Christian Technical Literature

This is a edited version of an earlier post on my sci-fi blog.

My apologies for waiting so long before bringing it here: we really need good technical manuals, to build a Christian future!

In fact, a recent review of At Our Wit’s End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What it Means for the Future F. Roger Devlin writing on Unz.com that in a “Politically Correct” or “Social Justice” environment:

Such institutions do not grant appointments to men like Isaac Newton:

They will appoint what [Edward] Dutton and [Bruce] Charlton [in their book, Genius Famine] call the “head girl” (at UK schools)—quite intelligent, socially skilled, conscientious, but absolutely not a genius. This person will be excellent at playing the academic game and will make a great colleague. But they won’t innovate; won’t rock the boat.

Once this stage is reached, academic conformity to an ideological model is easily imposed.

From Holy Fire , by Yvonne Lorenzo

Typical pagan power-positioning.

“Who cares about some mystical Christian ‘commitment to truth’?
Or some weird faith in the existence of an ‘objective universe’?

What really matters is Pleasing Powerful Men,
getting grants,
getting published in Approved Venues,
and getting tenure!”

God expects more, and He expects better, from Christians.


Yes, it’s time for a long Marinov quote, from his article on Books and Missions. Yes, it’s cheerfully Christian as always, but it has serious technological ramifications that a tech-dependent sci-fi game like Traveller (and things like space exploration/development) should keep a tab on.

Pagan stories glorified powerful men who achieved their fame through power, domination, and sacrificing others for their cause.

Just how Pagan can you get? (Or Marxist… or Fascist…)

Christianity changed the stories to glorify God by presenting weak and fragile human beings whose heroism was proven by service, brokenheartedness, humility, and self-sacrifice.

I have written about it in my article on “The Two Aurelii,” on the Christendom Restored .com site. Mangalwadi points to the rise of European – and especially English – literature, and then he even points to the influence of Christianity in modern secular literature: what he calls a “religious sensibility” in the writings of even the most committed modern atheists. And he doesn’t limit it to Europe; he also examines the history of literature in his native India and shows how the Bible had enormous, even if rather unacknowledged, impact on what is known as the “Indian Renaissance.”

[…snippo…]

I believe that Mangalwadi is right, but being a humanities professor, he omitted a very important part of the aspect of literature, one which is less glossy and spectacular than the fiction part of it, but way more important in building the Christian civilization which replaced the pagan civilization. It is so obscure to modern Christian commentators that none of them mention it; and yet, our modern world is more shaped by that part of the aspect of literature than anything else.

What is this important part of literature?

Technical literature. The “how to do” manuals. The “how to build” instruction books. The “how to solve problems” textbooks for leaders and businessmen. The “how to find answers” encyclopedias to inspire scientists and engineers to seek to improve their knowledge of creation and their mastery of its powers. The “how to judge” law books that take on the issues of applied justice in our local communities and the specific practical relationships between an individual and individual, and between an individuals and the social institutions.

[…snippo…]

Some time ago, I was present at a lecture by a theologian who was part of the “federal vision” movement. […] His point was that the ancients (Classic Greece and Rome) view these sciences as the right kind of education for free men (hence liberal arts, nothing to do with leftist ideologies). […] The elite of the land – the free men – were not supposed to be bothered by such things, except in a very general way, and only in the way of managing and controlling all those slaves and common folk. (I am not kidding, this was in the lecture.) So his sales pitch was to the parents of Christian children that they should give their kids a really liberal education – again, nothing to do with modern politics, just education for free men, for the elite – while leaving technical and professional education for the unwashed masses. Etc., etc. I am not going to continue with all the details of his lecture, suffice to say that a certain supposedly “Christian” educational institution which follows that principles has produced dozens of such graduates educated along these principles, and they are quite irrelevant to the world today.

Elitist irrelevancy. A concept that Christians interested in climbing the social ladder, and getting into the Inner Ring, should avoid.

North’s warnings about the lust to become an Insider, getting into the Inner Ring:

OK, back to the article…

Writing and literature was only characteristic to the ruling classes. Worse than that, in some places, the laws explicitly banned certain classes from being educated enough to read. In Sparta, it was a capital crime to teach a slave to read or write. In Athens, the slaves could be taught, but they were banned from knowing the laws. In Rome, for centuries, the patricians kept the lower classes from having any knowledge of the laws. (Every time the plebeians revolted and asked for political rights, the patricians responded, “You can’t have political rights, you don’t know the laws.” While they themselves were those who kept the plebeians uneducated about the laws. But they still used them as soldiers in the military.)

“Too much education means too much change!”

“But you can’t have a good economy anymore without mass literacy…”

“Better stress Rote Memorization and Official Narratives then.”

And since books and reading and literature was a play of the elite, and the elite never bothered with technical and professional stuff, technical and professional literature never developed. Of course, Rome and Greece have always been hostile to any idea of technological progress, and their rulers killed many more inventions – and inventors – than they adopted in practice, so there is that. But also, there wasn’t even the idea that literature could be used to spread the knowledge of how to do things and solve problems. That would mean servanthood. And the elite of the classical world wasn’t interested in that. It wasn’t liberal enough for them.

Snort.

In addition, technical knowledge was seen also as a form of power among the lower classes, and especially among the privileged guilds among them. So such technical knowledge was very rarely written down; it was always transmitted by direct verbal training in apprenticeship. Even among those who possessed such knowledge and could have written it, it was unusual to see them spend the time and effort to write it down. In fact, it applied to theoretical science as well. We all know about Pythagoras, but very few know that Pythagoras never practiced mathematics as education and knowledge that should be made available to large masses of people. He had a cult of like-minded people around him and they practiced mathematics only as as sort of magic that would give them arcane knowledge about the secret nature of reality. They concealed their theoretical findings in riddles and charades so that no common man was capable of knowing what they were discussing. The same attitude to knowledge was common to all classes; technical professionals jealously guarded their knowledge and expertise, and only revealed it to apprentices who were sworn to keep it secret and continue the legacy of their masters.

Magic and mystery and Hidden Knowledge… not science and technology, to be widely spread to all, just like the Gospel should be.

No matter how large a literature the classical civilization had created, Christianity dwarfed it within just a century or two of its founding. By the end of the second century, Christian theologians and apologists had written more books than anything the classical world had seen by that time. And, unlike pagan literature, these books were not kept for the elite. The churches trained their members to read and write – even the slaves. After all, it was a religion of the Book, and being a Christian hinged on how well the worshipers could read and understand written texts. Christian books of all sorts were being written and copied and spread throughout the small Christian community in the Empire. Bishops in those days traveled with their chests full of books, and young men were specifically trained to copy books as soon as they arrived to their church. The first monastery communities were not always ascetic, they were simply people devoted to preserving the knowledge of the many books written and published among Christians at the time.

For some mysterious reason, this is never, ever spoken of by our supremely educated Academic Elite… and their infinite contempt for the Christian faith.

I wonder why.

The final completion of that transition came in the first two decades of the 7th century. Isidore of Seville, a Bishop of the church in what is today Spain (the Visigothic Kingom at the time) compiled and published the first known encyclopedia in the western world: The Etymologies. The work was started by his older brother, Leander, who was a bishop before him, and used his fortune and power to compile a massive library of all kinds of texts, before the final dissolution of the classical world. Based on his brother’s library, Isidore set out to compile all the philosophical and practical – note this, and practical – knowledge the world had by that time. The result was a 20-volume encyclopedia. It contained philosophy and theology and history, etc. but half of that encyclopedia was devoted to topics that were never large topics in the literature before: how to do agriculture, animals and plants and their practical value, construction, medicine, metals and stones, technical tools and their use, types of food, clothes, ships and navigation, etc. , etc., etc. There was even a chapter on the types of games and their practical relation to warfare and jurisprudence, and even international law.

Right there, in that book, the real power of Christian literature was revealed. For the first time in history, knowledge was not fragmented into separate pieces for each social class and caste. It was not idolized as some sort of a deity of its own. It was not hidden as occult magic away from the eyes of the unwashed masses. If you want to know where the Christian civilization really started, in practice, it was there, in 7th century Spain, with Isidore.

Was his book important? Listen to this: 850 years after he wrote his book, Johan Gutenberg in Germany invented the movable type. Within the first 100 years after this invention, the most produced books was the Bible. The second most produced was Isidore’s Etymologies. Within 100 years, about 80 different editions of it appeared. We can surely say that a book that is still a bestseller 900 years after its publication is an influential book. And indeed, between AD 600 and 1500 The Etymologies were the central book to which rulers, entrepreneurs, legislators, financiers, builders, scientists, and many others went for consultation when they needed knowledge. The Etymologies were certainly not exhaustive, but they gave the format in which practical knowledge was to be compiled and presented. The book was the main source of knowledge and education for counselors of kings and princes and popes from Charlemagne to Louis XIV. Today, historians and archeologists still discover copies of it in different monasteries – the earliest of them coming from Ireland, translated in the old Gaelic language.

I am no Catholic… but I understand the reasons why Isidore is the Patron Saint of the Internet.

Also: a book that is a bestseller for 900 years? Now, that is serious influence!

What is not very well known today is that missionaries in the centuries after Isidore went out not so much with theological knowledge about abstract things – although, that was important – but with books that had practical knowledge about practical solutions. Cyril and Methodius, when they started their mission to the Slavs, translated volumes of books on solutions for agriculture, trades, industry, and many other topics – including details like pruning trees and conserving food. The same was true for other missionaries. In fact, as late as the 19th century, the majority of European missionaries went out as practical problem-solvers rather than as theoretical evangelists – think David Livingstone, for example, who went to Africa prepared to deal with a number of practical problems, from fighting slavery to curing malaria. In the late 19th century, Christian missionaries to Egypt were converting local populations by simply starting free schools for girls from poor families, teaching them reading, writing, and trades for gainful employment later in life.

Yes, the Gospel is intended to shape and improve all of life.

To expand the Kingdom of God, and enforce the LawWord of Christ… as opposed to making more church-goers for some hierarchical institution, bringing in more tithes and a power base for Smooth-talking Men in Dresses.

In fact, the mission effort in the world didn’t change to the modern purely theoretical and truncated so-called “discipleship” until after WWI – although, admittedly, the seeds for this deadly pietism in missions were planted as early as the mid-19th century. And here we get to my point about books and missions. If I am right about missions: that a mission is not about planting churches or converting individuals (although, both are a small part of a true mission), but about building a completely new culture (the City of God) to replace the old pagan culture (the city of man), then the main effort a missionary is supposed to focus on is disseminating practical knowledge of “how to.” How to change the laws and customs of a nation; how to run the courts; how to run the economy; how to build businesses; how to do science; how to create new technologies and apply them; how to make your family successful; how to raise your kids; how to do education; how to establish true community fellowship (not simply a “church” where all is focused on some ritual once a week), etc., etc. The task of a missionary then becomes to build a new literature, a literature that would establish the intellectual foundation for a new civilization.

I do like the idea of building new civilizations… better civilizations. Among the stars, to sketch out my dreams, and then right here on Earth, in the real world.

And I don’t care to concern myself with the approval of My Social Betters. Their approval means nothing to me.

Not just what that new culture should believe about God and His salvation, but also how that belief is applied in practice, to the everyday life and work of the individual men and their institutions in that culture. Since all of life is religious (remember, culture is religion externalized), then all of pagan life is idolatry – including its thoughts and practices and institutions and policies. For a missionary to be faithful to his task, he needs to issue a challenge against all this idolatry: thoughts, practices, institutions, policies. In order to do that, he needs to present the alternative of salvation in all these areas: thoughts, practices, institutions, policies. He needs to start building a civilization. And that only happens through first giving the culture the books to build it. Books that say how it is done.

Christians should read.

Then, Christians should do.

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