More and more I hear the claim that western civilization is based on Judeo-Christian values. There are a few possible claims a believer could be making when arguing about western values and Judeo-Christian values. They could merely be making historical claims that Christians and Christian institutions played pivotal roles in the historical development of Europe. Another claim is that there is some kind of philosophical basis of western values in Judeo-Christianity; and if we remove religion, the foundation for our Enlightenment values will have been removed along with it and our civilization will soon crumble. Some make both of these claims, but I think they should be separated. It’s possible to recognize that Christianity was a huge part of European culture and history while also recognizing that it is absolutely not the philosophical foundation for what are commonly characterized as western values.
I’m not making any claims about historical contingencies or the personal beliefs of some of the thinkers who are famously associated with these values. I’m claiming that if you want to credit Christianity with western values, you need to draw a plausible intellectual path between Christianity and western values. We should expect the foundational text of Judeo-Christianity to contain clear examples of western values or their prototypes; and we should be able to see how someone could have reasoned their way from values taught in the Bible to western values. Or at least, we shouldn’t expect to find the exact opposite of western values in the foundational text of Christianity. I don’t think that’s asking too much. It’s not sensible to claim that Christianity gave us these values if we’re not able to find anything resembling a western value anywhere in the gigantic text of the Bible. The ideas and morals and societal organization advocated in the Bible are not recognizable as western or even prototypes of western values, and they’re often inversions of the values that believers are trying to take credit for.
Democracy is a hallmark of western civilization and is one of our core political values. But in the Bible, democracy is never extolled or even articulated. Instead, there are endless stories of theocratic, authoritarian rule and the divine right of kings. Power is always concentrated; it’s never distributed. Thomas Paine, a founding father who despised Christianity, inveighed against the divine right of kings in favor of democracy, arguing that a hereditary ruler makes about as much sense as a hereditary mathematician. However, the Judeo-Christian justification for divine right of kings is found in the books of 1 Samuel, Daniel, and Romans. In 1 Samuel, when King Saul wanted to kill David, David wouldn’t raise a hand against him because Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. In the book of Daniel, it says, “It is [god] who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and He establishes kings.” Romans 13 says it most clearly, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
Naturally, Christians have historically understood that all kings derive their authority from God, not from their subjects. As it says in Romans 13, rebellion is a terrible political crime because who you’re really challenging is god. That’s exactly the reasoning that Thomas Paine had to write extensive arguments against. In classical Greece, however, Athenians established what is generally recognized as the world’s first democracy around 500 BCE. This predates Christianity and arose with no Jewish influence.
There is also no example of science anywhere in the Bible. Science is based on empiricism, induction, controlled experimentation, replication, Bayesian reasoning, and skepticism, among other things. I’m not sure that a single one of these values are promoted in scripture. Again, I can often find the opposite value promoted. Doubting Thomas is not praised for his skepticism, and Jesus specifically reprimands his skeptical attitude and says those who are credulous will be more “blessed” than those who want empirical evidence. The lesson is that Doubting Thomas should’ve taken things on faith. Faith is praised numerous times through scripture. In Hebrews, faith is defined as the evidence of things not seen.
What about equality for women? Believe it or not, I’ve actually heard apologists claim that women’s rights are another gift from Judeo-Christian values. In the New Testament, women are forbidden from holding authority over a man, told to be silent in church, and instructed to be obedient and submissive to their husbands. The same Greek word for “submissive” that was used in Colossians – “hypotasso” – appears also in Titus 2:9, in Paul’s exhortation for slaves to be submissive to their masters. So that’s the relationship dynamic being envisioned here.
In the Old Testament, men and women are subject to different rules, and the laws for women are far more stringent and controlling. Women explicitly don’t have legal equality because there are different laws for them. Women can be killed if they’re suspected of having premarital sex; the tenth commandment forbids coveting property, which includes women in the same sentence as houses and oxen; if a woman was raped, she was forced to marry her rapist if the offender paid her father, and on and on it goes.
Freedom of Speech
Leviticus 24:16 says, “The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord should be put to death; all the congregation must stone him.” That doesn’t sound like protection of unpopular speech to me. The death penalty for blasphemy, a purely verbal non-crime, isn’t just antithetical to freedom of speech, but also to freedom of belief. Blasphemy laws are still on the books in some Christian European countries. Though they’re not enforced today, they were for centuries. And recently, Ireland, the most religious country in the UK, tried to prosecute Stephen Fry for blasphemy. They only dropped the charges under pressure after atheists and liberals spoke out.
The Catholic Church is one of the most prolific book-burning and book-banning institutions in the history of civilization, which doesn’t exactly suggest to me that they were champions of freedom of thought, freedom of belief, or freedom of expression. In Christian Europe, heretics were burned at the stake for the slightest diversion from the doctrines deemed acceptable by the local authorities. Modern western values stand in stark opposition to the “great” Christian thinkers like John Calvin, who regularly killed people for believing the wrong thing and saying it out loud. One man who disagreed with Calvin theologically was tortured for a month and beheaded, and his house was burned down while his wife was thrown into the street to watch. Another man who was guilty of thoughtcrime was burned at the stake with his heretical book strapped to his chest. This was in the mid 1500s, around the same time as Copernicus and Galileo, both of whom’s work was met with strong opposition from the Christian authorities. So in the Bible we have commands that advocate the death penalty for thought and speech and belief; and in practice, when Christian authorities in Europe had real power, that’s exactly what we got — capital punishment for thoughtcrime. When you take Judeo-Christian values seriously, you don’t get freedom of speech. You get death sentences for voicing your opinion over theological minutia. This is not hypothetical — I’m looking at what in fact happened for centuries when Judeo-Christian values actually informed how we ran society.
As I mentioned in the State Atheism podcast, John Locke’s ideas on religious toleration came in response to this and to never-ending Christian conflict. He argued that since we won’t be able to come to a consensus on which religion is the right one, enforcing one over the others will cause more social disorder than having a rule of religious toleration. And of course, none of that reasoning can be located in the foundational Judeo-Christian text.
The Ten Commandments
Let’s look at the ten commandments.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
There’s no caveat that allows for religious freedom here. God only says to worship him and him alone. A few chapters later in the book of Exodus, Moses orders the slaughtering of three-thousand people because they had been worshipping a golden calf. After that, so there’s no confusion about how god feels about freedom of religion and free expression, god strikes the calf-worshippers with a plague.
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”
Yes, where would western civilization be if we were just creating graven images willy-nilly. I included that last part about visiting iniquity to the third and fourth generation because Ben had specifically said that the Judeo-Christian tradition emphasizes the individual, and doesn’t judge you based on group identity. But here, you’re punished for something someone in your family did. There are plenty of stories where an entire tribe or family is punished or killed, as well as entire citizenries, like in the story of Jericho. There’s also the example of every Amalekite being slaughtered for being an Amalekite, which unambiguously runs against the claim that people are judged as individuals and not by group identity.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.”
So we’re four commandments in and zero of the four are western values; and arguably antithetical to some western values. None of them are enforced by law and if they were, we would be living in a theocracy, which is inconsistent with separation of church and state, another famous western value.
“Honour thy father and thy mother.”
This one is also not enforced by law, but more importantly, there’s no nuance in this rule. I talked about this in more detail in the child abuse episode, but it doesn’t have a caveat that voids the commandment if your parents are abusive or don’t show any respect in kind to their children. It’s just an authoritarian command imposed on children.
“Thou shalt not kill.”
Finally; a good one. Unfortunately for apologists, prohibitions on murder predate Judaism by six-hundred years and also arose independently in other cultures.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
No one goes to jail for committing adultery. You should’t cheat, but it shouldn’t be an imprisonable offense and western civilization obviously isn’t founded on this rule.
“Thou shalt not steal.”
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
Two more good ones! Again, not unique to Judeo-Christian values, but I’ll take them.
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”
So, you know; all your property, like your house or your donkey or your wife. Leaving aside the obvious sexism and the asymmetrical status of men and women, this prohibition of envy is probably not the moral foundation of a capitalist country. So the ten commandments conclude on prohibiting a major driving force of western economic systems.
Our western morality is almost the opposite of five out of the ten commandments. Two of them that at least aren’t irreconcilable with western values (don’t commit adultery and honor your parents) are not enforced by law; and three of them (don’t murder, steal, or lie) are common sense propositions that are not unique to Judaism and are found in other cultures that weren’t influenced by Judeo-Christian values.
Any large group of people is going to require social norms to be able to live together. A group with no prohibitions on anti-social behavior would die out pretty quickly. Basic prosocial instincts that have a stabilizing effect are selected for.
Ben Shapiro also claimed that what makes these rules important is that they are eternal and non-relativistic. He also incorrectly said they were all directed at individuals rather than groups identities, ignoring the commandment that includes generational curses for families. But I think it’s also a stretch to call them eternal or non-relativistic. Whenever you point out the barbarism in the Old Testament, you’re told that you’re taking things out of context and that it was okay in that time because they had a different culture and were subject to different rules. Also, according to most Christians, the Old Covenant was simply replaced by the New Covenant, so those rules weren’t eternal, either.
Let’s take a moment to consider of a couple of the things the Bible doesn’t say, but easily could have said if God were trying to impart western values to us. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “The government ought to derive it’s power from the consent of the governed,” or that it “ought to enact the will of the people,” which would have been straightforward endorsements of democracy. It never says “Unpopular opinions should not be suppressed,” which anyone could claim to be a precursor to freedom of speech. It never says, “Treat all humans equally under the law.” There’s no parable that spells out John Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance; or John Locke’s reasoning behind religious freedom.
The Bible is a very long book. The idea that god didn’t have time to take two sentences to unambiguously establish western values but did have time for incredibly detailed instructions for how to properly sacrifice a goat is simply not possible to believe. Western civilization is not based upon theocratic prohibitions on working certain days of the week or banning graven images.
At some point, it’s usually claimed that Judeo-Christian values still led to the advent all our liberal values because it was primarily Christians who wrote about these ideals, but this is only relevant if a plausible relationship is established between Judeo-Christian and western values. If you can’t explain how to get from one to the other, then the fact that some of them were Christian is as relevant as the fact that some of them had blue eyes. Just because a Christian thinks something doesn’t mean that Christianity is responsible for whatever they thought. So why do they think what they think? They have a general human nature, and they also have a more fine-grained individual nature because of their unique genome. They also have an environment that shapes them. The most popular religion in their society is only one element among a vast array of influences that play a role in determining what they think.
Let me give an example where religion was obviously an important factor in determining a particular value. Hindus were the first, to my knowledge, to care about animal rights. In this case, their Hindu values did create their animal rights concerns; there’s no question that played a causal role. But crucially, Hindu mythology does not need to be preserved or respected in order to have the values of caring about animal welfare. So even if we accept the idea that free speech and women’s rights and religious freedom came from Judeo-Christian values, we don’t have to respect Christianity to keep those liberal values any more than we would have to respect Hinduism in order to be vegetarians.
But there are many other examples where it’s not clear that the religion of the person in question deserves any credit in the first place. If a Muslim invents something, does Islam automatically deserve credit for that invention? Since Muslims arguably created modern algebra, are Islamic values responsible for algebra? Are we living as if Islam is true when do algebra? Am I allowed to say that Jordan Peterson is acting out Islamic metaphysics when he solves for X? Most people wouldn’t have any issue seeing the flaw in the logic of “A Muslim invented a thing; therefore Islam gave us this thing.” And yet, we’re supposed to find it compelling that Christians (who had no choice but to be Christian) articulated western values centuries after the religion began.
I wonder if any Jews or Christians would find it compelling if Muslims legitimately tried to say that algebra is a product of Islamic values. The thing is that is actually more defensible than claiming western, liberal, enlightenment values are the product of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Think of the claim that Judeo-Christian values created freedom of belief and religious tolerance. Now think of the golden calf story, where people are slaughtered for worshipping a different god; and then Yahweh smites them with a plague. The equivalent of that would be Muslims trying to give Islamic values credit for algebra if there were a story in the Koran about Mohammad killing someone for doing math and then Allah smiting mathematicians with a plague. If Mohammad slaughtered mathematicians, and Muslims taught that story to children, and then tried to say that Islamic values are responsible for progress in mathematics — that would be on the same level as Ben’s claims.
I bring up the examples of animal rights from Hinduism and algebra from Islam to establish that whether or not the claim of religious inspiration is valid is dependent on the specific example. The animal welfare concerns of Hindus do find their philosophical origins in Hinduism. Deriving algebra from the teachings of the Koran makes about as much sense as deriving freedom of speech from blasphemy laws. You can’t just point out that some of the Enlightenment thinkers were Christian. Many of them weren’t, first of all. But you’ll have to do more than point out a correlation between Christian societies and western values. This is easier said that done, and not just for the reasons I’ve been harping on so far. Any broad social phenomenon is almost certainly going to be the result of multiple, interacting causes. Merely pointing out that Europe and it’s former colonies have historically had Christian cultures is not extraordinary evidence. I don’t think any reasonable social scientist would make such a grand, sweeping assertion on such flimsy evidence. It’s at best a hypothesis, and many supporters of this hypothesis just make the assertion and leave it at that.
Jonah Goldberg, a famous conservative, recently wrote a book where he explicitly acknowledges that no one really knows why the West gained global dominance or why western societies turned out wealthier. He goes on to make arguments in support of the value of the west and that we should preserve it even if we don’t know exactly what caused it, but my point is just that honest conservatives will admit that we don’t really know why things turned out this way. Dishonest conservatives will pretend to know with absolutely certainty what caused our current situation.
Religion Doesn’t make us flourish
The most religious countries in the world are lower on indicators of health and happiness, and this is true even when you only look at Christian countries. The U.S. does stand alone in the developed world in its religiosity, and some have claimed that this is the secret to it’s economic and military dominance. Of course, our military dominance doesn’t at all translate to a happier or healthier population, which is borne out in study after study.
When you take western democracies and measure their rates of religiosity and their societal health, what you find is that there is an inverse correlation between societal health and rates of religiosity, belief in god, belief in an afterlife, and biblical literalism. The less religious western democracies are better when it comes to rates of homicide, suicide, STDs, teen births, divorce, corruption, incarceration, poverty, adjusted per capita income, wealth inequality, and life satisfaction. The United States stands out as a uniquely religious country and also stands out for its uniquely awful performance by western standards on all those measures of societal health. As the western world becomes less religious, every measure of human well-being improves. Correlation doesn’t equal causation; we don’t know which direction the arrow of causality goes or if they’re even related at all. But if religion was restraining our worst tendencies and was the glue that held society together, you would not predict that all measures of human well-being would be increasing as religion declines.
There are also several deeply Christian countries spread out in the world where western values are almost entirely absent. Countries in Central Africa, like Zambia, Namibia, and Angola are all more Christian than the U.S. and western Europe, and they’re not places I’m rushing to move to. Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Mexico are also more devoutly Christian than the U.S. population.
All these deeply Christian societies exist in the present day. But if we look at societies in the past, which were far more religious, they weren’t exactly more stable or better places to live. We’ve made immense progress, and violence has radically declined, while life expectancy, literacy, and even IQ have been increasing. All the while, religion has been in decline. Again, I’m not sloppily claiming causation like apologists are; but if Judeo-Christian values were the foundation of all that is good, you have to explain why society is improving by every reasonable metric at the same time religion is in decline.
Ben said that our excessive Christianity is the cause of our military strength. But I would happily trade our militaristic hegemony for healthcare or tuition-free college any time. And besides, how exactly do you draw a connection between Judeo-Christian values and a quest for global military dominance? Many of the Jewish heroes of the Old Testament were essentially warlords who committed genocides, but it’s certainly not something Jesus taught.
I would also point out that the fact that any of us were born at this time and this place is an accident of history. If you were born in the 10th or 11th century in the Middle East, the Islamic World was thriving and at the cutting edge of mathematics, science, and art; and Christian Europe was in the Dark Ages. The 11th century Muslim Ben Shapiro could’ve made the same exact argument for the superiority of Islamic values, especially since the Islamic Golden Age came a couple centuries after the advent of Islam, contrasted with the 1,500 year delay between Christianity and the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. For the vast majority of its history, Christian society was not dominant and it did not produce anything we would recognize as a hallmark of the west. If western values are a logical product of Judeo-Christian values, what took so long? Why did it take roughly 1,500 years for western values to begin to materialize if they’re so obviously the result of the Christian worldview?
It’s well understood that correlation doesn’t imply causation. But you wouldn’t think you’d have to say, “Oh, and if there’s not even a correlation, there’s definitely no causation.” But it would appear that this needs to be spelled out. There is not even a correlation between large Christian populations and the instantiation of western values. There are places where there has been no Enlightenment or Renaissance that are more Christian than western countries. Some prototypical western values predate Judaism and Christianity, and many western values didn’t appear until a millennia and a half after the advent of Christianity, even longer after the advent of Judaism. These values are not articulated in the Bible, and sometimes, the exact inversion of these values are commanded. Prototypes of western ideals were clearly and unambiguously established in ancient Greece, where they first articulated democratic values, arguably created science and philosophy, worked out mathematics that’s still taught in school today, figured out that the world was made of atoms, discovered that the earth was roughly a sphere, created moral philosophy that is still relevant now and far more interesting than any moral philosophy contained in the Bible; and many Greek thinkers even figured out there were no gods and that nature is governed by impersonal natural laws. If anything, Judeo-Christian values delayed the arrival of western values. In fact, a big facet of the Enlightenment was pushing back against Judeo-Christian values. The Renaissance was a renaissance of Greek philosophy and Greek values.
One of the more frustrating developments in this argument that’s been cropping up is the unfalsifiable assertion that the only reason you think X is because of the Judeo-Christian culture that you grew up in. No matter what you say, they can always reply, “You only care about that because of the unconscious influence of Judeo-Christian values.”
If you listen to Ben Shapiro and Sam Harris’ exchange on Waking Up (linked in the shownotes), Ben’s arguing that we never would have come to value women without the Bible. We never would have figured out that we shouldn’t stone women to death without the divine command to stone women to death. Please, explain to me why murdering a girl in front of her dad because she’s suspected of having premarital sex or any of the enlightening advice the Bible gives regarding women eventually caused any of us to have concern for women’s rights. Does he actually think that women’s rights never would’ve materialized if it weren’t for murderously backwards passages like this? And if he does mean that, was this really the only way or the best way to develop value for women or communicate those ideas?
Ben is essentially asking us to believe that god is quite possibly the worst communicator of all time. God basically meant the opposite of what he said. This is a point that I really want to emphasize. Most of this argument about western values is predicated on god’s utter inability to communicate his intentions in a way that will be understood, even by his most devoted followers. God usually can’t be bothered to clearly explain what he meant; sometimes, god says the opposite of what he meant; sometimes, what he says takes 1,500 years to decipher and we mistakenly do the opposite of what he intended for that entire time. Why is god such an awful communicator? Didn’t he invent language to begin with? God also created our minds and our capacity to understand language, so the idea that he’s unable to communicate more effectively is completely asinine. Ben said something to the effect of “Well, if god had just handed us modern western values, we wouldn’t have known what the hell he was talking about.” But god created our natures and created our minds with the properties they have, and he could tweak them so we would understand; or he could’ve communicated them in such a way that they would have understood.
Also, the claim that I only care about something because of the unconscious influence of Judeo-Christianity is completely unfalsifiable. It’s just an unsupported claim asserted with no evidence and in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Consequences vs. Commands
A lot of this argument is built on metaphor. Earlier, Ben Shapiro talked about hammering away at the foundations while expecting the superstructure to remain intact. That’s a compelling image, but it’s not an accurate analogy for the situation we’re in. We haven’t removed the core of our values; we aren’t hammering away at their foundation.
If there is anything of value in religion, we can take what’s good and leave what’s not. It’s as simple as not throwing out the baby with the bathwater; we do the same thing in a hundred other areas. We take astronomy without any of the astrology; we take chemistry without any of the alchemy; we take neuroscience without any of the phrenology; and by doing so, we haven’t removed the foundation or the core. We’ve simply moved past the historical predecessor.
This is simply what it means to make progress. The whole point is to do what works and leave behind the stuff that’s wrong and move on from there. Based on their merit, we keep some ideas and leave other things behind and blaze a new path forward. We can do what Richard Dawkins suggests, and feel free to invoke Jesus or Paul the same as we’d invoke Shakespeare or Plato. If meditating on whatsoever is true and beautiful is a good thing for us, it’s positive effects still exist without god telling us to do it. Even if religion did create western values, we can just look at the beneficial consequences of having a democracy or women’s rights or religious toleration and let those values inform our laws. We’re allowed to do that. If it’s actually a good idea, it can stand on its own. If it actually works, it doesn’t need to be enforced by a divine authority figure.
Jordan asked if keeping our western values is based on anything other than bloody opinion. If it’s not based in some transcendent justification, what do you do about that? Is it just arbitrary, then? Is there no reason to stick with it? Could it be a different system? Well, yes; the values that inform our laws and social organization are based on something: the consequences. Whether we keep western values or not will be adjudicated by the consequences of keeping them or moving past them. He asked, “What do you do about that?” You look at the consequences. He asked, “Is it arbitrary?” No, the consequences are not arbitrary. He asked if it could be a different system. Well, maybe; it would depend if the foreseeable consequences of adopting the different system were more desirable. He claimed that leaving behind Judeo-Christian mythology removes the core of our western values. That’s not true; first of all, because they didn’t create western values. But secondly, abandoning the primitive, historical predecessor doesn’t hollow out the object in question. Chemistry is actually better with no alchemy. And when it comes to something like values and societal organization, we judge their fitness solely on the utility of adopting them.
If a transcendent authority commanded that we do something that had net negative consequences, we wouldn’t do it. We would just ignore that transcendent authority. And I know this is true because we currently don’t do 90% of the things Yahweh commands because they’re all pretty much all bad ideas. And I say they’re bad ideas based on the consequences of adopting them.
I want to point out an irony of this discussion before moving on. Many if not most of the apologists who put forth this argument claim to despise post-modernism in all its forms. Post-modernism itself is a big subject and I can’t cover all of it; but post-modern thinkers are well-known for calling attention to the power of social conditioning. According to them, we don’t have much of a human nature; we’re essentially a blank slate that our culture fills in. We start from scratch and can have any human nature we can dream of. Not only is our conception of morality a result of social conditioning, but so is the nature of the way we think. And to a post-modernist, they’re pretty much the only ones who really see the true extent of this social conditioning and how much it influences your values, what you believe is moral, how you determine truth, and how you think generally, how you process the world. All of these things are nothing but the products of your historical and political environment; or in other words, your culture. What you believe is nothing but a product of the culture you were born into. I’m sure you’re starting to see the irony here. Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson and the other proponents of Judeo-Christian conservatism, who claim to hate post-modernism, sound a lot like post-modernists in this regard. If you just rewind and listen to my brief description of this facet of post-modernist thought, literally every word applies to the apologists that we’ve heard from so far. The basis of the argument itself is that if it weren’t for our cultural conditioning, we wouldn’t think the things we think. They believe that humans are such blank slates that we might not think murder is wrong without being conditioned to think so by our culture.
Argument from consequences
It should go without saying that this argument doesn’t bear on the truth of religion at all. Judeo-Christian values could have caused the advent of western values and it wouldn’t contribute in the slightest to the literal truth of religion. Even if I accepted your assertion in full and you were correct, it doesn’t mean that God exists or Christianity is true. If you want to argue that, you still have all your work ahead of you. Of course, none of these ideas are even remotely hinted at in the Bible, the foundational Judeo-Christian text. And worse, ideas almost perfectly antithetical to western values are found in the Bible and in the history of Christianity. But even if these apologists were correct, to argue that this bears on the truth of Christianity would just be an argument from the consequences.
I see this entire subject as sort of last ditch attempt at rescuing religion in the modern era. We’ve really already won every possible argument. Think about the lines religious people have drawn throughout history and how all of them have been crossed. So they’re looking for something good that religion can be credited for, or some reason we still need it despite its not being true, and this is what they went with. Even some nonbelievers think that religion, though it’s literally false, is sort of a useful fiction, which appears to be what Jordan Peterson believes. I think this is what believers went with because it’s a nearly unfalsifiable claim depending on how it’s presented. All I can do is open up the Bible and see if there are any prototypes of western values. And if western values did come from Christendom, we should expect to see more or less clear articulation of these values, or at least not their exact opposite.
It’s true that many great western thinkers have been Christians, but many of them also wore wigs, which is just as relevant until you establish some kind of causal link. Western values are not based on Judeo-Christian values. I don’t see anything leading from the foundational Judeo-Christian text to the Bill of Rights or to Voltaire or Thomas Paine. I’m not pretending that religion wasn’t a part of the history of our civilization. Things would definitely be different if it weren’t for the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. I obviously can’t say if they’d be better or worse, just different.
We should treat western and Judeo-Christian values like any others: evaluate them on their merits. If whatever is being evaluated is actually a good idea, it can stand on its own. Western values are enough for a society to work. We don’t need the mythology our society has traditionally believed in, because our mythology has almost nothing to do with the western values Jews and Christians are trying to take credit for. I’m not saying mythology serves no function, or that western values aren’t important; mythology can serve a function and western values do appear to make a society flourish. But Judeo-Christian mythology did not create western values.
In the opening of his essay on whether religion has contributed to civilization, Bertrand Russell said,
“My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.”
He goes on to say,
“It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.”
Podcast version: CA30 Western Values Are Based on Judeo-Christian Values
Nonstampcollector – Ten Commandments [YouTube]
Western Civilization – Ben Shapiro [YouTube]
Richard Dawkins – Militant Atheism [YouTube]
Ben Shaprio – Ten Commandments [YouTube]
Sam Harris – Ten Commandments [YouTube]
Hitchens on Morality [YouTube]
Stephen Fry on Ten Commandments [YouTube]
Yaron Brook on Judeo-Christian Values [YouTube]
Sam Harris vs. Ben Shapiro [YouTube]
Ben Shapiro vs. Sam Harris — TMM [YouTube]
TMM on Ben Shapiro [YouTube]
Bible Verses on Obeying Governments [KnowingJesus]