Some may be cheering as they witness the rising wave of Euro-secularization, where many in western societies have become increasingly atheistic, post-material, and secular. Ron Inglehart of the University of Michigan’s World Values Surveys has distinguished these “secular/rational and self-expressive” countries from the “traditional/religious and survival” countries in other poorer parts of the world (Inglehart, 2000).
Yet although the West has experienced a sea change in growth over the past two hundred years due to capitalism, industrialization and our current knowledge economy, these trends are not without their ugly moral underbellies of chaos. Without checks on this wave of “progress” and a return to order, we may fall victim to problems that have arisen in the past when societal values misaligned with human moral foundations.
Accordingly, the intention of this article is to dive into history to offer a glimpse into the foundations upon which we have built western Christian societies. Along these lines, I will offer a few points concerning the rise of Christianity and the many ways it has helped to shape our prosperity, order, and morality.
Christianity in the Roman Empire
Imagine living in the Roman Empire around 100 AD. Pagans placed very little value on human lives, often engaging in abortions, infanticides, child abandonment, human sacrifices, and suicides. These activities were prevalent for Romans and Greeks, as documented by Greeks, Romans, and church fathers, including Cicero (104-43 BC), Polybius (~205 BC-118BC), Suetonius (69-140), Euripedes (5th century BC), Clement of Alexandria (2nd century AD), Tertullian (~200 AD), and Lactantius, the church father who tutored one of Constantine’s sons (Schmidt, 2004, p. 49, 52-53). They further engaged in other forms of depravity, including bestiality, sexual immorality, idolatry, group sex, pederasty, and adultery. As an example, the second century Latin author Apuleius speaks of Romans having sex with donkeys and of a woman called Pasiphae who had sex with a bull (Schmidt, 2004, p. 90). Archaeological findings have further presented evidence of such depravity, as portrayed vividly on pagan household items such as frescoes, bowls, lamps, and cups (Clarke, 1999).
Emperors frequently held gladiatorial events where the losers were mauled to death by other gladiators or animals to the roaring cheers of the crowds. In the first century, the Roman writer Seneca (in Lucilium Epistulae Morales 7.5) commented on the way spectators roared at the gladiatorial events “Kill him! Lash him! Brand him! Why does he meet the sword so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly? Why doesn’t he die game? Whip him to meet his wounds!”
Many Christians were appalled at the gladiatorial events as they placed a much greater value on human life. Tertullian the church father (220 AD) strongly admonished any Christians who attended the gladiatorial events in his book de Spectaculis (Concerning Shows). Christ instructed His children to walk the moral high ground and to show full love for humanity.
“It was Christianity’s high value of human life, together with its belief that God had sent his Son, Jesus Christ, so that people might have life more abundantly both here and hereafter, that slowly undermined the gladiatorial contests” (Schmidt, 2004, p. 63). Christian emperor Theodosius I (378-395) eliminated gladiatorial contests in the East, while his son Honorius eliminated them in the West (404) (Schmidt, 2004, p. 63).
Christians were also appalled at the immorality and lack of value placed on human life, which was so prevalent in the Roman Empire (and in the Aztec and Inca Empires, which they discovered later). Jesus called on a one-on-one relationship between husbands and wives, while Paul highlighted the sanctity of the marital relationship (Ephesians 5:25). Marriage was seen as a sacred institution with dignity and honor. The pagan Libanius summed up the views toward Christian women’s “high level of commitment and dedication to their role as wives and mothers. ‘What women these Christians have!’” (Schmidt, 2004, p. 85). In contrast, Roman and Greek women were reputedly known for their adultery, lewd acts and prostitution (Schmidt, 2004).
Christianity and Women
Jesus exalted women throughout His ministry, often caring for them no matter their lowly positions and second-class citizenship in society. Women were the first to discover His empty tomb according to all four gospels, which is monumental considering the testimonies of women were not considered valid (as reported by Josephus). St. Paul further recognized several important women in the early church (e.g., Acts 18:2-3) and elevated them to equal status and treatment by their husbands in the home (c.f., Ephesians 5:21).
Thanks to the seeds planted in the early church, we witness highly successful women in all walks of life today, whether running large corporations, serving on corporate boards, or taking on the roles of presidents and prime ministers of their countries.
The Christian treatment of women did not only manifest in the West. In eastern civilizations, outcries from Christian missionaries led to the outlawing of female foot binding in China in 1912 (Schmidt, 2004). The Christian British government ended the centuries-long practice of suttee in 1829, which is when Hindu widows are burned at a stake when their husbands pass away. Female genital mutilation, which is still practiced in the Arab region and in Africa, is outlawed in western societies. Many in the West have decried this egregious practice.
Christianity and Education
Women were also elevated in the classroom. Unlike the educational institutions of the time, which were primarily geared to elite males, Christians opened schools that were available to men and women of all classes. In 425, Emperor Theodosius II, a Christian, built a school of higher education that had 31 professors who taught Greek, Latin, law and philosophy (Schmidt, 2004). According to William Ramsay, Christianity’s aim was “universal education, not education confined to the rich, as among Greeks and Romans…and it [made] no distinction of sex” (as cited in Schmidt, 2004).
Christianity and Hospitals
Unlike their Roman counterparts, who routinely cast off their weakest, sickest, and poorest, Christians tended to them by establishing hospitals (Schmidt, 2004). They established the first institutionalized hospitals throughout the West, which served all. As an example, the Nosocomia was built by St. Basil in Caesarea around 369 AD. Roman comparables, including the valetudinarian, latreia, and Aesculapia were considered “hospitals” but they were only open to sick slaves, gladiators, and sometimes soldiers. Sick civilians had no place of refuge until Christians stepped in (Schmidt, 2004). Christians also established mental hospitals and monasteries to care for others.
Christianity and Political Systems
In the early part of the last century, Max Weber wrote “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” where he identified reasons behind successful industrialization in western Europe and the United States. He pointed to the Protestant appreciation for thrift by comparing many modest Protestant churches to much more elaborate Catholic churches throughout Europe. He further identified the Protestant desire to work hard and to prosper, which Protestants believe is consistent with the Parable of the Minas, many passages in the book of Proverbs, Acts and the Pauline Epistles.
Capitalism, which puts money in the hands of entrepreneurial and innovative businessmen, has been heralded as transforming the West from primarily agrarian to today’s knowledge economy. This political system contrasts socialism, which puts control and power in the hands of the government, which is not as inclined to be efficient. Capitalism created and imbued a middle class, which is the building block of societies.
Socialism often reduces the desire for hard workers to work hard as individual rewards aren’t as well-recognized or compensated. The government has more control over pricing and income is more evenly distributed between the rich and the poor via the redistribution of wealth. The natural motivation for humans to innovate, achieve, and reap rewards is therefore stifled under many socialist or communist systems.
Capitalism is a product of individualism, which values individual achievement over equality of outcomes. The former describes the Christian experience over the past centuries, while the latter describes the forms of the civilizations from which Christianity arose or within which it was persecuted. Witness the deaths of over 100 million people and the widespread persecutions of the church in the last century under communist despots (and atheists) Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.
St. Paul elevated individuals in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:23) “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” He further chastised the lazy within the early church, warning them if they didn’t work, they wouldn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
In his letter to the Romans (12:6-8), St. Paul said that “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith, in service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching, the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” In the book of Luke, Jesus added, “To whom much has been given, much will be expected” (Luke 12:48). In other words, Christians are called to capitalize on their individual spiritual gifts in their work for the Kingdom. Proportionality is valued.
In summary, Christianity has been instrumental in advocating for private ownership, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship and these systems have enabled many in the globe to survive and thrive. Yet with every great achievement comes a great setback – and with order comes chaos.
Euro-secularization and the Extreme Liberals
In an odd flashback to the Roman Empire, the rise of secularization in Europe has coincided with a rise in sexually perverted or humanely insensitive or egregious acts there. Examples include an increase in zoophilia (bestiality), a new industry of sex doll brothels, legalized prostitution, and an increase in pro-choice abortion measures (i.e., Ireland). Without a moral foundation or external authority who forbids sexually deviant acts or the murder of the innocent, the increasingly atheistic and wealthy countries of northern and western Europe have become less adherent to purity and the sanctity of life. Too many social safety nets and generous welfare systems have led to more single parents, as social safety nets rather than spouses can provide for children. Too many social safety nets have also led many from the churches, as social safety nets have taken their places.
Animal rights supporters have expressed tremendous concern over the rise in bestiality brothels in several countries of Europe, including Germany and Denmark, where opponents have challenged the law (Click here for more information: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2352779/Bestiality-brothels-spreading-Germany-campaigner-claims-abusers-sex-animals-lifestyle-choice.html). Bestiality, which occurs when people have sex with animals, is legally protected in Sweden, Finland, Hungary and Denmark (Click here for more information: https://www.thedailybeast.com/denmarks-bestiality-problem-its-legal). Studies have linked bestiality with a greater propensity for sexual violence between people.
Sex doll brothels are popping all up over Europe (As an example, click here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/uknews/5742146/inside-british-sex-doll-brothel/). For a fee, patrons can spend an allotted amount of time in a private room with a sex doll primarily constructed from rubber. Supporters of this dehumanizing industry are in the United Kingdom, Paris, Barcelona, and Denmark.
Transgenderism in children is also on the rise. According to the United Kingdom Government Equalities Office (cited in Bannister, 2018), between 2009/2010 and 2017/2018 the number of girls referred to doctors for gender treatment rose 4,415%, from 40 to 1,806; the number of boys rose by 1,151%, from 57 to 713. In 2017, 800 children were given drugs to stall the onset of puberty, including some who were only 10 years old; 45 who were 6 years or under were referred to the UK’s National Health Service for treatment, including one who was only 4 years of age.
Finally, abortion is legal in almost every country of the European Union, though some countries (such as Poland) have restrictions that limit when and why women can have abortions. (Click here for more information: https://www.france24.com/en/20180525-abortion-laws-vary-eu-ireland-malta-poland-termination). Malta has outlawed it completely.
Are these signs of progress or regress? I suspect we’re only in the infant stages of Euro-secularization and I fear what lies ahead. If the European “empire” follows the footsteps of our Roman predecessors, we’re in for trouble. History often repeats itself. In that case, we can expect to witness the legalization of pederasty, late-term abortions, infanticides, and child abandonment. We can expect to check the sanctity of our bodies at the door as we move into a room in which people inflict abhorrent acts upon one another – and no one seems the least bit bothered as their consciences have been seared. We can expect a sea of gender-fluid children populating our elementary schools where everyone is curious and no one seeks an understanding of or conformity to their biological identities. And perhaps most extreme, we can expect the return of Colosseum-style battles in which prisoners of war are hauled out in front of roaring crowds to be mauled for human pleasure. These are the outgrowths in societies in which morality is constantly being tested – and people keep accepting practices that go against their moral instincts.
Before advocates of Euro-secularization rejoice trends away from religion and tradition, it may be useful to consider the secular utility of religion, particularly of Christianity. The moral foundation upon which prosperity in Europe and North America has been built stands to be shattered in coming years with a rise in deviance away from our moral sensibilities. Christianity calls for sanctity, purity, and a focus on love and order. Euro-secularization may result in chaos and little appreciation for order and the sanctity of the human body.
Thank you for your time.
Bannister, C. (2018). Transgender kids in the U.K.: Number of girls jumps 4,415%, Number of boys rises 1,151%. CNS News. September 20. Accessed at https://www.cnsnews.com/blog/craig-bannister/transgender-kids-uk-number-girls-jumps-4415-number-boys-rises-1151
Clarke, J.R. (1999). Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 BC – 250 AD. Berkley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Inglehart, R. (2000). Culture and democracy. In Harrison, L.E. & Huntington, S.P. (eds.) (2000) Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Schmidt, A. (2004). How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Weber, M. (1905). The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Dover Publications.