Living in the Dark Ages

I have been following the Hitchens – Wilson debate on ChristianityToday.com with great interest. Overall, I think Douglas Wilson has been doing very well against a brilliant, vicious, and thoroughly unrelenting opponent. Hitchens’ role in this world, I believe, is to bludgeon out hypocrisy, poor thinking, and overall stupidity. I am grateful when he turns his pen against things that I, too, dislike. However, he is not much of a spokesperson for his own “you don’t need religion to be be good” argument. I love reading Hitchens’ articles on slate.com. I have a hard time imagining spending more than two minutes in a room with him without jumping out a window. Douglas Wilson, on the other hand, I knew only through the classical Christian school movement. It’s satisfying to see that he seems to be a good foil for Hitchens.

As well as he is doing, I wish that Wilson had made more of Hitchens’ use of this quote from Heinrich Heine, advocating atheism in this modern age:

In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind old men as
guides.

This plays on a central pillar of the Great Scientific Mythology. Following the fall of Rome, this mythology says, the Western world was trapped in the “Dark Ages,” when virtually all important knowledge was lost and Europe labored under the yoke of mysterious and fanatical Religion. Beginning with the Renaissance and fulfilled in the Enlightenment, the Light of Science rescued us from this horrific era. We can now cast off the blindfolds of faith, belief, etc., and see clearly into the bright and boundless future, etc., etc. It’s a great story – except that it’s not true.

Heine died in 1856, so we have the advantage of historical perspective that he may have lacked. Considering the state of the world during the past 100 years, in which psychopathic tyrants have repeatedly seized control of entire countries and, with the consent of their citizens, slaughtered millions of their fellow citizens, in which school children have taken to murdering their parents and teachers, in which the largest and “most advanced” countries of the world have decided from time to time that forced sterilizations, compulsory abortions, and medical experiments on less-than-voluntary human subjects are sound public policy….

Can we really say that “daylight” has come? If religion is the best guide for “dark ages,” then perhaps religion is exactly what we need.

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