Author: Charles Freeman
Hardcover, 464 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: October 2003
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Although very "meaty", The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason is a veritable wealth of information about the origins of Christianity and its impact on learning, philosophy, thought and culture. Mr. Freeman makes his points with obvious relish, taking his time, citing plenty of names and dates and anecdotal material, as well as substantial historical references. It describes the growth of how Christianity subsumed the Pagan forms of religion and changed the way we think forever. And what a tale it is. If it hadn't impacted so much in our lives today, it would be almost amusing how changed Christianity became immediately upon the death of Jesus.
The book traces the earliest philosophical beginnings of modern thought, beginning with the ancient Greeks, and moving into the Roman empire. The true accounts of Jesus on earth are included. Much of the source material -- especially the biographies of Peter, Paul, the Roman emperors and Greek philosophers -- read almost like soap operas at times, but are absolutely fascinating in their complexity and similarity to our own lives.
The account of Constantine, the emperor who changed the Roman empire forever into a Christian nation, is worth the price of the book, and all the pages before. It is packed with revelatory material. For instance, The "Christian" Emperor Constantine knew almost nothing about Christianity when he "became" one, and assumed that Christ was as much a god of war as Ares, or Zeus; rather than abandon his wrong ideas, he simply had them incorporated into Christian dogma, changing the focus of Christianity for all time.
Such accounts give the reader an entirely fresh view at the history of a religion that has opposed Paganism since its inception, and a far greater understanding of our modern cultural thought-forms -- and show the basis for the fall of reason and tolerance in our own lives. The Closing of the Western Mind is not an easy read, but it is very well worth the effort for the understanding and knowledge it imparts.
Reviewed by Charys Thamesis