Monday, October 21, 2019

Man! What have your notions of Christianity and Women to do with Truth?

David Madison wants to know why any women remain within the Christian church.  After all, the Bible is thoroughly antagonistic towards women, he claims.  

Madison boasts a PhD in biblical studies from Boston University, so presumably he can do his own research.  Instead, Madison rests his treatise (published on the Debunking Christianity website a few days ago) on the tattered reed of one of the most counter-factual pieces of exegetical hogwash I have ever had the guilty pleasure of defenestrating: Annie Gaylor's "Woman, What Have I to do with Thee?", a chapter in one of John Loftus' books.  (Be fair, John.  When you write well, as you sometimes do, I give you credit.  Don't expect me to put a ribbon around a pig in a mud bath.) 

"The treatment of women is one the reasons John Loftus called his 2014 anthology, Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails. It includes an essay by Annie Laurie Gaylor, “Woman, What Have I to Do with Thee? Christianity’s War Against Women.” This is a solid piece of homework for putting women in their place—namely, as far away from Christianity as they can get."

Gaylor claimed that every single reference in the Bible to women treats them as either irrelevant or demonic.  That inspired me to go verse-by-verse through the entire Old Testament and exegete what it actually says about women.  What I found, even as a life-long reader of the Bible, amazed me.  Gaylor was not even in the same galaxy as right.  Numerous females throughout the Old Testament (and in the New Testament as well) play important and heroic roles.  In fact, heroines strongly outnumber villainesses in the Old Testament. (I am pretty certain the percentage of women depicted as heroic is much higher than the percentage of men so depicted, though I haven't verified that in detail yet.)  And not one single woman is described as "demonic," though as in real life, some women do of course take on the role of Lady MacBeth.  (Tulsi Gabbard would not disagree with me about that!)  

I painstakingly sifted through the entire Old Testament, book by book, quoting all important verses that I found relevant to how women were perceived.  I also showed that unlike ancient Israel, in ancient Egyptian literature, the personalities of women (and men) really do seem to have been overlooked.  So maybe in one respect, Gaylor was just one country off, not a whole galaxy.  

I reflected again, in renewed amazement, on the absolute absurdity of some of Gaylor's claims two years ago, offering a rebuttal filled with concrete evidence from that survey.  

The ridiculous assertion that OT women are all either marginal or demonic is only one example of the ludicrous claims she makes in that chapter.  Gaylor even managed to portray the Wife of Noble Character in Proverbs, a smart businesswoman who is involved in charity and education on the side, as a poor, oppressed female.  (Because she doesn't have time to hit the snooze button in the morning, as is true of most adults.)  

Madison seems to accept Gaylor's claims without a hint of critical questioning.  The Catholic leadership is "proudly, arrogantly, aggressively misogynistic," pursuing worldwide policies that "harm and degrade women."  Protestants are merely more "nuanced" or clever in their fury towards womenAll that reckless hatred towards half the human race flows directly from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures:

"One good place to start, in making the case to flee, is the Bible, the holy book that evangelicals now want kids to carry to school. 'I was truly shocked,' Gaylor points out, 'at what I discovered when I read the Bible cover to cover in my early twenties. "Sexism" is too breezy a term for the pathological sexual hatred to be found within the covers of a book touted as "holy." Like Nietzsche, after reading the Bible I felt the need to wash my hands.'” (p. 343)

I feel the need to wash my hands when I read Nietzsche.  Indeed, Nietzsche's Zarasthustra advises:
“Do you go to women?  Do not forget the whip!” 
I would not trust anyone who favored the morality of Nietzsche over that of the Bible to walk my dog to the river and back safely.    

I went through the OT and most of the NT systematically on this web site: Genesis, the rest of the Pentatuch, the Jewish kingdom, the poetic and philophical works, Isaiah and Jeremiah and the other prophets, gospels, Acts, even the writings of St. Paul, and found very little that can be read that way, even if you strain your eyes.  Having subjected pre-Christian texts in Egypt, Sumer, Greece, and India to the same methodical treatment (China is coming, I have read the texts in the original), and also three long posts on Islam, what shocked me in reading the Bible that way, was how much had already been accomplished even before the birth of Jesus.  No doubt, Jesus has changed the world for the better for billions of women, as I argue in that thread.  But the Jewish Scriptures already stood heads and tails above its competitors, read systematically and fairly.  

Carefully reading the OT changed my mind about how women were perceived in ancient Israel.  

There are difficult passages, true, about keeping wives of cities you conquer for yourselves, for instance.  (Though getting killed, which happened to the men, wasn't the most wonderful option, either.)  But those passages do not particularly stand out in the context of other ancient civilizations.  What does stand out, is the numerous heroines: Sarah (yes, with her faults), Rebekah, Deborah, the Jewish midwives, Moses' mother and sister, and fast and fast they come at last, winning wars, saving lives, standing up against despotism and stupidity, helping to found nations.  

“Between the books of Genesis, which begins the Bible, and Revelation, which concludes it, there are approximately three hundred Bible verses or stories that explicitly mandate women’s inequality, inferiority, or subservience…One does not need to be a prophet to predict how poorly women fare in the biblical scheme of justice.” (p. 345)

I'd like to see that list.  Having gone through the whole Bible, apart from a few minor NT works, I don't believe this. If you are willing to cherry-pick without scruple, I suppose one could maintain that the writers of the Bible have it in for women.  

Now Madison continues in his own voice: 

“One of the most repellent of the antiwoman biblical themes is its refrain that women are ‘unclean.’ Women are depicted as once-a-month outcasts who menace society and must do penance for those natural functions of their bodies that ensure the continuation of the species.” (p. 346)

Oddly enough, some of the same passages also mandate cleansing for men related to "natural (sexual) functions of their bodies."  Israelis were instructed to "do penance" for excretory "natural functions" by doing it outside the camp and cleaning up.  Those who touched blood of animals that die naturally, also need to clean up.  Did Ms. Gaylor and Pastor Madison overlook those verses?  Or do only verses which apply to women imply sexual bigotry?  

Either one has to conclude that God has it in for everyone who has bodily processes, or that someone held the odd notion that bodily castings might carry some harmful agent, so people should scrupulously clean up after themselves.  Yes, these were also rites which imply spiritual purification, but they applied to both sexes.  It is absurd to read these verses as some sort of special curse upon women.  

"Thus it is the Lord himself who is offended by menstruation; that is, the male deity as imagined—and represented—by the patriarchy. This text sets the tone for the drumbeat of three hundred damaging texts."

This sets the tone for the strange blindness of these two writers.   They see what they want to see, and ignore the rest.  It's called cherry-picking, and it is why I am determined, in this project, to take a systematic account of the data, when possible.  

"Leviticus doesn’t get much traffic. Yet the Bible remains the charter document of the Christian faith; it is an icon in most churches—on the altar, and in every home. As befits the Word of God, the Gideons have given away more than a billion copies.
"How come women haven’t tuned in to how dreadful the Bible is for their cause? Historically even they have embraced it as a holy book—as the charter document—despite minimal acquaintance with its content. John Wathey has identified the patriarchal formula for success; when cherishing holy books, he points out: “…it does not matter what they say. As long as they are perceived as imparting divinely inspired instruction and wisdom, they will evoke in readers the infantile solace and comforting emotions of a small child receiving help and instruction from a parent—the less comprehensible, the better.” (p. 133)

As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, skeptics of this ilk first deride Christianity for insulting women, then insult women themselves. 

Female believers are infants.  They don't know any better, and don't want to know better.  Poor babies, they haven't actually read the Bible for themslves and seen how horrible it is.  

Gaylor speaks of her mother, as we will see; let me say something of mine.  

In her active days, Mom was deeply involved in the Bible Study Fellowship.  She took her female friends to attend, delving deeply into the Word of God.  She arose early in the morning with Dad and read the Bible together and prayed.  

Madison must think Mom very dull.  But I think Madison dull, buying into Gaylor's ridiculous claims so easily without subjecting them to a scintilla of critical questioning.  The question remains what the Bible actually says, and then what impact it -- and Jesus of Nazareth, and his followers -- have had on the world.  I'll take the evidence as I have found it, and make the case that Jesus has liberated billions of women around the world.   

"Women: read the Bible. Men, read the Bible . . . "

Here we reach our one point of agreement.

“ . . . discover “the pathological sexual hatred.” It’s there, in that revered book on the altar."

Lots of things can be found in the Bible, especially by fanatics.   But like Mom, I like to read the Bible systematically, with the life and teachings of Jesus as my chief interpretive principle.  

Madison then talks about Gaylor's mother, who crusaded for abortion, and was enraged to find Christians quoting the Bible lined up on the other side.  Well, yes, Christians quoting the Bible do often stand up for the innocent.  Like Harriot Beecher Stowe, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, provoking the end to slavery in the United States.  Like missionaries in China, fighting foot-binding and opium sales.  Like founders of schools for girls in Japan and India.  Terrible thing, that Christians quoting the Bible have caused such a fuss and upset the Powers-That-Be.  

"Conservative Christians may scream wildly that this charge is unfair. They don’t hate women at all! They love their wives, daughters, sisters. But it’s a strange kind of love that—shall we say, paraphrasing the apostle Paul—insists on it’s own way in exercising male power over female bodies."

We "scream," do we?  I guess all those women who also oppose abortion also scream, and also wish to "excersise power over female bodies?"  Or maybe they're stupid, too?

Our concerns about abortion couldn't possibly have anything to do with the desire to save innocent lives?  That's what we think.  Given that Christians HAVE often stood up for the marginalized against the powerful, and given that many who oppose abortion seem to not only like women, but be women, is that interpretation really so far-fetched?  You're in a poor state when you have to put the worst possible interpretation on the motives of those you disagree with, to make your point.  Are Madison and Gaylor afraid to consider even the possibility that most who oppose abortion do so for sincere and respectable reasons?  Might that possibility threaten some portion of their own hearts they do not wish to examine?  I will raise those questions as questions, rather than as dogmatic assertions, as G & M do about folks on our side.  

Back to Gaylor again, citing Loftus' book: 

“It is absolutely vital for women’s advancement, for equality, for women’s personal safety, and women’s right to full ownership of our own bodies, to keep dogma out of law, to secularize government, to divorce state and religion.” (p.358)

We have a secular government.  But its key principles were informed by Christian dogma from the beginning.  Nietzsche, whom Madison quoted earlier, ought to have taught him that: it was precisely the Christian concern for the marginalized which Nietzche blamed for the weakness of western civilization, its failure to properly worship the Super Man.  Madison is cutting off the very ground that he stands upon.  

“The harm, the uncertainty, the panic, the denial of a constitutional right that the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant fundamentalists and their legislative spoke-persons have caused women, in just this one area of civil rights, is incalculable.” (p. 355)

Odd, then, that as I show, the status of women is much higher in countries where Christian influence has acted over centuries, than in countries where it has had less influence.  

Madison begins to wrap up his case by citing 19th Century feminists who disparage the impact of Christianity, such as Elizabeth Stanton:

“You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women…Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the lord,’ of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us that as Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of the woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? We want to help roll from the soul of woman the terrible superstitions that have so long repressed and crushed her.” (pp. 357-358)
And in 1890, Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote: 

“In order to help preserve the very life of the republic, it is imperative that women should unite on a platform of opposition to the teachings and aim of that ever most unscrupulous enemy of freedom—the Church.” (p. 358)

But that "enemy of freedom" was, at that very hour, laying the foundations for free institutions around the world, through the missionary movement.  (Robert Woodbury shows that Missions were in fact the key factor.)  Individual missionaries were offering women education after centuries or millennia of being denied, in India, China, and many other countries.   Missionary doctors were healing millions.  Missionary farmers were introducing new crops.  Missionary statesmen were agitating against foot-binding and sari (widow-burning), forced prostitution, female infanticide, and the imprisonment of women in the home.  

And these two ladies, like Madison and Gaylor, hold up their skirts and skip away.  "I see NUUUUTHING!" As Sargeant Shultz put it.  

"The carefully groomed (and false) image of savior Jesus is one root of 'the terrible superstitions that have so long repressed and crushed her,' and misogynistic theologians have done their part to create 'that ever most unscrupulous enemy of freedom—the Church.' But is anything worth putting up with, to get in on the grand prize, eternal life? It would seem so. From the inside, it’s hard to recognize magical thinking, especially as learned from preachers and parents. Hence we see women doing their darndness to become priests. Given the history of the church and its charter documents, go figure."

History is complicated.  You'll find villains in every group.  But as a generalization, this version gets things exactly backwards.  

"Let’s get back to Jesus for a moment. The title of Gaylor’s essay is actually a Jesus quote, sort of. The text is John 2:4, when Jesus is with his mother at the Cana wedding feast; she tells him that the wine has run out. He responds ,“Woman, What Have I to Do with Thee?” That’s the King James Version, and it sounds rude. But it’s a tough line to render into English; the Greek reads, literally, “And says to her Jesus what to me and to you woman.” The New RSV reads, “And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” No surprise, to tone down the rudeness, the paraphrase version, The Message Bible, reads, “Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine?” Woman becomes mother.
"But the blunt King James Version that Gaylor used for her title does reflect basic Bible attitudes: “Woman, What Have I to Do with Thee?” This is a putdown. The men of the Bible—and the men who push Bible authority relentlessly—have endorsed the “pathological sexual hatred.” Both the women and the men of the world can do without it now."

Jesus called his mother "woman" once.  Man, what a terrible thing to say!  And if we make use of a misleading old translation, why the resulting quote epitomizes the uh, case that uh, Gaylor has made . . .   

Woman!  And man!  What have either of you to do with a dispassionate, fair-minded search for truth? 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Culture of Death, Thou Shalt Die!

They called my new article on The Stream "Halloween, Zombie Morality, and the Light of the World." My chosen title was a paraphrase of John Donne: "Culture of Death,Thou Shalt Die." In any case, it's my fullest apologetic for the Gospel of Life, for the good Christ has done for the world, in that forum yet. Shares welcome!  Celebrate Halloween by reminding people what "all the saints" who follow Jesus have really accomplished, and can still do to save us from our follies today:

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Bernie Sander's "Green New Deal" is Moldy

I hesitate to argue with a politician, as I hesitate to argue with a bratty child.  Most politicians use the arts of rhetorical persuasion at a level not much higher than that a five-year old kicking her heels against the front seat of the car to get another scoop of ice cream.

But surely Bernie Sanders is a mature man?  He studied at Columbia so he must be smart, right?  He's a Jew and a socialist: both groups are generally well-read, by and large?

Sigh.  I'd heard the rumors, without really listening to the man before.  I'll listen once.  Here is the introduction to his "Green New Deal," inspired by everyone's favorite brainiac, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

"The climate crisis is not only the single greatest challenge facing our country; it is also our single greatest opportunity to build a more just and equitable future, but we must act immediately.

"Climate change is a global emergency. The Amazon rainforest is burning,(1) Greenland’s ice shelf is melting,(2) and the Arctic is on fire.(3)  People across the country and the world are already experiencing the deadly consequences of our climate crisis, as extreme weather events like heat waves,(4) wildfires,(5) droughts, floods,(6) and hurricanes (7) upend entire communities, ecosystems, economies, and ways of life, as well as endanger millions of lives. Communities of color,  working class people, and the global poor have borne and will bear this burden disproportionately."

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Racism of the "anti-Racists"

Some people are obsessed with the evils of racism.  Not surprisingly, these people often seem to be projecting their own racist attitudes and schemes upon others.

Take this Meme I came across this morning, for instance:

Image may contain: text

Of course the author of this meme is engaged in dishonest semantics to turn a strategic retreat into an advance.  It apparently has been pointed out that white people, like black people, face all sorts of challenges in their roads to success.  How can you describe some hard-scramble Appalachian like J. D. Vance (Hillbilly Elegy) as being "privileged?"  And how do you know what challenges I have faced in my career?  

So the author wishes to say, "Maybe so, but one variable, race, was at least not an impediment in your case, as it was for black people."  

But that's racist and presumptuous, too. 

What this really means is, "We assume, without any specific evidence having to do with any advantages or disadvantages you have actually faced, that the mere fact that you have white skin means you have at least not suffered from the systematic and general abuses that people with skin of other color generally suffer."

And that, without knowing the facts about a single European, African, Asian or Native American on the planet.  You have this skin color, so we have the right to make generalizations about you.  Blacks, poor dears, have suffered from those racist whites.  Whites, born with silver spoons in your mouths, you owe everyone else.

How racist.  How presumptuous.  How ignorant.  How stupid.

Let us ignore, shall we, that the SAT score of the average person with black skin admitted into leading universities can be somewhere around 200 points lower than that of someone with white or yellow skin.  The millions of "majority" (somehow including Asians) students are "privileged" by being actively discriminated against in college admissions?  Never mind if their parents immigrated from a poor Romanian village 20 years ago, while a given black student is son of the president of South Africa, maybe?

From the Los Angeles Times: 

"Lee's next slide shows three columns of numbers from a Princeton University study that tried to measure how race and ethnicity affect admissions by using SAT scores as a benchmark. It uses the term "bonus" to describe how many extra SAT points an applicant's race is worth. She points to the first column.

"African Americans received a "bonus" of 230 points, Lee says.

"She points to the second column.

"Hispanics received a bonus of 185 points."

"The last column draws gasps.

"Asian Americans, Lee says, are penalized by 50 points — in other words, they had to do that much better to win admission." 

Let us pretend that such racial discrimination does not also go on in hiring.

And what about a white child who has been bullied by black thugs in some inner-city neighborhood?  "Oh, what a cliché! You must be a racist yourself!"  I hear the predictable response.

Sorry, violence among young black men may be a cliché, as is dedication to basketball, but it is also reflected in FBI statistics, as the latter cliché is reflected in NBA roll calls.  Ignoring reality won't make it go away.

My point, of course, is not that life is harder or easier for any broad group of people.  Still less that any given person, of any color skin, may make it harder or easier for anyone else.  Let bigots of all colors make that sort of argument, I reject them all with disgust that is intellectual as well as moral.

What challenges each person may or may not face in life is an empirical question.  It is irrational to presume that in the modern United States, any given young person of whatever race will automatically receive consistent encouragement or discouragement based on whatever pigmentation they happen to have been issued with.  Still less that that sole factor will so outweigh other factors that the Left should remain as obsessed with race even in 2019 as it actually is.

Unless, that is, all this yacking about racism is an excuse to engage in actually racist policies, such as discriminating against young people of European and Asian ancestry in college admissions.  (Along with the sheer pleasures of self-righteousness.)

What happened to Martin Luther King's dream that people would be judged on the content of their character (or their real-life experiences) rather than on racist and bigoted generalizations?

The Left has left that far behind.  And I think we all know why.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Is Scandinavia a Secular Paradise?

(From How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test, David Marshall)

As noted above, the secularist community has, in recent years, often pointed to such countries as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden to demonstrate the superiority of Secular Humanism over Christianity.  The work of sociologist Phil Zuckerman has been especially important in making this argument popular and seem credible.  While more cautious than some of his disciples, Zuckerman does indeed write with enthusiasm and persuasiveness about happy, “peaceful, and relatively godless Denmark” and Sweden:

“Quaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful forests, lonely beaches, healthy democracies, among the lowest violent crime rates in the world, the lowest levels of corruption in the world, excellent educational systems, innovative architecture, strong economies, well-supported arts, successful entrepreneurship, clean hospitals, delicious beer, free health care, maverick filmmaking, egalitarian social policies, sleek design, comfortable bike paths – and not much faith in God.”[1]

But that is to look at people horizontally, as Blais also does, and ignore our vertical dimension.  Scandinavians were once Vikings, after all.  Zuckerman sometimes overlooks what many of his “secular” Scandinavian friends tell him about how the Nordic lands got where they are today, and the role Christianity played in that transformation. 

Harvard historian David Landes notes that "in the tenth century, Europe was just coming out of a long torment of invasion, plunder, and rapine, by enemies from all sides."  The Vikings came from the north: "So terrifying were these marauders, so ruthless their tactics (taking pleasure in tossing babies in the air and catching them on their lances . . . ), that the very rumor of their arrival" sent everyone running. [2]

A Muslim traveler named Ahmad ibn Fadlān gave first-hand testimony early that same century, in 922 AD, of what the Vikings were like on their own turf.  (Or in Russia, where they had been establishing themselves.)  He found them “the filthiest of all Allah's creatures . . . addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day."  They left the poor to die (so much for free health care), and would have sex with a slave girl before sacrificing her upon the death of her master.  ("The men began to bang their shields with the sticks so that her screams could not be heard and so terrify the other slave-girls, who would not, then, seek to die with their masters."  So much for egalitarian social policies.)  Their king lived like Jabba the Hut, immobile, surrounded by courtiers, needing help to get on his horse if he ventured outdoors.  (Perhaps that fit under the category of “free health care?”)

So a millennia ago, the ancestors of modern Danes were sacrificing maidens and cruising the North Sea looking to pick up monastic bling.  Now they ride bicycles to flower shops in Copenhagen.  What occurred to alter their habits?  

At the risk of being simplistic, the Gospel occurred.  Christianity impacted Scandinavia in three stages: Medieval Catholicism, which worked top down after the often largely nominal and pragmatic conversion of kings, Lutheranism, which made every believer a priest, then finally pietism, which taught commoners to read, so they could read the Bible.  Even during the first stage, Christians founded hospitals and began for almost the first time to care for the poor, as Eljas Orrman explains in the Cambridge History of Scandinavia:  
"Whatever the religious impact of Christianity in Scandinavia, there is little doubt that it brought with it a new conception of responsibility for the poor and needy in society.
The murder rate in Stockholm followed that historical trajectory.  In the 15th Century, while Viking raiders had settled down and stopped exporting mass violence, the local murder rate was still 47 per 100,000, about what it is in New Orleans today, America’s most homocidal city.  The homicide rate then halved over the next century, dropped to four in the 18th Century, then just one in the 19th Century.  That was still long before Scandinavia became the land of IKEA and avant-garde film-making, or the secular humanist Valhalla.  Thus the murder rate among Scandinavian Americas, who do still often go to church (I often visit one), is also quite low.   
Zuckerman is honest enough to point out that Scandinavians themselves, even atheists, recognize the source of the power that reformed their cultures:
"For the vast majority of Danes and Swedes . . . when I asked them what the designation 'Christian' meant to them, they almost invariably all stressed the same things: being kind to others, taking care of the poor and sick, and being a good and moral person." (10)
A skeptic named Anders explained:
"I'm believing in good things in human beings, which are the real things of Christianity.  You can't kill other people.  You have to help old people, and so on and so on.  I think those are some good rules to live by.  That's why I am a Christian man." (11)

A woman named Elsa explained that for her, being a Christian meant "To be a decent human being and respect other people and yeah, to be a good person." (11) Zuckerman responded, "Anders and Elsa offered fairly straightforward articulations of what could most easily be characterized as secular humanism." (11)  
But is it not possible that Anders and Elsa understood the foundation of their own society better than a sociologist from Southern California?  Indeed, Jens, a 68 year old atheist whose grandfathers were both pastors, told Zuckerman: 
"I remember my father saying very often a sentence which has a lot of morals and ethics.  He said, 'Never do to other people what you don't want them to do against you . . . ‘ We are Lutherans in our souls -- I'm an atheist -- but still I have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor." 
Sonny (an agnostic), added, "Those Bible stories are fundamental for the values we have, and for the laws that we have made."  He especially liked the story of the Good Samaritan. (84-5)  A respondent named Helle summarized what many secularist Swedes and Danes told Zuckerman, who let me point out is the founder of America’s only secularist study program in public American universities: "Our culture is based on Christian values." (159)  Zuckerman noted, "Multiply them by a factor of 10 and you'll get a good idea of the volume of responses that I got along these very same lines" (159)
So the evidence, both according to historians, and by Phil Zuckerman’s own account, is that the best qualities of “humanist” societies like Denmark and Sweden did not arise spontaneously, still less can they be credited to “Secular Humanism.”  Some force turned Vikings into Danes, and it wasn’t IKEA. That same force also challenged and transformed societies that had developed forms of secular humanism untouched by the West, like Chinese neo-Confucianism.  No one, outside rare patches of remote forest in Amazonia perhaps, has gone untouched by that flow. 

Dr. Zuckerman also describes other residual blessings that Christianity lends secularized Scandinavians, many of which were not touched on in the last chapter, and may be common to other religions as well.  Religious ritual:

"feels special . . . gives their lives a sense of rhythm and poignancy . . . brings families together . . . makes them feel like they are part of something grand and auspicious . . . is fun . . . it . . . connects them with previous and future generations . . . they like the music . . . it enriches communal bonds." (155) 

We need, it seems, some sense of the sacred.  To my aesthetic eye, this is the most terrible thing about rapidly growing cities in mainland China: the denuded, rectangular concrete jungles here too often lack the human touch, which may necessarily require a superhuman touch, it seems.  

Modern secularized society still faces grave challenges: high debt burdens, loss of hope for the future, demographic implosion, the growth of radical Islam.  Zuckerman also admits that religious faith encourages parents to have more children, which helps solve such problems.  I do not deny that Christians may often have things to learn and gain from our secular neighbors, as well: delight in diversity, and outside and often on-target critique of our worst arguments and preachers, being among the benefits Christians can receive from secular humanists.  And clearly it is unfair to blanketly demonize our secular neighbors as some in the Christian community most unfortunately do.  

But just as clearly, neither Scandinavia nor even modern Japan undermines the claim that God has greatly blessed the world through Jesus, fulfilling a chain of golden promises laced across the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures.  In fact, both civilizations lend additional support to that thesis.  And after the sheer success of the Gospel in a host of diverse cultures, and the fact that such success was promised beforehand, that blessing constitutes the third way in which Christianity passes the Outsider Test for Faith. 

[1] Phil Zuckerman, Society Without God, 2-3
[2] David Landes, Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 29