I just watched the video “Western Civilization is Based on Judeo-Christian Values – Debunked” and found the arguments made by Rationality Rules weak. I’ll comment after the video:
First of all, some of the quotes used to illustrate the claim do not do so:
“The values that resonate most with human beings are eternal, not changeable and not relativistic. They are universal. They are not group specific, and most of all they apply to individual human beings not group labels. Those values were first embedded clearly and concisely in the Ten Commandments.” — Ben Shapiro
Here Shapiro claims only that morals are absolute and universal, and apply to individuals. He then makes the claim that the Ten Commandments were the first clear and concise description of them. He does not claim that they were the source of western civilization.
“Judeo-Christian values are predicated on the existence of a God of morality. The entire Western world–what we call Western civilization–is based on this understanding” — Prager U.
This quotes does illustrate the claim, and also another claim that I think is much more amenable to debate: that these values are predicated on the existence of God.
“To make a rational argument you have to start with an initial proposition. Well, the proposition that underlies Western culture is that there’s a transcendent morality.” — Jordan Peterson
This statement doesn’t refer to Judeo-Christian values in any way. How is it relevant?
“European and American culture, which is based on Judeo-Christian values, is better than other cultures. I think it’s uncontroversial to say so.” — Milo Yianoppoulos
Here the claim is embedded in the statement that western culture is superior to other cultures, which I tend to agree with.
“That was the basic foundation of America; it was a Judeo-Christian ethic; it was Judeo-Christian reasoning.”
It’s hard to debate that the founders of America did not follow a Judeo-Christian ethic and reasoning. They were Christians after all.
“The Catholic Church built Western civilization.” — Why be Catholic
This is absolutely true. Catholicism conquered all of Europe, unified it, and created the base upon which the enlightenment was built. Catholics founded the first universities. Catholics rediscovered the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Catholic philosophers like Thomas Aquinus incorporated the ancient philosophies into Christian thought.
“Western civilization at large was built upon Christianity. That’s a fact.”
I agree, and so do most people who have studied history. If Rationality Rules wants to claim otherwise, he will have to make strong arguments.
And yet this claim is absolute nonsense and what’s worse it’s often not even an argument. It’s just an assertion; a statement that straight out ignores history and science.
You are the one ignoring history. When you want to take on the status quo, it is up to you to argue your case, not them.
Refuting it tends to [only] require a swift motion from Hitchens razor: “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.
Your claim that they are wrong can be dismissed the same way. Bring on your evidence.
[When] evidence is actually given it tends to be in reference to morality, which in effect is the assertion Western morality is based on the assumption that the Abrahamic God exists.
I would agree with this. Rationality Rules then injects some quotes to illustrate his point. Again, not all of the quotes do:
“Most people in this room act out a Judeo-Christian ethic.” — Jordan Peterson
This is a claim about a specific group of people in Canada. It makes no claim about the entirety of western civilization. Do you disagree that the average Canadian philosophy student’s ethics are not fundamentally Judeo-Christian?
“I’m arguing that the ethic that drives our culture is predicated on the idea of God” — Jordan Peterson
This claim is that ethics derive from the idea of God, not that they derive from Judeo-Christian ethics. The two are not the same.
The first thing to be said about most of those who make this assertion is that they are utterly ignoring history before Judaism and in doing so they’re just expecting us to assume that before its inception, people somehow didn’t know that it’s wrong to kill exploit and steal; that before the Ten Commandments life was nasty brutish. This simply isn’t true.
No, they aren’t. They are saying that western civilization is based on Catholicism, which was based in turn upon Judaism. Even Shapiro does not make the claim that Judaism is the source, only that it was the first religion to specify its moral principles clearly and concisely.
Evidence shows that official laws against murder and theft date back at least four thousand four hundred years to Lagos Mesopotamia which of course is six hundred years before the birth of Judaism and that official laws abolishing slavery only date back 200 years which of course is 3,600 years after Judaism. But since these facts don’t fit the Judeo-Christian narrative [they] just ignore them. It’s not like Abrahamic religion hasn’t ignored and still ignores facts that contradict it.
The ancient law being referred to is the Code of Ur-Nammu. Judaism is based on the Canaanite (Syriac) religion, which in turn goes back to the Mesopotamians. Western civilization inherited these laws from Christianity and Judaism, not directly from these older sources. While it is true that abolishing slavery in the west happened 200 years ago, those who abolished it were Christians, acting out of a Christian ethic. Christianity and Judaism are (in their non-fundamentalist forms) always evolving.
To put this all another way, most of those who make this assertion just expect us to believe that an evolved social species somehow didn’t evolve social norms, despite all of the evidence telling us otherwise such as the fact that wolves, elephants, chimpanzees, rats, bats, and whales have all been proven to exhibit moral behavior.
Is this a claim that rats have the ability to think about their actions? Without consciousness, morality is impossible. The fact that an animal does things that appear moral to us does not mean the animal is doing them out of a conscious sense of right and wrong. Rocks generally don’t go around murdering people; that doesn’t make them moral.
For some reason required divine intervention.
Tribes of Chimpanzees will murder each other. In prehistory, humans were much the same. At some point, we began to develop archetypes, which primitive men called gods. Religion became a way of unifying multiple tribes into a people. While you may or may not believe this came about by divine intervention, religion was a necessary step in developing laws that were greater than those of a single tribe.
We seem to have a hard time understanding how human morality could have emerged naturally when it’s really quite simple. We are sentient beings that have evolved the capacity to feel pain and the desire to avoid it and our recognition that the best way to achieve this is by cooperating and establishing rules is morality.
This is highly simplistic. Tribal cultures do not consider killing someone who is not part of the tribe to be immoral. Universal morality, which seems counter to survival in many cases, emerged from the great religions. Unlike Judaism, which offered salvation only to the Jewish people, Christianity was inclusive, allowing anyone, Jew or gentile, citizen or slave, to join. This was a revolution in morality.
It’s that simple morality isn’t this mysterious unfathomable thing the religious need it to be. To paraphrase the founding father and second US President John Adams, “mystery is a convenient excuse for absurdity.”
Morality is almost as mysterious as consciousness. How did we come to believe that all humans have certain fundamental rights, when doing so offers no obvious evolutionary benefit?
With the question of where do moral values come from answered I’m convinced that the best way to succinctly address the primary assertion is to first identify Western values and to then trace back when where and why they emerged. Let’s start with freedom of speech the very bedrock of a free society and the right that allows us to enact and defend all other rights. Is this Western value of Judeo-Christian origin? No. Both the old and new Testament proclaimed strict limitations on free speech through primarily blasphemy laws and until very recently Jewish and Christian governments declared exactly the same. The Inquisition was the antithesis of free speech as they literally incinerated anyone who didn’t share their barbaric unenlightened beliefs. So far as evidence indicates the principle of free speech and expression dates back 2500 years to ancient Athens and the Roman Republic, but true freedom of speech didn’t emerge until the early enlightenment in 1689 with first the British Bill of Rights and shortly after the French Revolution 3,500 years after Judaism and 1700 years after Christianity.
Where did the enlightenment come from? A Christian society. The ideas of the ancient Greeks were taken by Christian scholars, clergymen, and formed the basis of modern laws. The British were staunchly Christian in 1689.
Moving on what about Liberty, the abolition of slavery and with it the pursuit of happiness. Did this value that so characterizes the West come from Judaism or Christianity? Again no. The old and new Testament both explicitly endorsed slavery and in fact provide rules and regulations for several categories of slaves regulations that both Jews and Christians enacted and upheld during the vast majority of their time in power.
Christ did not teach that slavery was moral. Slaves were welcome among his converts. The fact that societies based on his teachings continued the age old practice of slavery does not change the fact that it was also Christians who ended the practice in the west.
The truth of the matter is that the principle of Liberty dates back again 2,500 years to Athens when the lawgiver Solon abolished debt slavery and freed all Athenian citizens who had formerly been enslaved. True abolition of slavery didn’t occur until the 19th century, 3,600 years after Judaism and 1800 years after Christianity.
In 1220, the Sachsenspiegel, the most influential German code of law from the Middle Ages, condemns slavery as a violation of man’s likeness to God. Here we see a direct connection between Judeo-Christian ethics and the end of slavery, occurring in the 13th century.
Some such as Theo Hobson would argue that since Christianity dominated the West during this time the abolition of slavery was and still is rooted in Judeo-Christian values. This is as fallacious as asserting that since animal rights first emerged in Hindu culture, therefore animal rights was and still is rooted in Hindu values. It’s a type of false cause fallacy.
This is bullshit. In India, animal rights are rooted in Hindu values. In the west, freedom of person is rooted in Christian values.
What about democracy, the ability to elect and more importantly remove our leaders? Surely the West inherited this model from Judeo-Christian values? Absolutely not. Both the old and new Testament explicitly endorsed theocracy, which is a system of government in which one or more people rule in the name of a god or gods. Throughout history Judaism and Christianity have enforced such a government. For example in medieval Europe, which Judeo-Christian values absolutely dominated, the monarch could do whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted without justification because they had the Divine Right of Kings.
Actually, in medieval Europe, the church was incredibly powerful, and acted as a balance against the powers of monarchs. While it’s true that the Catholic church is not a democratic institution, early Christian churches were. The medieval rulers of Europe descended from Germanic tribes. As long as monarchy survived, democracy had little purpose.
The principle of democracy can be traced back 2500 years to Athens when Cleisthenes reformed their constitution so that randomly selected citizens could assume administrative and judicial offices. It wasn’t perfect as citizenship excluded women, slaves, foreigners, non land owners, and men under the age of 20. Unfortunately, the principle was buried during medieval Europe but it saw a significant resurgence in the 18th century due to enlightenment values. True democracy–as in all citizens who are mentally capable above the age of 18 being able to vote–was finally established in the 20th century three thousand seven hundred years after Judaism and 1900 years after Christianity.
It was only when monarchy began to fail, in the seventeenth century, that Christians, steeped in the philosophies of the ancient Greeks thanks to centuries of learning by the clergy, began to think about democracy as an alternative in Europe. However, the earliest experiments with it began much earlier, in the middle ages. Claiming anything happened 1900 years after Christianity makes no sense. Christianity did not “happen” 2000 years ago. It is still happening.
While we’re on the topic of suffrage, what about equality in general. Equal opportunity for all ethnicities, all sexes, all classes, all ages, and all sexual preferences. Was this beacon of freedom and equality a gift from Judaism or Christianity?
Equality of all is not a value of western civilization. Only citizens who owned property and had a stake in running the country were originally to have a vote. Also, giving the vote to children would be foolish.
Judeo-Christian edicts fervently oppose such equality, demanding the subordination of women the execution of homosexuals and, as already mentioned, the endorsement of slavery and the execution of blasphemers. It’s no surprise that medieval Europe embodied precisely that.
Equal treatment for women and homosexuals was not a value of western civilization until very recently. I would argue that it came out of the same social roots that led to democracy and the end of slavery, and those were Christian.
I could go on by tracing back the foundation of all Western values and practices such as Easter and Christmas which are both pagan festivals that have been appropriated by Christianity.
Wrong and wrong. Christians knew that their religious holidays would be accepted by the pagan cultures they were converting if they were allowed to celebrate the Christian holidays at the same times of year that the old pagan holidays were celebrated. For devout Christians, Easter and Christmas were not pagan holidays.
I think I’ve more than made my point. Western civilization did not emerge from Judeo-Christian values; it emerged despite them. Western civilization was conceived in ancient Athens and it flourished during the Age of Enlightenment, in direct opposition to Judeo-Christian values.
The Age of Enlightenment happened because of Christian scholars. They did not oppose Judeo-Christian values. Rather, they harmonized the philosophies of the Greeks and the Catholics, and transformed them into western civilization.
I appreciate and acknowledge that many Jews and Christians played a significant role in shaping Western morality but they didn’t do so because of Judeo-Christian values. They did so because of their own evolved moral conscience, which they then projected onto their religion. That’s, why not surprisingly, absolute divine laws are forever changing.
Their own moral consciences evolved out of Judeo-Christian values. Laws such as the prohibition of murder and theft do not change. If you believe in relativism, and that one day, murder will be moral, I feel sorry for you.
If you want to argue that Christian morals did not come from God, you can make a case. Arguing that western civilization is not the product of Christianity is foolish. If you want to debunk Ken Ham, that’s easy. Before you try to take on Shapiro or Peterson, you better learn a lot more and think a lot deeper.
If you liked this post, you may want to check out Rationality Rules Statist Arguments Debunked.