Saturday, January 08, 2011

Hannam v Freeman: The Collected Works

Now the fuss has died down, I thought it would be worth setting out the links of my complete exchanges with Charles Freeman so that they can be enjoyed (if that is the right word) conveniently.

It all started back in early 2006 when I was a humble PhD student and received a couple of emails asking what I thought of The Closing of the Western Mind. As it happened, I had already read it and so wrote a review explaining that I found it enjoyable but historically inaccurate.

As is his habit following poor reviews, Freeman got in touch with me. At the time this was very flattering. There followed an email exchange which, with his permission, I published on my web site.

Thereafter, we occasionally communicated and he sometimes posted comments on this blog. We next crossed swords at Tim O’Neill’s blog, Armarium Magnum in the summer of 2009. Tim wrote a highly critical review of The Closing of the Western Mind and, once again, Freeman responded.

God’s Philosophers was released in August 2009, but Freeman did not produce his own review until October 2010. It weighed in at an impressive 17,000 words. I responded a couple of weeks later. Freeman himself then wrote a rejoinder to my response.

Freeman continued the conversation for a while at Butterflies and Wheels where he appears to have acquired a new fan club. As for me, I am looking forward to his book on relics, Holy Bones, Holy Dust out in a few months.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Humphrey said...

I still have 'Egypt, Greece and Rome' on my reading list.

'Closing' is also on there, and I had better get reading! According to the author himself 'I am more concerned, as in all my books, with the way that church and state combined to stifle freedom of thought in general and how their authority was gradually dismantled with the restoration of reason,of which scientific activity was but a part. Eventually I will have five interlocking books, starting with Closing, that argue my central thesis'.

So i'm guessing the series is 'Closing of the Western Mind', 'A New History of Early Christianity', 'AD 381' and the forthcoming 'Holy Bones, Holy Dust'; followed by a fifth title covering the renaissance (possibly titled the 'reopening of the western mind').

James said...

Hi Humphrey,

Yes, I believe that is the very project he is working on. It was mentioned at B&W if I recall.


James said...

This is fun:

sparrish said...

At the end of his response to Hannam's response to Freeman's critique of God's Philosophers, Freeman writes this.

"Finally, Hannam says that if he woke up an atheist he would hold to everything he has written . Well, there are atheists and atheists as much as there are Christians and Christians. But he would be the first atheist whom I have heard to defend the view that Catholic teaching must be necessarily right to the extent that the Church is justified in burning those who disagree with it."

Is he really claiming that Hannam is defending the burning of those who disagree with the Church? If he is, that doesn't say much about his judgment.

James, what do you say about this?

Humphrey said...

I must admit - I missed the bit where it was claimed that it was OK to persecute people for heresy. Apparently it's a mystical paragraph written in invisible ink which you can only see if you write for the New Humanist.

James said...

Hi sparrish,

As Humphrey implies, it is just a bit of random slander. As it happens, I state the opposite in God's Philosophers:

"The inquisitors of the Middle Ages have a deservedly poor reputation. There is no defence for subjecting people to an agonising death over religious disagreements." (p. 86)

sparrish said...

H.and J. Right. The fact that Freeman would write such an absurd statement, and then put it out to the public, says a lot about where his head is.

Humphrey said...

To be fair to Charles - I did read a bit of Harris's critique which lambasted him for excusing Diocletian's persecutions, whereas when I read the same section it seems CF is saying that Galerius was the driving force behind them whereas the ailing emperor might have been more restrained. There isn't any problem with a statement like 'Christianity and the new authoritarian empire of Diocletian were clearly incompatible' and more than saying 'The Kulaks and the authoritarian empire of Joseph Stalin were incompatible'.

There is a tendency to read what you expect to hear from your opponent into their language when their actual case is more nuanced.

sparrish said...

H. True. But, if Freeman expected to hear that Hannam supported burning heretics, that still says a lot about him.

Humphrey said...

Yeah - I have to say when I last discussed this with CF he seemed to be under the misapprehension, a) that I am some kind of apologist b) that I think Christians should be 'corralled in' and c) that I approve of the church suppressing heretics. Again my great apologetic treatise and my statements approving of these things must all have been written in invisible ink under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs because I don't remember writing them and I can't find them anywhere.

I think the confusion is best summed up in this quote from CF which says GP 'seemed to take it for granted that the Church could deal with heretics but it held this position alongside one which said that the Church fostered science. I thought it was just a muddle '. An institution can of course take a position which suppresses freedom of theological thought (not to mention critical analysis of biblical texts) but also allows most free discussion on matters of natural philosophy - which seems to have been what happened. We moderns rightly don't approve of the former but that shouldn't cloud out judgement when assessing the latter.