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Originally published in the UK in 2017, The Darkening Age presents a case against Christianity's self-image. Author Catherine Nixey was raised in a Catholic household by deeply religious parents and she studied ancient history as an undergraduate. (She tells the story of her parents' meeting as a nun and a monk in an online article.) Nixey sets out her case in this popular book that is full of dramatic stories. There are 22 pages of notes and 18 pages of bibliography. Her claims are that the early Christians were extremely intolerant of other religions and ways of life, to the extent that they killed people who disagreed with them, persecuted people who behaved in ways that they disapproved of, and destroyed the texts and art of the civilizations that they had gained control of. Nixey is not completely making up her information, and so there is plenty of truth in what she claims. However, multiple reviews in other places show that she cherry picks her information, does not place the information in context, puts a lot of blame on Christianity when there were many causes of the decline of the classical world. And she tends to choose the worst possible interpretation of Christianity every time. (Some Amazon reviews have a lot of detail, and the review by Tim O’Neill on History for Atheists is systematic in its demolition of the book.) Nevertheless, I enjoyed Nixey's celebration of the sexual excesses of the Ancient Romans. If one is going to take the topic seriously, one probably needs to read books like Peter Brown's far more scholarly Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (2012). But on the other hand those scholarly books are long and often challenging in their detail. The Darkening Age does have a lot of problems, but as a first approximation on history, there is also something right about it.
© 2019 Christian Perring
Christian Perring teaches in NYC.
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