The Unexpected Truth That Shocked Atheist Students

The surprising link between Christianity and Western morality.

A secular university isn’t a place you’ll hear unexpected truths about Christianity. Sure, you’ll hear about the evil things that Christians have done throughout history. But such a roll-call of evil acts is not news – let alone a shock – to many Atheist students, who often consume a steady diet of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

But I heard about one class – on a secular campus –  where even Atheist students were shocked by what they learned: an unexpectedly positive truth about Christianity that challenged their narrative. 

Courtesy Canva.com

Courtesy Canva.com

The Borrowed Capital Of Western Morality 

No, our morality didn’t all come from the Enlightenment.

Author Tim Keller gives the example of Professor of history C. John Sommerville, from the University of Florida, who did something interesting in his classes. Keller writes:

In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianised they were, even those who were atheistic or antireligious. He would list the values of shame-and-honour cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe.

(We should notes these aren’t just values belonging to pre-Christian Europe. Just look at much of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.)

Keller continues:

Then he would list corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe – things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness, and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image.

Keller then brings it together:

Many of Sommerville’s most anti-religious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on to them through complex social and cultural processes. His point was that much of what is good and unique about Western civilisation is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of the faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere.’ (CenterChurch, p214, Emphasis added).

Perhaps We Shouldn’t Race To Marginalise Christianity

What might happen if Christianity leaves the western building?

As far as I can tell, many of our secular elite would also be shocked by Sommerville’s class. Christianity hasn’t done much good for society, so the sooner we leave it behind, the better – seems to be the growing consensus.

But what might happen if/when Christianity leaves the western building?

Italian philosopher Marcello Pera (an agnostic), has this to say:

Without the Christian vision of the human person, our political life is doomed to become the mere exercise of power….our encounter with “the other” – the poor, the sick, the dying, the needy or outcast of any gender, race, or age – can only deteriorate into violence and manipulation, and our civilisation will cut itself off from the principles that first baptised and nurtured it.’ (Marcello Pera, Why We Should Call Ourselves Christian, p60)’

Strong words, and time will tell if he’s too pessimistic in his prediction.

But one thing’s for sure: a Christian ‘take’ on morality originated from a Christian view of reality. Without Christianity, we wouldn’t have western morality. 

It’s a shocking truth. Especially for Atheist students.

 

UPDATE:

Here’s a classic Atheist internet meme that shows how Christianised western Atheists are (just look at the list of values they hold to). Interestingly, they don’t give any credit to Christianity for imbuing western culture with those values…

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16 thoughts on “The Unexpected Truth That Shocked Atheist Students

  1. An excellent book comparing Christianity’s legacy with for that of Eastern philosophies is Vishal Mangalwadi’s book “The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation”. Another book from a Western perspective is How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J Schmidt. Both are recommended reading for anyone wanting to be better informed about the roots of Western culture.

  2. Hey Akos, another good read. I’d sure like to hear or read more about this. It’s so encouraging for Christians to appreciate the depth of our Christian heritage, and how much will be lost in society if Christian Values are jettisoned. The other aspect is often the athiest will claim a moral stance without the need for God.
    Well done, always appreciate the thoughtful writing.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, brother!

      Yep, this is a big issue, and I hope to keep tackling it from various angles.

      God bless,

      Akos

  3. Hi Akos, the correlation between Sin and Law (secular system) seems lost to many, even among evangelical Christians when they merely limit Sin to the concept that All Sin is Equal in the Sight of God. A full Christian perspective of the world is sadly lacking in this day and age among Christians.

    However, as J I Packer wrote back in 2004, All Sins are Not Equal. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/january/19.65.html)

    “…Scripture shows that in God’s estimate some sins are worse and bring greater guilt than others, and that some sins do us more damage. Moses rates the golden calf debacle a great sin (Ex. 32:30). Ezekiel in his horrific allegory says that after Oholah (Samaria) had ruined herself by unfaithfulness to God, Oholibah (Jerusalem) “became more corrupt … in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister” (Ezek. 23:11, ESV). John distinguishes sins that do and do not inevitably lead to death (1 John 5:16), picking up Jesus’ warning about the unforgivable sin (Mk. 3:28-30).

    Answers 151 and 152 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, a Puritan product, bring clarity by analyzing aggravations of sins, thus providing a means for discerning their gravity and guilt. On one level, all sins are equal in that no matter how trivial they seem, they all deserve God’s “wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come, and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.” No sins are small when committed against a great and generous God. Beyond this, however, the gravity of each transgression depends on varying factors…”

    Is it therefore not abundantly clear from where our legal system derives? A fuller understanding of Sin would aid in this. Even church leaders try to argue against me on this point – until I point to Answers 151 & 152 of the LC. What can I say, I read the Reformers and Puritans.

    Nowadays, the court of public opinion, i.e., social media, is gaining traction. We are reverting to a Law of the Jungle – Might is Right. I agree with Pera.

    There’s post-Enlightenment “progress” for you.

  4. Akos,

    Yours is an excellent article that defines how dependent our culture is on Christian values that have defined legislation and legal requirements against murder, theft, lying, rape, etc.

    I don’t know if you are aware of this article in which atheistic (now agnostic) promoter, Richard Dawkins, had some favourable things to say about Christian values. Yes, positive things about Christianity out of the mouth of Dawkins!

    It’s in, ‘Professional Atheist Dawkins Says Christianity ‘Bulwark Against Something Worse’ (Thomas D Williams PhD, Breihart, 12 January 2016) at: http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2016/01/12/professional-atheist-dawkins-says-christianity-bulwark-against-something-worse/

    This article stated:

    ‘In a text that is coursing about on social media, professional God-slayer Richard Dawkins begrudgingly admitted that Christianity may actually be our best defense against aberrant forms of religion that threaten the world.

    ‘There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings,” Dawkins said. “I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death.”

    ‘In a rare moment of candor, Dawkins reluctantly accepted that the teachings of Jesus Christ do not lead to a world of terror, whereas followers of radical Islam perpetrate the very atrocities that he laments.

    ‘Because of this realization, Dawkins wondered aloud whether Christianity might indeed offer an antidote to protect western civilization against jihad.

    ‘“I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse,” he said.

    ‘Although the text originated in 2010, it has taken on a second life, being sent to and fro on Facebook and Twitter and providing fodder for discussions, even among atheists, of the benefits of Christianity for modern society’.

    Sincerely in Christ

  5. Hi Akos, and where does anyone seriously think the seven day week came from? There was the 10 days per “week” French Revolution calendar that only lasted from 1793 to 1806, before it reverted to the 7 day week. It was part of an attempt at decimalisation, and to remove religious influence on the culture.

    But it lasted a mere twelve years.

  6. This is a tiny matter to do with word choice. In the sentence towards the end of the blog that starts ‘Interestingly they don’t…’ I think you might mean ‘imbuing’ rather than ‘imbibing’.