Most of you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard the tale of Christopher Columbus and his raw courage in the face of mutinous sailors who were in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. Who among us is not familiar with the term “Dark Ages”?
Sociologist Rodney Stark points out in his book The Victory of Reason that what we’re largely unfamiliar with is the reality that far from being “benighted fanatics clinging to Scriptural claims that the earth was flat” for the “first fifteen centuries of the Christian epic, nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Likewise, only in the revisionist history of skeptics like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the “Dark Ages” dark and the Renaissance enlightened.
What really happened is a matter of history and evidence. The millennium that encompassed Greek and Roman history is more correctly characterized by irrational superstition than rational supposition. Greco-Roman thought was shackled to the illogical presupposition of an eternal universe that was ministered by moody gods. Little wonder that almost a thousand years after Aristotle, Roman aristocrats, spoon-fed at the table of Greek enlightenment, dwelt in drafty domains and never dreamed of a coming Christian epic in which the invention of chimneys, clocks, and capitalism would revolutionize Western Civilization.
In place of a rational God who orders the universe according to knowable principles, Greek sages and their Roman counterparts fixated on the capriciousness of the gods. As such, Socrates would render astronomical observations a “waste of time,” and Plato persuaded devotees to “leave the starry heavens alone.” They obsessed on astrology, but left astronomy an unexplored domain. They mastered the magic of alchemy, and remained blithely ignorant of the majesty inherent in chemistry.
Even more shamefully, “enlightened” Greco-Roman civilization had scant regard for human equality. As a slave master, Plato reasoned that “nature creates a slavish people lacking the mental capacity for virtue or culture, and fit only to serve.” And Aristotle famously remarked, “some are marked out for subjugation, others for rule.” Of course, women fared no better, for in Rome female babies routinely expired in the shadow of Nero’s image—their tragic cries a testimony to the terrors of sexual inequality.
Here’s my point: The notion that the enlightenment of the Greco-Roman world was separated from enlightenment in the modern world by the Dark Ages of Christianity is nothing more than useful propaganda. It was Christianity and Christianity alone that shattered the superstitions of the Greco-Roman world. An unbiased reading of history demonstrates conclusively that the rise of Western Civilization is inextricably linked to the DNA of a biblical worldview.
Well, today, that biblical worldview is mocked by culturally corrosive comedy, and our children are at stake, because for every five-hundred hours they spend in church, a 17 year old has spent more than fifty-thousand interacting with the mass media.
For more on culturally corrosive comedy, listen to my interview with Ted Baehr, co-author (with Tom Snyder) of “Culturally Corrosive Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report,” Christian Research Journal 33, 2 (2010).
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