Enlightenment values 8

Christian values (as described in the post immediately below) are alien to human nature. Human beings do not, cannot, love all other human beings. (Many find it hard to love a few. Some find it impossible to love any.) A thirst for vengeance is common among us. Normal people do not prefer poverty to riches.

Christian values do not underlie our civilization. What values do?

Freedom, justice, reason.

None of which are of any interest to the Christian religion – though millions of individuals who are Christian benefit from them and, to their credit and reward, consciously defend them.

The rewards of reason are, most importantly, scientific knowledge, technological progress, innovation. “Measurement began our might,” wrote W. B. Yeats, referring to ancient civilizations.

To live in freedom, to make justice attainable, to reap the rewards of reason, we need government by Law.

In its beginning, Christianity rejected Law. The author of the Christian religion, St.Paul, contended that the sacrifice of Christ marked a new era and the Law was no longer needed. Christianity was instead of the Law. Later the Church found it necessary to retrieve the moral law of Judaism, and to compile its own canon law. The period of Christian antinomianism was short-lived, but Catholic rule failed spectacularly through the centuries of the Church’s power to provide justice to the peoples of Christendom. It punished heresy, blasphemy, innovation, mere disagreement. It opposed scientific discovery. The Church of Rome was a totalitarian tyranny. So were the Protestant regimes of the Reformation.

The greatness of our civilization began with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the recovery of ancient thought, the launch of the Age of Reason. Europe measured again. Our age of science dawned.

And on the principles of reason, freedom, rule of law, the United States of America was founded.

Yes, some of the Founders were Christians. (And some were deists. And some, though pre-Darwin, were probably quietly atheist.) Yes, the Declaration of Independence mentions a Creator. It designates this Creator as “Nature’s God” – a bold statement of an Enlightenment perception. (Spinoza’s god was nature, the laws of physics.) This god, the Framers said, “endowed” human beings with certain rights. In other words, they saw them as natural rights. There is barely a trace of Christian doctrine in the founding documents, but just enough for those to discern it who want it to be there.

 

Jillian Becker    October 22, 2019

Western civilization and Christian values 25

It is often claimed that Western civilization owes its success to Christian values.

Does it? Is our civilization a product of Christian morality?

What are Christian values?

Wikipedia tells us and I summarize:

Love of God and unconditional love of all people, including enemies; fidelity in marriage; renunciation of worldly goods; forgiveness of sins and offenses, renunciation of vengeance.

We don’t know how many Western Europeans, during the last two millennia, loved the Christian god, nor can we assess to what extent such a love inspired great deeds. Perhaps that particular value has contributed significantly to the triumph of the West. 

But it would be hard to argue that any of the others are features of Western history.  

Christians have been warring with other Christians since even before Rome itself became Christian. Mutual violent hatred, relentless intolerance, unquenchable thirst for revenge in the parched souls of multitudes who bore the Cross into battle – these are the recurring themes of the ages dominated by the Church of Rome. So much for universal love, love of enemies, and renunciation of vengeance.

Was there ever a single anno domini, even a single hour in a single year in a Christian land, when the vows of marriage were not being broken by a multitude of impious wretches? Is there not divorce in our time? Are the civil courts not kept busy by the unforgiving?

Do we not gather worldly goods?

Ladies and gentlemen and transgenders of the jury, I ask you to find Western civilization not guilty of ever implementing Christian values.

 

Jillian Becker   October 20, 2019

Posted under Articles, Christianity, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tagged with ,

This post has 25 comments.

Permalink

On religion 5

One of our readers and commenters, bornagainpagan, sent us a link to this American Thinker article. We thank bornagainpagan. It is well worth reading. But on several points we take issue with the author. (Please read it all, as we are only quoting the parts we particularly want to comment on, and do not wish to give a distorted impression of the whole.)

We want to reply to, not quarrel with, a fellow atheist. We would be foolish to deny the historical importance of religion, especially of Christianity and Judaism to the West (and we greatly value the Bible as literature). But we do not think that religion as such, or any particular religion of any particular culture, has ever been, or ever could be, a force for good, even though good people might feel motivated by it.

Rational thought may provide better answers to many of life’s riddles than does faith alone. However, it is rational to conclude that religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together.

We strongly disagree. First: By “the Judeo-Christian tradition” is always meant Christianity, and we think – as Edward Gibbon demonstrates in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – that Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Next: Secularism does not have to be non-judgmental. It is actually  impossible to be non-judgmental. Even to choose to be what a person thinks is non-judgmental is to make a judgment. Third: We believe it was the Enlightenment (starting with the Renaissance) – ie the bursting out of the confining Christian world-view – that made possible the real progress of the Western world, towards ever more scientific knowledge and, with luck, a continual shrinking (though never of course to the total vanishing) of superstition.

Arguably the two most defining and influential Christian concepts are summarized in two verses of the New Testament. Those verses are Romans 14:10 and John 8:32.

Romans 14:10, says: “Remember, each of us must stand alone before the judgment seat of God.” That verse explicitly recognizes not only each man’s uniqueness, but, of necessity, implies that man has free will — that individual acts do result in consequences, and that those acts will be judged against objective standards. It is but a step from the habit of accepting individual accountability before God to thinking of individual accountability in secular things. It thus follows that personal and political freedom is premised upon the Christian concept of the unique individual exercising accountable free will.

Did not the Athenians of pre-Christian antiquity, the fathers of philosophy and science, recognize the importance of the individual? Was not Greek democracy based on the counting of individual choices? One does not have to be accountable “to God” to live in civil society, treat others respectfully, and obey objective law.

John 8:32 says: “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Whatever the theological meanings that have been imputed to that verse, its implicit secular meaning is that the search for truth is in and of itself praiseworthy.

No, that is not the implicit meaning. The very particular meaning is that the truth is the Jesus cult. And it isn’t, of course.

Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?

An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion.

We don’t know what is meant by “spiritually”. Morality need not depend on religion. In fact, no religion has a history or a literature that fits with the morality any of the so-called “moral religions” preach, certainly not those “moral religions” themselves. Enlightened self-interest and the practical requirements of civilized existence are strong regulators of human behavior.

Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?

Some of the ten commandments are indeed concise. (Moses did not of course “bring them down from the mountain” except in a symbolic sense.) But the concise ones are the same as far more ancient laws. The crimes “Moses”  forbids were held to be crimes by the time Hammurabi had the punishments for them codified.

Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! …

The secular laws are the laws of the state. They are intended to be moral. They are not immutable. The values of a culture that underlie law may seem immutable, but in our time many “Western values” have been turned upside down or inside out. Liberty? Justice? Loyalty? Modesty? Chastity? Decency? Erudition? Profundity? Bravery? Self-reliance? – to name but a few – are they now, consciously or unconsciously, valued by most people in Western societies?  Most Americans may agree intellectually that they ought to be: Europeans are more likely to deride them.

For the majority of a culture’s population, religious tradition is inextricably woven into their self-awareness. It gives them their identity. It is why those of religious faith are more socially stable and experience less difficulty in forming and maintaining binding attachments than do we secularists.

Are they and do they? It may be the case, but we haven’t observed it.

To the extent that Western elites distance themselves from their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage in favor of secular constructs, and as they give deference to a multicultural acceptance that all beliefs are of equal validity, they lose their will to defend against a determined attack from another culture, such as from militant Islam. For having destroyed the ancient faith of their people, they will have found themselves with nothing to defend.

We cannot see how an irrationality like Islam can be fought by another irrationality like Christianity. Religion as such is and always has been a common cause of war, persecution, massacre, cruelty, oppression, and waste of human potential.

What we really need to defend, especially now under the onslaught of Islam, is our culture of reason. We need to teach it to our children. What any individual does with the gifts and burdens his culture bequeaths him is inescapably a choice that he must make.