Christianity and Freedom

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This is a comment I made on something Gus diZerega wrote in this L&P thread. I thought it might be of some general interest due to the quotes from this fascinating book by Rodney Stark…

Gus diZerega wrote:

“Historically the church has probably done more harm than good to the cause for freedom, and when it has been of service, it has been because there were many sects so they could not unite, or because the state was strong enough that the Pope could not become emperor, and the Pope was so strong that the emperor could not become Pope. When they more or less combined, as in Russia and Byzantium, the results were ALWAYS destructive to freedom. Always.”

Coincidentally I was just reading something today about Christianity, freedom, Byzantium and such. Some passages I marked that are more or less relevant (beginning with the rise of science and getting to the topic of freedom) from The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark:

“Greek learning was never lost in Byzantium, but here too it failed to prompt innovation. The decline of Rome did not interrupt the expansion of human knowledge any more than the ‘recovery’ of Greek learning enabled this process to resume. Greek learning was a barrier to the rise of science!” (20)

“…it would seem to have been vital that Greek learning was not generally available until after Christian scholars had established an independent intellectual framework of their own.” (22)

“The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning.” (22)

“From its earliest days, Christianity was equally inventive in its conceptions of human nature and in confronting issues of morality. Chief among these were propositions concerning fundamental human rights such as liberty and freedom. And underlying these ideas was something even more basic: the ‘discovery’ of individualism – of the self.” (23)

“The notion that individualism was discovered seems absurd to the modern mind… [in most (non-Christian) human cultures] a person’s real sense of ‘being’ is quite collective: whatever rights individuals possess are accorded not to them but to their group and are, in turn, conferred upon them by their group. In such circumstances, no on supposes that ‘I am the master of my fate.’ Instead, it is the idea of fatalism that rings true: that one’s fate is beyond one’s control, being fully determined by great external forces.” (23)

Stark then goes on to attribute the virtual abolition of slavery from Europe by the 11th century to this stress on the individual in Christianity.

In short, Stark builds a case for much of what I would recognize as freedom having its origin in Christianity: individualism, individual rights, abolition of slavery, etc.

9:19 pm on May 18, 2006