Nick Spencer takes on some of our most problematic misunderstandings of the past.
QUESTION: What do you think are the most problematic misunderstandings about Christianity’s role in that foundational sense?
The most problematic one is that Christianity is the nightmare from which we are trying to escape, and it’s Voltaire and Kant who did it for us. That’s not true. There’s a slightly less egregious version of that, which is that what went beforehand was largely immaterial and indifferent – maybe not actively unhelpful, but certainly not relevant, and if you want to understand the modern world, go back to 1815, say, or perhaps 1914.
Any moment in history is only the most recent moment and sits on top of layer upon layer upon layer of ideas and beliefs and commitments and practices and habits and institutions that have enabled that particular moment to be what it is. Christianity has been absolutely foundational. It hasn’t been the whole story, by any means; it hasn’t always been used on the side of the political or the cultural or the economic angels. But to think you can understand the present, let alone the past; to think you can understand our idea of rights, democracy, human dignity, the Scientific Revolution, even the welfare state without understanding Christianity … you’re making a big mistake.