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Christianity set back civilisation

Published:Monday | August 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Patrick White

An outsider looking at our culture would be amazed at our acceptance of make-believe. The late Singaporean prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, may have noticed this when he characterised Michael Manley's redistributionist world view as "quixotic". Lee may have wondered whether Manley could identify even a single example of a wealthy country engaging in redistribution, yet this was central to his policies.

Sadly, Michael Manley was not alone with quixotic views. A year or so ago, we heard the minister of national security pleading for divine intervention to cope with the spiralling crime rate.

And just last Sunday, we had Martin Henry declaring, "... Christianity has been the primal mover in the construction of Western civilisation, now global civilisation, producing an amazon of positive values and practices that define free democratic societies ... ." Somehow, he seems to have missed the part where Christianity is on life support in most leading countries. But human progress has not slowed; it has accelerated.

Clearly, if Henry had paid as much attention to history, as he seems to be paying to theology, he would know Western civilisation was more likely to have developed in spite of Christianity, not because of it. The ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean civilisations, which are the foundations of Western civilisation, pre-dated Christianity some by thousands of years. No one apparently told them they needed to wait for Christianity.

More to the point, the peak years of Christian hegemony in Europe are called the Dark Ages for a reason. This period was not characterised by the "... amazon of positive values ..." that Henry imagines, but by slow technological and artistic development. The result: Life for most people was truly nasty, brutish and short.

Europe remained trapped in this malaise until the scientific method emerged and began replacing biblical revelation, toppling the Christian ideology that was stifling growth. The result was the scientific and technological achievement we know today as the Industrial Revolution, the basis for Western pre-eminence.

This is why no one, except for Mr Henry, should be surprised that every leading economic power in the world today is secular, and it is the poorest countries that have remain trapped under the religious yoke.

 

Fictional stories

 

Why has Christianity failed so spectacularly to stimulate development? Part of the answer is that the Bible may be fictional, as scientists have long suspected. Certain accounts, e.g., the Genesis creation, are not supported by forensic data. Instead, the data point to alternative, scientific theories, the Big Bang and evolution.

Biblical archaeologists are also taking the same view, driven by the absence of corroboration in many key stories. For example, how could hundreds of people wander in the Sinai for several decades, without anyone breaking a pot, using a latrine, or even building a campfire? This is what prompted two archaeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, to state in their book, The Bible Unearthed: "The historical saga contained in the Bible - from Abraham's encounter with God and his journey to Canaan, to Moses' deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage, to the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah - was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the human imagination."

If the Bible is fictional, as the evidence is overwhelmingly suggesting, what is the basis for expecting Judaeo-Christianity to enable modern development, especially when its world view is that of Bronze/Iron Age Middle Eastern goat herders? Isn't it more reasonable to expect it to be detrimental?

One reason for this pessimism is the Church's penchant for misinterpreting Bronze Age ignorance as 'truth', and using it to suppress legitimate inquiry. Copernicus and Galileo are legendary examples from the past. They were sanctioned because the Church had attached 'truth' to the creation myth. To the Church, stars and planets must orbit the Earth, the centre of creation. When Copernicus and Galileo found otherwise, they were sanctioned and their work suppressed, setting back scientific progress.

 

Matters of evolution

 

This insanity persists today as shown by the Church's attitude towards evolution. Science has produced a veritable mountain of evidence to support this theory, while religious leaders have produced nothing consequential to support Genesis.

In other words, the controversy over evolution is identical to the medieval controversy between the Church and Copernicus/Galileo. The battle, then, was not about truth; it was about preserving church power. Perhaps this is also the case today.

Copernicus and Galileo marked the turning point for the Church as a dominant power in Europe. And Europe became better off. The battle over gay rights may have marked the turning point for the Church in the Bible Belt, its last remaining stronghold the US.

Sadly for us, there is nothing in the immediate future to suggest our liberation from the Dark Ages is imminent. Are we then doomed to perpetual poverty?

- Patrick White, PhD, is a member of the Advisory Council at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Information Sciences, and consultant on communications strategy for the CEO of Goodman Networks in Plano, Texas. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and pew_com@me.com.