Monday, August 06, 2018

Does Christianity Help or Harm? (Gathering Assertions)

How we see right and wrong depends on how we see God, Nature, and Society.  If you're Maori, then the "mythological origin of women" explains why the male symbolizes "success, prosperity, and vigor," while the female symbolizes "calamity and distress."  (Maori Women, Berys Heuer, 10)  In which case, don't let your wife near your house or canoe while you are building them, but you might have her consecrate them afterwards with her evil powers.  Likewise, a clear change for women can be traced during the evolution of early Hindu thought.  Ramayana already began to idealize the woman who burnt herself to death.  Then the Law of Manu warned widows they would be born as jackals if they remarried, which I think helps explain why two thousand years later, Rajput women still refused to remarry (Sitah's Daughters: Coming Out of Purdah, Leigh Minturn, ).  (Even if they were virgins.)

Clearly, ideas have consequences.  

And so recently on two web sites that encourage debate between Christians and skeptics,  I asked what have been the consequences of that set of ideas bound up in Christianity.  

My goal in these three posts is to evaluate this question in a more systematic and careful way than is usual, so we can seek credible historical conclusions.  Let us approach the historical impact of the Gospel in a step-by-step manner, getting input from both sides, then looking for ways to objectively and usefully evaluate the answers given.  

So I begin (1) by collecting assertions from both sides about the good and the bad that Christianity has allegedly worked.  I sort these by popularity and by origin: should we credit or blame Jesus himself for a given effect, or the Bible in general, or later tradition? 

(2) I then sort or analyze these assertions by asking a series of questions designed to tease out historical causation from the mere "background noise" of human sociology.  What was actually caused by Christianity?  Which are better credited to human nature, accident, pre-Christian culture, or some other cause?

Here I'll make some judgement calls.   I'll apply those questions to each assertion in (1), then offer a tentative response.  Of course my conclusions will not only be debatable, I realize some of them may seem provocative.

(3) But not all effects are equally important.  If Christianity played a role in the rebirth of modern science, for instance, that affects us all, for good and ill, far more than, say, Prohibition.  So these items must be evaluated not only by how strongly they are linked to the Christian faith, but also by how great the impact of each effect has been.  So I then weigh that impact.  

(4) In the same post, I'll end with some tentative conclusions about the effect the Gospel of Jesus has had on the world, for good and for ill.  Of course, weighty books have been written about many of these items, and some of them inform my conclusions as well, which I will refer to more often than cite.   

I.  Gathering Assertions

See the source image

"When the priest bites, when the inquisitor stings,
I simply remember my favorite things . . . "
I asked skeptics on two sites about the alleged harmful effects of Christianity.  I asked respondents to focus not on ideas in the Bible or Christianity they disliked, but on harms that posters believe have worked themselves out in history.   I then asked Christians (and unbelievers) to give historical goods which they credit to the Gospel, also focusing on verifiable effects rather than subjective "these are my favorite things" kinds of responses.  (Though one smart-aleck did indeed invoke Julie Andrews.)

But as some respondents pointed out, defining Christianity is no easy task.  Any given religion or ideology can be defined by reference to (a) the person, teachings, and acts of its founder or chief guru; (b) written or oral scriptures; (c) developed tradition.  To which of these three are we tracing producing benefits or harms? 

So I asked people to place a J (Jesus), B (Bible) or T (tradition) by each alleged harm or benefit brought about by Christianity.  (Or use lower cases -- j, b, t -- to indicate that the harm was accidental or indirect.)

I then scored results by giving "number one" items 5 points, "number two" items 3 points, "number three" items 2 points, and then 1 point each for subsequent claims.  

My first step yielded two sets of alleged historical effects, sorted by a weighted voting system (five points for first place, three for second, two for third, one each for later placings):  

A.  How has Christianity Harmed the World ? 

1. Supports despotism: 19
2. Anti-Science: 18.
3. Venomous message to kids (self-loathing, etc): 12
4. Supports slavery: 10
5. Supports misogyny: 9
6. Stifles doubts, hamstringing progress: 7
7. Otherworldliness: 5
8. Sexual repression: 4
One each:
9. Discord between religions and denominations.
10. Ambiguous Scriptures that can be read to encourage harmful social movements.
11. Genocide.
12. Idealizing human sacrifice.

Only one skeptical poster took the time to follow my instructions in assigning blame.  Here is his analysis:

1. Supports despotism: 19 – J, B, T, j, b ,t (all six)
2. Anti-Science: 18 – B, b, T, t
3. Venomous message to kids (self-loathing): 12 – B, b, T, t
4. Supports slavery: 10 – B, b, T, t
5. Supports misogyny: 9 – B, b, T, t
6. Stifles doubts, hamstringing progress: 7 – B, b, T, t
7. Otherworldliness: 5 – I’m not sure what you mean on this one
8. Sexual repression: 4 – J, j, B, b, T, t (all six again)
One each: 
9. Discord between religions and denominations. – B, b, T, t
10. Ambiguous Scriptures that can be read to encourage harmful social movements. – B, b, T, t
11. Genocide. – B, b, T, t
12. Idealizing human sacrifice. – B, b , T, t.

B. How has Christianity helped the world?  

Here's the list given by other posters, with my own analysis of the source of benefits of Christianity offered.  

1. Education & Universities: 15 B, J, T
2. Political: creation of Western Civilization, democracy, or the USA: 14 ("The philosophy of John Locke led directly to the development and implementation of the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution") B, J, T
3. Help for the poor, charity, orphanages, "the last shall be first:" 13 B, J, T
4. Contribution to abolition of slavery: 12 B, J
5. Science: 12 B, j, T
6. Input into human rights: 7 B, J, T
7. Art, music, literature: 7 b, j, t
8. Women: 6 b, J, t 
9. Beatitudes, influence of: 5 b, J, T
10. hospitals: 4 B, J, T 
11. saved Roman Empire: 3 (I don't see why this is a good thing.) 
12. respect for authority: 2 B, J, T
13. peace-making: 1 b, J, t
14. BC / AD: 1 (Nor this.) 
15. stop Islam: 1 B, J, T
16. Christmas: 1 b, j, T
17. the weekend: 1 B, j, T 

Now let us analyze and sort the harms and goods attributed to Christian faith.  As much as possible, I'll link these to corresponding benefits, and discuss them together.  

I will ignore three alleged benefits: 9, which describes a cause not effects (though I'll consider it as a plausible source of 3, 4, 6, 10, and 13), 11, and 14.  That leaves us with 12 negatives, and 14 positives.  Others were offered later, but let's start with these.  


Edwardtbabinski said...

Modern science owes a lot to the Greeks and Romans. Their legacy in science, math, philosophy was reborn in the Christian world as an abiding interest in neoPlatonism and Aristotelianism, and a continuing love of mathematics, which Christians appropriated. Also, alchemy evolved into chemistry in the West. And a tremendous boost in curiosity came about after some Italian glassworkers came up with glass so transparent one could make lenses out of it which led to telescopes and microscopes, expanding vision and curiosity exponentially. And prior to the discovery of the New World the west was not greatly surpassing other civilizations. But with the New World came prosperity and money to devote to investigating the world. The discovery of the New World and everything new that it contained also led to a rise in curiosity that further magnified people’s curiosity and even challenged biblical authority, for how could all those additional species not sink the ark of Noah? Europeans also had natural advantages as pointed out in the book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. Not to mention the connectivity due to Roman roads, and the fact that Europe is the only continent without a desert, it is filled with water and soil rich in essential minerals due to glaciers crushing rock beneath them.

Those many advantages mentioned above led to modern science. Europe had Christianity and the inheritance of respect for government instilled by the law books of Roman Emperors such as the Laws of Justinian which Christian missionaries brought with them along with the Bible, and Europe also had all the previously mentioned advantages as well. No wonder universities formed there as well.

One might also discuss the story of universities and how and why they began teaching more than just religion, as well as the history of their resistance to Christian authoritarianism, and the question of just how “Christian” they really were.

So much science throughout the Bible. Why there’s everything from talking animals to magic fruit, exorcisms, blood magic, angels, magic astronomy, food from heaven. I always go to the Bible to learn about science... and the many means of divination I can employ to learn God’s will. 

I am being sarcastic. There are plenty of reasons why science advanced in Europe other than simply because “the Bible is divine.”

Many Christians in the U.S. continue to cling to young earth creationism and inerrancy, and as a result spend way too much time and money supporting charlatans in churches, schools, and government. Many of them also deny global warming, or if semi-convinced by the evidence simply tell themselves it may be a sign of Jesus’ soon coming, so what the heck. Many conservative Christians also oppose nearly any kind of universal healthcare options.

For more, read

Edwardtbabinski said...

There is an eleven volume set on The Criminal History of Christianity in German.

I also have pieces online hyperlinked from my blog post, “Things Christians Have Been Against”

I do not bring up the subject to prove that Christianity is more damaging than other mass movements but merely to demonstrate that for all of its claimed supernatural advantages (divine book, divine guidance, new heart), Christians seem to fall into the same dirty ditches as movements that lacked such supernatural advantages. That goes for famed theologians as well whom you would think would be close to God, having studied the heck out of His word and prayed daily for guidance. Just read the conclusions they came to. Augustine, Aquinas, Popes, Luther, Calvin, all argued for the coercion/persecution of heretics by civil magistrates. Nor were Augustine or Aquinas or many Protestants for that matter, against slavery. They also were heavily patriarchal in their views. Nor especially forgiving of “the Jews.” Augustine thought Jewish people remained around as pointers to what God did to them, as fulfillments of prophecy, having destroying their temple, and scattered them, hardship after hardship. Christian Roman Emperors began making laws that intentionally made things more difficult for their subjects if they remained Jewish and did not convert to Christianity.

David B Marshall said...

Ed: It might be a good idea for you to read Part II before commenting. I touch on a few helpful rules for historical causation.