Saturday, September 18, 2010


I can see no point in adding a great deal to the noise surrounding the Pope's UK visit. The same debate is being held everywhere else already anyway. (Though I would say that this Guardian piece is a very reasonable take on the Nazi red-herring that was unfortunately introduced to the debate)

But I do want to ask a genuine question about the phrase Christian Values. I'm not asking because I know the answer. It's a genuine question.

The thing is, when someone defines Christian Values to me they always sound to me to be lovely values. But they also seem to be values that aren't exclusively Christian. Indeed they seem to be values that are shared by pretty much every other faith. And by people without faith too.

But when someone talks about, say, British Values, they normally mean "values that are particularly British"... in other words, values you wouldn't normally expect to find in other nations.

When someone says, "I expect the fans of this club to give the manager time because that's how they do things here, those are the values of this football club," the implication is that these aren't the values at most other football clubs.

So, when people say, Christian Values, do they mean values that are peculiar to Christians. And if so, what are they?

Because, well, because they seem to me to be just, well, Human Values. Am I wrong? I'm not asking about the way in which anyone arrives at a belief. That seems far less important to me than the end result. (Although I know which route I prefer). I'm talking about the beliefs themselves.

[I will monitor comments. If it gets a bit flamey, I'll shut it down. That's really not what I'm trying to achieve here. It's a genuine question. Are there values only held by Christians, values only attainable through faith?]


Unknown said...

i think you are probably right in that good values are human but i do think it helps people to have a framework within which they can adjudge their own values against others.if religion gives people that framework then despite my own feelings, i have to conclude that religion is on the whole a good thing and a positive force in our negative world

Article 82 said...

As far as I can tell, it's in reference to some Christian values. Really, it seems to refer to ideas that were present throughout the last couple of centuries, perhaps, but not way back near the beginning of the existence of Christianity. The things that seem to disrupt these values are things that have prevailed in the last half century - feminism, gay rights etc.

Of course, it couldn't possible refer to everything in Christianity, as you hardly hear anyone getting upset about the lack of Christian values when people get a haircut, or eat some shellfish.

I think you have a point though; it's not something held by all Christians because there is a whole spectrum of belief - from those who simply think that there was a divine person by the name of Jesus Christ, to those who take pretty much everything literally.

Perhaps it's safe to assume that it refers to the values held by moderate British Christianity when spoken by a British Christian.

Moohvy said...

Values 'only' held by Christians or 'characteristically' held by christians perhaps? Anyone can be big on forgivenes, but due to their stated and prothlesized beliefs around the importance of forgiveness, perhaps forgiveness is a 'characteristic' of christianity? I don't know, seems a bit picky on my part, but if you are going to go around insisting that forgiveness is all, then your group should be characterised by people who are forgiving of others.

I think then that 'X values' are a generalisation of the characteristic of the group being described, and not some badge of an exclusive club that you can only get by being in it.

Does that make any sense??? lol...

Dave Gorman said...

@Article 82: and to my mind, those would be more accurately described as Liberal British Values. Unless I'm misunderstanding what those values are. They just don't appear to have any exclusive Christian-ness to them.

Unknown said...

I think the term Christian values means values that, while perhaps generally held by most people, are not held by everyone (be generous, etc.), but which are considered a core part of being a Christian.

More simply, if you are a Christian, you probably have Christian values, but having some or many Christian values doesn't necessarily make you a Christian.

(This might be similar to what Moohvy said)

Anonymous said...

I agree, but of course that provokes the obvious response: some Christians (British or otherwise) may not be Liberal in the way you mean.

Tony W said...

I think religions are set up based on a persons particular set of values and they then try and persuade others to adopt these. Christian values really have to be based on the Sermons on the Mount given by Jesus. A cursory reading of these provides the basic values real Christians should abide by. Unfortunately, different individuals interpret these values in their own way. Jesus said 'Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God'. Tony Blair's intervention in Iraq although violent and illegal was seen as trying to bring peace However, Jesus also said 'Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves'

angiejones said...

I've often considered the same question, Dave. I think that it is probably not  unusual for different faiths to think of good basic values as 'theirs', not to suggest that they consider them exclusive to their own faith, but that they encapsulate the general ethos of any given faith. I have more of a concern over what I regard as some of the more sinister aspects of  Christian (and some other) 'values', and I would suggest that it would be more appropriate that these things, such as homosexuality, were referred to as beliefs, and were owned as just that - the beliefs of SOME Christians. I wonder if some people will cite their value systems as adhering to 'Christian values' to make clear their affiliations with regard to some of these more contentious issues? Again, I don't know, I genuinely wonder. (For the record, I would describe myself as a Christian.) 

Unknown said...

Depends on who's defining them. It can range from sacrificial love, charity and forgiveness in the Mother Teresa camp to the Westboro Baptist Church school of thought which seems to be all about self righteous hatred. Basically it's a phrase you can take to mean almost anything you want.

Jon Emmett said...

I think Moohvy and jacques le cube are pretty close.

Christian values should be a term used to encapsulate what one would expect a Christian to be like. As a society that was strongly influenced by Christianity, there is likely to be considerable overlap with British values. However, whilst I would hope a British (or indeed any other) person is loving, forgiving etc. I cannot assume this is the case, as it is possible to be British (or any other nationality) without these characteristics.

A Christian, on the other hand, has chosen to place value on these values, and it is therefore reasonable to assume certain things of them.

In the interests of transparency, I should state that I'm a Christian, if it makes any difference to people's views of the above.

Garry Lee said...

Having lived in the USA for a while in the past I found there that 'Christian values' were those shown whilst in a place of worship and not outside, like God is only watching bums on pews. I have seen people cross the street to ignore a homeless veteran and then cross back to go into the church and prove how 'Righteous' they are while ignoring their fellow man outside. These same 'values' were prevelant in the Middle Ages by the nobles - build a church = get into heaven, whilst killing foreigners because their God was not as good as our God. I agree that 'human values' should be present but the chances of that happening worlwide, nationwide or even streetwide is unlikely.

Leroy said...

Similarly to Angie, I would say that I am a Christian. I think it is worth remembering that many British values are based on us having been a country that has been shaped by Christianity to some extent; we have had strong Christian influences since the Roman occupation, mixed in with many other influences of course.

I think that values that are commonly thought of as good are pretty universal to all religions and societies: don't kill, steal, "be excellent to one another" etc. etc. In fact, many theologians cite that consistency as evidence that points to a creator. I guess the single biggest difference in Christianity is in the desire to mimic Jesus' teachings and actions as they are reported in the gospels. That is what we're supposed to do anyway. I guess that Christian values are, or at least should be, those that Jesus emphasises in the Bible: hang out with and support the poor and marginalised, challenge prejudice at every opportunity, care for the sick, worship God and do all of this with little or no regard to your own status, pride or selfish needs. That's the impression I get anyway.

What saddens me is that you don't hear much about this in all of these debates. You don't hear the "J" word very often, which is strange because that's what it should be all about for all Christians and their various churches. Instead, we refer to Christian Values. I wonder why that is?!

Nicky Judd said...

I think you are right Dave, 'Christian Values' are nearly synonymous with 'human values' perhaps because they are built into the fabric of existence and that would explain why some core values appear throughout humanity and in the various religions. CS Lewis pointed to this fact that part of being a human is having an inbuilt conscience or value system. Being a Christian is therefore not defined by your values. Thanks for the reminder that Christians shouldn't talk about values as though we invented them, own the rights to them or applied for the patent on them but that we should see ourselves as in a relationship that is revealing to us what it means to be truly human.

Andy Leslie said...

Since there are hundreds of variations on "Christianity" as represented by the many different churches, I'm sure that some view and values are exclusive to that community.

It seems to me that most of the ten commandments, for instance, are just common sense, so I have no problem not murdering or committing adultery, but no, I am not a Christian.

On the other hand, the god-on-earth status of the pope is a value I wioll never share.

ScatterCode said...

I'm not keen on the phrase 'Christian Values', because I think it can be used or perceived as meaning 'those things which Christians do which make them better than other people'.

However, to me as a Christian, I see 'Christian Values' (I phrase I would never use) as those things which should be valued by Christians, such as compassion, mercy, goodness and so on - these are things which Christians should seek to encourage in themselves and other people.

Obviously many of these are shared by people of all faiths and none; they're not exclusive to Christians. It's like saying "Here are the ingredients of bread" - that doesn't mean that those ingredients are only used to make bread.

I guess they are distinct from the values of those who value ambition, or success, or money, for instance.

It always kind of sounds to me like a cultural shortcut which means something along the lines of 'things we can all agree are good'. I don't particularly like hearing it from religious leaders, because it can give precisely the impression that they think that non-Christians don't share those values, or that the values are somehow to be considered better because they are labelled 'Christian'.

Dave Gorman said...

@whynotsmile "I don't particularly like hearing it from religious leaders, because it can give precisely the impression that they think that non-Christians don't share those values, or that the values are somehow to be considered better because they are labelled 'Christian'."

I think this is what prompted the thought. Benedict either said (or was paraphrased as saying) that we were in danger of losing Christian values in society... and I really don't think we are. Certainly, we don't appear to be in any danger of losing those values that people usually cite when the phrase is invoked. Of the Christian and non-Christian people I know, I simply don't see any difference in their core values.

Benedict (real name!) said...

I would interpret 'Christian Values' as the emphasis on the virtuous nature of human ideals. What I don't like is the assumption that such virtues are exclusively Christian. I believe that if we travelled back to a time when man was operating in a different realm, we would be surprised to see that humans were virtuous long before Christianity (or any other religion) came into being. Such values are wonderful, but being an atheist I have to say that these values exist for me and most of humankind and are not exclusive to the spiritually enlightened.

'Christian Values' is quite tautological when you think about it. It's rather like exclaiming "my bicycle has two wheels" when it is universally accepted that all bicycles have two wheels. Values are a human construct. Christian values are, by the same rationale, equal to those of Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist values by the mere fact that religions too are human constructs. The real question is this: Are Christian values worth more or less than the value sets of other faiths?

Leroy said...

@benedict: I definitely think that Christian values are worth no more or less than those of other faiths or codes of living, seeing as how they are pretty much the same!

@dave gorman: as a Christian, I would definitely agree with you. Good is just good. What you attribute good as being is a matter of personal choice. Christians believe that "love" or "goodness" is the manifestation of god; it doesn't matter if they are Christians or not, it all comes from an innate, inbuilt desire to do what God intended us to do as modelled by the actions of Jesus. Church history is filled with arguments about this though, with the Orthodox branch endorsing it wholeheartedly and the Catholic branch being more cautious. I agree with you that it is unhelpful for the Pope to chat on about "Christian Values" in this manner because it alienates a lot of people. I am a Christian and so is the Pope, and I'm sure we share a lot of common values, but I don't agree with a lot of the Catholic church's teachings.

Can we remember that the Pope doesn't represent all Christians by any means? The Pope is just in the news a lot at the moment.

May I recommend "Millenium" by Tom Holland as an interesting discussion about how Europe and the various churches within it evolved together.

Brian said...

Whynotsmile said most of what I would say. I'd maybe add that 'human values' change over time whereas Christian values should, at least in theory, remain constant. Examples of this would range from areas relating to matters of life and death to the acceptability of swearing in everyday speech.

Brian said...

Just realised that the examples I gave were all negative, but human values have changed positively in other areas, such as the acceptability of poisoning your fellow humans with your tobacco fumes. There has been increased recognition of individual's rights, although without them necessarily acknowledging the responsibilities that accompany those rights.

This highlights though that many human values will be different in different places/cultures.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave :)

Interesting question. Here's my two cents...

I would say that "Christian Values" are those traits which are exemplified in the faithful Christian life and, since all Christians are called to imitate Jesus, these would be values which shine through Jesus' own life, as recorded in the Gospels.

The thing that stands out most in the Gospels is Jesus' love, the most perfect expression of which is His offering of Himself on the cross for the sins of mankind. This isn't the wishy-washy, feel-good and fluffy kind of love we hear about in most love songs, but a kind love that is willing to *serve* and *sacrifice* for the good of others. When I think "Christian Values", I think of this. Indeed, the love of Christians was also meant to be their great distinguishing characteristic: "Love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples" Whether Christians live up to this great call, however, is another question!

Although you initially described "British Values" as "values that are *particularly* British", you later asked if Christian values are "peculiar" to Christians. This is a shift from saying that these values are *most commonly found* and *exemplified* in one group to saying that they are found *exclusively* in that group.

But the question remains: are Christian Values restricted to Christians? I would say the answer to this is "yes" and "no" :)

Can the virtue of love be cultivated by other religions and secular philosophies? Sure, there is empirical evidence to support this.

However, I guess the Christian claim is that it is found in its fullness in following the carpenter from Nazareth and receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism. In this God takes the "Human Value" of love and elevates it to new, divine heights, grace building on nature.

I think that's enough rambling from me for now....

Dave Gorman said...

@Brian "I'd maybe add that 'human values' change over time whereas Christian values should, at least in theory, remain constant."

Me: It may be a theory, but I don't see any evidence of it being true. The fundamental values of christians and non-christians don't seem to change all that much and then a lot of other stuff - like smoking etc. - are mutable.

@Brian "Examples of this would range from areas relating to matters of life and death to the acceptability of swearing in everyday speech."

Me: Is there anything in the Bible about swearing? I don't even know that there's any commonly perceived attitude to swearing that people regard as a Christian Value. Indeed 3 of the 4 vicars I know are proficient swearers. My godfather was an army chaplain. Like a trouper. It's taking the Lord's name in vain that causes offence - but when people worry about Christian Values disappearing from society I don't think that's what they mean. (In fact, Bruce Forsyth uttered an "Oh God" in the company of Anne Widdecombe on the launch show for Strictly this week. She didn't bat an eyelid - in fact she was chuckling along like a good'un.)

Emma Spreadbury said...

I worry that the phrase "Christian values" is used, by some people, in the same way that "British values" is; to suggest disapproval of those people who do not share those values.

And 'those values' will be dependent on the speaker.

Thus 'Christian' and 'British' has nothing to do with the values of the described group, but of the speaking individual. And if we know or can make assumptions about the individual, then the phrase becomes an idiom.

Emma Spreadbury said...

@Dave: haha, is Anne Widdecombe the archetypal Christian?

Dave Gorman said...

@thisrestlesspilgrim: apologies for any subtle difference in my choice of words between being peculiarly this or particular to that. The main point though, is that the phrase is essentially meaningless if it doesn't describe values that are held by Christians but not by others - either in totality or just in all likelihood.

scitman said...

Hi Dave,

I think you underplay the role Christian values have had in shaping the "British Liberal values" that have characterised the past fifty years or so of our thousand year history. I tend to agree with Tony Benn that "the Labour Party owes far more to Methodism than Marx". These progressice ideas came from a sense of Christian service and social responsibility. What has changed is what people's perception of "Christian" values are- not least because of the spread of American-style evangelism over the last twenty years or so, and that link with the excesses of the Bush era. This is a source of real distress for those of us who consider ourselves both "progressive" and "Christian", and see no real contest between the two. Add to that the antics of Dawkins et al who mirror the worst excesses of fundamentalists of all types- that all those who disagree are at best stupid and at worst, evil. I think it is that Benedict is referring to. You can't excuse the Church's reaction to the abuse scandal- the fact that most organisations in the 50's through to the 80's were behaving in a similar fashion is ultimately not good enough. We expect better from the church- and some of us will continue to try in our own small ways to make it better.

Cheers, Dave.


Dave Gorman said...

@Emma: I would have said AW isn't the archetypal Christian, no. But she is one of the people who will talk about the loss of Christian Values etc. She is also a regular pundit on matters Christian in general and Catholic in particular. She's on TV as a I type discussing whether Cardinal Newman was a Saint or a Sinner and has written and presented at least two other documentaries that I'm aware of on Christian/Catholic subjects.

But my point was that, I don't see how any attitude to swearing could be Christian, per se - it's certainly not what I imagine people mean when they use the phrase Christian Values - and that while I accept that there is a Christian attitude to taking the Lord's name in vain, I don't think that's what they mean either... and as evidence for that I cite one of the people I think most likely to cite Christian Values being quite unconcerned by the Lord's name being taken in vain by old Brucie.

Dave Gorman said...

@scitman: that's a different point. If people of different faiths and of no faith can - and essentially do - arrive at the same values then the phrase Christian Values becomes less than helpful. I'm not asking where they come from, I'm asking what values exist that are more likely to exist in Christian folk than non-Christian folk. I don't know what those might be.

As you say, some unhelpful examples of what Christianity means have come along meaning that, if pushed, I'd say the values that are Christian but not non-Christian are actually the less tolerant values relating to homosexuality, say, or maybe sexuality in general.

Maybe the problem is that the phrase simply means whatever the reader wants it to mean. A headline saying We Must Keep Our Christian Values can make two different people nod in agreement. One because he wants more love, kindness, tolerance and charity and the other because he wants less gay people on television. And while they both nod in silent agreement with the phrase they know nothing of how divergent their views are.

Leroy said...

I think that that is true of any headline! People will interpret things their own way; we all do. Unfortunately, bigots will shape their faith to support their views. Christianity is perhaps unique, maybe along with Islam, in being able to accommodate a huge range of opinion while retaining the same kernel of 'truth' to its believers. The trouble is that moderate Christianity doesn't often make headline news. Intolerance is a better headline than all the Christians in Britain today that work for the most needy people that few others bother with.

BTW, on swearing: the Bible says that one shouldn't let curses pass our lips. I've always read that as meaning language designed to offend and upset people; you don't have to swear to do that! I guess it's all about context and audience. I didn't swear in front of my Gran because she'd be upset, but with my friends in the pub it's not an issue.

Maybe the key value to Christianity is rooted in that in a small way: it's not necessarily about you, it's about what is best for those around you. An attempt to remove one's own prejudice and do what's best for those around you, regardless of what you may think of them.

Leroy said...

Here's a dude arguing exactly the opposite to me on swearing:

I still read the passages quoted there as being about slander, gossip etc. Swearing is too subjective - words and their meaning change. It's the sentiment that's the issue.

Off topic I guess, but it got me thinking.

Peanut said...

i just wanted to say how refreshing it is to have a discussion on quite a charged matter like religion where everyone has their own views and they can be, in their very nature, quite 'fundamental', without it having collapsed into a flamewar already.

Bravo, Gormanites!! (that would have been our Old Testament tribe name....)

Brian said...

Dave: "The fundamental values of christians and non-christians don't seem to change all that much and then a lot of other stuff - like smoking etc. - are mutable."

Fair comment, I guess there are different levels of values. I was going to say that 'There may be fewer distinct Christian ones at the lower levels but instead more that derive from interpretation and application of the more fundamental ones to a particular issue', but then the same probably applies also to general human values.

Application of the values that individuals subscribe to, whether Christian or not, is not always a good reflection of those values (at least at the lower levels).

Leroy has explained the swearing point, but putting it into the context of AW on Strictly (which I didn't see), it's more concerned with the words of the Christian who holds the value and my guess is that we won't hear AW swearing on Strictly, however entertaining and surprising that might be.

denmarkjon said...

If you want a specific example of a value which is peculiar to Christianity but not necessarily a human value, then the whole "turn the other cheek" thing comes to mind. I don't really think that it's particularly a human value to be forgiving when wronged.

There again, of course, the Old Testament contradicts the New with its "eye for an eye".

Article 82 said...

@Dave Gorman, re. your reply to my first comment, I agree with you entirely. There is nothing exclusively Christian about the values. It's quite clear that they are referred to as Christian values in spite of the fact that they go against traditional Christian teaching. They are amazingly liberal for Christianity.

I would hazard a guess at saying the term Christian values, really means British values, and the mix-up has come from the fact that the majority of the British people have traditionally been Christian, and most of Britain also has an established church.

We can only hope that as we travel through the 21st century, these Christian values (should we even need to elude to them at all) will encompass the liberties that are still being fought for, even though they will move Christianity further from their original traditions.

Leroy said...

I think the problem is that they have moved away from the original traditions of the early church, before there was even an organised Catholic and Orthodox church at all. Our idea of Christian values seems to be quite confused with Victorian puritan ideals. We're only just emerging from the Victorian age really...

Early church folks were concerned only with helping the poor, healing the sick and spreading the Love (see Acts in the NT). Power and influence didn't come into it until quite a bit later! That's the trouble with us humans: we get a good idea and slowly it gets twisted and misshapen until it's about power. I guess you could say the same about Communism in it's most pure, theoretical form. Or democracy even!

@denmarkjon: I think the NT builds on the OT. Like you say to a toddler "Don't do that!" and leave it at that, but you'll explain to a teenager a little more and give them more freedom. The OT is full of graphic, black and white statements. Jesus comes along and gives qualification to them and takes it to the next level. 10 commandments are condensed into "Love God" and "Love each other". If you properly stick to those two, you're probably doing the other 8 easy peasy. Even the oxen focussed ones.

Leebeloola said...

While I do agree that in today's world Christian values are generally considered good human values, we do not expect people to hold these. I hope they do but it is entirely up to them. While if a Christian is not forgiving and kind, this seems to go against the values they have chosen when deciding to be a Christian, similar to a social contract.

Sure, there are plenty of Christians who do not act according to their faith's values, but then others can ask them why not. While an atheist can just say they are not interested in being forgiving, those who are religious would be going against what others see as their chosen beliefs if they do not hold Christian values.

When claiming we are losing our Christian values, one assumes we had these to begin with and that we did not make a deliberate choice to move away from them. By being religious most people subscribe to a particular set of beliefs. However different these may be, they generally come as a package. This has the advantage that we do not need to think and decide on each one, but can still choose the degree to which we will adhere to them.

So when speaking of Christian values I believe we are talking about those beliefs we chose when choosing a religion. And by moving away from them we are talking about people with many different reasons for their values, thereby distanceing ourselves from religion. The values may stay the same but we now choose to take on more responsibility for them than before.

Leroy said...

Been thinking about specifically Christian values all day. These are the few that my friends find surprising in me. I guess that means they don't necessarily follow them!

Giving in secret. Lots of non-Christian people do this, but for Christians it is a matter of faith. A Christian is compelled to give 10%, but many give much more and don't do anything to draw attention to it. You'd never know...

No sex before marriage. (Always gets a gasp when people realise that you actually mean it!)

The sanctity of marriage in general. This means that divorce is to be avoided wherever possible. (Perhaps that could be a secular value too, but in my experience it is seen as more of an option earlier on amongst my non-Christian friends. Having said that, I know a few Christian divorcees, so maybe I'm talking crap). I personally have no problem extending this to same sex civil partnerships, but I'm aware that I'm not necessarily going to win many friends saying that and that it is complicated for Christians to accept this, even if they want to (and many really do). But that's what I think.

No desire for revenge or punishment of those that wrong you. At least that's the idea. It's hard when someone cuts you up in your car though - we all lose our temper - but the idea of not seeking personal revenge to rebalance a wrong is, I would say, a uniquely Christian ideal that is not to be taken lightly. This is hard enough on the road, but there have recently been some inspiring acts of forgiveness that almost defy understanding on a human level. For example:

I would say that this is possibly the "Christian value" that is most distinct from the expectations of secular society. Unfortunately, when I think of Bible belt America and it's love of the death penalty, I don't see it being practised that much. I may be wrong. I think that if there is one thing that Jesus demonstrated above all others, it's this. The garden of Gethsemane; his trial; his humiliation and torture; on the cross. It's pretty powerful stuff and perhaps by definition uniquely Christian.

What do you think? I'm happy for people to criticise and these are merely off the top of the head and not researched at all...I'm no theologian!

Unknown said...

Apologies, I haven't read all the other comments, so someone may already have said all this.

I'm a scottish catholic (with a science degree). I wouldn't say that any values which can be described as christian could be described as singularly christian. most modern religions have similar views on most things, and several older religions had similar views before christianity. I would say they were more prevalent in the modern world, because our cultured has been percolated through two millenia of monotheism.

I certainly wouldn't say, though, that christian values were a by-word for british values. certainly not where the papacy is concerned. the point of catholicism is that it is universal and the same values are meant to be applicable to all places and (particularly under this pope) all times. that catholic values and british values are not the same thing may be the one thing that the pope and ian paisley agree upon :)

I think the pope is worried that anything seen as tainted by religious thought is deemed unworthy by secularists. not necessarily by all atheists, but by those who deem religion as akin to stupidity or something more malicious.

(I don't necessarily agree with the pope, but that's what he, and a lot of the more conservative people in the church, seem to be getting at, to me.)

Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to one thing and one thing only - too many christians see so-called "christian values" as a way of elevating themselves, morally, above other people, making themselves superior to non-christians. I was brought up by athiest parents and very clearly taught the difference between right and wrong, compassion, caring and all the other things that christians claim to be their values.

Leroy said...

I couldn't disagree with the last statement more strongly. Not that you were brought up by parents with a clear vision of right and wrong and values - I'm sure you were! Rather that Christians have created a set of values simply to elevate themselves morally above others.

I would say that that is a complete misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about. Separate the faith from the people that may annoy you within it. If you don't, you could apply that same logic to any other group that gets on your nerves, say the Welsh or Liverpool fans (I'm in both those groups!). The faith teaches that the last shall be first and that the meek will win in the end. That no one should claim moral superiority and that you should never show off about your faith and that you should pray alone to avoid making people feel uneasy. That's what Jesus is reported as saying in the New Testament. A Christian that claims moral superiority is not really following these teachings.

When Christians choose to talk about their faith and values, you should see it more as thought they were recommending a really good film or a life changing book. That's how they feel: I love this experience that I have had and want to tell people about it so that they can get involved, if that's what they want. It's not necessarily the confrontational thing that it is often portrayed as being. If you are recommended a book by a passionate reader, you're free to read it or not. Personally though, I wouldn't think the person doing the recommending is claiming a superiority over my reading habits.

Whether people choose to claim moral authority over another group is a personal choice and one they would probably make whatever their religion or code for living. Like all groups, there are conceited, arrogant and bigoted Christians. Like all groups, there are also dedicated, conscientious Christians that are a credit to their peers. Don't damn one set for the folly of the others. That would be very sad.

BTW, I'm sorry for posting so much here. The debate has genuinely inspired me and got me thinking! I'll back off now...;)

Jamie Collins said...

Dave, I've wondered the same thing myself. I recently passed the time at a Devon bus stop having a very pleasant conversing with a man who described himself as a 'preacher'. I expressed the view that his 'Christian values' are very similar to my own (humanistic, secular, whatever) values. However, the problem we couldn't overcome was that he believed in the written word of the Bible and I..., well, let's say there are sections of the community in Britain today whom I think should be treated as equals but for whom the Bible suggests otherwise. Despite this, we parted on good terms... only to be spoilt when he tried to foist his literature on me when we were on the bus!

Dave Gorman said...

@Leroy I don't know what the anonymous commenter meant but, while I don't think for one minute that Christians have created a set of values to elevate themselves morally above others I do think the phrase is sometimes used to imply something of that kind. When someone says "what this country needs is a return to Christian values" the implication is that they are better than the values currently in place. I'm questioning that because I don't see how they are different to the values currently in place.

While I accept the list of values you posted giving in secret/no sex before marriage/the sanctity of marriage/no desire for revenge are part of Christian teachings I don't honestly believe they're what people mean when they use the phrase. Or rather, as I've said before, one person might take it that way and another person will take it the other.

I know plenty of Christians and very few of them abstained from sex before marriage. I don't know that the majority take giving-in-secret as an act of faith - certainly some that I know see tithing as having given way to taxes and assume that's that taken care of. At the same time, of all the married people I know (and I'll soon be one of them) I don't know anyone who doesn't believe in the sanctity of marriage whether they are of faith or not. I also see plenty of examples in the world where it is Christians who appear to be seeking revenge.

I'm pretty sure that most people hear the phrase and think it refers to kindness, forgiveness, charity and so on... all of which seem fairly universal to me. But, as Jamie Collins hints, there are views sometimes given as being religiously taught that would offend many.

Leroy said...

@Dave I guess giving in secret is impossible to measure. Because it's secret.

The whole sex before marriage and sanctity of marriage thing is, I'd agree, complicated and I'd hate to suggest that in the secular world it's taken lightly. Sanctity means holiness though; set apart for God. Funnily enough, the majority of Christian couples I know at least tried to abstain from sex before marriage. Some will claim they managed it (we did by the skin of our...well...).

I think that Christians that don't give in secret are missing out. The parable Jesus tells of the old woman giving her last coin away is a good illustration. Someone once told me that one should always give away slightly more than one is comfortable with! I think it would be sad to use taxes as a loop hole to get out of giving to the poor and needy. But that's a choice an individual has to take.

I guess that my point, my apology here is that we should separate out humans from the faith and from God. I am in the front of the criticise the church queue - I'm actually against organised religion and blanket doctrine - but I'm also acutely aware of a lack of understanding sometimes in the criticism. I'm being general here, and discussions like this one are fantastically helpful and measured and considerate. I think your original point is actually correct, but I don't think that it is Christianity that is the cause; it's human weakness, arrogance and conceitedness that is the problem, as it is in all walks of life. You are right to criticise phrases like "Christian values" being bandied around without explanation, without consideration. Christians should always be held to task for what they do and what they believe. But I sometimes feel that people confuse human weakness with a fundamental flaw in the faith itself, and that is just wrong. Subscribe to it or not, it is a faith that teaches tolerance, self-sacrifice and compassion. And that is a good set of values that should be encouraged, whatever one thinks of their origin. I just get the feeling in the coverage of the Pope's visit, both good and bad, that no one is really talking about Christianity but rather talking about the institutions connected with it but confusing the two! The validity of the pope's words does not change the sentiments of Christianity as taught by Jesus.

People are, by definition, flawed. Corrupt politicians, neglectful doctors, incompetent teachers etc. However, we can't judge a whole group of people and a set of ideas on the actions of these people. They should be rooted out and should be brought to task. But that doesn't mean the concepts of public service, medicine or education are somehow rotten and dysfunctional.

Big church doctrine does not equal Christianity. It should be challenged and fought and I applaud all who do. If you want to understand Christianity and it's aims, there is only one place to do that I'm afraid. That's from the words of the Jesus. Bummer.

Dave Gorman said...

@Leroy: I broadly agree. I'm dead chuffed that this thread has been as well mannered and, well, cosy as it has. Ace. It is only the phrase I was questioning - and the sort of blanket acceptance that the words Christian Values(R)(TM) = A Good Thing.

It might well be a good thing but unless it's a term that means the same thing to everyone who hears it, it's not a useful phrase to employ and especially when it is used to imply the absence of values in non-Christians.

To my mind there are many reasons why people of good conscience - whether atheists or theists of any stripe - might have objected to the Pope's presence. Whether it's because of the taxpayer paying for it or because of some of the abuses the institution he represents has visited on others.

Regardless of anyone's personal view as to the legitimacy of the Vatican as a State or the culpability of Benedict in the handling of serious abuses I think a reasonable adult can see that such views are not wholly unreasonable and that therefore some form of protest - in a society that should represent all views - is acceptable.

It seems from there to be 6 and half dozen. With a few protesters wrongly targeting faith and a few of the faithful wrongly criticising any and every protest as anti-faith. None of which is helpful.

Leroy said...

Amen to that!

It's hard not to get too carried away and defensive about this stuff. This is certainly the longest I've seen a thread like this go on without hatred and ignorance rearing its ugly head.

Well done Dave for being a measured, informed chap and well done everyone else for doing likewise! This little thread here is what this country is all about: the polite, well mannered and considered tolerance that made Britain Great despite the rabid hollering of extremism or ignorance. (As long as the word "Great" doesn't upset anyone);-)

Long live thoughtful mildness.

Kirst said...

I think the only thing which is an exclusively Christian value is the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of god and that acceptance of him is the only way to redemption and eternal life.

The other things which are often described as Christian values are very wide-ranging and not even all Christians believe all of them. For example, homosexuality is wrong and gay people should be put to death, sex outside marriage is wrong, people should be nice to one another, people should forgive each other, homosexuality is wrong but it's ok as long as you don't actually have sex, homosexuality is wrong but let's be nice to the gay people anyway, homosexuality isn't wrong, sex outside marriage isn't wrong, sex outside marriage is ok if it's in a stable committed relationship, women should dress modestly, women should wear whatever they want, murderers should be put to death, murderers should not be put to death...

All of those things have been called Christian values by someone at some point, even though some of them are completely contradictory. And none of them are views which can only be held by Christians, and nobody could be said to be a Christian just because they hold one or more of those views.