First Dave said Britain is a Christian country because the other lot are atheists, and he needs to be different to win the next election.
Then 50 ‘intellectuals’ wrote an open letter saying Britain isn’t a Christian country at all because they don’t run into many Christians in Mayfair (or especially Peckham, where AC Grayling lives).
Then Nick said that church and state need to separate, on the off chance that an Anglican prelate might find something wrong with Nick and his jolly friends.
Then Rowan Williams said Britain is in fact a post-Christian country, meaning (I’m guessing) that she used to be Christian but isn’t any longer or, another possibility, that no country where a mentally challenged Druid became the head prelate can possibly take Christianity seriously.
Such a mishmash of views was difficult to bring to an unequivocal conclusion, but trust a philosopher to tackle this ungrateful task.
Prof. AC Grayling has written some 30 books on philosophy and, though I’m man enough to admit I haven’t read a single one of them, he must have some education and possibly even intelligence. Not necessarily much, but some.
Alas, he proves my lifelong observation that, whenever even educated and intelligent people try to argue the atheist cause, they unfailingly descend to the intellectual level of Lenin’s League of the Militant Godless.
Those chaps would bust Christian shrines to show yesterday’s believers that the bodies of saints rot just like anyone else’s. Not to confuse the issue, those bodies that remained incorrupt were simply destroyed.
They’d put QED smirks on their faces and say, “If God exists, how come we have [insert a disaster of your choice]?”.
They’d point out that Christians had the Crusades, the Inquisition and religious wars, during which many people were killed – not as many in all those centuries as the Bolshevik atheists massacred in their first couple of years, but that superfluous detail was left out.
They’d remind us of the Church’s attempts to suppress science, which presumably explains why no civilisation other than Christian ever produced much science worthy of the name.
Verily I say unto you, when God wishes to punish someone, he takes his mind away. There may be a more scientific explanation for the fact that otherwise intelligent adults turn into kindergarten underachievers whenever this subject comes up, but I can’t think of one.
In his Times article AC Grayling repeats all those ‘arguments’, shrouding them in pseudo-intellectual cant. But he must have sensed that somehow the debate was missing a clincher.
Old AC is just the man to deliver it. Britain, he explains, isn’t a Christian country, this goes without saying. Nor is she a post-Christian one, for the simple reason that she never was Christian in the first place. Neither is, or was, any other country. Because – are you ready for this? – Christianity doesn’t exist.
“Christianity is not Christianity but borrowed Greek philosophy,” is how Grayling puts it, and one has to admire his forthrightness, so rare among philosophers.
The dastardly Christians didn’t just rip off Greek philosophy. They stole from the Greco-Romans everything they ever knew about “government, military strategy, ethics, political theory, management of an empire, social conditions, education, law and much besides.”
No wonder. “Christianity,” after all, “provides little instruction – beyond a few bland generalisations about being nice – for dealing with life’s complexities.”
The stupidity and ignorance of this statement is truly baffling. I wonder, for example, if Grayling has read Plato’s dialogues, especially Republic and Laws, in which the chap who presumably taught the Christians political theory sketched the blueprint of the totalitarian state.
This was fleshed out not by Christians but by the Soviets and the Nazis who, to be fair, have never been accused of being pious believers.
And “ethics”? “Social conditions”? One “bland generalisation about being nice” that Christianity demonstrably didn’t get from Hellenic antiquity is that every person is an autonomous human being, to be cherished not because of any towering achievement or superior character but simply because he’s indeed human.
People short of achievement or incapable of it, like those frail boys routinely drowned by the Spartans or those unwanted baby girls left to die in the woods by the Romans, began to be seen as God’s creatures to be loved before all others.
Hence the institutions for the care of the old and infirm, widows and orphans, lepers and cripples that rapidly spread already during Constantine’s reign. In fact, the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate reluctantly praised the ‘Galileans’ for looking after the weak and needy, “not only theirs, but ours as well,” so much better than the pagans did.
Moreover, rather than being regarded as merely chattels of their fathers and then their husbands, women began to play an important, often decisive, role in society. In that aspect it’s not the Christians but Muslims who are true followers of classical antiquity.
As to providing “instruction for dealing with life’s complexities”, Prof Grayling must be confusing the New Testament with Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Surely even our philosopher can’t be so stupid as to believe that’s what Christianity is for?
Actually, the Old Testament, an integral part of the Christian canon, provides ample, though admittedly not exhaustive, instruction of this sort, a fact that must have escaped Grayling’s attention. No wonder: he’s got the atheist bit between his teeth.
Had he stayed within the confines of his own discipline, he would have been on safer, if overtrodden, grounds. For Christian thinkers, especially in the early days, indeed amalgamated their faith with the methodology of Greek philosophy.
After all, they needed to plant Christian saplings in the soil ploughed by Hellenic thought and, as testimony to their success, they managed to create not only the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen, but also the subtlest philosophy.
To conclude on this basis that “Christianity isn’t Christianity” isn’t just factually wrong but intellectually feeble. But then Pascal said it all before: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.”
He had Descartes in mind, who was merely misguided, not strident and ignorant. Unlike some other philosophers one could mention.