Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Problems of the Past

"What about all the evil things Christians have done?" This is an argument frequently brought against Christianity. What can be said in answer to it?

While many of the accusations brought against Christians' past behavior have been distorted, there are still a number of things that need to be responded to. In doing so, I do not want to justify particular evil deeds or the perpetrators of those deeds. But I do believe there are some things to say about their reflection on Christianity. Christians have claimed from the beginning that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23) and are saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9). Not all who call themselves Christians (even leaving aside genuine doctrinal issues) necessarily are (Matthew 7:21-23), and even those who are have not yet reached perfection (Philippians 3:13-16). Therefore, it is not surprising if there are those called Christians who fall short of being the people they should be. But there is more that can be said on the issue.

Most of the crimes charged against Christianity revolve around one basic issue. Is it right to use force to impose your beliefs on others? This is not an issue unique to Christianity or "religion." The Communists attempted to impose their atheism on people. The Roman Emperors did the same with their watered-down paganism. And both persecuted Christians. If nothing else, atheism has shown itself fully capable of excelling at this type of atrocity. The real issue here is whether we can reach a point where everyone from every viewpoint can decide to refuse to behave in this way. It is not until we stop blaming others and look in the mirror that we will be able to avoid this type of incident in the future.

When a belief system is the dominant one in a culture, there is a strong pull to use political power to suppress competing views. If the adherents of a particular philosophy believe it is true, they normally believe that following that view is best for society. Therefore, to allow competing views is to endanger what they are trying to do to make their society a better place. To make things worse, after a group has been in power for some time, the people in charge see the belief system as the basis of their power and tend to enforce it to keep that power. Also, when something is respected as the basis of society, people tend to use it as the justification for carrying out their selfish desires. If you want to enslave people and steal their gold, you do it in the name of whatever your culture thinks valuable.

A temptation to use coercion is not a problem peculiar to Christianity, but a number of individuals and groups within it have opposed this. However, Christians have not generally been able to overcome the temptation to follow the normal impulse in this area. But this is a general problem faced by all belief systems and not unique to Christianity.

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