Secular liberalism’s dependence on Christian premises

New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat:

[M]uch of contemporary secular liberalism depends on assertions that are potent and widely persuasive only because most Westerners are still deeply influenced by Christian premises about the nature and destiny of man. . . . Liberal ideas about human rights and human dignity are still near-universal in the West today in large part because that same West spent the first half of the twentieth century experimenting with more genuinely post-Christian approaches to morality and politics and then recoiled in horror from the totalitarian and genocidal consequences. This recoil sent some Westerners hurtling all the way back to Christianity itself, but today it often just manifests itself in the ubiquitous reductio ad Hitlerum, which casts Adolf Hitler as a kind of anti-Christ or anti-God: In place of the Christian idea of an absolute standard of goodness, the Nazis and the Holocaust supply an absolute standard of wickedness against which every contemporary development can be assessed.

In the long run, this seems like a pretty weak cultural foundation for a defense of liberal values. But at the very least, it’s an extremely weak intellectual foundation from which to judge Christianity and find it morally deficient. . . I don’t think that secular liberalism’s dependence on Christian premises provides anything like a slam-dunk argument for why Christianity is true. But I do think that because secular liberalism has trouble given a coherent account of itself absent those premises, the confidence with which many contemporary liberals presume to stand in judgment over Christianity (on sexual ethics, especially, but much else as well) is unwarranted and even self-deluded.

“What Has Jerusalem to Do with Athens?” (New York Times)


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