It really irritates me when people talk about how the United States is a Christian nation that was founded on Christian principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although we live in an age of amazing technology and technological progress that is unimaginable to any previous civilization, we are actually over 1,500 years behind in technological progress, thanks to Christianity. And most of the technological advancements we have today would have never come to exist if not for the clear division of church and state here in America. Let me explain.
Prior to America, the most advanced civilization on earth was the Roman Empire. The Romans had either produced, or adopted and enhanced, a bewildering array of military and civilian technology over 2,000 years ago – some of which has only recently been discovered – that we now think of as being modern inventions:
- the engineering wizardry of the arch;
- the colosseum;
- sanitation technology such as baths, sewers, soap, and flush toilets;
- cranes for construction and loading ships with heavy cargo;
- mills, presses, pumps, reciprocating machines and farm plows;
- books and newspapers;
- roads, bridges, tunnels, and horse-drawn vehicles to traverse them;
- surgical instruments and dental implants;
- water delivery through pipes and aqueducts.
Short of electricity, this was a highly advanced society. They had even begun to harness the power of steam 2000 years ago, though they didn’t know what to do with it yet. But they were not ahead of their time. This progress should have continued unimpeded, but in the centuries of decline leading up to the eventual fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, relatively little technological progress occurred. And in the centuries following it, that technological progress was completely stalled – and much of it was destroyed and forgotten. Historians generally agree that there was no single cause of the fall of Rome, but the rise of Christianity was a very significant factor. And Christianity’s effects on technological progress would prove to be devastating.
With the dark ages that followed the fall of the Roman Empire and the middle ages that were dominated by the Inquisition, Christianity effectively halted all technological progress for over a thousand years. People like Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, and Newton, with radical ideas about the world who were trying to advance the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and mathematics, were arrested by Church officials and imprisoned or burned at the stake as heretics. This had a chilling effect on anyone who would question the authority of any of the knowledge of the time, like the notion that the earth was flat or that the universe revolved around us. Some scientists risked their lives and continued their research in secret, only releasing their work upon their deathbeds. Yes, it’s good that these ideas made it into the world at all, if they weren’t posthumously destroyed by the Church – but imagine how much more could have been accomplished if these great minds had been allowed to work collaboratively with each other in a free exchange of their ideas, like we take for granted today, instead of in seclusion.
It was not until the establishment of a society that chose to make its government independent from religion, and far away from the persecution of the power-crazed Christian monarchs and Inquisitors in Europe, that this progress was allowed to resume. And it promptly birthed the modern Industrial Revolution.
Imagine how much further along our technology would be if Roman progress had continued and the Industrial Revolution had occurred in the 2nd or 3rd centuries instead of the 18th. America may be plagued with Christianity, but it was not founded on it; and America would not be what it is today, if not for the freedom from it that is guaranteed by the first amendment of our Constitution.
Update, 08/2014: This idea was briefly explored in the Family Guy episode Road to the Multiverse in September 2009.