Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Christianity and Western Civilization


Image result for storming the Bastille


storming the Ballast--European historians begin modernity
at the French Revolution

(originally) MARCH 10, 2007



Atheists have of late been harping on the slavery in the Bile issue. I just got through dealing with the post of an unusually ignorant one who claimed that Christianity contributed nothing to the progress of Western Civilization! I can't believe people are so ignorant they are still saying tripe. This person tried to make an argument, with no backing, that the direction of social progress is away form religion!

Religion is riding high at this juncture in human history. Not only has it produced a paradigm shift in medicine but it has also produced a paradigm shift in philosophy. One might have thought that philosophy would be the last area in which religion could score big, in reality, however, its really leading the way thanks to Plantiga and the back to God movement of he 90s.While it may be true that religion is not the only major force contributing to civilization and the direction of progress, it continues to be a major force. I will just sketch out two areas in this essay:

(1) The past, the contribution of religion (specifically Christianity) to Western civilization

(2) The present and future where religion (Christianity) holds its own as one major contributing force.


A good starting place for the modern western civ is the medieval synthesis. With the fall of the Roman empire civilizing influences retreated and left the population of Western Europe in the cold and dark.. They hudaled into castles for protection and sold themselves into surfdom to powerful landlords who evoked the Germanic inheritance laws to construct the feudal system. Eventually manufacturing began to produce cities and with cities came freedom from the feudal lord. Throughout these "dark ages" learning recede and was basically confined to a monastic setting. Monks kept alive the learning of the Greaco-Roman world. It was in this setting that modern science began. Discoveries plundered from Spain began to show up and scientific learning began among monks from Chartre in France to St. Victor in England to Helfta in Germany. These centers of learning produced vast bodies of literature, scientific observation, and a total synthesis bringing together the observations of science and religion into a coherent culture (see my essay on Christianity and science in the middle ages).


As the work form the monasteries spread Western civilization embarked upon a Renaissance. New learning became the order of the day. Now the old view which was spread by atheist propaganda in the enlightenment told a mythical tail of humanity emerging form the dark abyss in which religion held it captive with chains of ignorance into the glorious light of materialistic scientism. Jacob Burckhardt But historians do not take this view seriously anymore. The Renaissence is no longer seen as the great awaking of learning. It is now under stood that the Renaissance was more of a movement than a time period and it is limited to the social elites in a few major cities such as Florence (although one might expand it more by the time of the Northern Renaissance). At the same time historians are more aware of learning in the so called '"dark ages." (See Peter Burke's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy). The period from fall of Rome (about 490) to about 900 can be considered 'dark' in that it was dominated by illiteracy, Vikings and disease. But from 900 on a steady stream of learning, travel, new ideas begins and spread throughout Europe. The wars with the moors and the crusades were major forces contributing to this trend. The Renaissance,formerly understood as anti-religious saw 80% commissions on art as religious works. The Renaissance was not a rebellion against religion, it was the dawn of modern religious humaism.

Christian thought contributed in a major way to the thinking of he enlightenment. most skeptics on the net tend to short hand the conflict between religion and science int he enlightenment and tend to assume that all the philosohpes were atheist. But in reality the philosophes were religous. Voltaire did not mean to say religion is just made up. He was not a Chrsitian but he was profoundly religious. He really mean to say that religion is so important we would have to invent it if it didn't exist as a natural outgrown of the light of reason (see Peter Gay's books on the Enlightenment). One of the major influences was Father Francis Fenelin. He militated for individual rights and freedom and was a major influence upon the philosophers in their understanding of modern person hood and individuality (see Britannica, "Finelin"). Christian thinkers put an end to the Witch trials i Europe and helped pave the way for an understanding of basic human rights.


The high point of this modern Christian contribution to western Civilization is the rise of modern science in England during the seventeenth century. The majority of historians in fields such as English history and History of science and history of ideas have come together to produce a ground swell of works demonstrating the importance of the Latitudinarians in popularizing and spreading the works of Newton. These English churchmen who were very active in politics took their marching orders form Robert Boyle. Of course Boyle, a major scientist of the era who discovered air pressure, was a close friend of Newton. Boyle's social vision was to use science to establish the truth of Christianity and then use Christianity to establish social and political harmony. Boyle latched on to Newtonian physics as the new model of science and the latitudinarians promoted it as a new Gospel. The major historian in all of this is Margaret Jacob
and her major work on the subject is The Newtonian's. Jacob argues that without this band of preachers hawking Newton's wares he might have remained unknown for fifty years or longer than it took for him to be discovered. In it might not have ever had the currency it did have. Who knows this would have thrown off.

The next great high point was the abolition movement. I don't think we can underrate the exsnt to which abolition of slavery built the modern world. There is basically no way we could have modernity and live in a slave society. That would be anti-theoretical to every modern principle from individual autonomy to democracy. At every step fo the way Christians led the movement. The Quakers organized and let the attack on the slave trade.The Journal of John Woolman is a must read in this regard. The underground rail road was mostly connected to churches and the first organized anti-abolition group in America was a group of Methodist women. From this point the Evangelicals fanned out across the social spectrum bribing in the social gospel and militating on both sides of the political isle: Woman's sufferage, temporence, abolition of poverty, public education, and many others.(see McLaughlin, William G. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 (Chicago, 1978). 

In part 2 I will analyze the modern contributions of christianity to Western Civ. Coming ealry next week. I promise.

8 comments: original comments from back in the day

Anonymous said...
I find it hard to believe that this has to be stated and defended. It just seems so obvious to anyone with any real knowledge of history that Christianity contributed heavily to Western civilization (to the good, bad, & ugly in it). But such is a wave of historical revisionism within a MINORITY of those in academia or the internet...
J.L. Hinman said...
I don't know academics are saying it Atheists on message boards say it. They are ignorant fools.
Anonymous said...
I'm thinking (about academics) about the likes of A C Grayling. (Yes, it's me F&S.) Grayling is apparently working on a book on this subject.

But you are right--militant atheists on these boards are ignorant of history. But there is something deeper at work driving their revisionism. What might that be?
J.L. Hinman said...
Graelying is unusally stuborn He denies facts he should know easily. I have freind at Cambridge who took him apart at the seems and he acted like HE was winning!

I had a feeling that was you!;-)
Anonymous said...
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Elaina

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J.L. Hinman said...
great thanks. welcome aboard
Anonymous said...
I am currently an AP European history student and also an atheist, and i wouldn't go so far as to generalize that all or even most atheists are ignorant of the impacts of religion on western civilization. I myself understand completely christianitys beliefs and how it greatly imapacted the shaping and structure of the western world. I enjoy learining everything about the history of most religions but don't personally believe the beliefs of which i am learning. Therefore, not all atheists are ignorant fools.
Tim said...
Definitely correct...I agree!

13 comments:

Eric Sotnak said...

A lot of atheists are (justifiably, I think) distressed over the fact that the Bible has influenced history because the approach has been to invoke it as a special source of validation for claims and policies. For atheists who think the Bible has and deserves no special status as an authoritative basis for policy, it's no surprise that they resist its use for such purposes.

im-skeptical said...

most skeptics on the net tend to short hand the conflict between religion and science int he enlightenment and tend to assume that all the philosohpes were atheist. But in reality the philosophes were religous.

- Of course, most everyone was religious before science advanced to the point that it came into conflict with religious belief. And there is no question that the church supported scientific endeavors, as long as they didn't conflict with religious dogma. The real conflict becomes apparent as soon as scientific understanding begins to challenge that religious dogma.

Joe Hinman said...

Of course, most everyone was religious before science advanced to the point that it came into conflict with religious belief. And there is no question that the church supported scientific endeavors, as long as they didn't conflict with religious dogma. The real conflict becomes apparent as soon as scientific understanding begins to challenge that religious dogma.

This my dissertation topic Eric. It;s a major controversy weather or not the C of E supported science. The major unis like Oxford and Cambridge not good in science in this period (Newton's life). The dissenters were better known in science circles and their schools funded it more. Of course that's not to rule out pro C of E pruvet efforts like Boyle.

The idea that everyone was a Christian then does not cut it. There was a big difference in dissemters who tended to be Aryan, and C id C thrn off brand Trinitsrinas like Wesley. Those guys were true believers. Newton,Boyle and Loke the three muskatrs of christsain apology.Newton was Aryan but blocked with C of E

Joe Hinman said...

Eric Sotnak said...
A lot of atheists are (justifiably, I think) distressed over the fact that the Bible has influenced history because the approach has been to invoke it as a special source of validation for claims and policies. For atheists who think the Bible has and deserves no special status as an authoritative basis for policy, it's no surprise that they resist its use for such purposes.

I agree with therm you know why? because I don;t want people who don't know Greek imposing their ideas of what they think it means on me. we can respect the Bible w.o imposing it on others.

Eric Sotnak said...

Is there controversy?

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1601-1700/scientists-of-faith-found-royal-society-11630137.html

No reasonable atheist will deny that there have been believers who advanced the progress of science. But I don't think that's the point. I think, rather, the point is that what many atheists find deeply troubling is the attitude that scientific progress has had to work against the background of the attitude, "Given that we know the Bible is infallible, how shall we understand Nature?"

im-skeptical said...

the point is that what many atheists find deeply troubling is the attitude that scientific progress has had to work against the background of the attitude, "Given that we know the Bible is infallible, how shall we understand Nature?"

- Quite right. And just to add to that, the same applies to Christian attitudes about slavery. Because many Christians were quite happy to take slaves, knowing that they had the full support of their bible. Just as was the case with scientific advancement, social progress was achieved by those who had the courage to break away from well-established norms.

Joe Hinman said...

No reasonable atheist will deny that there have been believers who advanced the progress of science. But I don't think that's the point. I think, rather, the point is that what many atheists find deeply troubling is the attitude that scientific progress has had to work against the background of the attitude, "Given that we know the Bible is infallible, how shall we understand Nature?"



Nothing wrong with one asking that question so long as one really sees the Bible that way. The real problem is it is theologically naive to think all believers see the Bible that same way.

Joe Hinman said...

the same applies to Christian attitudes about slavery. Because many Christians were quite happy to take slaves, knowing that they had the full support of their bible. Just as was the case with scientific advancement, social progress was achieved by those who had the courage to break away from well-established norms.

the bible does not give "full support" to slavery.It does not say :"thou shalt have slaves. Its ambiguous at best.

why don't you try to explain what atheists did vis slavery in the 19th century? and how it is that the abolition movement was lately Christian?.

Joe Hinman said...

Eric's link

tell me why bone of you atheists know how to make links in html?

im-skeptical said...

tell me why bone of you atheists know how to make links in html?
- You have made this complaint many times. I almost always embed links in the HTML. But in YOUR blog, they don't appear sufficiently distinct from the rest of the text - and then you fail to see that there is an embedded link, and you complain about it. The problem is yours. Making links show up better is entirely under your own control.

im-skeptical said...

why don't you try to explain what atheists did vis slavery in the 19th century? and how it is that the abolition movement was lately Christian?
- Please name any 19th century atheists who did not oppose slavery. I can't think of a single one.

Joe Hinman said...

im-skeptical said...
tell me why bone of you atheists know how to make links in html?

- You have made this complaint many times. I almost always embed links in the HTML. But in YOUR blog, they don't appear sufficiently distinct from the rest of the text - and then you fail to see that there is an embedded link, and you complain about it. The problem is yours. Making links show up better is entirely under your own control.

I know just being factious my friend

9:02 AM Delete
Blogger im-skeptical said...
why don't you try to explain what atheists did vis slavery in the 19th century? and how it is that the abolition movement was lately Christian?
- Please name any 19th century atheists who did not oppose slavery. I can't think of a single one.

First it is true that many atheists were in the abolitionism movement. Francis Shaffer said that utilitarians tended to support slavery.


10:13 AM

Joe Hinman said...

Thomas Cooper employed utilitarian arguments for slavery.

Daniel Kilbride
The Journal of Southern History
Vol. 59, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 469-486
Published by: Southern Historical Association
DOI: 10.2307/2210004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2210004
Page Count: 18

Benthum might be included


Bart Schultz and Georgios Varouxakis (eds.), Utilitarianism and Empire,

"Utilitarianism and Empire contains ten essays and an introduction by the editors. There are two essays on Jeremy Bentham, five on John Stuart Mill, and one each on James Mill, Herbert Spencer and Henry Sidgwick. Appropriately, the volume is interdisciplinary, with contributions by philosophers, historians, political scientists and cultural theorists, among others. It is an extremely valuable contribution to the literature devoted to making sense of the history and philosophical viability of utilitarianism. Indeed, a study of this sort could not be timelier, since we are ourselves living in a time where empire building and imperialism continue to thrive and imperil.

The two papers on Bentham are among the most interesting and illuminating in this volume. In his article, "Jeremy Bentham on Slavery and the Slave Trade", Fred Rosen responds to the view that Bentham failed to have the appropriate moral reaction to slavery and slave trading. Bentham's error, it is claimed, is that he held that the security of the property of slave owners had to be balanced against equality in deciding the right public policy to have regarding slavery. This problem is seen clearly, critics contend, in Bentham's advocacy of a gradual rather than immediate emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery."

In faieness other essays in that volume reject that view