The Air We Breathe: How we all came to believe in freedom, kindness, progress, and equality Glen Scrivener Good Book Company, 2022
I gave a brief review of this book by the Australian pastor Glen Scrivener (now living in the UK) in a recent post. However, I would like to share more and encourage you further to purchase his book. It will equip you to engage in good conversations with the lost and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance help you to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. As a reminder Scrivener’s main thesis for his book:
“Today in the west, many consider the church to be dead or dying. Christianity is seen as outdated, bigoted, and responsible for many of society’s problems. This leaves many believers embarrassed about their faith and many outsiders wary of religion. But what if the Christian message is not the enemy of our modern Western values, but the very thing that makes sense of them?”
SCRIVENER ON PROGRESS
Progress does have a dark side. Darwin proclaimed biological progress (evolution by random chance versus creation by an intelligent designer), Hegel, historical progress (Hegel’s providence is not the providence of the Judeo-Christian God. Rather, Hegel argues that universal history is itself the divine Spirit or Geist manifesting or working), Freud, psychological progress, and Marx, economic and political progress. The ugly fruit of such philosophies notwithstanding, Christian ideals run through them like veins in blue cheese. But without a vertical reference (God unacknowledged), the desire for progress all too easily spawns violence. The 20th century was the most blood-stained in history, the ‘murder century’. Think of Stalin’s Holodomor (Ukrainian: murder by famine) and purge of tens of millions in the 1930s, or of Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ (1958–1962), where over 45 million died of overwork, starvation, or murder—not to mention the horrors of death camps like Auschwitz. Post-WWII, a moral standard was needed to establish the ‘self-evident’ moral truths so bespattered by the Nazis. As with slavery, those atrocities were deemed “crimes against humanity” but few admitted they were crimes against God. If they were mere “crimes against humanity”, we have a dilemma, for humanity was on both sides (evil oppressors and their victims). Scrivener states pithily, “If
we’re all squabbling apes, then there’s no transcendent justice in condemning Nazism” (p. 181). So what price progress?
Secularism today, having fled past evils, now pursues values like rights, freedom, and progress, but divorces them from their source. This concurs with Tom Holland’s thesis in Dominion—without Christianity’s humanity-enhancing teaching about the image of God, the ruthless suppression of weaker minorities fits evolutionary logic: “To believe that God had become man and suffered the death of a slave was to believe that there might be strength in weakness, and victory in defeat. Darwin’s theory, more radically than anything that previously had emerged from Christian civilization, challenged that assumption. Weakness was nothing to be valued. Jesus, by commending the meek and the poor over those better suited to the great struggle for existence, had set Homo sapiens on the downward path toward degeneration. For eighteen long centuries, the Christian conviction that all human life was sacred had been underpinned by one doctrine more than any other: that man and woman were created in God’s image.”
Transgender advocates want equality, compassion, and consent, but they divorce these from Christianity and recombine them
differently. Equality becomes a radical individualism as people emphasize rights over institutions and community. Compassion risks becoming what sociologists have termed ‘competitive victimhood’, and perceived victim status is used to gain an advantage. This leads to clashes between different minority groups—e.g. feminists versus trans-rights activists—so whose suffering takes precedence? Divorcing sexual consent from Christian values is a wrecking ball as far as marriage, family, and the wider community are concerned. As Scrivener points out, “Consent is vital, but it is not a sufficient foundation for sexual ethics” (p. 194). Progressive secularization is not a sustainable strategy! The WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) values upon which Scrivener’s book focuses are strongly believed by all, but people in Western society are
making a hash of applying them in everyday life. Compared to the ancient world, equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment, science, freedom, and progress were given a makeover by Christianity, and these are dear to the hearts of modern people. As
Scrivener says, “These are our creedal convictions, and, by and large, we are a society of believers” (p. 197). But even as people are straining to discard Christianity, they continue with their moralizing: “If anyone blasphemes our WEIRD values … we ‘cancel’ them—that is, we ostracise them socially and professionally. This is really a modern form of ‘ex-communication’ for modern kinds of ‘heretics’” (p.198). And anyone can find themselves a target, especially, as the author wryly observes, with the turbo-charging of outrage made possible by social media. In today’s ‘cancel culture, there is plenty of guilt, but without grace, forgiveness is nowhere in sight! Scrivener is right on the money in noting that the denial of King Jesus while trying to retain Christian ideals,
brings judgment, not liberation: “In order to pursue the kingdom without the King, we have had to dethrone the person of Christ and install abstract values instead. … [But] Values can only judge you” (p. 200). People need the Gospel of hope, so the author invites readers to consider how history will judge them— more especially how will God judge them? Wonderfully, Christ came not to police people’s morals so much as to heal them, cleanse them, and forgive needy, despondent human beings.
Scrivener skilfully defends the Gospels and their accounts of Christ, and he does so in a highly original and compelling manner,
demonstrating their sheer genius. The strong evangelistic approach is fresh, not hackneyed. Jesus, the History Maker, is the One behind the values so cherished by the West—He embodies them. In fact, Christ loved this world to death, pioneering life for all violators of those values through His Resurrection. This is not a book that fizzles out toward the end. In its closing pages,
Scrivener appeals in turn to the three categories of readers mentioned in the second paragraph of this review. It is refreshingly honest and very well executed. To Christians, he writes, “In all this, great wisdom is needed to discern the Christian-ish values of a
WEIRD culture from true Christianity” (p. 230). Absolutely, and this book deserves to be very widely read to equip us to convey the truth to those the Holy Spirit brings across our path.