Meet the Atheists Who Are Grateful for Christianity

The Australian journalist Greg Sheridan has quipped that these days, “the academic fashion is to attack Western civilisation, not study it.”

With historic statues being trashed and toppled around the western world, and accusations of systemic racism being levelled against the fairest societies that history has produced, Sheridan couldn’t be more right.

Sadly, those trying to erase our history seem unaware that the ideals they claim to stand for—like equality, human dignity, science and human rights—arose uniquely in the West. Not only that—these values owe much of their existence to Christianity.

Over the last decade, there has been a flood of scholarly publications that highlight the Christian roots of Western Civilisation. Christian academics like Vishal Mangalwadi, Rodney Stark, Larry Siedentop and Nick Spencer have written prolifically on this topic.

But there are also many atheists and skeptics who credit the West’s successes to the Christian faith. The author Tom Holland, with his recent book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019), is one of them.

The ancient world is a familiar place to Holland, who has spent the better part of fifteen years studying and writing about it. As an atheist, Holland had assumed that cultures like ancient Rome were the wellspring of his western values. But the more he examined these societies with all their vice and cruelty, the more alien they felt to him.

Take, for example, the emperor Commodus (AD 161-192). For a gladiatorial contest, Commodus once had all those with disabilities rounded up from the streets of Rome and tied together in the shape of a human. Entering the Colosseum, Commodus clubbed them to death before cheering crowds, proudly announcing that he had ‘slain a giant’.

Or consider Rome’s sexual ethics. Men had immense sexual freedom, while a woman who was unfaithful to her husband could be divorced in a heartbeat or killed with impunity. Sexual relationships between adult men and prepubescent boys were acceptable and even idealised. 

According to Holland, “Sex in Rome was above all an exercise of power. As captured cities were to the swords of the legions, so the bodies of those used sexually… were to the Roman man. To be penetrated, male or female, was to be branded as inferior: to be marked as womanish, barbarian, servile.”

Realising that his own values contrasted sharply with those of the classical world, Tom Holland was eager to discover what had shaped him. The result of that fifteen-year search was his aforementioned book, Dominion, which he has summarised like this: 

“I have come to the conclusion that in almost all the essentials, myself, my friends, the society in which I live—the whole of the West—is so saturated in Christian assumptions, it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them.”

Though he is still an atheist, Holland has written, “In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.”

But Tom Holland is not the only ‘unbeliever’ to make such a claim. In recent years, there has been a growing chorus of non-Christian voices echoing this provocative theme.

British journalist Douglas Murray (1979-) has declared that “you cannot take Christianity out of the West and have anything that’s recognisably the West.” Murray, an atheist—and who happens to be gay—speaks with admiration of Christianity and “the positive role it has played in building Western civilization.” He says that westerners “still dream Christian dreams” and he even goes as far to call himself, rather cheekily, a “Christian atheist.”

Dave Rubin (1976-) is another prominent gay personality who has come to this conclusion. An American talk show host and former comedian, Rubin long considered himself an atheist, but more recently his unbelief has begun to waver.

Of western societies, Rubin has said, “I see no way around it, as much as my enlightenment brain would like to. The eternal truths told for thousands of years through biblical stories are the rudder that keeps us moving forward during the storm.”

Dave Rubin credits his new perspective to Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson (1962-), a highly sought-after speaker who has been labelled ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world’. Together, the two recently completed a world tour promoting Peterson’s latest book.

When asked if he believes in God, Peterson said, “I think the proper response to that is no—but I am afraid he might exist.” This uncertainty has not stopped Peterson from giving a series of Bible lectures that has attracted tens of millions of views online. What animates Peterson is his resolute belief that “the Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of western civilization.”

Likely you have heard of high-profile celebrities who swim against the tide of Hollywood to maintain their Christian faith. But there are far fewer from the silver screen who dare to defend Christianity from a standpoint of unbelief. The actor John Rhys-Davies (1944-), who starred in the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings trilogies, is one of this rare breed.

Rhys-Davies describes himself as a rationalist and a skeptic, but he has raised eyebrows by saying, “we seem to forget that Christian civilization has made the world a better place… we owe Christianity the greatest debt of thanks.”

In recent years, skeptical academics have also been weighing in on this question. Australian intellectual Chris Berg, another atheist, has said that “virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins.”

Secular writer John Steinrucken claims that, “the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

French atheist philosopher Luc Ferry is convinced that our western belief in equality came directly from Christian teachings. Equality was “an unprecedented idea at the time,” he says, “and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

Most intriguing, perhaps, are those who grew up in different cultures but who speak with high praise about Christianity and its civilising power. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969-) is one such person. Ali was born in Somalia and raised as a Muslim.

She suffered FGM as a child, and in her teen years she was drawn to an increasingly fundamentalist brand of Islam. But Ali was also an avid reader of the Nancy Drew detective series, and she could not shake the independence and courage of the female lead character.

With lingering doubts about Islam and an impending forced marriage, Ali sought asylum in the Netherlands. Soon after, she watched from afar as al-Qaeda terrorists struck a diabolical blow against the civilisation that had offered her freedom.

Ali decided to re-examine Islam, and in 2002 she gave up her faith entirely, turning instead to atheism. She has since served in the Netherlands’ parliament, moved to the United States, and been an outspoken activist for freedom and feminism.

Despite her atheism, Ali regards the Christian church as one of the main institutions that has changed western hearts and minds for the better through the centuries. Controversially, she has even advocated for Christians to proselytise western Muslims in order to safeguard our civilisation from extremist Islam.

When so many people without a vested interest in Christianity speak up in defence of its civilising force on the world, we should pay attention.

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

Social media is cracking down on conservative and Christian content. If you want to make sure you see my posts, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to my blog.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, white guilt and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

He was born in an obscure village

The child of a peasant woman

He grew up in another obscure village

Where he worked in a carpenter shop

Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him

 

He never wrote a book

He never held an office

He never went to college

He never visited a big city

He never travelled more than two hundred miles

From the place where he was born

He did none of the things

Usually associated with greatness

He had no credentials but himself

 

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away

One of them denied him

He was turned over to his enemies

And went through the mockery of a trial

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves

While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing

The only property he had on earth

When he was dead

He was laid in a borrowed grave

Through the pity of a friend

 

Nineteen centuries have come and gone

And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race

And the leader of mankind’s progress

All the armies that have ever marched

All the navies that have ever sailed

All the parliaments that have ever sat

All the kings that ever reigned put together

Have not affected the life of mankind on earth

As powerfully as that one solitary life

 

One Solitary Life—Dr James Allan Francis, 1926

For more great content like this, scroll down and subscribe to Cross + Culture by email.

How Pluralism Points to Jesus

In recent posts, I’ve explored the place of Jesus among other gods. Using controversial titles, I suggested that every major world faith contains clues that point to him.

In this cultural moment, it’s scandalous—even arrogant—to suggest that Jesus might be the only way. I’d get a lot more traction if I said that all religions are equally valid; that all paths lead to God.

This belief, known as pluralism, is today’s accepted wisdom. No one even feels the need to defend it because it’s so widely assumed to be true.

“It’s scandalous to suggest that Jesus might be the only way.”

But pluralism has disastrous blind spots. In seeking to affirm people of every religion for their insight and spiritual commitment, it actually insults them all.

How? Pluralism does this by failing to understand the unique claims of each world faith. The founders of every religion—and most of their adherents—are convinced that their path of salvation is needed, precisely because other methods have been found wanting.

Enlightenment became possible only because the Buddha discovered the eightfold path; the five pillars of Islam are the true path of submission to Allah; Hinduism’s way of release is what makes union with the ultimate life force attainable; the Jewish people can obey God only by following his law. The list goes on.

But according to pluralism, each of these—the Buddha’s eightfold path, Muhammad’s five pillars, Hinduism’s way of release, the Jewish law, and Jesus’ death and resurrection—weren’t really needed, because hope could have been found elsewhere.

“Pluralism has disastrous blind spots.”

There’s a famous parable from India that pluralists love to tell that exposes this problem. It’s called the tale of the blind men and the elephant, and it goes like this:

Five blind men inspect an elephant. One feels the trunk and concludes it’s a snake. One touches its ear and decides it is a leaf. Another finds the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One puts his hand on the elephant’s side and believes it’s a wall. The final man holds the tail and says it is a rope.

The moral of the story, says pluralism, is that ultimate truth isn’t found in any one religion. Rather, through our combined insight we will be able to arrive at an all-encompassing truth together. If we shared our wisdom, we’d realise that all paths lead to God (or the universe, or whatever—because who cares about details, right?)

But pluralists have missed the most important fact in the story: there is a sixth man. He is the narrator, the one telling the story. Only he has all the facts; only he perceives things objectively.

“Applied to the world’s religions, this story is manipulative and insulting.”

Do you see it? Pluralism congratulates itself for its tolerance, but it actually makes the most arrogant claim of all. It paints itself as the only truly objective point of view—the one that all other religions failed to see.

The blind men and the elephant is a nice story, and surely has use in other spheres of life. But when pluralists apply it to the world’s religions, it is manipulative and insulting. Pluralism becomes simply another ideology—and a bad one at that—for people of every world religion to disagree with. Please don’t miss the irony in that.

You definitely don’t want to miss the irony in that.

So where does this leave us? If a unity between all faiths can’t be achieved, should we just reject them all?

“A conversation between the different world religions is so important.”

The problem is that faith—even in all of its various forms—seems to find an echo in every human soul. For centuries in the West, we’ve tried the secular project. We’ve lived as though the universe were a closed system and God was just an optional extra. But faith hasn’t gone away. The world, even in the West, is as religious as its ever been.

Which is why a conversation between the different world religions is so important. As a pastor, I see too many Christians who grow up in church but never really examine the claims of Jesus for themselves—much less other world faiths. Then they hit a crisis in their twenties and declare that the faith they never owned and never really thought about is a fairy tale.

Do me a favour: don’t be like that. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, think about what you believe. Compare it with the claims made by the other competing voices out there.

“We’ve tried the secular project, but faith hasn’t gone away.”

I’ll try to abstain from the arrogance of pluralism. I won’t claim to have a handle on all other world religions that they have missed. I will continue weighing up all the claims I hear and comparing them with the words and works of Jesus.

But I will tell you what I’ve seen so far. I see the fingerprints of God in every worldview. I see people with eternity written across their hearts. I see people reaching out, not just for something greater than themselves, but for a way out of our human predicament—even if that predicament is framed in a thousand different ways.

In Jesus, I see something unique. Instead of asking us to live better or strive harder or reach higher, I see a God who has come down to us, who has literally stepped into our human predicament, and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

“Eternity is written across our hearts.”

In Jesus, I see the enlightened one that even the Buddha needed. More than a prophet, I see the truest Muslim, the one who perfectly submitted to God and enables us to do likewise. I see Hinduism’s way of release personified and fulfilled for us. I see the God that even atheists can’t seem to escape. I see the Messiah, the hope of Israel.

Maybe I’m just seeing things as I consider Jesus among other gods.

Or maybe he is the true God—the one we’ve all been searching for.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

How Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Islam—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.

The New Morality

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”—George Orwell

The Ten Commandments are out, and the New Morality is in. While these new decrees for the West didn’t come with claps of thunder and a voice from heaven, they’re embraced with equal religious fervour.

To be sure, as far as rules go, they’re reasonable, civilised and well-intentioned. What’s concerning isn’t the principles per se, but that their loudest preachers only practice them when it’s convenient.

Perhaps this disparity between word and deed can be chalked down to simple human failing. But deep down, I fear that the New Moralists (I’m referring here to political, cultural and media elites) remain unconvinced of their own morality, and that they’re just using it to manipulate and get their way.

Could such dark suspicions be true? Let’s see.

1. Tolerate all points of view

The first rule of the New Morality is that all perspectives must be tolerated; that people should have their point of view heard, understood and respected.

This sounds wonderful, but if you haven’t noticed, the New Moralists only tolerate points of view they already agree with. If you hold a belief that they consider bigoted, suddenly they don’t tolerate you. Watch them become bigoted as they put you in your place.

2. Lay prejudice aside

The second rule of the New Morality is that prejudice must stop. People shouldn’t be treated better or worse because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious belief or gender.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “I have a dream that my four little children… will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“What’s concerning isn’t the principles per se, but that their loudest preachers only practice them when it’s convenient.”

So it’s curious when the New Moralists divide society up into minority groups, ranking them by who feels the most offended. In this new system, it’s apparently clear from the outset that my privilege as a straight white Christian male makes me narrow-minded and suspect. Did you catch the irony?

3. Don’t judge the morality of others

The third rule of the New Morality is that it’s not your place to judge someone else’s moral choices. After all, it’s 2017 and people should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.

This too works to a point. But if your moral convictions offend a New Moralist, watch how quickly they judge you. You’ll soon learn which of your moral standards they deem good and worth celebrating, and which are evil and must be shouted down.

4. Let people speak for themselves

The fourth rule of the New Morality is that everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves. It’s not fair to articulate another person’s worldview or experiences for them.

This rule is honoured—until a terror attack takes place. When the terrorists identify with a particular religion, prophet and sacred text, the New Moralists swiftly muzzle them, assuring us that the attackers’ motives couldn’t possibly relate to such things.

“It’s curious when the New Moralists divide society up into minority groups, ranking them by who feels the most offended.”

But wouldn’t the terrorists be best placed to inform us of the beliefs that animated their violence? Shouldn’t they be allowed to speak for themselves?

5. Never blame the victim

The fifth rule of the New Morality is that a victim is never to blame for crimes committed against them. It is a gross injustice to suggest, for instance, that a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault is responsible for the unspeakable horror they’ve endured.

I couldn’t agree more. So I’m astounded when an act of terrorism is committed against citizens of a western nation and the New Moralists blame the citizens of that same nation, claiming they’d first socially alienated the terrorists, provoking the attack.

In any other scenario, such victim-blaming would lead to unfettered outrage. Why is it acceptable—and the exception—in the case of terrorism?

6. Stand up for the oppressed

The sixth rule of the New Morality is that we should stand up for the rights of oppressed minorities and alleviate their suffering. The more mistreated a group is, the more they deserve our care and compassion.

If that’s true—and it is—why are the New Moralists near silent when it comes to the oppression of women and the sexually diverse in Middle Eastern countries? Female genital mutilation, forced child marriage, and capital punishment for homosexuals have to be among the most barbaric injustices of the 21st century. Why do the New Moralists pay no mind?

“Perhaps this disparity between word and deed can be chalked down to simple human failing. But deep down, I fear that the New Moralists are just using these rules to manipulate and get their way.”

And why are they silent about the persecution of Christians in the same lands? A hundred years ago, followers of Jesus made up around 14% of the Middle East’s population. Unrelenting persecution—most of it in the last decade—has decimated these communities, reducing them to less than 4%. Why is anyone who speaks up for them accused of favouritism?

The Real Agenda

None of this makes sense.

The New Morality is a strange beast. On closer inspection, it’s everything it claims to abhor: it’s intolerant and prejudicial; often judgmental and condemning; at times guilty of victim blaming, silencing the moral agent, and ignoring certain oppressed minorities.

Sure, we all fail from time to time. And to be sure, the New Morality’s failures are mingled with a great deal of good intention. What’s concerning though isn’t its failures, but its straight-up dishonesty.

Instead of pretending to stand for equality, it should have just been honest about the minorities it favours and the ones it disregards. Instead of claiming to be open and tolerant, it should have just told us which morals and viewpoints it despises. It’s not like we can’t tell anyway.

“The New Morality is a strange beast. On closer inspection, it’s everything it claims to abhor.”

If unbiased compassion isn’t the agenda of the New Morality, what is? Is it to dismantle capitalism, to make organised religion pay for its sins, or to impose a new form of Marxism?

Any answer to this question would sound like conspiracy theory, so I’ll just let you make up your own mind. In reality, all who join the movement do so for their own diverse reasons, so there’s little point trying to identify a single cause. One uniting factor seems to be the love of power which is just as strong in the New Morality as it was in the institutions it overthrew.

A Path Back to Sanity

Let me emphatically state that it is a virtue to tolerate the viewpoints of others, to lay aside prejudice, be temperate in judgment, to let people speak for themselves, and to protect victims and all who are oppressed.

But may it also be seen that these aren’t virtues simply because we decided they were. If humans determine what’s right and wrong in any given age, then we can also choose when to apply our new rules, and when not to. And that’s precisely the chaos we’re seeing take place.

“Without accountability to our Creator, all we can hope for is another cruel, self-righteous cult to rival all the others.”

These principles are good in every age precisely because they’re an accurate reflection of the One who made us. God has revealed himself as impeccably tolerant (Ex. 34:6), unprejudiced (Rom. 2:11) and slow to judge (Ps. 86:5). He hears us out when we express ourselves (Ps. 56:8), he stands up for the victim (Ps. 34:18) and he fights for the oppressed (Ps. 9:9).

The New Moralists may despise the Christian worldview, but they’re more deeply indebted to it than they know or care to admit. Their rules come to us almost unedited from the pages of Scripture.

Sadly, what the New Morality demonstrates is that, cut loose from the God who is there, even the best morals can quickly spiral downwards into manipulation. Without accountability to our Creator and his Spirit empowering us to live up to our restored humanity, all we can hope for is another cruel, self-righteous cult to rival all the others.

Yes, we live in a secular world. The Bible is not and never should be the law of our land. But in an age of such ubiquitous moral confusion, the book that shaped the West may just be reemerging as more relevant than we ever imagined.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Morality

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Morality.

* * *

Not far from where I live, I’ve heard of a bustling Christmas market that draws big crowds, depicting life in first century Israel, complete with costumed characters—merchants, beggars, Roman soldiers, shepherds. Easily missed, tucked away in a back corner of the marketplace, is a young, shabbily-dressed couple laying their newborn in an animal’s feeding trough.

Isn’t this a perfect depiction of the first Christmas—and almost every Christmas since? Somewhere among the leg hams and frantic shopping and scattered wrapping paper is a God trying to get our attention. But his humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.

The baby born that first Christmas night became a man who utterly reshaped the world. But in 2016, so much ideology and distraction has meant that we’re almost entirely unaware of Jesus’ influence on the West.

“God’s humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.”

Some might interpret this series I’ve written as religious posturing or Christian triumphalism. In truth, it’s none of that. My desire has been to show that ideas really do have consequences, and that Jesus and his teachings have had an unfathomable impact on the world. Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.

It is no coincidence that the nations with the deepest Christian roots are also the safest to live in. Transparency International publishes a global corruption index that year after year finds the least corrupt countries to be those most shaped by Jesus.

“Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.”

But stories speak louder than statistics, so in considering how Jesus transforms the morality of nations, hear the story of John Wesley.

In seventeenth century England, faith and morality had collapsed. Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.

Financial greed was rife. Laws were being manipulated to favour the ruling classes, sharply dividing the rich and poor. If you stole a sheep, snared a rabbit or picked a pocket, you could be hung as thousands gather to watch—or worse—shipped off to a strange faraway land called Australia.

“Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.”

Three quarters of children died before their fifth birthday. Unwanted newborns were left in the streets to die. Gin had overtaken beer as the national beverage, and alcoholism was destroying families, and leading to violence, prostitution and murder.

Gloveless boxing had become a favourite sport for men and women, and it drew massive crowds. Pornography was freely available. As soon as a theatre opened it would be surrounded by brothels. Men were known to sell their wives at cattle auctions.

Up and down the coastline of the British Isles, ships were lured onto rocks by false signals so they could be plundered, and the sailors were left to drown.

“Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.”

Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.

Enter John Wesley.

He’d studied at Oxford and was ordained as a priest. After reading the Bible and searching his heart, he realised he was a Christian in name only. At the age of 34 he put his faith in Jesus. Of that moment he wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine.”

This changed his life. He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him. Encouraged by his friend George Whitfield, he preached his first open-air sermon in April, 1739. The Great Awakening, a movement that was about to transform Europe and America, was born.

Wesley and other revivalists endured three decades of public abuse and violence. Drunken mobs attacked them as they spoke. Bulls were driven into their captivated crowds, and musical instruments were played nearby to drown out their preaching. When struck by rocks, Wesley would wipe away the blood and keep on preaching.

“He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him.”

But never once did he lose his temper. His desire was to point his nation to Jesus, and reclaim England from corruption, believing that when people get saved, their societies change.

Slowly the teachings of Jesus began to take root in people’s minds. His enemies were disarmed and won to Christ. Soldiers, miners, smugglers, fishermen, men, women and children would remove their hats, kneel down and were emotionally overcome as Wesley pointed them to God’s grace.

To teach and disciple the thousands coming to faith, Wesley established hundreds of faith communities across Britain, Scotland and Ireland. He was unstoppable. He got up at four each morning and preached his first sermon at five. By the end of his life he’d prepared and preached 45,000 sermons, written 300 books, and also a commentary on every verse of the Bible—while travelling a quarter of a million miles on horseback in rain, hail and shine.

“Wesley was unstoppable.”

He’d published his thoughts condemning the slave trade, and the last letter he wrote was to Wilberforce, who continued the fight. He opened medical dispensaries and vocational training for the unemployed, and raised money to feed and clothe prisoners, the helpless and the aged.

He died at the age of 88, and no coach was needed for his funeral because he’d arranged for six unemployed people to be paid a pound each to carry his body to the grave.

Directly influenced by Wesley and other revivalists, missionary societies were formed, stirring up hundreds of thousands of Christian young men and women to go to the furthest parts of the world, often at great personal cost.

“In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain.”

Slavery was abolished. Prisons were reformed. Industrial workers were given rights. The Salvation Army was founded, along with George Muller’s orphanages, the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and the RSPCA.

In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain. He’d helped purge his nation’s soul of filth and bring it back from the brink of death.

The power of the Great Awakening wasn’t merely the threat that God’s watching, so you shouldn’t do bad things. Islam also teaches this, but in Islam, Allah is too majestic to enter dirty stables or filthy hearts.

“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The Great Awakening was powerful because Jesus does what no other God can do. He fills people with his Spirit and turns their lives around. As we take our sins to him, and receive his forgiveness and grace, we’re cleaned up and made new. And our world is transformed.

Over and over, and in countless ways, Jesus has shaped the West. This Christmas, in perhaps the subtlest of ways, God is trying to get your attention. Don’t miss him. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

osl

* * *

REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I have been indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Equality

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Equality.

* * *

Last year, two young women aged 15 and 23 were gang raped in a rural town and paraded naked through the main street. This was the “punishment” handed to them by an all-male, unelected village council. Their crime? Their brother eloped with a neighbouring girl who came from a higher caste than theirs.

Violence against women is a global epidemic, not just limited to India’s untouchables. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. 98% of those trafficked for sex are female. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls are demographically “missing”—they’ve been murdered or have died through mistreatment, and their story has been lost.

“In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe.”

This is all part of a bigger picture of inequality. Across the globe, people are being abused and marginalised based purely on their culture, ethnicity, beliefs, political allegiance, gender or sexual expression. It’s enough to overwhelm us.

Aren’t we all for equality? Don’t we all stand for universal human rights?

The sobering, even shocking, answer to these questions is actually no.

In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe. We yearn for it, our civilisation sets the pace for it, and when we as westerners are treated unfairly, we appeal to equality as a fixed, universal axiom. But strange as this may sound, the idea that every human being has equal and inherent value is entirely foreign to many we share the planet with.

“If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering.”

The village justice described above is a case in point. While Ghandi fought for reform of the caste system, ancient Hindu beliefs don’t disappear overnight.

Much of Indian society is still built on the conviction that people have been created precisely unequal, and that your caste was determined by your actions in a previous life. Untouchables are so inferior to the other five castes, says Hindu tradition, that cows, monkeys and rats have greater dignity.

To us this is unthinkable, and must be challenged. But for many in Indian society, to challenge this or to dream otherwise is to rebel against karma. In fact, even to help the poor is to curse them further by preventing them from paying off their karmic debt.

“Inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history.”

Such inequality isn’t unique to India. The epicentre of child marriage, death penalties for homosexuals, and forced female genital mutilation is the Middle-East and North Africa—the heartland of Islam.

If your blood has started to boil, I trust that it’s because of the injustices I’ve described, not my geographical honesty. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Am I promoting inequality by making these observations? In fact I am—if we’re discussing the equality of worldviews. Let me be clear: not all beliefs are created equal.

But all people are created equal. And it is exactly this conviction that compels me. I must blow the whistle on any worldview that denies basic human equality and thereby fosters oppression.

The simple reality is that inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history. Mesopotamian creation myths held that the king was created in the image of the primary god, while the poor and the slaves were created in the image of an inferior god.

The ancient Greco-Roman world knew nothing of equality. Infanticide was commonplace. Plato had extremely elitist—even fascist—political views. Aristotle believed in natural slaves. In fact in the ancient world it was slaves that enabled the elite to pursue philosophy at all.

“If the world’s ‘races’ are descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal.”

Equality is a modern idea that came to us through the Renaissance. And while Renaissance writers are famous for quoting ancient Greeks and Romans, there was only one place they could go to establish a high view of humanity. And that place was Jesus.

From his parable of the ninety-nine sheep abandoned while one was searched for, to his teachings about the Creator knowing the number of hairs on our heads, to his charge for costly, practical love to “the least of these,” this peasant carpenter from Galilee stubbornly insisted that every life matters.

Jesus inspired his fanatic disciple Paul to write that “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male now female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, even a priest-class that’s closer to God must be a defunct concept if “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.”

“Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.”

If the world’s “races” are variously descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal. If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering. If truth is relative, then tomorrow some of us might wake up more equal than others.

But if God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe. In fact if God became one of us, far from violating his majesty (as Islam teaches) the incarnation would be the ultimate affirmation of our value and worth as humans.

The second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this is not true. All people are created equal—yes! But this is not a self-evident truth, if we take historical and contemporary facts seriously. Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.

“If God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe.”

It came from Jesus. This conviction that each of us possess inherent worth, share equal value, and deserve unprejudiced treatment has birthed the human rights movement, shaped national constitutions, and utterly transformed Western ethics.

Long may it drive us to keep fighting for equality where it does not yet exist. God knows, around the world there is much still to be done. But may we never forget or disdain its origin. After all, there is no ground more level than at the foot of the cross.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Morality.

* * *

REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Medicine

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Medicine.

* * *

Every time I visit her village, with a shy smile, Kasih runs and jumps into my arms. Kasih—whose name means “love”—is a joyful and energetic eight year old, born to loving parents in a lakeside village in South-East Asia. It’s a miracle that Kasih made it past her second birthday.

Kasih was born with a cleft palate: a developmental defect that leaves children with a gap in the roof of their mouth. In Kasih’s case, this extended through her upper lip, nose and cheek, leaving her constantly exposed to life-threatening infection.

kasih2

In 2008, I had the privilege of playing a small part in welcoming Kasih and her mother to Australia, as a team of doctors, translators and hosts made available to her life-saving craniofacial surgery. Kasih now lives a completely normal life, playing happily with other children in her home village.

Kasih’s story is an inspiring reminder that modern medicine is a gift. In fact it is a gift that Jesus gave the world. How dare I make such a fanatic and audacious claim?

What about ancient Greece’s Hippocratic Oath and Rome’s public baths and military hospitals? What about the early Indian inventions of plastic surgery, cataract operations and massage therapy? What about the surgery, medical encyclopaedias, hospitals and medical schools of the ancient Islamic world?

“Modern medicine is a gift that Jesus gave the world.”

Without doubt, many streams make a river. Still, it is a glaring fact of history that modern medicine was born in the West, and that the West is still the stage of its major advances. Why?

Emperor Julian of the fourth century offers us an early answer. Disgruntled at the growth of Christianity, he complained that the followers of Jesus “support not only their own poor but ours as well [while] all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

Moved not by compassion but jealousy, he instructed “those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.” He completely missed that it was actually compassion that drove radical Christian love to the poor and marginalised.

“Unique to Europe was belief in a compassionate God who became one of us, and invited the poor, meek, sick, hungry, weak and weary to come to him for rest.”

In fact it was radical Christian love and compassion that animated the development of medicine from the ancient world through to today.

Monks learnt from other cultures, translating Greek and Islamic medicine, documenting what worked and what didn’t as they practiced. Gradually, wanting to spend more time in prayer, they passed their knowledge on to others.

From the thirteenth century, universities took over the tradition, and refined the knowledge they received. A Catholic priest wrote the first modern book of surgery, and Christian scholars of the Renaissance like Leonardo da Vinci gathered incredible knowledge about human anatomy.

“Built on the life of Jesus, Europe birthed a culture of care that turned a science into an industry of compassion.”

In the seventeenth century, an English physician called Thomas Sydenham, who grew up in a strongly Christian home, began questioning the medical practices and assumptions handed down, and began what we now call “modern medicine”.

He wrote that every medical practitioner “must remember that it is no mean or ignoble creature that he deals with. We may ascertain the worth of the human race since for its sake God’s only begotten Son became man and thereby ennobled the nature he took upon it.”

In writing this, he gave us the key to understanding Western civilisation’s unique role in the development of medicine. Medicine is far more than a science. It will only flourish if it’s built on a culture of care and compassion.

“Christians believed that God loved this suffering world so much that he sent his own Son to befriend and save sinners.”

While people of other cultures have as much natural empathy as anyone, unique to Europe was belief in a compassionate God who became one of us, and invited the poor, meek, sick, hungry, weak and weary to come to him for rest; who blessed children, touched lepers, delivered the demonised, and healed the sick.

Roman beliefs built an empire of cruelty that killed for entertainment. In India, suffering was seen as karma: cosmic justice that must run its course. Buddhism valued compassion but the Buddha’s third noble truth urged people to remain detached from those they cared for, lest they too suffer. While Islam’s Allah is compassionate and merciful, its prophet was best known as a military leader.

On the other hand, Christians believed that God loved this suffering world so much that he sent his own Son to befriend and save sinners. Built on the life of Jesus, Europe birthed a culture of care that turned a science into an industry of compassion.

“Modern medicine isn’t found just anywhere. It has a specific and unique origin.”

Secular British journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I’ve spent a number of years in India and Africa where I found much righteous endeavour undertaken by Christians of all denominations; but I never, as it happens, came across a hospital or orphanage run by the [socialist] society, or a humanist leper colony.”

The Red Cross is now secular. Nursing has become a commercial enterprise. The significance of big city hospital names like “Calvary” or “St. Andrews” or “Good Samaritan,” once pregnant with meaning, is now all but lost on our culture.

But as Kasih’s life-transforming trip to a Western hospital reminds us, modern medicine isn’t found just anywhere. It has a specific and unique origin. And as Kasih’s name reminds us, it is love—the love of this man staggering up Calvary to give us life—that has made all the difference in the world.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Liberty.

* * *

REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Science

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginningor start here for how Jesus shaped Science.

* * *

Richard Dawkins has declared, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

He may not speak for all, but he captures a mood now common in the West that faith—and especially the Christian faith—is a hindrance to inquiry. Is he right? Are science and Christianity at war?

The scientific worldview we live and breathe seems so normal. From car repairs to dieting, and from weather forecasts to the latest iPhone, we take science and all of its benefits for granted. In doing so, we forget that it’s an entirely unique way of perceiving the world.

“The ancients had astounding insights into nature, but a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.”

India had great surgeons like Sushruta who wrote a textbook on medicine six centuries before Christ, but medicine didn’t develop in India. Another Indian introduced a revolutionary concept to mathematics: the number zero. Yet in India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.

Over 2,000 years ago, Eratosthenes measured the earth’s circumference with eyebrow-raising accuracy. Ancients from Greece, Egypt, China and the Muslim world had astounding insights into nature. They observed facts, developed their skills, and accumulated knowledge to pass on to others. Despite all of this, a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.

Science arose once in history: in Christian Europe. We could shrug and move on. Or we could inquire as to why that is.

“In India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.”

A growing band of historians are drawn to Whitehead’s thesis, agreeing with John Lennox that, “human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

We’ve become so accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ teachings as merely “spiritual” lessons. But Europeans of centuries past saw them as much more, believing Jesus spoke into every pursuit of life.

As such, Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had. See science only works if the following things are true:

Objective truth exists. Eastern faiths (and postmoderns) say that what’s true for you isn’t true for me. But who would bother experiment if the findings are true for some people and not for others? Jesus however insists that truth does exist and is knowable.

“Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had.”

The universe actually exists. Eastern philosophies taught that everything is an illusion. What point is there in studying an illusion? By contrast, the first declaration of Scripture is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It actually exists, so it can actually be studied.

The universe is orderly. Greek, Roman and Hindu beliefs propose multiple gods competing to run the universe. But an enchanted world like this doesn’t lead people to search for “laws of nature”. If the planets are themselves gods, why would they follow established laws? The God Jesus spoke of, however, is a God of order, not chaos. And by inference, so is the world he created.

“Human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

People have confidence to investigate the world. Indigenous faiths taught that there were spirits in the trees, rivers and mountains—that creation itself is divine. So poking around trying to study these things could anger the spirits—and this is one of the reasons many cultures never tried.

Christians also believe in angels and demons, but in Genesis 1:28 they read God’s command, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Because of this, Christians had courage to study the natural world.

“Science rests on uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.”

People have free will. Atheism—the idea that the material world is all that exists—leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.

C.S. Lewis asked: “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts… are mere accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?”

Jesus’ teachings assume a free will given to us by God, so we can think and reason freely and arrive at trustworthy conclusions.

“It’s no coincidence that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians.”

People need correction. Many in the East see humans as divine, and believe that enlightenment comes by mystical experience. Islam rejects the idea Jesus taught, that humans are born with a tendency towards error and sin. But it turns out that the Christian doctrine of original sin, despised by so many, was foundational to the scientific method. Because we’re fallen, early Christian scientists insisted, our findings are in constant need of objectivity, facts, peer review, and skeptical testing.

People see themselves as caretakers of creation. Most worldviews see humans as merely part of nature—a cog in the machine. Atheism views us as sophisticated, hairless apes. But the West’s passion for science began when Christians read the Bible and rediscovered God’s call to have caring dominion over the creation.

Francis Bacon, founder of the scientific method said, “For man by the Fall fell from both his state of innocence and his dominion over creation. Both of these, however, can even in this life be made good; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.”

“Atheism leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.”

Embarrassing as it may be to the intelligentsia, science rests on these uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.

Is it any coincidence then that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians? Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most important scientists of all time, discovered the law of gravity, but also wrote over a million words about the Bible.

Science arose once in history: in the Christian universities of Europe. This isn’t because other cultures lacked ability: many individuals outside of Europe saw nature with a scientific outlook. But their civilisations’ belief systems didn’t allow a culture of science to flourish.

Peter Harrison, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bond University in Australia wrote, “It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible… [but] the reverse is the case: when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world. The Bible… played a central role in the emergence of natural science in the seventeenth century.”

Richard Dawkins couldn’t be more wrong. It was in fact the teachings of Jesus that drove Europe’s curiosity to study the world and view it scientifically. Centuries later, every culture—and Dawkins himself—has reaped the benefits.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Medicine.

* * *

REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.