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The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason Paperback – February 8, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
My thesis is that Christianity was heavily politicised by the late Roman empire, certainly to the extent that it would have been unrecognisable to Jesus. Note the linking of the church to the empire's success in war, opulent church building and an ever narrowing definition of what beliefs one had to hold to be saved. (Hand in hand with this went an elaboration of the horrors of hell, a radical and unhappy development which can only have discouraged freedom of thought.) My core argument is that one result of the combination of the forces of authority (the empire) and faith (the church) was a stifling of a sophisticated tradition of intellectual thought which had stretched back over nearly a thousand years and which relied strongly on the use of the reasoning mind.
I did not depend on Gibbon. I do not agree with him that intellectual thought in the early Christian centuries was dead and I believe that the well established hierarchy of the church strengthened not undermined the empire. After all it was the church which survived the collapse of the western empire. Of course, Gibbon writes so eloquently that I could not resist quoting from him at times but my argument is developed independently of him and draws on both primary sources and recent scholarship.
On the relationship between Christianity and philosophy I argue that there were two major strands of Greek philosophy , those of Plato and Aristotle. The early church did not reject Greek philosophy but drew heavily on Platonism to the exclusion of Aristotle.Read more ›
The first one third of the book, the best, attempts to demonstrate how the Christian faith is a collection of beliefs from various sources. Only a small but obviously very important part of the Christian faith has come to us from Christ through the gospels. Paul was another major source for Christianity, for example in his hostility to sexuality and in particular homosexuality (about which Christ seems to have said little). A third source were the four oecumenical councils in the fourth century which settled on numerous detailed and often formal questions, such as the theory of the Holy Trinity. In many cases the Roman emperor had to intervene between squabbling rival factions within Christianity to take decisions in religious issues, subsequently ratified by the Church fathers, more on the basis of political expediency than on any other basis. The consequence of this pyramid of sources is that, although the main principles had been formulated by Christ - most notably, love thy neighbour -, Paul and the early Church have added so much to this body, that Christ might not have recognised his own faith by the fourth century. And it gets worse.
Christianity moved in two directions. Firstly, following the proclamation by Constantine, turning Christianity into the State religion of the empire, the Church became materialistic, in contrast to its early roots which emphasized poverty and abstinence.Read more ›
It is certainly true that from a technological point of view, invention did continue throughout the middle ages, but free intellectual & scientific progress was certainly stunted by the church's insistence on reliance on scripture as the only valid source of knowledge, supported by an atrophied smattering of classical texts. Ironically of course the church integrated the very same old masters (esp Ptolemy, Galen and Aristotle) that would have espoused a practical and experimentalist scientific tradition completely at odds with the church's view of reality.
Freeman, while clearly an admirer of the classical world (most of his other books have that focus), is far from a church-basher, though once you've read the book you mightn't feel like being so kind. Gregory of Tours and Ambrose of Milan, two pivotal figures of the early medieval church, receive treatments that are fairly balanced (though it is clear that any admiration Freeman has for Ambrose are along the same lines as Machiavelli might have had for Stalin).
A really excellent book, especially if want a thorough, thought-provoking, erudite but not overly academic treastise on the late Roman/Early medieval period.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book contrasts two paths. These path are A. intellectual reasoning applied to "spiritual" whatever versus B. the faith (ie. Read morePublished 24 days ago by daveB
Very interesting book about the fallacies and errors in both the New Testament and Old Testament. It gives very clear and tangible evidence that that the Bible and the Gospels... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
This book purports to be an account of the replacement of reason by faith. It is not. It is a disconnected series of miniature essays. Read morePublished 2 months ago by J. Stark
Freeman typically for a scholar greatly understates and underestimates the pathology of the "church",
and its oh-so-kind institutions and establishments. Read more
Professor Freeman has written an engaging account of a major change in the Western psyche as the Roman Empire neared collapse. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Reflect
The title of this book made me fear it was a New Atheist screed that would blame everything on Christianity. This is a disservice. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Robert J. Crawford
Clear, concise, interesting, and easy to read. A great compliment to those studying the history of philosophy.Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
Some say that this is ‘a bigoted attack on Christianity by an atheist.’ That is not so. The author has an interest in Christianity but is critical of its subversion by politics and... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay