“Judeo-Christian religion is the well-spring of our Western civilization. It’s the founding stone of our shared morality, progenitor of ideals like born free and equality before the law, etc.“
This observation is often qualified by “whatever you may think about the literal truth of religion” i.e. subjective faith is personal but objectively, the Judeo-Christian Church’s role in Western civilization is undeniable; and overwhelmingly positive.
What’s more, the Catholic Church has been a major force in shaping world history for almost 2000 years and, in no small part, it “…codified and safeguarded many of the fundamentals that ultimately made the West the dominant socioeconomic and cultural force of the last three hundred years.“
But consider the following:
- Ancient Greece and Roman literature came centuries before Christianity and their art, literature, law and civics had all same morality, concepts of individual rights, ideals of freedom, etc.
- China developed a full moral, legal and civics code long before Christianity was a blink in John the Baptist’s eye. Whatever China’s govt is today, the people know what freedom, equality, human rights and morality means.
- India, from which a lot of the moral codes and human rights used by monotheist religions (like Christianity and Islam) was taken, had written up and widely proliferated all these concepts long before Christ.
- What’s more, as far as India goes, there’s moral teaching far beyond any of the religious doctrines. Take Jainism for example. All life is sacred, everyone is born free, vegetarianism, pacifism, self-sacrifice, etc.
- In Europe, the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) was the dominant moral, judicial and legislative force for around A THOUSAND years. Figure from Constantine the Roman Emperor converting to Christianity on his deathbed in the 4th century, into the 15th-century and the spread of the Reformation. 1521 was a bad year for the Pope: Martin Luther did his 95 Theses (fuck the Catholic Church, let’s go Protestants) and Henry VIII became Defender of the Faith (fuck the Pope, I want more wives). During those 1000 years the “Judeo-Christian” religion (Catholicism) was a relentless force in controlling education.
- Pre-Christian knowledge was “lost” as it undermined the Christian message. This meant losing touch with Greek and Roman arts and sciences, mathematics, civics. It subordinated knowledge to perpetuating the feudal state model (absolute monarchies, endless squabbling nation states). Progress was, in many ways, put on pause.
- We view the Magna Carta today as one of the key documents underpinning most “Western” legal systems, devolving power away from the King towards the people (albeit nobles). The Judeo-Christian Catholic Pope nullified the Magna Carta, backing the despotic King John. This happened repeatedly to subsequent attempts to codify laws limiting absolute King and Papal power.
- The Catholic Church – and other religious authoritarians peripheral to the Catholic sphere – looked on all the early model Parliaments as apostasy. Muslim Sharia Theocracies of today would applaud.
- The Judeo-Christian Catholic tradition advocated such judicial nonsense as “trial by ordeal” and “trial by conscience” and “trial by champion”. Jury trial, unless that jury be ecclesiastical (or similarly fait accompli authority), was not favoured. Trial by jury of one’s peers was a concept only becoming integral to the legal system after the Magna Carta, against Church resistance. Remember, the Pope had declared the Magna Carta null and void. In the Catholic nations of Europe (i.e. not England) it wasn’t until the end of 17th-century that Napoleon made trial by jury mandatory.
- The Catholic Church tortured scientists, burned reformers as heretics, hid access to knowledge deep in monastery vaults, persecuted dissent and whitewashed away the West’s natural heritage (Ancient Greece, Rome, Hindustan, Persia, etc).
- The light of the “Renaissance eventually broke the 1000 year dark age” at the start of the 14th century. It was fought against tooth and nail by the Church. The Renaissance transformed Medieval Europe. It was the rediscovery (release) of a tidal wave of Classical and global art, literature, science, mathematics, philosophy, political thought, etc. Hence the name “Renaissance” which means rebirth, renewal, revitalisation.
- The Renaissance may not have happened at all but for the uncovering of ancient ruins from the Ancient Greeks and Romans periods. The prevailing spirit of rebellion against orthodox religious dogma (by dint of the growing Reformation) embraced the Classical revelation. Architecture and art once discovered and publicized couldn’t be denied. The Church couldn’t put the genie back into the bottle.
- Monasteries were forced to give up their treasure trove of classical manuscripts. Gutenberg’s printing press (and successors) proliferated information to every city and university. To the lay 14th/15th-century Europeans it must’ve been like us today discovering an alien civilization buried underground, with tech way advanced of our own.
- By the 17th and 18th-century, the Renaissance led to the Age of Reason and Enlightenment. This is a turning point in the history of the human species. It’s the rebirth of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. It signalled the rediscovery and formulation of the scientific method. The Judeo-Christian Church (Catholics, pre-18th century Protestants, Muzzies, Orthodox Jews) resisted every step of the way.
- From the start of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, the modern world starts to come together. Europe (soon joined by America) accelerate towards the Industrial Revolution. In the early Renaissance, the Muslim caliphate was at the same level (or slightly higher level) as medieval Europe. By the Age of Reason, the Muslim theocracies had blocked the flow of knowledge and free-thinking science. Europe (and America) industrialized, innovated, evolved; and took over the world.
- The drive for freedom unleashed by widespread enlightened resistance to Church authority (and absolute monarchy) released an explosion of pioneering, independent individualism. The new libertarian technological spirit transformed European and American society. The colonisation of the New World had been a gentle agrarian trickle for centuries but, by the mid-18th century, it had been nourished on the same expansionist pioneering spirit.
- The 13 Colonies flourished. Progress was rapid. Americans of the late 18th century were an educated class to match any European equivalent. Independence from stolid old King George III was inevitable; and as popular with England’s cosmopolitan middle class as it was in America. Church influence was sidelined. Catholic Church hegemony was over. All bar one signatory of the Declaration of Independence were Protestant or non-Catholic.
- The Founding Fathers were all Protestant. Thomas Jefferson, in framing the Declaration of Independence and the new American Constitution, wrote that he based it on Aristotle & Cicero (Classical Greek/Roman, pre-Christian), and Locke & Sidney (Republican non-Catholic English). It’s a neat symbolism of the union of the two great threads of “Western” history of thought. The Classical restored to create the free-thinking Enlightenment. The first, from before the Judeo-Christian Church stranglehold, the second, after its grip had been broken.
- America wasn’t the only place to accelerate during this period. The “Glorious Revolution” in the UK came in 1689. The French Revolution happened in 1789. Dozens of smaller countries went through similar paradigm shifts, from absolute monarchy to some form of representative government (fledgling democracies).
- This altered 18th-century world of European and American proto-industrialized nations, embracing a new culture of science, education, innovation and individual freedom, owed everything to the momentum of the Renaissance and its eventual explosion into the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, fuelled by a unique release of energy that had been stifled by over 1000 years of Jude0-Christian Catholic stagnation.
“I don’t think Judeo-Christian values or institutions are responsible for the Western moral compass. I don’t think Judeo-Christian values or institutions were responsible for our defining cultural, technological, social or economic dominance of the world.” – a student of history (2020)
[interesting notes, perhaps, even if you’re not a Catholic (or Christian) by faith.]
Matthew 16:18 – Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Peter in Ancient Greek is Petros, from “petra” which means ROCK. Simon Peter is referenced. It can confuse people. Why two names? Simon in Aramaic is “Kepa” which is a literal translation of “petra” i.e. ROCK.
Rock Rock peddled his proto-Christian message for 34 years after Christ’s death and eventually by 64 AD had turned up in Rome – capital of the Roman Empire – to preach his gospel. He was unlucky enough to arrive at the same time as the Great Fire of Rome, which burnt a bunch of Roman landmarks. Emperor Nero blamed the “accursed Jew” and promptly executed Rock Rock. He was crucified upside down – an homage to Jesus, an exhibition of humility, and good fodder for the martyrdom.
300 years later after the apostle’s crucifixion, Simon Peter Rock Rock’s burial place became the site of the first San Pietro (St Peter’s) Church. This most holy of churches stood from the 4th to the 16th century.
Around it the Vatican City was built. The Vatican, an independent nation, is the seat of power of the Catholic Church. It is the Apostolic Palace, residence of the Pope. The Pope is the current head of the Catholic Church, in a line of apostolic succession stretching back almost 2000 years to St Peter himself. He’s known as “the Vicar of Christ on Earth” and Bishop of Rome. The Vatican also houses the college of Cardinals and marks the capital of the Holy See. Whatever the fuck all that means.
The magnificent San Pietro Church we know today was constructed in the high Renaissance, in the 16th century. It remains a formidable work of human enterprise. It’s the largest church on the planet. Its walls and ceilings are covered in masterpieces, e.g. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It houses the Vatican vaults, the Church record, the resting place of dozens of Popes. It’s perhaps the richest collection of manmade artifacts (not to mention gold, silver, precious gems) in the world.
If Hagia Sophia is the iron fist of Islam slammed down on the Golden Horn, at the nexus of Europe and Asia, then San Pietro is the Christian rock of ages, built on foundations around the tomb of the apostles, to flip the bird at the dark hordes of Mohammed, the Turks, the Persians and the billions of heathen Asians swarming thousands of miles East through India, China, unto the Pacific Ocean.