Posts Tagged ‘books’

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible

December 4, 2011

If you find yourself annoyed by your atheist relative or friend who recites talking points from the New Atheists about the Bible; the Bible is Bronze Age mythology, unhistorical, supports slavery and genocide, Christianity retarded the advance of science, etc, then you need The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible by Robert Hutchinson.

Hutchinson begins by showing that the Bible is indeed historically accurate. Many supposed contradictions and inaccuracies are, in fact, the result of not understanding the literary techniques of the ancient world. He goes on to point out that, in a way, the Bible has been too successful. That is, to say, that the Western world has become so used to Biblical morality that we are often unable to understand fully the cruelty of the ancient world. Many advances in morals that we consider enlightened and modern had their beginnings in the Bible and the Hebrew culture that created it.

In ancient times, infanticide was a universal practice, except among the Jews and later the Christians. No one questioned slavery but the law of Moses softened and ameliorate the practice among the Jews by insisting masters treat their slaves justly and freeing them, with supplies to live on, after seven years. This is a marked contrast with the Roman conception of slaves as moving, talking tools, and living at their master’s whim. Later the Christians questioned slavery and ultimately Christians were responsible for abolishing slavery in the West.

It is a common belief that the Middle Ages were a time ruled by faith in which everyone was completely ignorant and science was at a standstill. Only when the Enlightenment philosophers shook off the restraints of religion was humanity able to progress. Hutchinson shows that this belief is entirely false. Science had its beginnings in the very religious and Christian Middle Ages. All of the founders of modern science, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Pascal, and many others were devout Christians. In fact, there is a strong possibility that the Judeo-Christian worldview was especially conducive to the development of modern science. After all, it only arose in Christian Europe.

Our concepts of human rights come from the Bible. If you believe that God created man in His own image and that His son died for all of us, then it follows that each human life is precious and has the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you believe that humanity was an incidental creation of the gods or evolved from primordial muck, then you might have a different, less exalted view of the rights of man.

I can do no more than suggest the arguments that Robert Hutchinson uses in his defense of Christianity and the Bible. I recommend it highly so that as Peter commanded,

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1Peter 3:15)

 

 

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The Byzantine Empire

April 22, 2011

I have just finished reading “The Byzantine Empire” by Charles Oman. I gave it five stars in my review at Amazon.com.

This relatively short book is an excellent introduction to the history of the Byzantine Empire. The author, Charles Oman, seems to have been among the first western historians to get away from Gibbon’s dismissals of the Byzantines a corrupt and cowardly and to present them in their true light, the defenders of the West from Islam for 800 years. There is a lot Oman skips over, that is unavoidable, but there is more than enough here to whet the appetite for more.

Obviously I liked it a lot.

God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark

April 10, 2011

    The premise of God’s Battalions is that everything you think you know about the Crusades is simply wrong. No, the Crusades were not an act of Christian aggression against the Muslims. The Crusades were, in fact, a belated response to centuries of Muslim aggression against Christendom. No, the Crusaders were not ignorant barbarians attacking a far more civilized enemy. The supposed golden age of Islam was not as much a high point of learning, as is generally supposed, especially since most of the learning was the work of non-Muslims. On the other hand, Europe, even during the so-called Dark Ages, was already beginning to pull ahead in practical technology. Anyway, as Stark points out, the concept of the Dark Ages is not particularly accurate and historians have largely abandoned it.

     Yes, the Crusaders did sack Jerusalem. This was standard practice against cities that resisted a siege. In any case, Muslim atrocities exceeded Christian. No, the Crusaders did not slaughter Jews on the way to the Holy Land. German peasants did that. The Crusaders were forbidden by the Pope to harm Jews and many times bishops protected the Jews from the mobs.

    Stark makes a strong case for the Crusades. They were, as I have said, a reaction to aggression. The Crusaders acted, for the most part, from the highest of motives. They did not expect to get rich from their endeavors. Many Crusaders went bankrupt. They truly believed they were God’s battalions.

     We, their descendants, have nothing to apologize for. Indeed, we should be proud of the men who marched across half the world, and won stunning victories against a foe who vastly outnumbered them. Their deeds were glorious.

     I did take issue with his description of the Byzantines as treacherous. The Byzantines had no reason to trust these armies who were marching across their territory, especially since their leaders included some of Byzantium’s deadliest enemies. The sack of Constantinople cannot be as easily defended as Stark does. It may have been standard practice and the Angeli emperors bore most of the responsibility for the events, nevertheless, it was a crime, it that Byzantium was permanently weakened and it tended to discredit future crusades.

    Overall, God’s Battalions is a noble work and well worth reading.


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