The Dark Side of Christian History, By Helen Ellerbe, 1995
This short history of the truly dark ages, written by a pagan feminist, reminds us what Christianity did to Western civilization over a long, long period. This is not pretty stuff. And I quote Ellerbe: “As it took over leadership in Europe and the
Orthodox Christianity, as Ellerbe calls it, sold its soul when it became the official doctrine of the
Ellerbe details the destruction of Jews, ‘witches’ and heretics brought about by the Inquisitions and the witch trials. She points out that book burning was also a method to combat heresy, which certainly sounds familiar. The trials were many times for material gain, as Inquisitors were allowed to seize the land and property of those condemned. The exact number of dead is unknown, but Ellerbe estimates in the millions. The Church openly authorized the holy use of bloody force and torture against ‘sinners’ and pagans. It also contributed to the spread of the Black Plague by opposing cleanliness, killing cats and dogs that were thought to be 'allies' of witches, and opposing any medical treatment but bleeding.
Ellerbe interprets the Crusades as part of the Church’s attempt to solidify its hold over Europeans by forging an alliance against the evil ‘Muslims’ – who, while obscurantist in their own way, did not drop to the depths of brutality as did the Church. Though a similar history could be written about the bloody rule of another group of desert fundamentalists, let's say the Saudi Wa'hhabists. The rape of
Even Martin Luther’s attempt to correct the Catholic Church in 1517 did not really take Christianity in a new direction. Luther was as pro-Augustine and anti-Jewish as the next Catholic, and Ellerbe puts both trends in the same camp of orthodox Christianity. Ellerbe quotes Luther as calling for Jews to be enslaved or thrown out of “Christian lands;” that their ghettos and synagogues should be burned. In seems very clear that Nazi ideology in the 1930s was nothing but a return to earlier forms of Christianity. The 30-Years War was fought directly over Catholic/Protestant issues. The massacre of 10,000 Protestants on St. Bartholomew’s Day in
The Witch Hunts, which still existed in the
Ellerbe goes on to deal with the modern world, and in this part of the book, she fails. She spends time denouncing
Ellerbe promotes circular time as the correct and 'natural' way to view the world, all based on the seasons. She criticizes the concept of linear time promoted by religion, science and watches. However, she seems to be unfamiliar with the notion of spiral time, which more closely corresponds to the dialectical interplay of nature and linearity, combining the two concepts. After all, even in nature, every year is not the same - the theory of the anthropocene chronological period we are in shows that nature is not merely 'circular.' And as we know, time sometimes runs backwards in society in an historic and economic sense. Of course, for each individual, the clock always 'ticks.'
Ellerbe has no economic analysis whatsoever of the whole period of the dark ages, as if Catholicism and Protestantism happened in a material void. As a result, she cannot account for orthodox Christianity's relation to slave or peasant society or the birth of capitalism. Elerbe is an idealist who believes that the ‘divine’ needs to be wrestled away from the church. She believes that the source of orthodox Christianity was (and is) only a ‘belief structure’ and an ‘ideology’ held by evidently 'bad' or 'incorrect' people – and has nothing to do with material economic reality.
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, November 29, 2011