The Gifts of Christianity
December 23, 2001
by Bruce Walker
Devout Christians like me approach Christmas with the knowledge of the greatest gift ever given in the history of time. As the women and children of Afghanistan are learning, Christianity can be judged as the greatest and most practical gift in human history by Moslems, Jews, and even atheists.
Christian faith and Christian love are superb organizing principles for the advancement of humanity in every area of our lives. Not only is the gift of Christianity often taken for granted, it is often outright denied. Perhaps during the time in which we celebrate the entry into the world of a very Special Child, it is useful to set the record straight.
Religion in general and Christianity in particular are often declared the enemy of science. The imperfect role of Christians and Christian institutions is blamed for intimidating Galileo, something Christ would have never condoned, but Galileo did not reject Christianity or even the Catholic Church. The Pope was himself a "Galilesiti" (or admirer of Galileo) and the great thinker quite deliberately refused perfectly safe sanctuary in the Republic of Venice.
Kepler, who along with Galileo made the Heliocentric Theory of Copernicus a scientifically sound theory, was profoundly religious and said "God created the universe based upon divinely inspired laws of Geometry." He felt the sun was the religiously logical center of the material universe, as he put it: "we should judge worthy of the most High God, should he be pleased with a material domicile in which to dwell with the blessed angels."
Galileo and Kepler were the most intellectually rigorous creators of the Scientific Revolution - until Newton. How did Newton feel about God? In his own words: "this most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being" and, as was stated in the Preface of his famous Principia, arguably the most intellectually demanding book ever written, it is noted that the book "will be the safest protection against the attacks of atheists, and nowhere more surely than from this quiver can one draw forth missiles against the band of godless men."
The record of Christianity towards science reflects the injunctions of Jesus. Modern science began within Christendom - not Islam, not China, not India - and it did not begin because serious minds were trying to prove religion was humbug, but because fearless Christian thinkers were confident that the universe was orderly and rational. This confidence is the legacy of Jews and of Christians, who did not believe in capricious gods and goddesses or dreary metaphysical laws in which total death, Nirvana, was the best hope for the future.
The contribution of Jewish scientists has quite deservedly received high praise. Einstein is credited with his special and general theories of relativity, but he actually won the Nobel Prize in Physics for work in Quantum Physics. And Einstein is only one of many great Jewish scientists. Doing justice to the others would require several pages of text. But it was not the Jews and it was not the Greeks and it was not the Moslems who invented modern science: it was the Christians.
What is true of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton is also true of Descartes, Pascal, and many other giants of the dawning of science. Each was a Christian and when they transformed the world with their theories, China and India and Islam were just as rich, just as powerful, and just a cosmopolitan as Christendom.
All shown most brightly in those lands who believed in the divine commandments to live in peace and harmony with other men. Was the road to true toleration - the toleration which Christ ordered us to live by - easy and seamless? No, of course not! Christians murdered Christians and Christians murdered Jews and Moslems all in the name of God. But men have murdered, enslaved, and persecuted others in every part of the world for as long as man has kept records of such grisly business. The truth that sometimes Christians have not acted like Christians is not news.
What is very big news, however, is that pious Christians began the first group of people on Earth to treat the outsider, the stranger, the different ones as brothers. So when ignorant peasants during the Crusades began marching through German towns seeking to burn synagouges and kill Jews, it was the Christian clergy who tried - sometimes successfully, and sometimes not - to protect the Jews. Why? Because the priests and bishops, the religiously educated class, understood the teachings of Jesus, while the peasants did not.
When North America was settled by pious religious refugees, whether Puritan, Quaker, or Catholic, the common thread was vastly superior moral behavior towards their fellow men. The charters of colonies like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island do not just compare favorably with any similar political charter in Europe, but with any similar political charter by any people anywhere in the world up to that point in time. And these were written by different denominations of Christians, who differed on specific points of theology, but not the general certainty that Christianity was, and is, the core of all that mattered in life.
It is instructive that in the years after the United States acquired independence from Great Britain, those shortcomings in Christian faith which still existed became central issues of argument almost immediately. The sin of slavery was not raised first in the Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia, but in the charters of two colonies, in the drafts of the Declaration of Independence, in the laws passed under the Articles of Confederation, and by the emancipation of slaves which states began to mandate right up to the Civil War.
The risible notion that Christendom had done nothing about slavery until the Civil War does not explain why Christian Britain abolished slavery in 1774, why the British ended world slave trade (although they profited by it), why President Monroe (a southerner) established the African nation of Liberia for slaves to return to as free men, or why the Abolitionist Movement itself was deeply and profoundly Christian.
Why did Union soldiers march into battle singing "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ... As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free," and why Confederate soldiers were singing "Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton." Why, when Churchill on HMS Prince of Wales met Franklin Roosevelt to proclaim the Atlantic Charter - a uncompromising opposition to Nazi evil - was everyone singing "Onward Christian Soldiers?"
Why did the Soviet Union find it possible to digest almost everything and everyone in its sadistic and cold grip except men like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Pope John Paul II, men who lived through that most awful of periods in human history when Nazism fought Communism? The Nobel Prize winning author found Christ while in the monstrous Gulag, and the latter held to Christ, even as his beloved father died under the Nazis and Stalins armies occupied his homeland.
Freedom for all mankind has one grand champion: Christians. Many other good peoples with deep faith and high morals - Jews, Bahai, and Budhists - have been supporter of freedom and human dignity as well. But Christians have always done the heavy lifting.
What nation was founded by Christians so that Christians could live in harmony while still having doctrinal differences? America. And what country have been the refuge and sanctuary of people from all over the world, of all faiths and races? America.
Now, as we enter a very scary age, when men are approaching the power to unravel the chemical nature of our being and when men are creating weapons which can reach around the globe, what religion articulates clearly what it is articulated clearly since it first entered the world two millennia ago, and which alone will be our physical salvation in a planet of bin Laden and Hussein and Kim Jong Il? That same religion whose precepts Jesus said in simple words upon a hillside two thousand years ago: Christianity.
It is not chauvinism for us Christians to proclaim this truth, because it is not our religion but the religion God gave to the whole world. So let us Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, and let the world celebrate those practical gifts which have brought more hope, joy and peace into the world than all the political philosophies and all the good intentions of men put together. Let the world celebrate, as surely - unwittingly, probably - the wretched women and children of Afghanistan celebrate today: the gifts of Christianity.
Bruce Walker has been a dyed in the wool conservative since, as a sixth grader, he campaigned door to door for Barry Goldwater. Bruce has had almost two hundred published articles have appeared in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Law & Order, Legal Secretary Today, The Single Parent, Enter Stage Right, Citizen's View, The American Partisan, Port of Call, and several other professional and political periodicals.
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