The Christian faith gets some pretty bad press nowadays. Certainly much of this is deserved. But for all its faults, the Christian religion is responsible for a tremendous amount of good in the world. But that story is often left untold, while the mistakes of the faith are often over-stated and over-blown.
Can the Christian faith be defended, indeed, praised, for its accomplishments? I certainly think so. So does Greg Koukl. He has recently penned a piece called “Christianity’s Real Record” (Townhall.com , November 21, 2006).
He begins by noting the charge of some secularists that the real problem is exclusive religious truth claims. They think that some sort of religious pluralism will be less problematic. But the truth is, everyone is “dogmatic about issues of truth. It can’t be otherwise. Any claim is either true or false. If true, then those that contradict are wrong by simple force of logic. The problem is not religious dogmatics, but religious error. The problem with Muslim terrorists is not fundamentalism, but that their fundamental beliefs are simply false.”
And the ‘crimes’ of religion are often overstated. For example, many so-called religious wars are not necessarily all that religious: “Many conflicts that appear at first glance to be religious in nature are actually political or cultural wars that divide along religious lines. The strife in Northern Ireland is not a theological dispute about Catholicism vs. Protestantism per se, but rather a cultural power struggle between two groups of people. In like manner, much of the conflict in Eastern Europe and the Middle East is the result of ethnic hostilities, not genuine religious differences.”
And the great mass murderers of recent history were secular, not religious. Mao knocked off over 26 million people in just 15 years. Lenin and Stalin killed more than twice as many people in around four decades.
Of course Christians have been responsible for bloodshed, but when this happens, they are directly violating the Christian faith. “Nothing in Christian teaching itself mandates forcible conversion to the faith or coerced adherence to Biblical doctrines. The teachings of Christ do not lead logically to wanton bloodshed.”
Instead, the Christian faith has been a force for overwhelming good in the world: “Two Biblical teachings have made Christianity the greatest force for good in the history of the world. First is the teaching that God reigns over a moral universe He created. He requires virtuous behavior from His subjects and will one day judge each person’s conduct with perfect justice. Second, Christian morality is informed by the notion that human beings are made in the image of God and therefore have transcendent value. This has been the foundation for Christian ethics for 2,000 years.”
To demonstrate this, Koukl examines four areas in which Christianity has changed the world for good: education, human rights, acts of mercy, and general moral transformation of culture. Consider just one, the moral reforms inaugurated by believers.
Multiple examples come to mind, whether Mother Teresa working in the slums of Calcutta, or William Wilberforce fighting the slave trade. Koukl cites one historian who puts it this way, concerning just one period of Christian history:
“The missionaries of the nineteenth century were a special breed of men and women. Single-handedly and with great courage they attacked the social evils of their time: child marriage, the immolation of widows, temple prostitution, and untouchability in India; footbinding, opium addiction, and the abandoning of babies in China; polygamy, the slave trade, and the destruction of twins in Africa. In all parts of the world they opened schools, hospitals, clinics, medical colleges, orphanages, and leprosaria. They gave succor and sustenance to the dregs of society cast off by their own communities. At great risk to themselves and their families they fought famines, floods, pestilences, and plagues. They were the first to rescue unwanted babies, educate girls, and liberate women.”
Concludes Koukl, “This is Christianity’s real record, not a history of evil, violence, and debauchery, but a legacy of radical transformation for good.” Quite right. For all its many shortcomings, the Christian religion has made a staggering positive contribution to this world, and has been an overwhelming source of good. While we should hang our heads in shame for our many misdeeds, we can rightly be proud of the grace of God acting through believers to transform a broken and needy world.