Books

Christianity is the foundation of our freedoms

How did we get here? Larry Siedentop's Inventing the Individual shows how our religious tradition brought us individualism, equality — and charity

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism Larry Siedentop

Allen Lane, pp.433, £20, ISBN: 9780713996449

If there is one underlying source from which all our other societal problems stem, it is surely this: we no longer know who we are or how we got here. Worse, we mistakenly believe our situation to be inevitable, presuming that we have arrived in this modern liberal state through something like gravity.

At the very opening of Inventing the Individual Larry Siedentop lays this problem out. People who live in the nations once described as Christendom ‘seem to have lost their moral bearings’, he writes:

We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development. There is little narrative sweep in our view of things. For better or worse, things have just happened to us.

The problems this leads to are exacerbated by the fact that ‘we are in a competition of beliefs, whether we like it or not’. And so this extraordinarily wide-ranging, scholarly and beautifully written work sets out to answer one particular question: ‘Is it mere coincidence that liberal secularism developed in the Christian West?’

Beginning with a panorama of the Greek and Roman world, Siedentop goes on to excavate in terrain which may have been taken for granted only a generation ago, but which has currently become controversial. He points out that a major source of the modern conception of liberalism comes from Christianity.


He explains the melding of the traditions — the Greek and Roman with the teachings of Christ and St Paul — and then leads the reader through a tour of the succeeding millennia with a learning which is itself almost miraculous. Taking us through the changing sense of time, he then guides us through Tertullian on freedom (‘One mighty deed alone was sufficient for our God — to bring freedom to the human person’), Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Charlemagne and onward.

Along the way he gently demonstrates the manner in which charity — a virtue which can hardly be divorced from the Christian tradition — found its way from a theological idea into a common state of mind and expected action. Elsewhere the way in which Christianity helped shift the concept of the governed — or even ‘owned’ — people into ‘souls’ is filled with insight. As is the explanation of how the concept of the equality of sexes — hardly shared by all currently competing beliefs — developed from a revolutionary idea into something now so entirely absorbed that whole careers can be wrecked by being foolish enough even to question its edges.

It seems that Siedentop knows that the unfashionable facts and history he relates may win him certain detractors. About half way through the book he writes, on the subject of Christianity’s role in the very slow eradication of slavery, that ‘to emphasise the role of the church will immediately raise hackles’. He rightly refers to the exorbitant claims in this regard made for and by the church in the past and deals with them. But he also points out that the reaction to such claims — found in particular in Karl Marx and his followers — which subscribes such events to ‘a materialism that rules out beliefs as effective causes’ is not only just as wrong, but perhaps even more wrong.

This kind of intellectual history is exceedingly hard to write. Unlike the history of an individual or even an empire, it can barely be prevented from spilling in every direction. In unpractised hands this makes such history impossible to contain and the results impossible to read. Even successful examples must, by necessity, miss out certain strains of a tradition, focus on certain figures and neglect others. Along the way anybody who makes a specialism of any tiny portion of the vast canvas will find room to quibble. But it seems to me that in this work, and in his highly practised hands, Siedentop has achieved something quite extraordinary. In this learned,subtle, enjoyable and digestible work he has offered back to us a proper version of ourselves. He has explained us to ourselves.

In his closing pages he notes that the forgetfulness, ignorance and sometimes even hatred of our past with which the West is now afflicted is already having severe effects. In America he sees a growing evangelical tradition which is ignorant of the vital hand-in-hand tradition of western secular liberalism. Meanwhile, in Europe there exists a strain of thought which will give no credit whatsoever to the religious tradition from which we come.  It is, he rightly says, ‘a strange and disturbing moment in western history.’

At the very end Siedentop asks, ‘If we in the West do not understand the moral depth of our own tradition, how can we hope to shape the conversation of mankind?’ Indeed. All that need be said is that there can be few better ways to understand that depth of tradition, or feel appropriate gratitude for it, than to read this magisterial, timeless yet timely work.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £16. Tel: 08430 600033. Douglas Murray is an associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and blogs at spectator.co.uk/murray.

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Show comments
  • JDale

    If this printed on soft strong tissue it may have some practical use.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Western civilisation is based upon the set of absolute moral values willed to it by Christianity and Judaism; buttressed by Roman Law it became the West’s great reforming force and the basis and structure of society itself. Whether anybody will pause from their Nintendo soft porn or soccer to read it is another matter.

  • Kitty MLB

    Yes indeed Christianity is the foundations of our freedom,
    our own morality and respect for human life.
    What is so wrong is when some in other religions ( not everyone, but a dangerous few) use their religion
    as a shroud to hide behind as they dominate and murder, an example
    of religion being the enemy of god and indeed mankind.

    • crosscop

      “some in other religions… use their religion as a shroud to hide behind as they dominate and murder”
      They are not “using their religion as a shroud to hide behind as they dominate and murder” – they are following the instructions of their god as laid out in their holy books “to dominate and murder.”

    • Greg Tingey

      Which is presumably why the churches have systematically murdered so many people?
      Just HOW deluded are you?

      • Cyril Sneer

        Religion has a tendency to kill people, but what you talk about is past and it has been past for quite some time. Alas, it would seem that it is you that is deluded if you cannot see the role Christianity has had in forming a decent society (in comparison to other less desirable societies in which to live – I think we all who I am talking about).

        Christianity has indeed provided the basis, the foundations for our free society. I say this as an Atheist. We should not dismiss Christianity, we should not dismiss it’s role in the forming of our nation and the values we seek to retain.

      • tolpuddle1

        Give details – WHEN have the churches “murdered so many people” ?

        • Greg Tingey

          Are you really that ignorant, or are you just trolling?
          Ever heard of: “The wars of religion” or the inquisition or burning at the stake, or looked at the news any time in the past 40 years, covering Ireland?

          • tolpuddle1

            The “wars of religion” were largely political and social struggles, whilst the Irish quarrels have always been about land and jobs, like the “religious” conflict in the Middle East.

            The cruelties approved by Christian clerics pale to nothing compared to the two secular world wars (caused by the decline of European Christianity) and the massacres committed by (fanatically) secular dictators in modern, “enlightened” times.

            Since 1945, the West’s religion has been Selfishness – the worship of sex, money and bling; this Faith once pretended to a mellow tolerance, but more recently has become strident and corrupt. As the West’s prosperity vanishes down the tubes, this religion will be replaced – but by what ? Islam is the leading contender.

          • George Wilson

            Here you go guys – same old apologist bullshit. The major 20th century wars and atrocities? All due to the declining role of Christianity and the rise of secularism, of course. It’s as if they’ve never taken the time to actually work out what happened or what made these things happen, they’re just stuck in an ideological rut that says it must be so because their religion is no longer in power.

          • AKarezza

            Read the Bible – it’s not a fairy tale (at least, not from Disney), and it is not exactly pacifist.

            The idea of religion as being a plan to bring world peace is simply wrong and naive – it doesn’t matter if you are Jew, Christian or Muslim. Actually, this is exactly the reason why we are so divided spiritually – how to conciliate three (or more) different views over the same book without creating a fight?

            But yes, Christians tend to be more like “the nice guys”, because their kingdom is not from here, his God already fulfilled the promise of erasing the original sin, and maybe that’s why they are so tolerant, specially towards those who (they think) should be saved.

            But this has nothing to do with the role of churches as propagators of ignorance, injustice, war and death throughout history, and even today (don’t forget that, despite not being a “real” Christian, Hitler used religious excuses as a way to discriminate against Jews – the Catholics have being doing that for centuries, as we all know – and George Bush also called the Iraq invasion a crusade, a Holy War).

          • tolpuddle1

            All Europe’s old universities were founded by medieval Catholic clerics. The Scientific Revolution was begun by devout Christians (e.g. Galileo Galilei).

            Wars are rarely fought for religious reasons (were the terrible wars of the – very secular – Twentieth Century ? ), but religion is often dragged in as an excuse for land-grabs, nowadays, oil-grabs.

            Jihads and crusades are fought by young men looking for a Cause in which to vent their spleen and adrenalin and give their lives a purpose.

            Injustice is caused by the universal selfishness of human nature, not by religion.

          • Overleaf

            1350 Individuals were murdered by the Inquisition. Compare that to Iraq today where the adherents of Islam bombed 400,000 people to death, for being in the marketplace, in a hospital, or at a book store. And this is one example. How about 80,000,000 to 100,000,000 Hindus slaughtered by Islam?

            The ignorance is yours. Or maybe you are saying Muslim or Hindu lives don’t matter and don’t count — which is now the assertion made by leftwing activists, as they support Bashar Assad or Ghaddafi in the past.

        • Perseus Slade

          A few historical highlights to demonstrate:

          the early Christian sects hated each other, with for instance the Arian Christian Wisigoths were chased out of France (to Spain where they gave their name to Andalusia) Catholic Chrisitan Franks newly-converted for the purpose when in a smart political move their king Clovis I was baptised by Saint Remi in around 496 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franks

          the Cathars of Southern France were exterminated by a crusade mounted by Catholic forces, who burnt the last 200 of them 16 March 1244 at Montségur http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathar

          in sixteenth century France, in what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris, while similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugenots

          the Catholic vs. Protestant fighting devastated Europe in the seventeenth century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years_War
          and Northern Ireland in the twentieth century

          These are just a very few examples out of a multitude.

          • tolpuddle1

            Well, I could give you a multitude of examples of secular people and those of other religions behaving even worse – the problem here seems to be with human nature itself, not religion, therefore the old secular promise (“Oh, what a wonderful world we’ll have when Religion has disappeared”!) is not merely offbeam but the reverse of the truth.

            The hate-crimes you mention were largely culture wars; but in any case, as hatred is forbidden by the Gospel, blaming Christianity for them is self-evidently absurd – if the perpetrators had been Christians in fact, not merely in name, these savage deeds would never have occurred.

          • Perseus Slade

            The Romans knew, understood and recognised virtue long before Christianity arrived on the scene. They considered that morality was a matter for philosophers not for priests. Also they were very tolerant about religion, they never made religious war. I has been the coming of the Abrahamic faiths to Europe that has seen the advent of religious war.

          • tolpuddle1

            No one has ever practised a moral code devised by philosophers – who obeys the teachings of, say, Plato or Montaigne ?

            The Romans “recognised virtue” – any Roman slave could tell you otherwise.

            The Romans didn’t make religious war – but they constantly fought non-religious wars. Was 1914 – 18 any less terrible because it wasn’t about religion ?

            And in any case, Roman paganism was too worthless to fight for.

          • Perseus Slade

            Clinging on to nasty fear-fraught Christianity in the hope that it will lend meaning to our lives by providing a moral compass is like trying to believe in good old Santa so we can get nice presents. Religions don`t have a logical leg to stand on, it`s time to move on. We need to find our own faith-free moral compass, we are grown up now. Time it is now to open our eyes and see the sun.

        • Antonio Karezza

          You can take, for instance, the Jewish priests sending the “son of God” to crucifixion. He was not the first one, and many of them were followed.

          • tolpuddle1

            Jesus of Nazareth is remembered; the others are forgotten.

          • AKarezza

            He wasn’t only “remembered”, but carefully built to be what he is, to occupy the throne where now he sits – this process took centuries, and started after Jesus death – and it seems to me there was some help coming from aristocrat members of the Roman Empire to make him a pop-star, to confront and mock the Jewish community – at that time, very troubled by Roman attacks over their own religion and traditions (which doesn’t surprise me at all, since the Jews where not bending to any pagan gods, and the Romans knew how radicals they could become). Maybe Christianity was the only way for those Romans to extend their power over that region of the middle east… maybe there was something to do with the new vestment of the message of Love, or maybe it was a miscalculation of Roman’s foreigner affairs – anyway, we will never know why Christianity became so popular, except among the Jews (ironically), since they were force to perish on Christian rule for many centuries (no charity for them). But one thing is true – the Christians values were not out of compass with some ideas circulating at that time, or even before, and you can find echoes of his saying on practically every great religion in the world – obviously, the interpretation can be different. What is dangerous to me is this attempt to make Christianity an exclusivity of “beings pure at heart”, freedom fighters, paladins of justice, which leads ultimately to infer that other faiths do not follow with the similar moral values and should be suppressed. If there is something about the message of this Jewish prophet, (the Christos), which is undeniable, is that there is no-need for churches or golden-thrones or burning people on stakes or pedophile priests and Vatican’s bank money laundry scandals – they are not really necessary to connect you to God, if you know what I mean. Or even concerned to the practice of charity (lovely word, but with such a difficult meaning, and not totally rationally understandable) – you don’t need to be a Christian for that, specially nowadays. Remember: the church of Christ wasn’t, initially, the catholic (universal) – rather stratified, or in the depths of each’s heart, since Christianity developed in many ways, many forms of adoration, so Gnosticism proves. It is of vital importance not to mix church+religion+history so quickly – as this author apparently did, following the trend of modern politics to consider the west superior to the rest. We must also question in what basis we can speak about Christ through these catholic patriarchs – isn’t funny to have the first catholic pope (Peter) crucified upside down in ways that his leadership could also be seen as a blasphemy? Even in this case religious symbols are permanently exchanging, history isn’t the only approach to them, specially when perversely begins to shape our views over a MAN called Jesus Christ – that is no more son of God than me, or you.

          • tolpuddle1

            Much of what you say about Christianity’s sometimes woeful history is true – though the world is indebted to Christianity for such things as modern nursing and famine relief, not to mention modern science, since no other part of the world has given rise to these things.

            Christianity is built on the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was both a Jewish carpenter (later wandering rabbi) AND God Almighty. Clearly if Jesus wasn’t, He was just one more religious teacher, one more Middle Eastern beardy-weirdie with a message, for whom no reasonable person is going to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and go to church.

            Therefore, to attack Christian belief in Jesus Christ’s Divinity is to attempt the abolition of Christianity, which would lead to a Moslem world, since there’s no way that Moslems are going to relax and drop their claim that Mohammed was God’s Messenger and the supreme Prophet.

            As always, Christianity’s opponents are working for Islam.

          • AKarezza

            With all respect, but I don’t think Christ will approve what you just said. First – Christ is also recognized as an Islamic prophet, and not rejected by most of believers of Islam. Second – it wasn’t generally agreed, specially among early Christians, that Jesus was God itself. Third – why is so hard to accept that Jesus was a normal human being with a powerful message? Does it make him less important? Shall we start calling other spiritual leaders “God itself” just to make them “best” than others? I reserve myself the right to be a Christian without denying other beliefs, and other interpretations of the same religious aspects of my religion. And if you are a fundamentalist, unable to accept an wider view, well… that makes you closer to Mohammad than Christ.

            And there’s something extremely dangerous on this idea of polarizing religious beliefs – “mine against the rest” – that’s the cause of every schism, occasionally leading to religious war. Again, what you are doing is giving strength to a Holy War, another aspect that approaches you to Islamic fundamentalism.

            Surprisingly, you might find yourself talking with a “true” Christian that believes, above all, that is the core of Christianity to not separate us from our brothers Muslims, Buddhists or Atheists, but to bring us together as Humanity. Pope Francis is now trying to rescue this sentiment inside the catholic church, and that makes opinions like yours even more idiosyncratic. I don’t see myself living in a world where everybody share the same belief system, the same ideologies. That will be extremely boring, isn’t?

          • tolpuddle1

            Jesus said: “those who aren’t for me, are against me.” He wasn’t a daffy liberal living in a lukewarm (and comfortable) fantasy-world. There are a thousand groups who pretend to know what the Early Christians really believed (they don’t), but the four gospels approved by the Christian Church are a good place to start. In these Jesus claims to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, the messianic “Son of Man” and “I AM” (the ancient name of God.

            Since you don’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, you are by definition not a Christian.

            If Jesus had merely claimed to be a prophet, it’s most unlikely that the Roman Empire would have bothered to persecute His followers savagely.

            There is nothing in your point of view that anyone would suffer for – therefore, it is doomed to disappear.

          • AKarezza

            “Since you don’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, you are by definition not a Christian” – I don’t remember saying that (actually, I even used the Greek variation, – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing).

            The Roman empire didn’t persecute them immediately – at that time there wasn’t any difference between a Christian and a Jew. The Christianity YOU are speaking about only started 300 years after Christ’s death, with Constantine – perhaps you should read less the bible and more about ancient history.

          • tolpuddle1

            Christians were viciously persecuted – yes, by the Roman Empire ! – from about CE 64 in the reign of Nero; the pagan Roman historian Tacitus confirms church traditions on this point. Why don’t you read some genuine ancient history instead of tripey paperbacks written by people who hate Christianity ? And what in the name of heaven gives you the impression that secular history is more reliable and truthful than the New Testament ?

            There was an immediate difference between Jews and Christians, since although Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, the vast majority of Jews immediately hated it (many still do, though less vociferously), a fact of which the Romans were well aware.

            And please at least ATTEMPT to be honest – you know perfectly well that the Christian scriptures were written well before Constantine.

          • tolpuddle1

            A Message is only as powerful as the Messenger; if Mohammed wasn’t God’s supreme prophet, why attend a mosque ?

            If Jesus wasn’t the Christ, why attend a church ?

            If you object to Holy War, don’t tell me, tell ISIS or the Saudi clerics who support and finance them. (Even though they recognise Issa – Jesus – as a prophet ! )

            BTW, if you imagine Pope Francis – for all his friendliness – isn’t a traditional Catholic in his theology, wake up.

          • AKarezza

            Yes, I can see now that your view on religion and politics is very narrow, obtuse and covered with prejudice. ISIS is not Islam, and the Church you speak about is not Christianity. You will be surprise to see know that pure-white-american, some ot them allegedly Christians, are now making money selling guns to middle-east extremists.Said enough, I think it is time to leave your monologue and let you dream in your homogenic little boring world. Hoping that your “real” Christ can forgive you someday for all this hate. Peace!

          • tolpuddle1

            Since you refer to my views as “narrow, obtuse and covered with prejudice” and my world as a “homogenic little boring world”, your referring to my “hate” (while pretending goodwill) is very pot & kettle.

            I have the good fortune to belong to the world’s most (only) successful international organisation,the Roman Catholic Church, which is multi-racial and multi-cultural.

            You by contrast, belong to the narrow and homogenic world of Western liberalism, a world now vanishing.

      • Paddy S

        I dont know – atheists tend to figure highly in list of worlds highest mass murderers tbh

    • Greg Tingey

      “…and respect for human life.”
      Oh yeah … that’s why the RC church routinely burnt people alive, I suppose?

    • Respect for life ie Do unto others as you would like done unto you was a teaching of Rabbi Hillel when the Jews were enslaved by the Babylonians. Christianity is an inept plagiarism of Judaism, which along with teaching you to love your neighbour more than yourself (an impossibility) also teaches you to give up your family and worldly possessions and follow Jesus, itself an immoral teaching which can only be thought of by someone who believed in the end of the world, which as well as being an immoral idea on its own is the type of eschatological porn that underlies all religions.
      You can keep your christianity, my Western Belief Tradition is firmly rooted in Ancient Greek Philosophy and the Scientific and Mathematical tradition that has followed since despite the best efforts of a priori assumptions faith to keep us all part of the flock

  • Hegelguy

    Test

  • Hegelguy

    As long as Christianity was at the centre of European life, Europe was a place of barbarism, ignorance, superstition, witch burning and Jew hatred. It was only after the religion began to be challenged by people like Voltaire that we began to see some humanisation of European life. If Christianity ever comes back to centre stage in the West we may be sure we are in for an era of darkness and barbarism. The astounding luck of Europe is that it was able to outgrow this Middle Eastern cult. The Muslim world has not been so fortunate.

    • spyridon89

      Ironic from someone calling himself ‘Hegelguy’. Didn’t Hegel himself espouse a view similar to Siedentop’s?

      • Hegelguy

        Of Hegel I would say what Carlyle said of Goethe: the cleverest man in two centuries and the biggest jackass in four.
        His idea of history as a process is stimulating; his write up for a cheap Middle Eastern cult and for his Prussian government employers, shoddy. I know the difference between gold and dung. My attitude to Marx is the same.

        • tolpuddle1

          Do you regard Islam or Judaism as “cheap Middle Eastern cults” ?

    • global city

      I agree, but! To understand the story of how we got where we are would not mean having us all becoming slavering God botherers again.

    • tolpuddle1

      As long as Christianity was at the centre of European life, Europe survived. Now that Europe’s no longer Christian, it’s no longer surviving, is it ?

      The only hope for Europe – now that the Europeans are decadent and dying-out – is that the Christian migrants from elsewhere will outweigh the Moslem ones.

      If Christianity doesn’t again become centre stage in Europe, it’s self-evident that Islam will do so – would you prefer that ? Or the return of good, philo-semitic secular politicians like Hitler ?

      • Greg Tingey

        Err Adolf Schickelgrüber was a good catholic, actually, ahem

        • tolpuddle1

          He was at the age of seven, when he was a saintly little boy who wanted to go to Heaven.

          By the time of his Confirmation in Vienna, aged 14, he was moody and disturbed, well on his way to becoming the fanatic History knows of.

          What caused this change, nobody knows, but in view of his later involvement in the Occult (his home town, Braunau am Inn, was a centre for those we now call “psychics”), one may guess.

          In later life, Hitler was a renegade Catholic who hated Christianity and broke almost every teaching of the Church. To call him a “good Catholic” is a shameless lie.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            That’s rubbish. AH evoked Catholic Christianity many times in “Mein Kemph”.

          • Paddy S

            Read Table Talk Hitler made his opinion of Christianity clear – he hated it. Heck it should be obvious that an anti semite like him could never worship someone from Jewish people as God…..

          • tolpuddle1

            More’s the pity then, that he systematically betrayed every teaching of the Gospel, in the Catholic and other other interpretation of the Gospel.

    • Paddy S

      I could forgive your bad history which is mixed with truths and falsehoods cultivated at bad secondary schools across Europe one cannot forgive your ignorance of the 20th century however.
      “some humanisation of European life. If Christianity ever comes back to centre stage in the West we may be sure we are in for an era of darkness and barbarism.”

      Somebody please tell this guy about the 20th century and what occurred. Most murders ever committed occurred then, same for Jews oddly enough. After all Hitler and Stalin were children of the Enlightenment. By way Europe is demographically dying because of secularism…..

  • Nowistherighttime

    I can hear Guardian readers frothing from the mouth

    • Perseus Slade

      What does it sound like?

  • terence patrick hewett

    Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit,
    Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste,
    Brought death in to the World, and all our woe.

    Thus does John Milton frame the argument that Satan, an heroic but flawed figure, is brought down by Pride: tortured by the knowledge of his reliance upon his Creator, he argues that he should have equal rights to God and that Heaven is an unfair Monarchy. Satan is cast as a classical hero but because of his arrogance and delusion ends as a dust eating serpent, unable to control even his own body. The Devil’s logic, “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Everything changes and nothing is absolute he says.

    Satan was a good Progressive and a good Socialist, as Phillip Pullman has spotted to his advantage.

  • Greg Tingey

    What utter tosh
    Given that all religion appears to blackmail, either moral or physical or both ….
    Ignoring other religions, christianity seems to have invented:
    Secret police & show trials – the inquisition in various forms
    The police state – Calvin’s Geneva
    “Thought-crime” – otherwise known as “Heresy”
    The systematic persecution, for many years of any dissent, even within itself
    It also, systematically, just about every time opposes scientific discovery & medical advances – the list is too long to enumerate here…
    And, right up to the present day, it’s followers persist in telling lies to both adults & children – again, especially where knowledge disagrees with Bronze-Age goatherders’ myths.

    • global city

      and as all religions… and the concept of God itself are the work of man, of course we can have morals without religion. I think Christopher Hitchens boxed that one off.

      • tolpuddle1

        You can of course have morals without religion – but not morals that can be enforced (except by the police or by group tyranny).

        Nor morals with any moral weight whatsoever.

        • global city

          That’s just not true. Most people who have a moral compass nowadays will most likely not be God botherers. All morals are a mix of human instinct and society. Sometimes these are elevated, or attributed to a higher entity, but the response is largely the same.

          Religious societies have their fair share of the immoral, exploitative or sociopathic as secular ones. You an see this readily enough in the different moral norms of different religions… all of which have the fer of holy retribution behind them.

          • tolpuddle1

            Everyone has a moral compass, but in many cases it’s pointing in the wrong direction. Once you get past mere platitudes (“murder is wrong”), you’ll never get agreement on what is moral – the fierce debates we have on public issues prove that (and these debates get nowhere because people are starting from varying assumptions).

            Where there is no strong religious belief among most people (e.g. in China), there’s an age-old authoritarian tradition; harsh laws plus rules imposed by the group. Because without some fear of retribution, few will obey any code of morality; and why should they genuflect before instinct or society in any case ?

            It’s no coincidence that our freedoms began in a deeply Christian country.

          • global city

            Whether or not the founding of our institutions were rooted in Christian ethics (I know that they were) that is not the case today. Funnily enough, if your contention was correct then our current problem with the continental approach to such things superceding our own ‘Common’ approach would not be a problem, but it is.

          • tolpuddle1

            You seem still to be living in the modern world, when secular viewpoints were sweeping all before them.

            But modernity has departed and the Sea of Faith is sweeping back in; partly because the secular viewpoint has failed in all areas, partly because it’s religious people (rather than secular) who have children.

            So most people nowadays will increasingly be “God botherers”, most likely.

          • global city

            You really are confusing two issues there.

      • Paddy S

        Hitchens was a piss-poor writer on religion so much so that many historians, philosopher and religious teachers who are atheist ridiculed his book. Only people ignorant of all these subjects took him seriously. He was also a marxist too so I wont be getting moral lectures from that lot after what they did in 20th century. This was most secular century after all….

        • global city

          I used Hitchens with my tongue firmly in my cheek… but I think you have gone too far in suggesting that he was crap…that is with nothing to contribute to the debate.

          Old Marxist or not he had a valid point or two.

          Core point. We do not need God/religion to have a moral society that can be sustained.

          • Paddy S

            Individuals can be good without believing in God, I doubt society can sustain itself however.

          • pdhan

            The opposite is true: the more secular societies are doing far better than the religious ones.

          • Paddy S

            How? Almost all secular societies are dying demographically. Thousands of people suffer from unhappiness, divorce and the pill have robbed thousands of children of a stable home, mental health problems are huge, drug addiction is high, sexual immortality is a problem. Abortion too has robbed Europe of thousands of children….

        • pearlsandoysters

          There’s a point of view that the 21st century will see belong to Theology & metaphysics.

    • tolpuddle1

      The Scientific Revolution was a by-product of Christianity and was led by devoutly Christian scientists, Galileo and Boyle for instance. Anaesthesia was invented by James Simpson, a devoutly Christian Scot, modern nursing by the devoutly Christian Florence Nightingale – there are many other examples. Anything good in the West is directly or indirectly a product of Christianity.

      You seem to imagine yourself wiser than, and superior to, “Bronze Age goatherds” – patently, you are not.

      • Greg Tingey

        If you really believe all that tosh, you need medical attention.
        Oh, & I’ve read your other posts too – you are either a troll or severely deluded, so there’s no point even trying to have a reasoned conversation

      • pearlsandoysters

        Great minds of the past were great exactly because of the Theological/Philosophical perspective. Unfortunately many nowadays are simply ignorant & use ready-made formulas that ignore the depth & significance of Christian tradition.

  • masaccio68

    Do we think the morals can exist without the religion? Perhaps as a deeper understanding of who we are as people instead of something imposed by an obviously non-existent First Mover?

    • tolpuddle1

      God is obviously existent.

      • Fred Scuttle

        Yet we are without God. Go figure.

        • Perseus Slade

          If you build the house of your morality on the sand of religion, it`s sure to fall.
          Time to move on, and just apply the Golden Rule.

      • Josh Atkins

        Morality with god is just god’s opinion – morality by fiat. And not a particularly pleasant opinion at that, going by the bible.

        • tolpuddle1

          “By fiat” ? God isn’t Mussolini, but he does have a right to express an opinion on how we should behave, seeing that without Him, we wouldn’t exist. In any case, God’s commandments are facts of the universe, spiritual laws, corresponding to gravity and all the other physical laws of the universe.

          Taking the two Testaments of the Bible together, what’s wrong with God’s opinions ? I realise, of course, that they aren’t always welcome to human nature, especially “modern, enlightened” human nature.

          And if morality doesn’t come from God, then from whom ? – Nature or human opinion, morality by debating society, which everyone has a perfect right to ignore.

          Atheism is anarchism.

          • Josh Atkins

            “God isn’t Mussolini”

            Right. Mussolini never threatened to torture good people for eternity. It wouldn’t be fair to compare him to the monotheistic god.

            “but he does have a right to express an opinion on how we should behave, seeing that without Him, we wouldn’t exist.”

            How so? Where does this right come from? And to whom is He to credit His existence, His magical powers? Why does He exist? Do you see the problem here?

            “Taking the two Testaments of the Bible together, what’s wrong with God’s opinions ?”

            This is not the place for a full list, but genocide, slavery, (eternal) torture, child endangerment, child murder, homophobia, murdering people for imaginary crimes (witchcraft), and pathological narcissism are a good place to start.

            “if morality doesn’t come from God, then from whom ?”
            Morality comes from rational discourse. Society cannot exist without shared obligations and mutual respect. The empathy most of us have does not allow us to mistreat others without feeling guilt and a desire to make amends.

            If morality really were supernatural in origin, we would expect to see it as a universal phenomenon. But we don’t. Morality is meaningless to psychopaths, who despite allegedly being “created in the image of God” show a complete lack of empathy from birth and a total lack of capacity for guilt, remorse, or moral understanding in general. This is completely understandable on naturalism; it is inexplicable on theism.

            Likewise brain damage to the amygdala can impair or even destroy moral reasoning — this makes no sense whatsoever on dualism, but is easily explained on naturalism.

            “Atheism is anarchism.”

            No. Atheism is the lack of belief in theism. What atheism leads to is up to us.

          • tolpuddle1

            No good (i.e. compassionate) person can go to Hell – Hell would refuse to receive them. God sends no one to Hell – its inhabitants are drawn and kept there by their own stubborn wickedness. Obviously, if freewill is impaired by injury or psychopathy, so is culpability.

            Where are genocide, slavery or torture commended in the New Testament ? All these things are forbidden by the biblical commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Cruelty to children is fiercely condemned by the words of Jesus. Witchcraft isn’t imaginary – Wicca and paganism are fast-growing.

            God exists because He always has – from all eternity. We and the universe exist only by His will.

            If there’s no God, why bother to feel guilt or make amends? And why bother to keep society going if the universe exists only by chance ?

            Atheism is nihilism.

          • Josh Atkins

            “No good (i.e. compassionate) person can go to Hell”

            Nope. Not what the Bible says at all. Jesus allegedly said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me”. You don’t have to be a bad person to go to Hell – just don’t be a Christian. Conversely, no amount of evil can keep you out of heaven. Just be sure to be ‘saved’ before you die. As Sam Harris noted, “this vision of life has nothing to do with moral accountability”.

            “God sends no one to Hell”

            Haha. No. This nonsense is a favorite among Christians, which is surprising since it so obviously contradicts their own doctrine.

            If God is the sustainer of life, then He chooses to keep us alive. If there is no God, death is the end of our existence, If there is a God, and some of us live forever in a state of eternal despair, the blame falls squarely on His shoulders. He invented hell, and he keeps us there. There is a rather obvious alternative, embraced by some Christian sects: annihilation. If He does not wish to annihilate us, He must bear the responsibility for our eternal torture – a despicable notion.

            “Where are genocide, slavery or torture commended in the New Testament”

            Oh, we’re getting rid of the Old Testament are we? No more Ten Commandments then, right? And was Jesus just mistaken when he said “every jot and tittle of the law” must be fulfilled? Just joking?

            And as for torture in the NT, what about “weeping and gnashing of teeth”? “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

            “Witchcraft isn’t imaginary – Wicca and paganism are fast growing.”

            According to the UK census, so is the Jedi religion. I assume this makes it real too, no?

            “God exists because He always has – from all eternity.”

            God exists because He exists? What a nice tautology! But that wasn’t my question. I asked you why God exists, “to whom is He to credit His existence, His magical powers?” You refused to answer.

            “why bother to keep society going if the universe exists only by chance ?”

            Does God exist only by chance?

            “Obviously, if freewill is impaired by injury or psychopathy, so is culpability.”

            I thought free will was supernatural? Why on earth should damage to the brain impair the soul? And, again, you chose not to answer my question. Why, if psychopaths are made in Yahweh’s image, do they have no understanding of empathy, no concept of morality?

          • tolpuddle1

            All those who are saved, are saved through Jesus Christ, who is indeed the way, the truth and the life. This doesn’t mean that they have to be declared Christians; only hardline Protestants believe that non-Christians necessarily go to Hell. Nor will declared Christians who die in grievous and unrepented sin be saved.

            Any adult person deserves (in God’s Justice) to go to Hell – our only hope of avoiding Hell is God’s Mercy. Those who – like Sam Harris – demand “moral accountability” forget this.

            What keeps people in Hell is their wickedness, their eternal stubbornness in this, and their arrogance. If the damned were prepared to turn away from evil or ask for God’s Mercy or even call out for help, God would rescue them from Hell instantly. Annihilation would deprive the damned of the wickedness they so much crave, despite the torment involved in doing so.

            As CS Lewis pointed out, whereas the gates of a prison are locked on the outside (to prevent people getting out), the gates of Hell are locked on the inside (to prevent God getting in). Hell isn’t an eternal prison hulk, it’s an enemy kingdom, where God (and the kindness and goodness He stands for) are everlastingly hated.

          • Josh Atkins

            “Any adult person deserves (in God’s Justice) to go to Hell”
            Nonsense. No finite crime deserves infinite punishment. Our “sins” are infinitesimal — completely negligible — compared to the imagined punishment.

            “Annihilation would deprive the damned of the wickedness they so much crave”

            Annihilation would cause no harm whatsoever. What harm is there in not existing? None at all.

            “only hardline Protestants believe that non-Christians necessarily go to Hell”

            “the cowardly and UNBELIEVING and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (emphasis mine) Rev 21:8

          • tolpuddle1

            But the wickedness of unrepentant sinners is everlasting, infinitely and eternally prolonged, therefore attracting eternal punishment. What if Hitler and Stalin died unrepentant and would dearly love to spend all eternity murdering billions more people ?

            Wickedness is a self-imposed choice, therefore its punishment is self-inflicted; if the wickedness of the damned were to cease, so would their suffering.

            Culpably unbelieving people do go to Hell ; but not all non-Christians are culpable in their unbelief.

          • tolpuddle1

            The Old Testament (much of which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ) is read by Christians in the light of the New Testament. And Orthodox Jews regard the gorier passages of their scriptures as self-defence or symbolism.

            Nobody takes the Jedi religion seriously or practises it except in jest – but practitioners of Wicca and paganism (and darker, but nonetheless popular creeds like Satanism) do practise these and believe devoutly in them.

          • tolpuddle1

            The soul uses the brain as a concert pianist uses his piano; damage the instrument and there are no more lovely sounds. (Aquinas dealt with this question c. 1260).

            As brain scans reveal, psychopaths’ brains lack bits everyone else’s brains possess; hence God’s image in them (or in someone whose brain is damaged by accident) is damaged by natural mischance.

            God is omnipotent; His powers are natural to Him, not magical. God is indebted to no one for His existence – He is the only reality, a reality that has been there forever. We and the universe are nothingness brought into being and held in being by His loving will.

          • Josh Atkins

            “The soul uses the brain as a concert pianist uses his piano; damage the instrument and there are no more lovely sounds.”
            The radio analogy is a cute attempt to resuscitate dualism, but it is ultimately hopeless. Modern neuroscience shows that personality, memories, and emotions are completely dependent on the material integrity of the physical brain. The brain can be totally destroyed or portions of it can be damaged/destroyed. Damage to the physical brain _fundamentally alters the nature of consciousness_. Severing the corpus callosum can result in a split-brain with two consciousnesses in a single individual. This is all utterly inexplicable on dualism.

            “God’s image in [psychopaths] (or in someone whose brain is damaged by accident) is damaged by natural mischance”
            On theism, God’s image would be supernaturally imposed, not subject to the whims of nature. This line of reasoning simply does not hold up. Theism asserts that we are not the product of natural chance. You are smuggling the implications of naturalism into your argument to avoid the inevitable conclusion that our modern understanding of reality is fundamentally irreconcilable with Christian doctrine.

          • tolpuddle1

            You set up a smokescreen of blah about “modern understanding of reality” – in practice your own understanding of reality – even though science and philosophy are constantly changing their opinions and these opinions are always the subject of fierce dispute.

            Neuroscience doesn’t prove monism nor ever can. We are made in God’s image at a supernatural level – that our personalities work through our brains (and can thus be altered by brain damage) was known in Medieval times. God works through nature, not by decree as dictators do.

            There are no final truths in science, still less in philosophy. Pretending that science is the sole and full arbiter of Truth – i.e. worshipping Science as God – is dishonest and idolatrous.

            But if you still wish to cling to your ludicrous monist, anti-supernatural beliefs, why not journey to the Middle East and convince Mr al Baghdadi and ISIS of the absurdity of their theistic position ?

          • Josh Atkins

            “God isn’t Mussolini”

            Right. Mussolini never threatened to torture good people for eternity. It wouldn’t be fair to compare him to the monotheistic god.

            “but he does have a right to express an opinion on how we should behave, seeing that without Him, we wouldn’t exist.”

            How so? Where does this right come from? And to whom is He to credit His existence, His magical powers? Why does He exist? Do you see the problem here?

            “Taking the two Testaments of the Bible together, what’s wrong with God’s opinions ?”

            This is not the place for a full list, but genocide, slavery, (eternal) torture, child endangerment, child murder, homophobia, murdering people for imaginary crimes (witchcraft), and pathological narcissism are a good place to start.

            “if morality doesn’t come from God, then from whom ?”
            Morality comes from rational discourse. Society cannot exist without shared obligations and mutual respect. The empathy most of us have does not allow us to mistreat others without feeling guilt and a desire to make amends.

            If morality really were supernatural in origin, we would expect to see it as a universal phenomenon. But we don’t. Morality is meaningless to psychopaths, who despite allegedly being “created in the image of God” show a complete lack of empathy from birth and a total lack of capacity for guilt, remorse, or moral understanding in general. This is completely understandable on naturalism; it is inexplicable on theism.

            Likewise brain damage to the amygdala can impair or even destroy moral reasoning — this makes no sense whatsoever on dualism, but is easily explained on naturalism.

            “Atheism is anarchism.”

            No. Atheism is the lack of belief in theism. What atheism leads to is up to us.

  • tolpuddle1

    As long as Christianity was at the centre of European life, Europe survived. Now that Europe’s no longer Christian, it’s no longer surviving, is it ?

    The only hope for Europe – now that the Europeans are decadent and dying-out – is that the Christian migrants from elsewhere will outweigh the Moslem ones.

    If Christianity doesn’t again become centre stage in Europe, it’s self-evident that Islam will do so – would you prefer that ?

  • Paddy S

    Why did the horrors of the 20th century happen. The Holocaust, the gulags, concentration camps, the Cold War, the first World War, the Second World War, the killing fields of Vietnam, Cambodia and China occur, the Cold War, the class wars, the Red Terrors… Aleksandr solzhenitsynlz said it best. We have forgotten God that is why these things happened.

    • Shazza

      Maybe Paddy, it is just what people do to each other and have been doing ever since our species evolved. Unfortunately, we just continue to do what comes naturally.

      • Paddy S

        I take your point Shazza but it has to be pointed out that societies before 20th century could be excused it, not in universal educated populace of the 20th….

    • pdhan

      So no horrors happened before the 20th century?

  • Paddy S

    One can imagine atheists/agnostics who are liberterian and conservative nodding at many of Douglas’s points. One can see atheists who are on the left fuming at the mouth at what he has written, either in images or in comments underneath….

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Remember when the bead mumbles were ruling the roost? Fined a shilling for not attending church on Sunday.
    Well it’s payback time.

  • rtj1211

    What a load of tripe.

    Christianity only brought freedom if your subscribed to it. It brought you being accused of being a witch, an heretic etc etc and burning at the stake. It didn’t bring freedom to Druids when the Romans invaded Britain, it brought them servitude. It didn’t bring Africans freedom when the savages were subjugated during Empire, it brought them servility or slavery. It didn’t bring Afghanistan freedom it brought them 200 years of Great Game thuggery. It didn’t bring the chinese freedom, it brought them opium addiction.

    Organised religion brought two millennia of subjugation, blackmail and forced indoctrination.

    Freedom came in the 20th century when Christianity was comprehensively rejected. Not from anything the Church did.

    Of course, the monied elites have done everything in their power to return the pagan atheists to servility in the past 6 years, trying to undo everything that was won from the Wilberforce’s Abolition of Slavery Act to the rights to form Trades Unions, to the rights of women to equality and the rights of women to choose an abortion.

    Organised Christianity, Judaism and Islam are three of the most negative influences on humanity in the past 2000 years and if they are finally trying to throw off their histories of repression, racism and monotheistic dominance complexes, then its only about 500 years too late.

    Now the churches see the chance to blame all societal imperfections on the loss of presence in pews. It won’t wash. Murdering warfare was rife when Christianity had an iron grip. It still does in America, Britain is now servile in the face of American power but has rejected Christianity as a dogma 40 years ago.

    I”m afraid to tell you that true freedom means freedom from brainwashing, freedom from coercion and freedom from religious zealotry.

    The only thing religion does is provide one particular emotional framework for coping. For some it will work, for some it won’t. Imposing it on those it doesn’t work for is the apotheosis of human evil, as bad as forcing homosexuals to be straight.

    End of story.

    • La Fold

      In fact accusations of and burning at the stake were far more common in areas where the Churches influence was at its weakest such as Scandinavia, Iceland and the steppes of eastern Europe. Plus the number of burning of witches has been wildly exaggerated and was a standard punishment for all sorts of trangressions in a time when all sorts of crimes were punished capitally.

      The Romans were still resolutely pagan when they invaded Britain and the druids were targeted due to the influence and ability to get the various tribes in Britain to act cohesively through a shared religion and culture, not due to any religious, specifically Christian,agenda.

      in fact Jesus had only been dead for about 10 years by the time of the Invasion of Britain and Christianity was an obscurist quasi mystical sect of Judaism known as the Nazarenes.

      “Organised religion brought two millennia of subjugation, blackmail and forced indoctrination.”

      So by organised you mean Christianity or do you mean to say that organised religion didnt exist prior to the ministry ofJesus? What about Judaism, Buddhism, Vedic Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, the Roman and Greek gods, Nordic paganism, Sun worship, ancestor worship etc?
      Murdering warfare has pretty much been a constant in the development for most of the human race until very recently. The tribes changed over the eras but the results were the same. In fact the Catholic church stopped large parts of Europe falling into states of tribal warfare when it replaced the Roman Empire as the state after its fall.
      And before anyone dives in I am an atheist but these sort of 6th form debating club arguments do my nut in.

    • mrsjosephinehydehartley

      “Organised Christianity, Judaism and Islam are three of the most negative influences on humanity in the past 2000 years and if they are finally trying to throw off their histories of repression, racism and monotheistic dominance complexes, then its only about 500 years too late.”

      Perhaps. But surely this awful time lag isn’t because of what Jesus, Abraham or Mohammed did – if it only is 500years too late -this is most probably because of what is known in the world of financial to be the ” fat tail on the downside” . Even the most scientific of quants should identify with that one..

  • Barb Searle

    Christianity has morphed into a hollow monster, we no longer have a soul but do anything we please.. and if we do it enough we can make it law regardless of exactly what you are doing… People here, seem to be stuck in ‘Europe’ and what happened to Christianity in the middle ages etc, etc?… Some of the point of this is to go beyond Europe – and back 2000 millennia to our roots to rediscover the original ideas and ideals that we seem to have forgotten? Forget about ‘Europe’ that’s just the middle of the story and the Bible has been butchered enough whilst passing through it… the Essenes and Dead Sea Scrolls and various other discoveries debunking all we know should now go a fair way to bring us back full circle perhaps?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Organized religion, the biggest scam of all time.

  • Perseus Slade

    Morality was there first,
    religion grew up a way of explaining and imposing it.
    If you tie your morality to a religion,
    when the religion is shown up as silly,
    you can lose your morality at the same time.
    But that`s silly too.

  • kate5778b

    A good precis of the book, however the words of Jesus are contained in fewer pages and are well worth reading – why?

    Jesus never condoned violence, even when Peter cut off Malcus’ ear, Jesus admonished him ‘those who draw the sword, will die by the sword’ – so ALL the Crusaders were wrong, all because people won’t read for themselves….just like today, looking at these responses. Jesus said ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’. When the Jewish foundation was actively removed, Jesus and the disciples lost their Jewishness, despite the evidence in the writings, even Paul has been gentilized. The branch of Judaism ‘the Way’, became the paganised ‘Christianity’ or rather ‘churchianity’, complete with replacement theology, anti-semitism and the judging of other (e.g. gays) which were never the teachings or example of Jesus – following Jesus was never to be a ‘state’ affair, but an individual one see John 6:66-69.

    With Jesus, the halacha of the UNabrogated Torah was liberal, without the yoke of the many man made hedge laws – he showed us the freedom to keep the law in its simplicity and purity, especially the law of forgiveness and love, His for us, repairing the world (ie fixing sin by paying the price for it ie death).

  • kris

    Every time there’s a discussion about evils committed by organised religions the pious always bring up the Atheist team Hitler, Stalin and Mao. In fact Hitler was a Catholic with Jewish blood and Stalin trained for the priesthood in his youth. But that is anyway irrelevant. The various dictators and despots in history can be anything at all, any religious denomination or Atheist it doesn’t matter. Far more important is the people who follow those monsters in human disguise.
    The fanatical followers of Hitler were nearly all devout Christians so why were the followers of Christ flocking to this ranting maniac? The reason is obvious-RELIGION!!
    That is precisely the message of any religion to its adherents to follow the autocratic high priest like a flock of sheep with no thought or objection merely submission to the almighty ‘GOD’ or anyone who sets himself up as God. It is a human weakness that we love to ‘Worship’ whether it be celebrities, sport stars, pop idols, Kings, Queens authoritarian leaders, Popes or Caliphs. Through this fault and weakness is how religion exploits us and poisons everything.

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