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Tuesday
May312011

Would the world really be better off without Christians?

An idea that is growing in acceptance every day is that Christians are all bigoted, sexist, homophobes and the world would be better off without them.  Granted, most who think or say this kind of thing do so passively.  It represents what they truly believe, but they would never think of trying to "get rid of Christians."  That said, there are some who expouse such beliefs with vitriole and fervour.  These will make statements that are no longer passive but quite active.  "Those Christians want to go to heaven?  Then we ought to send them there."  I don't want to get into the prevalence of either the passive or the active in this group.  Rather I want to honestly ask if the underlying basis of these statements is true.

In an issue like this that can be highly emotional, it is easy to cherry pick the evidence in order to make your view emotionally favorable.  However, I believe this is intellectually dishonest and only leads to me feeling good about the delusion I think is true.  When one looks at history with as unbiased eyes as possible (believe me, I understand that can be a quagmire) it is hard to argue against the statement that Christianity radically affected the course of what we call the Western world, but mainly refers to Europe and America.  It would be easy to go through history and pick out leaders and groups under the banner of the Church that have lived very sexist, bigotted, and homophobic lives not to mention a whole batch of other things.  But to be fair we could find many examples to the contrary.  I think it is more valuable to go to the source of Christianity, and its founder, Jesus.  Jesus taught and commissioned several men who were to serve as his voice in this new group, the Church.  Then we can better understand the impulse that is behind Christianity, which is far more important than analyzing side currents and dead water that are not a part of the main stream.  I will not restate arguments that have been stated far more eloquently by others.  For some good reading you should check out Dinesh D'souza's What's So Great About Christianity, 2007. 

The Law and Christianity

Many Christians do not understand the relationship between the Old Testament Law of Moses and believers in Jesus, much less those who reject Christianity.  So we need to respond with some grace in this issue.  Many people like to point to laws in the old testament of the Bible and challenge, "Do you believe this is the word of God?"  Though Christians do believe that the Old Testament is the Word of God, they do not believe that it should be enacted as the law of America.  I realize some groups within the Church do advocate this, but my point would be that they do not properly represent the main thrust of Christianity and I will do so by going back to the first century when this all began.

In Galatians 3 one of Jesus' apostles (men commissioned metaphorically to build the Church) explains to Christians how they should view the Law of Moses.  Paul draws on an analogy that would have been readily understood by most in his day.  It is that of a child who is tutored in the home until he comes of such an age that he can work with his dad in the family business as an adult son who will one day inherit the family business and estate.  In this passage Paul explains that Israel is the young child and the Law of Moses was the tutor.  Now think about your time in school.  Teachers often have rules and deadlines that are not necessary from the stand point of merely learning the subject, but they are necessary from the stand point of preparing the child to function in the adult world.  Thus the deadline is quite artificial, but it serves to teach a child diligence and nip the inherent procrastination that sabotages the dreams and plans of many a man.  Such is the Old Testament.  We can cherry pick passages in the Bible and say, "it is against reason to think that this is Truth."  However, when you step back and look at the Law of Moses as a tutor then more and more things make sense.  God did not send the law to teach how to have a perfect society, rather he sent it so that Israel would recognize Jesus when he came.  Jesus was the ultimate teacher, their Messiah who would lead them into their adulthood.  Don't get me wrong.  The Law was good in the same sense that a pipe wrench is good.  It helps when it is used properly for the right job.  The law taught Israel just how sinful they (we all) really are.  It taught them the true predicament in which they were stuck, unless God did something to help them.  Even the Old Testament testifies to the fact that it is the Word of God, it also testifies that the law is pointing to ultimate truth so that we can understand it when it comes.  King David says it this way in Psalm 51, 

"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; 
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; 
   a broken and contrite heart 
   you, God, will not despise."

Yes, sacrificing an animal is a crude, reprehensible thing that no rational modern person would think we should do.  However, its function in the Bible was not to be the final word or ultimate truth about how our sins and faults can be dealt with.  It was so that we could understand what Jesus was doing when he let himself be crucified on a cross.  Bloody? Yes.  Shocking and horrific?  You betch ya.  I think that is God's point.  We just don't believe our sin is that bad.

Another example would be slavery.  Does the Bible teach slavery?  No!  Slavery was a part of the economic system of that day.  The Old Testament limited and restrained the universal practice of slavery.  Would such a practice be less or more in history if it were not for Christianity?  The Law came into a world that had divided along many different social distinctions (Race, Gender, Age, etc..).  It came to prepare intellectual children for the coming ultimate truth of the Jesus.

Welcome to Adulthood

Back in Galatians 3:28 Paul points out many of these old social distinctions and tells Christians that they should no longer remain divided over them.  He was not saying they were not real and had no differences, but that they should no longer be divisions among us.  We should not be divided by race, but neither should we pretend like there are absolutely no differences among races.  We should not be divided by gender, but neither should we pretend that there are no differences between the genders.  In the New Testament false prophets and rebellious children are no longer executed (secret: they more often than not weren't even executed under the Law due to the fact that Israel disregarded God's Law quite frequently).  However, being a false prophet or a rebellious child are still serious things that if not dealt with by the individual will lead to an eternal death.  So Christians are able to embrace the Law as good, not because we want to enact a sacrificial system in America, but because we understand it is the tutor.  We are adults now that Jesus has given us the ultimate truth.  We no longer need to follow the instructions of the tutor.  However, we do need to remember the principles that it has taught us.

Christians are not to live by the old social distinctions and filters like most of the world does.  We are to love every race, respect every gender, help every age, etc...  Our actions for another should have nothing to do with these distinctions.  The only distinctions that ultimately matter is whether or not a person has put their trust in Jesus.  Even in this distinction, Christians are not to divide and hate those who do not trust Jesus.  Rather we are to love them and lay our life down like Jesus did in order to win them over to belief in Jesus.  It was a radical concept that is still reverberating in the world today.

Most arguments against God or Christianity by atheists will point out things about God and say, "How can a loving God allow evil in the world."  But we must recognize that this is a distinctly Christian question.  The Romans and Greeks didn't struggle over how the gods could allow evil in the world.  The gods were often the source of the evil.  It was Christianity that taught our Father in heaven is actually Good.  Sure this raises thorny issues, but to argue in such a way is to undermine your own argument.  I'm not saying that proves Christianity is true.  I'm am saying that if Christianity had never happened the world would be in far worse shape with far baser questions on our mind.

It was the commands of Jesus and his apostles that commanded Churches to drop racial hatred.  It was the commands of Jesus and his apostles that directed men and women to work together as complimentary equals.  It was Jesus and his apostles that raised the value of children and the elderly, and the barbarian up to the civilized.  It was Christianity that came alongside of the poor, sick, orphaned, and widowed and said these are valuable; we must help them.  All are equal before God, is not the mantra of the Romans or Greeks.  It is the radical idea of Christianity that brought a world of little Hitlers that worshipped strength, erotica, and death, to its knees.  It is interesting that in today's world we see the resurgence of the pagan mindset.  

Are we headed back to a time when life was not sacred, but cheap?  Are we headed into times when the fetus is aborted, the young is abandoned, the gladiator is glorified, the peasant is abused, and the powerful are worshipped and exalted?  Are we not nearly there?

Homosexuality

I've left this for last because it is something that even the New Testament condemns as sin.  However, this does not mean that Christians are homophobes.  No where are we told to fear homosexuals.  Rather by extension of the General command to the specific we know that we are to love them.  Love does not mean agreement nor acceptance as virtuous.  A Christian should in no way speak hatefully, nor act abusively toward someone who self-identifies as a homosexual.  But neither should Christians be bullied into declaring this lifestyle as virtuous.  Homosexuality is seen as a severe sin, not so much because of its sexual nature, but because of its rejection of the obvious created design.  God is the creator.  You may reject that Jesus is God.  This is an intellectual disagreement.  But when a person so rejects the obvious truth of created design, you are left with no rational ground upon which to appeal.  This kind of choice destroys the very foundation of Truth because it exalts the will of the individual over the top of all evidence to the contrary.

This is why Christianity can never equate homosexuality with the civil rights issues of slavery.  They are not the same thing.  In fact white people were doing what homosexuals do, when they exalted their will over top of the evidence that black people were not subhuman, but every bit as much human as them.

I do not mean this as an attack against those who are in the homosexual lifestyle or have inclinations in that direction.  Rather, it is to help us see that Christianity is often condemned by the very virtues it created.