Thursday, October 23, 2014

Contributions of Christianity: A Matter of Perspective?

Some regard suffering as a reason to disbelieve in God, while others have found a basis for belief within the same horrid conditions. Writer Paul Copan relates the experience of Canadian Broadcasting Corp journalist, Brian Stewart, and his “slow, reluctant conversion”:

  • “I’ve never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some church organization was not there long before me… I’m often asked if I lost belief in God covering events like Ethiopia, then called ‘the worst hell on earth.’ Actually, like others before me, it was precisely in such hells that I rediscovered religion.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol 37/Number 04, 46-47)

Often, the same events that turn some away from a faith in Christ, turns others in the opposite direction. In the process, some have attempted to denigrate the contributions of Christianity. Research Fellow Philip J. Sampson writes about how the same phenomenon can be interpreted in opposite ways:

  • “Disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, they [the Western traders] will not give credit to a morality which they do not wish to practice or to a [Christian] religion which they undervalue, if not despise.” (6 Modern Myths about Christianity & Western Civilization, 111)

Consequently, this disappointment gave vent to charges that the missionaries were guilty of “cultural imperialism.” However, even Charles Darwin confessed that worthwhile fruit was born out of this form of “imperialism”:

  • “Human sacrifice…infanticide…bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children—all these have been abolished…by the introduction of Christianity.” (110)

Our oppositional opinions are often the product of oppositional worldviews. While some have insisted that the missionaries collaborated with the colonial powers, even to the extent of establishing plantations, historian Ruth Tucker places these appearances into an entirely different context:

  • Missionaries in Africa were opposed to slavery from an early period, and they used a variety of means to oppose it, including buying slaves and establishing plantations for them to work on. (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya,102)

  • The missionaries insisted on treating native people as human beings who are entitled to the protection of the law, and this rubbed salt into the wound. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that colonists and traders often opposed missions.” (103)

  • Traders and colonists resisted the evangelism of native people, seeing conversion as the first step to indigenous people gaining access to the resources of Western culture and hence to the power that colonists wished to keep for themselves…Native people who wished to break free of the settler’s stranglehold and worship God were immediately persecuted by the white traders. (103-104)

Many other historians credit the missionaries with opposition to the abuses of colonialism:

  • The missionaries [to New Guinea] from the start found themselves in bitter opposition to the white traders and exploiters… [who] placed men sick of the measles on various islands in order to destroy the population through disease. (Stephen Neill, History of Christian Missions, 355

Our new brand of militant atheists compete among themselves to indict Christianity’s impact on society, even to the point of charging “child abuse.” However, there have been many non-Christians who also have noted the contributions of the much-maligned Christianity. Copan cites the example of the late postmodern atheist Jacques Derrida:

  • “Today the cornerstone of international law is the sacred… the concept of crime against humanity is a Christian concept and I think there would be no such thing in the law today without the Christian heritage.” (46)

Copan also cites “one Chinese scholar representing one of China’s premier academic research organizations:

  • “In the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. This is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible… the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.” (46)

Copan calls atheist Jurgen Habermas “perhaps Europe’s most prominent philosopher.” However, even he admits:

  • “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.”

Clearly, our differing perspectives are our eyeglasses, determining what we see. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s all relative. Instead, Jesus taught that we walk around with logs in our eyes, making it easy for us to wrongly criticize. Yes, there is a reality to see out there, but first we have to deal with our blindness – that oft-invisible log (Matthew 7:1-5).

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