They Will Know We Are Christians By Our … Politics? (RJS)

They Will Know We Are Christians By Our … Politics? (RJS) August 18, 2016

ChurchDespite the title this isn’t a post about the current US presidential election – although I hope it gets people thinking about how they frame their position, whatever that may be. In fact, the title may distract from the theme of the post. But it is an attention grabber.

“They,” that is the non-Christians in our increasingly diverse and secular culture, will not know we are Christians by our political affiliation. They will  not know we are Christians by the logic of our words, by our fancy buildings, popular orators, rules, or philosophical arguments.

They will know we are Christians by the way we live. Christianity will also be defined (in their minds at least) by the way we live. Try asking people some time “What is the first word that comes to mind when I say Christian?”

It goes beyond this though. They will know that Christianity is true (or not) by the way Christians live.

One of the commenters on Tuesday’s post Testable Faith made a point worth a good deal of consideration.

Should our views be verifiable or at the very least subject to falsification on matters of faith?

I think yes. And can give you some examples of how that could work.

If the claims of Scripture are true, we should see a qualitative difference between Christians filled with the spirit and non-Christians in the “world.” We should see “fruits” of the spirit. Light and salt. In a way that is striking by way of comparison. And this should be even more pronounced the more devout one is in their faith. In a way that does not compare with how devout one is in another non-Christian faith.

Subjectively, one ought be able to say something qualitatively more compelling in their Christian “testimony” than the sincere “testimonies” of those from other faiths.

We should see greater wisdom and discernment in devout Christian communities than those of other faiths or non-faith.

Greater wisdom and discernment perhaps, but only in the areas where Christian faith claims to make a difference. At very least we should see an intentional Spirit-powered desire in Christian community to live by the commandments taught in Scripture. I don’t mean details of purity laws, but the overarching commandment as expressed by Jesus, that permeates much of the Old Testament (especially the prophets) and all of the New Testament.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31) (See also Mt 22:36-40, Lk 10:25-28)

In Mt 22 Jesus concludes “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  These two commandments are to guide the shape of our lives as individuals and in Christian community.  We are called to love God and to love others … especially (but not only) those most in need of love: the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the powerless, the displaced.

There are many passages in the New Testament that can be used to emphasize the importance of love and character formation in Christian life (See It is a Conundrum Pt. 1 for a partial list).

John makes it clear that love is from God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 Jn 4:7-8)

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because he first loved us. (1 Jn 4:16)

Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Ga 5:19-26)

In his book Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey writes about his conversations with a range of people:

When I ask, “Tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say “Christian,” not one time has someone suggested the word love. Yet without question that is the proper biblical answer.” As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Jesus commanded his disciples at the Last Supper. He said the world will know we are Christians – and, moreover, will know who he is – when his followers are united in love. (p. 35)

This isn’t an optional command, it is supposed to be the central feature of Christian community. In fact, as far as the world is concerned it should be the defining characteristic, our best apologetic, and the most significant verification of the truth of our faith.

There has been a lot of hand wringing of late over the decline of Christian influence in America. The drop in church attendance is no longer limited to liberal churches.  The Southern Baptist convention in June was accompanied by a series of stories … Southern Baptists see 9th year of membership decline, or this story Southern Baptist Convention Membership and Attendance on Decline, but Church Planting on Rise with more details. Over the last year membership is down 1.3%, baptisms 3.3%, average weekly attendance 1.7%, Small Group/Bible Study/Sunday School 3.2 %. The realization of this trend has given rise to many articles, books and blog posts outlining ways to counter the trend (make the church great again!). Generally these are focused on doctrine, performance, and seeker sensitivity.

Perhaps instead we need to focus on our greatest commandment – to live in the Spirit and be a people shaped by love for God and love for others.  This doesn’t conveyed by words, but in actions. It isn’t a call to social justice, or to any particular political solution. It starts with the personal one-on-one interactions and moves into a total focus of life. A focus on doctrine needs to be accompanied by an equally determined focus on the great commandment to love … from the least to the greatest, or it is as Paul tells us nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.’

What do you think?

Is Christian faith verified by the witness of Christians?

If so, what does this have to say about the state of the church or the truth of our faith?

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  • Matt Miles

    I agree with the premise of this post, but here’s what I’ve been mulling over lately: who gets to decide whether the evidence is there? Most non-Christians I talk to seem to operate under the premise that a true Christian would vote Democrat, give all their offerings to people in need, and give out contraceptives like candy. Whether or not individuals are kind in personal interraction seems irrelevant. Is it possible for a Christian to live according to his or her convictions without being a jerk about it? I think so. But if that Christian is still called out for being hateful based on politics alone, who gets to say otherwise?

  • RJS4DQ

    Hi Matt

    I think this argument – which I’ve certainly heard from others – is something of a red herring. It diverts us from the main point. There is nothing that you or I can do about mass perceptions. All we can do is live personally as Christians (i.e. anchored in love for God and for others).

    I am convinced that if we focused and preached and discipled and practiced living by the fruit of the Spirit it would eventually have an impact. I can look at my own extended family – where there are devout conservative Christians on both side of the political divide – some rather wealthy, others quite poor – and see the difference that this focus makes.

  • Matt Miles

    So, to humor me, the answer to my question of who would get to decide whether the data (evidence of love for God and neighbor) is there would ultimately be our family, neighbor and immediate community?

  • Tim

    Thank you RJS.

    In your post you mentioned that you agree that Christians should demonstrate greater wisdom and discernment, but only in those instances touched on by the Christian faith, should it be true. I agree.

    But consider the track record we have so far. Ground up. Not top down apologetically.

    Scripture, for instance, has a lot to say about gender. Some of it seemingly reinforcing the worst patriarchical stereotypes towards women. Some of it more egalitarian. Some of it even empowering to women. Which really then puts the onus on Christians, presumably led by the Holy Spirit, towards wisdom and discernment on this issue.

    How has that historically worked out? There were of course devout Christians in favor of women’s rights and a more egalitarian and empowering view of their nature and capabilities. And there were of course devout Christians against this in favor of patriarchy and subjugation. Just as there were non-Christians on both sides of this issue in the past. But did we see a trend there? That the more devoutly Christian one was the more likely they were to express “wisdom” and “discernment” on this issue? More likely to be on the right side of history? Next to their less devout or non-Christian peers? I think it would be fairly non-controversial to say no. But this is precisely the sort of situation that should be addressed by the Christian faith. And Scripture certainly speaks a lot about it. In fact, reflecting on this further, after the rest of society had largely accepted an egalitarian understanding of and relation towards women, who were the hold outs? Largest in number? Passionate and active in their opposition? And for distinctly theological reasons no less? Devout Christians. Conservatives of course. But numerous and apparently impervious to the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this issue, should that exist. This is hardly what we would expect to see if Christianity were true.

    Ditto for slavery. Ditto for civil rights and race relations. And now in coming generations the same will be said for LGBT.

    So, ground up, do we see what we should expect to see? If Christianity is true?

  • I’m not sure “kind” and “loving” are synonymous. In the words of Sondheim, “nice is different than good.”

  • Matt Miles

    I don’t equate kind with nice either. Scripture actually says to be kind, but not to be nice. That said, kindness and love might not be synonymous, but I believe they are linked.

  • The folks at Westboro were described as kind by a gay Christian author. I’m sure there are kind racists too. The Christian Scientist who withholds essential medical care from his child might also be kind-hearted.

    The substance of one’s convictions is at least as important as the way in which those convictions are held.

    So, for example, the conservative Christian with a belief that gay couples are immoral and inferior (i.e., living contrary to God’s design for sexuality) cannot also claim love for gay people. Contempt and love are mutually exclusive.

    And this is how the Church is losing moral authority: looking at the obviously virtuous (e.g., full inclusion of women) and calling it ungodly.

  • Nick Winters

    It’s hard, from the outside, to figure out what areas of life are “touched by the Christian faith.” Depending on which sect you are listening too, it could be everything between Jesus helping you find your lost keys (“It’s a MIRACLE!!!!”), to a deistic sense of connection to the universe and nothing else.

    Given that consistent splintering of viewpoints, the conclusion I would personally draw from someone living well is that they have a good personality, good values (which are often distinct from their religion), and a decent amount of luck. The idea of religion being a causative factor would only come into play if it was very obviously a change agent (i.e. addicted to drugs + conversion = less addictive behaviors). And even then, I would tend to attribute that to a positive, supportive community rather than to the religion itself (although a religion that supports creating such a community does get credit for that).

    So coming from that viewpoint, what’s left? How do you link wisdom and discernment specifically to your religion and not to any of the other factors? I’m interested in your viewpoint from within the religion.

  • Tim


    While that phrase may be somewhat problematic (i.e., “right” side of history according to whom?), this would only undercut my argument if one were to claim that the instances I presented, subjugation of women, slavery, racial inequality, etc. were not in fact in the “wrong” historically. I do not believe most people on Jesus Creed would make that claim.

  • RJS4DQ


    Suppose I have a sibling who chain smokes. Are the only options total unreserved acceptance of the practice or contempt of the person?

    What does love look like and who decides?

    (I am not suggesting this is equivalent to your example, just trying to see if the all or nothing approach is really the only way.)

  • Are you suggesting that gay coupling is a behavior like smoking rather than a profound expression of personhood?

    The choice of ethical framework is important here. With a consequentialist or virtue lens, smoking is immoral and gay coupling is not. With a deontological lens, the smoking is arguably permissable while gay coupling is generally viewed as proscribed (as is woman’s equality).

    Which framework do you think facilitates loving neighbor as self?

  • Tim

    Certainly I agree. One should look to how that has worked out in real life. Testing the claims of the purported guidance of the Holy Spirit in those contexts. Per my comment above, I can’t imagine most Christians should have expected those results under the supposition of their faith being “true.”

  • Tim

    Sure, we can look at the broad sweep of history as well. Imagine how much better Athenean Greek society was, with all its faults, next to the comparatively more barbaric societies that preceded it. Look how much better off modern day secular France is than during the time of the Holy Roman Empire. And so on.

    But when you broaden your view to thousands of years, you end up netting quite a few apples along with your oranges which makes comparisons extremely problematic.

    When you look at more recent societal issues of our time, however, where you have the same people in the same country facing the same problems in the same era, then noticing how religion comes into play, or doesn’t, is far more relevant and meaningful.

  • Christyinlosangeles

    In my experience, you’re right. (And I was a very highly committed Christian until my mid-30’s, so I have experience from both the inside and the outside.) I have found that Christians (specifically evangelicals) have roughly the same level of disturbing personal and familial dysfunction as anyone else, and while a belief in Jesus motivates some to do incredible, self-sacrificing things, it is equally likely to motivate others to do incredibly hurtful things, and a whole bunch of people are pretty much who they’d be, Jesus or no Jesus. It’s kind of a wash. Other factors seem to be at play.

    I’ve seen dramatic conversions to Jesus that have radically changed someone’s life for the better – but I’ve also seen Buddhism, AA, and therapy all do the same things. In my work with non-profits over the years, I’ve worked with both faith-based and secular organizations. In my experience, the “christianness” of the organization bears no relationship to the health of the organization, how well they treat employees, or the likelihood of me getting paid on time. Even when you look at purely personal, one on one interactions, it’s hard to determine how the witness of Christians “verifies the Christian faith.”

  • Tim


    In responding to your point earlier on wisdom and discernment, and whether we see what we should expect to see on issues touched on by the Christian faith, if it were true, I realize I neglected to discus the role of demonstrating and manifesting love. Your central thesis in this post.

    So I can give you my own experience on that.

    My family, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is Evangelical Fundamentalist.

    Now, I don’t want to throw them under the bus. They are by and large good people. Just as my wife’s non-religious family are largely good people. But for every aspect of their love which you could perhaps claim their faith has brought out their better selves, there are at least just as many where it has brought out their worst.

    As you may know, I am not one to be shy in expressing my views. I don’t want to shout them at people. Or castigate them. But I will express them. Just as my family is not the slightest bit shy about expressing theirs. And that’s ok.

    Where things go off the rails, however, are when they can’t silence you. Certainly you will be aware of the censorious aspects of Evangelical and specifically Fundamentalist Evangelical culture. The policing of boundaries. The attempts to discredit, denigrate, and even demonize one’s ideological opponents. To infer uncharitably pernicious motives to why anyone would dare challenge the “truth.”

    So a lot of that us vs. them tribalism, self-righteous condescension, and triumphalism gets directed my way. Some of the treatment I get are angry and “righteous” denouncements. Others are colder or more aloof as they put up walls. A ton of outright dismissal and a removing of respect. There is something of a ganging up, where there is this sense that they’re oriented against a common enemy with their cause being just and community above reproach (in whichever circumstance comes into play). Long and short, you get treated as an enemy and not in the “love your enemy” sort of way you would expect of true disciples of Christ. Yet there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they are sincere and passionate in their “love for Jesus.”

    When I look at my family, I see a people who are handicapped in empathy because of their faith. Are more inclined in some respects to be loving because of their faith, but far less inclined to be loving in other respects as a direct outcome of their lived faith. I do not see any hint of a Holy Spirit at work in their lives. I do see the enormously strong influence, however, of a worldview.

    If the Christian faith were true, one would expect I would have seen, albeit far from any notions of perfection, still a fundamentally different experience of love and a host of other “fruits” of the spirit with respect to my family. Given what I have experienced first hand, knowing just how prevalent these experiences are for others, and looking at non-Christians and less devout Christians for comparison, one could perhaps be well within the bounds of good sense to infer that there has not been any spiritual transformation in these people’s lives such as Scripture describes. And the implications for that on a broader scale should be obvious for the Christian faith. What we expect to see should it be true is not what we actually witness in real life. One can always argue this away of course in an ad hoc manner. A manner that can never be “disproved.” But that of course is not holding one’s views up to fair and intellectually honest scrutiny.

  • jp

    Thanks. I had to listen to the song alluded to by the title, as it had been awhile, and it is such a great message. Here is a link to a well done version:

  • Pretty sly how you subtly inserted that Jesus Creed thingy in your post. Trying to keep on Scot’s good side, eh?? 🙂

    Seriously, this is spot-on, especially your insight that we as Christians are only called (and expected) to be wise in the areas where the Faith claims to make a difference, Truth being one of the most important areas. Thank you.

    As some comments in this thread demonstrate, I think it’s also important to operationally define love as Scripture defines it: desiring the best for the beloved, i.e., desiring conformity to God’s creative intentions and designs for his originally good creation and very good image-bearing creatures so that we thrive and prosper, even in the midst of brokenness. Everything else is falsehood masquerading as love. That’s another reason we need community—to remind us of the Truth and help us keep our bearings.

  • RJS4DQ


    Did you answer before or after I edited my question?

  • RJS4DQ

    I dated myself with the title, I fear.

  • After, I believe. The question is when are expressions of moral disapproval helpful versus harmful? My response is that intent does not excuse impact. One can feel loving while causing demonstrable injury – especially when “because bible” is one’s motive.

  • RJS4DQ

    I don’t think that is the question I was trying to get at. Rather, is it possible for someone to love you while still disapproving of a behavior? You seemed to be saying that the only options were contempt or acceptance.

    So in my position – as a woman, scientist, professor – I have friends and relatives who disapprove of the way I’ve chosen to live my life. Choices that I will contend are integral to who I am as a thinking reasoning human being. I should rather be content as wife and mother. But this lack of total acceptance doesn’t leave contempt as the only other option. Indeed, love even in disagreement has been more common.

    Again, no analogy is perfect – but my only disagreement with your earlier comment was the implication that we either have acceptance or contempt.

  • RJS,

    I’m not arguing that we have acceptance or contempt.

    I’m arguing that moral disapproval grounded in beliefs that diminish the personhood of others is harmful and therefore always unloving. Such moral disapproval is an expression of contempt (different than hate) and is manifest in demonstrable injury.

    There are some who believe that black people are less intelligent than white people and therefore should not be in management jobs. Their disapproval of a black woman pursuing an executive position is not a disapproval of her behavior (applying for a job), it is an expression of contempt for black people. Can that person claim love for their black neighbors?

    Likewise, disapproval of a woman following a call to a pastoral vocation is an expression of contempt for women, and disapproval of gay coupling is an expression of contempt for gay people. These are much different than disapproving of a behavior (such as smoking).

    You choose to meet this contempt with forgiveness and understanding. I like to believe I do likewise. And, in my experience, my family showed me love by working their way to a place of acceptance of who I am at my core. That doesn’t make their former beliefs any less harmful or more loving.

  • Ryan G

    Absolutely Christian witness in love is essential to the truth of our faith. I was studying the churches of Revelation a few months ago, and Ephesus stood out as a church that was strong on the doctrinal front, but it had “abandoned its first love,” which refers at least in part to their love for others. And so the church was in as much danger of Jesus’ judgment as those in Thyatira who swung to the other extreme. The practice of love is essential!

  • Bev Mitchell


    Not to answer for RJS, but to offer my own take on your story, as well as to follow up on your questions specifically to me in the recent post by RJS – “Testable Truth”, Aug 16.

    First, your personal experience with a particular group of Christians is sad and lamentable. However, most of us who have been in congregations for any length of time can point to similar awful behaviour. Unfortunately some Christians even act as if being right on all matters is a requirement of having or depending on the righteousness of Christ. We are human, after all, works in progress. We have not been made perfect through the righteousness of Christ, just forgiven, with a forgiveness extended to all. Through the work of the Spirit sent to further reveal Christ, we are expected to grow in Christlikeness. Nothing instant about it. Nothing fail-safe either. And, Christians serve a God who offers second chances, and more.

    God is also patient. Consider his faithfulness to the people of Israel, right through to including them in the free gift of grace revealed in Christ (Messiah) even after so many failures (See Daniel 9:4-19). Now, as Paul says, we should not excuse our failures by saying they offer God more chances to show his grace. We also should not ignore or even deny our failures on the grounds that the righteousness of Christ must surely make us perfect, in this life. It clearly does not.

    Now to your earlier observation that there are people outside the Church who often behave better than some Christians, I agree, we do see people who don’t claim Christ behaving in ways clearly advocated in the Bible; and we see Christians doing this as well. Such people, Christian or not, who regularly behave this way are also very likely to be the first to say that they are on a journey, that they have not yet arrived. I’m inclined to think that all self-sacrificing acts of love toward others are connected in various, largely unseen, ways to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not necessary for the actor to acknowledge this to make it true, any more than it is necessary for someone to claim Christ for his offer of forgiveness to stand.

    My point, here and a few days ago, is that Christians claim that all of this will eventually come round to the work of Christ. The Messiah has come, his victory over sin and death is won, and his Spirit is at work in us, among us and around us to build the kingdom. The cross is the centre. It’s not a matter of who is in or out. It is a matter of where we are, and ultimately will be, in relation to Christ. Blessedly, the pull of the Spirit is centripetal and all can feel it to some degree. Responding positively, in all the ways possible, is crucial. And, once again, God is patient. This is the message. There should be no self-centred pride in it at all. Our works, poor as they often are, are not for boasting, nor should we boast of our apologetic efforts or our theologies, nor of the forgiveness we have received or our freely given standing in Christ. If someone sees no need to ask for these latter gifts, then they have not listened to the Spirit carefully enough, or, we Christians have not shown enough to them in the way of the love of Christ. It’s not that we have not argued with or shamed or frightened them enough.

    Can this position, this peculiar even foolish view be proven scientifically? No. But, it can be lived. Does it fit well what we experience? Is it internally consistent? Is it reasonable? Is it fulfilling? Does it work? I think so. Is it better than competing views? Each person must decide, and math, stats or human argument are unlikely to be of much use for this.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Tim, let’s not.make the mistake of equating “devote” with conservative/fundamentalist. All major religions have liberal and conservative strands (not to equate to liberal and conservative politics, although there is usually a healthy amount of overlap) that spar with each other over centuries.

    I think connections can be made with more liberal Christianity (from the radical egalitarianism in the sayings of Jesus to the negative theology of Pseudo Dionysus/Echhart to the liberal Christianity/humanism of Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, Locke and Jefferson) to what essentially spawned modern secular humanism.

    I don’t think you would’ve seen the Enlightenment in Europe if Europe had been primarily Islamic, or practicing Sikhism, Buddhism etc.

  • Tim


    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Yes, what you’ve provided is the standard response to this situation.

    Scripture attests to the fact that we’re not perfect. And provides ample examples in this regard. Including amongst the faithful. We are broken creatures. We stumble and fall, and get back up again in our journey. Until such time when God’s plan for humanity fully manifests in all its glory and perfection.

    Yes, I get it. But here’s the thing, this completely sidesteps what we are supposed to see now in the way of “light and salt.” And “fruits of the spirit.”

    It allows you permission, which you shouldn’t really have if you were to come at this ground-up, to on one hand accept what Scripture says about the qualitative differences that should arise and are promised in Scripture through transformation by the Holy Spirit, and what you observe comparatively in the “world.”

    From my vantage point, there is no sum total “qualitative” difference. Certain positives may be accentuated to be sure in some areas, but the same can be said for negatives in others. For instance, few can go toe to toe with Tibettan Buddhists on their ability to unconditionally forgive and be at peace. Perhaps though Christians out do others on charity. Some things go up. Others down. But I do not see a qualitative difference in the “fruits” I’m supposed to, on the whole, albeit imperfectly, see demonstrated by those “transformed” by Christ per Scripture. It’s just not seen.

    Like I said, you can always after the fact explain that away. So what? For instance, those who believe in Voodoo can never be convinced if they don’t want to be that the “magic” they call on in their spirits isn’t “real.” Because if the “magic” works (i.e., the event they want to transpire in some way does), then they take that as confirmation of their views. If the “magic” doesn’t, then that is confirmation that someone else’s “magic” was stronger. Their belief system covers every eventuality. And that counts for absolutely nothing. What would count for something is if there were outcomes they would expect to occur if and only if their beliefs were likely true and they witness that.

    And as it stands now, the sort of Christians we see today, and over the past 2,000 years for that matter, are indistinguishable from the sort of Christians we would expect to see if Christianity were NOT true. There is no difference. Yes you can sweep all that away if you want to. But if you’re going to be honest with yourself, you should know that is not the expectation you should have based on the promises of Jesus and the Apostles who followed him.

  • Tim


    No, we wouldn’t have seen the Enlightenment in Islamic, Buddhist, etc. culture.

    But we did see tremendous scientific, philosophical, and social advances in Ancient Greece. Is that an attestation to the veracity of their faith?

    What you need for advancements of the sort we saw in Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment are a culture of intellectual curiosity as well as a social structure and relative affluence that provides for the leisure and funding of intellectuals for their pursuits. Greek culture provided that. And the scholastic culture preceding the Renaissance did as well.

    Regarding your point on being devout, absolutely, I agree. For instance, I consider Pope Francis devout. And he’s not Evangelical Fundamentalist. Nor is he even Protestant. And while I disagree with him on many issues, if more Christians were like him I never would have advanced the argument I did. I think I also made note that devout Christians have also found themselves on the morally vindicated side of issues on the past. I’m sure I mentioned that. It’s just that there’s no positive tilt there when you account for all who are in fact ostensibly devout.

  • AHH

    Or we could have the version more appropriate to the 1990s:
    And they’ll know we are Christians by the fish on our cars.
    Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our fish.

  • RJS4DQ

    Or WWJD bracelets.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “What you need for advancements of the sort we saw in Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment are a culture of intellectual curiosity as well as a social structure and relative affluence that provides for the leisure and funding of intellectuals for their pursuits. Greek culture provided that. And the scholastic culture preceding the Renaissance did as well.”

    I agree with the above, but the big difference is Greek society was built on ingrained class and hierarchy; what made the Enlightenment so different from anything before it was the notion of the sanctity of the individual and that individual having rights transcending the needs of the collective. I would argue this notion stems primarily (although not solely) from the Judeo-Christian paradigm. The centuries of ensuing Christendom notwithstanding, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the first arguments for religious liberty as a matter of freedom of conscience comes from Tertullian.

  • Tim


    If you’re moving on to claiming that Christianity is ultimately responsible for the Enlightenment’s notions of individual rights, I’d have to disagree.

    So much in Scripture can be used in fact to suppress individual rights. The early Church was instructed to submit to governing authorities, which themselves were “revealed” to be institutes established top-down by God, to convey his power and authority, rather than bottom-up through the consent of the governed.

    It was philosophical advances that, having occurred in the context of a Christian culture, painted their values and arguments upon a Christian canvas. In fact, many doing so were Deists.