In The Soul of Doubt Erdozain contends that most of Christianity’s starkest critics (i.e. those who cried, “Foul!” when Calvin burned “heretics” at the stake and Luther thumbed his nose at morality) made arguments rooted in genuine Christian ethics. His essential claim is that “[T]he ‘secular’ critique of Christianity was a burning product of the religion it dared to appraise.” While his arguments are convincing, reviewer Hecht challenges this premise, insisting that Christianity doesn’t have a corner on the morality market: “The real roots of secular ethics in the 18th to 20th centuries are to be found in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Star Trek.” She contends that “some element of personal ethics seems to be hard-wired in humans.”
Throughout his book, Erdozain points out how often dissenters cited “conscience” as their basis for dissent—from Luther to Marx, there was a sense that the human conscience played the starring role in reshaping Christianity and the societies in which it took root. So what, then, is the source of our conscience? Is conscience simply the “personal ethic” that is “hard-wired” in humans, or is it the “inner light”—that trace of the divine that points to a higher power? And if it is the trace of the divine, can that divine be clearly revealed to be the God of the Bible?
Hecht’s challenges to Erdozain made me realize how euro-centric both arguments are. In other words, if we are trying to determine if some form of personal ethics are indeed hard-wired into humans, we would need to look beyond the borders of Europe. Hecht refers to Buddhism in her critique, but doesn’t acknowledge the extreme difference in the Asian “personal ethic” as contrasted to the European “personal ethic.” Is there a difference between the collective conscience of Africans and the collective conscience of Native Americans? Do they, too, reflect the same values?
Jeff Fountain, former European director of Youth With a Mission and founder of the Schuman Centre for European Studies, believes that the basic values that are held by the modern European collective conscience are essentially Christian, and that even though many Europeans have rejected Christianity as religion, the continent continues to benefit from a long history of Christian influence. Building on that premise, he works with an ecumenical Christian initiative called “Together for Europe.”
Together for Europe proposes a culture of fraternity based around seven yeses: a yes to life from conception to natural death, to the family based on marriage between a man and a woman, a yes to creation defending nature and the environment, a yes to a just economy at the service of every person, a yes to solidarity with the poor and marginalised, near and far, a yes to peace and a yes to responsibility towards the whole of society so that cities become places of welcome for people of different nationalities and cultures.
While these “yeses” are essentially founded on a Christian ethic, the Together for Europe movement is not advocating for a Christian society like Calvin sought to establish in Geneva. Fountain asserts, “Let us take another look at Europe—this time to see what God is doing. ‘Wheat and tares’ will always grow up together. We should focus on the ‘wheat’ and look for signs of hope, faith, and vision among the ruins. God is not finished with Europe yet!” In other words, they have no desire to root out those who are apostate, but rather to be attentive to and active where God is at work in and through their society.
In essence, Fountain is of the opinion that Christian values have shaped the European conscience and thereby contributed to much of what is beautiful, good, and admirable in Europe, including a general concern for human rights and an appreciation for the arts. He believes that “Christians should be aware of how the Bible and the story of Jesus have been the most influential shapers of Europe’s past” because too often we remember the negative effects of religious wars and the hypocrisy of the Church while failing to acknowledge the positive influences that have also made their mark.
The truth in Fountain’s assertions can be tested by comparing Europe with continents that have not had a long history with Christianity. In a 2015 listing of the 11 countries with the best human rights ranking in the world –ten of the eleven countries listed were in Europe, and the only one that was not in Europe—Canada—has distinctly European roots. Interestingly, one of the key measurements used was whether or not the country valued “freedom of conscience.” Furthermore, in a 2016 report on human rights, 36 of the 50 top rated countries were in Europe. Is this just coincidence, or might Jeff Fountain be on to something?
And if Fountain is correct in his assertion, then perhaps Erdozain has a response for his critic, Hecht. Maybe the secular ethic (in Europe, at least) can be linked to a Christian ethic, rooted in the belief that humans are made in the image of God and have inherent worth. For if the ethics were, indeed, “hard-wired” in humans, wouldn’t the same value on human dignity be evident across the globe? While I do not mean to insinuate that Christians have amonopoly on morals, I do think that there is some evidence that shows that those countries where Christianity has had a significant historical presence do tend to be places where freedom of conscience, religion, movement, and speech are broadly enjoyed. And I don’t think that is a coincidence.
 Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 4.
 Jennifer Michael Hecht, “How Secular Are Secular Ethics?,” Chronicle of Higher Education 62, no. 24 (February 26, 2016): 7–7.
 “Europe,” Lausanne Movement (blog), November 11, 2014, https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2014-11/europe-strategic-mission-field.
 “Europe Must Be Attentive to Its Soul | Ireland,” accessed January 25, 2018, http://www.focolare.org/ireland/news/2016/07/02/europe-must-be-attentive-to-its-soul/.
 “11 Countries with the Best Human Rights Ranking in the World,” Insider Monkey, accessed January 25, 2018, http://www.insidermonkey.com/blog/11-countries-with-the-best-human-rights-ranking-in-the-world-348260/.
 Ian Vasquez and Tanja Porcnik, The Human Freedom Index 2016: A Global Measurement of Personal, Civil, and Economic Freedom, 2016, http://www.deslibris.ca/ID/10065297.