Did you know that the residents of Tilehurst are WEIRD?

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How rude! But please let me explain. We are Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic – at least compared to most of the world’s population. 

And we tend to have shared values.

For example, we believe in the equal worth of all people, whatever their status, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and age. We agree that a society should be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. We believe that education should be the right of all, rich and poor, those with the brain of Einstein or with learning difficulties. 

If you are a parent of school-age children or a teacher, you will be aware of the five values promoted in our schools: respect for democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. 

Why do we hold these views in Britain today? They certainly weren’t espoused in the distant past. And aren’t they at odds with the evolutionary idea of the survival of the fittest? Why is compassion behind so much of what we now regard as self-evident truths?

Well, Glen Scrivener in his excellent book, The Air We Breathe addresses these questions just as Tom Holland did in his highly respected tome, Dominion. 

And, perhaps surprisingly, since one is a Christian minister and the other is a historian, and not a professing Christian, they reach a similar conclusion: we share these values because of the huge influence of Christianity on our society, what Scrivener calls the Jesus Revolution.

In a lively, readable style he explores various topics: equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment (with both a lower case and upper case first letter!) science, freedom and progress, looking at how we reached the level of ‘civilisation’ we now enjoy.

For instance, did you know that, while Roman society had relied on slaves (called ‘living tools’ by Aristotle and Plato), monks invented mechanical ones, including the heavy plough, eyeglasses and the clock?

While Romans had ‘sick bays’ to treat those necessary for their economic and military usefulness, 4th century Christians, convinced of the right of everyone to receive healthcare, founded hospitals and sacrificially treated plague victims and lepers.

And since social position and gender dictated how much sexual power one had in Roman times, what would those living then make of the recent prosecution of male police officers who used their position to abuse young women?

Scrivener contends that we aspire to a compassionate society because of the difference
Jesus has made to our thinking.

Read the book and see if you agree.

Book review by Penny.