A Lesson From History

So, I was watching this interesting historical documentary on Netflix, titled Alexandria. The show is about the founding of what is called “the greatest city in the ancient world”.

It’s a fascinating show, and I’m always very interested in programs like this one. I watch all kinds of historical documentaries because they are generally informative/educational and the way they’re produced, entertaining as well.

The host of the show is hosted by a well known, popular ancient historian, Bettany Hughes.
The first half of the show mostly discusses the founding and the rise of Alexandria into the richest city in the ancient world. Not only was it a major destination for trade though, it became the intellectual capitol of the ancient western world. Scholars from all over the ancient world would travelled to Alexandria to study, even teach, because one of the missions of the scholars was to collect all of the greatest works of the ancient world.

Skip forward now to the late 4th century CE. This is where the show becomes really interesting. Ms. Hughes begins in the second half of the program talking about Hypatia one of the greatest scholars of her time and in fact the first woman scholar/philosopher that gained notoriety. There’s a fictional film, based on her life, Agora, that supposedly documents her last years. If you’ve never seen this film, it’s definitely worth your time.

Alexandria had a diverse cultural as well as religious population as well. There were Christians and “pagans” (Ms. Hughes’ description) living and working side by side. In the schools there was also a mixture of the same.

Around 412 CE, the newly appointed Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, who had the mindset that not only was he going to be the spiritual leader of the city, but he also wanted temporal power. He came to the city to effectively remove any and all teachings that did not reflect those of Christianity and he stirred up the population to drive out the pagans and during that time the famous Library of Alexandria was destroyed and much of the knowledge of the ancient world was lost, forever. It was another 1000 years before people started to regain any of this scientific, mathematical, and philosophical knowledge.

Oh, yeah, and Cyril had a special hard-on for Hypatia and had her hunted down and murdered.

Can we learn anything from this horrific episode in history? Apparently not. Look what’s going on in the United States right now: we have a fervent group of religious fanatics that are anti-science, that want to hold temporal power over everyone’s life. They deny climate change science, they want to have control over what women can and cannot do with their own bodies, they want to introduce their own religious precepts into science classes for our children. And we’re letting them, in some cases, succeed! And every day, they gain a little more ground.

All of us seemingly sit around and think, “Well, these people are just nuts and people will figure it out sooner or later”, while every day these same people elect our representatives to local, state, and federal office that impose their religious fanaticism on the rest of us.

I’m not implying here that you necessarily need fear for your life, but we already know what societies look like that are theocratic, don’t we? Do we want to become the same? A theocracy may not, and probably won’t, become a fact in our lifetimes, but the more we sit around and do nothing to curtail this trend, the sooner it will occur.

Instead of writing blogs, making YouTube videos, and having conferences where we eschew these things and pat ourselves on the back because we’re leading the way for a rational society, we need to be getting out there and actually electing those people to office that will turn back this ever increasing tide of anti-intellectualism.

That’s my rant for today. What do you think?

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