Noah Millman continues the discussion of the relationship between Christianity, liberalism, and human rights:

That’s a quality that I’ve learned to interrogate: I find I often learn more by asking “why do you care so much about this?” than by simply pursuing the argument on its own terms.

This is a question that sometimes occurs to me when I’m arguing with supporters of democracy promotion. The enthusiasm for shaping the politics of other nations puzzles me, and I don’t fully understand why some Americans claim this ought to be such a high priority for the U.S. I understand the arguments that democratists make, but I don’t understand why they make them.

Coming back to Ross’ argument, I was struck by another part of his exchange with Saletan:

Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel.

As a matter of the historical development of the different things that Ross lists here, he is right that political and philosophical liberalism emerged in the context of a Christian civilization, and it drew on the intellectual and religious heritage of that civilization as it developed. However, I don’t know that any of the other claims here are “completely obvious.” It’s hard to judge the claim about separation of church and state, since that way of thinking about the relationship of political and religious institutions is more or less unique to certain Christian societies and it does not always apply in all historically Christian countries even now.

The Christian understanding that our true citizenship is in heaven did not prevent Christian polities from pursuing various arrangements that bore no resemblance to what most Americans think “separation of church and state” means. To the extent that liberalism depends on Christianity for its existence and its claims, it is doing so in reaction against and rejection of the Christianity that was contemporary with the earliest liberals.