Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Opening Statement (Marshall-Zuckerman I)

It's great to be here tonight!

I think there are probably at least four kinds of people here tonight: Some of you grew up in a Christian family, and your family made Christianity central, and you know from personal experience that a society, even a small society built on Christian principles can work.  Others, your family went to church, your parents maybe even quoted the Bible, but it was a disaster.  Maybe there was even some abuse, and you have some doubts.  A third kind of person -- maybe you grew up in a secular humanist family, or maybe you spent some time in Scandinavia like Dr. Zuckerman, or in Japan like I did.  And you saw first-hand that a society where there's not much talk about God can work -- it seemed to be functional.  Or maybe you grew up in a disfunctional Secular Humanist family, maybe you escaped from a concentration camp in North Korea, you have doubts. 

All these are possible.  I'm not going to be claiming tonight that Secular Humanism is the same as Nazism, or that it's the worst possible belief system in the world -- or communism, though communism may be a form of Secular Humanism.

But I belong to the first category.  I would come down at six o'clock in the morning, and my parents would be reading the Bible and praying.  They lived it, they loved us, and they cared for people in the community.  If you've seen something else, tonight I'd like to give a bigger picture. 

Like Dr. Zuckerman, I prefer an empirical approach.  That means looking at the facts as we find them in the world around us. 

I would like to make four claims tonight.   

One: The gospel has changed the world for the better in dramatic ways, making life far better for billions, or tens of billions of people. 

Two: What Christianity has done before, it can do again. 

Three: Modern society has many flaws or needs which the Gospel also addresses. 

Four: Secular Humanism does not have a clear and independent record of building great societies, nor does it offer the best solutions to modern crises.  There are some troubling signs. 

Conclusion: Therefore, Christianity provides a far better foundation for a healthy, happy, free, and prosperous society than does Secular Humanism.

First of all, What Christianity has done for the World?

The Gospel has provided seven great gifts., at least. 

Number One: Charity.  Jesus was kind. 

Historian Will Durant said the world had "never had seen such a dispensation of alms" as was organized by the Roman church.  She helped "widows, orphans, the sick or infirm, prisoners, victims of natural catastrophes; and she frequently intervened to protect the lower orders from unusual exploitation or excessive taxation." 

Historian James Hannam said  the Church "acted as the Medieval welfare state." 

So there is ancient, medieval, and then in modern times sociologist Arthur Brooks says, 

"Religious people are, inarguably, more charitable in every measurable non-religious way, including secular donations, informal giving, and even acts of kindness and honesty, than secularists." (38)

And that includes both North America and Europe. 

The second gift -- Jesus was the original feminist, as Dan Brown, ironically, put it. 

This may astound people who rely on media propaganda, or even what is commonly taught in public schools.  But the record shows that nothing has liberated women throughout history more than the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.  Briefly:
A United Nations study in1988 showed that out of 99 countries in the world, the 40 that had the highest status of women, employment, health, education, marriage and children, 40 top countries, 39 had Christian heritage.  The exception was Taiwan, which was also deeply influenced by the Gospel through missions.

Rodney Stark, the sociologist, says that in the late Roman period,  Christian women married later, they had more choice in marriage than Roman pagan women; the "double standard" was rejected, and they were not forced to abort babies. 

The great Chinese scholar, who I think was an atheist, Hu Shi, said:

"Let women serve as oxen and horses." This saying is not sufficient to describe the cruelty and meanness with which Chinese have treated women . . . For a thousand years, Confucian philosophers talked about love and benevolence day after day, yet never noticed the cruel and inhumane treatment of their mothers and sisters.
"Suddenly from the West a band of missionaries arrived. Besides preaching, they also brought new customs and new ways of looking at things. They taught us many things, the greatest of which was to look at women as people."

The third gift (is) human rights.  Jesus cared for the oppressed.
When I first arrived in Asia, I found myself in a northern Thai tribal village where girls were sold as prostitutes to visiting tourists.  While a drama presenting the gospel was being performed in that village, I went behind the bamboo hut where they were performing it outside, and prayed for the drama, and for the people in the village.  It was while in prayer that I felt called to help such girls, and spent a few years trying to do that.  I was prepared for this by the Book of Isaiah, which I had been reading, and probably by the example of Jesus, as well in prayer. 

This is how most great reform movements have in fact started -- against abortion, infanticide, sacrificing of widows in India, human sacrifice, and slavery.  Maybe I'll have the time to tell the stories of people like John Wesley, William Wilberforce, William Booth, Benigno Aquino, later.   

The fourth great gift is science. 

According to Richard Carrier, a radical atheist whom I debated earlier this year, and an historian of ancient science, in ancient Greece: "Most intellectual polytheists believed in a Creator who had intelligently ordered the cosmos, that this order could be discovered by the human mind, and that such discovery honored God."  And he noted that even in the ancient world, scientists already began to draw on their faith in God, to invent what is now called science. (The Christian Delusion, 407)

In the Middle Ages, the same thing is true.  Rodney Stark has done a survey, and found that most of the early founders of different fields were pious Christians,
The Harvard historian David Landes said that "Important in all of this (invention -- DM) was the Church as custodian of knowledge and school for technicians."

The Judeo-Christian respect for manual labor, subordination of nature to man,  and a sense of linear time, all contributed to the birth of modern science in Europe. 

Number five: education.  Jesus, you may have noticed reading the New Testament, was a teacher.

Around the world, schools have been founded by the followers of Jesus, including many of the great universities of Europe and Asia. 

Robert Woodberry, a sociologist at the University of Singapore, said: "The earliest places with near universal literacy (including Scandinavia, New England, Protestant cantons in Switzerland . . . ) were typically economic backwaters, but had Protestant-sponsored literacy campaigns." (250)

Number six: Jesus was a healer

Again, go around the world, and you find hospitals founded by followers of Jesus who healed in the name of Jesus.  I have had the privilege of knowing some of those doctors.  And of course the Red Cross, with its emblem of the cross, symbolizes that influence. 

The seventh gift is the gift of freedom.  Jesus came to set his people free!

Dr. Donald Treadgold wrote, in Freedom, a History: "Hebrew society was unique in the ancient Near East in managing to avoid the techniques, devices, and institutions of despotism." 

Dr Landes again, on Medieval Christianity, said "the concept of property rights went back to biblical times and was transmitted and transformed by Christian teaching." And he gave some examples from the Old Testament where that came from.  And he pointed out that all of this made Europe very different from other civilizations of the time, especially when the Bible was translated into the local languages of Europe  (Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 35)

The "Peace and Truce of God" -- French historian Georges Duby says that "In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations." (Wikipedia)

And finally I'd like to cite a very eminent authority, Dr. Phil Zuckerman, who points out that Christianity also provides many goods to Scandinavians, in his book Society Without God.

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

So even among secularists, (Scandinavians) are still benefiting from the Gospel in those ways.

Christianity has, then, served as the foundation not only of the best aspects of Western civilization, but I would argue of world civilization.  The Gospel has literally saved billions, probably tens of billions, of lives by educating, healing, training civilizations in kindness and faith in a God who makes sense of reality, educating future scientists and teaching the world that "It is the glory of God to hide truth, and of kings to seek them out," as Francis Bacon quoted Scripture, in launching modern science. 

Christianity has a proven track record.  For two thousand years, the Gospel has helped billions and transformed the lives of people around the world for the better -- even India, China, and Japan.  This is not just abstract theory.  The examples and teachings of Jesus are the foundation of much of the best in modern society. 

That's my first point.

My second point is, what the Gospel has done before, it can do again. 

Next up: Phil's opening statement. 


BillT said...

Thank you for this David. It may be the best summary of the positive influence of Christianity I have read. Kudos.

David B Marshall said...

Very kind of you to say that!