Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Christianity Invented Human Rights

From Baylor's invaluable Research on Religion podcast series, hosted by Tony Gill of the University of Washington.

What difference does a religious tradition make?  If it is Christianity, Prof. Jim Papandrea of the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary at Northwestern University says it matters a great deal.  Jim returns to our show for the third time (hat trick) and discusses his new book Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, coauthored with Mike Aquilina.  The general thrust of the book is that Christian theology introduced to the world (at least) seven new ways to envision human society, starting with the individual person and proceeding up through the state.

Jim starts us off by listing the seven great revolutions introduced by Christian thought, including how we look at: the person, the home (and gender roles), work (and the laborer), religion, community, death, and (finally) the state.  He also notes how Christianity promoted a “God of love” that opened the door to an inclusionary religion that shaped all of these critical areas.  

We then look into the fourth revolution — religion — more closely and Jim notes that although based upon a Judaic foundation, Christianity opens the door to proselytizing and including all peoples into one single religion.  This has a major impact on how individuals and neighbors are conceived, and will impact the how early Christians opened the door to new thinking on government.  

We cover the reaction to this new message amongst the Romans of the day, which wasn’t always welcoming.  Persecutions were common, yet Christianity kept growing culminating in its final acceptance under the Edict of Milan (313 CE).  Jim discusses the role that Constantine played in this process and notes that the Edict of Milan, contrary to the notion that it established Christianity as the official church, was really the world’s first document on religious liberty.  

This springboards us into another one of Jim’s seven revolutions regarding the role of the state.  Here we spend some time talking about how Christianity changed the notion of sovereignty by not placing the “person at the top of the governing pyramid” as the ultimate authority, but rather noting that God is a separate authority.  Jim discusses how this translates into the role of citizen sovereignty and how it relates to the foundation of the US government some 230 years ago.  We also take time to cover the revolutions of community (“love thy neighbor”) as well as how Christianity developed the concept of human dignity for all and how this helped change views on labor and family roles, not to mention the topics of euthanasia, abortion, and infanticide (practices common in the Roman Empire).

Our conversation ends with some reflection on Christianity in the “post-Christian" era. 


[Crossposted at newreformclub.com.]

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

As luck would have it, I came across this post ten minutes after having read the exact same thing at another blog.

Not sure if it was intentional or not, but even though this is a "just a blog" I would encourage you guys to properly site and quote cut-and-pastes like this. Your link goes to the site but not not the original work, and the way you have it formatted here makes it look like this is AC's original work.

My guess is that the confusion is not intended. Still, it's something you should be more careful about.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom: Anon is taking a crack at your web editing skills.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I have a feeling Anon wants to delegitimize the content speaking well of Christianity, and unable to do that, resorted to a petty attack on the post itself.

Clearly she didn't click on where it says "Listen here," which goes right to the web page in question.

Neither would anyone with an IQ higher than a flea read the text as anything but from the Research on Religion people.

Permit me to suggest Anon click and listen, a far better expense of time and energy than the above.

jimmiraybob said...

Which brings up the question, when does the study and teaching of history cross the line to evangelical apologetics and proselytizing?

Also too, is the title of your post serious or are you being facetious or are you just trolling?

Do you know what happened almost immediately after the Christians gained substantial state power a bit later in the 4th century? It certainly wasn't the advancement of religious freedom or human rights.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And more pettiness. What is it with you people?

Please restrict your remarks to Prof. Papandrea's thesis, that

that Christian theology introduced to the world (at least) seven new ways to envision human society, starting with the individual person and proceeding up through the state.

Jim starts us off by listing the seven great revolutions introduced by Christian thought, including how we look at: the person, the home (and gender roles), work (and the laborer), religion, community, death, and (finally) the state. He also notes how Christianity promoted a “God of love” that opened the door to an inclusionary religion that shaped all of these critical areas.

We then look into the fourth revolution — religion — more closely and Jim notes that although based upon a Judaic foundation, Christianity opens the door to proselytizing and including all peoples into one single religion. This has a major impact on how individuals and neighbors are conceived, and will impact the how early Christians opened the door to new thinking on government.

We cover the reaction to this new message amongst the Romans of the day, which wasn’t always welcoming. Persecutions were common, yet Christianity kept growing culminating in its final acceptance under the Edict of Milan (313 CE). Jim discusses the role that Constantine played in this process and notes that the Edict of Milan, contrary to the notion that it established Christianity as the official church, was really the world’s first document on religious liberty.

This springboards us into another one of Jim’s seven revolutions regarding the role of the state. Here we spend some time talking about how Christianity changed the notion of sovereignty by not placing the “person at the top of the governing pyramid” as the ultimate authority, but rather noting that God is a separate authority. Jim discusses how this translates into the role of citizen sovereignty and how it relates to the foundation of the US government some 230 years ago. We also take time to cover the revolutions of community (“love thy neighbor”) as well as how Christianity developed the concept of human dignity for all and how this helped change views on labor and family roles, not to mention the topics of euthanasia, abortion, and infanticide (practices common in the Roman Empire).


First you listen to what he has to say, and only then do you comment.

jimmiraybob said...

For whatever positive changes that Christian thinking brought to the world, religious freedom was not one of them. Nor, did Christianity invent human rights. It was often the struggle against Christian narrowness and persecution that peoples had to start making the case for theirs rights, however narrowly at first, and then they called upon the works of pre-Christian philosophers and statesmen, in addition to biblical exegesis, to build their case.

Persecution of Pagans and Jews as well as intra-Christian sect persecutions began almost immediately under the Christian Emperors and church Bishops as the interests of the state became the interests of Christianity. By the end of the 4th century, disruptive and sometimes violent disputes among early Christians forced the state to assume leadership in the development of a single doctrine and thus was born the idea of the Christian state enforcing orthodox doctrine and, in doing so, waging a campaign to enforce a singularly absolute doctrine across Europe for the next ten or fifteen centuries…give or take. The following is the text of a document issued in 379 CE by the emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius – and edict to the people of Constantinople (Edict of Thessalonica):

”It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretic, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of heaven we shall decide to inflict.”Codex Theodosianus, xvi. 1.2

And thus, the Roman Empire and its remnant, the Latin Church, were set on a course of coercing men’s minds into absolute uniformity and conformity. What follows, up until the Renaissance, has often been spoken of as the Dark Ages (ala the Italian scholar Petrarch, due to the near loss of classical civilization in the west), although many now are finding light. For an interesting read on the early years of Roman Christian development, I recommend Jesus Wars by Phillip Jenkins.

cont. below

jimmiraybob said...

It’s not pettiness to strive to know the whole history and not just apologetic Church history. If we want to get to the heart of “love thy neighbor” then we needn’t look beyond the “primitive Christianity” – the Judaism of Jesus the moral teacher – that Jefferson and the earlier deists were trying to distill and exemplify. The Jewish

“Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus. A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Hillel replied, ‘What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it’.”(1)

So, to answer my question above, I’m thinking that the presentation of history crosses the line to evangelical apologetics and proselytizing when only the positive side of Church history(2) is told and used to build a case that the only good to come to the world is due to Christianity, sans everyone else’s contribution.

1) This is a story I first heard last hear in a Jewish study group discussing Spinoza. I found the quote here:

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/jewfaq/brother.htm

2) A look at Professor Papadrea’s (of the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary) bio reveals that his specialty is the study and teaching of Church history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

None of the above affects Prof Papadrea’s thesis in the least, a thesis our left-wing correspondent clearly has still not listened to.

jimmiraybob said...

I have listened to it. Now, if you'd be so kind, would you state what you believe Professor Papadrea’s thesis is (or theses are) and what your thesis is if different than the title of the post.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Two weeks ago you were pumping the Roman Empire's "religious tolerance." When its brutal persecution of Christians was pointed out, you slunk away.

Now you're back with a new bleat, that Christianity was just an extension of the Roman Empire's religious INtolerance.

To quote Ambassador Sarek, some argue for reasons; others simply argue.

jimmiraybob said...

I’ve been commenting here long enough for you to know that I don’t slink away. If anything, a thread got old, I got side-tracked with having to work for a living, or you went off the rails with your usual disdain, disrespect and name calling. Post where you think that we left off and I’ll be glad to engage.

Now, what do you believe Professor Papadrea’s thesis is (or theses are) and what is your post's thesis if different than the title. Please try to maintain an adult decorum.

Or, just tag out.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You don't seem to understand how this sort of thing works. State his thesis fairly, then rebut it. Floor's yours.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Slink, slank, slunk. So predictable once you call their bluff.

jimmiraybob said...

I know that you miss me when I disappear for days on end but I assumed that you would be caught up in Good Friday and Easter pieties. I, myself, took the weekend off.

Besides, it takes some time and effort to construct a thoughtful left-wing bleat.

Patience grasshopper.

jimmiraybob said...

Oh, and while pining for my company feel free to answer any of the three questions that I posed to you above.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You will answer them yourself before you begin your rebuttal or else you're wasting everyone's time. Again.

jimmiraybob said...

Well, I answered one of three. Given your silence I assume that your post thesis was the title, that "Christianity Invented Human Rights," to which I already commented above.

Now, let's see if you can help your readers by distilling Professor Papadrea’s thesis (or theses), if you perceive it to be different from your post title.

Really Tom, only one item to address. It can't be that hard. You did listen to the podcast, didn't you? By then, I might have a bleat ready.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Are you this lazy in bed?

Until you show some indication you listened to and understood his case, you continue to waste your time and ours.

Floor's yours. Life is too short to attempt to engage a rude and uncooperative interlocutor. Should you ever say something of substance, I may respond. Otherwise, bleat away in happy uncontradicted solitude.

jimmiraybob said...

Tom, it’s just not worth trying to engage with an epistemically-closed, fact-averse, culture warrior whose kneejerk response to anything even mildly challenging to your narrative is always reactionary insult and rhetorical fallacy in lieu of meaningful or substantive insight and dialogue. It’s spring. There are spring things to do. Go ahead, flame away. Who really cares?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I accept your surrender. If you had something substantive to say, you'd already have said it.

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