This interesting article written by Jonathon Van Maren for Mercatornet chronicles the evolving thought of certain atheist thinkers on the question of Christianity and Western civilisation. The historians Niall Ferguson and Tom Holland and the author and journalist Douglas Murray are the main focus of the piece, and all three men appear to have come to the conclusion that our modern liberal order rests on a foundation of pre-modern moral and social premises that were supplied almost exclusively by Christianity
Ferguson is quoted by Van Maren
I know I can’t achieve religious faith . . . but I do think we should go to church. We don’t have, I don’t think, an evolved ethical system. I don’t buy the idea that evolution alone gets us to be moral. It can modify behaviour, but there’s just too much evidence that in the raw, when the constraints of civilisation fall away, we behave in the most savage way to one another. I’m a big believer that with the inherited wisdom of a two-millennia old religion, we’ve got a pretty good framework to work with.
No-one buys the idea that “evolution alone gets us to be moral”. No-one that I’m aware of has ever even proposed that idea.
As for “the inherited wisdom of a two-millennia old religion” providing a good framework, I’m not going to follow a moral framework that not only includes slavery, sexual inequality, child theft, marital rape, child abuse and homophobia, but also includes millennia of ways of finding excuses not to follow said moral framework.
The Christian religion has not historically stopped people behaving savagely when the constraints of civilisation fall away. On the contrary, it has often provided an excuse for such behaviour even when the constraints of civilisation have not fallen away. See the current discoveries in Canada for the latest in a very long line of examples. Christianity is known not to be the answer for achieving morality - not least because two millennia have shown that civilisation improves when Christianity wanes.
I’m pretty sure civilization did not begin with Christianity, nor with any of it’s Abrahamic forebearer religions, and I’m also pretty sure you can’t have civilization without people being civilized.
It makes you wonder what the Greeks and ancient Egyptians were supposed to be doing for all that time before Christianity, not to mention the far east. And then there’s the roughly 298000 years before that, which we are apparently supposed to think was nothing but a cesspool of savagery and death.
Religions might provide a moral framework that fosters cooperation among the in-group (while not so cooperative with outgroups, look at the discovery of the american continents by civilized Christians), but they’re not the only way to do that, and Christianity is far from the only religion of course.
On a recent podcast, [Douglas Murray] was more blunt: “The sanctity of human life is a Judeo-Christian notion which might very easily not survive [the disappearance of] Judeo-Christian civilisation.”
I can only conclude that Murray is willfully unaware of Christianity’s long and bloody history, including a millennium of conversion by the sword, centuries of internecine wars of religion, through to current majority Evangelical support for the Death Penalty.
Given the Old Testament’s sanction of the Death Penalty for relatively trivial crimes, as well as its divine sanction for genocide, I would question whether “the sanctity of human life” is unambiguously established as “a Judeo-Christian notion”.
I would further suggest that to the extent that it is established, it is a notion that Christianity has mainly honored in the breach.
Friedrich Nietzsche saw this tide receding as long ago as the late 19th century and celebrated it, proto-fascist that he was.
If one’s looking for proto-fascists, Protestants need look no further than to Martin Luther, author of “On The Jews and Their Lies,” a man who explicitly advocated, in the name of his religion, the persecution and murder of Jews. But no; let’s blame the atheists, who were probably likelier to wind up in camps than in positions of power, for fascism. And who, today, watching such things as the attempts of creationists to pervert our children’s education and the insurrection attempt at the Capitol, can point to atheism as the road to fascism? Undoubtedly doing so is a wonderful salve against the reality: that Christian fundamentalism is the greatest threat American liberty has faced since slavery.
But they called it our “inherited wisdom,” and to me that means that it’s been passed along all the way and that it’s been largely followed in those intervening generations. The idea is that it was being followed until horrible people like Nietzsche came along, and then our moral behavior started to collapse.
I think that it bears observing, if that’s the case being made, that the morality of Christian domination in our history has been a continuous parade of horribles, and that ever since we began to shake the addiction, we have seen substantial moral improvement, almost in direct proportion to the loss of religion. And today, we look around, and where is the most depraved morality? It is found in all the fundamentalist faiths that hope and pray and try to drag us back.
Now, perhaps it is impolite to say these things. But when these horrible people try to associate fascism with atheism, it is time to push back and not to mince words with the savages.
I was thinking of the prophet Bill. But perhaps it’s been too long since I read the Sacred Scrolls of Vectron, or something. It’s hard keeping up on the faith traditions.
Come to think of it, perhaps Bill doesn’t say that word in isolation. I recall that when I was an undergraduate, I met a fellow who responded to almost all observations about all things with “Excellent,” with the initial e dragged out in a kind of long “ehhh” sound. He was a fraternity brother of some friends of mine, and I am told this is pretty much the only word he ever spoke. I’ll bet his term papers were a bit boring. But it was about 1979, and everyone was stoned anyhow.