In his essay “A Christian Foundation” (USA Today, October 22, 2007) Dinesh D’Souza argues, “Christianity has shaped the core institutions and values of the USA and the West. Christianity is responsible even for secular institutions such as democracy and science. It has fostered in our civilization values such as respect for human dignity, human rights, and human equality that even secular people cherish.”
While not wrong, Mr. D’Souza’s statement is meaningless. The West was overwhelmingly Christian, so of course the heroes of the Western democracy and science were Christian, but so too were the despots and madmen. Substitute “white men” for “Christianity” in his argument and, while still true, its silliness becomes even clearer. The fact that people of European Christian heritage brought us democracy and science does not mean that Christianity supported either.
For example, Roman Catholicism, and the Anglican and Lutheran churches supported the divine right of kings, not democracy; and Calvinist churches sought only to limit the king’s power not end it. And while it is true that the Puritans sought to escape the Anglican theocracy of Britain, they did not extend freedom of thought or worship to those who disagreed with them, and set up their own theocracies in America.
Regarding science Mr. D’Souza says, “The greatest scientists of the West…were Christians,” and lists Copernicus and Galileo to prove his point. Again this is meaningless! Copernicus feared death at the hands of the Inquisition if he published his theory that the earth orbits the sun. And when his “Revolution of the Celestial Spheres” was published after his death, the Church put it on its Index of Prohibited Books. And Galileo was forced by the Inquisition to recant his findings because they went against church doctrine, and then spent that last years of his life under house arrest. While Christian scientists struggled on in search of truth, they did so without the blessing of Christianity.
D’Souza then turns to the self-evident notion that “all men are created equal.” This, D’Souza claims, was only self-evident in Christian countries where “[e]very life has a worth no greater and no lesser than any other.” Ask Jews in Christian Europe if they were of equal worth. Ask Native Americans. Ask Africans slaves. Ask Indians. Ask women.
To prove the superiority of Christian civilization D’Souza then says, “Greek and Roman culture was built on slavery” implying that Christian culture was not. Talk about denial! Not only was America built on slavery; the overwhelmingly Christian South went to war because it was certain it could not survive without it. Yes, many devote Christians were passionate abolitionists, but Christian slaveholders were equally devote, and both justified their positions by citing their Christian values.
According to Mr. D’Souza, since Americans were (and are) overwhelmingly Christian, all things American are rooted in Christianity. Following this line of reasoning we could argue that Christianity is also responsible for slavery, the Civil War, the KKK, genocide against Native Americans, and racism. This wouldn’t be wrong, but it would be totally misleading.
I sympathize with Mr. D’Souza’s desire to defend his faith, but to do so in such an intellectually disingenuous manner does more harm than good.