Monday, 12 December 2011

Yahweh or My Way?

“Christianity, and nothing else [is] the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

Jürgen Habermas (1929- ) German sociologist and philosopher, A Time of Transitions (2006)

14 comments:

Chris said...

Are you serious?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Why?

Chris said...

I would think Christianity as often as not stands in the way of liberty, human rights and democracy?

For example Luther supporting the crushing of the peasants's revolt or suggesting the burning of synagogues. Not a lot of liberty of human rights there.

Walther and many others supporting slavery with good biblical justification didn't do much for liberty and human rights.

Most churches today don't do much for the human rights of women, who they exclude from the ministry with good biblical justification and homosexuals who they continually marginalise with good biblical justification.

I think the evidence shows that the enlightenment did more for liberty, human rights and democracy than Christianity.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Oh, OK. I think Habermas is talking about the philosophical roots of modern liberty - they lie in Christianity's teaching that man is made in the image of God.

In regard to the sins of organised Christianity or individuals therein, I've no intention of defending the indefensible; what I would say is that they show two things - 1) Christians sin (no surprises there!), and 2) the development of of human rights under Christianity's influence has been incremental.

Finally, Chris, in regard to the Enlightenment, I don't think it should be viewed ahistorically - the Enlightenment stood on the shoulders of the Reformation, which flourished in a time of rediscovery of Greek culture, and so we could go back through history. But you're right, there is an anti-Christian stream of rationalism in the Enlightenment, which itself stems from the Renaissance, and which continues into our day. Whether a society/culture can be founded and succeed without a religion though is a big question that is still being played out in our day. A good book to read on these issues 'Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture' by Australian sociologist John Carroll. He's not a Christian, btw, at least not last time I checked.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Btw, Chris, Habermas is not a Christian either to my knowledge, or at best he is a 'Cultural Christian'.

Chris said...

As you yourself said, don't the roots of liberty and democracy go back to ancient Greece? Before Christianity even existed?

If the development of of human rights under Christianity's influence has been incremental, doesn't that undercut the importance of it's influence? If Christianity was really concerned with human rights, wouldn't the earliest Christians like Paul have been writing things like "Slavery is bad", "Homosexuality is not an abomination"?

Sorry, don't think I will get to any non-fiction books in the near future. I am slogging through Strauss' Life of Jesus and I am thinking it will take me some time. Very interesting stuff though.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'As you yourself said, don't the roots of liberty and democracy go back to ancient Greece? Before Christianity even existed?'

Yes, but of course Greek democracy was very elitist. The devolution of political power to the lower classes, abolition of slavery, extension of vote to women, are all demonstrably linked to Christians with a social conscience.

'If the development of of human rights under Christianity's influence has been incremental, doesn't that undercut the importance of it's influence?'

I think that's a non sequitur, Chris. God works according to his own time - the unfolding of the plan of salvation in the Bible shows us that.

'If Christianity was really concerned with human rights, wouldn't the earliest Christians like Paul have been writing things like "Slavery is bad", "Homosexuality is not an abomination"?'

Chris, you've committed the lofical fallacy of 'etitio principii' - you're 'begging the question' by assuming that homosexual acts is compatible with Christian ethics. You need to resolve that question first before establishing that its advocacy is an advocacy of human rights from a Christian perspective.

'Sorry, don't think I will get to any non-fiction books in the near future. I am slogging through Strauss' Life of Jesus and I am thinking it will take me some time. Very interesting stuff though.'

I'm glad you class Strauss as fiction, then! You really must 'do yourself a favour' and follow him up with an orthodox Christian rebuttal of his work.i can suggest some titles when you're ready.

Pax!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'lofical' = logical

'etitio' = petitio

Memo to self - can't type as fast as brain thinks!

Chris said...

I think you are falling into the "No true Scotsman" fallacy. When Christians support slavery they aren't true Christians, but when Christians support abolition then they they do it because of their Christianity.

You say I am "assuming that homosexual acts is compatible with Christian ethics". Aren't you doing the same with Women's rights or slavery? The bible is quite clear that slavery is fine or women should submit for example.

I meant to say: Sorry, don't think I will get to any other non-fiction books in the near future. I am slogging through Strauss' Life of Jesus and I am thinking it will take me some time.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'I think you are falling into the "No true Scotsman" fallacy. When Christians support slavery they aren't true Christians, but when Christians support abolition then they they do it because of their Christianity.'

Chris - no, the opposite: I'm saying that Christians can err in their moral judgments and can sin. They remain true Christians nonetheless.

'You say I am "assuming that homosexual acts is compatible with Christian ethics". Aren't you doing the same with Women's rights or slavery? The bible is quite clear that slavery is fine or women should submit for example.'

Again, God works his will in his own time. There is also a development in the plan of salvation, so that what was accepted in one era is not tolerable in another (e.g. polygamy). Just because the Bible records instances of slavery doesn't mean it was God's will for all time. In regard to discerning what that will is Lutherans have found it helpful to go back to the 'orders of creation'.

Interesting discussion, Chris - thanks!

joel in ga said...

A brilliant quote, but I wonder if modern-day Germany and Europe can tolerate that kind of clear thinking. Any idea how far Habermas' influence extends?

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Joel,

Well, Habermas has been one of the world's most influential philosophers for several decades now. He bridges German and Anglo cultures and is widely read in English. As for his influence in Germany he is the country's leading public intellectual and this in a country where intellectual pursuits are taken seriously, so I would imagine many people read him and be influenced by him. I suspect Angela Merkel's recent comments about the the need for a more public Christianity in Germany may have been inspired by Habermas.

Chris said...

"Again, God works his will in his own time. There is also a development in the plan of salvation, so that what was accepted in one era is not tolerable in another"

Doesn't that make God a bit redundant as far as morality goes? Are you saying that just because Paul or Leviticus have an issue with homosexuals, it doesn't necessarily mean that God has a problem with them today?

btw, commenting on this blog seems a bad way to have a conversation. Don't think there is any way to make it better though.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Chris,

Paul or Moses (Leviticus) spoke for God - that's the Christian doctrine of inspiration. True, that doesn't mean everything they said necessarily applies today, and Leviticus in particular has been fulfilled by Christ. But there are valid moral principles that they enunciate which have their foundations in the orders of God's creation. Deciding between what is temporal and what is eternal is where sound Biblical hermeneutics comes in.

Yes, there definitely are better ways to have a conversation, although at least this medium allows for considered responses. Anyway, I'm always up for a chat over coffee or a glass of good red.