- What’s Been Happening: A Review Part 1: Christianity and Human Rights
Periodically I will be letting the subscribers of this blog in on a number of different projects (such as TV programs, interviews, papers, books) that I have had the privilege of being involved in over the years. I think you will find these informative and hopefully you will want to engage in a conversation with the posters on this blog about the issues that are raised.
Christianity and human rights is one subject that is getting a fair bit of discussion in recent decades. To what extent do we owe a debt to Christianity for human rights we experience in the West? Or, have the abuses of the various forms of Christianity throughout history wiped out all goodwill to say anything on the matter of human rights? To be sure there are extremes but should the extremes of Christianity temper our view of the religion as a whole?
If we were to listen only to commentators such as Christopher Hitchens, Christianity and its sacred text has very little redeeming qualities. (Incidentally, I do not know if he ever spoke disparagingly or of the irony that his name “Christopher” is from the Greek Χριστοφορος (Christophoros) meaning “bearing Christ”). He said the following of the Bible:
The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals. (God is Not Great, (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2007), p. 102)
Despite such criticisms there are other atheists like Jürgen Habermas, who observes the pivotal role Christianity played in laying the foundation of our current liberal democracy,
Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk. (Time of transitions (Cambridge: Polity Press 2006), p. 150-151.)
Some years ago I had the privilege of interviewing John Witte, Jr., who is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law; McDonald Distinguished Professor; and Director, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. I invite you to watch that interview by clicking here:
Then let us know what you think about Witte’s analysis and what we can learn about the ongoing debate. I look forward to reading your comments!