The torture and burning of Bruno and other scientists, and the forced recantation of Galileo’s heliocentric theory, created a conflict between the Church and science in Europe. This resulted in bitterness which persists to this day. Some years ago, a petition by a Jesuit college for affiliation was rejected by the California Institute of Technology because a faculty member proclaimed “remember Galileo!”. Some scientists go out of their way to discredit religion. For instance, they argue that religion was invented to explain natural phenomenon like rain, lightning, etc. Now that science provides better explanations, religion is no longer needed.
Religion was not defeated by science in Europe because it could not compete in explaining natural phenomenon. Rather, this was a consequence of the moral bankruptcy of the upper echelon of the Catholic Church. The crisis caused by the openly flaunted moral corruption of a sequence of popes (which involved living extremely luxuriously, legitimising bastard progeny, selling pardons for sins to raise money for supporting lavish lifestyles, etc.) has been termed “the most momentous event in the history of Europe” in The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. She has documented how this directly led to the rise of the Protestants, who attempted to preserve their faith while breaking from the corrupt Catholic Church. The Protestants split into several different Christian sects and factions, which fought among themselves as well as with the Catholics. The intolerance of these sects for each other, and battles, carnage, oppression and injustice, all carried out in the name of Christianity, convinced Europeans that religion could not serve as a basis for ordering a society. Even religious leaders realised that social harmony required principles which could be agreed to by all members of the society, without invoking controversial and conflicting religious principles.
Religion was relegated to a peripheral status in Europe because it manifestly failed its primary mission of spiritual, social and moral development of human beings. Harvard professor Julie Reuben in her book The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality has recorded efforts by universities in the US to put character development on a scientific basis in the early part of the twentieth century. For a variety of reasons detailed in the book, these efforts did not succeed, and were ultimately abandoned. The rise of individualism has weakened families so much that more than a third of all the children in the UK and US are born out of wedlock and raised in broken homes. The powerful media — fiction, movies, internet, etc. — has also abandoned morality. In an earlier generation, villains would always come to a bad end. Today, morally reprehensible characters like paid assassins, prostitutes, thieves and conmen are portrayed as heroes. Lack of moral guidance from families, teachers, and the media has led to a frightening situation. Children brought up in single mother homes are: Five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to end up in prison and 32 times more likely to run away from home.
All over the world, the characters of leading personalities in politics and elsewhere are often such that even their wives cannot trust them. This is a sad reflection of the vacuum in moral excellence created by the breakdown of the main institutions — family, school and the social milieu — meant to develop character. The spectacular rise of Islam 14 centuries ago can be directly attributed to the excellence in character developed by teachings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These teachings led a group of uneducated and uncivilised nomads to the reins of world leadership and global dominance for a thousand years. It is the loss of character among Muslims today which is responsible for our current pathetic plight. The ancient formulae for development of character appear to have been lost. The world awaits those who rediscover them; as Iqbal has said: Learn once again the lessons of truth, justice and courage, You will be granted the leadership of the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.