What does Secular Humanism contribute?
I didn't know I was going to be asked to defend theocracy tonight. And I didn't know I was going to be asked to attack democracy.
The Treaty of Tripoli was, as I recall, between the United States and the local government -- not a Caliphate, whatever the local government was, which was a Muslim government. And the United States wanted to make it clear that America is not analogous to Muslim . . .
Let's go back (and do) a little history, again. There's a fellow by the name of Brian Tierney who wrote a book called The Crisis of Church and State from 1050 to 1300. And what he did was, he quoted what different people had said about Church and State and the conflicts between the popes and the church authorities on the one hand, and different governing authorities on the other. And there are two verses that seem to crop up over and over again in these writings in the early Middle Ages. And those verses are "My kingdom is not of this world," and "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
When we talk about "secular values," that's different from talking about "Secular Humanism." I agree completely that democracy is probably the best -- well, I guess not completely, then -- that democracy is the best form of government. But I would say that democracy grows out of something more grassroots than that, something within the culture itself. The culture is influenced by religion.
How Christianity Made Scandinavia
David Landes said "In the tenth century, Europe was just coming out of a long torment of invasion, plunder, and rapine, by enemies form all sides." The Vikings were "So terrifying were these marauders, so ruthless their tactics (taking pleasure in tossing babies in the air and catching them on their lances . . . ), that the very rumor of their arrival" send everyone running. (Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 29)
A Muslim traveler visiting the Vikings in 922, the same century, said, "They are the filthiest of all Allah's creatures . . . addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day"). They left the poor to die, and they would have sex with a slave girl before sacrificing her, beating on their shields so the other girls wouldnt' hear. And the king lived like Jabba the Hut.
So 1000 years ago, the ancestors of modern Danes were sacrificing maidens and cruising the North Sea looking to pick up some monastic bling. Now they're riding bicycles to flower shops in Copenhagen. What happened?
To make history very simple, and maybe overly simple, the Gospel happened.
But here I agree with Dr. Zuckerman. There was a disconnect over several centuries, a misunderstanding over the relationship between the Gospel and government. First came a top-down Medieval Catholicism. People didn't read their Bibles because they were forbidden to. Then Lutheranism, and now the Bible was more important. And then, Pietism.
Eljas Orrman, in the Cambridge History of Scandinavia, says, "Christianity brought with it a new conception of responsibility for the poor and needy in society." Hospitals and what-not.
The murder rate in Stockholm in the 15th Century was about the same as New Orleans or Detroit today, 47 murders per one hundred thousand. Then in the 16th Century, half that. In the 17th Century, lower. The 18th Century, 4, and then one, and then its slightly increased since then.
According to Byron Nordstrom, "The Pietists' focus on the Scriptures and on compulsory confirmation (from 1726 in Sweden and from 1736 in Denmark) necessitated increased literacy."
Now it's interesting how often, when I'm reading Dr. Zuckerman's book, to see how many times Danes and Swedes themselves say, "Yes! Our culture -- not our government . . . "
There's a distinction between government and society. And what I'm arguing tonight, and maybe there's a little disconnect here, is society. When it comes to government, I totally agree that it should not be a theocracy. And I think the roots of that go back to the words of Jesus himself. Yes, it needed to be developed. And yes, there was also inspiration from the Greeks and the Romans.
But there's definitely a continuity . . . For example, if you look at someone like John Witherspoon, who was also one of the most important founding fathers, who was James Madison's teacher at Princeton University.
And the same thing in China, which I won't have time to get to tonight. But maybe we'll continue this discussion, and see what we're connecting and disconnecting on, here.
Phil Zuckerman (Thanks to Richard Wilson for transcribing this)
Phil Zuckerman (Thanks to Richard Wilson for transcribing this)
If the argument is that Christianity has done a lot of good in history? Yes. I agree.
No argument. If the argument is that Christianity improves certain civilizations tremendously from
what they were before- no argument. This is not a debate. I think the same thing could be said of Islam.
Did Islam improve the situation in the Arabian peninsula? You bet. That's not what I'm here to debate tonight.
I was asked, "What is a better basis for a civil society?"
So, let's look at the situation right now. What demographic group in the United States is the most Christian?
And I'm measuring that by, church attendance, faith in Jesus, belief that the scriptures are of divine
inspiration or origin, frequency of of prayer. Every measure you can think of. What demographic group in this country is the most Christian. African Americans. Now, what I'm going to say can be misinterpreted, and I hope it's not, but Dubois(?) would agree with me. What demographic group in this country faces the most problems.
Highest poverty rates. Highest murder rates. Highest teen pregnancy rates. Highest diabetes rates. Highest unemployment rates. You name it. So, do I think it's because they're Christian? Of course not! It's- something else is going on.
What demographic group in this country is the least Christian? Jews, and Asian Americans. Jews deny the divinity of Christ outright, so there's no- and Jews are actually the most secular group in America today. So we have two demographics. Asian Americans who do have a small proportion who are Christian but the majority are not, and they have high level of secular identification. Jews and Asian Americans are doing the best in this country.
Educational attainment. Income. Life expectancy. You name it. However you want to measure it. Now what's going on here? Do I think it's because they're not Christian? Of course not. How simplistic. How ridiculous.
But this should cause for pause. Something's going on here. Something other than Christianity would help us explain why these two groups are experiencing such different social realities. Let's broaden it.
PEW research gives us a lot of information. What are the most Christian states in this country?
Measured, again, by belief, behavior and belonging. Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma tied with Utah. These are the states with the highest murder rates. The highest poverty rates. Crumbling schools.
Underfunded hospitals. Highest murder rates. Highest obesity rates. You name it. However you like.
The least Christian states in America, again, measured by standard sociological measures of belief, behavior and belonging. Main, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. Fairing markedly better on all these indicators. Not every single one, and these are averages and percentages. Why? Is it because one's Christian and- No. I think something else is going on here, and what is that something else? Let's go to internationally.
The most Christian countries in the world today. Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Rwanda, Columbia, Brazil, Peru, Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico, Jamaica.
The most secular societies today- organically secular, meaning it's not being forced by some lunatic atheist dictator. Democratic societies that have given up their religion for the most part. Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, South Korea, Estonia, France, Russia, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, Great Britain, Australia, Belgium. Which set of countries is fairing the best? So you can take an individual demographic group, go to the states, or go internationally. We see the same correlation.
Those societies that are the most secular today are fairing the best on almost every measure. Compare Japan's murder rate to El Salvador's. Or Columbia's. Japan is one of the least Christian countries in the world.
El Salvador and Jamaica among the most. So if Christianity was the answer, we wouldn't see these correlations.
And granted they're just correlations, it's not causation. Something else is going on here. I agree that those countries that are doing well are coming out of a Christian heritage. I agree. But they are post-Christian now.
Society progresses. Society moves on. Society evolves. We know this. Do I think Christianity contributes much and continues to contribute much? You bet. And I don't want to see Christianity go away. I think Christianity has wonderful, wonderful, elements. I just don't want it to be 'the', 'the' basis. Not 'a' basis, but 'the' basis, and that's what this debate has asked me to say. What would happen if we declared Christianity the basis of American civil society? I don't think it would be very pretty. Thanks you.
Next Up: Part III, Q and A.
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(Note: I either did not get or did not seize the opportunity to answer Phil's argument here during our debate. I should have, but the timing was packed, and anyway, Phil vaguely argued correlation here, not causation, and that from what I call "satellite level," not from the ground level of real human lives. I had, however, previously answered much the same argument by Zuckerman's coauthor, Gregory Paul, and by Gary Jenson, in some detail -- an answer the great sociologist Rodney Stark said he liked, and which I have now posted on this site as a long article entitled "Does Faith in God Up the Murder Rate?". -- David)