James Kennedy’s stark and startling statement in the Introduction to his book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born is truer than ever today: “We live in an age in which only one prejudice is tolerated – anti-Christian bigotry … Attacks on the Church and Christianity are common.”
Critics and skeptics are quick to point out Christians who falter and fail, and love to dredge up the glaring sins of the Church such as the unholy Inquisition. However, they choose to overlook the most inspiring, incomparable, and irrefutable contributions to civilization from our Judeo-Christian Culture! Atheist Bertrand Russell never said anything more easily refuted than when he declared he knew of no contributions to civilization by religion other than developing a calendar and predicting eclipses. He concluded his 1930 article on the lack of “religious” contributions by expressing his hope that “mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.”
Atheistic Russian communists under Lenin, then Stalin, were busy attempting to slay the dragon and within months Hitler and the Nazis would begin slaying the dragon in Germany; however, it was not the beginning of a golden age for their people! It was the beginning of the worst inhumane hell on earth in history, the Gulag in Russia and the Holocaust in Germany and its minions.
The less-militant forms of secularism merely seeks to ban religion from the public square and cage it within church buildings while it glorifies materialistic and sexual pleasure; however, this secular culture is beset with an epidemic of alcohol and drug addiction, broken homes, crime, childless fathers, dissatisfaction, depression and despair, pernicious pornography, and suicide. So much art and entertainment is swamped in sex and violence, and portrays human beings as nothing but “trousered apes.”
What have been the contributions of our Judeo-Christian culture and what “other” culture can begin to compare with its achievements? There are the inspiring splendor of art and architecture on display in the masterful cathedrals and universities created during and after the Medieval Period, the magnificent music and literature that lifted people’s spirits, the firm foundations of modern education, and science. How could Bertrand Russell ignore the hospitals and hospices, orphanages and leprosariums, the treatment centers and medical missions, the abolition of slavery, infanticide, and child abuse – all emerging from our Judeo-Christian culture?
I love to point out how Christianity fielded a Dream Team of twelve incomparable people based upon what they did for others, how they did it, why they did it, and who they were as human beings (humble spirit, loving heart, disciplined mind, and courageous soul). Soho Machida, a Zen Buddhist who teaches at Princeton, says: “No other religion has ever produced figures like Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa, whose lives have become monuments to humankind’s goodwill.”
Recently while speaking to a ladies group, I mentioned how Gertrude Himmelfard’s book The De-Moralization of Society “opens with a scene involving Margaret Thatcher”:
“When an interviewer accused Mrs. Thatcher of advocating Victorian (Christian) values she responded, ‘Oh, exactly. Very much so. Those were the values when our country became great’ … Thatcher did not back down, insisting that they included such things as family commitment, hard work, thrift, cleanliness, self-reliance, and neighborliness. Statistics from the Victorian era show a reverse image of current trends. Literacy increased and poverty decreased. The rates of illegitimate births and crime plummeted. At the end of the nineteenth century, illegitimacy rates in the slums of London stood at 3 percent, compared to 70 percent in underprivileged U.S. neighborhoods today… Like many historians, Himmelfarb credits a campaign by evangelical Christians… for reforms in the labor movement, housing, prisons, public education, sanitation, and health” (Vanishing Grace, pp. 160-161).
I want to close by going back to what was once called the Dark Ages, when the Medieval Church struggled not only to survive after the fall of the Roman Empire but also maintain some semblance of Judeo-Christian civilization. There were “dark times” associated with the Inquisition and the sale of indulgences; but, there were brighter than bright contributions. Philip Yancey reminds us that, “the Church in the Middle Ages came up with seven works of mercy: To feed the hunger, give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; house the homeless; visit the sick; ransom the captive; bury the dead. Later the church added a supplemental list of spiritual works of mercy: To instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offences willingly; comfort the afflicted; pray for the living and the dead” (p. 149).
We can challenge any critic of Christianity to come up with a rival list from the annals of ancient or modern history and in the words of Paul they will “fall short.”