Western civilization formed in the wake of Rome, based mainly upon Christian ideals. And because of those ideals, Europe became vastly different from Rome. Most overtly, Western civilization ejected slavery from Europe. To put it simply, European Christians replaced slavery (the economic driver of Rome and of more or less every civilization up to that time), with a version of free-market capitalism.
These facts aren’t honestly arguable, presuming that one looks at the facts rather than beloved dogmas. The population of the Western Roman Empire was roughly 25% slave in 476 AD, the traditional date of its end. By 1000 AD that percentage was down to roughly zero.
The reason slavery was ejected from Europe was clearly not Roman or Greek ideas: those were proud slave societies. Slavery was ejected because Christianity insisted that all men were brothers. The usual muddiness and complications of human behavior aside, it was this ethic that made it happen.
Western civilization, then, was a Christian capitalist civilization, and remained so for a long time. This is not to say, of course, that European Christianity was ever pure. The teachings of Jesus were deeply compromised by the end of the first century, let alone the fifth or eighth or twelfth. Nonetheless, this religion carried important ideas, and those were enough to deliver progress.
The Big Change
The big change to Western civilization began in the late Middle Ages. There is far too much to explain here, but a primary factor was the Church (the centralized one in Rome) losing legitimacy and the rising states (previously wildly decentralized) fighting to capture it.
Into this mess came religious and scientific revolutions, both of which were used by centralizing powers to champion themselves. The religious revolutionaries fought to change Christianity and the newly arising states fought to disempower the Church. (Though some joined with it.)
The scientific revolutionaries first treated religion as a personal matter. Then, after about 1750, the destruction of religion came to the fore, and of Christianity in particular. Personal choice was no longer enough and attacking belief was required for membership in the club.
This is a tremendous simplification, of course, but as a general description it stands. And since that time Christianity has been steadily pushed out of Western civilization.
Such a movement, and especially one embodying the urge to tear down, involves many problems, but the crucial one is this: It pulled down Christian ethics and replaced them with almost nothing.
I can well understand complaints about the Church and what was portrayed as Christianity, but tearing down is juvenile and barbaric. A sensible person does not seek to tear the heart out of a civilization and to replace it with nothing.
Nonetheless, this is what the late Enlightenment did and what its intellectual heirs have continued. As a result, the philosophies that replaced Christianity in the West’s centers of learning have been Marxist-Leninism, cultural Marxism, postmodernism and deconstructionism. To call these ideologies misanthropic would be a tremendous understatement.
Enter The Replacement Religions
Carl Jung made a very important point when he wrote this in The Undiscovered Self:
You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.
Whatever reasons stand behind this, it is a broadly true statement. Moreover, the post-Enlightenment philosophies that have reigned in Western institutions have negated the individual: atomized them, minimized them, and made their individual lives meaningless.
As a result, Westerners have gone after one replacement religion after another. These weren’t called religions, of course (that would be the brand of death in the current environment), but they were clearly religions in substance.
The first was the French Revolution, but we won’t take time for that. The next big one was communism/socialism, which ended (we may hope) with the greatest death toll in human history.
In recent times we’ve had several flavors of “save the planet,” with a quasi-scientific clergy (hint: consensus is not science) and lots of harsh dogma, leading as it does to heretic hunting. Disagreement is now being punished and echoes of the Middle Ages are coming forward.
For all its errors, Christianity generally maintained that all humans were children of God, a belief that elevated and dignified the individual. None of the replacement religions have done that. Rather, they glorified and dignified the collective or the institution, relegating individuals to outer realms of stupidity and depravity.
Now we can choose.
We can join with the new dogma and continue in its long parade of tearing down and collectivizing. Or, we can return to the dignity of the individual.
If we wish, we can work to upgrade Christianity or its close cousin, Judaism. Or, we can choose any number of decentralizing ventures, which, by their very nature, disempower the collective and dignify the individual.
In other words, we can think for ourselves and choose from an unrestricted pallet. Then, once our understanding improves, we can choose again. And as it improves yet more, we can choose again.
But perhaps most importantly, we can recognize our mutual dignity and value: The beauty and potential of the individual, separate from and above any institution and any collective.
If you want a deeper understanding of these issues, see: