David French, who has been a reliably anti-Trump voice on the right, takes on a different subject at the National Review, wondering aloud if American can survive being a “post-Christian” country. But as is so often the case in such discussions, he whitewashes the reality of Christian influence in maintaining all the bad things we’ve overcome.
If I had to pick one of the most under-appreciated and under-reported stories of 2017, it would be that a post-Christian America is a more vicious America, and that the triumph of secularists is rendering America more polarized, not less. Remove from the public square biblical admonitions such as “love your enemies” and the hatred has more room to grow. When the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — wither, then the culture is far more coarse…
In spite of these alarms, much of the elite media celebrates religious decline without seriously and realistically grappling with the consequences. There is so much underlying ignorance of and hostility toward orthodox Christianity in elite media circles that I fear they’re still trapped in the false belief that less Christianity means a better America.
Much of this ignorance and hostility is rooted in the idea that Christianity itself is the source of contemporary cultural conflict. In reality, a propensity toward division and conflict is deeply embedded in human nature. Tribalism reigns in the human heart. Religious differences can of course be a source of conflict, but a common Judeo-Christian culture also serves the invaluable purpose of providing rules and norms for controlling that conflict and creating the conditions for reconciliation…
For example, as Beinart notes, the civil-rights movement was not only firmly located within the Christian church, it consistently (constantly, even) made explicitly Christian appeals to the larger American culture — appeals to moral norms that Americans were supposed to share. The great civil-rights leaders weren’t inventing a new morality; they were calling Americans to live by the moral norms they were already supposed to uphold.
This kind of argument is so common that it is entirely predictable. Christianity gets the credit for every good thing in society and none of the blame for any bad thing. But if we are now in a “post-Christian” nation, then he must be taking the position that we previously were in a Christian one, so from where did all those terrible ideas come from that we have spent so much time, effort and blood to overcome? History provides a clear answer.
From where did the primary justification for slavery come? From Christianity. It was the default position, the overwhelmingly dominant position, of Christianity for centuries that slavery was the natural order of things, ordained by God himself. The Bible clearly backs that up, as God orders them to take slaves from the people around them and pass them down as property to their children. It allows them to beat them to within an inch of their lives without punishment. And when Paul is asked what a slave should do, he tells them to obey their masters.
Yes, many of the abolitionists also pointed to Christian ideals in arguing against slavery, but that was a distinctly minority opinion and a huge sea-change in Christian theology that had held sway from the earliest days of the church. And those Christian sects that were anti-slavery, like the Quakers, were condemned by the far larger and more powerful institutional church as heretics. So no, you don’t get to give Christianity the credit for ending slavery and not take the blame for maintaining it for centuries.
The same is true of the fight for women’s suffrage. From where did the primary opposition to that advance come from? From Christianity, of course. As with slavery, the Bible was cited over and over again to deny women the right to vote. The Bible makes clear that the wife is subordinate to the husband, they argued, so it is wrong to allow a woman to cancel out a man’s vote. He is the head of the house and he alone has the authority to make such decisions. There was never an argument for women’s suffrage that came from Christianity.
And the same is true of the fight for civil rights. Yes, the civil rights movement was based primarily in black churches, but from where did the overwhelming opposition to their fight for equality come from? From the far larger and more powerful white churches. American Christianity at the time held largely to the Hamitic theory of race, a Biblical justification for discrimination and slavery.
And that is still the case today with the fight for LGBT equality. And just as in all these previous instances, once we have progressed to the point where equality and justice are overwhelmingly supported, Christians like David French will come along and claim that it was a Christianity idea all along. At every single turn, it was the overwhelming weight of institutional Christianity that had to be overcome in order for those advances to take place. So I say bring on that “post-Christian America.” History tells us that we will be far better off.