Christianity, it seemed, had no need of actual Christians for its assumptions still to flourish. Whether this was an illusion, or whether the power held by victims over their victimisers would survive the myth that had given it birth, only time would tell. As it was the retreat of Christian belief did not seem to imply any necessary retreat of Christian values. Quite the contrary. Even in Europe  — a continent with churches far emptier than those in the United States — the trace elements of Christianity continued to infuse people’s morals and presumptions so utterly that many failed even to detect their presence. Like dust particles so fine as to be invisible to the naked eye, they were breathed in equally by everyone: believers, atheists, and those who never paused so much as to think about religion.

— Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World


The same is true of the theory of natural law: roughly speaking, the belief that our moral obligations to our neighbors and to other persons are true, and not only right and binding, because they were written on our hearts by God. Many popular writers like [George] Will, but many academic scholars too, are afraid that morality will be smashed to atoms if natural law ceases to be credited; and they are therefore even willing to cultivate orthodoxies they do not share, as a superstitious outwork of faith. The mistake of such writers is that they underrate the inertia — or, to put it more eulogistically, the interest in order, and the attachment to a common routine — which may be inseparable from human life under every form of government except the most extreme tyrannies. It follows that our moral obligations to one another may not require the aid of natural law theories, any more than the making of fire required the aid of the phlogiston theory. If this is so, what Will takes to be the core of a tradition of conduct, and therefore the foundation of the free polities of the West, is in fact as dispensable as the Gothic convention of flying buttresses.

— David Bromwich, “Moral Education in the Age of Reagan,” Politics by Other means: Higher Education and Group Thinking