A Bridge Too Far

This is part three (Miracle at the Bridge) of my review of The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points That Saved The World, by Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart.

How to Trip Over Your Own Tipping Point

Chapter Three brings us to Rome, circa 300 AD, and the emperor Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The authors’ horror of large states, big government, and theocracy miraculously fall away as they trip over themselves to convince the reader that this was a wonderful thing. Chapter Three is, in fact, a Pandora’s Box of junk history as the authors zoom back and forth in time and race all over the world in a frantic attempt to prove that everything good in the Western tradition comes from Christianity. It’s such a mess I began to wonder if I was wasting my time engaging with it. Then I remembered that Ted Stewart is a federal judge, Chris Stewart is a U.S. congressman, and their book made The New York Times bestseller list. So yes, it’s worthwhile.

OK, so let’s go down the list, and see how well Stewart & Stewart defend their points.

Human Rights and Democracy

Stewart & Stewart tell us that David Brog, author of something called In Defense of Faith, “show(s) that the Judeo-Christian values were instrumental in compelling individuals to respect and even to fight for the rights of others, even those outside of their own family, group, or people.” Believe it or not, this is their entire argument! And since they can’t be bothered to give any evidence for these claims in their own book, I don’t need to contradict them.

All warmed up, they continue, “Another of the most important foundations for Western political thought is the belief that certain rights are derived from God, not from man.” Which rights these are, and where they can be found in the Bible, is not stated. But they do tell us it was all articulated by a group of “Early Christian philosophers.” Along with these anonymous philosophers is an unnamed contemporary scholar who “shows” that the “nature of the covenant relationship between God and His people is the foundation for the covenant relationship that is known as constitutionalism.” That scholar is Jacob Neusner. Perhaps he is only named in the footnotes because Google tells me he once said Christians should “embrace Judaism.” Not that it matters, because 7 Miracles ends up refuting the very argument it wants to champion!

“The examples of the Greek city-states and the Roman Republic, with their various experiments in democracy, were vitally important to those European political philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who pronounced the philosophical foundations for self-government. Many of the ideas and institutions of these classical giants were adopted by the Europeans, giving them a significant jump start toward modern civilization.”

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Peace

The authors are eager to dispute the charge that Christianity has inspired “war, atrocities, bloodshed,” and genocide. To do this, they quote several Christian historians who assert that Christianity is wonderful. Then, a few pages later, we get this:

“Far too many wars have been waged in the name of Christianity, or a favored sect of Christianity, and millions of innocents have died as a result of those wars.”

OK, so much for that!

Reason and Logic

In chapter two, we were told these are the precious cultural legacy of classical Greece. In Chapter three, the “West” is more logical than the rest of the world because “Christian theologians have devoted centuries to reasoning about what God may have really meant by various passages in scripture.”

Centuries of reasoning to understand what God may have meant. Wow.

Science

Again, the authors serve up lots of talk about how free the thinking was in various Christian institutions, but give no examples. Nor do they mention Galileo’s heresy trial in the 1630’s, or today’s Christian war against the concept of evolution. But they do admit to this:

“For too long, the Christian church attempted to keep the people under its control by withholding the holy scriptures from them. In the name of Christianity, some scientific and technological advances have been blocked.”

And so they admit to the static, authoritarian, and theocratic nature of medieval and renaissance Christianity.

Capitalism

Since America is a capitalist nation, it is vitally important for Stewart & Stewart to prove that God invented capitalism! In so doing they sink to a new low in junk history. According to this book, “Capitalism was a system that evolved distinctly and uniquely in the West, its beginnings traced to the large Christian monasteries that sprang up throughout much of Europe.”

I’ve never encountered this idea in any of the history I’ve studied in my life, and the authors don’t even quote a Christian propagandist as a source. They just make the assertion and move on.

The End of Slavery

Finally, here’s the piece de la resistance in self-delusion. Did the emperor Constantine outlaw slavery when he made the Roman Empire Christian? No. But Christianity was still the key to ending slavery because “Later Christians would act as emissaries for peace, fighting against the horrors of slavery and for the rights of the “Indians” found in the New World.” … I’m repeating myself, I know, but…wow.

It Sucks To Be Poor

What little time we do spend in 3rd century Rome is mostly with a fictitious Christian family. They are so miserably poor that they need to send the children out into the trash heaps to scavenge bits of food and cloth. And yet, because they are Christian, they are also honest, kind, humble, brave, and ever thankful for the religion that, the authors claim, is the cause of the terrible abuse and discrimination they suffer at the hands of their neighbors.

After Constantine comes to power we get a heart warming scene of triumph because this family is finally free – free! – to paint a cross on their front door. Whether or not they are also free from their terrible poverty – the poverty the authors used to indict Pagan Rome for heartlessness and injustice – that is left unsaid.

The Miracle At The Bridge

So what is the miracle at the heart of this chapter? Is it Constantine’s claim to have seen a burning cross in the sky, along with the words, “in this sign, you will conquer”? Actually, no. The authors, aware there is no proof of this supernatural event, are careful to say he “reportedly” saw the cross. But they need a miracle for each chapter, so they find something else. And it is grim as well as violent.

Before Constantine became the undisputed Caesar of the whole empire, he had to defeat his rival Maxentius in a battle before the gates of Rome. Maxentius had heard an omen of his own, and he grew careless and over-confident. He chose to meet Constantine’s forces at a spot where his own army could not easily retreat. So when he was out-generaled by Constantine, his retreat turned into a route. He, along with many of his own men, where crowded off a narrow bridge, and they drowned in the river below. That’s the miracle. Ugh.

I still have 4 miracles to go, but I have a feeling the authors have pretty much shot their bolt with this one. If so, maybe I’ll just lump the remaining chapters into one short recap.

To be continued!

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