Saturday, December 11, 2021

Don't shoot the underlings

So I saw this story float by.  A young social media user claiming that there was no such place as Ancient Rome.  Nope.  The whole thing was a giant conspiracy of Spanish Inquisitors. What?  Welcome to 21st Century scholarship. In the end, she's merely an intellectual underling parroting the level of scholarship that has come to dominate academia in our generation. 

For instance, while scholars who are sympathetic to any attempt to tarnish Christianity gave kudos where they could, many still thought that Candida Moss's assertion that there was no real Roman persecution of Christians in ancient Rome was stretching things a bit.  Her claim is that, save for about twelve years of very limited persecution, the whole story of martyrs to Rome was lies and propaganda.  A twist on Holocaust denial aimed at the Christian Faith.  FWIW, critics say she relies on a torture of the historical record that makes Jack Chick's appraisal of Dungeons and Dragons seem spot on. 

Yet these are hardly new.  My whole life I've seen tabloid scholars chasing after this or that headline under the calling that one must publish or perish.  The best way to do this is to insist you've made some bold discovery that nobody has ever thought of before - whether it is true or not.  Never mind the biases and agendas that can be behind such dribble.  In the age of the Internet, however, something like Ms. Moss's book, or even this misguided child in the above story, can suddenly become prophets of revealed truth - because of course they are.   Remember, what passes for scholarship, research and even science can at times have less objectivity than a poetry reading in Greenwich Village.

Nonetheless, we laugh at such things at our own peril.  After all, the young girl in the story is simply a misfired bullet of stupid that went off a little too early.  If she backed up and said there was no Ancient Roman persecution of Christianity, she could be on her way to awards and honors and doctoral degrees in any one of a thousand of our fine institutions of higher learning today. 

And tomorrow the next generation will begin to catch up with her.  After all, if I went back twenty years and told you people today could risk official retaliation for claiming that there is such a thing as boys and girls, you'd likely have laughed me out of the room.  So much for laughter. 


  1. The claim that "there was no 300 year systematic persecution of Christianity," is interesting since I'm not sure the Church has ever claimed there was such a thing. The impression I always got was that alnti-Christian sentiment in the Empire tended to ebb and flow, depending on the year and geographic location. Candia Moss seems to be trying to disprove an claim that Christian Historians weren't even making in the first place.

    1. That's generally how I've seen it both in and out of the Church. Nobody I'm aware of ever said there were 300 years of constant universal persecution. Moss's problem is she's saying there was virtually none. No ebb. No flow. Nothing but a couple years of perhaps an isolated incident or two, and from there the Church spun a vast lie for propaganda sake. That approach to the West's past is becoming all the more common.

  2. There's a scene in Interstellar where a teacher parrots the official position (in the future) that the moon landings were hoaxed and were nothing more than a propaganda exercise of the US aimed to cause the Soviets to waste money on an impossible effort. Most modern watchers will laugh at the absurdity of the claims, since in the modern world Moon Landing Hoax theorists are not too far away from 9/11 truthers and flat Earthers. But they don't realize that this sort of reversal already has happened, and will continue to happen.

    Even 20 years ago it would have been absurd to say that there is no difference between men and women (but a man who says he is a woman is only a woman, not a man), or that slavery was only practiced in America and non-blacks had never been slaves. But now these claims are routinely made in high schools, and the teachers making these claims are just as sincere about it as the teacher in Interstellar.

    1. That's a great point. It's that creeping along. The way my son experienced it when it was brought up in his college classrooms - the idea that people questioning free speech, or that America was ever an evil nation, or that gender never actually exists - was being told it was all part of a vast historical conspiracy. If we thought women were different, it's because all of history was sexist patriarchal oppression of women saying so. America wasn't evil? That was those white racists - usually men - lying to keep the proles in line and not questioning its evil roots. Boys and girls actually exist? Again, transphobic bigotry, likely out of the Christian West. And that is said with the same straight face we saw when I was in elementary school and we learned how blessed we were to not be the Soviet Union.


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