No mention at all is made of the likelihood that God exists. What if, as I think is obvious, there are no Gods? What is the above an argument for? Or is it merely a lament?"Philosophically speaking, an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms. Now don't misunderstand me. This age has thrown up a new type of man - we call him 'secular'; he does not believe in God; not because he is a wicked man but because he is dialectically honest (? LT) . He would rather walk with the unbelievers than sit hypocritically with people of the faith. These men, and many I have known, are fine in character; and in their obligations as citizens and good neigbours, quite excellent.
But they really are 'spiritual parasites'. And I mean no term of abuse in this. I'm simply classifying them. A parasite is an organism that lives upon the life force of another organism without contributing to the life of the other. These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeao-Christian civilisation, and at the same time (they) deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country grow."
That's exactly right. And we in Britain are, in the main, parasites living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of nearly 1700 years of Christianity, just as the Britons of the fourth century were warmed by the declining glow of Rome's glory - until the barbarian war-bands came.
I don't know. It feels like a defence of Christianity against secularism (secularism is not, incidentally, necessarily in conflict with any form of religion other than theocracy, but that's another argument). I think it probably is meant to be a defence of Christianity. Because it isn't an explicit argument, and because it relies on a phrase that is gibberish ("spiritual capital"), it is necessary to untangle it.
There's an obvious and very basic logical error in this sentence:
These excellent ethical seculars are living upon the accumulated spiritual capital of Judeao-Christian civilisation, and at the same time (they) deny the God who revealed the divine principles upon which the ethics of this country growIt is that of begging the question. The sentence simply assumes that God exists when in fact that's the subject of the debate. If we can know there are no Gods, then continued belief in one or more of them would be untenable, whatever the consequences and whatever legacy had been bequeathed to society by religion.
Logical incoherence aside, I think this is what is meant by "accumulated spiritual capital": legacy. I think the writer is trying to say that there are good, even vital, things in society that are only there because of the influence of Christianity. To which we would be entitled to ask: what? Which things are the consequence of Christianity and would not otherwise be there?
Next week it's Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Except that it isn't in any sense the anniversary of that event, even if there had been such a birth. The historically impossible tale, set at a time of events that did not happen (Herod, etc), is itself set in the springtime or early summer. How many lambs do you see in the fields right now? We are celebrating in December because humans have always done something to mark the winter solstice. We'd be preparing for a feast at this time of year regardless of whether there had been Christianity in Europe.
The Ten Commandments say you should not steal or kill. Does this make these ethics specifically Christian? Have these prohibitions stopped Christians stealing or killing, at least more than other, non-Abrahamic cultures? Did the pre-Christian Britons strike their foreheads when missionaries read these commandments to them, exclaiming "Oh! I see it now! We shouldn't kill or steal!"?
Far from us needing religion from which to draw our ethics, it is only through religious injunction that burning or stoning someone to death, or throwing them from a high building, could be given the mantle of ethical behaviour. Genuine ethics exist independently of religious belief, which is why they appear in some form, albeit sometimes horribly distorted, within every religion.
We have a system of common law in England, in France they have codified law. Both countries are nominally Christian. Which form of law is the legacy of Christianity?
The English legal system developed in the teeth of opposition from the Church. Previously, clerics were both excluded from the scope of civil law, and often responsible for its administration. Trial by ordeal was normally supervised by clerics who could and did pervert it when they wanted to. We have our legal system despite, not because of, the church.
The list goes on. Only one aspect of our culture derives from Christianity, or rather from something that happened to Christianity. The Reformation broke the power of the church, splintered it, even within countries, in a way that did not happen elsewhere. While people continued to believe, they developed a tradition of freedom of intellect and of conscience that led to the enlightenment and scientific revolution. It is this freedom that has caused the decline of religion. Once people became free to doubt, free to think, free to learn it became inevitable that they would begin to shed religious belief.
So in fact, far from having a debt to religion, we have a debt to the things that are killing religion.
Why then is there a sense that the Barbarians are at the gates? There is a genuine problem being skirted by this sort of argument. Ethics exist independently of religion, but the enforcement of ethics does not. At least, so far it has not. What we really need now is the assertion that ethics are important, that they transcend systems of religious belief and are universal. They include the freedoms of conscience and expression that have so undermined religious belief but they are not restricted to those freedoms. They also include things like honesty and self-reliance. Socialism, it follows, is unethical.
Religion gave people both the confidence to assert the need for individual responsibility, but also an excuse that made it easier to make this assertion: "It's not me, personally I'd be understanding of your weaknesses and problems. But the big guy with the beard? He's not so understanding. He knows what you think, let alone what you do, and it's all written down in a book."
What's needed now is the same confidence without the excuse.