In his open letter to our PM publicized today (January 6), Mr. Ricardo McKenzie highlighted some dark spots on the Church’s record in societies but was generally excessive, factually wrong and underinformed on some issues.
His excessive language and most easily refuted blunder may have been borrowed from or influenced by the late Christopher Hitchens in his book How Religion Poisons Everything. I emphasise ‘everything’ because logically, this undifferentiated term brooks no exception and indeed Mr. McKenzie says “…I am having great difficulty in finding a single case in which the church has been on the right side of history.” (my emphasis).
This is nothing more than a personal admission of limited research or plain ignorance which I’ll remedy below.
Despite its faults, the Church of Jesus Christ has been responsible for some of the best traditions of the western world. I list just a few below.
As I provide these slices of history now please be clear that I am not offering them as efficient causes of what transpired in the societies but as significant contributory factors in societal change. Causation, as you all should know, is notoriously difficult of proof.
A Legacy of Societal Transformation & Challenge Toward Transformation
1. Value on Human Life
- The brutality of Roman culture is well known (murder by/of Emperors, gladiatorial games, infanticide, child abandonment, crucifixion)
- The Philosopher Seneca (ca. 4 BC – AD 65), chief advisor to Nero, said, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.” (De Ira 1.15).
- Christians countered the brutal nature of Roman culture and the gladiatorial games were eventually banned arising from their influence.
Christians did not only denounce the entrenched Greek and Roman cultural practice of child abandonment but they also provided refuge for abandoned children.
As an antidote to the common Greco-Roman practice of child abandonment and even infanticide, Christians took abandoned children into their homes and raised them as their own. This Christian practice gave rise to orphanotrophia [orphan-rearing centres]. Infant orphans or newborn foundlings were nurtured and cared for in brephotrophia [child-rearing centres]. Both of these institutions mark the formal beginning of orphanages, later to become common, especially in the West.
- Sexual Morality
- Christianity teaches limits on sexual intimacy, Roman culture and modern societies prefer having no limits at all so people choose to have sex whenever, wherever with whomever or whatever and the grim consequences are before us.
- Charity & Compassion
- The rise of orphanages, homes for the aged, the Salvation Army, the various Catholic groups like Sisters of Charity and Missionaries of the Poor, United Way, YMCA, YWCA, Teen Challenge, hospitals, mental institutions, the Red Cross/Crescent/Lion and, numerous other agencies for the care of needy human beings can be traced back to the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Churches provided education for slaves and both sexes.
- Martin Luther (1483-1546) was behind tax-supported public schools and compulsory education
- Lutheran layman Johann Sturm (1507-1589) pioneered graded education
- Three French Christians in the 18th century championed the cause of education for the deaf
- Louis Braille in the 19th century pioneered education for the blind
- The oldest and most prestigious universities in the world had Christian roots, check the history of the University of Bologna, the University of Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Heidelberg and Columbia, etc.
- Check out the High Schools in Jamaica built, owned and still run by churches
- Modern Science
- Experimental science is dependent on the Judaeo-Christian worldview of a purposive, orderly, created world.
- Some of the seminal thinkers in the history of science were Christians.
The more modern, familiar names include Gregor Mendel in Genetics;
Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Arthur Eddington in Astronomy.
(There is much hogwash re the historical facts concerning the Church, Galileo and Copernicus. Mr. McKenzie should read Philip J. Sampson’s 6 Modern Myths, 2001 and John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? 2009).
In Physics: Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, André Ampere, James Joule and William Thomson a.k.a. Lord Kelvin. In Chemistry, Robert Boyle, and George Washington Carver and in Medicine, Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister.
At the risk of being tedious I mention three outstanding scientists who are still with us and all three are convinced Christians.
Francis Collins, the American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project.
William Phillips, the American Nobel prize-winning Physicist and Sir John Houghton FRS, who was in succession professor of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford, Director of the British Meteorological Office and Head of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).
- The Arts
- A number of the international greats in music and art were Christians: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, J.S. Bach, Handel, Schubert, and Mozart.
Check a historian of law and learn how many ardent Christians were pioneering luminaries and even in Jamaica there are many lawyers/judges at the top of their profession who are practicing Christians. As a former staffer in the RM Courts in Montego Bay I met several and still know several. But a tidbit of ancient legal history as an appetizer.
We dare not forget the significant influence of the Church, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton and his Christian colleagues, on the British Magna Carta (the Large Charter) of 1215, which gave new rights to barons and the people in general and which also challenged the notion of the king being above the law.
This is just for starters.
All of us need to read widely and argue carefully lest…
Rev. Clinton Chisholm is a retired Jamaica Baptist Union Pastor and former Academic Dean at he Caribbean Graduate School of Theology