Evolution of the West: the complex relationship between Christianity and modernity

Jun 19, 2017 by

by Matthew J Franck, MercatorNet:

Christianity’s positive role in the formation of Western civilisation.

[…]  Why Christianity’s role in shaping the West should be in need of vindication is itself an interesting tale. In secularist circles, from the eighteenth-century Roman historian Edward Gibbon to the most recent popularizers of the “New Atheism,” it has long been axiomatic that everything praiseworthy in western societies was achieved by overcoming and displacing the legacy of Christianity. Equality, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, modern science and its fruits—all of these are viewed as luminous achievements brought about by an escape from the stultifying, superstitious shadows of the Christian religion.

This view does not withstand serious historical scrutiny. Indeed, after reading this book, there are two things one can no longer credit. The first, which Spencer explicitly debunks, is that modernity’s highest achievements owe nothing to Christianity and everything to secularism. The second, the untenability of which he pauses repeatedly to underscore, is that everything that is good about modernity is due to Christianity in some unambiguous or univocal way. The matter is more complicated than that.

One might add a third myth that Spencer nowhere mentions, let alone debunks, but one that is worth mentioning because it travels well in some quarters: that the modern is the secular, the secular is the anti-Christian, and . . . we’re doomed, unless we somehow tear up the roots of the modern altogether. That myth, too, does not survive this book.

Spencer begins with a treatment of Larry Siedentop’s truly stunning book Inventing the Individual (which I have reviewed elsewhere), arguing that “the Enlightenment is not the source of our political virtues,” which are “better found in distinctly Christian ideas and their institutional setting (whisper it: the Church).” It was Christian Europe that desacralized political authority, opened up space for civil society, developed a legal system “in which—in theory at least—all people were equal and equally under judgment,” and “raised the idea of conscience” as a central one in religious and political life.

Similarly, it is the Christian “backstory” of Magna Carta—the landmark 1215 charter of liberty under law revered in all English-speaking countries—that makes that event comprehensible. As Spencer reminds us, the Great Charter’s first clause declares the freedom of the Church, and this was not mere episcopal special pleading:

Read here


Related Posts


Share This