John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera: Christianity and the Demise of the Classical World

In “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon blames Rome’s demise, at least in part, on Christianity. He wrote, “The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged, and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister [and] a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion . . .”

Gibbon was making the same argument that the pagan critic Celsus made more than 1,500 years earlier. Arguments which most historians have largely rejected. Still, like zombies in “The Walking Dead,” the idea that Christianity destroyed the classical world and ushered in the “Dark Ages” is a notion that refuses to stay dead.

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In fact, a recent book, “The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World,” by Catherine Nixey resurrects this notion that the “Triumph of Christianity” was really the “annihilation” of the classical world, including its literature, philosophy, science, and art.

In the book, Nixey not only depicts Christianity as a “savage tyrant,” she insists on the goodness of the Roman civilization it had “annihilated.”

Historical silliness abounds in this book. For example, Nixey claims, “For two and a half centuries the Roman imperial government left Christianity alone.” All those stories of Christian persecution? Well, according to Nixey, those are “less that the Romans wanted to kill — and more that the Christians wanted to die.”

Nixey even claims that “Christian belief, if anything, led to a lowering of moral standards in the community.”

So let me get this straight, the ideas of Roman philosopher Seneca, that “Unnatural progeny we destroy; we drown even children who at birth are weak or abnormal,” is morally superior to the Christian author of the Didache, who wrote that one should “not murder a child by abortion, nor kill it at birth.”

Throw in Roman slavery and the absolute subjugation of women, regardless of social class, and an obvious question I have for Nixey is whether she would really prefer to live in the classical world whose passing she laments, or the one we live in now that’s been shaped by Christianity.

Another important but less obvious question would be, “How do we know so much about the lamented classical world?” The answer is “Christianity.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera

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