What’s So Great About Christianity? Part 3

Before I dive into D’Souza’s book for part 3 of this series, I want to mention another book that was released this fall on the same topic and has received a lot of attention in the press – “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. “In the book the author, Anthony Flew, tells readers how the evidence has led him to change his mind on the question of God’s existence. For the record, Flew didn’t become a Christian, only a theist in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.

When Flew changed teams in perhaps the longest debate in human history, reactions varied. If you are interested in reading some of the background and fallout, look here and here and here. Now on to What’s So Great About Christianity.

Part 2 Christianity and the West

Overarching Thesis of Part 2: Christianity is the foundation of Western civilization including many of the specific rights and values that secular people hold so dear. If you remove Christianity, then you place those same values and principles on shaky ground. Each chapter in this section addresses a prominent cultural value and shows how that value is rooted in the Christian faith.

My Thoughts on Part 2: There is a great misconception that somehow during the Middle Ages (often misnamed the Dark Ages) the church stunted thinking, science, development, human rights, and every other good and decent thing. This section of the book does a great job of refuting this unsubstantiated idea. If you’d like a whole book devoted to this topic, I would highly recommend Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.

Chapter 5 Render unto Caesar: The Spiritual Basis Of Limited Government

Thesis: The separation of the church’s mission and the state’s power was a Christian idea long before it was an American idea. When Jesus says to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” or “My kingdom is not of this world,” one thing he is teaching us is that the governments role is limited. For example, the government should not use the power of the sword to convert people to a particular religion.

Key Quote: “Even a government with 99 percent of the popular support does not have the right to tell the remaining 1 percent of the people that they must all become Republicans, vegetarians, or even Christians.”

My Thoughts: This issue is particularly relevant today in a world where many Islamic countries seek to advance their religion via force. With the government in charge of both the state and the religious institutions, they feel justified in using any means necessary to spread their faith or impose their religious laws. But Christians who rightly understand the Bible and specifically the teachings of Jesus see that while the government has a God given role, its role is not the same as the church. So I find it interesting that the freedom from theocracy that so many irreligious people value is rooted in the same Christian faith that they so fervently fear.

Chapter 6 The Evil That I Would Not: Christianity and Human Fallibility

Thesis: In this chapter D’Souza tackles a wide variety of subjects including: the family, the “ordinary” person versus the aristocrat, capitalism, and the need for checks on government power. The author uses these topics to show that they all depend on one of Christianity’s most basic teachings: the greatness and wretchedness of every sinful human being. Contra the Greek poets who valued the high born, Jesus identified with the lowborn. Contra the Greek philosophers with their over idealized version of blind justice, the Bible teaches that no human being can be trusted to not act in self interest. Finally he argues that capitalism is the economic system most faithful to the biblical teaching on human nature because it uses people’s personal selfishness to promote the common good.

Key Quote: “This is what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the ‘affirmation of ordinary life’. It is the simple idea that ordinary people are fallible, and yet these fallible people matter.”

My Thoughts: Christianity best explains what we can observe in human nature. Every person has the capacity to do good and yet every person is plagued by sin and evil. Of course this is due to the twin truths that we are created in the image of God and every person has been corrupted by sin.

Chapter 7 Created Equal: The Origin of Human Dignity

Thesis: The United States was built on the idea that every person has value, worth, and dignity before God. That core American belief that is deeply cherished by every person is firmly rooted in Christianity. It is this Christian ideal that liberated women from their low status, freed slaves from inhumane treatment, and championed personal freedom.

Key Quote: “The life of the West, Nietzsche said, is based on Christianity. The values of the West are based on Christianity. Some of these values seem to have taken a life of their own, and this gives us the illusion that we can get rid of Christianity and keep the values. This, Nietzsche says, is an illusion…Remove the Christian foundation, and the values must go too.”

My Thoughts: Two great resources on showing Christianity’s fight against slavery are Jonathan Aitken’s John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace and Eric Metaxas’ Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.

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