I’m very disappointed that I have to write this particular post, and I’m a bit disappointed in the people who have made this post necessary. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess I retain a little optimism that people will show enough historical knowledge and intellectual honesty and humility to avoid saying stuff like this, but I guess not.
This isn’t something that bothers just me. I have talked about the issue with my wife, and with some friends, and we found this concerning, both because of its cavalier disregard of actual historical truth, and for its breathtaking arrogance.
So here it is (paraphrased):
“Christianity ended slavery, reduced violence against women, and as Christians lose their influence, our nation will go to hell.”
This is, simply put, bullcrap on a stick.
And I am embarrassed both for those who keep saying it and for those who nod along and say “amen.”
So, let me offer my rebuttal and my argument why we Christians need to stop saying stupid lies like this.
- Saying “Christianity ended slavery” is like saying “Humans ended slavery.”
Both statements are true in the most technical of senses, but highly misleading, and therefore untruthful.
Yes, William Wilberforce (a hero in the truest sense) was a Christian. So was Abraham Lincoln.
But, so was Robert E. Lee and so was Jefferson Davis, and nearly everyone who owned, sold, and traded slaves.
The vast majority of those on both sides of the Civil War were Christians.
But it is more than that.
The arguments against the abolition of slavery were made by extremely devout Christians. The ones who took the Bible the most literally. And they accused the abolitionists of being a bunch of apostates, Unitarians, and atheists. (Certainly there were “free thinkers” as atheists were called back then on both sides as well.)
So sure, some Christians helped end slavery. And some Christians fought to the death to fight against the end of slavery. Some Christians enlisted the Bible as a source for abolitionist views. And some Christians used the Bible in support of slavery. (I don’t have room for a comprehensive list of these, but a bare minimum of research will turn up numerous primary sources.)
For example, this gem from Jefferson Davis:
"Slavery was established by the decree of Almighty God. It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both testaments, from Genesis to Revelation."
So, this wasn’t a “Christians versus Atheists” thing. It wasn’t Christians on one side against the atheists over slavery.
It was “Abolitionists versus Supporters of Slavery.” And we need to be honest about that.
Here is a great money quote from Abraham Lincoln, from his second inaugural address:
"Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
His troops slaughtered thousands to preserve the right of white men to own black men.
His chaplain, Robert Lewis Dabney, - also a devout Christian - would later write A Defense of Virginia, a book acknowledged in its time to be highly racist. It made an argument from the Bible for the inferiority of Africans and women to white men.
2. Don’t use the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.
“But they weren’t real Christians.” Yes, yes they were. You don’t get to pick and choose. They were Christians, many of them devout.
Yes, they were wrong about slavery. But no, they weren’t atheists or non-Christians, and you can’t claim that they were without lying. Don’t do that.
3. Almost without exception, those defending the Confederacy today are conservative Christians.
Here’s looking at you, Doug Wilson and the rest of Christian Reconstructionism.
I do not know a single atheist who is arguing that slavery was a good thing for African Americans, actually. Can’t think of one. Can you?
To take it further, just about everyone that I know that thinks the Civil Rights movement was bad for America is a conservative Christian. And that’s even before we get into the vile stuff I’ve seen posted in the aftermath of Ferguson.
Oh, and guess who is advocating for the abolishment of the Civil Rights act...so that Christians can refuse to serve gays? Oh, that would be Matt Walsh, who is all too beloved in conservative Christian circles.
So, to assert that “the world will go to hell” has a problem, doesn’t it?
Tell you what, I’ll make a bet. I’ll bet that if every American Christian disappeared tomorrow, we would NOT return to slavery. I also bet we would not see the repeal of the Civil Rights Act. You willing to take that bet?
4. Christianity didn’t reduce violence against women.
The credit for that should go to Feminism.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that a woman could divorce her husband for beating her.
Throughout most of the history of Christianity, as a matter of fact, it was considered fine for a husband to beat his wife. (I discussed this in more detail in this post.)
Things started to change in the late 1700s with the advent of first wave feminism, which asserted the (then) radical idea that women were not in fact congenitally inferior to men, and in need of rule and correction as if they were children (or slaves.) (For more on the history of misogyny, see this installment of my series on Modesty Culture.)
It was Feminism that drove the change in the laws and attitudes.
True, many early feminists were Christians, and many of the American feminists of the 1800s were conservative Evangelical Christians.
But also, most of those fighting against feminism were Christians too. And often devout. Hello Robert Lewis Dabney...
It wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was made an equal criminal offense to stranger rape in all 50 states.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that marital rape was even made a crime in all 50 states. Let that sink in a bit.
That’s pretty crazy, if you think about it.
Also in 1993, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act.
Both of these developments were driven by Feminists. And this time, the weight of American Christianity was opposed to the reforms.
So, what was the result of these Feminist driven reforms?
Hmm. It appears that in the last two decades, domestic violence has declined dramatically. (The decline started before that, but it really accellerated with the widespread acceptance of the idea that women were equal and that hitting them was wrong - and low class.)
And this, during the time that conservative Christianity has declined in numbers and influence.
Guess what? Christians cannot take credit for this decline. Sorry.
Actually, instead of trying to take credit for this, more Christians are simply in denial about it.
For example the Council For Victorian Gender Roles Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood claims in its “Danvers Statement” that there is an “upsurge of physical and emotional abuse in the family.”
Now maybe there is an increasing problem in CBMW type churches. I could see that as a possibility since the teachings likely attract abusive men. But there sure as heck isn’t any such upsurge in society at large.
It is the exact opposite. Violence against and abuse of women and children is on the decline.
So, will CBMW stop lying about it? I doubt it.
5. Almost without exception, the voices telling women to stay and be beaten and raped are conservative Christians.
Hello, John Piper. And others. (On a related note, Piper also thinks that abused Christians should go back to an abusive leader too. So what if there were “bodies under the Mars Hill Bus...)
Oh, and who is it who thinks that “marital rape” is an oxymoron? That would be some conservative Christians. This is just one of a number of instances. And I have heard the same argument made by friends and acquaintances too. This isn’t a fringe view.
So, want to make a bet? Do you really believe that if all the Christians disappeared, we would go back to allowing men to beat and rape their wives? Really?
So, be honest. What is more likely? All the Christians disappear and we go back to beating and raping our wives?
Or that if Christians disappeared, we would lose the last few voices defending violence against women. I’m a devout Christian, and I greatly fear that it would be the latter.
6. We shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back because others in the past have done good things.
I am not arguing that there haven’t been Christians in the past who did good things motivated by their faith. There were, obviously.
But there were also many who did good things who were motivated by their Enlightenment values, or their own conscience, or their other beliefs.
And there were also many who fought against those good things, also motivated by their Christian beliefs. And there were many who did downright evil things because they believed their faith compelled them to do it. (See, for example, the Crusades and the Inquisition and witch burning and the Native American genocide and so on…)
We cannot simply claim the credit for the good, while eluding blame for the bad.
Furthermore, even if the past were an unblemished credit to our faith, it wouldn’t give us personal credit for ourselves now.
The fact that William Wilberforce did amazing things to help end an evil does not make me a better person because I share his faith. The question is, what is MY faith motivating me to do now?
Is my faith motivating me to fight injustice in the world? Or is it leading me to oppose access to contraception for those who haven’t “won” at our economic system enough to pay out-of-pocket? (That’s just one example that has been eating me in recent years.) Does our faith motivate us to care for Ebola victims in Africa? (In many cases, yes. Those people are heroes, even if conservative darling Ann Coulter dismisses them.) Or is my faith leading me to deny health care to children because of the sex their parents are having?
Or, directly on point to this discussion: Is my faith leading me to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and to try to undo the continuing malign effects of racism and white supremacy that still plague us 150 years after the end of the Civil War? Does it lead me to call for an end to police brutality? Or does it lead me to moralize against the poor and “ghetto” culture?
Does it lead me to support policies that reduce violence against women? Or does it lead me to advise women to stay in abusive relationships and submit?
This isn’t meant to be a diss of Christianity. For goodness’ sake, I am a Christian, and I obviously believe in it, or I would leave the faith.
Christianity can be - and has been - a strong force for good. It has also been - and sometimes is now - a strong force for evil.
7. Faith by itself is not enough.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
(James 2:14-17 NIV)
As I have pointed out, historically speaking, Christian faith has not been a guarantee of good beliefs or good actions. Faith is not enough by itself. It must be accompanied by good beliefs about non-theological issues, and good actions.
Slavery was not defeated by a nebulous “faith” in Christ. It was defeated by a specific belief. Namely, that slavery was wrong and should be abolished. It doesn’t matter whether one came to that realization as a result of Christ’s teaching on love and the golden rule, or whether one came at it from the idea that all men are equal and should not be owned by one another, or from simply sympathy for the plight of slaves. This belief is called “abolitionism.”
Domestic violence isn’t being reduced by some nebulous “faith” in Christ, but by a specific belief that women are fully human and fully equal to men. Many Christians don’t want to admit this, but violence against women is also being reduced by the rejection of the belief that women are to obey men. (After all, if women must obey, how are men to compel obedience?) A belief in full equality is a belief that a hierarchy is wrong. This belief is called “feminism.” Specifically, per the dictionary, the belief in the full social, economic, and political equality of women.
Simply saying “come to Jesus” doesn’t end evil. Working to end evil ends evil.
8. Rather than pat ourselves on the back, American Christianity needs to do some serious soul searching as to why WE are the ones standing on the side of evil all too often.
It is beyond the scope of this post to explore this in detail, but American Christianity is currently in an unholy alliance with certain political positions that are more in line with the teachings of Ayn Rand than with those of Christ.
Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this post, that at least when it comes to the issues raised in this post, namely slavery and violence against women, that the Church seems to be more interested in returning to and idolizing the past than actually working to rid the world of these evils. If anything, the effective efforts that others have made to end these evils are opposed primarily by conservative Christians.
As I have noted, the opposition to VAWA, the defence of the Confederacy and Jim Crow, and the current opposition to anything the smacks of the Civil Rights Movement or Feminism is coming primarily - nearly exclusively - from the conservative religious right.
Instead of smugly saying “Just imagine how bad things would be without us,” we need to be saying, “How can we stop making the world a worse place by our actions opposing the good efforts of others?”
Instead of feeling good about humanitarian victories of the past, we need to consider whether we are currently furthering their efforts - or fighting to keep current evils in place.
9. Our subconscious fear
We like to say that we fear that as we lose our influence that the world will go to hell.
I think our deeper fear is that as we lose our influence, it won’t.
And then we would have to answer the question of how we became so irrelevant to the cause of justice and the fight against evil. And that is a terrifying thought that we don’t want to face. It’s easier to shake our heads about gays the sins of low income people and feel superior.
10. Stop lying.
I’m not sure why we insist on telling these lies about the past. Probably, there is a combination of reasons, and different people will have different motives. But in any case, we need to stop with the lying.
If we tell these lies because we are historically ignorant, we need to spend a little less time reading yet another Christian self help or theology book, and actually learn some history. The past wasn’t the golden age we like to think it is. It was, in many measurable ways, much more violent and evil than the present, and we tend to forget that.
For the Civil War, I recommend The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.
There are abundant resources on Feminism and domestic violence, both in print and online. There is also abundant evidence of the ongoing and substantial decline in all kinds of violence, and some compelling theories as to the causes.
We cannot hope to make our faith attractive if we cannot even bring ourselves to learn history and tell the truth about it. Denying our own past and present evil only makes things worse.
For others, I suspect that there is a lot of denialism regarding the past, and a willful refusal to reconsider the real-life consequences of certain political positions.
It is deeply dear to our theology that faith in Christ makes us better people. Ergo, if more people are Christians, the world should be less evil. The reality is much more complicated. If history shows anything, it is that mere “faith” is pretty useless. We become better people as we become more like Christ, which is a wholly different thing.
Another reason that this idea gets any traction is, in my opinion, the obsession with sex that plagues the American church. As a result of that obsession, we find it easy to believe that the world is getting worse. Of course, there are problems in the world today. The declining faith in the institution of marriage is a huge one, and one that the Church has failed to answer (largely, in my opinion, because it’s answer is usually “go back to the past”). But the real issues the Church believes are plaguing the world are 1) women are able to have sex out of wedlock like men always have without dire consequences, and 2) gays. Because societal beliefs have changed in these two areas, there is widespread pearl clutching.
But the church has missed a huge and long term decline in violence over the last century as a result. (Stay tuned for a book review on this issue.)
Because of the obsession with sex as the primary indicator of morality, the Church is having a hard time noticing substantial modern moral improvements, such the decline in domestic violence. That’s how CBMW can make a ludicrously false statement. The theology says that female virginity and female submission leads to happier and less violent marriages, so it must be true, right? Even if the evidence is contrary. And all our problems would be solved if people would just stop having sex, right?
So please. Stop lying. Just stop.
You’re not winning any new converts, and you are driving the intellectually honest out of the church.
The truth shouldn’t scare us. I agree with both Thomas Aquinas and John Milton that all truth is God’s truth, and that it will ultimately win out. It may well require us to rethink some theological commitments. It may mean that human culture, laws, and institutions will change. It will absolutely mean that we will have uncomfortable moments when we discover we have been wrong.
But shouldn’t we, as Christians, be concerned with the truth?
So let’s stop telling lies, even - especially - when they make us feel better about ourselves.
11. The arrogance.
More than anything, the Church right now reminds me of a certain type of kid I remember from my teen years. We used to play pick-up basketball (and occasionally other sports) with neighbor kids. It seems there is always this one kid.
He thinks he knows the rules better than everyone else, and feels a need to let everyone else know it. He whines and moans constantly about how he is getting fouled every time he touches the ball - and even when he isn’t. He is sure he is the best player on the court, when he is actually a poor player. Most of the players try to humor him, because, well, everybody should get a shot. Some might try to give him a pointer on how to improve. He’ll have none of it, of course, from those losers. But a few (the Richard Dawkins’ of the playground) start teasing him.
Eventually, he can’t stand it anymore. People won’t play by his rules, and won’t give him privileges, and then they tease him. He takes his ball and goes home, sure that everyone will realize just how much they lost when he left. Instead, everyone breathes a big sigh of relief.
Likewise, the Church right now spends its time on imaginary slights, moralizes about the sex everyone else is having, thinks it is the Michael Jordan of morality and ethics, when it really can’t even identify the narcissists and abusers in its own midst. An atheist or two starts pointing out its weaknesses, and rather than learn something, it just lashes out and pouts.
In the end, the Church expects that it will take its ball and go home get raptured out of the world, and everything will go to hell. And then Christ will ride in on his horse and smite all those who dared to disrespect the sore loser, and all will be right with the world.
Maybe it’s just me, but I believe now is not the time for arrogance. It is time to listen and learn from those outside our bubble.
I knew Ann Coulter was crazy, but claiming that the only reason Christians are helping ebola patients is to suck up to Democrats is just…wow.ReplyDelete
Seriously. If I were to point out one thing from the last year that fellow Christians have done that I find amazing, it is the response to Ebola. To denigrate that is just insane and out of touch with reality.Delete
But then again, we just had Doug Wilson go on the record that supporting gay marriage is FAR worse than supporting slavery...
Great article, as usual. Would you mind fixing the link for "domestic violence has gone down drastically"? Your links make interesting reading too.ReplyDelete
The link should work now. Not sure what happened there. Thanks for pointing out the problem!Delete
Ugh. Ayn Rand. Now I have to go take a shower.ReplyDelete
Seriously. The whole "Laissez-faire capitalism is the only Biblical(TM) economic system" thing seems to have become a point of doctrine in American Evangelicalism. And to listen to the way people talk about the poor seems straight out of Atlas Shrugged, rather than the Bible...Delete
The easiest way to describe Objectivism (and seriously, when you're naming a philosophy "we're the objective ones", why not just call yourselves the Righty McRightersons?) is: "It's fascism, but with companies instead of nations and CEOs instead of politicians".Delete
^^Right in the sense of being correct, FWIW, not taking a swipe at Republicans per se.Delete
Objectivism is up there with "Brights" as a self-applied name for what the rest of us call "Atheists." :)Delete
You have identified a significant problem with Objectivism, which is that it is impossible to have a level playing field when power and wealth are already concentrated somewhere. The naive dream of "economic transactions on voluntary terms, by uncoerced agreement" as I have seen it put, doesn't fit very well with the reality of most people's lives.
But it is really scary how similar Objectivist manifestos sound almost point-for-point like the economic beliefs on the religious right. You'd almost think that "God helps those who help themselves" was in the Bible, not Aesop...
I have long said that if it weren't so dangerous it would be kinda cute, the naive Libertarian belief that people won't do bad things for money.Delete
I think a contributing factor to many of these issues is how many Christians live in pretty Christian bubbles. They only associate with like-minded people from similar backgrounds and experiences. Their kids only attend Christian schools or are homeschooled. By insulating themselves from those "worldly," others, they are clueless as to how they come across. There is no growth, improvement, or reflection without challenge, and they have eliminated all challenges since they only associate with the similar, read the similar, and watch the similar. When I say "they," I'm partially referring to myself, as I am Christian who is currently rethinking many of the conservative traditions I was raised in.ReplyDelete
You are absolutely right. I know a number of people who do not have a single non-Christian, non-middle class friend.Delete
"There is no growth, improvement, or reflection without challenge, and they have eliminated all challenges since they only associate with the similar, read the similar, and watch the similar."
That is it. Watch Faux News, listen to talk radio, read only Christian books...
It's time to shut up for a while, and actually listen to people outside the bubble.
Heartily agree about Christians living in a pretty bubble it seems almost universal in middle class American Evangelicalism. My parents actually used homeschooling as a way to try and give our family a more diverse experience. I now live in an affluent area of the country and it really bothers me that I don't have any close friends here who would be classified as poor. The attitude of those around me seems to be general indifference to the suffering of others.Delete
As I mentioned elsewhere in the comments, I grew up in a predominantly minority, working class neighborhood, so I did tend to feel some dissonance between my experience, and some of the rhetoric.Delete
Thanks for commenting. I deleted your duplicate comment. Sorry Blogger is so bad about double posting.
CHicks, this is something that bothers me also. While I went through a phase of this exclusionism (and my family did some), I wasn't raised that way, which made a difference in my perspective over the long run. I am what most people would consider very conservative Christian in some of my views but not in others. I was homeschooled and went to a Christian school for part of my early education, but my parents also allowed us to be exposed to a variety of people with different views than ours. In studying the beliefs of "Biblical" Patriarchy, I've gained an appreciation for things my parents taught us and to which they exposed us. (I remember a witch who used to come and take refuge in the parsonage where we lived when her "boyfriend" came and wanted to kill her. She would sit at our dining room table and my mom would talk to her.) My Gramma (who by modern "Biblical" Patriarchy standards would have been labeled a "feminist", but who never considered herself such) would probably say that "they are raising a lot of hothouse plants". That's about what it amounts to.Delete
My parents were super conservative (they've loosened up in the last few years since tragedy circled our family). I read primarily Christian books, graduated from a Christian school, attended a Christian college, and all my friends growing up were Christian. Not just Christian: independent, fundamental Baptist.ReplyDelete
What has caused my shift to moderation politically and religiously has been teaching in low SES schools. My students have been let down by an American Dream championed by the far right and by fundamental Christians, a dream based on classism and a blind refusal to progress from the "good ol' days."
Indeed. I grew up in a predominantly minority, working class neighborhood in Los Angeles, so I saw a lot of this from a young age. It's hard to put in the time to do homework with the kids, for example, when both parents work 10 hour days...Delete
BTW, your comment posted twice, so I deleted the duplicate.
Mark my words: 100 years from now, Christians will be claiming they were the ones who got gay marriage recognized. Because, after all, some Christians were in favor of it!ReplyDelete
Wouldn't that be interesting?Delete
At a minimum, I could certainly see Christians taking "credit" for stopping housing and employment discrimination against gays. Kind of like some have for the Civil Rights Movement.
I wrote out a long comment - too long for the site's settings. I'll try breaking it into two parts.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the thought-provoking read. In the spirit of thoughtful interaction, some thoughts -
Point 2, regarding the no true Scotsman fallacy, very true, very sad. As just one example, pages 8 and 9 of this paper discuss some of the wrangling regarding slavery that went on within some Christian circles https://oimts.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/2007-3-strong.pdf. (Though, notice the working against slavery from a Christian perspective as well).
Point 7, that faith in isolation is not enough is right on. Faith must lead to action, as the quote from James demonstrates.
Points 10 and 11 are a spirited appeal to tell the truth with humility and to not lie. Easy for all of us to point the finger at others, less fun to question one's self but such a needed attitude on the part of us all.
While I find these and other points of agreement, I believe there is a bias in your piece that I think leads to some problematic logic as well. If the thesis had been that the claim "Christianity as a system united and singularly stood out and abolished slavery" is false, I'd whole-heartedly agree. But it seems like the thesis stretched to imply "any claim of credit for Christianity working to abolish slavery is arrogant and false." Perhaps I'm over-reading.
Point 1 states that while some Christians have helped, some have hurt. The rules of the game here become: Christians who have helped do not count as a point for Christianity but Christians who have hurt do count as points against Christianity. Point 4 circles back to this, presenting as evidence of the thesis that Christianity did not help, the assertion that Christianity did not help. (I do not argue against feminism having done good in this regard).ReplyDelete
Points 6 and 8 add that even if Christians did help, it would be a prideful pat on the back to claim it. Meanwhile, Christianity must bear the shame of all the points against it but may not count any wins. Surely there is such a thing as arrogantly and lazily claiming someone else's courage as one's own, but what about a proper pride in what has been done right in the past to balance the shame of what has been done wrong? In fact, I think it could be helpful in rallying Christians today to call them to live up to the good things said and done in the past by respected Christians.
Finally, point 4 and the CBMW. Even when I used to identify as complementarian, a title I no longer claim, the CBMW was irritating. I scoured their site, looking for any reasonable help for those who are experiencing abuse. I came up with nothing and concluded that they are tone-deaf and blind, at best.
But I find the irony in point 4 to be as thick as it is surprising: it is the CBMW that over-exaggerates domestic abuse? Really? How strange that they should be accused of lying for acknowledging its existence. They need to grapple with it far, far more, not less, in my opinion. While it may be tempting to believe that the problem is worse in conservative Christian homes than anywhere else, I think reality is much more complicated and in some significant ways the facts contradict that. If you have evidence to prove that domestic violence is diminishing, I'd be interested to see it but without evidence it is a naked assertion. My experience is that domestic abuse is pervasive and pernicious and not necessarily on the decline (for example: http://www.theguardian.com/society/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2013/sep/03/domestic-violence-stats-police-failure).
A question I would have is: How might Christianity earn a point in a your view such that someone could lay a valid claim that in some way, Christianity or at least a meaningful group within it has helped? I do not mean to claim that Christianity has stood as the Lone Ranger in the cause against slavery, nor that it has spoken with a unified voice in helping. Christianity is a big club, and some of its members have done plenty of harm in their application of the faith, sometimes in utmost sincerity (they are "true Scotsmen", IOW).
In my view, I believe that there are those Christian voices who have used Christian beliefs to call people up to their better selves and to take action that is right and just. This one is not specifically about slavery but in a broader sense one example would be Tim Keller's book, "Generous Justice." Heartily recommend. Overall, my feeling is that it would be more effective to be even-handed in enumerating both the places where Christianity has gotten it right as well as places it has screwed up, and to call believers up to doing good.
If I am reading you wrongly or coming across rude, please forgive. My comments are intended in the spirit of respectful engagement.
Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I appreciate your tone and your detailed thought.Delete
In response, let me look first at the idea of credit.
It is relatively easy to tell if an individual should get credit or blame for something. For example, I wrote this blog post. I deserve credit - or blame as the case may be - for it. In a similar way, I get some credit for fighting domestic violence. As part of my law practice, I do pro bono work on behalf of victims. So I get credit for doing something, although credit for reducing domestic violence obviously is shared by many millions of people who work in different ways.
It is harder to assign credit to groups, however. I used a very broad example by saying “Humans abolished slavery.” That’s true. But it is also true that humans created and maintained slavery for millennia. So should “humans” get credit for abolition? And, more to the point, should humans be considered superior to, say, Vulcans for doing so?
Here are some other examples. I’ll start by going back in time.
The first civilization that is recorded as having abolished slavery is China’s Qin Dynasty back in 221 BCE. Clearly, they were not Christians, as Christ would not be born for more than 200 years, and they likely had not even heard of Judaism. Rather, their religion was that of “Polytheistic Spirit Worshipers.”
So, should we say, “Polytheistic Spirit Worship abolished slavery”? Or, “Now that there are very few Polytheistic Spirit Worshipers the world will go to hell”? Hey, they did it more than 2000 years before we did!
Or we could even say, “Chinese people ended slavery first, and thus, they are superior to other people.”
Or how about an even more controversial one:
The Ottoman Empire ended slavery in 1882, after ending the slave trade earlier. And guess what? They didn’t need to kill three quarters of a million people in a ghastly civil war to do it. Furthermore, they were far more populous than the US, and arguably a greater world power at the time. Do I even need to mention that they were Muslim, not Christian?
Should we say, “Islam ended slavery”? Or, “If Islam disappears, the world will go to hell”? Hey, they have as great of a claim to it as we do; maybe greater, as Muslims didn’t feel compelled to slaughter hundreds of thousands of fellow Muslims to preserve the institution.
And one more:
Mexico abolished slavery by statute in 1813, and the last slave was freed in 1829, only *one year* after slavery was abolished in the state of New York. Mexico clearly beat the United states by at least 35 years, arguably by more than 50. (And again, no bloody civil war was necessary.)
So, should we say, “Roman Catholicism abolished slavery”? Or that “Roman Catholicism is far superior to Protestantism because it freed the slaves a generation earlier”?
As you can see, Christianity’s claim to credit for the abolition of slavery is no better than any of these other groups. All could, by the same logic, say that they can claim credit for abolition.
Now, let’s look at “credit” another way. When you assign credit to a group or an idea, you need to show what we call in legalese, “causation.” In essence, whether membership in the group or belief in the idea causes the result. In law, we divide this into two parts. First is “actual” cause. (Would the result have not occurred “but for” the alleged cause?) The second is “proximate” cause. (Was it foreseeable that the alleged cause would have the result?) Or, perhaps put another way, is the alleged cause *likely* to lead to the result?Delete
In analyzing this, when it comes to groups or ideas, we do need to look at whether there is really an indisputable connection between group membership or belief in the idea and the result.
So, in the first part of the analysis, would slavery been abolished had Christianity not been the religion of the United States? That’s a hard one to prove, isn’t it? Since other religions also abolished slavery, this is a doubtful proposition. It is at least highly possible that another religion would done likewise.
How about the second one? Was it *foreseeable* that Christianity would lead to abolition? Well, Christianity didn’t abolish slavery for the first 1800 years of its existence. Christian civilizations initiated the African slave trade long after Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe. Even in the case of the American Civil War, one’s belief in Christianity was of *zero* use in predicting whether one would oppose or support slavery.
So, it seems highly doubtful that Christianity “caused” abolition in that sense.
But, one might say, many abolitionists were inspired by their Christianity! Sure. They were also influenced by other ideas, including the Enlightenment ideals of logic over superstition, and the equality of mankind. And they may well have been influenced by empathy, and other considerations. It is pretty hard to isolate “Christianity” as the most important, let alone the sole, influence.
Rather, it is pretty easy to identify one belief that led to the abolition of slavery: “The ownership of one human being by another is wrong.” We call that “abolitionism.”
So, if we wanted to abolish slavery, the point wouldn’t be to increase the number of “Christians,” but to increase the number of people who believe slavery is wrong. Thus, in the realm of ideas, credit should go to “abolitionism” or perhaps “equality” for ending slavery. “Christianity” had a mixed effect.
Furthermore, if we wanted to encourage religious or philosophical beliefs, we would need to identify the difference between the “Christianity” that fought to end slavery and the “Christianity” that fought to preserve it. What *specific* belief makes the difference? That is, shall we say, the “million life difference.”
Is it a certain theology? Or is it a particular ethical belief?
Let me look at causation another way. What is the *most crucial* factor in a causal relationship? If there are many concurrent causes, which one is the *commonality* in causing the effect?Delete
Let’s say I wanted to determine why some people can dunk a basketball and some can’t. (I can’t.) I might start with the truism “White men can’t dunk.” This is clearly false. Plenty of white men can in fact dunk. (But not me.) Not only that, plenty of non-white men cannot dunk either. So what might be a better essential cause of inability to dunk? Well, let’s see. I am short (5’7”), and unathletic. That leads to a more accurate axiom. “Short, unathletic men cannot dunk.” That seems more right than the racial truism, doesn’t it?
So, if we analyze the slavery issue, we might note that some Christians opposed abolition. Also, some non-Christians (say the ancient Chinese or Nineteenth Century Muslims) also supported abolition. That would lead to the surmise that “Christianity” was not the most crucial factor in abolishing slavery.
Instead, one might (as I have done) look at the specific belief in the equality of mankind and the belief that ownership of one human by another is morally evil. Note that this fits. No person with these two beliefs can logically support slavery, and every person who lacks both of these beliefs would tend to support slavery, or at least not act to abolish it.
So, by any of these measures, “Christianity” claiming “credit” for abolition seems to be a stretch.
Now, about blame.
First, let me clarify that I do not blame Christianity for either slavery or domestic violence. Sadly, these have been a constant in human existence since the dawn of recorded time, and exist in all civilizations, religions, and times in history, at least until the present. (No government currently permits slavery, except arguably North Korea.) It is more accurate to blame human nature for these than to assign blame to any one religion, creed, or ethnic group.
So, I don’t consider Christianity to be the “cause” of either slavery or domestic violence.
For similar reasons, I am cautious about being *too* hard on the people of the past. When everyone else believes something, it is really hard to step out of line and take a stand. Conformity may be wrong in some circumstances, but it is at least understandable.
That said, I think it is fair to “blame” a group for choosing to go against the grain in a way that is evil. If everyone wanted to stone the “witch,” I can understand remaining silent to preserve one’s own head. I can’t excuse being the *only* person calling for the stones.
So, while I do not blame Christianity for slavery or domestic violence, I absolutely do blame American Christianity for choosing now, in the 21st Century, to advise women to stay with abusers. I blame American Christianity for supporting guys like Donald Trump when they call Mexicans “rapists.” I blame American Christianity for being the most visible voice against the Civil Rights act back in the 1960s. I blame American Christians for being the only people I know who fly the Confederate battle flag. These were avoidable mistakes.
So my point isn’t to blame American Christianity for slavery or the Confederacy. In any case, those people are dead. My point is to call attention to the fact that my main obstacle in my own fight against domestic violence is the teachings that lead women to stay in abusive situations, and give abusive men cover. Likewise, our main enemy right now in fighting police brutality and systemic racism are the (predominantly white) Christians who remain in denial regarding these issues. It sure isn’t the secular and atheistic elements of our society.
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Okay, I’ve spilled enough words on that one. Let me turn to the CBMW issue.ReplyDelete
I probably wasn’t clear enough on that one. Let me address two issues.
First, check out my link on the decline of domestic violence. The actual government statistics show a substantial decline since VAWA in 1993. This is despite the fact that it is more culturally acceptable to report violence and less stigma at being a victim. You might also take a look at the history of the laws regarding violence against women. Even as little as 150 years ago, a woman could not divorce her husband for beating her. (Or, for that matter, for sleeping with other women. Adultery was a crime or grounds for divorce only if a married woman was involved. A married man could sleep with anyone he wanted, as long as her husband didn’t mind…)
While domestic violence remains a problem, it is far less common than it was, and the statistics bear this out.
On a related point, all it takes is a cursory review of the laws regarding domestic violence and the common beliefs and statements regarding the beating of women to note that the law did not protect women much at all until very recently. It beggars the imagination to believe that practice did not tend to follow the law and cultural beliefs.
Second, it isn’t hard to find evidence that violence is directly correlated with beliefs about hierarchy. In my own practice, I have yet to have a case where domestic violence was an issue in an educated, feminist household. In contrast, the *vast* majority of cases I have had involved “traditional” cultural beliefs. The man rules, and the woman obeys. The more “traditional” the belief, the more likely that violence is involved. Statistics also bear this out. (I recommend you check out the research from the World Health Organization for some interesting correlations between violence against women and other measurements of beliefs about gender.)
Regarding CBMW: I have no proof whether churches with their teachings have higher rates of violence. However, given their teachings, I would expect them to *underreport* cases of violence, since they advise women to stay and submit rather than seek help from law enforcement. This would seem to be basic logic. Likewise, if I *were* an abusive man, I would tend to want to find a woman who believed the CBMW teaching rather than, say, a woman who worked for NOW. Just saying.
What I find highly disingenuous on their part is a claim that 1. Domestic violence is rising and 2. That this is caused by feminism. Rather, the statistics show that domestic violence had dropped dramatically since the general acceptance in the culture of feminism. The problem is two-fold. First, they claim falsely that domestic violence is rising. Second, they lie when they say that feminism (the social, political, and economic equality of women) is what causes violence against women.
Rather, CBMW, if they were honest, would admit that it is *their* view of gender hierarchy that correlates with violence against women. And American Evangelicalism would be more intellectually honest if it were to vomit CBMW out of the fold, rather than continue to rail against the evils of “Feminism™” So I absolutely DO blame American Evangelicalism for currently contributing to violence against women, because, rather than embrace the ideas that actually reduce violence, they have continued to tolerate the poisonous teachings which perpetuate said violence.
Again, thanks for raising some thoughtful questions.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. I frankly don't agree with some of your views, but you have covered a basic problem that has frustrated me in Christianity for a long time - lying about history to make ourselves look good or to prove our own particular point. Some of your comments are so succinct.ReplyDelete
"You’re not winning any new converts, and you are driving the intellectually honest out of the church."
"...So let’s stop telling lies, even - especially - when they make us feel better about ourselves."
It is so incredibly frustrating to hear or read some Christian setting out as "fact" something that is historically inaccurate. I'm not a history scholar. It is only my hobby, and I really don't know that much; but I still hear things that I know are totally wrong and sometimes it is hard not to get cranky and rude about it. (I *think* I even once heard a man say that Benjamin Franklin was a Christian "Founding Father"! Considering how easy it is to get information these days, that appalled me.) If that maddens me, how would a non-believer who knew better view it? Not well, I'm sure of that much.
"Simply saying 'come to Jesus' doesn’t end evil. Working to end evil ends evil."
"...Ergo, if more people are Christians, the world should be less evil.
The reality is much more complicated. If history shows anything, it is that mere 'faith' is pretty useless. We become better people as we become more like Christ, which is a wholly different thing."
Well said! I thought of that verse, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) That's an active concept, not passive.
I also thought about something my dad has complained about for years and that is the problem of "leading a soul to Christ", getting them in some water, and then abandoning them and moving on to the next prospect. Never mind if they don't know anything about their new faith. Never mind if they need a new job because their old one isn't going to work with their new faith. Never mind if they need a new "family" because their family now hates them. Never mind if they are struggling with things that weren't miraculously removed from their lives the moment they said the "repeat-after-me" prayer. Where is Jesus Christ in all that? It doesn't sound like what I read in the gospels about Him.
I should mention that I'm sure I don't get all my history correct all the time, either. It's easy to just repeat what others say. But, in this day and age, it won't work. It's too easy to find out "the rest of the story."Delete
By the way, if you want a book on the early founding of this nation that seems to have a much more evenhanded view than most (all?) of the conservative and evangelical Christians present, I recommend "Mayflower" by Nathaniel Philbrick(sp?). It was very interesting. I don't know if he professes Christianity or not, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
That book does sound interesting. I got a lot of the "America was a Christian Nation(TM) and Manifest Destiny stuff when I was growing up, and it would be interesting to read something with a bit more honesty and less jingoism.Delete
You are right that real facts - and primary sources - are so easy to find these days. There is really no excuse for repeating stuff without some basic fact checking.
You mention Franklin. My "favorite" one in recent years is David Barton's ludicrous claim that not only was Thomas Jefferson a Christian, but that he supported the use of government funds to send missionaries to the Native Americans. (In other words, the whole separation of church and state thing didn't really mean that government shouldn't be explicitly Christian or further a Christian agenda using government funds.) Gah! And yet, a whole subculture of Evangelicalism keeps sending this guy money. Sigh.
You mention something in your previous comment that is interesting as well. There is very much the tendency to just move on to the next convert. I also see another dynamic at work, which is that if there *is* follow up, it is more about getting the convert to conform to Evangelical culture than it is about really being like Christ. So, one is expected to dress a certain way, vote Republican, consider gay marriage and abortion to the be the political threats to Christianity, and a whole host of other *cultural* and *political* positions. And you are right, that does nothing to address people's actual needs. Sometimes we come together to help, but often not.
You are absolutely right that this doesn't sound at all like Christ in the gospels. But it sure does sound an awful lot like "Thank God I am not like other men."
Yeah....I've actually heard a couple instances of people being "thankful" that they weren't like others. I mean out loud, or in print. Ugh.Delete
Thomas Jefferson is one that I've heard declared to be a Christian too. Of course, if so-and-so says so, it must be true. Blah.
As to the conforming to man's ideals when "discipleship" does occur... I remember an instance that happened in my early 20s in the church my dad was pastoring. My dad tends to have a big streak of rodeo in him, though not the usual Independent Fundamental Baptist type....more like an m.k. who grew up running through the wild forests of East Africa for fun. He preached a series of rather volatile sermons and one of them was covered by a local newspaper. Shortly thereafter a group of young adults from a nearby city started coming to our meetings. Two of the young men had long hair that would have done a Gothard girl proud. One of the men resembled a walking tumbleweed in a field jacket. They all were carrying the KJV and some of them were carrying Peter Ruckman's newsletter. A really interesting assortment of outward appearances.
Well, at least one person went to my dad with their "concerns" about "these people". My dad's response was that it wasn't his responsibility to straighten them out; that was the Holy Spirit's job and we were going to let Him do it. My dad said he would teach the word and let the Lord take care of things. This is what he did and, as is usual, the Lord took care of things in a very different way from what man thought necessary. Some of the changes we knew about were not things to be seen when they walked through the door. It still brings me joy to think about that, and how my dad handled it and what the Lord did.
I think many of the problems we see in the church today stem from men not trusting the Holy Spirit of God to be able to do His job and thus trying to take over for Him.
I have been tempted on occasion to ask for business cards from some, and note that "Holy Spirit" isn't on their job description. I'm also struck by the fact that there is such a distrust of the statement "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." We sure do care far too much about the outward appearance...Delete
I'm going to try to remember to tell that to my dad. He might actually do it. He's becoming a real rascal in his old age.Delete