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Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Rodney Stark(Author)

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The following historical statements all appear in well-established textbooks, and have become part of our common culture. Which of them would you say are true?* The Catholic Church incited and actively colluded in nearly two millennia of anti-Semitic violence, and Pope Pius XII is still rightfully known as 'Hitler's Pope'.* Only recently have we become aware of ancient and remarkably enlightened Christian gospels, which narrow-minded Catholic authorities tried to suppress.* Once in power as the official Church of Rome, Christians quickly and brutally persecuted paganism out of existence.* The fall of Rome and the ascendancy of the Church precipitated Europe's decline into a millennium of ignorance and backwardness, which lasted until the Renaissance.* Initiated by the pope, the Crusades were but the first bloody chapter in the history of unprovoked and brutal Christian colonialism.* The Spanish Inquisition tortured and murdered huge numbers of innocent people for 'imaginary' crimes, such as witchcraft and blasphemy.* The Catholic Church persecuted and tried to suppress scientists such as Galileo, and the Scientific 'Revolution' therefore occurred mainly in more tolerant Protestant societies.* Being entirely comfortable with slavery, the Catholic Church did nothing to oppose its introduction in the New World, or to make it more humane.* Until very recently, Catholicism's hierarchical view of the ideal state has resulted in its bitter resistance to all efforts to establish more liberal governments and its eager support for right-wing dictators.* It was the Protestant Reformation that broke the repressive Catholic grip on progress and ushered in capitalism, religious freedom and the modern world.In this powerful and persuasive book Rodney Stark subjects these and other widely-held beliefs to a rigorous historical assessment. He gives a compelling account of how each of them became accepted as the conventional wisdom, how egotism and ideology often worked together to create false or highly distorted pictures of people and events, and how we need to work hard to recover the truth if we're to undo the cultural damage that centuries of anti-Catholic history has done.

�A majestically argued, gorgeously written, and essential book by one of the truly indispensable minds of our time. Bearing False Witness is one more gift to history from Rodney Stark. It should in turn be given to and read by students and professors everywhere, whatever their beliefs.� ---Mary Eberstadt, author of How the West Really Lost God --This text refers to the Audio CD edition. Rodney Stark is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and Co-Director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, Texas. He is Founding Editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Honorary Professor of Sociology at Peking University in Beijing, China, and past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. His bestselling book The Rise of Christianity was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and three of his other books have received Distinguished Book Awards.Raised as a Lutheran, he has identified himself as an agnostic but now calls himself an 'independent Christian'.

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  • PDF | Unknown pages
  • Rodney Stark(Author)
  • SPCK Publishing (March 16, 2017)
  • English
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  • Christian Books & Bibles

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  • By Peter P. Fuchs on August 23, 2016

    I agree with the author of a very critical review of this book in Patheos. I think it is valuable that Eric Smith the reviewer did such a careful debunking of the book, though I am not sure this odd genre of book deserves such care."Rodney Stark’s newest book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History, begins with a noble and needed purpose. He proposes to set the record straight on a number of slanders against Roman Catholicism, perpetrated by various enemies of the church. In doing so he seeks to defend the Catholic church, which he is keen to emphasize he is not a part of. But he is also seeking to defend history itself, from its excesses and mischaracterizations that place ideology and bias above objectivity and truth. He wrote the book, he says in the introduction, “in defense of history” (p. 7).This is a promising premise, because historians (and others) of various kinds have unfairly and untruthfully attacked Catholics and the Catholic church, and continue to do so. As Stark points out in his postscript, this anti-Catholic bias is supposed to have disappeared with the election of John F. Kennedy (much in the same way that racism was supposed to have disappeared with the election of Barack Obama), but of course bigotry is alive and well in many forms. A book like Stark’s, dedicated to rooting out the lies and mischaracterizations behind anti-Catholic bias, would seem to be just what was needed to further the cause of understanding and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue–not to mention helping to clean out some of the darker back rooms of history.Unfortunately, Stark’s book does not live up to that promise. Bearing False Witness is less a defense of Catholicism, and more a sustained argument against liberalism in all its forms. Stark’s modus operandi in the book is to identify a value held by liberals, turn that value into a critique of the church (whether it is or not), construct a straw man version of that value, and attack it. This is not a work of history; it is a work of apologetics.In his first chapter, titled The Sins of Anti-Semitism, Stark is defending Catholicism against accusations of being anti-Jewish. Already, on the second page of this chapter, Stark exploits a tension that he will use throughout the book to great effect to get out of tight spots: he dissociates what “the church” does from what ordinary Christians did. This dichotomy between official church doctrines and behavior on the ground is worth recognizing, of course, but for Stark it is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Ordinary Christians are never responsible for what the church does, and the church is never responsible for what its members do, and Stark is always left with a hero. The views and actions of the “few” who “may have gotten involved in outbursts of anti-Semitic violence” (which, in any case, Stark wants us to know was not as severe as everyone thinks) “did not have official standing and did not reflect the normal behavior of Catholic clergy toward Jews” (pp. 10-11). We should pause here to acknowledge that there is undoubtedly truth to this; an organization as large and diverse as the Roman Catholic Church is more than the individuals that make it up, and as he notes, individuals act in ways that are at variance with “official standing.” But this distinction was probably lost on those Jews experiencing violence at the hands of Catholic clergy (or, later, Protestant clergy); they were probably more immediately concerned with the reality of religiously-fueled violence being perpetrated against them. Whether that violence had “official standing” was probably quite irrelevant.This first chapter also exposes another criticism of Stark’s work–one that has dogged him since at least the publication of his most well-known work The Rise of Christianity. This criticism is that Stark is working outside the discipline he was trained in–sociology–and therefore frequently makes mistakes when it comes to other fields of knowledge. I have defended Stark on this count; I find The Rise of Christianity a useful and provocative book for the ways it takes a novel approach to the history of Christianity by breaking down disciplinary silos. But in Bearing False Witness, this interdisciplinary weakness is profound. In chapter 1, for example, as he is describing how Christianity and Judaism diverged and formed their own identities, Stark shows no awareness whatsoever of the extensive scholarly literature on this subject. He doesn’t cite the extensive Adversus Judaeos literature from antiquity, and he doesn’t cite the many, many publications on the “parting of the ways” that have redefined the ways scholars think about this period. To do so probably would have helped his argument, but he is by all appearances unaware of its existence.The second chapter, The Suppressed Gospels, is Stark’s take on one of the most commonly-believed conspiracy theories about the Catholic church: that it has hidden or suppressed electrifying ancient texts that shed new light on Jesus. These DaVinci-Code-fueled conspiracy theories have flourished in recent years: Jesus had a wife, the church “kicked certain books out of the bible,” the so-called “Gnostic gospels” were the true teachings of Jesus. This is all hogwash, and Stark is right to reject it. But the way Stark rejects it reveals a startling lack of familiarity with the material. Take this statement, for example. On page 43, Stark says that “Any honest reading of the primary Gnostic gospels reveals that, despite some Christian content, these are fundamentally pagan scriptures” (emphasis Stark’s). That is, they are not authentically Christian. This relates to something he wrote a few pages earlier, on page 38, where he quoted Rosemary Radford Reuther unapprovingly when she said these “Gnostic gospels” help us “glimpse a time when a great variety of Christianities” competed with each other.Stark seems to reject this claim–that there was once a time when a great variety of Christianities competed with each other–in favor of a view of history in which Christian theological orthodoxy persisted through time despite challenges from illegitimate “pagan” intrusions. But this is simply bad history. Of course multiple varieties of Christianity existed at the same time. Of course they competed with each other. The survey course I teach on the first 600 years of Christianity is called Christianities in Antiquity; the plural is an acknowledgement of the diversity of expressions of the religion. Stark knows this, I am sure. But he wants to guard some kind of orthodox purity by saying that the so-called “Gnostic gospels” are “fundamentally pagan scriptures.” They weren’t; they were texts written by self-avowed Christians as Christian texts. Stark might not agree with the theology or Christology of those texts, but they are still Christian.But the rest of that sentence–the one that claims that they were “fundamentally pagan scriptures–” betrays Stark’s interest in the analysis. “These are fundamentally pagan scriptures,” Stark writes, “and thus are precisely the bizarre heresies that the early church said they were!” (p. 43). Later, in his concluding section of the chapter, Stark writes that these Gnostic gospels will never be accepted as canonical “because they will bear all the disqualifying marks of their Gnostic origins, which is why Irenaeus dismissed the Gospel of Judas and others as fiction nearly two thousand years ago” (p. 51). What Stark is missing in this analysis is that people like Irenaeus were constructing orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not an independent ontology that Irenaeus compares to Gnostic texts! Irenaeus is fabricating orthodoxy in his acceptance and rejection of texts! People like Rodney Stark think certain texts and ideas are orthodox, and others are not, because of people like Ireneaus. Using Irenaeus’ words to justify the non-orthodoxy of the “Gnostic gospels” is like the pitcher also being the umpire, and calling everything a strike.There are other problems with this chapter. One of Stark’s arguments against the “Gnostic gospels” is that they are “forgeries,” that “they were not written when they claim to have been written or by the persons to whom they are attributed” (p. 49). But of course that same claim could be made for many texts in the New Testament, which Stark does not acknowledge. Stark consistently misspells the name of a major “Gnostic” thinker. And he seems unaware that the entire category of “Gnostic” and “Gnostic gospels” is a scholarly construct, begun with the polemics of Irenaeus and perpetuated to this day as a handy category. But no one in antiquity called themselves that; that’s just what Irenaeus called his theological enemies. Stark is carrying Irenaeus’ water rather obediently.These first two chapters are the ones that map most fully onto my own scholarly expertise, so I have focused on them. But later chapters follow the same pattern. Stark’s argument in many of them can be summarized as “it wasn’t as bad as you think.” Chapter 4: The dark ages weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 5: The Crusades weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 6: The Inquisition wasn’t as bad as you think. Chapter 7: The church’s anti-science views weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 8: Slavery wasn’t as bad as you think. Even when Stark has good points to make (“dark ages” is a misleading and unhelpful category, the Inquisition wasn’t insatiably bloodthirsty always and everywhere, and the church opposed slavery at many points), the reader finds himself disagreeing with Stark, because of the questionable assumptions and poor evidence he brings to the table. He starts most chapters by building a straw man. He presents what he imagines is commonly held knowledge, and then proceeds to poke holes in the poor scarecrow. This is a compelling literary device, since it draws the reader into Stark’s indignation. “Everyone believes that the Catholic church loves slavery!” (I’m paraphrasing). “But it turns out that the Catholic church doesn’t love slavery! This is satisfying as an organizational structure, but it leaves out and excuses many instances in which the church was complicit, was turning the other way, was not keeping its hands clean. It obscures the actions of a few rogue individuals, which Stark almost always concedes while claiming that they didn’t stand for “official” church policy. This structure makes Stark read like an apologist for colonialism, slavery, violence, and ignorance–things I doubt he would claim for himself. And ultimately this book makes Stark read like an apologist for conservatism broadly construed, since somehow, the true enemy almost always seems to turn out to be liberals. (And Voltaire…Stark hates Voltaire). Examples of questionable claims could be multiplied from later chapters–Protestantism is most properly characterized by Max Weber’s work on capitalism, witches who were actually practicing magic probably had it coming, and the church was an innocent victim of the French Revolution–but this review is already too long.I was prepared to like this book. I have enjoyed (and frequently cited) Stark’s scholarship in the past, because I appreciate his use of sociological principles in the field of religious studies. And in this book, Stark is at his best when he is using the tools of sociology to illuminate history. But those instances are few and far between. Much of this book is instance after instance of suspect historiography, selective argumentation, and disingenuous summarization. That’s especially disappointing for a book with such a promising premise. History, especially when written by Protestant scholars and those who cast a suspicious eye on religion generally, has tended to emphasize the worst of the Catholic tradition while ignoring the best. I am in complete sympathy with Stark in his desire to eradicate the slanders of history and to write history in a way that is fair to the Catholic church and those who are a part of it. But I don’t think that is what Stark has done; he has replaced one troublesome history with another, and has found a new bogeyman for the excesses and evils of the past: liberals. In this, Stark’s history is no better than the one he seeks to correct."

  • By Peter S. Bradley on June 1, 2016

    Bearing False Witness by Rodney StarkI’ve been addressing anti-Catholic tropes on the internet for the last twenty years. When I started, I honestly believed that these accusations were supported by fact, or, even, if not totally accurate, were substantially accurate. My particular forte of late has been the slander that the Catholic Church supported Hitler and the Nazis. By going past the books that everyone is reading into the books written by those involved in the “Church Struggle,” I have established that the modern view is a total distortion of the facts. Germans, Europeans and the world knew that the Catholic Church was completely opposed to National Socialism for a variety of reasons, including its exaltation of nation and race over God as the supreme good. I have newspaper articles from the New York Times that demonstrate that the German Catholic bishops repeatedly condemned National Socialism from 1923 through 1945. The German Catholic Bishops excommunicated Nazi party members. Catholic electoral districts did not vote for the Nazis at anywhere near the rate of Protestant districts. The Nazis lumped “political Catholicism” in with international Bolshevism and international Judaism as one of its three great enemies. These points are not opinions or apologetics; they are facts.Yet, I repeatedly am shown pictures of purported Catholic priests – who are often Lutheran – performing the Hitler salute – which was required on penalty of imprisonment - and told that Catholics made National Socialism possible.Needless to say, my interlocutors are as ignorant as a box of rocks, and yet they are arrogant with the arrogance that only indoctrination into an unshakable belief can give.Weird and insidious.Stark’s recent book is an effort to shake this modern faith. This is not a work of Catholic apologetics. Stark is not a Catholic. It is, rather, a different kind of “apologetics.” It is a work of “historical apologetics.” Stark reveals as his conclusion that his purpose is nothing less than to defend history, which has become distorted by ignorance and political ideology, and encrusted generations of bigotry, to create the “perfect storm” of ignorance, and a dangerous ignorance since rejecting Catholic history effectively paves the way for rejecting Western History and Western values. Stark’s approach is to state the conventional wisdom of Catholic duplicity or evil and then point out with simple facts how false the conventional wisdom is in root and branch. Candidly, for a reader who has read Stark’s other books, much of this is a rehash, but this book is useful in collecting the many false tropes in one source, and he does offer additional and new insights. The topics that Stark covers are Antisemitism, the non-canonical gospels, persecution of pagans, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, religion and the rise of science, slavery, the Catholic Church and fascism, and the Catholic Church's alleged social stagnation. In very simple and clear statements of data, Stark debunks the myths. This is not to say that Catholicism has never done anything wrong, but Stark absolves it of guilt for the grossest crimes it has been repeatedly accused of.This book should be required reading at a high school or college level simply out of fairness for the years of defamation. Also, it would advance the project of knowing the truth, which education supposedly has as its goal. The lay reader would undoubtedly have one of two reactions. The reaction of many, unfortunately, would be denial because the facts don’t fit the myths. The second, more hopeful reaction, might be “mind-blowing” as the imagined past is replaced by the actual past.For someone who has mastered the facts, the more interesting question is “why?” Why is it that in the space of 80 years, Catholicism went from the undisputed opponent of the Nazis to its putative handmaiden?Stark points to a number of factors. One factor is the burden of history. Protestantism, particularly Protestant England, waged a “cold war” against various Catholic powers, including Spain and France, and made much use of the “black arts” of propaganda. Once the “Black Legend” had been launched into the universe, it has been impossible to eliminate from the essentially Anglophone world. This traditional Protestant propaganda has merged with an ideological stream that is either anti-religious or secular leftist:“Although Gibbon was one of the very first “distinguished bigots,” he is in excellent company— the list of celebrated, anti-Catholic scholars (some of them still living) is long indeed. We will meet scores of them in subsequent chapters, some of them many times. Worse yet, in recent years some of the most malignant contributions to anti-Catholic history have been made by alienated Catholics, many of whom are seminary dropouts, former priests, or ex-nuns, such as John Cornwell, James Carroll, and Karen Armstrong. Normally, attacks originating with defectors from a particular group are treated with some circumspection. But, attacks on the Church made by “lapsed” Catholics are widely regarded as thereby of special reliability!”Stark doesn’t mention the theory of the former Romanian spy chief, General Ion Mihai Pacepa, that Soviet Union engaged in its own “black arts” of propaganda in crafting its own “Black Legend” that indoctrinated millions into believing that Pope Pius XII was a Nazi sympathizer. [See Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism.] For all of his interest in Sociology, Stark doesn’t offer an explanation as to why these streams have merged, endured, and been accepted by so many. It may seem obvious to Stark, who grew up breathing in anti-Catholicism with his Lutheran mother’s milk, but it does seem that modern anti-Catholicism is different from the prior kind insofar as it has such an appeal to Catholics, who may be finding themselves identifying more with ideology or nation than faith.The hopeful sign is that the pressure from the outside, from the “distinguished bigots” who more and more are not distinguishing between Catholic and Protestant, is pushing Catholic and Protestant closer. Stark points out that the ecumenism in his own university, Baylor – a traditionally Bible-Belt Baptist institution – has grown to an extent unimaginable when he started teaching.For myself, I will offer my own sociological insight: I think that traditionally anti-Catholic Protestants have learned that anti-Catholicism is a luxury they can no longer afford. It was once possible to enjoy a book that depicted Catholicism as corrupt and criminal, but when Dan Brown’s execrable “The Da Vinci Code” came out and provided pop pabulum history that a basic Christian doctrine like the divinity of Jesus had been adopted by a vote on the slimmest margin – a lie – Protestants began to understand that the Catholic limb they had been sawing on was the limb they were sitting on. Likewise, Protestants have seen attacks on the Crusades turned into attacks on Western Christianity generally. The dark art of propaganda is easily turned.And, then, there has been the intellectual damage done to scholarship as propaganda becomes the coin of the academic realm and scholarship is judged by how it fits the narrative rather than how it fits the facts.Let’s hope that Stark is successful in his project.

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