„Why Europe first?“ & therefore “Christianity and the West”?

ah-hist 1Peter Doig. Milky Way, 1990

Peter Blume The Rock, 1944-48 (ABOVE)

„Why Europe first?“ WHY the Industrial Revolution there? Where and when? Constructive competition, and the English Channel?!

Christianity and the West?

  • Is Christianity core for Western culture/values? No
  • Do the roots of Western liberal reform vitally include Christianity and the Church? No

                                                                                                                                                            10 June 2015


Here we take a deep breath and tackle a big one, why the Industrial Revolution happened where and when it did.

One answer seems to be the English Channel.

Glib but not entirely.

And for real entertainment and controversy we look at Christianity and the West.

There is today a forthright school which argues Christianity / the Church crucially influenced the emergence of “Western values”, Western liberal reform, which eventually manifested in the great economic take off.

And therefore stay true today!

Which is a somewhat profound and eye-popping “religo-centric” stance, for following it through it implies the Industrial Revolution was apparently divinely inspired!? And not just divinely, but Christian divinely inspired!

A contemporary dialectical reprise on the old “divine right of kings”!

This sounds ridiculous?

1/        „Why Europe first?“

WHY the Industrial Revolution (IR) there? And then?

Summary: two words. Constructive competition. Or two others: English Channel!

  • Massive, fascinating and controversial question.
  • The IR has triggered the biggest change in Man’s collective circumstances as a species in millions of years, and has happened in a blink.
  • Why did the IR, this astonishing and momentous rupture with 10 millenia of subsistence – the Malthusian Trap – start in the West, and then in a small pocket, England, then numbering about 6m?!
  • And around 1750?
  • Answer essentially is propitious prevailing politio-social-cultural circumstances in Europe, in particular:
    • (a) ideas: competition among free thinkers, and
    • b) government: accommodating / facilitating institutional (legal/governmental) arrangements, especially allowing constructive competition, 1/ between and among economic nd other relevant agents within political entities (kingdoms etc), starting with England, and 2/ between political entities.
    • Curiously a crucial geographic condition for this outcome was almost certainly the English Channel, without which England – and its peculiar political brew – surely would not have survived as an independent political entity.
  • The outbreak of the IR was the culmination of a lengthy process: 1/ emergence of the nascent liberal-democratic model, then allowing 2/ 17th C scientific revolution.
  • Thus answer lies not in comparative physical endowment? Climate, mineral resources etc. Though this influenced trajectory / composition of the outcome?
  • And not in religious circumstances?
  • The implications have been not just 1/ the transformation of Man’s material circumstances but, 2/ an explosion in scientific and technological knowledge.
  • And having started in a corner of Europe it has spread globally, especially post ww2.
  • And now once started, will it be sustained!?

ah-hist 2  Introduction

Why did IR start in the West, but not just in the West, in a small pocket, England numbering about 6m?! Why not Qing China (17-19th C)? Or near two millenia before in then technically advanced and politically organised Rome?

And why c 1750?

A crucial expression of the IR take-off was sustained growth of productivity, especially through commercially applied technological advance.

So in a small part of Europe („The West“) emerged a politico-socioeconomic national / institutional organising model that worked, delivered the Economic Take Off, the Break Out, throwing off the shackles of subsistence for the masses, of century in and century out – millenia – of the rise and fall of „civilisations“.

And… having started it spread. The demonstration effect.

The dramatic implications are (a) not just economic, the historically unparalled relief from poverty for swathes of the global human population, the transformation of man’s material living circumstances, and in an extraordinarily brief span of time, but also (b) extraordinary advances, an explosion, in scientific knowledge / technology, particularly in electrical / electronic physics and engineering, chemistry, and biology (genetics!).

It is a controversial question. Political? Thus views today often partial, come with an agenda.

But its also a complex, difficult multi-faceted topic.

And now as to the future, it begs the crucial, tantalising question, now unleased, will it be sustained?!


The reasons for the birth of the IR are hotly debated among historians. There is a wide range of views even among serious professional historians, which is interesting for events which have had such a dramatic outcome, and which happened not all that long ago historically, ie for which documentry and other evidence is extensive.

And it is a controversial question. Academically, politically? Thus views today are often partial, not „independent“ or detached, bring a contemporary political slant? Thus the „Europe first“ school is branded by some as Exceptionalist, Eurocentrist, and even as „culturally rascist“!

The „insitutional“ argument (eg versus physical endowment) for the „cause of the IR“ emerged in the 1980s? With North etc. And (cf G Clark, 2012) through a „bevy of authors.. in recent years..“

Within this approach there are three schools? 1/ „Incentives“ (cf Allen, Broadberry), 2/ „Idealist“ (cf Mokyr, McCloskey), ie right ‚culture’or ‚ideology‘, and 3/ (logically!) hybrid (cf Clark, de Vries?).

 Argument –nub

The direct answer is essentially composed of two vital ingredients:

1/ Man (ie individuals / groups /organisations / societies) competing among themselves to advance / progress his material lot, meaning competition to devise improved production practices (organisation and conduct of operations, technology), allowing bright, innovative commercial actors to apply improving technology and business practice.


2/ within effective accommodating, collective institutional /legal arrangements which allowed

(a) open enquiry and exploration of new ideas, in science and in organisation of man’s affairs,

and (b) economic man to conduct business, economic activity, retain orderly ownership of assets, and to keep a share of his gains, thus allowing cumulative collective economic growth to be sustained.

Technological progress was integral to this process, but more an effect of these conditions than a cause, its uncovering and its propitious optimal application.

 Argument – detail

Ultimately the IR was an economic break out, which arguably started in mid 18th C in England, but the ground was prepared especially in 16th and 17th C:

  • first by the Renaissance, a philosophical and art re-think, which reflected enterprising minds loosened from the Mediaeval straightjacket (notwithstanding some green shoots of progress in the Middle Ages), to start seeing world as it IS, not as it OUGHT to be according to self-serving preconceptions (ie mainly religious),
  • and then especially by the Reformation (ie through 16thC, 1500s) which unshackled the rebelling political entities from the institutional Roman Church and thus also helped to finally unshackle Thought / Enquiry from the suffocating authority of the Church (after fits and starts earlier) which sought to explain ALL, in heaven and on earth ex cathedra, ie its views derived from the Bible and its stories, especially Jesus, and from subsequent Christian writings. The Church was a violent authoritarian institution whose operations were based not on the Bible but on the Roman Empire which midwived it once Christianity was legitimised.

Thus was finally unleased a Science Revolution (ie esp 17th C, 1600s) starting arguably with Elizabethan England’s Francis Bacon, c 1600, advocating free and open enquiry, based on empirical fact, evidence and experiment not on institutionally directed and enforced preconceptions.

And thus too it grew into a philosophical revolution, the Enlightenment, through the 18th C, advocating, broadly, the application of Reason to organisation and advancement of man’s affairs, again anchored to free and open enquiry. Though Reason was also applied by the Deists to reinforce, justify their belief in God!

Then finally economic lift off occurred in England in mid 18th C where – after a brutal mid 1600s civil war had clipped the king’s powers for good – emerged a system of party based parliamentary Government overseeing effective rule of law and conducive to allowing enterprising, energetic, innovative businessmen to apply technical and financial innovation to commerce, initially exploiting domestic iron and coal resources.

Thus the end of the Civil War c1650 finally brought relative peace and stability to England, extended after England united with Scotland c1700, forming a larger domestic market.

The roots of England’s mid 17th C political revolution went far back, even a millenium, to the invasion by waves of Germanic tribes, plus the Vikings. The crucial development was the emergence from the 12th C onwards of effective parliamentary restraint on the monarch, one important signpost of which was Magna Carta in 1215, signed 800 years ago on 15th June.

And WHY was Europe first?

And WHY in small part of Europe, ie England (and also, in a less encompassing way, in the Dutch Republic), then spread.

The answer was not Jared Diamond’s „Guns Germs & Steel“ approach, though he covers relevant background aspects. The answer was not about physical endowment, geography, biology etc.

The answer concerned the prevailing politico-social practice and culture. Though this may have been influenced by physical endowment.

John Hirst’s answer in „Shortest History of Europe“ cites Patricia Crone, and in one word was „dispersal“. Or in JH‘s phrase, „Not everything was the king’s“.

Or, in my one word, going a step further, bringing all together „competition“ – or, better, in two words, constructive competition, giving the argument a Darwinian complexion.

Which makes sense? The absolute core driver of all human material advancement is competition? Striving to do better. Going back to the „Out of Africa“ migration by homo sapiens sapiens about 80,000 years ago, which most paleoanthroplogists agree was triggered by adverse climate change in Africa (there’s rich irony given today’s curious popular obsession with CC), ie change forced by Man competing with his chnging environment.

Thus we contemplate competition in broad sense? Competition between people, businesses etc, and against physical conditions, climate etc.

Competition occurs today in all commercial fields, in business, sport, entertainment, and culture, like it has occurred all through history, back then between tribes, between monarchs, empires etc.

Though this does not obviate the importance, the constructive purpose of collective /societal caring, compassion, empathetic considerations.

Out of the dispersal and competition in a small corner of Europe emerged the bones of the successful liberal-democratic (LD) model, ie the rule of law, regulated / administered / overseen by a central representative freely elected Government and, which arrangement in turn allowed economic self-interest and private initiative and innovation to take root, thus promoting economic productivity growth, which once sustained was – by definition – economic break-out.

The break through had to occur somewhere, and that somewhere happened to be England where strong parliamentary government had emerged, which allowed an effective merchant class to emerge, operate and prosper, protected from excessive royal power.

Crucially these circumstances allowed (a) innovation in relevant production technology, in agriculture and industry, and (b) application through development of propitious commercial business practices, business law, eg especially in financing, conducting economic activity, trade and growth.

Arguably this LD model is universally applicable? Relevant? It appears by its total characteristics the best organising model for all human societies IF the objective is promoting:

(a) comparative prosperity, freedom from material want, and

(b) meaningful wider individual freedoms?

It appears to be the optimum way to organise a national community, in terms of allowing meaningful individual freedom of expression and activity, subject to laws and rules agreed collectively via the Govt and legal system?

WHY and WHEN this model emerged first in Europe is harder to explain?

It emerged about 10,000 years after the agricultural revolution that saw man transition from nomadic to settled communities.

And it emerged about 5,000 years after the first settled large civilisations arose, in Anatolia, in the Fertile Crescent, in Egypt, in the Indus valley, and in East Asia, in China then Japan.

So it emerged after a long history of a succession of civilisations which were all authoritarian and anti-democratic, all run by supreme leaders of some kind, kings or emperors or despots.

However it was in Europe, and in particular the north of Europe where the radical new model emerged, in the area of the Germanic tribes and the Norse clans. It was these various groups which invaded then settled in Britain in particular, and thereafter in Britain NO absolute monarch or king ever emerged, was allowed to emerge by the tribes or groups in charge.

But a second important condition was that Europe remained dispersed (and therefore violent!), never subject to one dominant ruling entity, and this in turn allowed Britain to survive.

Staying with this line of argument, we might even argue that a crucial condition for allowing propitious circumstances to emerge was… the English Channel! Boy, there’s an original take. Without the Channel England almost surely would not have been allowed to survive as an independent political entity. It’s historical narrative would have been dramatically different? Swallowed by events on the Continent?

The other bright spot in emergence of the LD model was Holland, or more accurately the Dutch Republic, the United Provinces. This makes a fascinating case study for ironically its birth was provoked by reckless self-defeating Spanish aggression.

 Other aspects?

1/ Impact of European Imperial / colonising activity?

Acemoglu et al (2005) note that the European economic lift off was helped significantly by imperial overseas trade after c1500, across Atlantic and with Africa and Asia, which helped economic growth directly, and, importantly, indirectly through promoting the rise of merchant-bourgeoisie class, especially in countries without powerful monarchies, which in turn became a vital force for progressive political and economic reform.

Marxists argue that „colonial exploitation“ was the inherent reason for West’s success?! Which is obviously wrong. The take-off predated the major colonial activity. This activity may have helped economic growth (though that is probably debateable?), but it was an effect not a cause.

Marxists also argue colonial activity („exploitation“) weakened development in the colonial domains, which weakness carried through to post-independence performance.

But this is also wrong. Post-independence economic performance has varied widely. Thus East Asian „Tigers“ post ww2 (Japan, then Taiwan, Korea and Singapore) achieved spectacular success. Other Asian countries eventually also made big strides economically.

Taiwan of course is a very illustrative example, allowing a „twins“ experiment to show the efficacy of the LD model, versus the disastrous command economy in the PR of China before Deng’s revolution was initiated.

2/ Physical endowments? In particular England’s ready access to local / domestic mineral resources is often cited, esp coal and also iron ore. However Clark and Jacks (2007) downplay coal. They see the rise rise in coal production was driven by demand, and that coal made a“negligible“ contribution to Industrial Revolution incomes.

But presumably ready access to coal meant lower energy costs than otherwise.

Very revealingly old China was „developed“ economically and technologically, thus its often remarked advances in iron-making technology. But China did not „take off“. The slumbering colossus had no regional opposition, was allowed to stumble on, authoritarian, introspective, dormant, somnolent. Yes it was unstable and the history violent. It was invaded by Mongols and later the Manchus, both establishing their own dynasties, but they were absorbed by, adapted to China, which dozed on.

Thus a close-minded government system meant China did not capitalise on its important technical advances.

ah-hist 3Peter Doig. Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre, 2000-2002.

2/ Christianity and the West?

Did Christianity spawn Western liberalism? Is it core to Western culture/values?

 No! Tendentious mischief!

Christianity and the Church nurtured, spawned Western liberalism?” Like saying Nicholas II caused the Russian Revolution?

Christianity and the Church deserve minimal credit for the successful Western liberal model?

Relevant Mediaeval reformist roots were unintended consequences and antithetical to the then ruling faith-based model?                                                                                                                                                                                

Christianity was long violently regressive and anti-democratic, a central opponent of liberal reform, and hence an integral part of the problem not the solution.                                                                                                                       


  • Self-evidently Christianity and the Church were once central in the West’s historical narrative.
  • But recent repeated claims that Christianity and the Church have somehow been integral to the post Enlightenment success of the West are preposterous.
  • Yes the labels Dark Ages, Middle Ages (MA) and Mediaeval are misleading. Loaded simplifications which stress ubiquitous oppressive authority and narrow-minded ignorance?
  • So yes they were not as “Dark” as painted later by some Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers (eg Kant!?) for their own argumentative purposes.
  • Yes in the MA we see nascent reform, sympathetic to the modern liberal model, like a few innovative individuals applying Reason, law, open enquiry, Scientific Method etc.
  • But this was by naturally curious bright people operating under the radar, between the cracks, within an intolerant authoritarian antithetical overarching ruling Christian faith-based edifice.
  • So these reformist roots were largely “heretical”, opposed to, not condoned by the ruling model.
  • Thus there was violent suppression of heresy in the MA, if imperfectly, then especially later through the Counter-Reformation (C-R).
  • The reform roots were relevant, but not seminal.
  • It was not until 16th C and beyond that the Revolution unfolded, triggering, in the context of the Reformation and C-R, a massive final violent rearguard fight by the Church, hugely costly and utterly pointless, reminding us how the Nazis fought irrationally to the bitter end.
  • Thus contemporary Christian polemicists are shamelessly wrong in claiming not just respectability but credit for Church / Christianity’s contribution to Western success, above all because of the Church’s sustained violent historical antagonism to reform.
  • The opposite is the case. The Church was long violently regressive and antidemocratic, and hence a central part of the problem not the solution.
    • 1/ It assiduously promoted its cause, and violently attacked its enemies:
      • a/ throughout its long reign as a major player in government affairs, till the 16th C (viz Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-burning, anti-semitism), and
      • b/ particularly in its vigorous reply to the Reformation, ie the Counter-Reformation (viz Inquisition, religious wars), in 16th and 17th
    • 2/ The Church long believed that science was fully revealed, closed off, and hence opposed any notion of free and open enquiry.
    • 3/ Thus during the Counter Reformation, it implacably opposed the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, which in the fertile ground of England from around mid 1700s finally spawned the launch of the momentous Industrial Revolution which has since utterly transformed man’s global material circumstances.
  • The root problem of the Church (hence of the Reformation) is it has NO Biblical justification. It is an institution devised entirely by Man as a spiritually inspired worldly business, whose prime motive is survival and growth.
  • Thus, in the wake of Constantine’s early 4th C conversion, the Church built a self-serving business model, during the 2nd half of the first millennium, based on:
    • 1/ customers, ie sinners, ie all Christians but especially the rich,
    • 2/ a product: customers paying the Church to expiate their sins,
    • 3/ fabricating demand:
      • a/ magnifying the problem of sin: doctrinally emphasizing (i) the nature and extent of Man’ s sin and (ii) the obstacles for expiation,
      • b/and doctrinally magnifying the penalty for non-compliance: embellishing the horrors of hell, eternal damnation!
    • And 4/ restraint of trade: the Church claimed a monopoly on interceding for sinners!
  • Teach it at business school?!
  • So reality is modern Man, freed of the incubus of the Church, has no need of the Christian church when optimally organizing his affairs, spiritual or otherwise.
  • Time for him to grow up!

Church / Christianity argues its case for underwriting Western success

Fascinating debate.

Christianity’s proponents today argue hard and self-servingly for its relevance.

Thus they claim:

1/ that Christianity has been core to the success of the West, the emergence of the liberal democratic model, “Western” values. They claim specifically that Christianity was important for rise of rule of law, and respect for human rights, individual freedoms within an impartial independent legal system.

and 2/ that it remains core to the West’s future success, especially through its guidance on a moral code.

This is ridiculous, spurious?

Some Christian supporters like to cite the appalling violence of the atheistic non-Christian 20th C totalitarian states (Nazis and USSR) as a warning to those forgoing the Christian way, implying therefore that the liberal-democratic model, the rule of law etc, somehow comes from God!

And, in particular, that Man cannot be trusted to manage his own affairs.

The irony of course is that the totalitarian states behaved much like –displayed a similar narrow intolerant mindset to – the authoritarian Christian Church did in the bad old days, when it ruthlessly defended its “state ideology” against “heretics”.

 Historiographical comment

Both the books below argue the Middle Ages have been misrepresented, and evidence important roots of the liberal model which eventually prevailed, some might say triumphed.

One (1) argues mostly factually, presenting the evidence for nascent reform across various aspects, against the background of an important Church role in political rule.

The other (2), as its title belies, is more polemical, argues for a causal link, focussing on the importance of individual action and freedom, and how it was allegedly nurtured by Christianity and the Church, to blossom later.

(1)    The Middle Ages by Johannes Fried, Translated From the German by Peter Lewis (3rd German edition, 2009), Belknap / Harvard Press, January 2015

(2)   Inventing the Individual – The Origins of Western Liberalism, Larry Siedentop, London: Allen Lane, 2014, 448 pps

The earnest contemporary Christian “agenda”!

Beware the ardent contemporary Christian polemicists?

Thus they earnestly argue for:

1/ the relevance of Christianity, and the Church, to the emergence of the successful Western liberal-democratic model,

and hence 2/ the importance today of the same for sustaining the model.

They thus claim not just respectability but credit because they see the Mediaeval Christian regime nurturing liberal reforms.

They are also not friends of the “imperious rationalism” of Enlightenment! Because they (cf Voltaire!!) lambasted their beloved (Church-high) Middle Ages, displayed an anti-clerical animus!

But some go much further and see great danger in the Enlightenment, see Man becoming so arrogant and misled as to believe he can optimally arrange his own collective / societal affairs. This arrogance they see manifest in the French Revolution and its end point they see in the totalitarian nightmares of the 20th C.

Peter Doig. Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre, 2000-2002.

 But misleading and dangerous: “guilt by association”!

To support their preconceptions they attribute causality simply by broad association – because it happened on the Church’s watch- not by forensic analysis of the full facts and circumstances. Though Siedentop goes further (below), claiming Paul’s revolutionary Christian teaching revealed individual equality.

Yes there were important roots of reason based reform, but within an antithetical faith-based ruling Church model, and thus not condoned or supported by this model.

So it was not the Church-based model which in any way promoted reform, rather it occurred by accident, unintentionally, in the cracks within an imperfectly administered ruling authoritarian system, at the hands of naturally curious, bright freethinkers following their noses.

Thus the roots of reform were unintended consequences, and were by and large hostile to the Church’s views, highlighted above all by the Church’s violent suppression of heresy, when these heretical views attracted enough official scrutiny.

 Like saying Nicholas II and his regime caused the Russian Revolution

Claiming the Christian Middle Ages spawned liberalism is somewhat like saying Nicholas II and his regime caused the Russian Revolution, because it happened on his watch, the “reformist” revolutionaries taking advantage of Tsarist educational facilities!

But really you can say instead Nicholas provoked the Revolution, in the same way the authoritarian “Mediaeval model” in part provoked eventual liberal reform.

 Shoots of liberal reform? Yes but not condoned! Unintended “heretical” consequences within an antithetical intolerant faith-based ruling model.

No doubt the terms, labels Middle Ages and Mediaeval are misleading loaded erroneous simplifications? Stressing too much oppressive authority and narrow-minded ignorance?

The Church and co-operating secular authorities did promote literacy, knowledge and education, eg especially, to start, Charlemagne and Otto the Great.

This was intended though to support the ruling authoritarian faith-based Church model, within diverse political entities across Europe run by the Church in unsteady partnerships with assorted secular rulers: princes, kings, emperors.

But with unintended consequences!

Because it was not a seamless totalitarian society, perfect in its exercise of authority, thus it allowed naturally curious energetic bright people some freedom, space to create, innovate, “under the radar”, to take advantage of mainstream educational facilities.

Thus Johann Fried outlines important and relevant roots of the modern liberal model: Reason, law, open enquiry/ Scientific.Method.

And thus there were also important roots of religious reform, especially John Wycliff, J Hus? And Marsilius of Padua! His Defensor Pacis (1324), suggesting the Church retreat from executive power and become just a “moral arbiter”.

But the Church authorities made clear their opposition to freethinking reform by suppressing it, albeit not in any systematic way, when the overall circumstances suited.

Thus many of the innovative thinkers sailed close to the wind, attracted attention to their heretical views, eg William of Ockham, fleeing to Emperor Louis IV in Munich. And Peter Abelard (early 12th C).

And the Church launched occasional large scale suppression, particularly of groups of Christian heretics, and also Jews.

 Larry Siedentop and “Inventing the individual”: drawing a long bow! An agenda.

Siedentop emphasizes the emergence of the free thinking “morally equal” individual in Mediaeval Christian Europe, versus people locked into traditional family groups, like in old Greece and Rome, with carefully prescribed roles, run by men, where there was little or no scope for meaningful individual freedom, ie action on your own account, outside the family or tribe.

He sees St Paul as the key Christian “revolutionary”, who, through Christ’s sacrifice, saw all equal before God, thus advocating a.moral equality versus natural inequality. Thus Siedentop proclaims boldly “liberal thought is the offspring of Christianity, for “liberalism rests on the moral assumptions provided by Christianity”.

But this draws a very long bow and for this he is criticised by other historians, like David Abulafia (professor of Mediterranean history, University of Cambridge) and especially Samuel Moyn (Professor of Law and History, Harvard University).

In particular Moyn stresses that Paul was not talking about “equality”in this life but in the next! Period. Thus Siedentop overlooksthe vast chasm that separated the moral equality of Christians from the political equality of modern doctrine”.

Because liberalism achieved no practical expression in the Middle Ages!

Thus Moyn also asks “why, during the same Middle Ages when Christianity was supposedly becoming modern liberalism below the surface, its adherents dedicated themselves to crusading violence abroad and principled intolerance at home”. Because: “truth is that if Christianity became liberalism, it wasn’t during the [Middle Ages].”

He also asks, “wasn’t Muhammad committed to similar notions of human equality for the sake of the right path toward the afterlife?” But no practical liberalism ever emerged there!

Siedentop trowels on his allegiance to Christianity – clarifies his agenda – claiming liberalism today, by rejecting its Christian roots, faces a “double threat.. a morally empty utilitarianism..and an asocial individualism on the other.” This is not defensible.

But how relevant was Middle Ages reformist activity? Not much?

Yes the roots of liberal reform were relevant but ultimately not important, not seminal.

Because it was not until 16th C and beyond that the Revolution (Renaissance / Reformation / Science Revolution / Enlightenment) unfolded, took root and took off, thanks to:

1/ the thought shake-up caused by the traumatic Europe-wide Black Death,

2/ the simultaneous growing evidence of corruption in the Church, and inadequacy of the Church’s response,

3/ the slow, steady emergence and rise of the commercial bourgeois merchant class, literate, more open-minded and progressive..

4/ exploration of the world outside Europe, by land (through access to Asia) and by sea (to America and Asia).

And 5/ the invention and adoption of the printing press!

 And notice the massive cost of the Church’s final, rearguard resistance to reform.

Once liberal reform began to bite, in the 17th C, in the wake of the Reformation, there was a massive final violent rearguard fight by the then ruling faith-based model, by the Church and sympathetic Catholic monarchs (especially the Holy Roman Emperor, and the kings of Spain), and which was hugely costly.

This reminds us of how the Nazis fought to the bitter end, and also at a massive cost in the final 6-9 months of WW2. Thus looking at the total costs of Nazi aggression, from 1933 on through WW2, a hugely disproportionate share of casualties occurred in the final 9 months or so to May 1945, just as the Counter-Reformation religious wars caused in overturning the ruling Christian faith-based model.

 Church and Christianity and the West: the opposite is the case


Claims Christianity is core to the West’s success are not simply misleading but impertinent, because the opposite was true.

The Christian Church was long a resolute and violent opponent of progress, the emergence of the liberal-democratic model, and it thus shows effrontery to turn round now and re-brand themselves as heroes, taking credit for the success.

The Church today generally opposes multi-culturalism, fearing the Church’s importance will be lost in misguided relativist judgements. This is a red herring.

And also this ardent polemical enterprise now sits oddly, ironically, beside the challenge of the emergence of the Islamic problem?!

The blunt reality is BOTH these monotheistic religions are antithetical to the liberal-democratic model.

The root problem of the Christian Church (hence the root cause of the Reformation) is it has NO Biblical justification.

It is a human devised institution whose prime motives are survival and prospering, for the sake of its executive and staff.

This is not to deny that some Church behaviour arguably has been constructive, and that many of its practitioners have been or are kind and useful, but they are all working within –have their good intentions sometimes exploited by? – a fundamentally flawed system?

The Church’s business model

a/ Principles: Money buys redemption!

GW Bowerstock, reviewing Peter Brown’s new (2015) book “The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity” (Harvard University Press) writes: Faith and money lie at the core of all religious institutions, and although faith can exist without money, religious institutions cannot…. French theologian Alfred Loisy declared in 1902 that although Jesus proclaimed the coming of the celestial kingdom, it was the church that actually arrived..”.

The book title comes from the Bible! In Proverbs, ”traditionally associated with Solomon”.

The Christian Church, as it emerged after Constantine’s early 4th C conversion (312), deliberately, systematically exploited fear of death and the thereafter to establish and grow a business to sell the Church’s services to gullible, psychologically vulnerable, guilt-conscious “sinners”, essentially based on money buying redemption via the Church.

The self-serving, insidious business model comprised:

1/ the customers: ie sinners! That is all Christians, but with focus especially on the rich.

2/ a product: expiation! Customers, in various ways, pay the Church to expiate their sins, to remediate their problem of sin, to buy salvation / redemption / God’s mercy, blessing. A ticket to a comfortable Heavenly eternity. Sin was cast as a debt, to be relieved, extinguished by paying the Church.

3/ encouraging demand, by:

a/ doctrinally magnifying the problem of sin, emphasizing, based on interpreted scriptures:

i/ the extent of Man’ s sin, based on the Fall of Man, the doctrine of Original Sin (thanks to Adam. No, thanks to Eve! Yes a woman!). Thus Man’s sin is inescapable, unavoidable – everyone is tainted – and it is perpetual.

And ii/ the obstacles facing a soul in gaining expiation. Church theologians refined the model to improve its extractive capacity, changing the Christian concept of the afterlife to multiply the obstacles a soul must navigate by to reach Heaven.

b/ doctrinally magnifying the penalty for non-compliance with Church precepts, for not expiating sin: ie they embellished the horrors of hell, eternal damnation, in all its eternal diabolical fiery Satanic terror! (Cf the frescoes at Arezzo, and San Gimignano?)

4/ restraint of trade. Importantly the Church claimed a monopoly on interceding! So a major theme informing the Reformation was Man (ie the generic Man) circumventing the grasping institutional apparatus of the Church to access God directly, one on one.

Teach it at business school?!

Peter Doig. Mon 7 nov 2011, 2011.

 b/Practice, refining the model: doctrinal gymnastics

The Church which emerged from the mid-late 4th C AD, late in the Roman Empire, drew on the pagan Greco-Roman tradition of communing with the departed, and especially on spending wealth to buy rewards after death!

The new Church built its business model based on sinners paying to remediate the problem of sin. Sin was seen as a debt.

The concept of Original Sin was first cited by Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons in 2nd C AD) and developed especially by Augustine of Hippo in North Africa in 5th C. Augustine also rebuffed the Pelagian heresy, which claimed it is possible to lead a sin free life and therefore threatened demand for Church services!

Per Peter Brown above Church views shifted from 3rd C North Africa to 6th C Gaul, where Salvian at a monastery on Lérins islands, off Nice, focused on the rich! Especially by dramatizing the horrors of Hell, drawing on the fervid imaginations of Egypt desert monks. Hilary of Arles “evoked the fires of Hell”. To help loosen fat wallets! And Gregory of Tours reminded them of “the divine judgment to come”.

Then Columbanus arrived northern France from Ireland end 6th C, also stressing the looming Day of Judgement, but championing the monastic life as an antidote, funded by.. rich sinners! No longer alms for the poor, better Monks and nuns.. replaced the poor as the intercessors par excellence.”

The Church initially favoured alms for the poor, but then shifted to paying the Church direct, especially for monks / priests to pray for your destiny, to absolve sin.

Part of the Church’s institutional apparatus of control includes celibacy for its priests – again with no Biblical basis – for institutional reasons (like keeping them focused on the Church, not distracted by families, ie normal life!) and which arguably has caused great harm, triggering problem paedophilia in many countries.

c/ Practice, implementation: pernicious confrontation of enemies and opposition to free enquiry

We agree Christianity was certainly core to the history of the West. In terms of intimate involvement in the affairs of government and society, Christianity was mainstream for over a millenium, c mid 300s to say mid 1600s, or around 1300 years.

But Christianity was not thus a reason for the dramatic rise of the West to its pervasive contemporary economic and cultural presence, which rise started about 100 years after the Church “lost” its Counter Reformation fightback.

Rather, per contra, the Church was inherently part of the problem, stridently resisting the new liberal, secular model.

And thus today it is not necessary to the West’s successful future.

 Confronting its enemies: punishing doctrinal obliquity.

First, the Church’s primary interest was maintaining and furthering its power and presence, and thus it worked hard with secular authorities – with monarchs and emperors – to seek this.

In this the Church was inherently anti-democratic and violently regressive, generally assiduous in punishing doctrinal obliquity, if not necessarily thorough and consistent in this.

Its operations were never remotely democratic. They had no interest whatsoever in the rights of the common man.

The Christian Church interpreted, manipulated core Christian beliefs to underwrite and augment its power and presence.

And the Church was a violent opponent of its perceived enemies, if imperfectly, not always consistently, as befits most authoritarian regimes.

The list is long and bloody: 1/ suppression of heresies (notably the Albigensian Crusade), 2/ witch persecution; 3/ anti-semitism (the Church developed doctrine blaming Jews for Christ’s death, for which the subsequent Roman crackdown was deemed punishment. And persecution of Jews became prominent from the 12th C onwards, associated with the Crusades, then the Black Death) 4/the Crusades!? 5/ the religious wars of the Counter-Reformation, in France, in the Netherlands (at hands of Spanish), then especially the extraordinarily destructive and completely pointless Thirty Years War, c1618-48, which engulfed Germany and nearby.

Opposition to free enquiry

Secondly as part of the Counter Reformation the Church fought hard to enforce dogmatic precepts to straightjacket progress in scientific knowledge and to resist any questioning of this corpus of knowledge, which it regarded as fundamentally complete, settled and beyond doubt.

Thus it was famously a strident opponent of the 17th Scientific Revolution (epitomized by the trial of Galileo), and the subsequent Enlightenment when Reason and open-eyed and open-ended enquiry were applied to science and beyond to all man’s affairs, then and ever after.

The real root of Western liberal-democratic success?

What are core Western values?

Freedom of movement, of expression; tolerance of, respect of others rights; within an independent, impartial universal judicial framework, in turn within a fully functioning and fair representative election based system of democratic government, including an effective separation of powers between the executive, parliament and the judiciary.

The Church in pursuing its own self-interested agenda by and large fundamentally opposed these precepts.

On the contrary there is a strong argument that (1) the rise of common law and (2 the delineation of rights of the ruled versus the ruler)s) is rooted in the history of the competing Germanic and Norse tribes in north Europe, and especially once these tribes settled in Britain.

England then played a pivotal pioneering role in the emergence of effective parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, when the nobility and landed classes fought to restrain the power of the monarch, though it was bloody, and then took another four log centuries for the franchise to be extended to all adults.

Going forward.

In justifying its use, purpose, value going forward the Church makes great play of the value of its moral code, ie the 10 Commandments etc.

This is tendentious? Man is perfectly capable of devising a workable “moral code”, then expressed and implemented via a secular governmental system.

It is time for Man to cut the apron strings of an imaginary God and grasp his own future, because modern Man is perfectly capable of organizing his own collective societal affairs, applying Reason thereto, and not least to the lessons of history.

The standard interjection here that Hitler and Stalin showed the terrifying danger of Man abandoning God’s inspiration and revelations by going it alone, having the gall to establish his own Man-devised ruling moral code, is spurious, and self-defeating. For the Church’s model is also devised by Man! Behind the illusory smokescreen of the hand of God.

Reality is modern Man, freed of the incubus of the Church –any church – has no need of the Christian Church when optimally organizing his affairs, spiritual or otherwise.

But the way ahead will forever be strained, impeded by:

1/ Man’s gullibility, his susceptibility to the lure of self-serving, delusory religious artifice, today offered across the world by a diverse panoply of entities and agents, and

2/ Man’s equally powerful inclination to exploit this gullibility through manipulative, extractive institutions like the Church.

PS: appeal of Faith? Christianity and the Church? Life’s easier that way?

Interesting and profound question.

Lots of “bright” people accept it.


Which demands another intellectual marathon.

Or a phrase: life’s easier that way?

Wishful thinking?

ah-hist 4

Peter Doig. Mon 7 nov 2011, 2011


Peter Blume, Home for Xmas, 1929


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