My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What has the Catholic Church done for humanity?This introduction to the book gives a better overview than I could.
If you listen to popular culture today, you might get the impression that the Church is the universal enemy. The Church stands inthe way of progress. It exploits the poor. It oppresses women and children. It condemns everything that's good in our culture. And above all, it stands opposed to science and reason.
You've heard it all so often that, even if you're Catholic, you might half-believe it. But it's all wrong, and this book is going to show you why.
There are lots of books about great Catholics who have also been scientists, musicians, artists, or leaders--people who have done some good inthe world, even though they're Catholic. This book isn't like that. This book makes a much bigger and more startling claim: Everything about our modern world we think is good is there because of the Church.
The only reason we care about the poor is because Christianity has won. The only reason the rights of women and children are important is because the Church has made them important. The only reason we have science is because the Church taught us how to think.
This book is full of unbelievable statements like that. My hope is that, by the end of the book, you'll believe them all.
Yours is the Church that built up the best in modern culture. And yours is the church that has constantly defended the best against the horrors that rise against it. It's an exciting story, roaming up and down through two thousand years of history.
Aquilina covers various ways our civilization has benefited overall, and continues to do, from Catholicism's 2,000 years of cultural influence. Topics include: respect for women, the dignity of children, art, literature, music, charity, and more. He makes the points clearly by showing what pagan culture was like before Christianity, the influence of Christians on that culture overall, and then shows how our Christianity-infused culture is still shaped by that influence.
One of the things I liked best about this book is that Aquilina comes from such a positive point of view. As our priest often says, teaching from a positive point of view gets much further than stressing the negative continually. I have read many a book that sets out to refute the myths of what "everyone knows" about the Catholic Church. They may be effective for a few but they are often negative in tone which makes them difficult to read or care about if you are not fascinated by that particular topic. Aquilina's positive stance is evenhanded and makes one interested to see just how he's going to pull off the next "fantastic" claim.
Another thing that I really liked is that Aquilina doesn't sugar coat it when there is blame to be taken by the Church. I have never really been able to swallow defenses I've read of the later Crusades. Aquilina makes sure everything is put in perspective, such as making sure the context of an "inquisition" and the court systems of the times are covered, and then point out where blame is to be had. He does not leave matters there, often putting our own times in proper context in ways that open our eyes further. One of the most surprising instances for me was this bit of insight about the sex abuse scandals.
So our natural horror at child abuse--which by the way, is a good sign that our culture, for all its faults, may still be reasonably healthy--didn't come from the Greeks or the Romans. It came from the Christians. It was the Church that taught us to acknowledge the sacred rights of children as human beings.Although author Mike Aquilina is Catholic, his claims have been echoed to me recently from an unexpected source. Helping out with RCIA (classes for those interested in converting to Catholicism), subjects arose which prompted me to speak apologetically of how the Church has handled things such as the sex scandal.
The world judges Catholics by Christian standards now; the Christian victory has been so complete that it's practically invisible. When the babbling bloggers blame us for being Christians, they're really blaming us for not being Christian enough. Christian principles seem like part of the order of nature, laws as immutable as gravity and magnetism. But that's only because the Church succeeded, against all odds, in replacing what everyone thought was an immutable law of nature with a strange Christian idea--such as the notion that children are people too.
Each time, one potential convert has spoken up saying, "Historically speaking ..." and setting the record in a larger historical context which makes it clear that shortfalls very often are not so much due to the Catholic Church as they are due to lapses on individuals' parts or even those of particular institutions within the Church (yes, Torquemada, I'm lookin' at you).
This particular "defender of the faith" comes from no particular religious background. His conversion began after visiting many of the cathedrals throughout Europe which then led him to begin reading history and noting the Church's place in it. I have to admit it has been refreshing to hear someone with no particular agenda comment on various contentious matters from a purely historical or statistical standpoint. Inadvertently, this person's casual remarks back up what Mike Aquilina states in this book. There is a lot of credit to be given to the Catholic Church that the world has become blind to ... and we can be proud of being part of this rich faith.