It seems clear that many Christians in Western countries think that the core values of these countries are closely related to Christian values. For example, you will often hear Western Christians say that they live in a Christian country. Or you will hear them say that Western countries are built on Christian principles.
To be sure, most of those who speak in this way would accept that there are bad things in Western culture today. And many of them would even say that Western countries have seriously lost their way. But they still believe that there is a close relationship between these countries and Christian values.
I beg to differ. I am convinced that today the core values of mainstream, modern, Western society are completely at odds with core Christian values. I do agree that centuries ago Western countries were significantly influenced by the Christian faith. But I am sure that it is a mistake to claim that the West holds to Christian values in any meaningful sense today.
It is true that in some parts of some Western countries, the church is stronger than it is elsewhere. And in these places mainstream culture is less influential than it is in other places.
However, in most parts of the West the mainstream culture is powerfully present. And even in the relatively Christian parts it is still significantly present.
It is the core values of this culture that I am sure are completely incompatible with core Christian values.
When I use the phrase ‘core values’, I have in mind something much deeper than things like family or sexual values. I am thinking about what people believe about the place of human beings in the world. I am talking about what people believe that humans actually are.
I would suggest that a proper Christian understanding of what human beings are has little in common with the typical Western understanding of what we are. This is what I mean when I say that the core values of the West and core Christian values are completely different.
What a human being is in a Christian perspective
Let’s think first about what a human being is in a Christian perspective.
In comes the human on to the stage. The first thing we notice, however, is not actually anything about that person. Instead we see that immediately above the person is almighty God. We notice too that He has supreme authority over that person. We could say that He is full of rights with respect to that human being.
Our eye then goes back to the human standing under God. We are struck by how tiny that person is in comparison with God. And we see that the person is completely under God’s authority. We could say that he or she is full of obligations to Him. Any rights that person has are, at most, very limited in scope and are overshadowed by his or her obligations.
This perspective fits with what the Bible teaches. God is on His throne and we are under His great authority.
What a human being is in a Western perspective
Let’s think now about what a human being is in a typical Western perspective.
In comes the human on to the stage. Unlike in the Christian perspective, the first thing we notice is that there is no God directly above that person with great authority over him or her. God is either not in the picture at all, or He is in it but over to the side, a very unthreatening figure, with no real rights with respect to that person.
The next thing that strikes us is that whereas in the Christian perspective the human is full of obligations to God, this time the human is full of rights, with no real obligations to God.
I would suggest that a large majority of the time when Western people speak about things, this is the assumed perspective. In reality – if not necessarily always in theory – the present day mainstream Western worldview is all about people existing and acting as if they are the highest authority. The authority of God is essentially nowhere to be found.
The mistaken Western perspective
To put it another way, modern, mainstream Westerners have a terribly distorted understanding of what the relationship should be between people and God. They completely misunderstand what human beings are.
We are designed to be under the authority of God. And we are duty bound to do His will in all areas of our lives. However, in Western thinking, people are in effect in the place of ultimate authority, mini gods, so to speak.
Tied up with this wrong thinking is the modern concept of so-called ‘human rights’. I question whether these rights, at least as they are usually understood, even exist. Nevertheless, even if they do exist, they are much more limited than most people think. And even if they do exist, our obligations to God are a far more important matter. In at least some respects, then, the modern concept of human rights is deeply problematic.
Appealing to human rights to promote bad things
If you think I am wrong to be troubled by the concept of human rights, I would encourage you simply to listen to how people refer to this subject. Those who speak about human rights usually seem to do so in a context that regards human beings, and not God, as the ultimate authority. And they usually seem not to be bothered whether things are pleasing to Him or not. Typically, they don’t seem to care about Him at all.
For example, at the present time in Western countries there is a huge movement that seeks to redefine the whole concept of marriage to include same-sex unions. Watch out for how often those who are part of this movement appeal to human rights to make their case.
I think it is perfectly logical that those who support same-sex unions try to do this by appealing to human rights. Same-sex ‘marriage’, although abhorrent to God, fits very well with the concept of human rights. So it is no surprise that those supporting same-sex unions appeal to this.
Some positive effects of appealing to human rights
Of course, the world is a complicated place. And even things that are wrong sometimes have some positive consequences.
Despite the deep problems with the concept of human rights, it is nevertheless true that there are times when this concept is used to help people do things that are pleasing to God. And some of these things are very important. For example, countries that are relatively supportive of human rights tend to be much more likely to allow Christians to meet for worship than countries that are less interested in human rights.
At its heart, the human rights agenda of the West seems to be basically about allowing people to do what they want to do, as long as they don’t directly harm another person. And what people want to do is a mixture of good and bad things. So sometimes human rights are used to help people do good things. And sometimes they are used to help people do bad things.
Nevertheless, even though human rights do at times help people to do good things, it is still wrong to have a value system that does not have God at its heart. So the concept of human rights, at least as it is commonly understood, remains deeply problematic.
I will admit to feeling that I am walking a tightrope as I write about these things.
On the one hand I am keenly aware that Western values, even though by default, do help protect people in many circumstances.
But on the other hand I want Christians to see clearly that the core values of mainstream, modern, Western culture are totally different from core Christian values. In reality, if not necessarily in theory, these values are about human beings existing and acting as if they are in the place of ultimate authority.
In truth, however, nothing could be more wrong. It is God who is really in the place of supreme authority. And this means that people who accept mainstream Western values completely misunderstand the proper place of human beings in the world. They completely misunderstand what human beings are.