Nixey spoke with Lapham's Quarterly about the Serapeum, the Library of Alexandria, the Parthenon, and the movements which defaced and mutilated the statues, art, and books there.
"They mutilated statues all over the ancient world -- the Parthenon is defaced, they have their hands chopped off, their heads chopped off, their feet chopped off. And some of them are simply pushed off the Parthenon and ground into rubble. So, when you see the Elgin marbles today [at the British Museum]... you think they are in a bad shape because of the ravages of time. No, it was most certainly Christians deliberately smashing them because they thought they were demonic idols, and they did this everywhere," she said. "It is horrifying, this goes on all over the ancient world and it sends the most potent message to anyone who is not a Christian. In a period of just over 20 years, you have demolished the most beautiful ancient temple, and you have killed the most brilliant ancient mathematician, and that speaks volumes. Philosophy in Alexandria after that plummets because people are terrified."
"The perfect Roman was something of a Renaissance man, at once healthy in mind and body... who learns a lot, reads a lot, speaks several languages, is conversant with the Greek tragedies," she recalled before bringing up the tale of St. Anthony. "And then the Christians start worshipping this man who lives in a hole in the desert and reads no books. And they start to say things like 'Wisdom is foolishness.' You don't need books, you don't need philosophy."
"Paradoxically, this man who is celebrated for not reading any books becomes something of a bestseller in the ancient world, people read his life. And you have stories of people giving away their book collections when they become Christians. They say, 'I don't need books anymore, I have God.' So, the criticism the pagans raise again and again against the Christians is that they are stupid... One philosopher describes the old testament as 'utter trash' and said he wouldn't tell the stories to his children... But in the new Christian world that doesn't matter because the new Christian world says paganism is evil," she continued. "There are pagan philosophies saying we are made of atoms, so we don't have to pray to God... The world is a free and beautiful place and when you die, you die. And the Christians particularly attack that philosophy."
Later, once Christianity becomes the official religion of the empire, "people start saying other religions aren't just less good, they're insane," she said. "And people start to get demonized in the law in a very specific way, they are told they are sick, with an illness. The illness is the crucial one, because once you're ill, you need to be cured. And what changes your mind? St. Augustine says to physically force someone to give up their old religion is not a cruelty but a kindness, a loving father beats his son... so Augustine opens up 1,000 years of persecution by his argument that to help people be cured of their wrong beliefs, whatever those wrong beliefs are, that you should use physical force, and that is increasingly what the laws start to do. If you are going into an ancient temple you might be struck down by a sword. Sacrificing to the old Gods, eventually, you'll be able to be executed. There is severe and relentless persecution."
Next, came "bonfires of books," she explains. "When Constantine came to power, 90% of the empire was not Christian. So he has to turn an empire of 60 million people, in what is a historical eye blink, into believing something they don't believe. How do you do that? Laws, social persuasion, and in the end, physical persuasion and terrible violence."
"You start to see laws appear banning people from debating religion in public and eventually you start to see books burning in front of churches... anything from heretical writings, to even things like philosophical writings, atomist philosophers... People just stop writing about it."
"90% of all classical literature and 99% of all Latin literature is lost, and what survives is in one or two copies... because people start to despise it, they stop copying it, they stop reading it... libraries also suffer in this period because they are often in temples, which are pulled down."