Thursday, March 18, 2021

If There Were No Christians

Nag, Nag, Nag …

My friend WiC has been after me for some time to publish a list of the things Christians have achieved for modern, Western society and for the world in general. I think he has the idea that it would be handy for many of us to have easy access to such a list. And I have stalled as long as I can. Lest he wear me out with his insistent asking, I am now capitulating to his request. I trust his conviction that many of you will find it helpful will prove true.

What held me back was simply this: secular detractors are so unwilling to concede even the least achievement to Christianity. As Christopher Hitchens loudly and absurdly claimed, “Religion poisons everything,” and the point is so stupidly conceded among secularists without any due investigation that it seemed to me unhelpful not to include an elaborate proof for each claim. For though none of the things I attribute to Christianity is actually in the least worthy of controversy, controversy is sure to ensue.

A Bunch of Cases In One Place

However, there is a distinct advantage to listing: it’s concise. To provide fellow Christians with a list of the achievements of their heritage seems salutary; and that it should be short, memorable and highly portable is unquestionably desirable if it is to serve them as encouragement. There’s something really wonderful about seeing a bunch of cases in one place.

So I’m not offering a full defense of my list. It would make this a very long, complex and cumbersome entry, to be sure. I’m telling you with great confidence, though, that if you care to investigate, and if you do so with an open mind to the evidence, you will find that the truth is exactly as I have said. The defenses for each point do surely exist; moreover, the objections secularists have to offer are quite pathetic and rearguard. The desperateness of the objections is, in itself, further testimony to the truth. I expect you’ll see that.

And this brings us to another advantage of such a list: it points any fair-minded observer to the right locations in which to seek the proofs. If you want them, they are there. But being concise means not trying to do them all for you.

Let me also say that in producing this list I am not attempting to take away from any other ideology anything beneficial it has produced. My success is not my neighbor’s failure, and his successes are not a signal of some kind of failure on my part. Let each rejoice in his own achievements, and all rejoice in whatever common blessings may accrue from any source.

A Tip of the Hat

In particular, I take it for granted that we all realize that Christianity would not exist were it not for Judaism. So while some of these achievements may be unique to Christianity, it is not surprising to find a great many of them are significantly represented in Jewish achievement as well. For example, Jewish medical and scientific achievements are second to none. However, as a Christian I do not find this surprising: the two share significant overlap in values, most significantly the reverence for the God of the Torah. The blessings that have come to mankind through this source are really, ultimately his achievement, as both Christians and Jews would happily recognize.

The List

However, there are a great many key features of the modern world that are most directly attributable to Christianity. Here are a few:
  1. Hospitals — You see the picture above. But from Basil’s first Christian hospital in fourth century Caesarea to the present day, Christians have always been on the forefront of providing medical care and creating medical institutions worldwide: mission hospitals, leprosy wards, immunization and pre-natal clinics, addiction treatment sites, and so on. In many places, Christian clinics are the only available medical care. Moreover, we serve all people, regardless of creed, culture and poverty. In nursing, medical ethics and social health relief, Christians are inevitably on the forefront, even today. Add it all up, and you’ve got overwhelming evidence for Christian good.
  2. Medicine — Naturally, a host of medical innovations and social-medicine benefits have issued from all of the above sites. Add to that the number of Christian (and Jewish, of course) clinical researchers, and again you’ve got a big body of evidence.
  3. Public Schooling —The idea of educating all children, especially those of the industrial poor, began with Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans in eighteenth century Sunday Schools in England, and then was imported to places like America and Upper Canada afterward. In Lower Canada, the Catholic parochial system also had a lot to do with the shape public schools would take. Today’s general education and secular schooling are essentially gifts of Christianity.
  4. Universities — Universities are an old idea. But open, public universities are not. Whether it’s Harvard (Puritan), Yale, Princeton and Edinburgh (Presbyterian), Oxford (various Christian groups) or Toronto (Anglican), almost all the secular universities we so admire today owe their inception to Christian founders or particular denominations.
  5. The Justice System — Indisputably, the Torah and the moral precepts of the New Testament have historically defined the shape of Western jurisprudence and informed our ethical codes in all our practices and professions.
  6. Charitable Giving — The vast majority of charitable work carried out worldwide is done by Christianity. Moreover, Christian charities generally serve people of all faiths and none, from Hindus and Muslims to Buddhists and Taoists, to secularists and atheists, open-heartedly and without distinction.
  7. Monogamy — Thanks to journalist Barbara Kay for pointing out this one. While 75% of the world’s societies (including even ancient Judaism) have been polygamous, the marital structure of the most successful and least warlike societies, and by far the most successful arrangement for women and children and the preservation of families, owes its origin and popularization to Christianity.
  8. Literacy — Here a big round of applause to the Jews as well, of course. The desire to read the Bible has been by far the biggest incentive to literacy in the history of the human race, from the ancients to Gutenberg’s printing press, to today, where the Bible remains the best-selling and most-often-read book of all time, the number one top seller worldwide, every year on record.
  9. Prison Reform — Who cares about criminals and prisoners? Apparently Christians do. You won’t find any atheist organizations working assiduously to save them, or ponying up the dough to reform them or reintroduce them to society. But Christians do that. From Elizabeth Fry and Herbert Gladstone, to today’s John Howard Society and New Life Prison Ministry, Christians have been on the cutting edge of prison improvements throughout modern history.
  10. Regulation of Substances — From Prohibition to Alcoholics’ Anonymous, Christians have historically been on the forefront of the war against intoxication and addiction. Their influence through lobbying and their contributions through charitable provision of programs have saved innumerable lives.
  11. Street Missions — Who cares about the homeless, the drug addicts and the prostitutes? Who does anything to save them? Christians do. From the Salvation Army to the YMCA, to the various inner-city rescue missions, educational and health programs, Christians have always led the way, doing things no secularist will do and no government organization can do.
  12. Foreign Aid — Just go and compare the tradition of international giving coming from nations that are traditionally religious (Buddhist, Taoist, Animist, Hindu, Islamic or other) and the recent record of secular regimes with the tide of international aid that has flowed — and still flows — from countries with a Christian past. Of the top twenty, all are nominally Christian or post-Christian countries — except for Japan, which has also done very well, but only after the tradition of isolationism and emperor-worship was broken by WWII and Christian influence there increased.
  13. Preservation of Ancient Cultures — As Yale’s professor of missiology, Lamin Sanneh (a Gambian by birth) has cogently argued, pioneer Christian missions were the key to the survival of many ancient cultures, as they brought literacy, self-respect, health and regional identity to many people groups before the colonists, merchants and soldiers arrived. Those that had missionaries early survived; but many tribes that were not first reached by missionaries are extinct, or have lost key elements of their language, culture, legends and identity.
  14. Western Prosperity — Max Weber, a secular sociologist, has cogently argued this. Apart from the combination of a strong, Protestant work ethic coupled with a strong Christian impetus to save money instead of expending it on luxuries, the West would never have acquired the capital to create the modern world.
  15. The Social Safety Network — In Canada, social welfare programs began during the Great Depression, and were produced almost exclusively by Christian churches and charitable organizations. These became the prototype for the reforms of later groups, also heavily dominated by Christians, such as the CCF, led by Methodist minister J.S. Woodsworth and Baptist minister Tommy Douglas.
  16. Liberal Values — Most liberally-minded people today are blissfully unaware that things like individualism, women’s rights, minority rights and autonomy rights are entirely byproducts of Protestantism. Neither in secularism or religious collectivism is there any warrant for believing they exist. Only we have that.
  17. Freedom of Belief — For real Christians, conversion can only be genuine if it is unforced. To force people to profess Christianity against their wills or by means of coercion, bribery or lies produces no belief at all. Thus conservative Christians have, from the very first, been the world’s chief proponents of freedom of the private conscience, a value now enjoyed widely by all religious groups in the West, including all skeptics and atheists. The right to think for yourself is a Christian right.
  18. Human Rights — The only rationally-grounded explanation for why we have any rights as human beings comes from a Christian, John Locke, the first person to explain systematically why we have unalienable rights to life, liberty and property. His language and reasons have been taken over and used as the basis of every human rights code in the West since. And his rationale is specifically, unapologetically Christian. There is no other such rationale.
  19. Character Improvement — Have you ever heard someone say, “I was a drunk / drug addict / wife beater / gambler / homosexual / criminal, until one day I discovered atheism”? Me neither. But I’ve met many people whose lives were completely transformed in that way by knowing Christ. And on a report basis, there are countless such cases. Where is there a comparable record of saving people from themselves?
  20. Science Itself — In modern scholarship, this is known as “Whitehead’s Thesis”. A.N. Whitehead simply observed that unless you live in a society that believes that the universe runs according to stable laws, you never go looking for any. And the only way you assume there ought to be stable laws is if you think there is a single God, with a single, reliable nature, behind the regularities of the universe. The keystone of science, the Scientific Method, was invented by Francis Bacon — not just a skilled scientist, but an impressive writer of Christian theological essays, and an ardent believer.
  21. Secularism — The right to be secular is a Christian right. It comes from the Protestant conviction that the eliciting of the private conscience is essential to salvation. People have to be allowed to be religious or non-religious precisely because they cannot be forced to become Christians. Regimes that believe otherwise (see the Islamic world) brutally suppress not merely religious alternatives but also deny anyone the right to be secular. So the ability of Christianity haters to carp, bellyache, insult and harangue without being locked up or killed is actually maintained through residual Christian values.
  22. The Gospel — But for Christianity, there’s no hope for freedom from sin, death and judgment. There’s also no eternity. A world without Christians would be a world with no hope beyond the grave, and no ultimate future by universal heat-death. If Christians brought no other benefit, this one would still be greater than all the previous ones combined. Nobody, but nobody has ever done more good — and more profound good — to the human race than Christians do.
There’s more, of course. I didn’t even mention things like business ethics. But Christian values like savings, debt-paying, fair interest, promise keeping, not stealing from employers, keeping faith with suppliers, not bilking customers, and so forth. Look what not living within our means has done to Western economies: it seems that greed, deception and exploitation are poor economic foundations. But I think we have plenty already, so I’ll leave you to find new cases.

A Stark Contrast

Now, just for fun, let’s hold up the record of ideologies like atheism and agnosticism. Name all the atheist-started universities and hospitals. List all the agnostic street-mission programs. Add up all the secularist participation in rural clinics in Asia or Africa. Compare the Communist participation in foreign aid …

And let’s suppose that only a tenth of the things I listed above were actually true: would not the compassionate contributions of secular skepticism still not vanish into insignificance? But what right, then do secular skeptics get a free ride to rail against Christianity? They haven’t the moral high-ground to stand on.

The Upshot

By their fruit you shall know them,” the Lord said. Look at the kind of deeds that people have produced out of believing their ideology, and you’ll know what they’re really made of. Christians welcome that test. Add up what Christians have done throughout history, and weigh it against any record of any competing ideology, and that ideology will be put to shame.

So ask yourself what is a real force for good in this world, and what the world would be missing if Christianity had not existed.

Photo: Wikipedia user Citobun / CC-BY-SA-3.0


  1. ...I'm WiC, and I approve the above msg...

    Thanks IC...

  2. I think we all recognize that Christians are (speaking generally, not universally) imperfect in our execution of biblical principles, inconsistent in our faithfulness and prone to more than a few misinterpretations along the way.

    That conceded, the staggering amount of good accomplished in the Western world through only a very little intermittent obedience is testimony to the unrelenting truth of God's word and the reality of love as an engine of societal transformation unlike any other.