In view of today’s conflict between ”Christian” West and the Muslim World, one can ask if the West has any reason whatsoever to consider Christianity as superior to Islam, especially when we deal with the religions’ view on knowledge and progress.

Christianity has waged war on both its inner and outer enemies for the last 1700 years. The wars against outer enemies were usually called holy crusades. Both the present “War-on-terror” and the evangelical Christian Bush-administration’s Iraq-occupation are both considered as crusades against Islam in the Muslim world. Even the Vietnam War was declared as a “holy crusade” by the American bishops. The same pious bunch even demanded, at the second Vaticanum, that the atom bomb should be used in Vietnam – to defend Catholicism there(!).

Mohammed and Islam
Islam emerged around 622 AD when the chieftain and warlord Mohammed (ca 570-632 AD), after several divine revelations, started to preach his message. Mohammed’s starting point was the Jewish/Christian religion, which was the dominant religion in this area at this time. Allah (which simply means God) was (and still is I suppose) identical to the Christian and Jewish God (El/Elhoim/Jahweh/ Jehova). “Allah” and “El/Elhoim” are just two different Semitic forms for the concept “God”. Both Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have the very same mythical background from the good old ancestor Abraham, the big Flood etc, and their religious laws and punishments are the same and equally inhumane.

At a time when the dispute of the trinity divided the Christian Church, Mohammed simply cut the Gordian knot by declaring that there was only one God, not three. Jesus was thus not the Son of God, but his prophet, like Mohammed himself. Islam’s basis is actually Christianity – and it is in many ways kind of a deviant Christian sect.

Knowledge and learning
Christianity and Islam have somewhat different view on the value of knowledge and learning. Mohammed said that the “scholars ink is more valuable than the martyrs blood”. On the other hand we have the Christian church which, when they rose to political power in the fourth century, the status of knowledge, science and secular learning started to decline. Church father Augustine early formulated the basic Church opinion when he said that there was no need for science when one had the holy gospels. With this moronic view Augustine lived as he learned: He was convinced among other things that the blood of a goat was the only thing capable of splitting diamonds, that the wind impregnated horses in Kappadokia (in Asia minor) etc. He didn’t on the other hand believe that the earth had spherical form, something that at his time had been known for centuries. Everything a man could possibly need of knowledge you could find in the Bible according to Augustine. And if something wasn’t in the Bible, it was bad and possibly harmful.

Education was still considered important in the fourth and fifth century. This was mainly due to the strong earlier tradition for education in antiquity, and had nothing to do with the Church. The education gradually became more of reproducing and preservation of old knowledge than development and progress. In all areas the common familiarity with the earlier knowledge declined, and gradually got lost. The antiquity’s extensive education and diverse science gradually narrowed down to just become studies of the Biblical texts. Knowledge of Greek language, the very foundation and prerequisite for any science for centuries, became scarce. Soon only the clergy could read and write, many of those were not particularly skilled at it either.

In the course of the first six centuries AD, the old public education and the sciences of antiquity were condemned and replaced by theology (except for astronomy which was needed to calculate the time for the different religious celebrations through the year). A science was now only considered useful if it could be used to support the preaching of the Church and the dogmas. Independent thinking more or less disappeared, knowledge diminished and reason was frowned upon. In the beginning of the century the public education was almost eradicated.

For the early Christians in the first and second century, there were no real bans on learning the “pagan” knowledge of Antiquity, but it was a widespread notion that Christians should not be teaching this “pagan” knowledge. Therefore, Christianity didn’t have its own schools until the sixth century. Church fathers like f.ex. Origenes and Augustine themselves had the benefit of learning the “pagan” culture, philosophy and knowledge, like the works of Plato and Aristotle. Education and knowledge was at best considered as a necessary evil, and only if it could be used to support the theology.

Pious illiterates
The Catholic schools were mainly pure theological/philosophical faculties, and their studies and knowledge of marginal or none importance for the society at large outside their walls. Antiquity’s rich amount of texts and widespread exchange of these, were no longer available to others than the clerical elite in the churches and monasteries. And the level of education was not particularly impressive; at the consile in Chalcedony in 451 AD all the forty bishops were illiterates. The popes in the following centuries literally boasted of their ignorance, they didn’t read or write Greek at all and their Latin were miserable. Several of the popes as late as the ninth-century couldn’t even read or write at all. The “wisdom” of the clergy, has mainly been due to the ignorance of the public.

Contempt for Science
In the natural sciences, all discoveries and new theories not supported by the Bible were opposed. Sciences that flourished in Antiquity, grinded to a halt in the early centuries AD. The church historian Lactantius (ca 250 – 320 AD) called the natural sciences for utter nonsense, and church scholar Ambrosius called natural sciences an attack on God’s magnificence. Early in the fourth century Euseb of Emesa was denied being bishop because he had been studying mathematics(!). Soon sciences as biology, zoology and geography degenerated to sheer amateurism and utter nonsense and the more absurd theories, the better. In 1163 AD pope Alexander 3 banned all priests to study physics, and in 1380 AD the pope John 22. got the French parliament to deny people having anything to do with chemistry.

On an area crucial for human life, health and well-being, the medical science, the church has effectively blocked medical progress for almost a thousand years. Originally the Jews believed that illnesses were God’s punishment for sins, and thus medicine was frowned upon. Trying to heal illness was considered an undue interference with God’s will. This view that diseases is Gods way of punishing his subjects was inherited by Christianity and part of Christian thinking up through medieval times. To do medical experiments and research were condemned by the official Church. Examining and performing autopsies on human cadavers was for example strictly forbidden. In 1564 AD the founder of modern anatomy research, the Flemish doctor Andreas Vesalius, was sentenced to death by the Inquisition for performing scientific autopsies. However, Philip II intervened and Vesalius was not executed. Vesalius had published his ground-breaking work on human anatomy “De corporis humani fabrica” in 1543. In his work he discovered that the biblical dogma of women being created from man’s rib, couldn’t be correct since men anatomically didn’t seem to miss any ribs. Such thought was of course intolerable in the eyes of the church.

Up until the 17th century if you became ill in Europe, you were far better off if you turned to prayers for help than the “physicians” of the time. Since illnesses were God’s punishment and not anything to be tampered with, and that application of herbs and other supposed healing remedies often were subject to harsh penalties, it was very little the physicians could do. Often their “cures” and methods worsened the situation, or simply killed the patient. The “physicians” theories on what caused the different illnesses were mainly based on wild guesses based on a very limited knowledge, and usually completely wrong assumptions, about nature and human anatomy, mixed together with absurd supernatural and religious ideas of demons, witchcraft etc.

At the same time in the Arabic hemisphere, on the other hand, medical science flourished together with several other sciences, inspired by the thinkers of Antiquity and their works. While the Christian church either burned or hid away the great works of the “pagan” Greek and Roman minds, the same works were widely read, used and preserved in the Arabic world. So it’s the Arabic world that actually saved the remains of Antiquity’s great intellectual legacy.

For thousand years the mighty Christian church turned the lights off in Europe and progress was suppressed, science and knowledge was replaced by religion and nonsense, social and human progress were non-existing and the continent riddled with superstition and religious anxiety.

Religious dung
The really dramatic development in our knowledge and science, in human progress and social reforms we have seen in Europe the last 400 years, first happened after the Christian Church lost its political and secular power. This development happened in relentless opposition to the Church, which had fought scientific, human and social progress for every step on the way. Luckily the Church lost, or we would still be living in the Middle Ages burning books, heretics and witches, and mentally wading in religious dung up to our armpits.

One can only wonder where we would be today if the Christian Church had not suppressed progress, instigated wars and promoted superstition and executed mind control for over 1000 years.

The Muslim world has yet to have an “Enlightenment” or Renaissance period. Real development will not happen in the Muslim world either, until the dark dominant power of Islam is broken down. Muslims and Muslim societies are still mentally living in the Middle Ages.

(C) R.L. Børsheim 2005

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Christianity and Knowledge

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Illustration from Vesalius' book
Leonardo DaVinci