REVIEW: The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, Catherine Nixey

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Darkening Age is the largely unknown story of how a militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the Classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to 'one true faith'. Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Catherine Nixey reveals, is very different. Far from being meek and mild, they were violent, ruthless and fundamentally intolerant. Unlike the polytheistic world, in which the addition of one new religion made no fundamental difference to the old ones, this new ideology stated not only that it was the way, the truth and the light but that, by extension, every single other way was wrong and had to be destroyed. From the 1st century to the 6th, those who didn't fall into step with its beliefs were pursued in every possible way: social, legal, financial and physical. Their altars were upturned and their temples demolished, their statues hacked to pieces and their priests killed. It was an annihilation.

Most of the reviews on Goodreads say that The Darkening Age is biased.
Most of them are written by Christians so one may say that they are biased.
Either way, in The Darkening Age you find Catherine Nixey’s passionate argument about all that was lost when Christianity rose. It doesn’t need to be objective, it doesn’t need to be balanced; it just needs to raise attention of the some 90% of books that were lost, the people that were executed, and the statues that were destroyed. Sure, Christianity did some good - how much good it did is up to the individual - but it is undeniable that, like with the rise of most great powers, it had costs.
It has always confused me, a lowly wannabe-intellectual, as to how quickly the world changed from a time of sexual freedom and scientific discovery to one of suppression and restraint. The link between the fall of Antiquity and the rise of Christianity had never been obvious but now, upon further consideration as to how diametrically opposed the two overarching ideologies of the time periods are, the rise of one leading to the eradication of the other makes complete sense.
Because how, in a world where both of them desired to be the dominant way of thinking, could they have lived side-by-side for very long?
The answer is frankly, they couldn’t.
And so, Nixey’s book charts the rise of a religion that would span more than a millennium. Even 1500 years after the events of The Darkening Age, Christianity, with 2.1 billion followers, is the largest religion in the world today and its effects are seen throughout the infrastructure of daily life.
It makes you wonder how far we’d be without the suppression of ideas by religion; what kind of world we’d be looking at. The scholars and philosophers of Antiquity were discussing astronomy, biology, anatomy, anthropology in a way that wasn’t matched again until the 1700s and 1800s. And what about the scientific advancements that could have taken place if the world hadn’t been put on pause for over millennia, thanks to the threat of accusations of heresy?
Would we have found the cure for the diseases that continue to run rampant? Would we already have flying cars? Would we have colonised Jupiter?
I suppose we will never know.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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