Along those lines, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has written an article titled “How Christianity Invented Children”:
We have forgotten just how deep a cultural revolution Christianity wrought. In fact, we forget about it precisely because of how deep it was: There are many ideas that we simply take for granted as natural and obvious, when in fact they didn’t exist until the arrival of Christianity changed things completely. Take, for instance, the idea of children.
Today, it is simply taken for granted that the innocence and vulnerability of children makes them beings of particular value, and entitled to particular care... In fact, this view of children is a historical oddity. If you disagree, just go back to the view of children that prevailed in Europe’s ancient pagan world.
Gobry goes on to describe the sexual slavery, infanticide, and abuse that was common and accepted in the ancient world, concluding:
This is the world into which Christianity came, condemning abortion and infanticide as loudly and as early as it could.
This is the world into which Christianity came, calling attention to children and ascribing special worth to them...
But really, Christianity’s invention of children—that is, its invention of the cultural idea of children as treasured human beings—was really an outgrowth of its most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as a beloved child of God. If the God who made heaven and Earth chose to reveal himself, not as an emperor, but as a slave punished on the cross, then no one could claim higher dignity than anyone else on the basis of earthly status.
That was indeed a revolutionary idea, and it changed our culture so much that we no longer even recognize it.
Many atheists are convinced a society that rejects the idea of God can still uphold human rights and human dignity. They think that even if one begins with an atheist worldview, these things are simply “obvious” and/or products of reason. They are not. Our culture is swimming in Christian ideas. After the water is drained, we’ll still be wet for a bit. But not forever.