The Lodestar of Western Morality image

The Lodestar of Western Morality

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The absolute standard of Western morality used to be Jesus, and now it is Hitler. That is the remarkable conclusion of Alec Ryrie's remarkable book, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, which I have just reviewed for The Gospel Coalition. It may just be me, but I think the following 275 words explain so much:

Cultural conservatives sometimes worry that modern Western societies lack shared sacred narratives, but this is not exactly true. In the same way that Victorian publishers endlessly retold the life of Jesus, post-war films, novels and other media endlessly retold and retell the Second World War. It is the story to which we endlessly return. Its history retains an unparalleled grip on our imagination because it is our Paradise Lost: our age’s defining battle with evil.

Once the most potent moral figure in Western culture was Jesus Christ. Believer or unbeliever, you took your ethical bearings from him, or professed to. To question his morals was to expose yourself as a monster.

Now, the most potent moral figure in Western culture is Adolf Hitler. It is as monstrous to praise him as it would once have been to disparage Jesus. He has become the fixed reference point by which we define evil ...

In the seventeenth century, arguments tended to end with someone calling someone else ‘atheist’, marking the point at which the discussion hit a brick wall. In our own times, as Godwin’s Law notes, the final, absolute and conversation-ending insult is to call someone a Nazi. This is neither an accident nor a marker of mental laziness. It reflects that fact that Nazism, almost alone in our relativistic culture, is an absolute standard: a point where argument ends, because whether it is good or evil is not up for debate. Or again, while Christian imagery, crosses and crucifixes have lost much of their potency in our culture, there is no visual image which now packs as visceral an emotional punch as a swastika.

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