Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Christianity on Trial by Caroll & Shiflett

book cover

Christianity on Trial
by Vincent Caroll & David Shiflett

Trade Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Encounter Books
First Released: 2002

Source: Book I bought.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
"While there is nothing wrong with remembering the evil that men do, there is something altogether perverse in consistently disregarding the good that men do.""

In Christianity on Trial, the authors don't shrink from confronting the tragedies that have been perpetrated throughout the ages in the name of Christianity. But they argue that the current indulgence of anti-Christian rhetoric in our culture involves not only bad taste but tunnel vision and willful historical illiteracy as well. Carroll and Shiflett dispassionately consider the indictment of Christianity--specifically that it has justified racism and misogyny, encouraged ignorance, promoted the despoliation of the environment, and even justified genocide. Then they answer these charges.

Christianity on Trial challenges readers of all beliefs--even those with a belief in disbelief itself--to reevaluate the role of Christianity and discover that it's not only a source of consolation but of enlightenment and human liberation as well.

Christianity on Trial explores if the charges critics most frequently level against Christianity are true and if they accurately represent the history of Christianity. The authors kept a neutral tone throughout (though they obviously thought Christianity more good than bad) and discussed both the good and the bad in Christian history. They looked at the actions of all Christians--Catholics, Quakers, Puritans, Protestants, etc.

Each chapter started with common charges laid against Christianity by various critics, then discussed if the specific examples often cited were true, then looked at the bigger picture to see if these were isolated incidents, if more was going on to cause the effect than just a Christian influence, and what good things Christians and the Christian ethic was responsible for. The authors quoted people's own words, people writing around the time of the event, and other (not necessarily Christian) historians who have carefully researched the events in question.

The first chapter covered some of the ways Christianity laid the foundational ideas we see in Western society. The next chapters answered: Did Christianity endorse and support slavery? (Ch. 2); Does Christianity hinder science and invention? (Ch. 3); Is religion the primary cause of war and discord? (Ch. 4); Was Hitler a Christian who was simply carrying out the Christian anti-semitism feelings of the time? Did Christians fail to protect Jews from the Holocaust? (Ch. 5); Are Christians more interested in condemning those in need than in helping them? (Ch. 6); Does Christianity teach a destruction-causing view of the environment? (Ch. 7); Are Christians dangerously intolerant of other religions? Where the founding fathers wary of religion and trying to establish a country free from religion (rather than with freedom of religion)? (Ch. 8).

I felt like the first chapter tried to cover so many topics that they didn't give enough information for me to fully understand some of the points they were trying to make. However, some of those points were dealt with more fully later in the book. The rest of the book was easy to follow and was very interesting and enlightening. I knew a lot of what was covered, but the chapter on Hitler was an eye-opener for me.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to Christians and those who are open learning if these charges against Christianity are justified and what positive things have come about because of Christianity.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 75-76
Galileo, whose Sidereal Messenger had propelled him to fame in 1610, was personally warned by the Jesuit scholar Cardinal Robert Bellarmine to soften his noisy promotion of the Copernican view. Galileo, being Galileo, this could not be. He was a controversialist, an intellectual who relished the parry and thrust of debate. He misjudged the value of his relationship with Pope Urban VIII and pushed the pontiff beyond his limit. With almost suicidal rashness, Galileo created the character of Simplicio in 1632 for his brilliant Dialogue, and then let the simpleton mouth the pope's own arguments. This was the insult that brought the great scientist down.

Church apologists are sometimes ridiculed for pointing out that papal authority itself was never invoked against Copernican ideas, as if this were mere hairsplitting. After all, Urban VIII actively supported the charge against Galileo and the disgraceful punishment of house arrest. But hairsplitting is precisely what helped save Catholic astronomy, as J.L. Heilbron explains in his ground-breaking 1999 work, The Sun in the Church:

Galileo's heresy, according to the standard distinction used by the Holy Office, was "inquisitorial" rather than "theological." This distinction allowed it to proceed against people for disobeying orders or creating scandals, although neither offense violated an article of faith defined and promulgated by a pope or a general council....Since, however, the church had never declared that the biblical passages implying a moving sun had to be interpreted in favor of a Ptolemaic universe as an article of faith, optimistic commentators...could understand "formally heretical" to mean "provisionally not accepted."

Galileo's great offense was disobedience, and this was not lost on his contemporaries. They "appreciated that the reference to heresy in connection with Galileo or Copernicus had no general or theological significance," writes Heilbron.

If the heresy had no theological significance, why should it have decisive scientific significance? The answer is, it didn't--not even in astronomy. "Catholic scientists in France and elsewhere (outside Italy) cheerfully ignored the decree" of 1633, Boas Hall reports. But the full truth is even more surprising. As Heilbron painstakingly relates, the church continued to support astronomical research actively in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even in Italy, in the Papal States, in Rome, and even though the research inevitably reinforced the Copernican system....Indeed, the church "gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and probably, all other institutions," Heilbron maintains.

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