Atheists and Christians Standing Arm-in-arm

The question as to just why the Roman Empire fell; what caused it and, better yet, who caused it (if that can be ascertained) is indeed a question that should be posed within academic circles, for the knowledge of what happened is important to our world today lest we, somehow, repeat it. But, pardon the obvious pun here, the answer to that question has actually been rendered “academic” for some time since we actually have ample evidence showing what took place and how it all took place. Let me restate it in another way. We, today, KNOW what caused the fall of the Roman Empire precisely because of the incontrovertible evidence that is still extant.

If one approaches history as if it is a science, one will look at said evidence. A scientist will perform multiple experiments aimed at reproducing a given result in order to test any theory. If the results are not the same each time, something is wrong with the experiments and the evidence is rendered suspect. Thus, if a given set of events happened in history causing other events to take place at a later time, and this can be proven from the evidence on multiple occasions, then the evidence should be taken as indicative of producing a certain result or set of results. That said, an exact sequence of events can never be reproduced in history, so there will inevitably be differences in results in each case. Certain similarities should, however, remain for such observations to be considered valid. Thus, one cannot simply dismiss certain historical events as having meaning and real results just because one wishes to see the world in a certain way.

True to that which one would expect, many Christians today deny that early Christians had much, if anything, to do with the downfall of the Roman Empire. Most can be forgiven for this since they are actually oblivious to the history of the time. They have neither seen, nor do they care to see, the evidence. For them god is all that matters.

But, rather surprisingly, today one will also find a good number of atheists taking, more or less, exactly this stance along with the Christians. But I have found, more often than not, the atheist has actually looked at the evidence and has found ways to dismiss it. Clever argumentation has convinced many that there is no connection between Christianity and the downfall of the Roman Empire, no matter what the evidence may suggest. Better put, they posit that there is no connection between religion and the fall of the Roman Empire. And one even bemoaned the resurgence of the investigation of the connection by stating, basically, that in the last two centuries he thought that we had gotten away from the thesis of Edward Gibbon, but that progress in this way, such as it may be, has now been stifled by opening up the question once again or, better put, by those who once again posit that there really is a connection.

Back to scientific (actually, historical) evidence; it is truly astonishing to me that anyone can look at the world today, seeing the rise of the Islamic State (as just one example, but perhaps the best example) and not immediately draw the rational connection. That is, if they have studied history at all. The Taliban before them is yet another example. Many people focus on the fact that these are Islamic entities and draw the conclusion that the blame should be placed upon the Quran and the earliest Muslims as examples used to establish the Islamic State. The fault in this line of thinking is that they look no further.

But why are the Taliban and the Islamic State examples here? Quite simply put, because they have engaged in the same types of heinous acts, for all the world to see, that the early Byzantine Christians and their rulers engaged in. They each employed torture of those they disagreed with politically and religiously; employed mass executions following show-trials; employed strict codes of social conduct upon a previously relatively free society; employed prohibitive and punishing religiously-motivated laws aimed at establishing adherence to the supposed dictates of their god; outlawed things like dancing and singing (unless in the service of their god and then only on strict terms); changed the calendar to reflect THEIR religious holidays, eliminating previous holidays as being of the devil; closed, defaced and destroyed (as well as they could) ancient works of art, statues, and monuments, including temples and other religious sanctuaries; burned books and whole libraries; caused the populace to inform on each other so that many were arrested, tried, and executed on mere suspicion, and other assorted unspeakable barbaric things.

In each case those responsible engaged in what we term in our modern day to be “crimes against humanity”. So one can only imagine (because we don’t have films of it to watch with our own eyes) what massive social unrest caused by religious turmoil did to a society that was in no way prepared for this sort of thing.

In addition to the evidence, which, thankfully, can be accessed from some ancient primary sources and which is, frankly, overwhelming, one can add the very statements of certain church leaders. If one has never read the diatribes of Ambrose of Milan one can be forgiven for not knowing that his view of Roman history was that it had come into existence solely to birth Jesus and his religion of Christianity and, now that Christianity was on the ascendency, the Roman Empire could, and should, simply die and fade away. One can also be forgiven, if one has never read Augustine’s hideous diatribe “The City of God against the Pagans”, for not knowing that he formulated the “theory” of the “just war” in which he explained that war was a good rather than an evil as long as it was employed for the ends of the Christian god and, therefore, the barbarian incursions of his time were being done according to the very will of god by barbarians who, incidentally, had already been converted to Christianity. These barbarians, of course, once reaching the city of Roma, sparing anyone who took refuge inside of a church or other Christian sanctuary (as instructed), and savagely murdering or enslaving all others! And when Augustine came to understand that Pagans who had taken refuge in this way and had thus been spared complained about the wanton destruction of much of the city, his response was that they had no right to complain since their lives had been spared and that they instead should be “grateful” for this as they had a second chance to embrace the one true faith! The Christian and, apparently, the atheist will tell you that these barbarian incursions were instrumental in the fall of the empire, but they will deny that Christianity had anything whatsoever to do with this. Yet the very writings of church leaders such as Augustine stand witness to the contrary.

No, those who dispute those such as Gibbon and his modern-day supporters will tell you that the empire died more from neglect than anything else and that the barbarian incursions simply finished it off. “It was slowly dying anyway”, they will say. They will also posit that religion in the West was slowly evolving toward a form of monotheism anyway and it didn’t really need Christianity to push it in that direction. As a history professor of mine used to say (to many things), “poppycock!” This scenario completely ignores the influence of Christianity. They prefer to persist in their fantasy that Christianity simply overcame the decadent Roman Empire with its myriad of false deities and teachings because the people were not satisfied with these things and were already looking for something new that they could truly believe in. They ignore the fact that, since it wasn’t gaining much ground, after 300 years Christianity employed force, persecution, harassment, intimidation, destruction, laws, and finally, barbarians to reach its goal of a Christian Roman Empire. Why, if Christianity was so wonderful and everyone was yearning for it did it have to employ these tactics? Because simply loving one’s neighbor just didn’t work (as if they actually tried this).

The Christian, for his or her part, will cry “persecution” at almost every opportunity. They will point to the early Christian martyrs, believing (and having you believe) that there were thousands upon thousands of them, tortured and killed at the behest of hateful Roman authorities. If for nothing else, they will insinuate, one should be a Christian because of such people as this who willingly gave their lives for the faith! Indeed, no other people ever did anything like this for their faith. Of course, they are unaware, intentionally or not, that many Jews in the centuries prior to Christianity also did the same. They are also unaware that several philosophers and their followers in the ancient world also gave their lives willingly for their ideals – these Pagans, who certainly didn’t die in the name of or for the sake of any god. They are also unaware that people died in droves for a religion so ridiculous that one would think that anyone would be able to see through it. That religion was called Manichaeism, founded by a self-appointed “prophet” named Mani (from which we get the word “maniac”). This religion, ridiculous as it was, eventually spread throughout the middle east and into the far east and southern Russia, becoming one of the greatest and most widespread religions in the history of the world. Yet few today have ever heard of it since it is virtually extinct today. The short point here is that people will willingly die for practically anything.

I will end with a statement made by Catherine Nixey in her wonderful book “The Darkening Hour”, following her not so convincing statement that Christianity could have been tolerant if only it had tried, she immediately countered her own statement by adding (p. 95) “For those who wish to be intolerant, monotheism provides very powerful weapons”. Yes, indeed, the latter is sadly very true. And that is the real truth to be extracted here. Indeed, some will loudly protest that “all religions” have “from the beginning of time” done the same types of things. The evidence proves otherwise. Why, because monotheism, by its very nature, is intolerant and that is shown by history. It is and has always been monotheism (at least in the Western world, for I don’t claim to be an expert on Eastern religious movements and philosophies) that has acted in such an atrocious manner. Not sometimes – every time. Thus, the scientific (and historical) query has come to only one, undeniable, conclusion. Christianity DID kill the Roman Empire. It didn’t do it out of neglect; it did so deliberately and strategically, bit by bit, until the empire was no more. To dismiss this takes a certain blindness that I cannot fathom, nor do I wish to contemplate further. This is THE historical lesson for our age, lest we repeat it.

A Review of “The Darkening Age” by Catherine Nixey

When I first heard of this book, seeing others promote it on Facebook, I admit to being a bit taken aback that someone else had written a book on basically the same topic as I had earlier that same year of 2017. It’s not that I don’t want the information out there for all to read, for obviously I do or I would not have written my book “Killing Roma”. Indeed, this information very much needs to be out there for all to access. But, two books on this very subject, the subject of how early Christianity destroyed the ancient world, in less than a year for public consumption when this has literally never happened before? Something had to be afoot! After reading a lengthy, and rather strident and greatly overbearing, critical review of her book by Tim O’Neill in his on-line blog “History for Atheists” (one that contained all the hallmarks of a major attempt to destroy her credibility completely), I finally decided that I had to purchase a copy and read it myself. After all, it was the only way to be sure.
I will go ahead and state this up front. It took me a while to read it due to the challenges of life. But, now, having read it, I can confidently state that it seems obvious to me that what’s afoot is nothing less than divine intervention. I am totally satisfied that the divine is behind the fact that both she and I wrote on the same subject in exactly the same year. The ancient voices are again being heard, much to the chagrin of those who think that this history and the knowledge of it should remain buried and forgotten forever. I found her book to be a thoroughly enjoyable read even as I read it, knowing the history already, with a bit of melancholy. “The Darkening Age” is an excellent work and it should be read by everyone, as should mine along with it.
Having stated these things, in my opinion, Nixey’s book did start out in a way that gave me a bit of pause. She did, here and there throughout the book, make some statements that could be considered minor exaggerations and that I, in my years of study on this period in history, would find difficult to support. That does not mean that her statements were false, in the main. She simply seems to have engaged at times in a bit of embellishment in order to draw a good picture for the reader. And, indeed, she draws that picture for the reader with great talent. She is certainly a gifted writer and has been able to draw things out in ways that I have often found difficult to do. She has drawn the picture in a vivid manner while I have, more often than not, simply stuck to the historical evidence and simply made it clear what it says and what it means. Regardless, her book is true history, not fiction.
And, so, to the nitty-gritty of it, I will begin with one of her earliest statements. On page xxvii she states that Athens was “the city that had seen the birth of Western philosophy”. This was one of those statements that gave me pause and, initially, made me think that the book might have been written by a novice. Indeed, it is an easy mistake to make, but one that any seasoned scholar would likely avoid, for the birthplace of Western philosophy was not Athens, but was instead Miletos (Miletus) in Anatolia. Philosophy was later transplanted to Athens, where it flourished.
Later, on page xxxii when she states that ninety-nine percent of all ancient works have been lost to time, she provides no citation as to where she actually gets that figure. It may be true, one supposes, but there is nothing to back it up. For the reader’s sake here, I will state that the figure is indeed likely to be true, based upon the evidence. But such should be cited.
When she states on page xxxiv that many statues on temples survived simply because they were too high to reach because the people used primitive ladders, etc. and could not reach them, well, this is a supposition as there is no evidence, that I am aware of, to support it. It would have been better if she had drawn a bit of that picture she is so good at here and had stated that those who set about to destroy such monuments as temples were often a rabble who simply did not have the proper equipment with them to destroy all of it and, when they had got their fill of violence and destruction, they simply moved on, not bothering with things that were too high to easily reach. Mobs, after all, are rarely efficient in their efforts.
When she states on page xxxv that a linear narrative, which hers is not, would be “too dull” for the reader, I kind of laughed a bit because, frankly, that is exactly what my book “Killing Roma” is and, so far, everyone who has read it has loved it. No one has called it “dull” and, in fact, some have mentioned that I really put a lot of emotion into it, something quite difficult for me to do.
I was heartened when, on page 14, Nixey provided the entire title of Augustine’s most important work “The City of God against the Pagans”. Most sources and mentions of this work leave out “against the Pagans”. Why? Because they want to deemphasize the fact that the entire work was actually written AGAINST THE PAGANS. The powers-that-be simply do not want you to know that, so they prefer the title “The City of God” so that it seems to be a work of beauty. But, read it, and you will find that it is anything but beautiful and is actually dripping with hatred and hostility toward Pagans.
After that the book truly began to get good, if you will. I thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of chapter three in which Nixey provided details of the life and thought of Galen. Having read about him years ago, I had generally forgotten him over the years. What a delight this chapter was!
Having stated this, her explanation of the name Panthera on page 33 as being similar to the Greek term parthenos lacks anything to back it up. In my research, I have never come across this “pun”, as she put it, and I would have liked to have seen a source citation. As she continues on page 34 to state that Mary, when found pregnant, had been “convicted of adultery and ‘driven out by her husband‟” she is citing Gibbon and his wonderful work “The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire”. It could be that this information originally came from the Jewish Talmud as this is the type of thing that would have been stated in that source. But I haven’t the time to check that.
On page 35 she mentions for the first time the concept in the ancient world that the earth, and the universe, were uncreated and that it was already understood that everything was made up of atoms that could not be seen by the human eye. I was very happy with that mention, and continued mentions after that, for it is an ancient concept that is rarely cited. Still, to give the concept entirely over to the Epicureans, as she seems to do, is a bit less than correct.
And there were many more instances in which Nixey brought things out that really needed to be stated. In fact, she mentions many things that I (sometimes deliberately) left out of my book. I went through the rest of her book seeing very little that I would even remotely disagree with, even if she did take a liberty here and there.
Yet, to go a bit further on, I do have to state that she could have done better by Nero. There is a lot more to Nero than the average person is aware and I think that I have drawn the better picture of him, not in “Killing Roma”, but in my first book “Apocalypse and Armageddon”. She, on page 54, sort of accepts without criticism the salacious statement that Nero played the lyre as Rome burned and afterward, caring nothing for the people, built his great palace on the charred remains. An entirely different historical source than the one commonly cited states that Nero was not even in Rome when the fire stated, but when he was told of it, rushed back to provide whatever assistance he could and, in fact, opened up his home to those affected and even fed them. Yes, he built his Golden Palace there later, but he didn’t see this as scandalous until people complained about it later. He didn’t understand that it would put off the people he had helped earlier. So he just wasn’t that politically savvy.
Another point, when on page 65 where Nixey states that Pliny was sent to Turkey to be its governor; for me, was certainly a mistake of a novice. “Turkey” did not exist at that time and Pliny was made governor of only a small part of modern-day Turkey called Bythinia. This, frankly, is a less easily-made mistake than the mistake earlier about Athens.
Later, on page 91, when she states that “Constantine moved quickly to promote his new religion”, well, that’s debatable at least because it is likely that he was not quite a Christian as early as 312, as many scholars have pointed out. In fact, I do not believe that he was, although he might have been moving in that direction. The Edict of Milan was simply an edict of toleration. That’s all. Other rulers had done the same basic thing, but had not become Christian. Then she goes on to practically slight Zosimus who wrote that Constantine had only become Christian after he had his wife and son murdered. She states that “the dates don’t really work”. I show otherwise, as other scholars also do, so she simply has not done enough research here.
Later, on page 127, describing Hypatia, Nixey states that Hypatia “always dressed in the austere and concealing uniform of a philosopher’s cloak”. Here, again, perhaps she has not read quite enough because Hypatia is actually described as having worn something very different and would have, more often than not, looked more like depictions of the goddess Artemis in dress. And when, on page 136, she states that “some say that, while she still gasped for breath, they gouged out her eyes”, again, no citation and a clear embellishment which ought not to have been made, in my opinion. There is simply no evidence for this.
When, on page 129, Nixey states that “it took well over a millennium for any other collection to come close to what [the Great Library of] Alexandria had achieved in terms of volume . . .”; that’s a bit less than accurate. She seems to have not read about other great libraries of the ancient world, one of which, for example, was in Ephesus and another in Antioch, both of which may well have had similar collections.
Another mistake, although a common one, is found on page 148 where she states that Gnosticism was “a highly intellectual second-century [CE] movement”. As I show in great detail in “Apocalypse and Armageddon”, Gnosticism started in Egypt in about the second century BCE. So it was a good bit older than most understand.
Later, on page 158, she states that “there is little evidence that Christians intentionally destroyed entire libraries”, well, perhaps there is indeed “little evidence”, but one of the most heinous instances of library burning was done on the order of the Christian emperor Jovian as he ordered the Great Library in Antioch to be burnt. But, this is one of those things that few know about and should be informed of. True, this is often overlooked by historians, but it should not be overlooked in a book like this one.
For the rest, I absolutely loved what she wrote and how she wrote it. It cannot be overstated that this is an important work of history, not fiction, no matter how strident the voices on the other side may be.
But, back to O’Neill for a bit. He takes umbrage from the beginning with the fact that the history cited in Nixey’s book tells of the destruction of the ancient world at the hands of the Christians. He actually belittles the idea that it should be told at all. A much more even-handed review of Nixey’s book has been done by Stephen Darori in his on-line blog “Israel Book Review”, by the way. O’Neill, for his part, calls it “a book of biased polemic masquerading as historical analysis and easily the worst book I have read in years”. That should induce everyone to go out and buy it all by itself! But if one prefers to read a book that easily fits the criteria befitting such a statement as this one, then I can think of two: “Killing Jesus” by Bill O’Reilly and “Tried by Fire” by William Bennett. If biased polemic is what is desired, there is indeed plenty to read out there. Biased polemic, Nixey’s book is not. Whether O’Neill and others like it or not, THIS is a work of history, not polemic. It emphasizes the FACT that the first Christian Byzantine regimes were every bit as violent, repressive, oppressive, and detrimental to the future as the modern-day Islamic State is. We simply must not repeat this history and the only way to avoid such repetition is to know and understand this history – to acknowledge that it DID happen and it must not happen again.