I have seen a number of screeds condemning the Church wholesale for its many past crimes. I agree entirely that the Church has perpetrated many crimes: simony, the massacres, the burning of heretics, the accumulation of wealth, and so on. But I think that some people go too far, rejecting the Church as an entirely evil component of Western history.
This graph, for example, represents a lot of ignorance of Western history. The Church was not, as one book claims, responsible for the collapse of classical civilization. Many hypotheses have been proposed as partial explanations for that collapse, and the "guilty Church" hypothesis has to be at the bottom of a long list of ideas.
I suggest that three factors must be given due consideration in any discussion of the role that the Church played in Western history:
1. The Church's behavior at any given time must be evaluated within the cultural context of the times. For example, simony was merely the Church's own version of a practice that was common in the West. Indeed, the purchase of military offices was standard practice in many Western nations right up into the Napoleonic Wars.
2. The Church was a huge organization consisting of millions of participants spread over nearly two millennia. In any collection of human beings, there will be saints and sinners. There are some truly monstrous figures in Church history; there are also some genuine heroes. I am not excusing the Church for "a few bad apples"; I am instead demanding that the heroes deserve our consideration, too.
3. The Church made many contributions to the advance of Western civilization. It preserved much of the literature of classical civilization. Most of our historical records of the period from the collapse of classical civilization to the Renaissance were written by churchmen. Church thinkers advanced Western thought for centuries. Let us not minimize these important contributions.
Let's consider, for example, the famous confrontation between Galileo and the Church over Copernicanism. The high-school version of this confrontation is that the evil Church, determined to preserve the ancient ways, suppressed scientific progress by punishing Galileo and threatening him with death. The truth is much more complicated, much more interesting, and much less mythological in texture. Galileo engaged in some duplicitous behavior. He had many supporters within the Church, including Cardinal Bellarmine and Pope Paul V and Pope Urban VIII. Wikipedia has an excellent summary of what was a very complicated situation, although it leaves out some important antecedent details.
My intellectual curiosity has led me to explore many topics, and I have learned that it is impossible to understand Western history without a firm grasp of the role, both positive and negative, played by the Church. Along the way, I have learned much that illuminates other areas of interest.
I understand exaggerated stories of church atrocities exist and I am as guilty as anyone of telling historical facts that some dismiss as "products of their time". I recall those historical events so that people will be confronted with the many slaughters, enslavement and oppression that their religions tend to forget. There were practices of torture! There were slaves! There were burned witches!
If religious people have no memory of such events, they need to be reminded. Especially when it comes to modern oppression. It is fine for a community of people to believe homosexuals are "bad" but don't expect the rest of us to submit to such ignorance. Silence of the church condemning such beliefs implies agreement. Does every Christian believe homosexuality is a sin? Do they say it outside their communities? If so, I have a responsibility to stand up and speak out in face of this archaic value. Does every Christian believe women should remain silent in church? Do they declare it publicly? Well, they are entitled to their opinion, and not all opinions are equal. Do they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and if so do they impose such errors on children? If so, I have an obligation to challenge them.
You may have "learned that it is impossible to understand Western history without a firm grasp of the role, both positive and negative, played by the Church. Along the way, I have learned much that illuminates other areas of interest." I am glad for you.
I, and countless other women, people of color, homosexuals have lived the consequences of religious tyranny and see no reason to submit to their nonsense based on Bronze Age dogma. They speak of peace, when one sees hate-mongering. They speak of forgiveness as they claim non-believers and sinners will burn eternally in hell unless they bow to their etherial god. They speak of being saved through the blood of a man/god if they confess the christ savior with their dying breath. Such escape mechanisms exist even for mass murderers and rapists. A decent, honest, compassionate person will burn because he or she refuses to submit to such tyranny. Fear mongering and hope baiting does not make sense to me and there is no honor to be found in such tactics. Weak and vulnerable submit without thought; strong and competent stand on principle and face subtle and obvious criticism. A strong person does not care what such ignorance imposes. Hypocrisy exists, even as claim of some kind of sanctity come from their crooked mouths.
It is "complicated" you claim! What nonsense! Just like evolution is "complicated". Excuse me! When is complicated worthy of being used as an excuse not to look, remember history, observe intollerance among their own, and then to stand on a desertified field that once grew grains and pray for rain. Absurd!
Ms. Denoo, you completely misunderstand my post. I explicitly declared that I was not offering an apology for the Church; perhaps you missed that statement? My concern is with history, not politics. I share your political beliefs, but I do not permit my political beliefs to color my perception of the truth. That's what climate change deniers do: they use their political beliefs as the basis for drawing conclusions about science. I don't think that's rational.
So by all means, condemn the present obnoxious practices of religions. And it's a good thing to educate people about the true history of religion, but we should teach the TRUE history as best we can, not a deliberately biased point of view meant to influence the students' political views.
As to your final paragraph, in which you claim that neither history nor evolution is complicated, I can only suggest that perhaps you are not fully aware of the intricacies of both topics. And to answer your final question, the answer is "Never!" The way to deal with complexity is to learn more.
You may be correct that I misread your statement and I am happy for the chance to rethink my position. Yes, you said you were not offering an apology for the church. In point "1. The Church's behavior at any given time must be evaluated within the cultural context of the times." Yes, I have heard that over and over. However, the church claims to have a moral grounding that gives them the right to slaves, abuse of children and wives, and the second class position of women in those cultures, and intolerance of homosexuals. Where was their moral grounding all through the centuries even after abolitionists, feminists, civil rights activists and homosexuals continue to fight for civil rights? When did they get the picture of the rights of human beings? I don't think they have.
On point "2. The Church was a huge organization consisting of millions of participants spread over nearly two millennia." yes, the church is huge, consisting of millions of participants over two millennia; that is a fact. It seems to me a properly conceived Old and New Testament would find better grounds on which to place their faith. And if their scriptures didn't do the job, what about the Enlightenment? Far more moral and ethical thinking came out of that movement than out of any of the religions. Just because "we have always done it this way" and "good enough for my father is good enough for me" is a sophomoric rationale at the kindest and a dysfunctional thinking at the worst.
Point "3. The Church made many contributions to the advance of Western civilization." Yes, that is their claim, but if you go into the mission field and observe how effective and efficient they are, it is a very grim sight indeed. Going into a relocation center and giving out cups of water and bowls of gruel and a clean, warm blankets gives sufferers a few moments of relief, but what about the systems that create the camps in the first place? Instead of bragging about the crumbs they left behind, how about coalescing the people in their religious community to challenge corruption, greed and inhumanity. The church also makes claims about the good they have done in health care and education only to discover they were milking people for converts. I see no honor in any of these activities.
Oh certainly, Galileo was a rascal! So were the men and women who were burned at the stake by religious communities, often with the assistance of political authorities.
Where was the book of morals and ethics? On what basis did they stand for such devices? What does it take to get people to choose moral behavior? Who is the judge? Complicated? Maybe! That was then, this is now? Then is now! Not fully aware of intricacies of history nor evolution? Well, that may be true, but my history would claim otherwise. Blame the accuser? That trick is as old as religion itself.
It seems, Ms. Denoo, that you are mixing together two very different things: the past history of the Church and the current behavior of religious people. I have no argument with you regarding this current behavior; I certainly agree that many (most) religions are stained with some serious moral backwardness.
Again, my concern is solely with the representation of the historical record. The Church did indeed commit many crimes; it also made huge contributions to Western civilization. Almost all of the intellectual advances until about 1600 CE were made by churchmen.
I'll recommend for your consideration Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. I've read about a great many historical characters, and this guy is the one that I have settled on as my personal hero. He was surprisingly modern in outlook; it's almost as if he were some kind of time traveller. He wasn't perfect: he had a thin skin and he occasionally stretched the truth to achieve some worthy end. Unfortunately, Erasmus is an acquired taste; you have to know a lot about the period he lived in to appreciate his writings. His most famous work, The Praise of Folly, was a ferocious satire that truly had people LMAOROTF. Nowadays, it seems pretty tame. But if you know the context of the times, the book truly is outrageously funny.
By the way, you mention the Enlightenment. Did you know that it was the direct result of the wars of religion of the seventeenth century, especially the Thirty Years War? The horrors of those wars so shocked Europeans that most educated people rejected much of religion. Without the standard answers in the Bible, they needed to come up with their own answers. That's what triggered the Enlightenment.
I am not that surprised you respond as you do. A huge percentage of the population disagrees with my assessment and that still doesn't mean that I am misguided.
Countless women, today, as throughout history, have felt the wrath of religious, even the sweet, thoughtful white haired men and women sitting naively in pews saying their prayers and telling women to yield, pray, obey, turn the other cheek, love him to the lord, crucify yourself daily in imitation of the crucified christ, and rejoice in your crucifixion, don't even blush from their cruelty. Is their ignorance because they just don't know? are foolish? or insane? or don't care?
Or men and women who happen to be born with a chromosome different than yours and mine and continue to be vilified, being told they can't marry, as though the only family possible is heterosexual couples? Who said they can't marry? Why? Who benefits? Who pays?
Starving people dying today because of some notions that male seed should not be wasted, or that women should not have control over their own bodies, or that elderly who are ready to die must suffer through a prolonged agony, not to save life, but to prolong dying.
It doesn't matter whether I listen to men and women in Spokane or Washington, DC or in Texas, or Czechoslovakia, or in Berlin or in Beijing, or in Singapore, or in Turkey, or in Ireland, I heard the same ridiculous, hateful, deadly stories of people suffering under the boot of Christian religion. It is an evil philosophy, always has been and always will be.
We can tell funny stories about how foolish and dumb faith in a supernatural god is, but the fact remains, belief in such a delusion is the underlying cause of ongoing hate-mongering and Christians get away with it it. I listened to stories of women in 32 nations of the world and they all told of suffering under the jack-boots of some maybe-god and some sacrificed man/god. That god is very simply doing bad things with people's minds and very nice people say to me, I am wrong. It just isn't so.
Ms. Denoo, while I don't share the emotional intensity you have regarding the abuse of women (likely because I've never seen it first-hand as you have), I am in complete agreement with you regarding its existence and magnitude. My ONLY reservation here comes when that emotion is extended into purely intellectual spheres. I fear a shark because I know it can do great harm to me; I am revulsed when a shark hurts somebody; but I do not hate the shark.
A shark acts out of instinct and can hardly help its behavior, particularly since that was programmed into it over literally millions of years of evolution. Human beings, on the other hand, at least have the potential to observe, understand, analyze and effect self-change, based on the circumstances before them. My quarrel with the RC church is far less personal than it is with Joan, but that does not stop me from calling them on their unwillingness to change behaviors which demonstrate cluelessness if not a downright antithetical attitude to human development and growth. Claiming that condoms actually increase the spread of AIDS and failing to take positive, constructive and transparent action to deal with the issue of pedophile priests does not help my appraisal of an institution which appears to want to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, never mind the harm it brings to others.
You have stated elsewhere that they value antiquity. That is as may be, but more, they value POWER, the power of the intimidation and manipulation of their flock. They know they have it and are loathe to give it up. Yet they are confronted with the fact of the loss of parishioners because of their failure to change or respond to exigent situations. If BP had demonstrated the same brand of reaction time in responding to the Deepwater Horizon incident as the catholic church has with the issues it is confronted with, the Gulf of Mexico would be catastrophically awash in oil and representatives of the Gulf Coast states would be demanding the BP CEO's head on a platter.
The catholic church is capable of change, yet resist change, and at the root, their reasons not to change are neither rational nor supportable. If they are derided by Ms. Denoo and others like her, it is because that derision has been well and truly EARNED.
I am increasingly uncomfortable with the position of Devil's Advocate I find myself in regarding the Church. I want to repeat that I do not fail to condemn in the strongest terms the crimes committed under the auspices of the Church.
Your assessment of the rationalism of the typical Homo Sapiens is more generous than mine; while human cognition permits a vastly greater degree of adaptability, I consider much human behavior to be elaborately costumed Pleistocene hunter-gatherer in nature. And human organizations are even less ethical than individual humans.
Thus, the fact that the Church seeks power seems almost a "Duh!" to me; I cannot think of any organization that does not seek to expand its power. The Cub Scouts of America may not be intent on establishing world domination, but I'm sure they'd grab any opportunity to increase their income or membership -- just like any church. Even at the individual level, we all seek to extend our influence if not expand our power. There's no crime in that. The crime is in the behavior of the Church.
I'll address the issue of change in the Church in the topic dedicated to that.
I don't understand the meaning of "My ONLY reservation here comes when that emotion is extended into purely intellectual spheres."
I write, not of emotional things, but of real things. Passing laws to control women, only recently rescinding slavery laws, putting laws into place to prevent homosexuals from living their lives, individuals and institutions that teach delusions to children when we so badly need facts and reality.
I would not be the advocate I have become because these and other serious problems continue unabated. Silence kills ... I know that better than most people.
Yes, you fear a shark, and rationally so. If you put me in the category of the shark, you have not heard my cries for justice.
I certainly do not put you in the category of the shark; the metaphor was directed at organized religion.
As to the intensity of your feelings on this, I am reminded of a beautiful quote whose words I cannot recall. The gist of it is that people don't work for change unless they're emotionally involved. My cold, rational approach may be more "correct" in some formal manner, but I confess that my approach will never make the world a better place. Your approach will accomplish that, and for that I respect you. But focus your energy on the task at hand!
You may call me Ms. Denoo if you wish. However, I am known as Joan and feel respect when addressed by that name. Ms. feels unequal to me. Kind of like when my wonderful helper calls me Ms. Denoo. We exist in partnership with getting my body back to good health. She is not above or below me in status, she is fully co-partner.
There is an ancient Japanese goddess who is known as "She who hears the cries of the world".
I look forward to the time when you, Chris, will hear my cries; they are the cries of the world. I cry not for myself; I give voice to all those voices silenced today and throughout history.
I use the formal address only to communicate courtesy. I certainly would not presume to use the familiar address without some acquaintance.
I do hear your cries, Joan; the fact that I remain calm does not indicate callous disregard. I can't think of the last time I got upset for more than a second or two. That's my personality. I even button the top button on my shirt.
I'll put up a proper avatar so as not to be so aloof.