Early Christianity, the Poorly Educated, and Donald Trump

Origen's Contra Celsum [1] (Source)

Research notes.

In her book The Darkening Age, Catherine Nixey explores the notion that it wasn’t just barbarian invaders and excessive taxes that caused the Roman Empire to fall, but that the “triumph” of Christianity lent a hand, especially in helping render the European continent ignorant for a thousand years.

Nixey offers examples of learning and ideas being discouraged or outright banned. One is Lucretius’ atom theory that said all things were made up of atoms, including people—an idea well ahead of its time. Lucretius’ work describing the theory disappeared for most of the millennium; his numerous other works did not survive after the continent went dark.

Nixey introduces one of Christianity’s earliest critics, Celsus, with a fit quote. “Their injunctions are like this: Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by us to be evils. …” Christians “are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, and only slaves, women and children. 

Christians “do not want to give a reason for what they believe, and use such expressions as ‘Do not ask questions; just believe …”

Nixey goes on to say “Celsus wasn’t merely annoyed at the lack of education among these people. What was far worse, they celebrated ignorance.”

Celsus’ viewpoint mirrors comments made by Magellan chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who wrote of the Tupi the expedition was welcomed by in Brazil. When the fleet arrived, "it had been about two months since it had rained in that land, and when we reached that port, it happened to rain, whereupon they said that we came from the sky and that we had brought the rain with us. Those people could be converted easily to the faith of Jesus Christ.”

Two decades earlier, when the Portuguese accidentally "discovered" Brazil and encountered the Tupi, Pêro Vaz de Caminha wrote a letter to send back to Portugal bearing news of their discovery. After describing at length how primitive the Tupi appeared, he added, “They seem to be such an innocent people that if we could understand their speech and they ours, they would immediately become Christians, seeing that, by all appearances, they do not understand about any faith.”

Christopher Columbus made a similar observation about the first people in the Americas he came across.

Forward fast to 2016: “I love the poorly educated.” Now, it's unlikely Donald Trump has ever read anything longer than a golf course scorecard, but he had a cadre of well educated advisers who knew the power of ignorance and projection and other ways to attack the truth.

We didn't know it but Trump was sounding better read and more Christian than we were giving him credit for.

I’m sure it’s unrelated, but at one point in the Philippines, Ferdinand Magellan gave red hats to locals he was trying to win over, although Magellan didn’t charge for his red hats and claim falsely they were manufactured locally. Who knows, maybe one of Trump's advisers had a sense of humor when the MAGA hats were designed.


 1. Celsus' (AD 175–177) critique of Christianity came in a work entitled The True Word. That book did not survive his criticism, but a refutation quoted it extensively enough that we can read his thoughts today. That work was Origen's Contra Celsum. Thanks you, Origen.

By John Sailors

Enrique of Malacca's Voyage

(C) 2023 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.