Episode 74: Is Christianity relevant?

Dan and Jon discuss the relevance and impact of Christianity in the modern world. They delve into how aspects of Christianity have influenced society, not only in superficial ways like our calendar, but in deeper things such as values, moral codes, and societal norms. The hosts reference various sources, including notable historians and authors like Tom Holland and Yuval Noah Harari, asserting that many fundamental beliefs and values in Western society, such as the sanctity of life and the concept of equality, have their roots in Christian teachings. That may make Christianity relevant in modern society, but does it make it true?

Show Notes

Dan and Jon start by acknowledging that the Western world is essentially post-Christian. Church attendance has been in free fall and many people no longer identify as religious at all. In this context, it is worth asking whether Christianity has any relevance in today’s modern world?

Jon begins to answer this by looking at some superficial examples of Christianity’s lingering influence. This is seen in the Western calendar based around Christian holidays, which acts as a signpost to the Christian history that lies behind the Western world. In the same way, place names sometimes demonstrate a background that is now completely irrelevant. (Dan cites villages with an undeniable Latin influence close to his home – Sheepy Magna and Sheepy Parva). Is this the same for the Christian history? Do we see only a trivial connection to a Christian past which is no longer meaningful?

Christian marriage, economic growth and care for the poor

Going deeper, Jon articulates how Christian teachings contributed significantly to the prevalence of societal norms like the concept of monogamy. There is a compelling case that has been made by several historians and psychologists[1] that Christianity’s teaching on monogamous marriage helped to create societies where economic growth and human flourishing was more likely. This has been linked to a reduction in testosterone levels in married men. Monogamous marriage has been directly connected to lower crime levels for the same reason. The Christian concept of settling down with another, rather than men competing for multiple wives or taking whoever they pleased, generated a more stable society. Much more than, for example, a competitive environment of power dynamics in the Roman world.

Continuing this discussion, Jon and Dan explore the origins of universities, schools, social justice, charity, and the concept of caring for the needy. Linking all of these features of modern life back to early Christian communities, they go on to suggest that valuing human life was a uniquely Judeo-Christian notion, radically different from other Greco-Roman beliefs of their times. Examples include the pioneering hospital by Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century and how Christian communities routinely saved and nurtured new-born babies that had been discarded in waste heaps after being deemed defective by Roman and Greek families. Today, the Western world would find the practice of discarding babies morally reprehensible, and we owe those values strictly to Christian communities.

Jesus and Aristotle

Jon and Dan then consider what drove Christians to care for the poor and the sick and the disadvantaged. They discuss how the belief in the sanctity of life and equality for all come from the Bible and the teaching of Jesus and his early disciples.

Jesus taught his followers to “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:44) and he was forever acknowledging the value and worth of those suffering oppression; “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:5). Drawing the inevitable conclusions from the words of Jesus, the apostle Paul taught an equality so radical in the Roman world. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

By way of contrast, Jon and Dan comment on how Greco-Roman views articulated by Aristotle provide evidence of a very different set of values. Aristotle said of new-borns, “let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared”[2] And in contrast to Paul, he believed that certain races were suitable for slavery; “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule” [3]

Dan argues that all modern Westerners would intuitively be repulsed by Aristotle’s views, but the Christian basis of their belief in the equality of humanity is largely unknown. Even when the church and organised Christianity has behaved terribly throughout history, the basis of our outrage comes from Christian intuition. We judge human evil and wickedness because we hold to Christian assumptions.

Is Christian morality relevant?

Jon critically acknowledges that modern morality isn’t purely ‘Christian,’ but nonetheless argues that the sense of right and wrong, or good and evil has its basis in Christianity. The very notion that it is wrong to oppress sections of society has come from Christian thinking, and this has even contributed to the current ‘woke’ culture, (as argued by historian Tom Holland[4]).

Dan and Jon ponder what was particularly Christian about this idea and settle on the crucifixion of Jesus. The death of Jesus, an innocent man and the Son of God, who willingly shared in suffering and the shame of dying as a slave, was a radical idea. Christians worshiped and valued someone who gave his life for all, slaves and masters, Greeks and barbarians. The Roman culture privileged the wealthy and powerful, but it was Christianity that drove people’s care for all, no matter their social status, because their king himself had died the death of a slave, to save all.

Is Christianity relevant today?

To close the podcast, Jon encourages us to dive into the hidden depths of their beliefs, assumptions, and the origins of the values we hold today. If our society’s fundamental beliefs are based on Christian principles, then perhaps this should invite us to consider the truth about Christian claims as well. Dan suggests reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as an intro into the amazing teachings of Jesus.

Related content

In episode 52: What is Church for? we consider the relevance of going to church in the modern world.

We discuss the meaning of life in episode 41 with the help of a surprisingly relevant wisdom book from the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes.

The Jesus of History is reconstructed in this episode in a way that doesn’t presume supernatural claims. We encourage the listener to see the value in Jesus and his teaching as a possible first step towards faith.


[1] e.g. agnostic Joseph Henrich, The Weirdest People in the World and Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens

[2] Aristotle, Politics

[3] Ibid

[4] Tom Holland, Dominion