The defense of Christianity continues

(Note: in addition to Kristor’s comments at Mangan’s see the continuing discussion at VFR on whether Christianity and America are inherently suicidal.)

Kristor writes:

Amazing that the thread at Mangan’s [“Auster on Christianity and Open Borders,” now 22,000 words long] keeps going. I have added the following comments.

Comment 1:

Gilbert: the idea that Christianity killed Rome was an invention of anti-Catholic Enlightenment philosophes—i.e., of liberals. If Christianity enervates warriors, how do you explain Bohemund and Don Juan, Charlemagne and Charles Martel, Godfrey Bouillon and Richard Coeur de Lion and Jan Sobieski? If Christianity enervates cultures, how do you account for the fact that the vigorous “barbarians” who sacked Christian Rome and Christian Carthage were themselves Christians? If Christianity makes men pacific, how was it that Constantinople managed to hold out against the Muslim onslaught for 700 years? If Christianity erases nations, how do you account for any of the wars between such nations—why aren’t Christian nations perpetually at peace with each other? If Christianity weakened the West, how was it that the Christian West controlled every square inch of Muslim territory right up to the end of WWII—not because we particularly wanted to, or tried to, but because it had all fallen to us as a result of a sideshow to one of our own internecine conflicts?

I do most strongly recommend that you read two of Rodney Stark’s books. They will utterly change your ideas about history. You will like it; afterward, you will like every part of the West better than you already do—including Christianity. Try them: Victory of Reason, and The Rise of Christianity.

Comment 2:

The atheist commenters to this thread have asked a number of times why it was the Western European Christians who took over the world, rather than the Eastern Christians. They ask whether this does not indicate that the individualism, enterprise, science, &c. of the West are West European rather than Christian. It’s a good question. Is the success of the West due to Greece or to Jerusalem?

Both. Of course.

Christianity doesn’t offer to make its converts something other than themselves. Rather, it offers to enable them to become more fully themselves: more fully individuated in the particular beauties and ideals that each of them is peculiarly suited to express within the general unfolding of Divine Providence for the whole cosmos. Thus to be a more virtuous, holy Dennis Mangan or Lawrence Auster is to be more deeply and completely and idiosyncratically—in short, more perfectly—Dennis, or Lawrence. No doctrine that construes itself as true can offer to do anything else; for adoption of true beliefs by any person must have the effect of making him better at being himself, if only because believing and acting upon true beliefs helps him survive and prosper.

If this is in fact what Christianity does for the individual people of a nation, ipso facto it would have the same effect upon that nation. The effect on Judean or Greek society of pervasive conversion to Christianity should be to bring out the best in those societies; to make them more deeply, completely, and idiosyncratically expressive of the characteristics that make them Judean or Greek. Thus if Greek culture had in its pre-Christian manifestations a unique focus on rationality and individualism—which, pretty clearly, it did—then the effect of conversion to Christianity would have been to make Greeks even more rational and individualistic than they had been.

Ditto for the German tribes. Whatever the virtues of the pre-Christian West, Christianity—if true—could have had no other effect than to strengthen and amplify the expression of those virtues. So the idea that Western Europeans were peculiarly Western European before conversion is quite compatible with the idea that they were even more peculiarly Western European afterward.

Comment 3:


You write, “Christianity told people that the life on earth is, for the most part useless. The material world is only temporary, so people no longer practiced the virtues and simply waited for the kingdom of heaven. The army was no longer considered a priority, because God will not reward the brave man of the legions. Christianity corroded the very pillars of the Roman society.” Your argument makes sense, but unfortunately none of these statements, I am sorry to tell you, are true. You really, really need to read up a bit more on Christianity before you attack it.

If Christ thought life on earth is useless, why did He come here and die for its sake? Christianity does not preach that the practice of virtue is pointless. That was one of the Gnostic heresies. On the contrary, Christianity teaches that everything we do on earth has eternal significance. That’s why Christianity strongly emphasizes practical virtue. Christians were sought out as counterparties in business, because they were renowned for honesty and fair dealing. Christian merchants therefore enjoyed an advantage over their pagan competitors, and tended to do better. This was one of the many worldly reasons pagans were attracted to Christianity—one of the many reasons capitalism flourished more among Christians.

The army was no longer considered a priority in Christian Rome? If so, it wasn’t because Rome was Christian; the barbarians who overran the Empire were Christian, too. The problem with the Roman Army was that, beginning long before the Empire was Christian, and for that matter before Christ was born, the Army was more and more manned by subject peoples, rather than Romans. The Romans themselves disdained military service, and gave it over to outlanders like Stilicho. When the sons of the patricians begin to consider military service beneath their station, the nation is doomed. The fish rots from the head. This is true for all societies, Christian or not.

Christianity corroded the pillars of Roman society? Gilbert, when economic devastation engulfed Western Europe after the catastrophic loss of Africa and Iberia to Islam, the Church was the only pillar of Roman society left standing. It was the Church that sustained and preserved whatever was preserved. European diocesan boundaries are those of the old Roman civil administration. As the lines of communication and commerce broke down, education withered everywhere but the Church (with no opportunities in commerce, there was less reason for a young enterprising man to study). Clerics were the only people competent to run things, and they provided the back office staff for the Roman provinces that had been conquered by petty dukes, princes and kings—all of whom styled themselves Romans, aped the Romans, and did their best to preserve the Roman economic and administrative infrastructure under the unremitting onslaught of Muslim piracy all along the Mediterranean coasts, with concomitant raiding deep into Gaul and Italy. When the First Crusade began, the Normans had only just finished expelling the Muslims from southern Italy and Sicily, which the Moors had occupied for 200 years. The fell Norsemen who accomplished this victory, and then went on to conquer the Holy Land, were Christians.

It’s ironic. Liberals whine that Christian societies are the most warlike of all, and you complain that they are the wimpiest of all. History seems to side with the liberals on this particular question.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 23, 2009 12:42 AM | Send

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