The New 21st Century Obscurantism
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
The great intellectual advances of Greece did not continue when Rome replaced it as the major power in the Mediterranean. The Romans, thanks to their political and social organization managed to build a vast empire, but had no greater interest in mathematics than was strictly necessary for the administration of the conquered territories, and this was also the case with other scientific disciplines. So when the Empire allowed the Catholic Church to be the sole political and spiritual leader of the Western world, it further increased the rejection of scientific knowledge.
In that situation European culture entered a period of stagnation. History shows that in the period 500 – 1450 of the Christian era the ideas that human beings had about the Universe and the place that the planet Earth occupied in it were those expressed in Genesis combined with pagan ideas. During those years, Christian priests acquired the power to systematically oppose all pagan wisdom. With that attitude towards knowledge, they sought to crush any activity related to analytical thinking.
The attitude of the Romans towards theoretical knowledge and the Christian predisposition towards science were determinants of a social structure where the study of the laws of nature had no importance. The vast majority of the scientific information used was contained in compendiums in an attempt to summarize the ideas previously generated by the Greeks. A clear example of this was the work of St. Isidore of Seville (560-636 AD) whose book, Four Mathematical Disciplines, talked about arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy as describing the shape of the world, the celestial sphere, the planets, their movements and the stars.
St. Isidore believed the Sun was made of fire and that it was larger than the Earth and the Moon. He only knew 7 planets, each having its own motion in its crystalline sphere, in addition to several concepts that now are laughable. This and other similar works presented only descriptions of the most obvious celestial phenomena without adding new ideas. During the early Middle Ages, ideas about the form and structure of the Universe arising from the literal interpretation of the Christian Bible became entrenched in European thought.
The idea that the earth stood still was accepted based on the biblical passage that said God commanded the sun to stop over the city of Gibeon so that the army led by Joshua would have time to win the battle being waged there. They imagined a universe of concentric spheres around the Earth which was located in the center. In the last sphere, the firmament of the fixed stars was a kind of shell that surrounded and enclosed the created Universe. Beyond that was the Kingdom of God made of pure light where the Blessed and the Angels resided.
Together with these myths about the structure and functioning of the Universe there were the creationist beliefs about Adam and Eve being the first human beings to populate the Earth. And in the same way, myths were created about the devil who caused and took delight in human sins and violations of the laws of God, as a means of frightening, controling and ruling a society that had been badly battered by plagues, wars, famines and hardships. Terror permeated paintings, engravings and other artistic expressions creating an atmosphere of repression where the prince of darkness – or the devil – was established as the main cause of misfortune at that time.
According to Renaissance thinkers, medieval man was immersed in a cultural and intellectual obscurantism that relegated him to a wretched state and cultural involution, because his entire life was dedicated to not offending God or breaking his laws and not losing his place in paradise. His whole existence was subordinated to a spiritual world based on a view of suffering as the only option for earning a place in the Divine Heaven.
Something similar is happening now, almost a millennium later, where the current political leaders of the decadent American empire are trying to blame factors totally divorced from reality for their current big blunders, such as thinking that the fall in employment is due to the supply of cheap labor by immigrants from despised ethnic groups, and to the fact that their big companies that facilitated their financial success in the last century have moved to regions of the world that offer cheaper labor, as well as very attractive tax and ecological benefits.
The only difference is that now the manipulation of the myths that suit the political leaders is achieved much more effectively and economically due to the use of new digital media, spectacle and television shows to try to promote a lie or a post-truth. However, sooner or later, the truth must prevail over manipulation and this will no doubt be in a much shorter time than the 600 years that medieval obscurantism lasted.
Addendum: I think that now, like the time when the Renaissance emerged, it will be a new form of art that will smooth humanity’s transition to a new era that will exclude violence, hatred, resentment, revenge, xenophobia and all negative behaviors of the human species.