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Dark Side of Christian History, The by Helen
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Dark Side of Christian History, The

by Helen

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246578,899 (3.45)1
Over a period of nearly two millennia, the Christian Church has oppressed and brutalized millions of individuals. Meticulously researched and courageously written, "The Dark Side of Christian History" by Helen Ellerbe examines the Church's devastating impact upon human freedom, dignity and spirituality. Written for the lay reader, this controversial book is especially relevant today as the religious right is attempting to assert greater influence in American politics and society. "The Dark Side of Christian History presents a compelling argument that the Church's desire to control and contain spiritually motivated its persecution of heretics, its burning of libraries, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch-hunts. This dark Christianity has left a legacy, a world view, which permeates every aspect of Western society. It is a legacy which fosters sexism, racism, the intolerance of difference and the desecration of the natural environment. -- Midwest Book Review… (more)
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The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe

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On a general level, the book's contents should be common knowledge to most students of church history. Unfortunately, the book's impact is marred by poor scholarship. I read the book hoping to find some interesting historical tidbits and useful bibliographical references. Instead, I found sensationalism and weak references. If you've never been exposed to this material, then it is worth reading - i.e. you've spent all your student years at a religious school that sheltered you from this information.

It should should be viewed more as a feminist informed political tract that intends on exposing the hypocrisy of the christian church. With the caveats above, I think the book succeeds in this.

Overall, it is important that books like this exist because it provides a constant reminder that Christianity is just a social movement and the so-called 'truths' of Christianity have no transformative power beyond what any set of beliefs have. What do I mean? Christianity is the only religion to my knowledge that teaches that if you are a Christian, god's spirit indwells within you and enables you to make spiritual and ethical progress, ie god transforms the believer. Even a cursory examination of Christian history provides no evidence of this and in fact provides a powerful counter-example and performative refutation of Christian beliefs. ( )
1 vote PedrBran | Nov 8, 2012 |
I really wish I could recommend this book, because there are quite a few good things about it; however, there are some serious flaws that overwhelm the good. First of all, the author uses nothing but secondary sources, even when the primary sources are available. Most of her quotes, even from contemporary authors, are taken from a source other than the work quoted, which renders her entire project suspect, since it indicates a lack of intellectual rigor. In addition, she appears to have a very selective use of resources, particularly when talking about science, that cause her to make some very confident statements about what science has discovered that would make most scientists say "Huh? When did we discover that?". In the end of the book, she falls into the abyss of quantum nonsense, clearly not understanding the physics she is explaining to the reader, nor the implications. She also does a poor job with evolutionary theory, seemingly blaming it for the misuses to which it has been put, and making it sound as though somehow scientists have discarded Darwin, seemingly not understanding that the changes she has talked about are an extension of Darwin's work, not a repudiation of it. She also selects her anthropological and archeological sources to fit with her preconceived notion that early human history was some sort of utopian ideal with no violence and with equality between the sexes, which is going out on a limb that many good archeologists and anthropologists would probably happily saw out from under her. In addition, she commits the "No True Christian" fallacy, seemingly of the opinion that Christianity throughout its 2000 year history has simply been practiced wrong, and the world would be wonderful and sweet if it were just practiced correctly. Overall, I'm afraid this book would do much more harm than good if placed in the hands of people who are just beginning to explore these ideas, and who are not savvy to the proper research techniques of history and science, not to mention religious criticism. ( )
2 vote Devil_llama | May 29, 2012 |
This is a rather discouraging look at Christianity through the last 20 centuries. The book’s value is not in the strength of its research (which is one-sided and sometimes shallow) but in its provocative imagery. You won’t forget it. “The Church had a devastating impact upon society,” Ellerbe insists at the beginning of chapter four as she dives into the dark ages. While historical atrocities such as the crusades and the Inquisition are indeed embarrassing to the Christian side of the ledger, one gets the sense from this book that Christianity is at the root of racism, illiteracy, poverty, plague, violence, slavery, and everything else wrong with the world.

Do not imagine you are reading a book about Christian faith; Ellerbe’s focus is on the human abominations done in the name of religion, not on its creeds or principles. We all know that the example Christ left was one of nonviolence. Ellerbe’s take is not that Christianity is evil in itself, but that monotheistic religion is flawed, and simply cannot produce positive results over the long haul. A monotheistic religion naturally leads humanity to the “dark side.”

Ellerbe’s bias is easily detectible. She does, however, make some intriguing points and provide some graphic examples, not least of which is the treatment of accused witches, whose emphasis within the book is probably no coincidence. Though not clearly stated (or so I didn’t notice), Ellerbe’s religious sympathies appear to lie that direction; she bemoans Christianity’s “alienation from nature.”

The horror of witch hunts knew no bounds, she says. “Sexual mutilation of accused witches was not uncommon. With the orthodox understanding that divinity had little or nothing to do with the physical world, sexual desire was perceived to be ungodly. When men persecuting the accused witches found themselves sexually aroused, they assumed that such desire emanated, not from themselves, but from the woman. They attacked breasts and genitals with pincers, pliers and red-hot irons.”

Read the book for an eye-opening overview of the topic, but with a little grain of salt. ( )
  DubiousDisciple | Jul 13, 2011 |
Critique of Christianity from a Wiccan perspective.
  Fledgist | Sep 10, 2006 |
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Over a period of nearly two millennia, the Christian Church has oppressed and brutalized millions of individuals. Meticulously researched and courageously written, "The Dark Side of Christian History" by Helen Ellerbe examines the Church's devastating impact upon human freedom, dignity and spirituality. Written for the lay reader, this controversial book is especially relevant today as the religious right is attempting to assert greater influence in American politics and society. "The Dark Side of Christian History presents a compelling argument that the Church's desire to control and contain spiritually motivated its persecution of heretics, its burning of libraries, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch-hunts. This dark Christianity has left a legacy, a world view, which permeates every aspect of Western society. It is a legacy which fosters sexism, racism, the intolerance of difference and the desecration of the natural environment. -- Midwest Book Review

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