24 April 2019

How the darkness fell

The Darkening Age:  The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey (2017)

Most Western people are vaguely aware that the Classical Greco-Roman civilization was remarkably advanced in many areas, and that the well-named Dark Ages that followed marked a substantial retrogression.  Few have any real idea how magnificent that civilization truly was -- nor realize that its downfall was not an organic process but rather was brought about by a deliberate and systematic campaign of savage and brutal destruction from within, sustained over a period of generations.

Nixey tells the story, or much of it.  Her focus is on Greco-Roman art, literature, philosophy, and ways of life, not on science and technology, but what she describes is horrifying enough.  A 20-page bibliography and a further 24 pages of notes attest to the thoroughness of research and sourcing.

In the centuries before Constantine's reign, Christians were a small and only slowly-growing minority in the Roman Empire, hardly noticed at first, later mostly ignored or despised.  Persecution of Christians did occur, notably the genuinely ghastly atrocities of Nero -- but it was rare and sporadic, and the numbers of victims were very small, contrary to the impression given by the lurid Christian literature of martyrdom that focuses on that period.  By the year 312, when Constantine suddenly decided to impose Christianity as the Empire's official religion, it's estimated that only 7% to 10% of the total population was Christian.  That is, Christianity never won its dominant position in the Mediterranean world by persuasion.  It won out only after Constantine hijacked the power of the Roman state on its behalf and imposed it with increasingly ruthless force.

Nixey documents this process as an ever-escalating campaign of cruelty, destruction, and mob violence.  Successively harsher laws to discourage paganism and heretical ideas (a concept which steadily expanded to cover more and more of Greek philosophy and free thought) were accompanied by a descent of civil society into violent chaos, as great cities became infested with menacing mobs of robed Christian thugs who invaded temples and even private homes with impunity to root out and destroy anything hinting at forbidden ideas.  The loss to art alone was beyond calculation, as countless statues and mosaics of magnificent quality were defaced or smashed.  Mass book-burnings, too, were staged to expunge forbidden thought.

The Greeks and Romans had always found it normal for conflicting ideas, even religious ideas, to co-exist and contend with each other.  The various pagan religions of the diverse peoples of the Empire borrowed gods and practices from each other, and generally coexisted peacefully; since the dawn of Greek philosophy conflicting ideas had inspired debate, not violence, amid a general recognition that many questions could not be answered with certainty and that valuable insights might arise from unexpected sources.  The Greco-Roman mind was ill-prepared to confront a mentality of absolute certainty that a single, frozen, immutable truth had been revealed and that all other ideas were of the Devil and should be mercilessly eradicated.

Nixey also spends some page space on another source of conflict -- Greco-Roman sexual culture.  Homosexuality in either gender was unremarkable; indeed, in traditional Greek culture, male bisexuality had been practically a social norm.  Some prejudices did exist, but in general, sexuality was openly celebrated as one of the great pleasures life had to offer, in a way utterly alien to the taboo-clotted repression of the Abrahamic religions.  As Christian dominance grew, one of the highest-priority targets was sexually-oriented art and literature.  To an almost unbelievable degree, the early Christians explicitly condemned and rejected beauty and pleasure, feverishly embracing ugliness, misery, and deprivation in their place.

The excavation of Pompeii, which had been buried under ash by Vesuvius in the first century and thus escaped the campaigns of systematic Christian vandalism, revealed just how thoroughly sexualized the public space in Roman culture had been.  The horrified Victorian archaeologists largely hid the evidence away, and most modern Westerners still have little awareness of this aspect of Classical life.  Eventually the enforcement of Christian taboos escalated to butchery of human beings, with males who engaged in homosexual relations having their genitalia chopped off as punishment.

Towards the end, the Christian state grew increasingly totalitarian, forcing ordinary citizens to act as informers and spies on their neighbors, and enacting draconian laws to stamp out the last vestiges of pagan religious practices.  Finally, even refusal by any pagan to proactively present himself for baptism -- that is, for formal conversion to Christianity -- was made a crime subject to ruthless punishment.

The Greco-Roman civilization was dead.  The Christians had reduced a glorious world of light and color with a vigorous life of the mind to a grey wasteland shrouded with belief in place of thought.  Not until a thousand years later would the Renaissance revive some vestiges of Classical culture and begin to revive the West from its living death.

Reading this book was a somewhat painful experience for me, as watching the film Agora was.  The decline of a great civilization into barbarism is a tragic spectacle, especially this civilization, for which I feel such a powerful attachment and sense of identity.  But it forcefully affirmed my rejection of the lie that the West has "Christian roots" in any sense.  Christianity is an alien contaminant, a poison, utterly antithetical to the true Greco-Roman roots of who and what we are.  I will never forgive the Christian religion, and I will never accept it as a legitimate part of our culture.

Nixey's book has predictably received many negative reviews from Christians, in line with the historical-revisionist "late antiquity" lie which struggles to argue that the Dark Ages weren't really so bad.  Ignore them.  Read this book to learn something of your true heritage -- and who stole it from you long before you were born.
[Second image: The Serapeum of Alexandria in Egypt, built during the Hellenistic period and showing the mix of Greek and Middle Eastern (in this case, Egyptian) influences typical of Hellenistic architecture.  It is believed that in late Roman times it held the last remnants of the Library of Alexandria.  It was destroyed by a Christian mob in the late fourth century.]


Blogger jenny_o said...

Thank you for your review and recommendation. I'll be looking for it.

24 April, 2019 19:09  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

My own reading and study over the past 40 years has led me to exactly the same conclusion. The Taliban has NOTHING on the historical Christian church's totalitarian and supremacist attitudes and practices. Another famous example of its eradication of Greco-Roman same sex sensibiility is the systematic campaign of destruction of the poetic works of the lesbian poet Sappho. Today we only have a few scraps and fragments of her lifetime's work left. Everything else was destroyed.

24 April, 2019 20:01  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

This was fascinating.
I actually feel like I should read the book. Of course, it'll make me mad.
"The Greco-Roman civilization was dead. The Christians had reduced a glorious world of light and color with a vigorous life of the mind to a grey wasteland shrouded with belief in place of thought. Not until a thousand years later would the Renaissance revive some vestiges of Classical culture and begin to revive the West from its living death."
This, right here. Xtianists have always been assholes.


24 April, 2019 20:05  
Blogger Mary said...

I’m about a third of the way through this book. I read it slowly to digest all it has to say. I think it is a fantastic and important book.

One bit I have found interesting so far is how much martyrdom via suicide, played in early Christianity ...so much like what we see in the Muslim world today. The two were so obviously linked...sacrifice, blood and gore and the ever present obedience to the gods. And always the lust for power.

Your review is spot on and so well written. The loss in art, literature and philosophy is almost incomprehensible to the modern world and Christianity seems to be raising its ugly head once again and destruction always seems to follow. Religion is poisonous and the ultimate destroyer.

24 April, 2019 20:32  
Blogger Martha said...

What a great post! I often state that Christianity has a lot of blood on its hand. I'll have to search for this book.

25 April, 2019 17:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jenny_o: I'd be interested to get your impressions of it if you do read it.

Debra: The destruction of Sappho's works was a terrible loss to literature and culture, and I'm a little surprised that Nixey doesn't mention her. The Christians at least utterly failed to erase her from history -- her name, and that of her home island, remain to this day as names for the sexuality she celebrated.

Sixpence: There are things in this book to make almost everyone angry. It has long struck me that the 17 centuries of bigotry, persecution, and murderous cruelty towards gay people was a pointless historical accident that could easily have been avoided. If Christianity had never won out and Classical culture had remained unpoisoned as the basis of Western values, it would all simply never have happened.

Mary: Thanks! I've long thought that the fanatical early Christians must have seemed to the Romans and Greeks very much as al-Qâ'idah or the Taliban seem to us today. Imagine those groups actually taking over and ruling New York or London, and the horror of what happened to the Classical world becomes clear. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the book when you've finished it.

Martha: It's well worth reading. Until I read it, I didn't quite realize how large and ugly the role of Christianity in the fall of civilization really was. Towards the end the Roman Empire faced other problems, but states had fallen before in Classical history and yet the civilization still survived. It was Christianity that killed the life of the mind.

25 April, 2019 19:13  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Wow! ... that was quite a read (your post). Kind of fascinating trying to imagine the way things were back then, when reading related stuff ... great that we still have some history to read too, they didn't get to destroy everything, especially the human spirit/ mind. There was more of respect for nature too, as far as Paganism. And in my view, Islam is just as bad (all of them, they all are rooted in the same shit anywayz) ... I get so sick of this Islamic ass- kissing. I just look at muslims as being a few hundred years behind christians ... which makes sense, I mean, when I hear christians today condemning islam (I told a few myself this in talk) ... christians were doing the same shit fundi muslims do today, when christianity were the same age as islam ... they usually all of the sudden get silent when you tell them that, I know first hand. That's what they ALL do, guy ... destroy every bit of culture, literature, free thought, art/ sculptures, just about anything ... you name it! ... some MF's can't just read a bible or quran, and take it as just literature, they got to live the shit, because they are told to ... that's stupidity. Unbelievable as well how commercialized and sugarcoated christianity has become in 21st century America, they market this shit like f'n fast food joints. That's why I don't get into much as far as religions (I know a little more than the average Joe on the street about it), because much is so hypocritical, nauseating, etc. I have spent too much time as far as I'm concerned years back even listening or debating crap with them when I was younger. Today when they bring this shit up to me, Jesus this, or Jesus that, etc ... my usual response is ... "I really don't give a f*ck" ... they usually understand those words quick. No, I didn't know about the book, or ever even heard of the movie Agora, besides here ... but but does sound interesting, mainly the part of the culture before these religions ripped shit to shreds.

26 April, 2019 08:27  
Blogger Adam said...

Christians, the eternal enemies of knowledge.

26 April, 2019 10:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Islam and Christianity have both produced intolerable barbarities and damage to human progress at various times in their histories. Their dogmas and taboos make them inherently anti-civilization, anti-science, and anti-human. The only times they've been less dangerous is when their adherents took them less seriously.

Adam: Well, not all Christians are, but Christianity certainly is.

27 April, 2019 05:42  
Blogger Mary said...

Good read on the downfall of the Muslim world due to religion, that has had a negative long term effect through present times, with no end in sight for them.
I fear this will happen to America


27 April, 2019 06:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: On medieval science in the Islamic world, this post may be of interest (scroll down a bit). That era was really a revival of Hellenistic thought under (not very strict) Islamic rule. It was no more to the credit of Islam than the work of Galileo and Copernicus was a credit to Christianity. After three centuries, a resurgence of hard-line Islam killed it.

During my time in academia I wrote a couple of papers on al-Ghazâlî. No serious academic holds him solely responsible for the decline of science under Islam. But there's no doubt he did enormous damage. And for centuries orthodox Islam regarded him as the greatest of all Islamic theologians.

27 April, 2019 18:31  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you for the link to your other post. Very interesting and I too believe education is the key to a saner world in many respects, especially religion.
This is all a long game with many ups and downs. We are living in a "down time", I believe now and due to the length of time involved in these slow changes, we may not see the turn around, if there is one.
And climate change could make it all a mute point anyway.

27 April, 2019 19:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I think the Trump setback will turn out to be brief and not very major. Events always seem more serious when you're living through them than in long-term perspective.

28 April, 2019 06:40  
Blogger Mary said...

I’m about half way through the book now. I got waylaid by some other stuff going on and simply not enough hours sometimes.
But it is a fascinating book. I wish it could be taught in colleges as in textbook. Oh how the US would have a different view of religion...well those that have an open mind.

I find it most enlightening in how history repeats and how destructive Christianity was and still is today. Whether it gets to the levels of Ancient Rome, I don’t know. But it certainly is being ramped up right now and the sheep are tightening forces.

I hope your assessment of trump being simply a setback is correct. It does feel because I’m living in it, that times are very dangerous and more is yet to come, as the cult will be around long after trump is gone. Think if it was to be Pence next.

I got a note from another blogger who read it also and really enjoyed it. I can’t shout my praise for it enough. I’ll let you know when I finish...but I’m slow.😊

19 May, 2019 16:20  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

K-dog: Your entire comment was nothing but an endless explication of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. Sorry, I don't have time for the pointless exercise of dealing with all that.

13 March, 2021 22:09  

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