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September 27, 2006

Christianity: Plus and Minus

Debate over dinner last night about the historical consequences of the spread of Christianity.

-- On the positive side: the end of slavery in the Roman Empire, where it had been as widespread as it ever has been; a new consciousness of the worth of each person.

-- On the negative side: the closing of the Academy in Athens (after 900 years) and the other (pagan) philosophy schools; the lapsing (in the Western empire at least) of scientific investigation; 900 or so years of intellectual regression or, at least, much less progress; the triumph of a religion that emphasized death or what happens after dead or the End of Days -- not life.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at September 27, 2006 8:58 AM


Is there any reason to believe that slavery would have been abolished eventually despite the arrival of Christianity?

Posted by: pablo at September 28, 2006 7:44 AM

I admit I'm no scholar on the topic of slavery in the Roman Empire, but I find it hard to believe that Christianity had much to do with its end: the New Testament is full of admonishments to slaves to behave themselves and obey their masters... Slavery was, I gather, just another thing to get through while waiting for the second coming.

Posted by: The Ridger at September 29, 2006 8:19 PM

Charles Bradlaugh on Christianity and slavery:

"Humanity's gain from unbelief"

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at September 30, 2006 3:43 AM

The problem with history is our complete inability to know with any measure of certainty what would have happened otherwise. Of course, it's also difficult to determine what happened BECAUSE of x instead of what merely COINCIDED with x.
As for the Christian interpretation of slavery as punishment, we get into the age old argument of predestination v. free will. Do we automatically accept every occurence as the will of G-d or do we consider that events are a function of human choices/decisions although not necessarily our own. I don't know if they are necessarily mutually exclusive. Perhaps some things are predestined while others are under our control. (For instance, kaballah says that ever person has been assigned a soul mate by G-d but that each person has the ability to accept/refuse the will of G-d concerning that soul mate.) I prefer free will and the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. If what is and what should be/what is right/what is just are different, then I must struggle to change what is.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 5, 2006 11:55 AM

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