For some 15 years, I’ve been an avid reader of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. The November 2008 edition features excerpts from a very timely speech, “How Christianity Shaped The West,” delivered by noted conservative author Dinesh D’Souza at a National Leadership Seminar in Colorado Springs.
D’Souza explains that Christianity, as distinct from other ancient cultures, societies and religions, cultivated respect for human life, elevated the status of women, and inspired the modern anti-slavery movement.
Moreover, the modern notion of freedom and equality is something very different from that of, say, ancient Greece.
The Greeks exercised their freedom solely through involvement in the political life of the city. There was no other kind of freedom and certainly no freedom of thought or of religion of the kind we hold dear.
The modern idea of freedom, by contrast, is roted in a respect for the individual. It means the right to express our opinion, the right to choose a career, the right to buy and sell property, the right to travel where we want, the right to own our personal space, and the right to live our own life.
In return, we are responsible only to respect the rights of others.
And echoing John Adams’ sentiments that the American concept of freedom cannot survive without its Christian moorings, D’Souza cites an unlikely source, German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche.
The ideas that define Western civilization, Nietzsche said, are based on Christianity. Because some of these ideas seem to have taken on a life of their own, we might have the illusion that we can abandon Christianity while retaining them. This illusion, Nietzsche warns us, is just that. Remove Christianity and the ideas fall, too.
The eradication of Christianity … would also mean the gradual extinction of the principles of human dignity. Consider human equality. Why do we hold to it? The Christian idea of equality in God’s eyes is undeniably largely responsible.
If we cherish what is distinctive about Western civilization, then — whatever our religious convictions — we should respect rather than denigrate its Christian roots.
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