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The New Political Christianity

Western civilisation has not succeeded because its liberal and secular principles are Christian; it has succeeded because Western Christians have accepted its liberal and secular values.

· 9 min read
Richard Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali with a Greek Orthodox fresco of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.
Richard Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Shutterstock and Wikimedia.

If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.
~C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is the best-known Christian apologist of the twentieth century. He devoted decades to producing books, articles, speeches, and radio addresses that aim to persuade readers and listeners that Christianity is true. However, he never tried to prove that the religion is pleasant, beneficial, or useful. In fact, he had no qualms acknowledging the contrary. “No half-measures are any good,” he writes of Christ’s message in Mere Christianity, explaining how Christians must give their whole selves over to faith, whatever challenges they may face in doing so. He knew that people had understandable problems accepting claims of miracles and supernatural beings, and reconciling Biblical inconsistencies, and that he needed to tackle these objections head-on.

Despite the best efforts of Lewis and his successors, Christianity has continued to decline in the Western world. The US is the most Christian country in the developed West—and even there, the number of Americans professing no religion has doubled in the last twenty years. The Christian apologists have largely lost the battle for hearts and minds against New Atheist heavyweights like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

But Christianity has recently gained some new defenders. And in direct contrast to C.S. Lewis’s approach, their defences of the religion are largely based on the argument that Christianity is socially useful or even essential.  

In July 2023, Konstantin Kisin, co-host of the popular Triggernometry podcast, published a blog post entitled “The Atheism Delusion” (a play on the title of Dawkins’s 2006 book The God Delusion). “The absence of old religion seems to produce only a vacuum into which a new religion rushes in,” he writes, arguing that this new religion offers no protection against Islamic extremism, nor a foundation for human rights. “The reason new atheism has lost its mojo is that it has no answers to the lack of meaning and purpose that our post-Christian societies are suffering from,” he concludes. “What will fill that void? Religious people have their answer. Do the rest of us?”

In November 2023, ex-Muslim writer and campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced that she had converted to Christianity. Western civilisation, she argues, is menaced by expansionist authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Beijing, globalism, Islamism, and “woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.” Only “our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition” can unite us in the face of these threats, according to Ali. But as several of her critics have pointed out, Ali’s article makes no reference to the death and resurrection of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, or other points of doctrine. Nor does she describe any personal connection with the Christian god. “Ayaan, you are no more a Christian than I am,” concludes Richard Dawkins in an open letter responding to her article. Pressed on her views by Dawkins in a recent debate, Ali said that she accepted the central tenets of the Christian faith, such as Christ’s sacrifice to redeem the sins of Man, and told him that her conversion was the result of a long and difficult personal struggle. But the pitch she has made to non-believers is political, not theological.

Then there is Jordan Peterson, who has become one of Christianity’s most forceful defenders, even though he does not appear to be a Christian in the conventional sense. In his Message to the Christian Churches of July 2022, he calls on these churches to proselytise to demoralised young men, urging them to do their “duty to the past and the community” by joining the ranks of believers. He is dismissive of those who don’t believe Christianity’s supernatural claims, asking bluntly: “Who cares what you believe?” and “Why is this about you?”

Ali is a Christian. Kisin does not claim to be one. It’s still unclear whether Peterson is—in a recent lengthy and probing interview on the subject, Alex O’Connor was unable to receive a firm answer from Peterson on this. “If I went back in time with a Panasonic video camera and put that camera in front of the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, would the little LCD screen show a man walk out of that tomb?,” O’Connor asked, trying to narrow Peterson down to a question with an unambiguous yes-no answer. “I would suspect yes,” Peterson responded, but he added that, “I have no idea what that means, and neither did the people who saw it.” But despite the differences in their relationships to the Church, all three commentators adopt a broadly similar line of argument: that Christianity is the cure for the societal ills caused by the excesses of progressive politics.

Unsurprisingly, few atheists have been persuaded by these arguments. “I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible,” argued Matt Dillahunty in a discussion with Douglas Murray. Like Lewis, Dillahunty is interested in whether Christianity is factually true, not whether it is useful. These arguments are also unsatisfactory to many Christians, who dislike the idea that their deeply held faith could be donned like a cloak. Criticising Peterson in an article for Australia’s Gospel Coalition in 2022, Dani Trewek writes that the Gospels are “not ultimately concerned with the earthly ‘optimisation’ of created man, but the eternal glorification of the Son of Man.”

But the truth or falsity of Christianity is a separate question from its historical and social impact. The advocates of political Christianity argue that Western civilisation has Christian foundations, and returning to those Christian roots can help protect Western values today. “As Tom Holland has shown in his marvellous book Dominion, all sorts of apparently secular freedoms—of the market, of conscience, and of the press—find their roots in Christianity,” writes Ali. So, how well do these claims stack up?

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