Mark Twain is credited for saying the following:
History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes
It is a very compelling statement. I do think history plays out in cycles and patterns. Eventually, with enough time, events begin to match up with similarities if you are looking close enough.
There are trends occurring in the United States that echo events and trends from Late Antiquity (roughly 4th-7th centuries). Both today and in Antiquity, Christianity was a destructive force in their societies. One thing, in particular, that was attacked both then and now is education. For our current situation, we do not need to look any further than Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The dismantling of public education and the advocacy for charter schools will do irreversible damage to our society.
Why is education attacked? Because real education leads to a population capable of free and critical thinking. Greeks in Late Antiquity aimed their intellectual powers at the Christian religion to expose its irrationality. Christians, in return, having been educated in Greek schools and being skilled rhetoricians, appropriated Platonism by delegitimizing the Platonists. Christians did this also to the Jews. In both cases, with the Jews and the Greeks, Christians claimed to be the true representatives of Plato and Moses; that Christianity represents the culmination of both. I digress….
Education is deeply important for the Greeks. The cultivation of the mind is equal to the cultivation of the body. Concerning education, Plutarch says the following:
For as regards the care of the body men have discovered two sciences, the medical and the gymnastic, of which the one implants health, the other sturdiness, in the body; but for the illnesses and affections of the mind philosophy alone is the remedy. For through philosophy and in company with philosophy it is possible to attain knowledge of what is honourable and what is shameful, what is just and what is unjust, what, in brief, is to be chosen and what to be avoided, how a man must bear himself in his relations with the gods, with his parents, with his elders, with the laws, with strangers, with those in authority, with friends, with women, with children, with servants; that one ought to reverence the gods, to honour one’s parents, to respect one’s elders, to be obedient to the laws, to yield to those in authority, to love one’s friends, to be chaste with women, to be affectionate with children, and not to be overbearing with slaves; and, most important of all, not to be overjoyful at success or overmuch distressed at misfortune, nor to be dissolute in pleasures, nor impulsive and brutish in temper. (Moralia, The Education of Children)
Plutarch regards education (philosophy in particular as the head of education) as the means to cultivate the person to be a harmonious, tempered person. To know what is just and unjust, how to conduct yourself towards the Gods and people. Using modern terms, education aims to produce people that are able to regulate themselves from becoming extremists. Exercise produces healthy bodies, education produces healthy minds.
Christianity did not share this same understanding of education then nor do the Christian extremists of today. Authoritarianism is on the rise today, this is largely due to the poor education of the American population which is destroyed thanks to Christianity. Our concept of education today does not raise children to grow to become people who can regulate themselves from extremisms/excesses in behavior and emotion. Nor are many able to thinking critically and make smart decisions.
History is rhyming to me indeed. Will the United States and the world slip more and more into chaos? Will irrationalism win? Will the Christians of today do to the United States what their ancestors did to Rome? Will superstition rule over us, or will reason prevail? The religious right wants to force their regressive worldview onto our whole nation, halting human flourishing. We cannot let that happen.