Another Internet Atheist Distorts Christian Teaching and History
Oliver Waters has a problem with Western Civilization. You may not have heard of him, but that’s okay. He represents a self-congratulating group you’ll find everywhere in blogs and on Facebook, a group I call “internet atheists.”
Waters writes to cheer a university’s decision to nix plans for a degree in Western Civilization. It’s partly because, he says, “Many, many more terrible ideas arose in this part of the world than good ones.” (Emphasis his.) The worst of it is what came from Judaism and Christianity.
As Christianity arose and Rome fell, he says, we had “that thousand-year stretch so barren of progress we literally refer to it as ‘the Dark Ages.’” That sounds bad. But it gets worse: “The blunt truth is that for nearly two millennia. … the Church directly inhibited the progress of ethics, politics, science, and aesthetics.”
Obviously no historian or apologist for Christianity would try to defend everything in Western history. But what Waters says here is pure rubbish.
The “Dark Age” Myth
First, no historian today thinks there was ever much of a “Dark Ages.” If there was, it was in the years immediately after barbarians overthrew Rome. It doesn’t take a new religion to explain why that would have been tough on an empire.
Second, Christianity maintained light through that hard time by preserving classical knowledge. That same Christian emphasis on knowledge and learning has continued throughout the centuries. To cite just a few examples:
- Augustine contributed crucial groundwork for modern science in the 4th and 5th centuries.
- Alcuin the mathematician, poet, philosopher and clergyman led the “Carolingian Renaissance” of the 8th century.
- Pope Gerbert, crowned in 999, was an important mathematician.
- The cathedral of Chartres was a center for natural philosophy — the early name for what we call science — in the 12th century.
- Indeed, all the more familiar names from early science — Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Brahe and more — were Christians, many of them clergy.
So Waters is all wet for thinking Christianity caused any “darkness” in European history.
Human Liberty and Equality Have Christian Roots
As for politics and ethics, Waters is wrong about the Christian foundations of liberty in the West. He thinks Christians trace it merely to “Render unto Caesar.” He’s swallowing a mite but missing the camel. In reality, the theme of human worth and equality fills the Bible from its first pages to its last.
In Genesis 1, God creates all persons in His image. Jesus dies for all, with no distinction. In the Epistles, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The passage doesn’t deny the reality of human categories, but it does deny any distinction in human worth. From Genesis 12:3 to Matthew 28:18-20 and Revelation 7:9, the Bible teaches us this worth extends to all tribes, peoples and nations.
Theologians speak of the imago dei, the image of God in which He created every human. It is the single strongest foundation assuring human equality, liberty and freedom.
The Enlightenment Doesn’t Get All the Credit
Waters thinks all this good came from the Enlightenment. It’s almost as if he thinks the Enlightenment itself had nothing to do with the history that preceded it. Not likely. In fact the Enlightenment’s own contribution is open to question, if we understand Renaissance humanism as a major contributor to it.
Historian James Hannam tells us in The Genesis of Science that early scientists were equally split between Catholics and Protestants. But “the influence of humanism,” he says, “was much more profound and potentially far more damaging. Humanists chased medieval writers out of the university. …” Without the work done previously by printers, Hannam adds, “a huge body of knowledge could have been lost, or at least become so inaccessible it ceased to have any relevance.”
The Church Needs to Combat These Falsehoods and This Ignorance
Waters could be forgiven for not knowing that. It isn’t commonly taught these days. But the part where he said Christianity “directly inhibited … aesthetics”? That’s just jaw-droppingly wrong. Does he really think Christianity has produced no great art? No cathedrals? No literature? No music? There’s only one route to a statement like that: ignorance. Or maybe two: ignorance plus severe anti-Christian bias.
Waters supports a university’s efforts (if I may borrow from Hannam) to “chase a huge body of literature, art, music and more out of the university.” That puts him in the same line as the “far more damaging” humanist tradition.
But it serves internet atheists’ purpose to keep the world ignorant of Western Civilization’s Judeo-Christian roots. Atheists keep spouting the same falsehoods. Apparently they think the more they speak, the more people will think they’re telling the truth. Unfortunately for them, truth doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately for the rest of us, sometimes persuasion does.
Christian pastors, priests and other teachers should know of these lies, and how atheists are spreading them through unceasing repetition. Only then can we do our part in straightening out Christian history — and the rest of the truth internet atheists keep distorting.