Then there is the curious story of the fig tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig tree. "He was hungry; and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when He came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever’ … and Peter … saith unto Him: ‘Master, behold the fig tree that thou cursedst is withered away.’’ Now this is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of the year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that in the matter of wisdom…"

And so we see the just how honest Bertrand Russell was. The notion that the Cambridge educated mathematician and philosopher, with an interest in religion from childhood, could be "always rather puzzled" by the parable in action of the fig tree, the symbol of Israel, is risible. But Russell’s talk with the same title, given to the South London Branch of the National Secular Society in 1927, and published later, was not meant to be an honest critique: it was never anything more than an exercise in disingenuous demagoguery; a set piece delivered to garner a few huzzahs from sympathetic crowd.

One can be gracious and charming and venomous and totally contemptuous of the truth: and if you do it often enough, you just may get the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sr. Mina

A beautifully-done article. Its a pity that more people don't know how much untruth has been given about the Middle Ages.

Without the Church, we wouldn't have the modern-day world that we have. Its likely we'd be trapped in a world of modern and fanatical Islam. Now we're really deep in women's oppression, the abuse of women, and girls being forced to marry as soon as they have had their first monthly. Quite frankly, to imagine our world as very dark and terrifying. I'm friendly with Muslims and I understand many of their beliefs, but I wouldn't support them nor an "Islamicy" form of government.

When I go to Heaven, I'll be asking God a lot of questions and I know He'll give me answers. I can only assume for the moment, that the reason why the Church didn't remian in power on Earth after the Middle Ages had long ended...I'm guessing after the Elisabethan because we are meant to have Heaven in Heaven. Not on Earth. So its up to us, not just the Church, to help people seat themselves into a beautiful new reality on Earth. The Kingdom of God. Its not a government, but its a Universal Church/Catholic. We should be grateful all the same. God bless.

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