Even secular humanism depends on Christianity

Theo Hobson, in the British Spectator, critiques the New Atheist insistence that we can have morality–indeed, a better morality–apart from religion.  In doing so, he shows that even today’s secular humanist morality, which the atheists take as axiomatic, actually derives from Christianity.

A truly atheist, Darwinistic morality would look more like Nietzsche’s nihilistic will to power.  In contrast, today’s egalitarian benevolence would be impossible without the Christian teachings of creation and grace.  [Read more...]

Can Christianity survive gay marriage?

Rod Dreher, a Christian writer of the Orthodox persuasion,  has written a provocative article for the American Conservative that is getting a lot of attention entitled Sex after Christianity.   He raises the question of whether Christianity can even survive once its assumptions about sexual morality are jettisoned.  The short answer is, of course Christianity will survive.  The gates of hell cannot prevail against it, let alone sexual transgressions.  Missing in this discussion is that Christianity is about Christ, the Gospel, and the forgiveness of sins, not establishing a particular kind of cultural influence.  Nevertheless, Dreher documents a “cosmological” shift that may well diminish the cultural presence of Christianity.  Still, read this article.  We’ve got to talk about it.  Read the whole article, but I’ll post excerpts after the jump.  (And see my thoughts at the end.) [Read more...]

Vocation & economic productivity

Greg Forster, in the context of a discussion about Europe’s economic woes, makes some fascinating connections between the doctrine of vocation and economic productivity:

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive.Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

via Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Follow the links.  (There is even one to something I wrote on vocation.)

HT:  Justin Taylor

 

The weekly holidays

What I don’t understand is why the militant secularists are expending so much energy to remove Christmas from the cultural calendar while ignoring Christianity’s more immediate influence on the patterns of everyday life:  the weekly calendar.

Government workers, students in public schools, and many other employees get Sunday off.   That is a direct influence of the Christian religion.  Observance of the “Lord’s Day” used to manifest itself in all kinds of so-called “blue laws” mandating the closing of businesses on Sundays, and though those have mostly faded away, Sunday is still a day off for lots of people, including federal workers!  In fact, Saturday has also become a day off for lots of people, including public school children and public employees.  That recognizes the Jewish sabbath.  You will notice that the Muslim holy day of Thursday is not similarly set apart.  Christianity and Judaism have a privileged place in Western civilization, as evidenced by our observance of their two weekly holy days.  If it’s bad to establish one religion, it’s surely even worse to establish two.

Or three.  The names of the days of the week are also religiously-laden.  In addition to days honoring the Sun (Sunday) and the Moon (Monday), we have days specifically named after Teutonic deities (Tiews’ Day, Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, Freya’s Day), plus the Greco-Roman proto-god Saturn.

If secularists object to Christ’s name being in Christmas, shouldn’t they object to Thor’s name being in Thursday?  I suppose the difference is that lots of people still believe in Christ, who has pretty much displaced Thor worship.  But still, the secularists believe in one no more than the other.  And, I am told, there are certain pagans who are trying to bring back the old deities.

I hope I am not giving the secularist activists–or Christian activists worried about idolatry when they make weekly schedules–any ideas!  If we start to see lawsuits trying to keep schoolchildren and federal workers from getting to stay home on the weekends, blame me.

But my point is that religion and culture are intertwined to the point that it is very difficult to unravel them.  As has been said, the root of “culture” is “cult.”  Not in the sense of a splinter religious group, but in the sense of “worship.”

Radical thinker praises Christianity

Jurgen Habermas is a prominent European intellectual–an influential neo-Marxist, a postmodernist critic, and more recently a neo-Enlightenment philosopher.  But now, surprisingly, he is singing the praises of Christianity.  Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger tells the tale, drawing on some recent scholarship about Habermas:

[Philipe] Portier distinguishes three phases in Habermas’ treatment of religion. In phase one, lasting up to the early 1980s, he still viewed religion as an “alienating reality”, a tool of domination for the powerful. In good Marxist tradition, he thought that religion would eventually disappear, as modern society comes to be based on “communicative rationality” and no longer needs the old irrational illusions. In phase two, roughly 1985-2000, this anti-religious animus is muted. Religion now is seen as unlikely to disappear, because many people (though presumably not Habermas) continue to need its consolations. The public sphere, however, must be exclusively dominated by rationality. Religion must be relegated to private life. One could say that in this phase, at least in the matter of religion, Habermas graduated from Marxism to the French ideal of laicite—the public life of the republic kept antiseptically clean of religious contamination.

Phase three is more interesting. As of the late 1990s Habermas’ view of religion is more benign. Religion is now seen as having a useful public function, quite apart from its private consolations. The “colonization” of society by “turbo-capitalism” (nice term—I don’t know if Habermas coined it) has created a cultural crisis and has undermined the solidarity without which democratic rationality cannot function. We are now moving into a “post-secular society”, which can make good use of the “moral intuition” that religion still supplies. Following in the footsteps of Ernst Bloch and other neo-Marxist philo-Godders, Habermas also credits Biblical religion, Judaism and Christianity, for having driven out magical thinking (here there is an echo of Max Weber’s idea of “ the disenchantment of the world”), and for having laid the foundations of individual autonomy and rights.

Habermas developed these ideas in a number of publications and media interviews. The most interesting source (not discussed by Portier in the article) is a 2007 publication by a Catholic press, The Dialectics of Secularization. It is a conversation between Habermas and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (at the time of this exchange head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, subsequently Pope Benedict XVI). Habermas here gives credit to Christianity for being the purveyor of a universal egalitarianism and for an openness to reason, thus continuing to provide moral substance for democracy. Not surprisingly, Ratzinger agreed.

I am not sure what Habermas’ personal beliefs are. But I don’t think that his change of mind about religion has anything to do with some sort of personal conversion. Rather, as has been the case with most sociologists of religion, Habermas has looked at the world and concluded that secularization theory—that is, the thesis that modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion—does not fit the facts of the matter. Beyond this acknowledgement of the empirical reality of the contemporary world, Habermas admits the historical roots in Biblical religion of modern individualism, and he thinks that this connection is still operative today. Yet, when all is said and done, Habermas now has a positive view of religion (at least in its Judaeo-Christian version) for utilitarian reasons: Religion, whether true or not, is socially useful.

via What Happens when a Leftist Philosopher Discovers God? | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Joe Carter

Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.


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