I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that most of the moral beliefs that we hold to are not really ones that we discovered per se. They came to us through a background culture that we are not aware of. We’ve grown up with them so much that we don’t even see them anymore.
Sometimes you hear about people who live next to an airport. At first, they hear the planes coming in and taking off. After awhile, they no longer hear it. When my wife and I first moved to Tennessee, there was a time she could hear the trains coming by as we lived probably less than a mile from the train tracks. I had got used to it. It took her a little while.
In the same way, when you grow up in a culture that has these kinds of moral beliefs, it’s natural to just assume that everyone knows that. They don’t. Go back 200 years and you will find people defending slavery. In many ways, they would still be the odd man out. Go back 2,000 years however and there’s not much talk about it. Why? Because everyone knows it’s wrong? No. Because most everyone knows that’s the way the world works. Some people were meant to be slaves.
Christianity changed culture radically. After awhile, Christians were buying slaves just to set them free. Christians were the ones rescuing little girls who had been abandoned to die in the forest and helping them live and condemning abortion. Christians were the ones who when plague struck stayed by the side of the sick. Unknowingly, they likely had some Christians get a natural immunity to plague as a result of this.
When we look at many of our beliefs today like slavery being wrong and wanting to do good for the poor and doing good just because it’s the right thing to do, these come largely from Christianity. Consider that today, most non-Christians will even think you should be married to one person only. Is marriage being eroded today? Yes. Easy divorce and the redefinition of marriage and living together before marriage aren’t helping. Still, watch most sitcoms even and when a person finds someone and marries them, they’re not really dating anyone else anymore. The search is done.
Many of these ideas even go against our base nature. If a man had his way, it would most often be polygamy or polyamory. Would a man really invent the idea of getting to be sexual with just one woman only and keeping her alone for life and forsaking all others? Yet that is what is done so much so that what is so contrary to our natures is what is seen as normal.
For slavery, it’s thought that we all know a human being shouldn’t own another one. Now, of course, I will debate what happened in the Old Testament times and say it was not New World slavery, but we all look at that slavery today and think it’s a no-brainer. Why? Because we have been Christianized and we haven’t even realized it.
Where do these beliefs come from? For those outside of Christianity, they seem to just be floating on air. They’re there. How do we ground them? For Christians, they are grounded in the image of God. There is something sacred about human beings. C.S. Lewis once said that apart from the sacrament, the most holy sight you will ever see in this lifetime is your neighbor. That person is in the image of God.
When I debate skeptics then, I question this idea that all these things are just obvious. Give a grounding for them. Why do we think this? I also fear that if we let the ones on marriage and sexuality erode, it won’t be long before we’ll also be a slave culture again and everything else. A pre-Christian man is a good state to be in because he’s on the verge of coming to Christ. A post-Christian man is a dangerous one that we don’t know what will happen. Such a person will often think Christianity is a step backward and will do anything to avoid that, even if it means dismissing his fellow human being. We already see this with abortion. How much further can it go?