The Air We Breathe (Scrivener, GBC, 2022)

What’s it about?

“How we all came to believe in freedom, kindness, progress and equality”

Glen takes 7 values that virtually everyone (in the West) believes in and lives for, and seeks to ask why we shape our lives around them. Equality, Compassion, Consent, Enlightenment, Science, Freedom and Progress. Where can we get our justification for saying these are good things? Was there a moment in history when people started believing in these things and shaping life around them? By believing in these things, are we just mindlessly having faith in unprovable values that we like or find comfortable?

Who is it written for?

Glen conveys that he writes for 3 audiences:

  1. ‘Nones‘ – many who are atheistic or agnostic but have perhaps never stopped to think where these precious values might have come from.
  2. Dones‘ – the many people in our part of the globe who would perhaps have described themselves as ‘Christian’ at some point in their life but now no longer do, and who see the immense problems with it.
  3. Wons‘ – so that followers of Jesus can understand where they and the world around them got their values from, and how to better live with confidence in the days ahead.

“It is not necessary to be a Christian to appreciate the force of Glen Scrivener’s argument in this punchy, engaging and entertaining book.”

Tom Holland (Historian, Author and Podcaster)

A bit about it

As I’ve enjoyed Glen’s YouTube podcasts over the past couple of years, with varied thought-leaders from across the globe, I was crazily anticipating this book at the end of it all, and it didn’t disappoint. He writes in short, snappy chapters, yet readers would be mistaken to think there’s no depth in there. If you watch Glen’s YouTube series, you’ll know that each sentence, and certainly each chapter, is backed up by leading thinkers of diverse background. For example, in his introduction he lists a book or two per chapter that support his writing, as well as stating what he is and isn’t trying to do in this book.

Each chapter tries to take us on a short history of the idea or concept, and help us to see that really each one comes about in history because of Jesus. That other cultures and worldviews are radically opposed to such thinking (or should be, unless they’ve blindly borrowed these ideas).

And in case that sounds too far-fetched an agenda to be true, others across the West are starting to realise Glen’s main thrust of his argument. In the Irish Times ‘Inside Politics’ podcast, Hugh Linehan has just done a very similar interview, bringing out some of the points Glen tries to make. And that’s not to mention people like the secular historian Tom Holland’s foundational work “Dominion”, and many others like Larry Siedentop, Rodney Stark, Kyle Harper and Joseph Henrich, to name a few that Glen quotes (none of whom are Christians).

Ultimately, Glen tries to convince each group of something:

  1. Nones‘ – that most of the values they hold to are indeed Christian values, only come about through Jesus. You can’t have these values without Jesus. Or you can, but you’d be basing life on blind faith.
  2. Dones‘ – that the values they (rightly!) judge Christianity by, are indeed Christian values. That there isn’t any leg to stand on to try and judge Christianity, unless these values are true.
  3. Wons‘ – that Jesus’ values are worth holding on to, sharing and enjoying in their right context.

The group of young adults who I read this with particularly enjoyed Glen’s quotation towards the end of the book:

“Be half a Christian and you shall have enough religion to make you miserable”

Charles Spurgeon here

Glen really helped us to see that we all want to live by Jesus’ values, even if we find those who take Jesus’ name utterly repulsive at times. But that to take his values, without taking him, is just giving ourselves a list of preachy rules to keep, applied by everyone differently. It is taking enough of Him to make our lives miserable (for none of us live up to our own standards, nevermind His), and not enough of Him to offer us forgiveness and some context for how to apply such values with wisdom.

The weaknesses of the book?

Chapter 5 on ‘the Enlightenment’ rushed over five things (technology, universities, human rights, parliaments, The Reformation) that Glen tried to connect to Christianity. Although he may well have been right, I think this was the weakest supported part of the book, spending not enough time on each one. I could imagine hearing my Muslim friends’ voices making audible remarks in my ear about why some of these things developed. But then again, Glen was writing to an English speaking, Western context, rather than engaging with other religions.

I wonder whether this will be the flaw more generally of the book – that there’s not enough in it to convince the reader on each point, unless they are prepared to do the homework on reading up elsewhere. That said, I know what it is to be an author and to be trying to decide what content to put into the book, while keeping it at a popular level that people will actually read and engage with! A daunting challenge, and I think Glen has done well in what he selected. I trust the way he writes will encourage others to go away and explore more.

Anything else?

Reading it as a book club together here in Crumlin, Dublin, we loved being able to watch his video that goes with each chapter, and discuss the questions together. You can find the videos and discussion guide here for free. I look forward to giving away a few copies of this book, and to continue discussing it with all of you, whether ‘nones’, ‘dones’ or ‘wons’!

You can buy the book:

And here’s the opener to provoke some thought!

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