The closing of the Western mind

I’m reading Charles Freeman’s very interesting The Closing of the Western Mind, and in a nice bit of serendipity I happened on a long review he did of James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers at the New Humanist. Hannam is a Catholic and an apologist, and his book is apparently what one would expect from a Catholic apologist.

Yet for Hannam Catholic authority is never the problem. “However sympathetic we might be to his [Abelard’s] plight, the fact remains that he brought most of his problems on himself. His blatant hypocrisy and breathtaking arrogance ensured that he had a ready supply of enemies who were quite happy to see accusations of heresy to bring him down”. (P.59) Hannam has no understanding of the intellectual inhibitions that arise from ring-fencing large areas of knowledge as “faith”, or using the threat of heresy for those who transgressed, often unwittingly, the boundaries between orthodoxy and heresy. Inevitably these tended to arbitrary. The freedom of intellectual debate was bedevilled, literally – the punishment for heresy was eternal suffering at the hands of devils in hell fire, something unknown to the Greeks. One will never know what fruitful pathways of knowledge remained closed as a result. (I have detailed the process by which religious “truths” were declared to be absolute and challenges to them worthy of excommunication and eternal punishment in my The Closing of the Western Mind and AD 381. I see the fourth century as one of the most important, if still neglected, turning points in the history of European thought. Hannam’s discussion of “Heresy and the Inquisition”, (pp.52-6), never considers that the definition of heresy is problematic. He takes it for granted that orthodox Catholic Christianity must be defended.)

No Templeton money will be finding its way to Charles Freeman any time soon, I suspect.

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