Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History by Rodney Stark

History told from the perspective of someone possessing an strident ideology can make for compelling fiction. However, it remains fiction. Over the centuries there have been many, for various reasons, that have told history from an anti-Catholic perspective (sometimes an anti-religion perspective) so as to bolster their own greatness or world views.  In 'Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History", author Rodney Stark, co-director of the Studies of Religion at Baylor University, seeks to tackle these falsehoods.

In an interview about this book, Mr. Stark, who grew up Lutheran, proclaims himself an independent Christian, and teaches at the largest Baptist University in America, said this book was not dedicated to any love of Roman Catholicism but dedicated to his love of history.  In debunking  item after item, he uses what is hidden is plain sight.  Instead of seeing history through the lens of an ideologue, he sees history through the eyes of a man who simply wants to know what really happened.   He lists the historians he uses within the chapters.

He debunks canards that are favorite weapons used against Roman Catholicism: approval of slavery, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the suppression of knowledge, the approval of Antisemitism, to name a few.  Being a man looking for objective data, he neither gives the Church passes where such passes would be undue, but he sifts the lies from the truth; he sifts the history from the propaganda.  He acknowledges something most in history conveniently forget: that because a pope of council speaks does not mean that every single one of her adherents and clergy jump up and say 'Yes, Sir." The need to distinguish between what was officially taught and what was done by some needs to be clarified.

Written so as to be easily understood without sacrificing the academic acumen to tell the truth, Mr. Stark makes it easily clear why the lies were there, who they benefited, and why knowing the truth is so important.  In all, he tackles 10 separate issues commonly used to defame Catholicism.  Facts are stubborn things, as President John Adams once remarked.  Perhaps a greater clarity on the facts without the prism of ideology would go a long way to the forward progress of truth.

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