Idealising the past
I was a huge Michael W. Smith fan when growing up. In the 1990s, Smith was a popular Christian pop artist, and I loved his music! One of my favourite songs was the fast paced Breakdown, from his 1995 album, I‘ll Lead You Home. Singing to background snippets of a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, Smith brings across a message of social and moral decay in secular
See the powder on the glass
See the pillow on the street
See the charter of a modern love
With no obligations...or promises to meet
Hear the fear of disease
Hear the baby never born
Hear a people crying out
“Somebody save us - oh, please somebody save us
From what we're headed for - from what we're headed for
In this song, Smith, like many Christians, believes that society has decayed because it has abandoned its Christian roots:
Wasn't it long ago
Wasn't it on a
Wasn't it the standard - people praying to
The Son and the Father and the Holy Ghost
Powerful words, but does Smith’s message – that Western society has fallen into moral chaos because it has abandoned Christianity – have any merit? As I wrote in part 1 and part 2 of this series, an argument can be made that religion doesn’t guarantee, or result in, a healthy or prosperous society. On page 303 of Sense and Goodness without God, Richard Carrier tackles the nostalgic belief that society was somehow better yesterday than it is today, and he and argues that Western society, despite that fact that isn’t perfect, is in a much better moral shape than just a few hundred years ago. Think of the following facts:
- Never before have millions of people given freely to international aid, without regard for borders or religious affiliation. We now even give aid to our enemies.
- The right to education, free speech, protest, universal suffrage – and in some countries, the right to basic services – are benefits that we enjoy in modern Western society.
- Woman and minorities now have full political rights.
- Crime in the
has decreased substantially since the early 1990’s. USA
- Formal slavery has been eradicated, and forms of racism are loathed by most individuals.
- Most people now have compassion for the plight of animals.
- In the past, children were once legally beaten and often exploited. They are also now legally protected.
Does Carrier have a point here, that Smith and others have idealised the past? In a moral sense, are we truly better off than our forefathers?