Friday, March 26, 2010

A Secularist's View of Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

Not all atheists hate Christianity! Some even consider it useful as providing an ethical basis for society that secularism/atheism cannot supply. This is an interesting article from the American Thinker, a "daily internet publication." The author, an atheist who sees himself as free of the religious illusions of the masses, nevertheless argues a point often argued by Catholic and other Christian intellectuals--that the success and survival of Western civilization rest upon the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secularism offers no basis for a shared morality or a free society, but renders those who confidently abandon the faith of their fathers ideologically and morally helpless in the face of the enemies of both Christianity and secularism. Cicero held a similar position--he did not believe in the gods himself, but thought that general belief in and public recognition of them essential to the survival of Rome. What the Roman gods provided was different, however--a political glue that held the polis together, not a moral foundation for ethical behavior--that, after all, was not something the Roman gods were known for!

This essay reminds me too of the exchange between a Pacific Islander and Christopher Hitchens in the 2007 debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D'Souza. The debate brought out how the transformation of cultures throughout the world by Christianity represented a great gift (and not just or only an alien imposition) as it established the equal and intrinsic dignity and worth of all as a recognized, if not always practiced universal principle. One of the most interesting questions in the debate was posed to Hitchens by a man from Tonga. Before the Christians came to Tonga, he said, the place was a mess. Even cannibalism was widespread. The Christians stopped this practice and brought to Tonga the notion that each person has a soul and God loves everyone equally. The man from Tonga asked Hitchens, "So what do you have to offer us?" Hitchens was taken aback, and responded with a learned disquisition on cannibalism in various cultures. But he clearly missed the intellectual and moral force of the man's question. The man was asking why the Tongans, who had gained so much from Christianity, should reject it in favor of atheism [from my post of September 4, 2009].

Habermas, also a secularist who is tolerant of Christianity and sees its centrality as the foundation of Europe, puts it like this: 'Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter' [also quoted in my September 4 blog. But note the comment by Thomas Gregersen of denmark and my response].

American Thinker: Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

No comments:

Post a Comment