A few thoughts on Christianity and Technology
Christianity has never been a friend of new technology unless it is beneficial for the church, which it seldom has. Mostly because new technology means a better life for the average human being and less control for the church, plus the fact that some inventions meant less income for the church. Of course Christianity is not alone in this technological slowdown. Islam was once a religion that promoted research and new inventions. The first man to actually have been known to “fly” was a Muslim from Grenada which is in today’s Spain. He more or less broke every bone in his body, but he flew some meters before everything ended badly. Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali have been blamed for the stagnation in Islamic science after his work Tahâfut al-falâ-sifa, which is a philosophical work about cause and effect. This has been greatly approved as correct from both western and eastern historians and scientists though the whole truth is a bit more complex.
Christianity in contrast to, for instance, Norse religion has always been a huge hinderance for human progress when it comes to using new knowledge and technology. I am not stating that the Norse religion was better when it comes to the belief in gods, but I am saying that they were a lot more open to the use of new technology, whether they invented something them selves or “found” it. Like the compass, which initially the Christians condemned that as witchcraft until the great sailors as Magellan and Christopher Columbus gave a damn about the church and used it anyway. The Vikings invented the solar compass using a stick thread through a circle with chips in it and a solar stone which could make shadows on the chipped wooden circle even when it was clouded. Thus making them the first “world” sailors. Allowing them able to colonize Vinland (somewhere in Canada, no one knows for sure where this was), invade England, and travel to Persia to trade with both Romans and Arabians. Of course all this could have been another story if it were not for the church and it’s allergy towards new technology as the magnetic compass had been used for some time in the Asian world. It was invented in China where no one really understood the scientific reason for why it worked as it did, but they understood the importance of it in consistent navigation where visual landmarks could not be used.
I suppose we should be happy that Christianity did not use it widely before the 15th century, otherwise the world would have been very different today.
There have been several other technologies and discoveries that the church has used to their advantage to control the population and maintain power. The introduction of the Potato to Europe was such a discovery. Before the Potato many families had their own small field where they could grow wheat or similar grains. A little of that should go to the owner, a little to Barony or the local lord and one tenth would to got to the church as tithe. In the end frequently left with little or nothing for themselves famine overtook many peasants. So when the potato came the church first condemned it as Satan’s work as they did not understand the use of it and ate the green knolls on top of the plant. When they finally understood the innovation European families could grow four times as much food as before in their small fields. The church figured out this very fast and demanded that they should divide up their fields into four small fields. Thus making the families to have just as little food as they had before and the church was back in full control of the food supplies.
No one can doubt the power the church had back in those days (13th – 15th Century) Every town, village and city you entered the only solid structural building would the church. Usually in massive stone or finely crafted timber and often with stained glass and jewelry while the rest lived in squalor. The only way maintain this power would be to keep the people in ignorant. Writing and reading was not common, only the clerics and the noble could read and a few select others. On top of that, the word of God was written in Latin, a language even fewer could read and understand. This language discrepancy came in handy when more and more people learned to read and write as time went on. King James the 1st translated the Bible for the first time since it was translated into Latin from Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. His thought was to spread the word of god so everyone could learn about it. Which as we can see the results of today that it may have been a mistake for Christianity. We have roughly 7 billion people on earth today, 2.1 billion Christians, and around 1 billion are atheist or non believers in some form or another.
In about 1450 Guttenberg had his first print ready and could at the point in time mass produce books, prints and small texts. The printing press was first thought as a use to spread God’s word and in the beginning his press did. Even thought the church was a little reluctant as they thought of the printing press in the same manner as a wine press. Here are Guttenberg’s thoughts: “Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men. Through it, God will spread His word; a spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light hithertofore unknown to shine among men.”
Ultimately as the printing press evolved it was used for a better purpose to print texts, articles and newspapers which could bring knowledge to the people about science, learning, fantasy books and much much more. No wonder the church was reluctant in it’s use in the early days of this invention.
Source Reference: John McBrewster: Maritime history, Alphascript Publishing, 2009 ● Brigitte Coppin: The Compass, Puffin Books, 1995