But Jesus was not such a man. Jesus was born in a stable and lived most of his life as a carpenter’s apprentice. He usually traveled by foot and occasionally by donkey. As literaryscholar Erich Auerbach writes, “Christ had not come as a hero and king but as a human being of the lowest social station. His first disciples were fishermen and artisans. He moved in the everyday milieu of the humble folk. He talked with publicans and fallen women, the poor and the sick and children. It may be added that Christ came to a bad end on the cross, hanged like a common criminal and flanked by two actual criminals.

Yet Auerbach notes that despite Christ’s undistinguished origins, simple life, and lowly death, everything he did was imbued with the highest and deepest dignity. The fishermen the Greeks would have treated as figures of low comedy were in the Christian narrative embroiled in events of the greatest importance for human salvation. The sublimity of Christ and his disciples completely reversed the whole classical ideal. Suddenly aristocratic pride came to be seen as something preening and ridiculous. Christ produced the transformation of values in which the last became first, and values once scorned came to represent the loftiest human ideals.

Charles Taylor notes that as a consequence of Christianity, new values entered the world. For the first time people began to view society not from the perspective of the haughty aristocrat but from that of the ordinary man. This meant that institutions should not focus on giving the rich and high-born new ways to pass their free time; rather, they should emphasize how to give the common man a rich and meaningful life. Moreover, economic and political institutions should be designed in such a way that sinful impulses—what Kant termed the crooked timber of humanity—could nevertheless be channeled to produce humane and socially beneficial outcomes.