How Christianity Created the Free Society

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Here is Samuel Gregg writing at Public Discourse on a topic too people have the first clue about:

While many Christians have undermined human liberty, a new book of essays shows just how much of our contemporary freedom we owe to the Christian church, Christian thinkers, and Christian practice rather than liberals and liberalism.

In many books that trace the development of Western civilization, “the birth of freedom” is often identified with the various Enlightenments. Certainly, the Enlightenment made contributions to human liberty that Christians would not wish to do without, as no less an authority than Joseph Ratzinger once observed. Nonetheless, it is a myth that serious appreciation and promotion of freedom and its moral and institutional supports was somehow dormant until the late seventeenth century.

Christianity and Freedom: Historical Perspectives, a new collection of essays edited by Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen D. Hertzke, explores the many ways in which Christian beliefs and institutions made critical contributions to the freedoms cherished by Christians and non-Christians today. The first of a two-volume set, this book brings together theologians, patristic scholars, philosophers, historians, political scientists, legal theorists, medievalists, and classicists from different religious backgrounds. In various ways, each illustrates how Christianity influenced concepts such as limited government, private property, constitutionalism, and religious freedom.

As Shah states in the introduction, this narrative flies in the face of the contemporary Rawlsian consensus that liberalism somehow liberated us from the dead authoritarian hand of the past. In this schema, Christianity was the problem to which liberalism was the solution. Closer attention to what John Rawls himself called “the facts of historical experience” demonstrates that this is simply not true.

Christians as Liberators, Christians as Persecutors

Any discussion of freedom and Christianity quickly surfaces the numerous instances in which Christians have undermined human liberty. Reference is invariably made to the various Inquisitions, the witch trials conducted by Puritans, forced conversions, and other instances of intolerance.

Read more: Public Discourse

Image credit: 4Max / Shutterstock.

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