Who or what does Ian Mortimer (MILLENNIUM) credit with being the “principal agent of change” over the past thousand years (in the West, at least)? The answer may surprise you—it did me, and I read the book:
There is no doubt who was the principal agent of change of the millennium. It was God. Personally, I don’t believe in God [but] even though He does not exist (in my opinion), He had more influence on the Western world than anybody that did [exist].
It was the Catholic Church’s perception of God’s will that was behind the Peace of God and the Truce of God movements and the discontinuation of slavery in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. God was the sole international agency working for peace throughout the Middle Ages. It was the Christian community’s worship of God that made the West accept the authority of the papacy. It was Christian monasticism that led to the twelfth-century renaissance and the beginnings of learning and science in the West. Before the thirteenth century, religious men were almost the only guardians of literacy. After printing was invented, it was the study of God in the Bible that taught common men and women how to read, and thus gave women the chance to express themselves to significant numbers of other women for the first time. Widespread literacy led to better government administration and bureaucracy, which in turn caused the decline in personal violence. It was their understanding that they were exploring God’s creation that led so many scientists to devote their lives to uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the properties of botanical specimens from around the world. It was the belief that God’s healing power worked through them that gave so many seventeenth-century physicians the confidence to try to help the diseased and infirm. In the nineteenth century it was the understanding that God had made everyone equal that persuaded so many people that arguing for the equal rights of men and women, black and white, rich and poor was the only defensible moral standpoint.
Atheist that I am, even I have to concede: that is quite a lot of influence for a fictional character to have exerted. And Mortimer doesn’t even bother to mention God’s influence on the creative arts—music, poetry, painting, architecture, and so on.
One can only wonder—how much more could God accomplish if He were actually to exist?