stark christianity
Everyone is by now well aware, whether through personal experience or vicariously via the news, of the toxic legacy of Christian fundamentalism. Whether it's authoritarian dogma or the many scandals that have plagued the Catholic church, many so-called 'Christians' have given plenty of ammo to their accusers. Meanwhile individuals are largely left to fend for themselves in a society that was founded on Christianity but that is overwhelmingly nihilistic and materialistic, denying its own history in the process.

So today, on MindMatters, we discuss those aspects of the Christian belief system that may well be worth keeping and that have definitively shaped our world. Using sociologist of religion Rodney Stark's book Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, we discuss how Christian beliefs formed the moral matrix of the Western mind from the collapse of Rome onwards. As Stark argues, centuries of belief in free will and individual responsibility in an intelligently designed universe provided the primary impetus for the West to abolish slavery, institutionalize science, use capitalism to improve the lot of the common man, and even pursue the freedom to repudiate Christianity itself.

If he's correct, then losing sight of what these Christian beliefs once stood for (and no they're not just 'fairy tales and dogmatic superstitions') we lose sight of the higher motivation that led ordinary people to found these great enterprises - arguably the few positive aspects of Western society left. So, while today it is fashionable to deny that consciousness exists, and that beliefs can have any impact on reality, today we will be entertaining a different hypothesis - that what we believe matters, and that, in order to understand our history, we should understand the good inherent within Christianity and not just the bad.

Running Time: 01:07:09

Download: MP3 - 61.5 MB

Here's the transcript of the show:

Corey: Hello everyone and welcome back. Today we are going to be discussing Christianity, but more specifically the neglected aspect of Christianity, its impact on the development of western civilization. Now, I say neglected because it has been fashionable, and I agree that I have been guilty of this as well, to bash Christianity as a series of fairy-tales that are no longer relevant for the world that we live in. We've had discussions on the show in the past about Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson's debates on the meaning of myth and the importance of the sacred in the development of a person, individually, and of society collectively, and whether or not you can even have a functioning society without an idea of the sacred, or of myths that tell us what the sacred is and how to value it.

Now, that said, in just the past couple weeks with the burning down of the Notre Dame cathedral, we saw a display I'd say, of these two different ways of viewing Christianity. Right in the aftermath of the cathedral burning down, we saw an outpouring of grief and sympathy for what the cathedral represented, the efforts of the individuals who built it, the love that they put into building it, but we also heard cries of how unfair it was that so much money was being spent to rebuild it, when much of that money could be spent instead on the poor and the impoverished. I'd say that those two things aren't mutually exclusive. You can have an outpouring of grief and sympathy and money to rebuild a cathedral, and you can also have a care for the impoverished, and for nature in general.

But, this is typical of the stance I think, that we come across when we discuss Christianity, or when we discuss the church, and the role that it has played in the West, whether it's viewed from more of a Marxist perspective, that it is just a source of oppression, and has been holding back the West in terms of science and progressivism, and liberalism, or whether we should just get down to good old family tradition and return to the Bible and then all of our social ills will be mended. Now, that said, we've been reading a really interesting book by the sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark. His book is called The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. That title in and of itself...

Elan: Bam!

Corey: Yeah. Right in your face! Quite a revisionist history if you've ever heard of one, but it raises up a whole slew of questions and through reading the book, you notice that in many ways, your knee jerked into thinking, "No, there's no way that Christianity could have had such an impact." Part of you that's been indoctrinated in this system that views Christianity as backward and oppressive thinks in terms of Christianity as being the Dark Age religion. It's a time when superstition and myth ruled Europe, there was no technological innovation until 16th, 17th, 18th century revolutionaries fought against the church, fought back against all of these backward fairy-tales.

But, he makes a very, very compelling case throughout the book that, in fact, the Christian belief system has at its core, it's foundation, what we would take now as common sense ideas of the world that were the genesis, that led to the creation of science, to the idea that individuals should have liberty and they should be free, to the fight against slavery that persisted for centuries and to the idea that governments should be held accountable to the people and in fact, a tyrant is not sanctioned by god, but that the people have the right to take down a tyrant if he is corrupt and sinning against nature.

Now, we'll get into how this argument plays out and some of the historical specifics, but I think that one of the best places really, to start, to examine how it is that Christian beliefs could possibly be responsible for some of the best things in life that we take for granted today, is to look back and identify the beginnings of Christianity, to look back and see when it emerged on the world stage and what the culture it emerged into looked like, and how exactly this differed from the previous culture.

That way you can see the genesis. You can see the matrix that was forming at that early stage, and there's no better place to do that than with the life of Paul. Harrison knows quite a bit more about Paul than I do, but just looking at his Christian ethos, he didn't really have a conception of Christ as we do get in the gospels. He didn't have an idea of Christ crucified in a physical way. For him, Christ was much more of a god figure, a supernatural figure that was crucified and his crucifixion that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, was an experience of the sacred that was radical. It was a radical, and revolutionary break from the life and times of other Greco-Roman religions, because, for most Greco-Roman religions, they didn't even have a word for religion.

There wasn't any idea that you could belong to a tribe and then also have the religion of another tribe. If you were in a tribe, you were just part of that ethos. You had the character of that tribe. Every tribe had a different character, and if you wanted to adopt the rituals of another tribe, which we would probably say would be the religion, then you were committing a grave sin against that tribe. You were basically excommunicating yourself. Separation of church and state was stipulated by Jesus when he said "Render therefore under Caesar, the things which are Caesar's, and unto God, the things that are God's," and it was in the book, The City of God by Saint Augustine that he wrote that while the state was essential for an orderly society, it was still not in and of itself legitimate. It didn't have any legitimacy outside of the legitimacy given to it by god.

He wrote, "What are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men. It is ruled by the authority of a prince. It is knit together by the pact of the confederacy. The booty is divided by the law agreed on. If by the admittance of a band of men this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues people. It assumes more plainly the name of a kingdom because reality is now manifestly conferred upon it, not quite a removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity."

So you see here, this distinctly anti-government, in fact revolutionary spirit, within the church by one of the great doctors of the church, Saint Augustine. This was not an anomaly either, and from the beginning, since the fall of Rome, Rodney Stark argues in his book, it was an apocalyptic event. True, the fall of Rome was an apocalyptic event for most peoples, but it actually led to a great outpouring of technology, of innovation and of thought, that led people over the course of many centuries, while they were rebuilding their respective countries and within the bosom of the Christian church, nourished by a Christian mythos, to develop these ideas that were anti-imperial and revolutionary, and more geared towards the impoverished, more geared towards the cherishing of the free will of individuals, which was really unheard of in Greco-Roman times.

For example, Aristotle believed that slavery was a necessary evil just because if there were no slaves, how are we going to just sit around and write philosophy? You have to have slaves for that! But it was radically different for Christian theologians and the way people at that time, even though slavery was imposed across Europe after the fall of Rome, because Rome had many slaves, but they didn't have the military anymore to enforce slavery, but slavery sprung back up. But it was Christian theologians who saw that if we were all brothers in Christ, then it was a moral imperative to free slaves. So then the church began to give the sacrament to slaves, and by doing that, by conferring this Christian ideal on slaves, that universalized mankind and in many ways that, in and of itself, led to a breakthrough in terms of how people viewed not only one another, but the world itself, their relations with one another. Just as Paul says, there is neither Jew nor Greek, I can't remember the rest of it...

Harrison: nor free nor slave.

Corey: ...nor free nor slave in Christ. That was the foundational ethic that made it impossible to view the world in parochial and tribal ways that we see a resurgence of now. We obviously see it as a negative, as a step backwards. But, in large part, this universalization of consciousness and a bestowing on all people the right of being a human being was fundamentally in the West, a fruit of Christianity.

Harrison: From the perspective of someone living today, I think, like you said in the very beginning, we tend to look in the past as being the source of all evil, essentially. So, we look back at our Christian history and tend to think that all of the evils of either the present or past evils, were the result of Christianity. There's this tendency to see even the present in terms of the past, but in terms of that negativity. So, if the church was responsible for all of those past evils, it bears the sins of its fathers, essentially, and it is still a force for evil because of that.

But, it's really a simplistic way of looking at history in general, because in every time period, in the present and at every previous present, it's not like any period of time was strictly, completely evil. There was no good that came into the world in any past epoch I think it would be charitable, to use a Christian phrase, to look back at history and try to tease out and separate the wheat from the chaff, and look at what really was going on. What were the positive and negative developments?

So, of course, we're all somewhat familiar with, even just on the surface, of some of the evils of the past. The first things that come to my mind if I think, well, okay, evil Christianity in the past, there's the Inquisition and the Crusades. You've got imperial Christian rulers enforcing or spreading the gospel with the sword, essentially, and gaining converts, conquering people. With just the entire weight of that imperial, totalitarian kind of top-down structure of government and control and hierarchical society, it's essentially like the patriarchy, or how the feminists think of the patriarch. It's this monolithic bad thing.

But, look at the positive developments. You mentioned slavery. Well it was Christians primarily who abolished slavery and the reason, like you said, was because within Christian dogmas, there is an implicit and often, even explicit universality in the ethics and the morality. You go back to Paul. If you read Paul, the shortest letter in the Pauline corpus, the epistle to Philemon, this was a letter addressing a runaway slave. At no point does Paul like say that slavery is a bad thing. But there's still within Paul's approach, this implicit attitude. You can read Paul and say, "Well, he may not have denounced slavery, but it's implicit in what he's writing."

You can see how later generations would read texts like those in the New Testament and say, maybe slavery isn't such a good idea, because this slave - Onesimus I think was his name, can't remember for sure - but basically translates as useful, I think. That was the slave name, useful slave, essentially. Slaves were accepted as Christians. So it wasn't this exclusive thing. There's neither free nor slave, that every one was the same. Everyone had the same status within that new identity group, that new Christian community.

So, even if at points, some passages in Paul might seem exclusive, because they were at the time. He still created a group. You were either a Christian or you weren't Christian but the new group was inclusive in a way that all other groups were not, because he did have this kind of revelatory, transformational experience.

I think of it in terms of Dąbrowski, this positive disintegration where all the old way, well, the old Paul and the old ways in which he saw the world and saw himself kind of disintegrated and this new Paul came about, which he had identified with Christ. So in this transformation, you can see it as kind of a rejection of not only his past self, but a rejection of everything bad he saw in the options available at the time. He was basically creating a new option, a new way of approaching, a new way of seeing the world, and seeing the self and seeing the community. The universality implicit within that actually is what has led to so many positive developments over the past two thousand years. Of course there have been negative developments like there always are, but we have to give credit to the positive, too.

So, with the abolition of slavery, there are movements that started in Europe, essentially. To kind of broaden the conversation from strictly speaking, Christianity to just Western Civilization, especially in the left and university academic critiques of Western Civilization, there isn't really an acknowledgement that actually some good things came out of Western Civilization too. It hasn't all been imperial bloodlust and conquering etcetera. The West actually were the ones to abolish slavery.

You never really see that brought up as a point. It's like, well, yes, in the United States for instance, yes there were slaves, and that was a bad thing, and everyone kind of acknowledges that, but how many people really acknowledge the fact that slavery was abolished? To realize what a remarkable thing that actually was, to think there was this, like slavery as an institution was around for millennia.

As far back as you look in so-called civilization, since ancient Near East times, there have been slaves, and there has been slavery and everyone has enslaved everyone else and people have enslaved each other too. It wasn't always race-based In Rome for instance, like there were Roman slaves, slaves in the Roman empire, and then there were the slaves in the conquered people. Anyone could be a slave given the right circumstances. But who ended that? And why did it end?

So, you go back to the ideas in Christianity, and there is this idea of universality in Christ, as they put it, as Paul put it. What happens is, like when a new value like that, a new idea gets introduced into the history of thought and of ideas, and ideas in practice, that permeates to the point where you're always going to get negativity and evil and ideas perverted for ulterior aims. But when a new idea gets introduced, that permeates. So now you've got this idea spreading, the idea of 'everyone has value'. I don't know, you need someone to first of all say it, and then through the spread of this religion, then it gets propagated throughout history and throughout time, right?

Corey: Right. Those debates that you see Jordan Peterson engaging in with Sam Harris, are usually framed in this idea of "do we really even need the sacred?" Then the people debating Jordan Peterson will define the sacred as a bunch of silly stories. So then you're kind of left with, 'why does he think that we need a bunch of silly, stupid stories? I can't believe that he thinks we need stupid stories.' Well, Jordan Peterson is saying obviously nobody thinks that we need to keep every stupid story that has ever been written and abase our lives around that.

The thing is, that's not what's at stake here. What we're talking about with the sacred is, clearly these people have never experienced anything like the sacred and most of us probably never will, especially to the level that we're talking about here, with Saint Paul and monks, and mystics, and all these people having experiences that radically changed their value system in ways that they viewed the world completely differently. When they experienced the sacred, it created a psychic shift that led them to live their lives in a way that was better and provided meaning to the lives of other peoples.

So, in that sense, do you want meaning in your life, or no? Arguably at the core, that's what a lot of these people are looking for when they're seeking the sacred. On that level, of course we need the sacred. Something that we don't really talk about very much, is how we view the sacred in terms of belief systems and how important belief systems are in what our personal and individual beliefs about the universe are, in terms of the effects we have on others and in the lives of other people.

Just for example, in Christianity, the belief that we all sin and that we have the personal responsibility to stop sinning, was a big shift in terms of how people viewed their own personal responsibility. It placed personal responsibility and actually, the individual at the center of political thought and religious thought and how we viewed whether we should feel guilty about, you know, doing this or that, and our relationship with the divine. In Christianity, this problem of how we're supposed to orient towards the universe, how we're supposed to orient towards the sacred, was solved by the idea that, okay, yes, life is miserable, and it's full of pain and suffering as everyone under the sun knows, and as Žižek pointed out in that debate with Jordan Peterson, it gets so bad that even Christ himself on the cross can become an atheist and renounced his own religion! He is god incarnate and he can become an atheist.

But, at the same time, the belief, this imagery, this belief in a cruciform god, a god that dies and is resurrected, is a radically transformative image, that when you believe in it, it makes it seem like anything is possible. Yes, life is suffering and it's horrible, but there is hope in striving and bearing your cross, so to speak. At the core of it, I think that was what caused Christianity to spread so rapidly. It did solve this tragedy of existence and it did it in a way, that you know, you can't just dismiss it as a fairy-tale, as a group of fairy-tales because at it's very core, it is a problem. Like Peterson would probably say, it's like a problem of problems, at its very core. And then Christianity - and this is one of the themes in Rodney Stark's book - is that by solving this problem, it freed up the intellectual energies for countless individuals to begin solving other problems. Then arguably, this then led to the development of a very robust theology, which is what Rodney Stark says was critical in the development of science.

Because it was this theology that placed god, the ultimate intelligent designer, so to speak, outside of creation, but all of creation was his secret. He had secrets everywhere. So, no matter how you looked, if you investigated, you could come up with a rational understanding of why god did what he did, and this was the foundational hypothesis of science. That was the hypothesis. 'Okay, we can do science because the universe is rational, because god created it, and god is the ultimate rational being'.

It's not just Rodney Stark who said that. I've got a quote here from Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher that we've talked about quite a bit. He shocked his audiences in 1925 when he said that "The greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement was the inexpungible belief that there's a secret, a secret which can be unveiled. And how has this conviction been so vividly implanted in the European mind? It must come in the medieval insistence on the rationality of god, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah, and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered. The search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality."

Newton, Kepler, Galileo, all of them regarded creation itself as a book. Everyone viewed it as a clockwork mechanism. This, obviously is one of the main reasons why we have such a mechanistic view of the universe today, but it's after a couple of centuries, 'well there's no god out there, we didn't find god'. But that just reflects the degeneracy of your overall worldview, a forgetfulness of the history of the original hypothesis. It wasn't set up to find god in the universe, it was just finding out how god created the universe, and what it was, that you knew the laws were there, and as that moves forward, in time, you're naturally, as you become more intelligent, you go on to greater and greater questions, greater and greater problems that don't require a belief in god.

So then we get to this problem we have today, where now our god is this abstract theorizing about how the world works, believing in our own abstract statements. Just reading about the history of Christianity and how the religious problem led to the scientific problem provides a bridge over that impasse. I don't know what that bridge is personally, but it just seems to me that there's a way out when you know where the problem came from, what problem everyone is trying to solve with these abstract theories, and then there's some way forward through that impasse.

Elan: Well it's interesting to hear you frame the problem in terms of a bridge. I think one of the answers to the bridge question, what is going to bring us forward, is like you were saying, Corey, a reverence for the sacred. It's a look to those things that are part of the mystery, part of what is higher than ourselves in the universe. It's a reverence, a humility for things that we don't understand and a deep rigor into the questions that we're asking, but also a kind of adherence to knowing what we know, at least at a very basic, moral and ethical level.

In the parts of the book that I've read, what Stark does is cite famous people, theologians, scientists, royalty, who have done their little part in their corner of their position to carry forward, if not the letter of Christianity, then the spirit of it. In looking in some of this, you come to realize that Western civilization as we now experience it, at least in large part, all the successes that have been achieved are kind of invisible. We take them for granted. We don't realize where they have come from.

So, like you were saying earlier Harrison, you the first thing that comes to mind when you think of historical Christianity, or at least one of a couple of the things that loom large, are all the destructive ways in which Christianity has been used in the name of wielding power such as the crusades and other things. But there's this kind of invisible structure of rationality, of achievement, of goals that have been met by people who had this higher reverence for things.

There's one passage in Stark's book in a chapter called The Rise of Individualism, that was quite interesting and could have been written by Jordan Peterson himself, I felt! The book was written in 2005, so I think it speaks quite clearly to the fact that these ideas are not just Peterson's interpretation of the values and the moral compass that Christianity has provided for people. Well, let me just read it here. It says,

"From the beginning Christianity has taught that sin is a personal matter, that it does not inhere primarily in the group, but each individual must be concerned with her or his personal salvation. Perhaps nothing is of greater significance to the Christian emphasis on individualism, than the doctrine of free will. If, as Shakespeare wrote, the fault is "in ourselves", it is because we believe we have the opportunity to choose, and the responsibility to choose well. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, whose gods were remarkably lacking in virtues, and did not concern themselves with human misbehavior, other that failures to propitiate them in an appropriate manner, the Christian god is a god who rewards virtue and punishes sin.

This conception of god is incompatible with fatalism. To suggest otherwise is to blame one's own sins upon god, to hold that god not only punishes sins but causes them to occur. Such a view is inconsistent with the entire Christian outlook. The admonition "go and sin no more" is absurd if we are mere captives of our fate. Rather, Christianity was founded on the doctrine that humans have been given the capacity and, hence the responsibility to determine their own actions. Saint Augustine wrote again and again that we "possess a will," and that, from this it follows that whoever desires to live righteously and honorably can accomplish this. Nor is this view inconsistent with the doctrine that god knows ahead of time what choices will be made.

Writing in refutation of Greek and Roman philosophers, Augustine asserted both that god knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do, by our free will, whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us, only because we will it, but that all things come from fate, we do not say. Nay, we affirm that nothing comes to pass by fate. While god knows that we will freely decide what we will freely decide to do, he does not interfere. Therefore it remains up to us to choose virtue or sin."

Again, if you've been listening to Jordan Peterson and his underlying message, he has extracted, I think, one of the core messages of Christianity. You don't have to call yourself a Christian or identify with the trappings of the religion to acknowledge that these are very useful and valuable rules to live by. So that was one thing that impressed me. The book was written in 2005 and clearly there does appear to be a through line, a line of force that we can see being rebirthed and resuscitated by Peterson today.

Harrison: Well, since this is a show on Christianity, I'm going to just play devil's advocate for a minute here. Having read the book myself, I'm interested to know more about it, maybe even read it one of these days. But I'm wondering whether and maybe you guys can tell me, is his point that Christianity is responsible for all these great things, or that basically the Christian ideas were compatible with some of these advances that we see? Maybe the sin one is an exception. I don't know enough about different belief systems and ancient kind of philosophies to be able to say. But it seems to me that a lot of the ideas are just as compatible with other systems too.

This is the example I'd give. So with the advancement of science and the birth of scientific practice within the Christian era, that Christian theology and the development of Christian theology, was consistent with those aims, with seeing the ordered universe and then discovering that order and understanding it and putting it in a system where everything fits together in an orderly manner and makes sense, essentially.

But the Greeks were doing that too and the Greeks weren't Christians. The whole idea of Greek philosophy was to create a system that would explain everything and no branch of what we call science today and no interest was off-limits. So you had math and biology and physiology and physics and moral theory and theology. All of these things were valid topics and the goal was to create a system in which all of them fit and in which they didn't contradict each other.

So, the idea was to create this speculative metaphysics, this cosmology, this system, in which not only the study of those made sense, but the things being studied themselves made sense, and all fit together. So, the way I kind of see it now is that it wasn't so much Christianity that made that possible in the later rise of the scientific giants like Newton and Galileo and all of them. It's that it was just a compatible belief system. It wasn't Christianity per se, it was just the Christianity as it had developed, also allowed those things to be possible, whereas they were previously possible in the system of Greek philosophy too.

In that quote, he talked about, I think the Roman and Greek philosophies. When we talked about Paul and the Stoics, there's a lot of similarity between Paul and Stoicism for instance. So you could take a philosophy like Roman Stoicism and come to a lot of the same conclusions. It's just that Stoicism didn't become a major religion like Christianity did. Christianity had the advantage of, if not actively taking - that's debatable, I think it did, I think Paul did to some degree adapt some Stoic ideas - but the advantage that Christianity had was that it took this more abstract system of a philosophical school and turned it into this community-based thing, more of what we would call today a religion and that allowed it to spread as a cult at the time, where you become Christian and your friend likes you, and your friend says, "oh I like this guy, and maybe I'll become a Christian too".

That's in another of Rodney Stark's books The Rise of Christianity. That's how he argues that Christianity spread, is because that's how conversion happens. It's through family and friendships that you make. He actually argues that the rise of Christianity wasn't this great miracle. A lot of Christians today would say that, "oh, Christianity couldn't have become a great religion today without some great miracle to allow its rapid spread". He says, well, no. He actually looked at the statistics and the math and said, "Well it's perfectly possible that it spread just through the mechanisms that we know, by which we know conversion happens, which is friendships and family connections, essentially".

He gives the example of the Moonies, and how the Moonies rose and expanded in the United States, and it was basically, one missionary coming over, rents a room in this lady's apartment, and then that lady and her friend all converted, and everything spread from there. It wasn't active proselytizing, going door-to-door to get converts. The converts came from the personal relationships that developed.

So maybe now you guys can answer my question. Is he in the camp that it was specifically Christianity that made all these things possible and without Christianity none of these things would have happened, or is he more in the camp that, "Well it just so happened that Christianity allowed for a lot of these things to happen that might have happened otherwise"?

Corey: No, he's definitely in the camp that it's Christianity, specifically Christian theology that made all of these things happen but, also that it's because Christian theology was compatible with capitalism and science and all of these different things. I was credulous too when I first read the book. So, I was also reading historian Toby E. Huff's book The Rise of Early Modern Science and going through other materials and source notes and finding that a lot of people are not at the same thought, that theology made this possible, but they're facing the same problems when they're trying to explain why science didn't rise during Greco-Roman times, why science didn't rise in China, why science didn't rise in Islam. Why was it that Western Europe created science? So Stark's hypothesis is that it was Christian theology that made it possible because this very robust theological argument that god created the universe, for one thing, god created the universe, set it like a clock and then made it run, was completely different from other conceptions of the universe.

For example, Greco-Romans believed that there were other forces, like living beings in the skies, and that the universe itself was kind of distinct from the gods, that the gods themselves were subject to the vicissitudes of fate, and that there wasn't really an arced godhead. The theology was one part of it, but another aspect of it was - like we were talking about - individualism, free will and this kind of sense of universal history, universal knowledge that was capable of being discovered through discovering god's secrets. There's one rational god that created the universe. His son was Jesus Christ and so on and so forth.

The other theological conceptions of the universe were not completely incompatible. For example in Islam, they didn't get the chance to create the institutions of science, even though so much of Copernicus' data, just the raw data and mathematical theories, and all the theorizing about the heliocentric universe was there and he got it from the Arabs. But they didn't create the science in the same way. They weren't able to make that leap forward because of theological commitments to a geocentric, closed system. If you were to be caught practicing what was at the time called foreign sciences - they weren't natural sciences, they were the foreign sciences - you were at risk of being seen as impious and if you were impious, then obviously that's a huge mark against you in very strict Islamic societies.

He had similar arguments for China but the point remains. He is arguing that the theological view of Christianity made it so that there was an emphasis on freedom. So then that freedom manifested not only in political freedom, but in free markets. He cites the works of Saint Albert Magnus who was writing about free market rates of interest and whether or not you were a sinner if you were practicing usury and all of these different ideas of what it meant to come into commerce, into the world, and whether or not people should be free when they do it. It was very much Christian morality that said, "Yes, people should be free as long as they're not hurting one another, or they're not enslaving one another they should be free to participate in the market at their own leisure".

Science was another aspect, that you couldn't have capitalism without political freedom, and it was the Catholic church that was the main voice for it. But he doesn't argue in the book that the Christian church came in and then everything was hunky dory.

Basically, what I'm getting from it - and e doesn't say it explicitly - but this is the way I'm seeing it, is that you have to divorce this belief system, this thought center, basically, from the nuts and bolts reality. In some places it was able to manifest more fully as long as the conditions were right. If the conditions were right, there was at least some amount of freedom, and they were inculcated in a Christian atmosphere. If the geography was right. They could trade, and they had the ability to create the institutions, then they did.

But, in other areas, like, for example you mentioned the Inquisition and the Spanish empire, obviously, that was a very "Christian" society, but it failed miserably, because it was basically just living off the loots of other parts of the world, off of its empire. It wasn't implementing these innovations that other countries were implementing, just because it could live high on the hog, and get away with it. But the problem, is, I guess what you'd say is, "Was that real Christianity?" {laughter}

Harrison: That wasn't real Christianity. {laughter}

Corey: Were they practicing real Christianity? I take the hypothesis as a hypothesis. But, he put forth a very good argument for it, even though it's not a hundred percent. You can't just say, "Well since I believe in Christianity, then I'm a scientist". It's not that. It's more that this moral matrix that's in Christianity was compatible with all of these different things, and in fact, incentivized all of them, in a way that, like Jordan Peterson would say, was the star above the horizon that everybody could focus on. As a society, you had this guiding value, this very complex but intricate and attractive moral system that told you that suffering had been overcome, evil had been conquered, you have life in heaven, your sin can be forgiven if you want to, but you have individual responsibility to go out and to make the world a better place. That led in and of itself, to what he would say is that Protestant ethic. Obviously there weren't any Protestants at the time, but that was the ethic that early Christians had, especially in monasteries.

He points out that in the Catholic church, they owned so much land, and there were all of these monastic estates which developed, and they weren't like your average monk who wanted to go and retire and meditate and get away from work. They also weren't like the Greco-Roman elite who hated work. The basic ethic of the Greco-Romans was that if you had to work, you were lowly, on the level of a slave. But rather, for these Christians, the monks, and these early Christian communities, work was your duty. If you avoided work, then you risked being sinful. "Idle hands are the devil's plaything, or workshop', or whatever that saying is. So they went to work, literally, every day and conscientiously developed large estates where they could grow and sell wine and different supplies. They would look for new, innovative technologies in order to increase their production. They created huge fishponds because they weren't allowed to eat meat, a lot of them, so they created huge fishponds and farmed the fish and sold it to the local communities. It got to the point that they were so wealthy that then they started hiring people from outside the community to come and work for them and they became uber-capitalist firms because they had to manage a workforce. They had to think about how to use the capital from every year in order to increase their worth. Yet they were distinctly Christian. They had a distinct Christian mindset, just like any Christian monk would have, but they were just frugal. Just uber-frugal Christian capitalists.

Harrison: Uber-frugal.

Corey: {laughter}

Elan: Well, it kind of reminds me a little of just the family unit and how these monks who worked on the estate had, through Christianity, this social cohesion. They were all kind of on board with each other, thought in a similar way about similar things, were constructive, reached out to the community and basically lived and fulfilled useful lives, where outside of that structure, you had, I guess, royalty, and serfdom, and all of these variants of slavery and other types of things going on in Europe in the last few hundred years.

So it seems as though there is this kind of outgrowth of innovation that these monks and groups of the religious were able to build on.

Harrison: Well, it sounds to me like - coming back to my question - that within the Christian worldview, that there were several ideas that went really well together and allowed for a lot of things to happen. I want to read another quote from Whitehead. This is from The Function of Reason. This was published in 1929 actually, so four years after that quote you read earlier, Corey. I'll just read this paragraph.

"All things work between limits. This law applies even to the speculative reason."

He's distinguishing between theoretical reason and practical reason. So the coming up with methodologies, and things that work, and methods that work, and then this more speculative theoretical reason which comes up with the bigger framework where all the pieces fit together. So this was what I was talking about earlier in the Greek philosophical tradition.

So he says,

"The understanding of a civilization is the understanding of its limits. The penetration of the generations from the 13th to the 17th centuries worked within the limits of the ideas provided by scholasticism."

So this would be like Thomas Aquinas and kind of a traditional Christian theology and philosophy.

"These five centuries represent a period of the broadening of interests rather than a period of intellectual growth. Scholasticism had exhausted its possibilities. It had provided a capital of fundamental ideas, and it had wearied mankind in its efforts to provide a final dogmatic system by the method of meditating on those ideas. New concepts crept in, slowly at first, and finally like an avalanche.

Greek literature, Greek art, Greek mathematics, Greek science. The men of the Renaissance wore their learning more lightly than did the scholastics. They tempered it with the joy of direct experience. Thus another ancient secret was discovered. A secret never wholly lost, but sadly in the background, among the learned section of the medievals, the habit of looking for oneself, the habit of observation."

So he's basically talking about the rise of science here, too. Later on, on the next page, just to give some background on scholasticism, he's not saying it was a bad thing, because the way he talks about scholastics is that just like the Greeks, they were trying to come up with a system of undoubtable premises from which to come with everything else, so, these really crystal clear concepts like you see in Thomas Aquinas where everything fits together logically, and then that's just a complete description of the world. There's nowhere else to go from that, it's just, 'well, here's the world, and it all makes sense and we know it with one hundred percent certainty'. Whitehead's basically saying that's not actually the way it works. That can't be correct. There can be no dogmatism in speculative philosophy. There should always be the desire for something better, for a better understanding, and that's always possible, because we can never have a complete understanding.

So he's saying, that was the problem with scholasticism. Basically it's dogmatism. And because they exhausted their possibilities using this dogmatic system - it's already all there, we already know everything - that's essentially why they didn't develop over those five centuries very much. But then he says, the re-casting of the medieval ideas so as to form the foundation of modern sciences, which was one of the intellectual triumphs of the world.

So, again, this was also within the Christian tradition, but it was like something was going on along in a certain way, but then another element got added in. You had scholasticism. You had the theology and it allowed for the birth of this science but it needed an injection of something new, something novel that lack of satisfaction, right? Because the scholasticism could be termed like satisfaction in the way we were talking about it on the show we did on happiness. Okay, it was complete. It was done. But you need to inject a bit of dissatisfaction in there. 'Well no, there's more to it.'

So it got out of the realm of the scholastic dogma to, like he said, the direct observation, and that's what allowed for the birth of science as we know it now, whereas previously it wasn't there. It was that empiricism, that, "I'm going to verify these things for myself. I can observe that.", He talks about how that developed with Newton and people like that, and then the problems there too.

Just to summarize and bring together the points that I've been trying to make, what the whole Christian system did was provide the raw material for a lot of things to grow up out of the Christian tradition. It wasn't necessarily that they were there in essence within the system. It's not like you convert to Christianity and therefore you all of a sudden become a great scientist, like you said Corey. But it creates the possibilities for those things to develop, and it did create those possibilities.

So what we saw was that through the universal idea of every person as having free will and being partially responsible for their own salvation - you do have to put some effort into not sinning - but also the fact that everyone is potentially like a brother or sister. Then you have these ideas of freedom and openness and these possibilities for new things to enter into the individual and into the community and the mental life of the wider community. So you have the allowance for development of things like free exchanges and free market and for moral philosophy and for a view of nature that sees it as inherently ordered like the Greeks saw it, but then with this added impulse to observe and test. Again, you could bring this back to freedom - the freedom to see order and to understand order because of the divinity which is in everyone. You have all of these things then allow for the developments of science and economic systems and liberation-type movements, with the system of slavery for instance.

So it seems to me that all of these things were made possible by it, not necessarily because they were exclusively Christian ideas, or exclusively within Christianity. It's just that it was like a convenient marriage of a whole bunch of different ideas that allowed these things to happen.

Corey: Yeah, I think I'd have to agree in some sense, but I can't think of it as just being convenience. Maybe it's just my own moral taste bud for the sacred. There just seems to be just a way in which, Christianity, like you said, was compatible, these ideals were compatible with a lot of things. But I also think that these ideals in and of themselves have a separate existence. So it's not just that it was a convenience, but it's more like when people connect with certain ideals, then those are the kinds of things that become available. That's the kind of future that opens up for humans, when you connect with ideals like free will, personal responsibility, questioning, constant questioning, an openness to rethink previously held theological beliefs. For instance St. Paul said that slavery is okay, but then theologians said "Well, we used our reason and we're going to reason that actually it's not okay to enslave a fellow Christian".

So this openness to use reason and to follow what previously was a Stoic path, reserved just for a few, but now opening it up for society, when you follow these kinds of ideals, then science, freedom, those are the kinds of things that you see. Obviously when you look at history, just blind collectivism, tribalism, many different things that have been tried, those kinds of ideals it turns out are not as conducive to such pursuits.

I agree with everything that you're saying and I just want to add that, that I don't think it's just convenience, but rather a fundamental part of nature that we don't really grapple with. We haven't really had the maturity, I guess to grapple with it, as a society. Obviously on the show, we have talked about the independent state of the mind quite a bit, but yes, mind is important. Beliefs are important. Beliefs can be pathogenic or they can open you up to unlimited possibilities. You have to watch out for that. {laughter}

Elan: Well, I would just like to add that Stark may have been anticipating some of the nihilistic tendencies of Western culture when he wrote this book. I think that he kind of saw a place where his understanding would fill in the lack of understanding of Christianity's value to Western civilization. I could agree with you as well, Harrison, that it's not necessarily so much Christianity, per se, that is responsible for many of the accomplishments in science and theology and humanity of Western civilization, but that it was a firmament of it, in some ways. It created the possibility for its fruition in many areas. I think it's safe to say that Stark was, in presenting this information with his book, trying to make the point that Christianity definitely has a place in some of the most valuable developments of Western civilization and we don't have to go whole hog, necessarily and reduce it to only Christianity as the brightest of the best feature of Western civilization, but that it has its place.

Along those lines, Corey, at the top of the show you mentioned the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral I just wanted to take a moment here to recap some of the major stories that we've been looking at for the past year or two, ramping up in the last six months, just to give a kind of overall picture of some of the developments that I think, are worthy of raising some eyebrows in terms of the persecution, of if not Christianity, then perhaps the culture or the traditions of Christianity and Western civilization over the past however many months or years.

So, a few things. One, we've been seeing that it hasn't just been Notre Dame that has been desecrated by fire. There has been much information that has come out to suggest that it was no random accident. There has been a pattern of vandalism and fires all across France, dozens of them, over the past few months in particular, which should give one pause. We had the terrorism in Sri Lanka, the eight bombs that went off in both churches and hotels, that have killed over 300 and injured another 500. We have acts in universities where individuals who were just, kind of, handing out Christian literature are being asked to stop because some are finding it offensive. We have Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, tweeting sympathetic tweets in sympathy with Muslims who were killed in the Christchurch terror. But when it's the Christians in Sri Lanka, it's "Easter worshippers". They can't even bring themselves - or they're bring scripted and told to present this information in a certain way - that 'we have sympathy with the "Easter worshippers"', not the Christians.

I mean, the list goes on. There's this whole kind of schism in Ukraine with the Orthodox church there trying to split of from what is a many hundreds of years old connection to the Orthodox church of Russia and some of them are comparing this to the schism of the 11th century. There's this kind of social, political, religious attack on, if not the symbols of Christianity, then Christianity itself and it's global and it's all happening at the same time.

And last but not least, some people see the radical left postmodern nihilistic attacks on the Constitution in the US and the Christian values that the US was founded on, as a kind of sideways attack on Christianity and Christian values itself. We're seeing all of this happening at the same time I think it's multifaceted. I think there are geopolitical dimensions to it. I think there are social dimensions to it in the form of a social contagion of people who have only defined Christianity in terms of its worst ills.

But it doesn't bode well for those values and those morals and traditions that have been constructive for the Western world, when it seems to be under attack in all these different dimensions.

Corey: Yeah, thank you very much for that recap Elan. I think that's really important to keep in mind, how Christian ideals are under attack. I think we're going to wrap this show up, and before I do, I just wanted to read just one paragraph from an article on Ridar that I think really strips these Christian values down to their core, so that even if you don't like Christianity, you hate it, you grew up Catholic and you hated the institution, we can all share in what the values really are. This is what he writes:

"This is what made the Christian gospels something familiar and alluring, even captivating for the masses of people from the Roman world. It was a story they had heard long before and had learned to admire and respect. Stories of endurance, of suffering and courage in the face of overwhelming fate had prepared them to hear the same story again, but now one in which they themselves were included in a new way. They themselves were invited to participate, individually, as protagonists and main characters. In the Christian story, each individual was required to repeat the story of the captain, to take up his or her own cross, and follow to the end of life, whatever that end might be."

So on that note, take up that cross and bear it, clean your room! {laughter}. Thank you very much for listening in everybody, have a wonderful week and we'll see you again next time.

Harrison: Alright, see you everyone.

Elan: Bye!