Do you like Urban myths? I do! Snopes.com, the premier urban myth debunking site on the internet, is a source of endless enjoyment for me. Have you heard the one about how internet users can receive a cash reward for forwarding messages to test a Microsoft/AOL e-mail tracking system? Myth. Or about how chewing gum takes seven years to pass through the human digestive system? Myth again. Or how about the fact that Finland once banned Donald Duck because he wears no pants? Myth. And then there is my favorite genre of myth: Christian scare tactic myths. Everything from "If you don't forward this email you are denying Christ!" to "Did you know that Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair is circulating a petition to have religious broadcasting banned from American airwaves?" All myths.
But urban myths are not just for the stupid "herd" or the uneducated "masses". Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft is right on track when he says that the only thing required for someone to believe any one of the hundred stupidest ideas on the planet is a Ph.D.! For someone like me who wants to get a Ph.D. in the future, this is a necessary warning and a good reminder!
One of the most prevalent "smart myths" out there is that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is harmful to society and has always led society backwards instead of forward into progress. Put simply, there are many smart people who believe the dumb myth that Christianity is dangerous. Don't believe it? Simply Google in "20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity" and you will find a pamphlet that exemplifies this myth.
Everyone with a grudge against Christianity is quick to point out historical evidence of how Christianity has caused the Crusades in the middle ages, the Inquisition, the 100 Years War following the Reformation, and more recently, the Salem witch trials. These events caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people, possibly numbering in the millions. They are also quick to point out anecdotal stories of "fundamentalist" Christians snubbing non-Christians and treating them badly in society today.
Occasionally you will even have people who will say that the hatred and violence of heretical forms of Christianity (such as Hitler's Aryan Christianity, the Klu Klux Klan's racist Christianity, and David Koresh's Christian cult) happens because Christianity itself is flawed and violent. This would be similar to saying that because Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin were atheists, that atheism is in some sense the cause of their murder of tens of millions of their own citizens and others. If Mao and Stalin are not representative of atheism, then neither are Hitler, the Klan, Koresh, or other heretics representative of Christianity (let's all play by the same rules here!).
Furthermore, feminists accuse Christianity of being oppressive to women. They usually point out the Church's resistance to women's ordination and abortion, as evidence of this. Liberationists, Marxists, and Leftists claim that Christianity supports slavery and economic systems in which the "haves" oppress the "have nots". They usually point out the Church's affiliation with free-market capitalism, and her failure in some aspects of the anti-slavery and civil rights movements, as evidence of this. So-called "free thinkers" (who ironically claim that their thoughts are determined by a mechanistic universe in which there is no real freedom) say that Christianity is oppressive to academic freedom and the progress of science and society. They usually point out Galileo, the Scopes-Monkey Trial, and so-called Creation Science as evidence of this.
When you put it like this, the evidence seems overwhelming. Christianity IS dangerous! Or... perhaps this is only part of the story.
It is obvious that the Church and Christianity has been used, and used others, to do horrible violence in Christ's Name. And for this we earnestly repent. And perhaps the Church does not move as fast as some would like in terms of women's rights, economic justice, and academic progress. And perhaps our modern "liberal" conception must be critiqued as to whether it is really advocating "rights" for women, economic "justice", and academic "progress". But we will not tackle that critique here.
Instead, I would simply like to point out that if it were not for Christianity, we would not be in a place to even question, much less critique, issues of women's rights, economic justice, or academic progress. Consider the following:
First, only Christian societies have brought about significant women's rights movements. No other worldview and no other cultural force in the history of the world has done more to bring about equal rights for women. No other ancient culture or religion has a persuasive personality like Jesus who grants women full dignity as people and as his disciples. No other ancient culture or religion has a teacher like Paul who says:
"You are all sons of God [sons being those who inherited everything from the Father] through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28)
In this passage Paul grants women and men equal status as equal inheritors of all that the Father has! Without teachings like this, women would still be little more than male property... just as they are in nearly every society untouched by the Church! Notice that all of the founders of the women's rights movement were very Biblical Christians, and outside of societies touched by Christianity we find nothing even remotely similar to the modern women's rights movement. In short, Christianity contains the only seeds that can grow into a full fledged women's rights movement, and apart from Christianity women would have never attained the rights they enjoy today. We may be impatient for the full flowering of this seed, but without Christ there would be no seed to flower at all!
Second, only Christian societies have brought about significant civil rights, freedom from slavery, political freedom, and economic freedom. Christ and his disciples teachings about the infinite worth and dignity of the human individual are the seed that has gradually grown and overcome caste systems, classism, and racism in every society with a significant Christian presence. Islam, being derived from the seed of Christianity, has taken over some of this egalitarianism as well... but only because it is a plant that is cut off of the Christian root.
Why do you think that it is only in Christian societies that egalitarian democracies have arisen? Why do you think that it was Biblical Evangelicals that spearheaded anti-slavery campaigns in both England and the US? Why do you think that it was black Evangelicals that spearheaded the civil rights movement? Not even Marx could have developed his secular communist system if it were not for Christian social teachings about economics and egalitarianism. Why did Marx not arise from a non-Christian society? It is all because Christianity contains the only seeds that can grow into full fledged civil and economic rights, and apart from Christianity such rights would have never been attained. We may be impatient for the full flowering of this seed, but without Christ there would be no seed to flower at all!
Third, why is it that modern science and the modern university system only developed and flowered in Christian and Islamic societies? Sure, the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks had some impressive learning, but nothing like the science and education that developed out of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethos. Here is the reason why: Only the theistic worldview believes that the Universe is purposeful, knowable, and reliable, made by a purposeful, knowable, and reliable God. Without a foundational belief in such a God, there is simply no reason to do science or education as we know it.
Other societies that believed that the Universe was controlled by a host of gods, or by fate, or by a vague patheistic "force" never developed the science, civil rights, or women's rights that have flourished in Christian societies. The simple reason is that if there is no purposeful, knowable, reliable Ultimate Reality under-girding the reality we see around us, then there is no reason to explore or care about the world around us. Again, this is all because the theistic worldview of Christianity contains the only seeds that can grow into modern science and the modern university system, and apart from Christianity such things could not have existed. We may be impatient for the full flowering of this seed, but without Christ there would be no seed to flower at all!
And finally, let us consider the issue of "body counts". I will concede the hundreds of thousands, even millions, who have been killed in the Name of Christ across the last 2000 years in things like crusades and inquisitions. And it is a horrible thing. And we need to repent. But I think that if we considered just the tens of millions killed by Mao and Stalin in the name of atheistic communism in a few decades, these casualties would be greater than all of the casualties caused by Christianity across all of history. Certainly if we considered ALL of the hundreds of millions killed in the name of secular nation-states in the last century (the bloodiest century in history) it would far out-scale anything caused by Christianity, ever.
And we have not even begun to name all of the hospitals and social work organizations formed across the world, across the centuries, in the Name of Christ. More medicine and social work has been done by Christians than any other religion or political entity in history. In fact, it would also be true to argue that we would not have medicine or social work as we know it if it were not for Christianity. In fact, I would say with all certainty that without Christianity, our world would be impoverished and barbaric in ways we can scarcely imagine.
The whole situation reminds me of teenage rebellion. Ever since the Enlightenment (when our culture began to be darkened to God's presence), our culture has become like a teen demanding independence from her father. She fights with her father, denies all of his ideas and rules, and insists that it is her "own" life and no one can tell her otherwise. She forgets that her car, her room, her food, her freedom, and even her basic ideas about life, are all dependent upon her father, and without him, she would literally be dead.
We can be spoiled teens, and deny God our Father, and believe the "myth" that things would be better without Christianity's rules and truth-claims. But this self-created unreality does not abrogate the fact that our reality, our rights, our science, and even our basic assumptions about the orderliness and reliability of the universe, all depend on the God of Christianity. But then again, I guess some folks will fall for any old myth they are told.
Copyright © 2006 by Nathan L. Bostian
For some more scholarly approaches to the same material, I recommend "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" by Thomas E. Woods (Regnery Publishing), or "The Bible and Social Reform" by Ernest R. Sandeen (Fortress Press).