That's the title of Dinesh D'souza's new book
. Theodore Beale, aka VoxDay, interviews Dinesh
on his blog.
VD: What's So Great About Christianity isn't merely a response to the various atheist books, it's also a positive case for Christianity. What do you consider to be the three most important aspects of that case?
DD: The first is a case that I try to make that Christianity is responsible for the core institutions and values that secular people and even atheists cherish. If you look at books by leading atheists and you make a list of the values that they care about, things like the right to individual dissent, the notion of personal dignity, equality and respect for women, opposition to social hierarchy and slavery, compassion as a social value, the idea of self-government and representative government, and so forth, you'll see that many of these things came into the world because of Christianity. My point is that even if an atheist is an unbeliever, he should at least acknowledge and respect that Christianity has done a great deal to make our civilization what it is, and is even responsible for many of the values that he cares about.
Christianity is responsible for bringing compassion into the world? Really? No other society ever fathomed this most basic of human values until a man named Jesus made his appearance in the world? That's just outright ridiculous.
As far as the right to individual dissent, this is hardly a uniquely Christian accomplishment. The Greco-Roman world prior to the adoption of Christianity allowed considerable latitude in the realm of personal religious beliefs. Certainly there was no inalienable right to freely express any belief, and Christians did suffer from persecutions under Roman rule prior to the adoption of Christianity by the emperors, but such persecutions were neither universally mandated or practiced. Generally the early Christians got into trouble for isolating themselves from the general society and for not declaring allegiance to the state, not for the particular content of their beliefs.
Contrast that to the Roman world after Constantine brought Christianity into the fold of the state. The persecution of Christians continued, but it was now the case of different theological strains competing with each other to gain orthodox status and the official sanction of the state. The Christian followers of Arianism, Docetism, Manicheanism, Homoeanism and countless other heretical strains of the faith were systematically disenfranchised, denounced and suppressed as orthodox dogma became more narrowly defined through the Machiavellian politics of church councils.
And one can hardly consider the bloodbath that was the Reformation and Counter Reformation and believe that individual dissent is somehow a first principle of Christianity. That Christians finally turned to religious toleration, after centuries of murderous intolerance can only be seen as a final surrender, an admission of failure in the attempt to structure society upon Christianity. The greatest oppressor of Christians throughout the ages has been Christianity.
Secular government as we know it in the West today is the result of that failure and of the bloody history of suicidal intolerance inherent to Christianity. Many Christians participated in the formulation of this new foundation for society, but it is a lie to state that it was a strictly Christian affair, when such important thinkers and actors as Hume, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were not Christians.
But one can credit Christians with finally developing a new synthesis of their faith that allowed them to reconcile it with religious tolerance and secular government. As an accomplishment it ranks as one of mankind's greatest. Christians had to go back to their scriptures and find new interpretations that aligned with the new political philosophies of the Enlightenment. For modern Christians like D'Souza those Christian values of the new synthesis worked out during the Enlightenment seem so natural as to imagine that secular government and religious tolerance were foreordained by Christianity from the start, and are the natural and inevitable products of it. But history does not support such a facile, self-congratulatory interpretation.
Western Civilization is the result of several interacting influences: Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian and Pagan, and more recently, Skeptic. It is natural for anyone to over-emphasize the influence of their own personal religious tradition and under-emphasize or deny the contributions of the other traditions. It may be a satisfying exercise, but it doesn't yield much in the way of useful knowledge.
VD: When you point out that atheist leaders have killed several orders of magnitude more human beings than Christian leaders, the usual rebuttal is that the atheists didn't commit their murders “in the name of atheism”. What is your response to that?
DD: This is Richard Dawkins and it clearly shows what happens when you let a biologist out of the lab. It shows a gross ignorance of history. Communism was an explicitly atheist ideology. Marx was very eager to establish a new Man and a new society liberated from the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality. Marx called religion “the opiate of the people” and he very much wanted to see religion removed from the face of the Earth, and he predicted it would be in the Communist utopia. Every Communist regime targeted religion, closed the churches, persecuted the priests, harassed the believers. This was no accident. So, for Dawkins to say that this wasn't being done in the name of atheism just defies rational belief. It's hard for me to believe an intelligent individual would even try to say that.
When tallying the butcher's bills for various ideologies, I wonder why this item
is so often left off the bill:
The Taiping Rebellion (or Rebellion of Great Peace) was a large-scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing Government in China. It was conducted from 1850 to 1864 by an army and civil administration led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan. He established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Simplified Chinese: 太平天国, Pinyin: Tàipíng Tiān Guó) with capital Nanjing and attained control of significant parts of southern China, at its height ruling over about 30 million people. The theocratic and militaristic regime instituted several social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, suppression of private trade, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by a peculiar form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus Christ.
The Taiping areas were constantly besieged and harassed by Qing forces; the rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing army aided by French and British forces. With an estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million due to warfare and resulting starvation, this civil war ranks among history's deadliest conflicts. Mao Zedong viewed the Taiping as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.
So Mao took his inspiration from a Christian revolutionary! I'm sure you won't read that in D'Souza's book.
Update: Here's video of a recent debate
between D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens.