But Just Whose Family Values?
One of the classic quotations from the New Testament occurs at John 8:31-32, which reads:
31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."1
always been a close relationship between Christianity and slavery. As
is true with many religions, any mystical belief system tends to
flourish in an environment of oppression, particularly where the
oppressors have every reason to promote superstitious beliefs. Thus,
when the Roman Empire continued to practice slavery in its later days,
Christianity found many converts among the slave peoples.2
Eventually, there were a number of slave rebellions, fomented (at least
in part) by Christians, which rebellions contributed to an overall
chaos which existed during the last century of the Roman Empire.
Probably one of the most unforgivable acts of the early Christians was the killing of Hypatia in March of 415 a. d., which was soon followed by the departure from Alexandria of most of the scholars who were associated with the great library. Not long after that, the library itself was destroyed, including the burning of all of the remaining books which the departing scholars had not taken with them.
What we know today of the great library comes from the few books removed by the departing scholars, along with letters from the scholars which were preserved in other places. This sparse record gives us so many tantalizing clues as to the contents of the great library. There are references to so many books which would delight modern scholars to read, even though there is probably little new knowledge to be gained from them. Just the works of art, including plays and novels, would add tremendously to our culture. The recorded histories and other non-fiction factual works would be tremendous aids to modern day historians and archeologists. But unless someone discovers how to construct a time machine, all of this is lost to us forever, thanks be to the local Christian patriarch, St. Cyril,3 and his followers, who set out to burn the pagan books which they believed Christians had no use for.4
But the library and its books had been present for a long time.5 Why did it happen when it did? There were probably many factors which contributed to the killing of Hypatia and the destruction of the great library, but the proximate cause was the denouncement of Hypatia by St. Cyril, who accused her of being intimate with Orestes, the pagan prefect of Alexandria.6 A sober analysis of Christianity, however, would probably ascribe the true motivation to a natural disgust at having a leading scholar be a "mere" woman. The Christians have long detested women,7 and those feelings continue to this very day. According to the Bible, it was woman who led man to sin in the Garden of Eden. In the minds of many Christians and Jews, that settled the fate of women for all time. So, men should lead; not any woman who might again lead men to sin against God. These feelings persist in the Roman Catholic Church, which refuses to consider ordaining women as priests. Deep down, the reason remains a detestation of women.
The traditional view of women held by most Christians throughout history, and which is still held today by many so-called "fundamentalist" Christians, is that a woman is the handmaiden of her husband. Thus, each woman should be subservient to her husband, and obedient to his every wish. As Western Civilization developed through its agrarian phase, in a thought process which was remarkably similar to other cultures, women came to be viewed as "property," with all of the attendant consequences.8 The distinction for Western Civilization is the Industrial Revolution, which caused women to be re-evaluated as cogs in the industrial machinery, which eventually led to a push for Women's Equality.
But we should not lay the blame for all of these troubles directly on the Christians. The concept that women were "second class citizens" was inherited from Judaism, who probably inherited it from their Mesopotamian predecessors.9 It is also obvious that the Islamic faith still perpetrates a strong belief that women do not in any way have "equal rights" to men, although the matter is pressed only by the more fundamentalist sects of Islam. As Will Durant points out, this status for women is a natural outgrowth of a rural and agricultural society which lacks any forms of advanced technology. The need for men to work the fields and fight the wars led to a view of women as homemakers and baby machines, which is "slavery" in some sense of that word. Thus, women were naturally viewed as "property." Only when the need for even more hands to operate the machines of the Industrial Revolution led to a parallel need for an educated work force did women begin to be taught in earnest, and that led to the demands of women for equality with men.
1 There is much which could be said about these two verses, including the obvious fact that Jesus was trying to tell the Jews that He was the Messiah who had come to set them free. Viewed objectively, these verses demonstrate the tendency of myth makers to weave accepted "Truth" into the particular myth which they are peddling in order to give it that certain "ring of truth" that will make the myth believable. If Jesus had really been passing out wisdom on that day, He would have said instead: "Seek the Truth, for when you know the Truth, it shall make you free."
2 First, many Christians were themselves enslaved, which was sort of like putting the fox in the henhouse. The legends of Christian martyrs converting many during their own captivity are legion. Second, it is a natural tendency for any oppressed people to seek a mystical "escape hatch." The rise in mystical religious thought among any particular people is an almost totally reliable barometer of the level of oppression of those same people. In their book, The Lessons of History, Will and Ariel Durant note this well known phenomena. Lastly, early Christianity had the advantage of a simple moral code and no well-known corrupt rulers running the church. These factors no longer exist, as the "real world" requires a much more complex moral code, and the natural tendency for the powerful to become corrupt has worked just as well for the leading Christians as it has for anyone else.
3 St. Cyril (375-444 a. d.) is known as a righteous dogmatic and a zealot. He destroyed dissident sects of Christianity and ran the Jews out of Alexandria after they complained about the Christians.
4 Book burning, while certainly not uniquely Christian, has recurred time and time again down through the history of Western Civilization.
5 According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the library was founded in the third century b. c., and was destroyed in the fifth century a. d. Thus, it was around for roughly seven centuries before St. Cyril ordered its leader to be killed and the library to be destroyed.
6 Note that neither of the participants in this alleged affair were Christians.
7 And they also harbor a deep disgust for Jews, for "killing Jesus."
8 For a number of interesting anecdotes from a woman's perspective during the Twelfth Century I would suggest reading "Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings," by Amy Kelly (1950).
9 It is becoming more widely recognized that the Pentateuch owes much to Mesopotamian legends, including, for example, the myths surrounding Moses. More and more scholars agree that the Moses legend could not have occurred at the time and place ascribed to it, and that it is more probably a rewrite of the Mesopotamian legend of Menses.
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