Sunday, March 18, 2007

Medieval Aliens

In speaking to people about the Middle Ages I often have to disabuse them of the Whig narrative of history, which they may have imbibed. According to the Whig narrative, there was the golden era of Greece and Rome, filled with enlightenment and philosophy. This was followed by the dark Medieval age, which was dominated by intolerance and superstition. Mankind only awoke from its slumber after a thousand years, when it had the Renaissance. In dealing with the Jewish community, my cause is made particularly difficult because I have to contend with fake historians like Rabbi Berel Wein, who have hypocritically taken up this Whig narrative and use it when dealing with the Catholic church, but of course exempt Judaism from it.
I recently read a novel titled Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. It is about a group of aliens known as the Krenken, who crash near a German village during the Black Death. What I really loved about this book was its ability to portray the villagers who come in contact with these aliens and in particular the priest, father Dietrich, as being sophisticated individuals in their own uniquely medieval way.
I find the author's comments in his historical notes to be particularly comforting. He writes:
For one thing, they [people in the Middle Ages] took Christianity seriously; in many ways, more seriously than modern Bible-thumpers. At the same time, they took it more matter-of-factly. ...
Philosophers studied nature with virtually no intrusions by theologians who were themselves natural philosophers. ... Never before or since has such a large proportion of a population been educated so exclusively in logic, reason, and science.
"Key was the concept of secondary causation: God had endowed material bodies with the ability to act upon one another by their own natures. Hence, 'natural law.' If God made the entire world, then invoking God to explain the rainbow or magnetism or rectilinear motion added nothing to human understanding. Philosophers therefore sought natural explanations to natural phenomena. That a later century would invoke religion over a trivial matter of the earth's motion would likely have astonished them."
I would like to thank you Mr. Flynn for doing so successfully what we historians try and usually fail to do.

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