Saturday, November 30, 2013
THE DARK SIDE OF CHRISTIAN HISTORY
The Dark Side of Christian History
The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe: Morningstar and Lark, Orlando Florida, 1999 ISBN 0-9644873-4-9
This is the sort of book that I had to force myself through. It was not so much the purported subject matter but rather the author's not-so-well-hidden agenda. This is not an overview of the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches except insofar as these can be slotted into Ellerbe's real purpose. This purpose is to argue against Christianity and for pop-religious New-Age "spirituality" with a thin veneer of corrupted feminism. The author makes her intentions abundantly plain in the Introduction for fostering "sexism, racism, the intolerance of difference and the 'desecration' of the natural environment". It would be hard to find such a crystal clear expression of trendy leftism outside of the academy. Social class is conspicuous by its absence. So is the concept of hierarchy in general, the role of government and individual freedom (beyond sacred differences deified by a subculture). There is a vague bow to "self-determination" but no indication that this might extend to the infidels outside of the politically-correct charmed circle. It almost certainly doesn't.
The author genuflects in her introduction to the fact that there were "alternative Christianities" in the early centuries of the Church. As might be expected from the blindfolded world view of the 'New-Age' she lavishes particular praise on the Gnostics. She also mentions the Essenes. As might be expected her knowledge of these theologies is incredibly superficial, probably drawn from other neo-mystic books that bear the same resemblance to reality as Stalinist propaganda does. The Gnostics, in the majority of cases amongst their crazy-quilt writings, were far more "anti-nature" than any orthodox theologian could ever be. Despite the lies of the orthodox their beliefs were quite ascetic, and their "hidden knowledge" consisted of an over-elaborated mythology the knowledge of which was supposedly the key to escaping the inevitably corrupt world. I know...consistency and facts are part of that great evil "science" that also has to be abolished for the dreaded New Age to dawn. Ellerbe gets well into this later.
The author goes on to belabour the misogynist nature of early orthodox Christianity. No doubt true, but the Christological content of the early disputes is simply ignored. It's of no interest to her purpose. The economic interactions of Church and state in the Roman Empire are slighted in favour of ideological argument (or assertion). This assertion continues through the first part of the book, and the author's only digression from passing over heresies other than her favourite ones is a condemnation of the Church's disapproval of Origen's idea of reincarnation. There is little doubt that this is part of the author's ideology/theology. We also get a discussion of sex, free will and compulsion/authority though, once more, innocent of what the people at the time considered important. History is supposed to be history, not an ideological "read-back".
Ellerbe then passes on to medieval times. She states rather than proves that it was the influence of the Church that led to the decline of the West in this period. Sort of extending Gibbon way beyond his wildest ambitions. She goes so far as to say that the practice of "bleeding" in medieval times was due to "the Monks". Go figure ! She mentions many of the "sins" of the medieval Church and misses many more. No doubt Christianity was not a "creative force" in this period, but the author implies that it was responsible for the vast picture of western decline. Barbarian invasions are, of course, irrelevant. The reality was that Christianity and its influence were contradictory , as the Marxists are fond of saying. Some of its actions were beneficial and some were malevolent. Such fine distinctions, however, escape the author.
The author cites the monumental corruption of the medieval Papacy, something that is well established. The very corruption of the Renaissance Popes, however, was progressive in its own way. The logic of the times also dictated that the Papacy become a secular power, and many of its crimes were for "reasons of state" rather than the abstract motivations that Ellerbe likes to move in. In the end the Church was pretty much a mirror of the secular powers that it alternately fought and allied with, no better nor no worse. The atrocities that happened were typical of the age and might have been worse under some other sort of ideological "guidance" such as that of a more Gnostic Church. Ideology at the time was very much subservient to power politics.
Ellerby passes a severe judgement on the Protestant Reformation. She denounces the common Protestant theories of free will (or lack thereof) and original sin without recognition of the disputes within Protestantism about such matters. She dates, strangely enough, the concept of an unitary God as opposed to a multiplicity of saints from this era. The veneration of saints is identified with the pantheistic, many faced. view of divinity that she favours. Yes, it is a bit of a stretch. She also notes the supposed rise of a more severe asceticism which presumably is connected to the ideas of predestination and denial of free will. Once more remember the Gnostics that she has a superficial acquaintance with for how it could have been worse.
In Chaper 8, The Witch Hunts: The End of Magic and Miracles" the author really hits her stride. Whatever she imagines the "witch craze" was actually a reversal of early Church opinion which opined that most of what was called "witchcraft" was ignorance and superstition. Pretty true actually, though such "witchcraft" was considered orthodox when properly covered with a Christian veneer. The campaign against "witchcraft" was never so extensive as the author imagines.
The Inquisition played a prominent role in the "witch hunt". Whatever the author says however, the main motive behind this was self-interest and bureaucratic expansion. The so-called "witches" only came into the purview of the 'Holy Office' during its decline when it was running out of real victims. The author (deliberately ?) refuses to examine the extent of the Inquisition's dealing with "witches" and how they compare with its total business. She relies only on anecdote and insinuation. Whatever Ellerbe's sympathies the mass of Inquisitorial victims were "heretics" rather than "witches" if for no other reason than that the estates of heretics were a better source of plunder. I guess, however, that this would spoil the author's narrative of a contest of ideas as opposed to one of interests.
In Chapter 9 Ellerbe makes her purpose quite clear again with the title 'Alieniation From Nature', Uh huh ! She makes the ideological assertion that a Christian view of the world as "sinful" (once more a step down from her beloved Gnostics) led to some sort of "separation" that became a leitmotif of western society. Oh well, I guess that the vast majority of people who lived in rural areas until recent decades were "obviously" alienated because of this presumed ideology. Just to be obvious the author u8ses this opportunity to sing a little paean to pre-Christian paganism. This was supposedly "non-alienated". Yes, I'm sure !
The author moves on to the modern age in Chapter 10, 'A World Without God'. In this chapter the author outdoes any of her Jesuit opponents by attempting (and failing in my opinion) to twist facts and logic to say that the modern science that has disproved so much of dogmatic religion is itself a mere development of said religion. Yes, it is quite a stretch, and an accusation that sticks much more to New-Age religiosity than to any secular viewpoint. But if logic and facts are "bad things" and (cough, cough) "alienating" then you can "prove" anything you so damn well please.
Of course we come face to face with the usual chintzy mystic "proof" of such a thing via a misinterpretation of the quantum world that the author has only a child's version of. Sighhhh ! It seems to occur pretty well everywhere in such a world. The author quotes a person named E.H. Walker to this effect;
"...the universe is 'inhabited' by an almost unlimited number of conscious, usually non-thinking (oh, non-thinking consciousnesses - mm), entities that are responsible for the detailed working of the universe"
Once more, uh-huh. God, or gods if you like, as cosmic obsessive compulsives. Ellerby fails to see the humour is such a statement. For those who are interested you can look up this "authority" that the author quotes. For instance you can see his tax-dodge "Cancer Institute" via 'Charity Navigator' where the "fund-raising" expenses are quoted as $10,149,158, the cost of "Administration" (mostly his widow actually) as $457,040 and the tiny, little beast of "programs" at the end as $290,174. There again you can look Walker up on Wikipedia. This long time US military researcher no doubt did his research in an "ant-sexist, anti-racist respect for 'difference' and the natural environment" manner. It has to be true by the worldview of the author because he is "spiritual". I hope his victims in the Third World appreciate such a refined soul.
I guess the reader can estimate how much I disliked this book. From the opening when she presents her opinion that controlling people through "dictating and controlling their spirituality is the most (sic) insidious and damaging slavery of all" her agenda is quite clear. In a backhand way this book presents a bare-bones account of the "dark side" of Christianity, but the historical facts are treated superficially because of the much more important (to the author) need to fit them into her ideology. It would have been better to present a more thorough history rather than spend effort in trying to hammer square pegs into round holes.