Friday, March 5, 2010

Christianity Ruins Everything?

Whether it’s church bashing or church burning, it has become a national pastime, but this one has its victims. Bashing is also generously dealt out by church insiders, who profusely apologize for the church. I’m all for apologies when a wrong has been committed, but many of these “apologies” don’t pertain to wrongdoing but wrong-being. We Christians are apologizing for being ourselves. Criticism can often be healthy and constructive, but criticism can easily become contempt, even self-contempt, especially when abundantly served up with every meal. Snowfall is delightful, but an avalanche is deadly.

It has become so acceptable to regard the church as “intolerant,” bigoted,” “judgmental” and “homophobic,” even by the most “tolerant” newscasters and social pundits. However, when they point the finger at the Church, indicting it for “intolerance,” they never once admit their own intolerance toward the Church.

This hypocritical climate has elevated biased and unbalanced reporting into standard-operating- procedure. The media has justified this by subtly painting the Church as the villain, the purveyor of discrimination, denying civil rights to all people. Therefore, according to the prevailing cultural bias, “they deserve what they get.” This carefully packaged bias has serious consequences, even depriving the church of police protection in the midst of intimidation and violence. As a result, Christians wrap themselves in a cloak of “mea culpa” and inhabit the shadows of society. Others – the younger Christians – have become convinced that the Church needs to be entirely overhauled.

I think it’s time to balance out the portrait that society is being force-fed. The 19th century Princeton theologian, B.B. Warfield, wrote,

“Hospitals and asylums and refuges for the sick, the miserable and the afflicted grow like heaven-bedewed blossoms in its path. Woman, whose equality with man Plato considered a sure mark of social disorganization, has been elevated; slavery has been driven from civilized ground; literacy has been given by Christian missionaries, under the influence of the Bible.” (The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield)

Fortunately, although secularism has been able to remove the crosses and Bibles from public places, it has not yet been able to remove hospital names of the likes of “St. Mary’s” or “Methodist Hospital” or “Presbyterian Medical Center” -- a remaining testimony to the glory of Christ. Perhaps the only reason that our Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Brown still retain their names, is because their names do not reveal their Christian origins – all were started as Bible schools to train pastors.

Ironically, today’s universities have washed their hands of their parents and pretend that they were the sired by secularism. They scornfully proclaim that the West progressed in technology and science because it succeeded in shedding its religious mantle. However, historian Rodney Stark offers a very different assessment:

“Rather, the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers…Nonsense, The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” (The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, xi)

Nevertheless, many of the new atheists proclaim that Christianity can’t do anything right. While they charge that Christians can’t do science – after all, our minds are already made up – the facts protest against this indictment. British scientist Robert Clark sums up the evidence this way:

“However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations—Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on—science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods.” (Christian Belief and Science, quoted by Henry F. Schaefer, 14)

Likewise, secularism likes to boast that it is the author of equality and justice. However, Jurgen Habermas reminds us that,

“Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.”

It’s our Bible that has provided the rational basis for equality and egalitarianism. It even required Israel’s king to study the Bible in order to remind him that he was no better than the lowest human and has subject to the very same laws (Deut. 17:18-20; Gen. 1:26-27). Even the highly secular Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” (Notes on the State of Virginia)

Rights are not found in nature, nor can they be the endowment of Darwinian theory, where only the strongest have “rights.” They require a foundation rooted in heaven.

Our media also likes to associate our shameful treatment with our nature American Indians with the Christian faith. In order to make their case credible, they delete those chapters of history that demonstrate otherwise. In New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675, Historian Alden T. Vaughn presents a very different portrait. The Puritans were arguably the most thorough-going Christians. Vaughan writes, “They came as close to living by their pronouncements as did any other society of the seventeenth century, or any other century, perhaps” (112). He summarizes his research about the Puritans:

“What emerges from my investigation of the sources is a conviction that the New England Puritans followed a remarkably humane, considerate, and just policy in their dealings with the Indians. In matters of commerce, religious conversion, and judicial procedure, the Puritans had surprisingly high regard for the interests of a people who were less powerful, less civilized, less sophisticated, and – in the eyes of the New England colonists – less godly” (vii).

This shouldn’t surprise us. Christ taught us to give as we have been given, and the Puritans took this and other Biblical teachings seriously. Vaughan disposes of two other myths:

“One of the most persistent myths concerning the relations between the Puritan settler and the American Indian asserts that the colonist robbed the native of his land…Such a view in no longer held by those reasonably well acquainted with the history of early New England…The second…holds that while the Indian willingly sold his land…the native did not understand the implications”

Indeed, history informs us that those who have been most committed to the Christ of the Bible have been leaders in the area of human rights. In this regard, Christian missionaries have received a bad name. However, in his book, Six Modern Myths about Christianity and Western Civilization, Philip J. Sampson corrects this judgment:

“Human sacrifice…infanticide…bloody wars, where conquerors spared neither women nor children – all these had been abolished…by the introduction of Christianity.”

According to Sampson, missionaries suffered maligning because they interfered with the traders, many of whom sexually abused the native population for their alluring trinkets:

“I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, they will not give credit to morality which they do not wish to practice or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.” Charles Darwin

Christians have been taking care of the poor and the sick for a long time, just as they have been commanded by their Master, so much so that they put the Pagans to shame:

“Emperor Julian [an opponent of Christianity] ordered the creation of hospices saying, ‘It would be shameful, when the Jews have no beggars, when the impious Galileans feed our own people along with their own, that ours should be seen to lack the help we owe them.’”
(Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World)

Julian and the other Pagans had been shamed by the unselfish care-giving of Christians. For instance the early third century theologian Tertullian wrote,

“We Christians have everything in common except our wives. It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Look,’ they say, “how much they love one another.’”

Aristides of Athens similarly wrote: “If the brethren have among them a man in need and they have not abundant resources, they fast for a day or two so as to provide the needy man with the necessary food!” Even the Pagan Lucian (190 AD) wrote, “The earnestness with which people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end.”

Such a confession was not characteristic of Greek and Roman Paganism. Historian Rodney Stark writes,

“Classical philosophy regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions—defects of character to be avoided by all rational men. Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice.”

In contrast to this, the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”
(2 Cor. 8:9).

Consequently, it has become our duty to follow Christ in this manner. We have not always done it well, but the church has left its mark.

You are probably wondering at this point, “Well, the purpose of this essay is to defend Christianity, and so the author is merely picking out those things that support his position.” If you are thinking this way, you are correct. It’s a question that we need to ask of anyone who is making a case for any cause. Unbalanced reporting can mislead just as affectively as can out-right lies.

The Church has certainly experienced many humiliating moments throughout history, but at least we’re humiliated by them. I often ask myself if I’m presenting a distorted picture and/or coming to distorted, self-serving conclusions. Sometimes, we need to step back to take in the big picture, the entire panorama, in order to put the smaller parts into perspective.

For example, when we compare the panorama of nations that have arisen out of a Biblical worldview to those who hold very different worldviews, the comparison is quite illuminating. The communist/atheist nations that had promised a workman’s utopia instead have produced unmitigated suffering and genocide. By some estimates, these nations have exterminated 100 million of their own people!

While we are challenged by the horrors committed during the Crusades, our accusers conveniently forget that the Crusades were in response to hundreds of years of Islamic militancy, during which time Islam slew their way across North Africa and into Spain and across the Near East into India. Despite their many conquests, they continued to push their vision of world conquest into France in the 8th century and even to the gates of Vienna in the 16th.

While Christianity is routinely blamed for its “mistreatment” of the poor and marginalized, the truth is that within those traditionally Bible-oriented nations mercy and social justice found their most extensive flowering. It wasn’t in “enlightened” Greece and Rome that slavery came to an end. In fact, their religions promoted slavery. According to Dinesh D’Souza, even the enlightened Aristotle,

“had a job for low men: slavery. Aristotle argued that with low men in servitude, superior men would have leisure to think and participate in governance of the community. Aristotle cherished the ‘great-souled man’ who was proud, honorable, aristocratic, rich.” (What’s so Great about Christianity)

D’Souza continues,

“Christians were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement. The movement started in late eighteenth century in Britain…In England, William Wilberforce spear-headed a campaign that began with almost no support and was driven entirely by his Christian convictions…Pressed by religious groups at home, England took the lead in repressing the slave trade abroad.” (73)

Nor was this an anomaly. When Christians became excited about their Christ and His Word, they would often push for social justice:

“The Second Great Awakening, which started in the early 19th century and coursed through New England and New York and then through the interior of the country, left in its wake the temperance movement, the movement of women’s suffrage, and most important, the abolitionist movement.”
(D’Souza, 75)

Secularists wrongly claim these achievements and sentiments for themselves, failing to credit the Christian worldview they inherited, albeit diminishing. Instead, upon close examination, the secularist, pagan, and even communist worldviews provide little, if any, support for our concepts of equal justice and welfare. For example, atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche correctly observed that Christianity was the source of the ideas that he hated:

“Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (Will to Power)

Nietzsche realized that the concept of equality could not be derived from an examination of nature, but required a transcendent source, something that he thoroughly rejected. D’Souza observes that,

“When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal,’ he claimed that this was a self-evident truth. But it is not evident at all. Indeed, most cultures throughout history, and even today, reject the proposition.”

Instead, I believe that Jefferson was correct about our essential equality being a “self-evident truth.” However, our anti-God philosophies have obscured this fact. If evolution is a fact, then some are more evolved than others. If atheism is a fact, then reality is only a matter of what we can see, touch, or quantify. When we measure up our fellow humans against this single materialistic standard, we find that some are deserving and some aren’t; some are educated and productive, while others aren’t. There is no basis here for equality.

The essential equality among male and female also did not find support within classical philosophy:

“The Greeks viewed the family almost exclusively as a vehicle for procreation. Most marriages were arranged, and the husband and wife were not expected to be friends. Indeed, Aristotle thought women largely incapable of friendship, and he certainly didn’t expect wives to relate to husbands on the plane of equality.”(D’Souza)

Instead, it was under the umbrella of Christianity that the woman was exalted to a place of essential equality. While many commentators scorn the Christian concept of the husband as the head of the wife, they conveniently ignore the fact that the husband was required to give his life for the wife as Christ did for the church (Eph. 5:22-31).

Non-Biblical worldviews also fail to provide a basis for the value of human life. If evolution is the ruling worldview, then there is no basis to value humanity over the animal kingdom. D’Souza writes:

“In ancient Rome and Greece, human life had very little value. The Spartans left weak children to die on the hillside. Infanticide was common, as it is even today in many parts of the world. Fathers who wanted sons had few qualms about drowning their newborn daughters. Human beings were routinely bludgeoned to death or mauled by wild animals in the Roman gladiatorial arena. The greatest of the classical thinkers from Seneca to Cicero, saw nothing wrong with these practices.” (71)

Instead, it required the Christian worldview and the Christian emperor Valentinian to outlaw infanticide, abortion, and abandonment (374 AD)! Alvin Schmidt similarly observes,

“In neither Greek nor Roman literature can one find any feeling of guilt related to abandoning children…Even Seneca [60 AD], whose moral philosophy was on a higher plain than that of his culture, said, ‘We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.’” (Under the Influence: How Christianity Changed Civilization)

Perhaps the only reason that our modern secularists aren’t equally as decadent is because they have unwittingly inherited a Christian worldview. However, as this worldview continues to sustain attacks and erodes, we will become re-acquainted with the barbarities that had long ago been outlawed. Even the gladiatorial fights are slowly making a comeback in the form of “ultimate fighting.” Schmidt writes,

“Minicius Felix cites a Roman pagan who strongly criticized Christians for their anti-gladiatorial stance: ‘You do no go to our shows; you take no part in our processions…you shrink in horror from our sacred [gladiatorial] games.’”

From the Biblical perspective, we are all created gloriously in the image of God, and therefore, such barbarity is unacceptable, but not from a pagan or a strictly secular point of view:

“Each gladiator was seen as ‘crude, loathsome, doomed, lost…a man utterly debased by fortune, a slave, a man altogether without worth or dignity, almost without humanity.”
(Anthony Kamm, The Romans)

Such a worldview is the natural domain of secularism. If we are no more than flesh and blood, then there is nothing the matter with the survival-of-the-fittest. It required the Christian emperors Theodosius 1 (378-395 AD) and his son Honorius (404) in the East to finally outlaw these “games.”

I did not inherit the above sentiments. I was raised in a secular Jewish home and hated anything to do with Christianity and the West. In fact, I wanted to see the destruction of Christianity, a religion that I had wrongly held responsible for the death of so many of my own people. My change in sentiment is reflected in the words of Albert Einstein, who had fled Nazi Germany. He confessed that as the Nazis rose to power, he had looked to the media to challenge them. However, he was shocked when they all capitulated. He then looked to the great German universities, which certainly would not tolerate Hitler and his gang. However, they too fell willingly into line. He then looked to the Church, an institution that he had long despised, but the only institution that offered any resistance against the violent hoard. Perhaps this resistance was too little and too late, but it changed Einstein’s assessment of the church to one of respect.

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