Saturday 27 October 2012

The false 'Christianity caused Leftism' meme on the secular Right


The West was Christian and the West is now Leftist: clearly the two are related. But which way does the causal arrow point?

Is it that Christianity led to or caused Leftism; or the opposite, that it was the decline of Christianity that led to Leftism.  


To anyone who regards Christianity as a two thousand year old religion, and especially to those who see its highest and most complete spiritual flourishing during the Byzantine civilizations and before the 'Great' schism between Eastern and Western churches; the idea that Christianity is the cause of Leftism is obviously false.

Yet among the secular Right it is a truism to trace the roots of Leftism to Christianity: to blame Christianity for Leftism.


This belief in Leftism as a Christian heresy (meaning it is essentially Christian, a residual form of Christianity) is not just a common trope on the secular Right, but close to being a necessity for adherence to this perspective; because it means that the escape from Leftism can be achieved by purely political means.

For an atheist, this is crucial.

In particular, if Christianity is seen as the cause of the problem, then it seems obvious that Christianity is not going to be a part of the solution to the problem; indeed it suggests that the solution not only can be but probably must be in the secular realm.


But, on the other hand, if Leftism is caused by the decline and fragmentation of Christianity (by Christian Apostasy), and if this decline and fragmentation began more than 1000 years ago (before the Great Schism) and built slowly but incrementally ever since - then the inference is that Leftism is a by-product of secularism and can only be defeated by religion.

Thus, in principle, Leftism could be defeated (or reversed somewhat) either by Christian revival (the degree of reversal being proportional both to Christian devoutness and domination, but also to the fullness of the form of Christianity revived - its completeness as a societal system); or else by some other religion of comparable strength and scope.


So the secular Right regard Christianity as a cause of Leftism and seek a cure of leftism by means of a non-religious social system; while the Christian Right see Leftism as a consequence of atheism, of secularism, of the abandonment of Christianity - and Christians seek a cure of Leftism as a consequence of, on the other side of, their number one social priority which is evangelism, mission, a Great Awakening, a religious Revival.



Thursday said...

At times, you have identified the real problem, which is the lack of religious devotion among people, especially notable among elites, but very widespread among the population at large.

This seems to be caused by a decline in supernaturalism which is in turn caused by things like prosperity, living in a safe, predictable human built environment etc.

As such, ideas and ideologies such as Christianity, the specialization of knowledge, Nominalism, Protestantism, Cartesianism all probably had minimal impact, certainly among the people, but also among the elites.

Bruce Charlton said...

@T - "This seems to be caused by a decline in supernaturalism which is in turn caused by things like prosperity, living in a safe, predictable human built environment etc."

I don't accept this.

1. There has not been a decline in supernaturalism as such, or very little. Many surveys note this, but common experience confirms it. The nature of believed supernaturalism has, however, changed. And there *has* been a big change among ruling elites and in the public domain which they control.

2. One reason I am interested by Mormons is that they refute the second part of the assertion: Mormonism emerged, grew up in and participated in the post-industrialization rise in peace, prosperity and comfort; yet retained devoutness and the major biological hallmark of adaptedness: fertility among the elites. Mormons confirm that devout, traditional religiousness is compatible with modernity - at least over the medium term (several generations).

So I think it is essentially false to say that decline in supernaturalism is *caused* by prosperity in a qualitative sense - although I am happy to concede that there is a contingent qualitative relationship - which comes from human choice: specifically the choice to abandon traditional Christianity and the like, and to adopt one of the new ideologies of hedonism.

Reg Perrin said...

If it's any consolation, most secular liberals of my acquaintance seem to become extraordinarily angry when one suggests that modern liberalism is the inheritance of Christianity.

Maybe it is unsettling for some to learn that the ideas of freedom of conscience, speech and suffrage make no sense outside of a system in which man has the dignity of being made in the image of God.

Brandon said...

Yes! Please write more on this, Dr. Charlton. We must engage the secular right. The Nietzschean idea that modernity and liberalism sprang from Christian roots is a powerful one which needs strong counter-argument.

dearieme said...

Surely Christianity was fragmented from its early days?

I'll grant you that the Pope's flounce-out from the other patriarchates was a big deal, though.

James A. Donald said...

Christianity became corrupted, then became secular because corrupted. It did not become corrupted because secular. It was corrupt when it opposed New Testament style marriage, slavery and supported the emancipation of women.

To argue that secularism caused the rot, you have to put the rot beginning around 1950, just as to argue that Jews caused the rot, you have to put the rot beginning around 1950, but the problem set in much earlier.

The Puritans, from the execution of the Charles the first to the restoration of Charles the second were clearly Christian, their major defect being that they were holier than thou, and were clearly leftists and the precursors of modern leftism.

They raised the age of consent, and prohibited marriage as a sacrament. Marriage became completely secular, resulting in brief and symmetric marriage vows. No more did the wife promise to love, honor, and obey, and the husband promise to love, honor, and cherish. No more was marriage accompanied by a long lecture on the New Testament definition of marriage, presented in the presence of all the relatives and friends, including numerous patriachs and alpha males willing and able to enforce that doctrine.

The puritans made divorce easier.

The puritans did not like the New Testament doctrine that marriage was an irrevocable commitment to, among other things, sexually gratify one's spouse regardless of whether you felt like it or not. They did not like people having fun, and particularly did not like males having fun, hence did not want a license for men to have fun to be a sacrament.

The puritans were and are leftists, undermining society, killing the King, suppressing excessive wealth, undermining marriage, and being general uptight killjoys who get offended by just about everything. Being offended is a power play. They are holier than me so supposedly I have to do what they say.

The puritans are what you get when people compete for power by competing to be holier than thou.

When priests get the upper hand over nobles and soldiers, they promptly start competing to be holier than thou, in the process they pervert their religion.

Christianity did not become corrupted by secularism. It became secular due to corruption - they pursued supposedly noble goals that were incompatible with the new testament, in particular the suppression of slavery and the emancipation of women - noble goals that somehow wound up advancing their political power.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - "Christianity became corrupted, then became secular because corrupted." - Agreed, that's what secularism is, at root; apostasy, corruption, worldliness.

But your description of what happened is purely worldly. At the deepest level what was going on was spiritual. For example, the Reformation was mixed - on the one hand a genuine increase in holiness from rejection of worldly corruption, superstition and idolatry; on the other hand (these being fallen men, and Satan being active) this got mixed up with anti-Catholic hatred, power seeking and over-reach.

The Puritan temptation is to focus excessively on one side of a problem, and ignore the other side. To deal with the potential for idolatry by iconoclasm; to deal with the *worship of* (instead of veneration of) Saints by eliminating or ignoring Saints, to eliminate the problem of drunkenness by universal teetotalism (including the elimination of wine from Holy Communion) etc.

All of these then leave Christianity incomplete and unbalanced.

However, the shape of history is such that the past level and of fullness of Christianity is now impossible in most of the world, and a partial and imbalanced and very obviously flawed Christianity is all that is possible to us: therefore that is what *must* be accepted, and indeed embraced to the best of our abilities.

In other words, all real Christians are *in practice*, nowadays, adherents of Mere Christianity (of one sort or another).

Our focus is narrower than in the past, and so long as we agree to the broad brush non-negotiable essentials of the faith (which definition therefore excludes most of Liberal Christianity), we must refrain from inter-denominational nit-picking over secondary aspects and details.

commonwealth contrarian said...

According to the decline of christianity leads to liberalism argument, the most religious countries should be the least liberal, and the least religious countries the most liberal.

However, there is no clear link. The US is the most religious westrn country, but is also very liberal on a number of key measures, particularly its legal system and its education and immigration policy.

On balance, I'd rate Switzerland as the most right wing western country (right wing on gun laws, immigration policy, education policy and relatively moderate on taxation) yet Swizerland isn't very religious.

As far as the secular right argument goes, there is link but not a very direct one. Protestantism has a very strong link with classical liberalism, since its a more individualistic form of christianity than Catholicism.

In turn modern left liberalism is a hybrid of various aspects of classical liberalism and socialism. It rejects the collectivist and authoritarian aspects of economic socialism and the economic individualism of classical liberalism.

Anonymous said...

The solution is religion, but I doubt it will be Christianity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@cc in comparing most and least liberal among secular Western societies, most of the variation is caused by noise and other factors.

If Switzerland may or may not be considered relatively right wing, but that just depends on your choice of secular measures. A country with a fertility rate of 1.5 is very leftist by world historical standards.

As for nomenclature, the political spectrum runs from secular Left to Religious Right. Both classical liberalism and socialism are secular and Left - although they are not identical, the similarities are more important than the differences.

Bruce Charlton said...

@oo - On present trends I agree that you are correct: the other proselytizing monotheism is looking stronger.

George Goerlich said...


I disagree with your assessment of America. The conservative, southern-religious types tend to support low-taxes, high birthrate, self-reliance and firearm ownership.

It is mostly the secular left on the east (NYC) and west (Hollywood) coasts that support abortion, open immigration, leftist public education and firearm restrictions. These interests are very powerful and purposely ignore middle-America and constantly mock Southern conservatives as backwards and stupid in mainstream media.

If southern secession had ben permitted we may in fact have had a very conservative, religious country.

Thursday said...

"There has not been a decline in supernaturalism as such, or very little."

You are directly contradicting C.S. Lewis here.

"Mormons confirm that devout, traditional religiousness is compatible with modernity - at least over the medium term (several generations)."

I'd take severe issue with the word "traditional." In any event, they are a tiny group.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thu- For example, psychic dreams:

Mormons aren't tiny. In the US there are about as many Mormons as there were people in England of 1800; plus a similar number in the rest of the world.

George Goerlich said...

I'm disappointed by how hard the Mormons are trying to attract new recruits by marketing to prove how mainstream and politically correct they are.

Thursday said...

1. Psychic dreams like many supernatural phenomena have gone down a lot. In the Third World pretty much everybody believes in them. That 30 something % of the population holds some supernatural beliefs in any strength, along with another 40 to 60% of people (depending on the country) holding extremely vestigial supernatural beliefs, is not reassuring. No one is saying that supernaturalism has disappeared.

2. There are also as many Christians in India as there are Canadians. So what? They are still a tiny percentage of India's population.

Mormon's are 2% of the U.S. population the country where they are largest. As a percentage of the West they are insignificant. As a percentage of the world they are insignificant. Their growth rates in the Third World are not any greater than religious groups, like the Anglicans or Mennonites, that are thoroughly moribund in the West.

James A. Donald said...

> "But your description of what happened is purely worldly. At the deepest level what was going on was spiritual. For example, the Reformation was mixed - on the one hand a genuine increase in holiness from rejection of worldly corruption, superstition and idolatry;"

Romans 14 tells us that concern that other Christians are being idolatrous and superstitious will have the results that it did have.

War on Christmas and war on the saints has the same obvious worldly explanation as war on racism and war on misogyny. It is a power play, it is being holier than thou - it is the priesthood trying for the upper hand over the military and nobility.

You may well believe that the founding of Christianity requires an other worldly account, but its decline is fully described by a this worldly explanation.

Theocracy can only work if being holier than the King is bad for one's career. Otherwise it succumbs to the ailments described in Romans 14.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - I agree, it does seem rather a bad line to take; since Mormons are totally unacceptable to PC people for several reasons including their partiarchal structure, the centrality of marriage and traditional sexual morality. These cannot change without destroying Mormonism. Given these (and other) facts, no amount of 'diversity' will make any difference to PC unacceptability, so it seems futile (and counter-productive) to emphasize it - it looks like weakness, not strength.

(Rather as if the Amish were to put forward in advertisements the few examples of recent technology they allow, in order to demonstrate how 'modern' they really are. This would merely show that the Amish were losing self-confidence; and that's what these Mormon adverts signal.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - What can I say? Your explanations exclude Christianity, thus they implicitly deny Christianity has any real-world reality. To this Christian it just reads like a non-Christian deceptively trying to get Christians to support a secular-hedonic socio-political program on pseudo-Christian grounds; by selective, unbalanced and un-contextualized citation of scripture. Where are the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love - Love being the greatest? What I hear is rights talk, legalism, conflict, power striving, zero-sum games; and the highest values being status, prosperity and pleasure.

James A. Donald said...

> it just reads like a non-Christian deceptively trying to get Christians to support a secular-hedonic socio-political program on pseudo-Christian grounds

Christianity, as specified in the new testament, commanded a pretty reasonable social program for this world, to be socially and culturally enforced by the Church and the congregation, and pretty reasonable this worldly institutions for the church in this world. I support that program and those institutions for pragmatic, practical, and this worldly reasons. For whatever reason, you, like the vast majority of modern "Christians", don't support them. If you don't, then, in the end, neither of us is Christian.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - You know you are not a Christian - because, as yet, you do not want to be. I know I am a Christian: Christ is my Lord and Saviour. There are some few things a Christian must believe, there are more things where there is scope for disagreement - for example whether baptism should be of infants or at an older age. Some recent changes in Christianity are an attack very close to the core of the faith, but others are harmful for reasons of expediency because they tend to damage the strength and resilience of the church. That's what you are talking about. Sexual roles and relations are important, and the topic should not be neglected, but they are not (certainly not necessarily) a matter of individual salvation.

But a norm or average (with individual exceptions, naturally) of traditional intersexual behaviour is almost certainly necessary for any church to thrive over the long term: see The Church Impotent, by L.J. Podles -

James A. Donald said...

> "I know I am a Christian: Christ is my Lord and Saviour. There are some few things a Christian must believe, there are more things where there is scope for disagreement"

The New Testament prescribes a disturbingly moderate line on slavery, even though slavery is obviously wrong. So, it is seemingly obvious that if Christians take sterner line against slavery, they are more virtuous, hence more Christian.

Yet in the end, those churches who took a line against slavery so stern (fire and sword) as to be clearly and directly contrary to the epistle of Philemon somehow ceased to be Christian.

A Christian can be an iconoclast, or not an iconoclast, and still be Christian either way. He can celebrate Christmas traditionally, or avoid all Christmas traditions that are primarily pagan, and still be Christian either way. But if a church or religious movement starts giving other Christians a hard time for the pagan elements of Christmas, in direct contradiction to Romans 14, in practice we observe that pretty soon he is going to be giving Christians a hard time for the Christian elements of Christmas.

Thus in practice, as an empirical observation, even if an individual can be pretty elastic in his reading of the New Testament, which was, after all, written for men, not theologians, and still be a Christian, a church that is unduly elastic in its reading of the New Testament in due course ceases to be Christian.

I am told that the reed bends to the storm, but that when the storm passes, the reed stands up again. But in this case the storm is a government that regards religions as arbitrary labels on bottles that can be filled with any content, and intends to entirely empty those bottles of Christian content and fill them with progressive content.

If there is not much a Christian needs to believe, then indeed these bottles can contain any fluid whatever.

And, in a concerted and determined effort to empty those bottles of one content, and fill them with another, that effort will in due course succeed. The church can survive repression, indeed thrive upon it, but "flexibility" has proven more deadly.

Progressives are doing to Christianity what Christians did to the pagan elements: Convert the elite by a mixture of persuasion and compulsion, and then empty out the old content (Yule celebrating the renewal of the unconquered sun) and replace it with new content (Christmas celebrating the birth of the Christ child)

As the unconquered sun was replaced with the Christ child back then, Christ the redeemer gets replaced with Jesus the community organizer today.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - Your line of argument comes from what is called Religious Studies; and is intrinsically opposed to Theology.

Of course there are overlaps, but essentially you are arguing from different premises - non-Christian premises.

So, what you have to say is worse than useless to a Christian, it is actively deceptive - Antichrist kind of deception.

The closer you stick to Christianity, without being a Christian, the worse it gets! - because you *always* leave out the essence.

Christianity without Christ is just demonic. The fact that you might correct one set of abuses with your proposals and evaluations only conceals the greater damage you would do to the faith elsewhere - at its heart.

You are using the imperfections of actual Christians, which are inevitable and indeed extreme at this point in history, as a way-in to propose changes that would eliminate Christianity altogether, displacing it with a non-Christian way of understanding and mode of evaluation.

If you ever become a Christian you will, like I did about most of my pre-Christian writings, repent with sorrow all the stuff about Christianity that you are writing these days; and you will pray that nobody has been deceived by it.

Imnobody said...

I don't think it is a either-or situation. I think both positions are true.

If a fruit rots and becomes poisonous,

a) The rotten fruit comes from the not rotten fruit.

b) The poison of the fruit can't be blamed on the not rotten fruit (but on the rotting process: bacteria, etc).

Christianity has been rotting for a long time and liberalism is the rotten Christianity.

It has rotten and has lost its very essence: God, Christ, the Original Sin... So it cannot be called Christianity but its origins stem from Puritan Christianity.

The closer you stick to Christianity, without being a Christian, the worse it gets! - because you *always* leave out the essence.

Exactly. That's what liberalism is. Adopting some values spread by Christianity (and which were unknown in the pagan world) while leaving its very essence. So the system is untenable and contradictory ("Thought Prison").

It's like we have a building (Christianity) and the main pillars and foundation have been removed so it only remains a bunch of ruins (liberalism), where it is impossible to live.

What to do? Try to live among the ruins? (liberals) Clean the ruins and try to build a house without pillars? (secular right) Or rebuild a house with pillars? (Christians and Muslims).

Disclaimer: I am a Christian but I think that Muslims are going to make it and we are not going to make it, unfortunately.

Bruce B. said...

A Christian heresy doesn’t have to be “essentially Christian.” You can strip away enough basic Orthodox belief or distort Christian beliefs enough to make a heresy essentially un-Christian. If that’s what happened with Leftism, then a way out of this mess is by destroying the heresy.

I’m assuming that by Leftism you mean the adherence to the revolutionary trinity of liberty, fraternity and equality. These concepts, as understood by leftists, are atheist-leftist deformations of Christian concepts. Since Christianity never attained the ideals implied by the leftist-distorted versions of these concepts, it had to go.

Thursday said...

It is also important to note that something much closer to our modern left liberalism arose in China well before the advent of Christianity. The Chinese philosophers Mo Tzu, advocated universal compassion based on consequentialist ethics very similar to our modern liberalism. (Interestingly, the school of thought founded by Confucius and his followers is very close to traditionalist conservatism, while Chinese Legalism is not all that different from fascism.)

Something like liberalism also arose among the Greeks. The ethical stance of, say, Democritus is awfully close to utilitarianism, as are the those of the Epicureans, including Lucretius. Now, it is true that, unlike with Mo Tzu, it is difficult to tell if Democritus and those in the atomist tradition would have tended more towards classical right wing liberalism or more towards our modern left liberalism. But they do seem to have come to a broadly liberal moral position without the influence of Christianity. I would also note that, also like many contemporary liberals, both the Mohists and the atomists had serious scientific, rationalist bent to them.

Thursday said...

The case could be made that Christianity does liberalize religion to some degree, by making it universal, for example, as opposed to the particularism of Judaism or the heathen religions. (I simplify here to some degree, but Christianity is generally a more universal religion than its predecessor.) And this, of course, represents, to adopt Jonathan Haidt's terminology, a shift from the moral foundation of group loyalty to the moral foundations of care and justice. But it should be obvious that Christianity, unlike liberalism, never denies the importance of the transcendent moral foundations of loyalty, authority, and holiness. Indeed, it celebrates them.

There is a place for those who remind us of the importance of compassion and justice, but that place is within the framework of a traditional society committed to the transcendent.