By Their Fruits...We live in an age of incredible human stupidity. It is difficult to read the newspaper or watch the news and not have some glaring example of human stupidity forced upon us. I am sure that this has always been the case, but it is worse today than in the past because there are more people available to do stupid things and because we have a media determined to make sure that we do not miss an opportunity to learn about it.
What is perplexing about the media in this matter in today's world is that when something stupid is done by a religious person it will make the front page in our newspapers and get huge amounts of time on our television sets, while other acts of human stupidity by people who are not religious will rarely make the news and if it does, it will be on the back pages where no one sees it. We know more about the pedophile problems the Catholic Church is struggling with than we do about the high incident rate of homosexual rape in the gay population, even though the incident rate of homosexual rape is extremely high. We also have had almost no press given to the fact that many cases of claimed abuse have turned out to be spurious.
In spite of all of this, there is massive evidence available to all of us today which testifies to the positive nature of the Christian system, and while every kind of abuse must be condemned and corrected no matter who is responsible for it, to continue to ignore the positive aspects of Christianity is intellectually dishonest and prevents people from making good and informed decisions about God. We would like to share some things with you that speak to the positive aspects of Christianity and to the fact that the stupidity of a handful of people who claim to be religious but who do awful things cannot be allowed to cloud the massive amount of good done by those who are trying to follow the teachings and examples given to us by Christ.
Feeding of the Hungry both Here and Abroad. We live in an area of about 500,000 people. There are several large universities in the area and a wide diversity of religions and ethnic groups. Because this is an old industrial city that has had a large loss of industry over the years beginning with the closing of the Studebaker plant in the early 1960s, there is also a great deal of unemployment and need. I taught in an inner city high school for 41 years and had close association with a large number of kids who came to school at 6:30 a.m. and stayed until 9:00 in the evening because they had no home and no way to eat. The only reason they left was because security guards drove them out as they secured the building.
Where did these kids go to get food and shelter? Was there an atheist organization that provided them with a bed and offered a meal to them? Did the Moslems, Hindus, or secular humanists offer a place for them to go? In South Bend, Indiana, there were four Roman Catholic agencies who offered food, clothes, shelter--a place to spend the night. There was a place called the Hope Rescue Mission--a homeless shelter operated by a coalition of Protestant denominations which housed a large number of individuals and families. There were a dozen Protestant churches which had programs that aggressively offered help to people in need.
May I suggest to you that while this is where I live, the same is true of where you live. Our music and drama productions will constantly talk about "The Mission," and we all know what that means. In my travels around the world, I have seen this to be true in societies which were atheistic and governments that were hostile to the Christian faith. It is easy to find fault with individuals who claim to be Christians and do stupid things, but the fact remains that Christianity in its broadest sense has always addressed the food needs of people in all cultures, and continues to this day to be the single most effective agent in meeting hunger on planet Earth.
Promotion of Education and Improvement of Living Conditions. Skeptics enjoy chastising the mission work of Christianity. The typical charge is to accuse Christians of forcing their values and culture upon primitive cultures who were functioning beautifully before they came. Almost always when this charge is leveled, some act of stupidity by a Christian is included--such as bringing syphilis to primitive cultures.
The fact is that the conditions in these cultures before the missionaries arrived were not utopian. All one has to do is to read the diaries of early explorers to see how wretched conditions were in most places they visited. Tribal wars, abuse of women, cannibalism, human sacrifice, worship of nature in barbaric ways, and wretched living conditions dominate the writings of those who first came in contact with cultures which had no connection to the Christian world. Teaching a culture not to throw humans in the caldera of a volcano to appease Pele (the volcano god) is not a negative thing.
One of the things almost always done by Christian missionaries was to establish schools. Education is the one single most effective catalyst to positive change. Early missionaries not only taught people their faith, but they also taught agriculture, animal husbandry, sewing, personal hygiene, and how to get along with theirr neighbors. For every case of abuse by a missionary, there are hundreds of stories of men and women who lived with primitive people and helped them eliminate war, pain, diseases, hunger, and abuse. To be sure, there have been people who went beyond the biblical teachings and forced their own personal opinions on people, but those cases were far less numerous than the success stories. We have allowed the media to skew our understandings about what really went on in most of the mission works that were done. Even in the United States, we have had numerous Christian groups and individuals like former President Jimmy Carter initiate things like "Habitat for Humanity" to address local problems.
It is also important to note that the great scientists of the past have been dominated by men and women whose Christian belief systems led them to their scientific investigations and careers. For the past several years in this journal, John Hudson Tiner has had a series of articles on the religious beliefs of famous people like Newton, Pascal, Maxwell, and others who boldly stated that their Christian convictions were the basis of their scientific studies. Christianity's emphasis on learning and on the orderly and intelligent design of the cosmos in which we live has led to the marvels of modern science.
Acts of Healing and Medical Help. There is no country in the world that has not had Christian mission works brought to it to relieve disease, pain, and suffering. I am amazed at the daily requests I get from church groups seeking finances to carry on medical mission works today in primitive cultures. Christian groups have purchased medical ships which go from country to country bringing a wide range of medical services. There is a group of opthamologists who bring eye care to people all over the globe. There are a dozen medical care groups which go into an area for two weeks and treat everything from lice to malnutrition to AIDS.
When you make a statement like the last paragraph, someone will point out that there are people involved in these relief programs who are getting paid for what they do. There have even been cases where only a small amount of the money given actually did anything for the people it was solicited for. That is undoubtedly true, and no one questions the capacity for stupidity in human beings of all bents and stripes. The fact is, however, that enormous good is being done, and the exploiters are a small percentage of the people doing the work. I cannot as a Christian hide behind the human stupidity and refuse to do what Christ commanded because someone may do something stupid with my money. That is between them and God, but my God commanded me to do something about human pain and illness, and much is being done by Christians that no human philosophical society or atheist group has even begun to do.
Promotion of Constructive Family Living. There is a huge battle going on in the western world today over gay marriage. Not only is this issue a political football, but it has implications for the welfare and educational systems in our culture. I am sure that one way or another, the human rights aspect of this debate will be answered. The fact remains, that no one challenges the wisdom of the system for the family that God has given us. The gay activist groups may argue that they should be included in the system, but they do not challenge the wisdom of the system or say that they have a better one.
A loving home whivh involves one man and one woman who have become "one flesh," cannot be challenged as an inferior way to raise children. The notion of woman and man being one implies partnership, roles, love, respect, identity, and stability. There are men and women who have imposed their personal needs on God's plan, but the concept of a man loving his wife as himself and a woman loving and respecting her husband to the point of reverence is unchallengeable. Children who grow up in a stable, loving, peaceful, nurturing, caring, positive, secure family have the best shot of becoming successful productive stable adults.
As Christianity spread throughout the world, it encountered polygamy, polyandry, communal living, and a variety of alternative lifestyles quite different from what the Bible teaches as ideal. In the early days, there were books written by people like Margaret Mead which seemed to show that these alternative lifestyles were very positive, but as time has progressed it has turned out that not only were these portrayals inaccurate and unscientific, but they were in many cases completely false.
What happens in polygamy where one man has many wives? Proponents argue that it gives women stability and security and in terms of property that may be true, but what about individual worth? What about the number of children produced and the strain it puts on resources? What about diseases of all kinds? I would suggest that even sexual pleasure and fulfillment is impossible in a system of this kind. What happens to children in such a system? How can favoritism not develop when wives have different statuses and there is no daily close association with one child and one father? In polyandry, where one woman has many husbands, virtually all of the problems we have cited exist except the production of too many children. In both systems there is the inevitable problem of a number of people with no husband or no wife. The Christian system is clearly superior to the alternatives, and bringing something better to people is the whole point of evangelism.
Those who argue that the nuclear family taught in the Bible is no better than the alternatives are ignorant about real sexual pleasure and fulfillment and the psychological needs of all people in the culture. Christianity began in a part of the world that embraced polygamy and where the relationships between father and child were distant at best. Jesus gave a better way, and enjoined responsibilities upon both parents that are not questioned by responsible scholars today.
Promotion of Tolerance and Mercy. Islamic extremists have given us a picture of the clear contrast between Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists. It is not the purpose of this article to point out the errors of either group but to point out where their fundamentalist mentality takes them. No one can read the Koran and not see the lack of tolerance in some of the things Mohammed taught. Modern Moslems will point out that they do not interpret those things in that way and that violence is not a part of their belief and practice, and we applaud them for that. The fact is, however, that a Christian fundamentalist will find nothing in the teachings of Jesus that allows him to do violence to anyone. You can read Matthew 5-7 and see things like "Love your enemy.," "Do good to those who do evil to you.," "As much as it depends upon you, do good to all.," "Turn the other cheek.," and the like, and not realize that the Bible emphasizes extreme tolerance, mercy, love, and patience.
Skeptics are quick to point to the Crusades, the Ku Klux Klan, or to lesser extremes in which God is implored to aid a personal fight and say that these acts contradict the point we are making here. It is true that those who wear the name Christian have been guilty of some awful things, but we are not talking about human distortions of what the Bible says in this article. There are atheists who have done some incredibly stupid things, but to accuse all atheists of being guilty of what some brutal atheist in the past has done would be nonsense. The question is not about the stupidity of man, but what the system teaches, and Christianity clearly teaches tolerance, love, forgiveness, and mercy that is so unique many people find it hard to believe.
Even with human errors and stupidity, the Christian system has blessed the earth. Christianity is a way of life that provides man with the best of everything important. When Christ taught his disciples about how to sort out the claims of people, he gave them a simple test to be conducted. As he discussed false prophets and humans that would do and say stupid things, Christ said:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:15-21 NIV).
For more reading on this subject, we encourage you to secure a copy of Under the Influence, by Alvin Schmidt, Zondervan Publishing, ISBN 0-310-23627-1, 2001, a book reviewed in our Does God Exist? journal in March/April 2003.
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