The 'Dark Ages" date from the middle of the 5th century AD (approximately) and roughly overlap and coincide with the rise of Christianity and Catholicism. The Dark Ages are defined as a cultural decline and societal collapse of Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire. Paganism and tribal savagery by Germanic tribes are blamed for the fall of Rome. There are some parallels between those times and now.
The period of centuries following the sack of Rome is called 'dark' because of its lack of written records, cultural advancement and human achievement during most of the period. Cultures prior to the sack of Rome left multitudinous records, buildings and evidence of their achievements. The few written records existing from the Dark Age were made by isolated religious monks in their monasteries and are only fragmentary in nature. We know very little really, about what went on during those times.
Classical Greek and Roman civilizations faded away and humanity descended into feudalism and savagery. The conquering groups and tribes were simply more interested in conquest than civilization. The contemporary term 'Vandal' comes from one of the tribes who helped sack Rome, the Vandals, known for their love for senseless destruction. The subsequent stagnation of culture and civilization lasted nearly 1000 years. No one really knows the horror experienced by the common man during those dark times. But, if we compare to similar 'revolutions' where established cultures and civilizations were overthrown and society degenerated into savagery, we can interpolate the period must have been marked by untold human suffering on an immense scale.
About the 14th century AD, the so-called enlightenment began, sparked by the Reformation - which was in effect a revolt against Catholicism. But Catholics, who very often cooperated with the conquerors, or were conquerors themselves, resisted the very idea of any Dark Age, insisting instead the period was harmonious and peaceful. In a way, it is very like denying the Holocaust as one Cardinal has recently done. Since there were few written records, no one actually knows for sure. But again, we can interpolate if the complete history of Catholicism is any indication, the opposite was probably true - unless you were a devout Catholic then, who strictly adhered to the rules of church leaders, or at least pretended to do so.
Fortunately for western humanity, the enlightenment and Reformation, led to the period called the Renaissance, marked by an explosion of human achievement, intellectual 'enlightenment' and advancement never before seen. The influence of religion gradually receded and more people were freed of the stifling muzzle of church control, be it Catholic or one of the many protestant sects which came to be. Fabulous new ideas and inventions came to the benefit of humanity as a whole. All of this led, centuries later, to the truly advanced civilizations we enjoy today in the western world especially.
But, that's not the end of the story. Catholicism in particular, has a long and bloody history of bending to the winds of intrigue, treachery, war, crusades and inquisitions, very often even sponsoring and paying for them. An unhealthily incestuous relationship has existed with various governments, kingdoms and states over the centuries, and led to untold human suffering at the hands of, or behest of 'The Universal Church'. Murder, massacre, torture and horror are a common product of this religion. But, lest I be perceived as 'anti-Catholic', please note that I am convinced almost ALL other sects, religions and denominations are equally perfidious and treacherous when it suits their needs. I believe that is a simple and common characteristic of religions in general.
Another observation I must make: It benefits religions to keep their adherents 'dumb' and non-thinking as well as hypnotized and paralyzed by their particular brand of mythology and fear - which gives rise to some decidedly peculiar cults. The education of real intellectuals is one of the dread fears of all religions, any arguments to the contrary. True, many religions, and Catholics in particular originated many schools and universities, but they were established to proselytize first to create new adherents, and to educate secondarily. Further, any education provided was strictly promulgated to promote the religion itself. Only later did schools and universities become more secular, and only then only very grudgingly.
Indeed, many Catholic leaders, as well as other religions, eagerly participated in destroying records and other intellectual evidence in conquered areas. Spanish priests for example, ruthlessly ordered thousands of books and records destroyed as 'heathen' during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs .
To this day, we see religious groups attempting to stifle intellectual pursuits which conflict with their doctrine. Attempts at banning books are legion; anything perceived as against their various dogmas is vigorously, and relentlessly attacked. Sex education in schools and evolution are contemporary examples. Abstinence is touted as the only solution to teen pregnancy, while statistics show that does not work, and indeed, religious groups promoting such a policy have a statistically higher incident of teen pregnancy than the general population. Today, Pope Benedict XVI insists the distribution of condoms aggravates the problem of AIDS - when exactly the opposite is shown to be true by countless studies.
Religion, and anti-intellectualism in favor of doctrinal beliefs is alive and well amongst those who wish to turn back the clock. And, that also favors politics which enlist religious groups in their political causes. We have seen the cynical wooing of Christian evangelists and Catholics by current Republicans, which often works because those groups believes the party is sympathetic to their doctrines. However, these same groups, perhaps feeling a little jaded, have recently begun to question this fact. But it is also true I believe, that like the religious, many Republicans also perceive intellectuals as their natural enemies. Karl Rove for example has said, “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing”.
If that is true, then it not an advantage for the party to provide anything more than lip service for education, and that is exactly what we have seen. Nationally, and in individual states all over the US, Republicans are urging cuts in funding to education. Some are drastic and draconian. The excuse is always 'the budget'. Many early education and programs for the arts, and advanced education are being cut or proposed for cutting. The federal government under Bush cut funding to over 42 separate national education programs, including some over 40 years old.
Simultaneously he gave a half trillion dollar tax cut to the rich and enormous tax benefits to the energy industry. Obviously, dumbing down the electorate benefits a few.
The Hell with the seed corn. Hang the young, the disadvantaged and the poorer members of our society.
Two things to remember:
"The strength of the United States is not the gold at Fort Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people."
"Religions change; beer and wine remain."