As we all know and as many of our well established textbooks have
argued for decades, the Inquisition was one of the most frightening and
bloody chapters in Western history, Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic and
rightfully called “Hitler’s Pope,” the Dark Ages were a stunting of the
progress of knowledge to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the
Enlightenment, and the religious Crusades were an early example of the
rapacious Western thirst for riches and power. But what if these long
held beliefs were all wrong?
In this stunning, powerful, and ultimately persuasive book, Rodney
Stark, one of the most highly regarded sociologists of religion and
bestselling author of The Rise of Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco
1997) argues that some of our most firmly held ideas about history,
ideas that paint the Catholic Church in the least positive light are, in
fact, fiction. Why have we held these wrongheaded ideas so strongly and
for so long? And if our beliefs are wrong, what, in fact, is the truth?
In each chapter, Stark takes on a well-established anti-Catholic
myth, gives a fascinating history of how each myth became the
conventional wisdom, and presents a startling picture of the real truth.
- Instead of the Spanish Inquisition being an anomaly of torture and
murder of innocent people persecuted for “imaginary” crimes such as
witchcraft and blasphemy, Stark argues that not only did the Spanish
Inquisition spill very little blood, but it was a major force in support
of moderation and justice.
- Instead of Pope Pius XII being apathetic or even helpful to the Nazi
movement, such as to merit the title, “Hitler’s Pope,” Stark shows that
the campaign to link Pope Pius XII to Hitler was initiated by the
Soviet Union, presumably in hopes of neutralizing the Vatican in
post-World War II affairs. Pope Pius XII was widely praised for his
vigorous and devoted efforts to saving Jewish lives during the war.
- Instead of the Dark Ages being understood as a millennium of
ignorance and backwardness inspired by the Catholic Church’s power,
Stark argues that the whole notion of the “Dark Ages” was an act of
pride perpetuated by anti-religious intellectuals who were determined to
claim that theirs was the era of “Enlightenment.”
In the end, readers will not only have a more accurate history of the
Catholic Church, they will come to understand why it became unfairly
maligned for so long. Bearing False Witness is a compelling and sobering account of how egotism and ideology often work together to give us a false truth.