Why care about Christianity? Examples

Following this post, if you don’t understand Christianity it will be very difficult to understand Western Civilization. Some examples, and associated general patterns.

1. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and Christian themes pervade his The Lord of the Rings. It is entirely possible to read his works and simply enjoy the escapist fantasy, adventure, and so on. Yet, if you really want to plumb the meaning of his novels, you have to understand significant parts of Christianity. A similar case can be made for much of Western literature.

2. Columbus. The experts of the day thought the world was much bigger than Columbus thought (and they turned out to be right). It just so happened that there was a land mass near abouts where Columbus thought Asia would be. Columbus thought he was being told by God to sail west. You can’t understand the history of western exploration without understanding the pivotal trip of Columbus, and you can’t understand that without understanding something of Columbus’ Christianity. A similar case can be made for much of Western geographical expansion – it is difficult to understand it without understanding something of Christianity, not just at an abstract level but on an individual level.

3. Newton, besides being probably the most important scientist yet, wrote a large amount of theology. Most of this was unpublished, and discovered after his death (so he wasn’t writing it to ingratiate himself with the authorities, or what have you). It’s clear that theological issues mattered greatly to Newton. How can you understand what he accomplished without understanding some of the Christian ideas that motivated or informed him? Similarly with Boyle, Faraday, and on and on. Most of the pillars of modern science were devout Christians. How can you understand the unique development of science within the Christian West without understanding Christianity?

4. Bach. It’s straightforwardly clear that Bach’s music is beautiful, and one can simply enjoy it on that level (as with Tolkien’s works). Yet, Bach was a very well-informed Christian, and you can’t really understand what’s going on in his music without understanding the (supposed) events he is writing about. So on and so forth for much of Western music.

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