Sunday, 1 May 2016

What debt does secular humanism owe to Christianity, and English Christianity in particular?

Some secular humanists think they are saving the world from Christianity. But have they got this wrong? The thing is, western secular humanism is shot through with tacit Christian values, values that are alien to some other societies even today:

  • Such as all people being lovable [to God] irrespective of status and therefore all worthy of respect and rights
  • Or such as the separation of church from lawmakers being a good thing
  • And the development of democracy from the Puritan individual's conscience and congregationalist practice

Secular humanism owes a debt to Christianity for these things. Not all cultures share these values. One example that springs to mind to which these values are antithetical is Sharia law, but one could just as easily think of some of some of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Islam has not produced a secular humanism. It arose out of societies with deep Christian roots, even it if likes to present itself as anti-Christian in some quarters.

We could go further about the debt owed to Christianity. How about:

  • The Christian innovation of the concept of children having a ‘childhood’, an idea that is so cherished today:
  • The practice and methodology of subjecting ancient religious texts to scholarly scrutiny. Secular academia has kept the Christian methodology which hails from early Christian times, but has simply now stripped the methodology of its Christian content. This methodology came out of ancient Christian scholars comparing four gospels, comparing the Old and New Testaments, and their various books, sifting and weighing them. Christians have got used to secular academia applying this methodology to the Bible for that reason. (The Christian attitude to holy texts differs, say, from many muslims' attitudes to holy texts. When the same method of historical methodology is applied to the Quran, this is much more unsettling for many muslims. For them, it is harder to apply this Christian-originated methodology to their holy texts.) Secular scholars owe such rigorous scholarly methodology to Christianity. Historian Tom Holland explains more about this here:

If society chips away at its Christian values, it is cutting off the branch it is sitting on. Without a coherent Christian worldview, there is no saying that these great benefits will last, as these values are increasingly confronted by other worldviews that don’t share those values. Fundamentalist Islam is only one example. How can secular humanism stand up to it when we are chipping away at our own Christian foundations? The future is not bright without Christianity at the heart of public discourse.

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