Sunday, July 30, 2017

Christianity is not the West

The alt-right generally embraces Christianity. Not out of feelings of deep religious fervor, but more as a matter of conservatism. Our tradition is one of embracing Christianity, thus returning to traditional values demands a return to Christianity. They also see the decline of religion coinciding with the decline of morality and assume the two to be causally linked.

There is a segment, however, who question the benefit of Christianity to western civilization. This blog falls into that category. (See last year's post, Christianity: the root of the West's downfall?) Some have gone so far as to reject Christianity entirely and are advocating a return to the kind of paganism practiced in early Europe. The response of the Christian alt-right has been to reassert their position that Christianity is fundamental and necessary for Western tradition. Frankly, I find their arguments to be less than convincing. Here's my satirical take on what I hear from them.
Bible around for 1000 years: no mass literacy
Printing press invented: mass literacy
Conclusion: there'd be no mass literacy without the Bible
Pagan Europe rebuffs Persian invasion
Christian Europe rebuffs Muslim invasion
Conclusion: Christianity saved the West
Christianity introduced: Rome falls and Europe enters a thousand year dark age
Ancient western philosophy reintroduced: Church power wanes and era of scientific rationalism begins
Conclusion: there'd be no science without Christianity
Chinese Christian population grows: prospers
African Christian population grows: pestilence
Conclusion: Christianity is the key to prosperity
Spaniards attempt to spread Christianity to save the natives: create Latin America, world's most crime-ridden society
English ignore Christian values and clear out the natives: create the greatest, most powerful nation in world history
Conclusion: Christianity is the source of civilizational power
These are all claims that people make. That Christianity drove literacy, repelled Muslim invasion, birthed science, and bestows prosperity and civilizational prominence. These claims all tend to follow what is probably the fundamental statistical fallacy: the conflation of correlation with causality. In general, the argument is that because the Christian West became powerful, Christianity must make civilizations powerful. (It's a bit ironic that the measure of success for the great anti-materialist philosophy of Jesus is the acquisition of worldly power, although that's beside the point.) Each of the five sarcasms above is a rebuttal to their faulty theories of causality. For instance, they state that China's success is due to its growing Christian population. (Which is only a few percent of the total; China is hardly a Christian nation.) At any rate, even if the trend is there, then why doesn't Christianity make African countries successful, and why is Latin America such a mess?

The major tome of the alt-right is that race and culture matter. They ridicule the notion of what is dubbed Magic Dirt Theory, which is the claim by liberals that just living on the soil within a nation's geographical boundaries makes one a member of that nation. A Dearborn Muslim agitating for Sharia law is just as American as any of us because, hey, he does live in America, right?

But the alt-right has a tendency to their own fallacy: the Magic Church Theory. Spend an hour a week in the church and suddenly one is a bona fide Westerner. One wonders if Magic Church Theorists have visited heavily Christian locales like Brazil and the Philippines.

This isn't meant to be an attack on Christianity, or on the alt-right call for a return to the faith. Christianity is fine as a personal mode of spirituality, as a moral guideline, as a social organization, and as a charitable venture. These things are all fine. But the discussion is in the context of Christianity as a civilizational institution, and the claims are that Christianity is indispensable to Western society and that Christianity, an Eastern religion derived from Judaism, drove the West to prosperity.

One wonders, then, how did the great classical Western civilizations ever become so great and influential without the benefit of Magic Church? In fact, looking at the long-arc of Western history would indicate that Christianity has had a dampening effect on Western success. From the time Christianity was adopted by Rome under Constantine, it was only a couple hundred years until the fall of Rome. For the next thousand years, Christianity was the dominant force in Europe, and not much happened. The only argument the Magic Church advocates can make of the era is that Christian Europe repelled the Muslim invaders, thus Christianity saved the West! But it wasn't the first time the West had met an existential threat and prevailed. The Greeks held off the Persians, for one. Do we attribute this victory to Zeus?

After a thousand years of Christian-dominated dark ages Europe underwent a Renaissance, and it is the advances in post-Renaissance Europe that are being attributed to Christianity. But they forget that Europe also went through a Reformation, or a restriction of Church authority and a move towards secularism, at the same time. Both movements were related and came about as a consequence of the re-introduction of the lost Western tradition of Greek philosophy. After it's re-introduction, as measured by the publication of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, it was only 250 years until Copernicus was challenging the Church's authority on scientific grounds and Martin Luther was challenging it theologically. The term Renaissance means a rebirth or renewal. What was being renewed? Western civilization. And it happened at the expense of Christianity, not because of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment