Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Rise of the Christian West – The Fall of the Secular West

Today, it is common to hear that Christianity is the source of almost every evil, even the major obstacle to scientific advancement. As these errant ideas take root in the now secular West, people are more tempted than ever to abandon the church. I therefore think that these allegations have to be challenged.

Historian Rodney Stark writes that,

  • The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians (The Victory of Reason, xi)
Secularism is often erroneously associated with science and scientific advancement. However, regarding the Scientific Revolution, Stark writes,

  • Some wonderful things were achieved in this era, but they were not produced by an eruption of secular thinking. Rather, these achievements were the culmination of many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained by that uniquely Christian twelfth century invention, the university. Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable – the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars. (12)
Many people cite Greece and Rome as proof that democracy has little to do with Christianity and even that our democratic roots aren’t Christian but Classical. However Stark reflects that,

  • The rules that Plato laid out concerning the proper treatment of slaves were unusually brutal, for he believed not that becoming a slave was simply a matter of bad luck but that nature creates a “slavish people” lacking the mental capacity for virtue or culture, and fit only to serve. (26)
Consequently, only the worthy were suitable for Greek “democracy.” Aristotle likewise,

  • Drew upon Plato’s biological claims – slavery is justified because slaves are more akin to dumb brutes than to free men: “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” (27)
In contrast, democracy finds its sufficient and enduring foundation in the Biblical concept of human respect and our essential equality, as the third century Christian theologian L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius wrote:

  • The second constituent of Justice is equality. I mean this…in the sense of treating others as one’s equals…For God who gives being and life to men wished us all to be equal…But someone will say, “Don’t you have poor and rich”…Not at all! This is precisely the reason that we address one another as “Brother,” since we believe that we are one another’s equals [despite the superficial differences]. Since human worth is measured in spiritual and not in physical terms, we ignore our various physical situations: slaves are not slaves to us, but we treat them and address them as brothers in the spirit, fellow slaves in devotion to God. Wealth, too, is no ground for distinction, except insofar as it provides the opportunity for preeminence in good works. To be rich is not a matter of having, but of using riches for the tasks of justice…By conducting oneself not merely as the equal of one’s inferiors, but as their subordinate, one will attain a far higher rank of dignity in God’s sight. (77-78)
It is no surprise that, given the Classical understanding of humanity, democracy couldn’t endure long. Sadly, now, as our Christian roots are decaying, so too are our democratic principles and productivity. Stark concludes:

  • Without a theology committed to reason, progress and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five…The modern world arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a “secular” society – there having been none. And all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries. Even so, many apostles of modernization assume that…similar progress can be achieved not only without Christianity…(233).
It is amazing that these same “apostles” continue to confidently wave the banner “progress” through secularism as the West implodes.

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