There is a strain of right-wing thought, especially in Europe, that holds Christianity responsible for the collapse of the West into rationalized egalitarian mass society. Christian monotheism and emphasis on the equality of souls before God, it is said, undercuts particularity, diversity, and hierarchy. And in the absence of some admixture of those things all you can have is social and moral chaos ordered at most by some combination of force, fraud and money.
The implications of such claims aren’t altogether clear. It’s as if someone said it’s been bad for my character to have the ancestry and upbringing I do. What sense can that make, when so little remains of me apart from those things? The West is simply the group of societies that were once part of Catholic Christendom, together with their overseas offspring. While Western culture is said to be composed of classical and Germanic as well as Christian elements, it’s not easy to separate the three. Christianity began in the Roman Empire, it spread, developed and grew up there, its formative languages were Greek and Latin, and the Roman Empire converted to it in accordance with its own needs. So why is Christianity foreign to Classical culture any more than Platonism? As to the Germans, they too became Christian without external compulsion—presumably because of weaknesses within paganism—and didn’t have much civilization before then.
So without Christianity there’s no West to worry about. Still, one can speculate about how Christianity has contributed to Western particularities. I think it’s true that the irreducible value of each individual has been a specifically Christian contribution to our politics. I have no idea why that conception is thought to be radically at odds with hierarchy. If I’m in a room with a bunch of rocks it’s not hierarchy. Loyalty, mutual personal obligation and recognition of what is to be respected in others only matter if each of the parties has individual value. And equality of souls with respect to a transcendent principle that can’t possibly be fully actualized here and now or by our own efforts doesn’t strike me as a spur to any particularly aggressive form of equality.
In general, I think a key contribution of Christianity to what Europe has been was to provide a transcendent common order within which particular peoples, institutions, political societies and whatnot could exist for hundreds of years and understand themselves as part of the same social world with considerable relative autonomy and no formal system of compulsion. I’m not sure how else that unity in diversity could have been maintained. Before Christianity there were divine emperors and after Christianity there’s the EU. Why are those things so great?
Christianity seems to me the system most favorable to meaningful freedom and diversity. The Trinity puts diversity of a sort at the center of things, and the Incarnation makes concrete particulars capable of expressing divinity. The transnational Church hierarchy gives institutional expression to the principle that it’s not force but truth that’s the thing ultimately authoritative and the supreme essence of community. No other religion has anything similar, and I don’t think that’s by accident. A universal hierarchical Church is the obvious continuation of the Incarnation, which establishes the point that divine authority has to be concretely and identifiably present here and now among us, so it can establish a common moral world and standard of truth, but it can’t be a matter of direct political power.