Humanist values came from the Enlightenment

By January 17, 2016Uncategorized

Nick Cohen  on the 9th of January in an article entitled ‘ Don’t look to the Pope for Enlightenment values’ gave us an excellent reminder that humanist values came from the Enlightenment thinking  rather than any religious initiative.  I quote at length:

Anglo-Saxon societies have enjoyed the privilege of Enlightenment freedoms for so long our defences have fallen into disrepair. We fool ourselves into thinking we are in a post-Enlightenment world. The old battles appear dead and gone, even though all around us murderous fanatics remind us that they intend to fight the war all over again….

The pope responded to the murders of satirists [at Charlie Hebdo] by lecturing their corpses. You cannot insult or make fun of the faith of others, he said, as he came as close as he dared to blaming the victims. A man’s religion was like his mother, he added. And anyone who insulted his mother could “expect a punch…

Challenging the Vatican would have meant breaking with a clash-of-civilisations myth that runs from the white far-right way into the mainstream of politics. Judaeo-Christian culture is inherently more civilised than Islam, the argument goes. It produced democracy and human rights, while the luckless believers in lesser creeds groaned under tyrannies. Our traditions alone mean that the pope would, of course, regard religious hatred as a blasphemy.

Cultural conservatives do not want to be reminded that there is no Islamist crime so great the Judaeo-Christian tradition did not once authorise it. The Iranian judiciary murders gays and Islamic State throws them from tall buildings to delight the faithful. The Book of Leviticus would approve. It says that men who have sex with each other “shall surely be put to death”.

Assad, Iran and Hezbollah engage in the mass murder of Sunnis. Isis returns the compliment and takes Yazidi, Shia and Christian women as their sex slaves. But then Moses commanded the Israelites to fall upon their enemies and kill everyone except “women that have not known a man by lying with him”. Those they could keep for themselves.

It may be objected that the New Testament is less gory that the Old. But Christ no more forbad slavery, rape, torture and genocide than did the Ten Commandments. Christians in power engaged in orgies of persecution of one another, of non-believers, of witches and of Jews. Indeed, the true Judaeo-Christian tradition was the 1,600-year tradition of Christians murdering Jews. What civilisation Judaism and Christianity possess came from the outside. They did not reform themselves, which is why calls for a Muslim reformation so spectacularly miss the point. Civilisation came from the battering that religion took from the Enlightenment, from sceptics, scientists, mockers and philosophers, who destroyed their myths and exposed the immorality of their taboos.

Roger Heppleston

Author Roger Heppleston

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