21 July 2022

Book Review: The Air We Breathe by Glen Scrivener

This book review first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of the Social Issues Bulletin. Download the whole Bulletin.

The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality
Glen Scrivener
The Good Book Company, 2022, 240 pages, £8.49

Some people might think the values we hold, the instinctive responses that we have to injustice, pain and suffering are just there because they are there. It’s as if morality just exists – there in the ether. No one created it, it just evolved by itself, and yet we seem to think it is an absolute. We reason that being a cannibal is ok for spiders and sharks but not for us. In particular, we assume our modern values of equality, diversity, human rights etc., are obvious, natural and universal. Media interviewers ask questions on the basis that truth matters and that there is some kind of value system to be judged against. Our friends at the pub all believe in right and wrong, and a set of universals that they argue about but probably can’t argue for.

But those values in the air we breathe are there for a reason. They are there because of a person, a divine person, who put them there.

In this rigorously researched but easily accessible book Glen Scrivener takes us through bible texts and a vast swathe of history to show that our values not only come from the recent influences of Western Christianity, but their historical roots go back much further, in fact to the creation of the world and the order, justice and morality God set in place which flows from his character.

We may have distorted the discussion and shaped it around our idolatrous world views but still the imprint of the creator cannot be scratched out

Part of the genius of this book is it provides us with really intriguing historical insights which are set against the conversation going on in our culture right now, tapping into the debates around slaverly, #metoo and Black Lives Matter.

Scrivener shows us that there is essentially no issue that we discuss and debate in politics or popular culture, no issue in the news or current campaign that does not trace its driving force from us being image-bearers. In the process, he convincingly demonstrates that the conversations we are having now are just the kind of moral dilemmas you would expect from moral agents created by God and in his likeness. For example, Scrivener helps us see that the current issue of equality is rooted in the special creation of human beings and that the ancient and modern creation myths are all about chaos, fighting and slavery.

Interesting to note that the random accident evolutionary model for the origins of our world, with its chaotic beginnings and the striving for survival, shares more with ancient Greek mythology than you might at first think. Science itself is only an observation of what God has ordered in creation. Even the notion that science actually works, the way the universe works, is discoverable and behaves consistently is all part of the ordering, not chaos, that God puts into his creation.

Scrivener then goes on to show that the concept of compassion as a virtue is rooted in the character of God and doesn’t arise naturally from being evolved animals. And then again, the importance of consent – in particular in the area of sex – arises from the love of God and the dignity of human beings.

Scrivener then walks us through the ideas of freedom, justice and human rights, showing that they only make sense if humans are special creations under God’s authority.

All in all, this is a great book for Christians to read – you will be better equipped for conversations about our culture. The book is full of useful facts and stories and is also a fantastic resource to give away to friends and family to get them thinking about the God who made and shapes ‘the air we breathe’.


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