Limiting ourselves to human history, I am tempted to respond by appealing to all the wonderful things Taoism or Confucianism have done for East Asia -- to catch the fanatics off-guard, and try to shock them out of the little worlds of prim skepticism in which they imprison themselves. It is painful to think how arid the history of Chinese art would be without the fantastic bronzes of ancient Chinese graves, with which aristocrats set themselves up for the next life, the bold colors of esoteric Buddhist mandalas, the misty, myterious landscapes of Zen painters, or Chinese rock gardens, suffused with Taoist readings of the natural landscape.
But the title of this blog is Christ the Tao. And I do think Jesus Christ is the source of near-universal liberation, that has overthrown oppression and made the world a dramatically tonier address in our little galaxy.
Let's begin with the second and more substantial of these two challenges, from the Bengali atheist, Taslima Nasreen, who also quotes PZ Myers, and my initial "shoot-from-the-hip" reply. After that, in answer to follow-up queeries, including the question of whether I've actually read any history books, and my purported errors might not be explained as simple ignorance, I'll offer a list of 130 texts, mostly books, which show how the Gospel has changed the world.
My hope is reading some of these books will put even atheists in a cheerful mood to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Christmas being just around the corner.
I. The Challenge
In late October, Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist, died in University Hospital in Galway, Ireland, according to her husband because staff said they could not do a needed abortion in a Catholic country. (Though this account is disputed by some.) The Hindu community in Ireland has protested this incident. Taslima Nasreen, a Bengali Secular Humanst who posts with PZ Myer's "Freethought Blogs" confederacy, also wrote angrily:
Indians are saying medical negligence and not the religion should be blamed for Savita Halappanavar’s death. Religionists defend religions.
But sane people know very well that religion corrupts everything. Even doctors do not practice medical science properly if a religion ever gets a chance to grab them. Politicians become insane if they are influenced by religion. I agree with what PZ Myers says:
There was no hope for the fetus at all. Yet they refused to do the one simple, ethical procedure that would have saved Halappanavar’s life. Because doctors had been indoctrinated since childhood in lies that were shown to be false during their medical training, but which they could not overcome; because hospital administrators put their faith above their obligation to serve patients; because lawmakers in that country shied away from learning how their policies killed women; because a mob of celibate old puppetmasters don’t give a damn about anything other than their theology and will happily sacrifice human beings on the altar of their vile and backward religion . . . The end result: a septicemic infection swept through the gaping wound of Halappanavar’s cervix, killing her, after days of agony. The pope and his bishops, and the faithful Catholics in that hospital, killed her as surely as if they’d taken a scalpel to her throat — which would have been a more merciful death than the misery they put her through. Monsters, every one of them.’All religions are barbaric and backwards. Time came long ago to save humanity from religions but we did not move our butts. We are now paying the price for being cowards.
I replied rather impolitically on Nasreen's web site:
“Sane people know very well that religion corrupts everything.”
Perhaps sane, unschooled fanatics who have never cracked a history book in their lives know this. Those who have read history, and are prepared to accept it, know that it was Christians who fought against the burning of widows in India, foot-binding in China, human sacrifice in Africa, raised the status of women around the world, educated billions of people (as implicitly admitted above, without pondering the significance — you don’t think those billions of lives have been improved by education?), ended slavery, helped undermine and overthrow communist tyranny, invented modern science, spread democracy (see Robert Woodberry), helped billions of people in their individual lives, given hope and joy and ended drug addictions for people I know — just to get started.
Be atheists, if you like. But don’t embrace such absurd simplifications of reality, please.
Human beings are naturally oppressive to one another, and became no less so under atheist regimes. The Gospel has served as the greatest force for reform in human history.
(Postscript: It turns out that the death rate for mothers in childbirth in Ireland, where abortion is strictly restricted, is the lowest in the world, and just a fraction the US rate. So at best, the secularist outrage is highly selective. Also, women in Christian parts of India tend to live much longer than women in Hindu parts of India. See below for accounts of how that happened to come about!)
Three skeptics responded by echoing the litany of crimes typically ascribed to Christianity in the skeptical memosphere and (to some extent) the public school system:
JB: Hey david, why dont you tell us about slavery and the church specifically, how the church owned slaves also, tell us about how the church took children as a tithe, and raped and tortured and enslaved those children.
Shakatany: Not to mention the slaughter by the church of the Cathars, the thousands who were tortured to death in the Inquisition and the witch trials. Yes that happened a few centuries ago but what about the horrors of the Magdalene laundries and all the pedophilia that was ignored to keep the church’s reputation? As Lord Acton says “power tends to corrupt” and for millennia the church had a lot of power.
Mynameischeese: Christianity “raised” the status of women, did it? And “educated” the masses in Africa? (Pro-tip: If you actually read one of those history textbooks, you’ll find that Christians actually “colonised” Africa.)
But thank you for that entertaining (absurd) similification of reality there.
II. The List
So, to borrow Mr. Cheese's neologism, let's de-"similify" reality by looking at a few history books that systematically route the claim that Christianity has "poisoned everything." I'll start with my own books, since of course I want people to read them, and because they provide a good overview of some parts of this history. Most of what I'll include after that will be books, some scholarly some popular, along with three or four articles that are too good to leave out. After some books I'll add a few words of explanation about my choices, in light blue.
I hope readers will offer other suggestions in the comments section. I'm only including books I've read myself (at least partially) and can vouch for, and ask readers to do the same.
A: My own books
(1) Marshall, David: True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture (1996, 2002) (Especially pages 121-132, then from 175 on.)
Jesus and the Religions of Man (2000) (Pages 41-159.)
Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could (2005) (Chapters 10 and 11, then the comparison of the gospels to other ancient works in Part III of the book.)
The Truth About Jesus and the "Lost Gospels" (2007) (Especially chapters entitled "Jesus was the 'Original Feminist,' "The Gospel Brings True Sexual Liberation," "Gnosticism Would Not Set the World Free," "Jesus Brings True Freedom," and "Meniggestroeth Didn't Make Your Mind.")
The Truth Behind the New Atheism. (2007) (Parts II and III, "Word and Flesh," and "Truth and Consequences.")
How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story (Especially Chapter Four, "The Gifts," which describes twelve gifts Christianity has given the world, then lists 73 or so followers of Jesus who have changed a big part of the world.)
(7) Adeney, Miriam: Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity
(8) Becker, Ernest: The Denial of Death Becker was an atheist. His intermittent comments about the psychological insight and healing power of Christian faith are therefore especially convincing.
(9) Brooks, Arthur: Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism – Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and why it Matters (One of the most revealing and important books on this list. Brooks focuses on charitable giving and other actions in the United States. The title is somewhat misleading, because what really counts, as Brooks shows, is religious belief, more than political position. Simply put, those who are religiously involved tend to give many times as much to charity as those who are not, and to be more generous in every measurable way.)
(10) Campolo, Tony: The Power Delusion
(11) Carroll and Shielett: Christianity on Trial Good journalistic style: more objective than Kennedy's books, lots of interesting facts.
(12) Coles, Robert: Harvard Diary
(13) D'Souza, Dinesh: What's so great about Christianity?
(14) Girard, Rene: The Scapegoat translated Yvonne Freccero
I See Satan Fall like Lightening translated by James G. Williams
(16) Keener, Craig: Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (This book didn't seem to fit anywhere else, so I put it here. Keener is a respected New Testament scholar, but this mammoth, and massively-footnoted work, is mostly about MODERN miracles. At the very least, one must conclude that the Gospel has remarkable psychosomatic properties, beyond what one might think possible, on millions of sick [and yes, even dead] people.)
(17) Kennedy, James : What if Jesus had never been born? These two books sometimes get a bit carried away in ascribing everything good to Christianity, but they make lots of good points.
What if the Bible had never been written?
(19) Landes, David: The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why some are so rich and some are so poor
(20) Mangalwadi, Vishal: The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization
(21) Monroe, Kelly: Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians (Several stories in this book are especially important or moving, including those by Robert Coles, Glenn Loury, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Armand Nicholi, Charles Thaxton, Brent Foster, Poh Liam Lim, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Krister Siarsingh, and Lamin Sanneh).
(22) Ortberg, John: Who Was This Man? (A short, pithy, and thoughtful introduction to how Jesus has changed the world.)
(23) Peck, M. Scott: People of the Lie
(24) Pelikan, Jarislov: Jesus Through the Centuries: his place in the history of cultures
(25) Sanneh, Lamin: Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture
(26) Schmidt, Alvin: How Christianity Changed the World (This book is uncritical and exaggerated, but does contain a lot of interesting information.)
C: The Early Years
(27) Gospel of Matthew (Read the Gospels and observe the diverse goods Jesus did to those around him.)
(28) Gospel of Mark
(29) Gospel of Luke
(30) Gospel of John
(31) Acts of the Apostles
(32) Epistle of James
(33) Augustine: City of God
(34) Durant, Will: Caesar and Christ
(35) Hart, David: Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies
(36) Stark, Rodney: The Rise of Christianity
Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief
D: Positively Medieval
(38) Cahill, Thomas: How the Irish Saved Civilization
(39) Cavill, Paul: Vikings: Fear and Faith (Especially the chapter on King Alfred.)
(40) Chesterton, G. K: St. Francis of Assissi
(41) Clark, Kenneth: Civilization (Look at the pictures, if nothing else!)
(42) Fletcher, Richard: The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity
(43) Stark, Rodney: For the Glory of God
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism
For the Glory of God
(47) Tierney, Brian: The Crisis of Church and State, 1000-1350, With Selected Documents
(48) Williams, Charles: Descent of the Dove
(49) Haugen, Gary: Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World (Haugen is founder of the International Justice Mission, one of many Christian organizations to challenge the sex industry that exploits young women, and men, around the world.)
(50) "Population Briefing Paper, Population Crisis Committee, Country Rankings of the Status of Women: Poor, Powerless, and Pregnant," No. 20, June, 1988
(51) David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ (The story on pages 194-199 is by turns appalling, revealing, and hopeful.)
(Note: Also see Jesus and the Religions of Man, 61-79, and my long series, "How Jesus Liberated Women," which I am hoping to develop into a book soon.)
F. Birth of Science
(52) Chapman, Allan: Slaying the Dragons: Destroying Myths in the History of Science and Faith
(53) Hannam, James: The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution
(54) Add: Huff, Toby: Intellectual curiosity and the scientific revolution. (Suggested by Doug, below.)
(55) Pearson, Nancy, andThaxton, Charles: The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy
G: Democracy and Confronting Tyranny
(56) Burke, Edmund: Reflections on the Revolution in France
(57) Campolo, Tony: The Power Delusion: A Serious call to consider Jesus' approach to power (It is particularly interesting to read Campolo's account in Chapter Seven of meeting Benigno Aquino in Boston, before he returned to the Philippines to transform that country by his sacrificial death. Campolo does not mention his name, for that had not happened yet when he wrote this book, apparently, but he recognized the potential of what Aquino said. That story is but one illustration of the Christian principles Campolo teaches.)
(58) Colson, Charles: Kingdoms in Conflict
(59) Dalin, David: The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany
(60) De Toqueville, Alexis: Democracy in America
(61) Eidsmoe, John: Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers
(62) Mosab Hassan Yousef: Son of Hamas
(63) Solzhenitsyn, Alexander: The Gulag Archipelago
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Solzhenitsyn converted to Christianity in the Soviet slave labor camps. The Baptist character in this book describes the witness of Christians imprisoned with him, generalized about in The Gulag Archipelago, that helped lead to his renewal of faith -- and his subsequent contribution to overthrowing the communist system.)
(65) Treadgold, Donald: Freedom: A History
(66) Weigel, George: The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism
(67) Woodberry, Robert: "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy" (This article may be the most succinct and powerful argument of all: read this, if nothing else, and let the books flesh out the details.)
(68) Wurmbrand, Richard: In God's Underground
Tortured for Christ
H. Ending Slavery
(69 Thomas, Hugh: The Slave Trade
(Also see Stark, For the Glory of God, above, and my post about the early anti-slave movement on this site.)
I: Other Early Social Reform
(70) Benge, Janet and Geoff: George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol's Orphans
(71) Collier, Richard: The General Next to God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army
(72) Wesley, John: Journal of John Wesley
J. Changed Lives that Changed Worlds
(73) Colson, Charles: Loving God
(74) Pullinger, Jackie Andrew Quicke: Chasing the Dragon: The true story of how one woman’s faith resulted in the conversion of hundreds of drug addicts, prostitutes, and hardened criminals in Hong Kong’s infamous Walled City
(75) Sanborn, Art: Walking Miracle: A Vision for Asia, A Prayer for Healing (Art led us around Thailand in 1984, telling us amazing stories, as we saw amazing things happen that suggest to me that the stories in this book probably really happened.)
(76) Soothill, William: Timothy Richard of China, seer, statesman, missionary and the most disinterested adviser the Chinese ever had
(77) Taylor, Geraldine: Pastor Hsi: A Struggle for Chinese Christianity
(78) Wilkerson, David: The Cross and the Switchblade
(79) Lu Daihao, 收刀入鞘 : 一个黑道變傳道的真实故事
K. Tribal Societies (Africa, Asia, the Americas)
(80) Crossman, Eileen: Mountain Rain: A New Biography of James O Fraser
(81) Jungleman (+ Mark Ritchie): Spirit of the Rainforest
(82) Livingstone, W. P.: Mary Slessor of Calabar
(83) Mason, George: Memoir of Ko Thah-Byu, the First Karen Convert
(84) Richardson, Don: Peace Child
Lords of the Earth
Eternity in Their Hearts
(87) Titcombe, Tommy: Tread Upon the Lion
(88) Covell, Ralph: The Liberating Gospel in China: The Christian Faith among China's Minority Peoples
(89) Frederick Forsyth: The Outsider, My Life in Intrigue (Forsyth is a journalist and a novelist, author of Day of the Jackal, who spent about a year and a half in Biafra, a southern corner of Nigeria that succeeded from the union and attempted to protect itself from Nigerian attacks. While not a Christian, Forsyth describes the leading role Catholic and other Christian missionaries and church personel played in defying Nigeria and trying to save the millions who were dying of starvation. He credits the church with saving a million lives during that struggle. Let me add that the book as a whole is riveting.)
L. India and South Asia
(90) Anderson, Courtney: To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson
(91) Brand, Paul: The Gift of Pain (An Indian friend of mine recently noted that people who make history seldom write it. Here's an exception: Paul Brand was a missionary doctor who helped medical science understand, and deal with, lepresy, combining the story of his own life with this intellectual adventure.)
(92) Farquhar, John: The Crown of Hinduism
Modern Religious Movements in India
(94) Hale, Thomas: Living Stones of the Himalayas (Hale was a medical missionary in Nepal, where many people have become Christians in recent years. Hale shows how that happened, often involving concrete acts of healing and mercy.)
Don't Let the Goats eat the Loquat Trees
(96) Howard, Randolph Levi: Baptists in Burma
(97) Mangalwadi, Vishal
The World of the Gurus Mumbai
Truth and Social Reform
India: The Grand Experiment
The Quest for Freedom and Dignity: Caste, Conversion, and Cultural Revolution
The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization
(104) Mangalwadi, Vishal and Mangalwadi, Ruth
The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture(106) Mangalwadi, Vishal and MacNicol, Nicol
What Liberates a Woman?: The Story of Pandita Ramabai — A Builder of Modern India
(108) Wead, Douglas: The Compassionate Touch: Haunting Stories of prostitutes, lepers and beggars on the streets of Calcutta -- and their response to a daring demonstration of God's love (One of the supervisors for my doctoral work now leads much of the work Mark Buntain established.)
(109) Wellman, Sam: Amy Carmichael: A Life Abandoned to God
(110) Wilson, Dorothy: Ten Fingers for God: the Life and Work of Dr. Paul Brand
M. East Asia
(111) Aikman, David: Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Challenging the Global Balance of Power
(112) Burgess, Alan: Inn of the Sixth Happiness (The title is strange, based no doubt on the movie, but the inn was actually named after 8 happinesses, which makes sense in Chinese, and the book was originally called The Small Woman. But it's a great story, anyway.)
(113) Cary, Otis: History of Christianity in Japan: Protestant Missions
(114) Dunch, Ryan: Fuzhou Protestants and the Making of Modern China, 1857-1927
(115) Goforth, Rosalin: Goforth of China
(116) Goode, Steve and Marie: Bring Your Eyes and See: Our Journey into Justice, Compassion, and Action (The Goodes have been involved in refugee relief, tsunami relief, training, and red light ministries in Southeast Asia with Youth With a Mission for decades.. This book represents the work of many other Christians as well.)
(117) Lee, Jung Young: ‘The American Missionary Movement in Korea, 1882-1945: Its Contributions and American Diplomacy’ Missiology: An International Review 12/ 4: 387-402
(118) Kim, Yung Han: ‘Christianity and Korean culture: the reasons for the success of Christianity in Korea’ Exchange 33 / 2: 132-152.
(119) LaTourette, Kenneth Scott: A History of Christian Missions in China
(120) Legge, James: The Religions of China: Confucianism and Taoism Described and Compared with Christianity (Legge was the West's greatest early sinologist. His translations of the Chinese Classics are still standard, 150 years later, and his insights careful and fair-minded.)
(121) Lodwick, Kathleen: Crusaders Against Opium: Protestant missionaries in China, 1874-1917
(122) MacKay, George Leslie: From far Formosa : the island, its people and missions
(123) Park, Yong-Shin: ‘Protestant Christianity and Social Change in Korea’ University of California, Berkeley, dissertation for the Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology
(124) Phan, Peter: Missions and Catechesis: Alexandre de Rhodes and Inculturation in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam
(125) Ricci, Mateo: China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Mateo Ricci: 1583-1610
(126) Scheiner, Irwin: Christian Converts and Social Protest in Meiji Japan
(127) Sharmon, Lyon: Sun Yat-sen: His Life and Its Meaning
(128) Trout, Jessie: Kagawa, Japanese Prophet
(129) 顾卫民: 基督教与近代中国社会 (Christianity and Contemporary Chinese Society, a great historical overview which offers quite a bit of detail on how Christianity transformed China in about 500 pages.)
(130) 林治平：改變历史：華人文化舆宣教事工 (To Change History: The Culture of the Chinese People and the Work of Missions, by well-known Taiwanese historian and Christian publisher, Lin Zhiping.)
(131) 李金强，林治平：風雨中的彩虹：基督教從百年足迹 (The Rainbow in the Midst of the Wind and Rain: The Footprints of Christianity from 100 Years On. This is the first of a series of five books by Lin Zhiping and Li Jinqiang on the Christian influence on the Chinese Republican revolution of 1911.)
(132) 姚崧龄: 影响我国维新的几个外国人 (A Few Foreigners Who Influenced Our Nation's Reform.)
(133) 远志明: 神州忏悔录：上帝与五千年中国 (China's Confession: God and China's 5000 years. Yuan Zhiming's remarkable retelling of the story of China, with Christ as the agent who has begun to reform it, and brings it hope for the future.)