Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Light in the Darkness

Whenever I hear someone ranting about all the evil that organized religion has brought into the world, they always, at some point in their diatribe, mention The Crusades.  Well, they say, isn't that just the Middle Ages' equivalent of Muslim holy jihad, off killing people in the name of religion? The Christian precursor to the holocaust?  You Christians are no different than any other religion who uses your God to justify atrocities.  I have several objections to the this, but here are just two: 1)While religion certainly played a role in the Crusades, and likely underlies some of the more headline-worthy atrocities, the fundamental cause of the Crusades was not religious, but was the same as most other military conflicts: politics, economics, power, regional conflict and trade; and 2) C'mon, really? Is that the best ya got? You need to reach back 1000 years to find something to bash Christianity with? You can't come up with anything a little more recent? That's like Catholics hating Jews because they killed Jesus. But I digress.

My point was, I read something interesting today in my daily devotional regarding the Middle/Dark Ages and Christianity's role therein, which not only rebuts the "religion is bad" argument, but does so by citing examples from the Middle/Dark Ages themselves, the very era from which most of the anti-Christian ammunition (corrupt bishops, selling indulgences, the Inquisition, etc.) usually comes from.

The devotional is A Dangerous Grace by Chuck Colson, who passed away last month. The days reading, summarized, was this:

     After the Roman Empire fell, chaos ruled Europe. Warring bands of illiterate Germanic tribes opposed and deposed one another. People were scattered across the land in crude huts and rough towns. Early medieval Europe seemed destined for complete barbarism.

    One force prevented this:  the Church.

     Instead of conforming to the barbarian culture of the Dark Ages, the medieval church modeled a counter culture to a world engulfed by destruction and confusion. Thousands of monastic centers spread across Europe, characterized by discipline, creativity, and a coherence and moral order lacking in the world around them. 

     The French monks ran schools and sheltered orphans, widows, paupers, and slaves. They opened hospitals, constructed aqueducts, banned witchcraft.

     In Ireland, the monks cleared forests, plowed fields, fasted, prayed, and lived lives of vigorous discipline. 

     In England the religious orders fought illiteracy, violence, lechery, and greed. They drained swamps, bridged creeks, cut roads; they copied manuscripts, organized industrial centers and schools.

     By holding on to such vestiges of civilization - faith, learning, and civility - the monks and nuns held back the night, and eventually The West emerged into a renewed period of cultural creativity, education, and art.

(You can read the full version here.)

People like to go on and on about how much better this world would be without organized religion. Really? How much longer would the Dark Ages have lasted if the Church, flawed as she was (is), did not "hold on to such vestiges of civilization?" Do they forget that it was primarily churchmen, like William Wilberforce, that were the driving force behind the abolitionist movement? That it was churchmen like the REV. Martin Luther King who helped drive the civil rights movement? That for the last several hundred years, all that we have learned through science is attributable to Christianity. How do you figure that, they say. Because it is Christians who believe in an orderly world, created by an orderly God, that follows orderly rules that can be discovered through testing and investigation who were the only ones capable of doing science in the necessary manner to make such discoveries. If you are part of a culture that is sacrificing animals to the volcano god to ensure good crops, you cannot possibly learn about electricity and cell division and thermodynamics.

So, the next time someone brings up the Crusades, enlighten them about the Dark Ages and the role Christianity really played.