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for better or for worse?

October 10, 2009

Pluralism that excludes certain view-points (such as belief in God) isn’t very pluralistic–its actually quite intolerant.  Many, many atrocities have been committed in the name of God.  Evil deeds are never to be defended, and the Christian church has much to admit, to repent of, to reform, and to change.  However, lots of good has been done through the centuries by all sorts of people, including many followers of Jesus.

Who was it that started hospitals and orphanages as diseases ravaged the cities of the Roman Empire?  Who adopted and raised the infants Romans would abandon on their streets?  Christians, many of whom died from contagious disease as they showed mercy to other dying people.  They understood that Jesus had died and rose from the dead to give them life, and this enabled them to give their lives away for others.

Who led the fight to outlaw slavery throughout the British empire at a time when much of the economy depended on slavery?  Evangelical Christians led by William Wilberforce.  Who established modern universities in the waning days of the late medieval period?  Believers in Jesus, convinced that the person of Jesus is the center of history and the integrating point of a classical liberal arts education.  Christian believers, convinced of the unique value of every person because all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27), were essential to the early 20th century womens’ suffrage movements, the struggle against American racism and South African apartheid, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and many other reform movements toward liberty and freedom in the former eastern bloc countries.

Where were followers of Jesus first called “Christians”?  In multi-racial Antioch, a Roman city of about a million people.  The Greeks had built walled quarters for the various ethnicities to retreat to for safety from race-riots in the market places.  When Jewish followers of Jesus moved to Antioch and non-Jews began believing in Jesus, they crossed racial barriers to worship together and became friends.  The astonished watching world saw only one thing those people had in common: they all confessed Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Son of God, crucified, died, and raised to life on the third day.  So they were called Christians in Antioch, and the name stuck.  (See Acts 11:19-26 for the history, and Acts 13:1 for the names of the multi-racial leadership in Antioch’s Christian community)

Followers of Jesus have done much evil through the centuries, as have proponents of all other religions and many irreligious and non-religious people.  However, Christians have made massive contributions toward the general well-being of humanity.  Perhaps, rather than simply asserting theism doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, proponents of methodological atheism should provide serious answers to these questions:

Why are the countries that always respond with immediate and generous aid in the face of disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, wars) those same countries where Christianity has had long and significant impact on the culture?

Why did modern liberal democracy, human rights, and individual freedoms primarily arise out of countries with Judao-Christian heritage?

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