While pretending to be an Aflac agent recently, I found myself in a bookstore. One of the books I picked up was “Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love.” I finally got to read it this week.
I’ve been wanting this book for a while, ever since I heard the author, Dava Sobel, was following up “Longitude” with something else in the historical realm. I finished Longitude in three days, which was a record for me at the time. I couldn’t put it down.
But my emotional reaction to Galileo’s Daughter was different. Instead of getting pissed off at the British government, I found myself getting pissed off at the Church – a feeling both familiar and disruptive. Also, the level of suspense was different. I had no idea what would happen to John Harrison, but I kind of knew what would happen to Galileo. Anyone who’s been to grade school – or seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – knows that: He was tried and convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his life denying his own discovery.
But I was ignorant of the details. I didn’t know about the Index of Prohibited Books. I didn’t know Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems would remain on that list until 1835 (it was published in 1632). I didn’t know this list contained a total of 4,327 works, comprising over 400 years of censorship.
Let that sink in a minute.
Remember, this was in a different time. There was no real church – state separation. All publications, no matter what they were about, had to be submitted to the Holy Office of the Inquisition for approval.
Wikipedia has a good entry on the Index. Click the last reference if you want to see the list of 4,327 censored works.
We take so much for granted today. Can you imagine being an atheist in 1632? There’s no way you’d get your book published. In fact, there is a work on freethinkers on the censored list.
So just think about it the next time you think it’s bad now – it could be, and has been, a lot worse.