Book Reviews

Book Review: The Air We Breathe (Glen Scrivener)

People from all across the globe (amazingly) read this blog. Many are Easterners.  For us Westerners, as Glen Scrivener writes, we are “goldfish, and Christianity is the water in which [we] swim” (11). Another way to put it is that “Christianity is the air we breathe” (11). Our values and goals—equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment, science, freedom, and progress—are dependent on the Jesus revolution. How did these things become the air we breathe? Scrivener’s two-sentence answer is:

The extraordinary impact of Christianity is seen in the fact that you don’t notice it. You already hold particularly “Christian-ish” views, and the fact that you think of these values as natural, obvious or universal shows how profoundly the Christian revolution has shaped you. (13)

Scrivener does not present a “West is best” argument, for you will see plenty of evil in this book that has been propagated in the West’s history. However, our “distinctive outlook” has emerged in cultures that are, as Joseph Henrich puts it, W.E.I.R.D—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.

After his Introduction, Scrivener begins by taking us to the past. We see how Romans, particularly men, thought of themselves as better than anyone and everyone else. The cross was utterly shameful, the fitting death for slaves. Scrivener notes, “To see someone crucified was to watch their un-person-ing and to hear the message, Do not go the way of this wretch” (28-29). For the Romans, this was simply what nature itself taught. Nature (and what the theory of evolution teaches) is that “some were fitter, stronger, smarter, and, frankly, better than others” (31). Racially, Greeks were better than barbarians. Among the sexes, men were better than women. Among classes, free men are greater than slaves. There was a hierarchy, and it was built right into nature. Obviously, nobody would follow some Jew who claimed to have a “kingdom not of this world” who then hung on a cross. Except, two thousand years later, here we are. Though imperfect, Christianity is a major religion, and people express the ethics and beliefs not of Rome, but of Christ, in their daily lives.

Scrivener looks at origin stories and why we value each other equally based on both the Genesis story and Christianity. We have compassion on the weak, on those who can’t help themselves, protecting them instead of eliminating them because “Christianity is about the sacrifice of the Fittest (Jesus Christ) for the survival of the weakest (us)” (65). Sex and marriage matter to God, as well as people. Abused slaves, women, and children were taken in and taken care of by the early church—before anyone else was doing it. The advances of the Enlightenment were born from those of the medieval age, the supposed “dark ages” (which actually weren’t dark at all). Scrivener isn’t afraid to lift up the rug and bring up the dirty past—the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.

These centuries didn’t mean a squelching of classical learning and an increase of superstition. It brought an explosion of learning, technology, human rights, universities, parliaments, and the Reformation. During the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, God and Newton were on the same team. But with the Enlightenment came division. Using the scientific method, Scrivener shows how God and science are not in conflict. He also brings up Galileo Galilei. The Catholic Church disagreed with him to because they disliked science, but because Galileo was of the minority who argued for the Copernican (heliocentric) model, as “both the data and scientific consensus were against him” (141). The Church was simply following the majority of scientists. Later, Galileo foolishly wrote a book about the sun- and earth-centered models and got on the wrong side of the Pope (portraying him as the “Simpleton” in his book). The issue in this story wasn’t that the Church sided against science. It was that Galileo was a fool.

We believe in the right to freedom (chapter 7) and progress where the arc of the universe bends toward justice (unlike the Holocaust) in chapter 8.

To give you another taste of the book, Scrivener summarizes his chapters as such:

  • Consider equality: once, steep moral hierarchies were the norm; now we want to root out inequalities wherever we find them.
  • Consider compassion: once, pity for the undeserving was considered a weakness; now we consider it a virtue.
  • Consider consent: once, powerful men could possess the bodies of whomever they pleased; now we name this as the abuse that it is.
  • Consider enlightenment: once, education was a luxury for rich men; now we consider it a necessity for all.
  • Consider science: once, knowledge of the natural world was based on the assertions of authorities; now we hold the powerful to account and we seek to test such claims against objective standards.
  • Consider freedom: once, it was assumed that certain classes of people could be enslaved; now we consider that idea a kind of “blasphemy”.
  • Consider progress: once, history was thought of as a descent from a golden age; now we feel that the arc of history bends, or should bend, towards justice.


This was really a delightful book. Scrivener brilliantly shows how many of the ideas we take for granted, beliefs we believe are “duh, who wouldn’t believe this? What was wrong with everyone else before this?” aren’t actually “self-evident.” Scrivener writes compellingly for the cross and resurrection of Christ. The first is shameful and the second unbelievable, yet they changed the course of the world. We get our ethics and moral value judgments not from Rome, but from Christianity. I don’t know how this book would ring in the ears of a non-Christian or to a Westerner with a different religious belief system, but I think Scrivener succeeds in showing how Christianity is the air we breathe. Pair this with Tom Holland’s Dominion. Highly recommended.


  • Author: Glen Scrivener
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher:The Good Book Company (June 1, 2022)
  • Read the Introduction

Buy it on Amazon or from The Good Book Company

Disclosure: I received this book free from The Good Book Company. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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