The Good of the Church
Among people who have left any belief system there is very often a tendency to demonize that which they formerly adhered to. We see it all the time.
- Former Catholics seem all too happy to point at the abuse scandals and say that’s what they’d expect from the old “whore of Babylon”.
- Former atheists become Christians and then set about declaiming atheists as the spawn of Satan.
- In the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) I often heard former Protestants berating Protestantism as stupid, evil, dead, not even Christian, and so on.
- Former political liberals/conservatives will begin to rant about how dumb/evil/wrong/damaging conservatives/liberals are.
Among former Christians the tendency exists too. Christianity, the Church, Christians, religion in general, all too often come to be viewed as the greatest earthly source of evil. Just look around this, or any other, atheist/agnostic/decon forum and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I think this tendency may arise from anger at abuses seen or suffered in the Church, or from a bit of a personal backlash for feeling like one was duped, and I’m sure there are other sources for it as well. However, regardless of why it happens, I’d like to go on record as saying, “I’m not buying it.”
Now to be sure, the Christian Church, now and in ages past, has plenty of horrors to answer for. And if there is a God, I do not want to be standing between Him and the Church that claimed to represent Him come judgment day. There would surely be some hot lightning bolts flying.
But let us not forget that the Church does not shoulder the blame for all the nastiness of history, or of today. I’m not even willing to grant it the lion’s share. There are just too many other claimants to the world’s evils.
Consider just a tiny listing of other candidates for history’s “big ‘n’ nasty” awards.
The entire Far East:
They’ve never been Christian, yet they’ve managed plenty of massacres, pogroms, bigotry, oppression of women, oppression by class, and so on. Shoot, they’ve got most of the world’s population. If there’s a prize for generating the most nastiness, the Oriental world ought to be a shoe-in just from sheer numbers of people.
The Middle East:
Need I even say anything? Just occasionally paying attention to what goes on over there should tell you that they’ve got murder, mayhem, oppression, bigotry, and much more in spades. They can really put the ‘evil’ back into ‘medievil’ (sic).
Centuries of the caste system, women being burned at their husband’s funeral, death cults, despotic rulers …. this rather populous region didn’t partake a skimpy share of evilness.
The whole world even before Christianity came along:
There was no shortage of wars, slavery, oppression, genocide, raping/pillaging/plundering (somehow those three always seem to go together), royal intrigue, corrupt leadership, and so on before the Church came along. I’m not even sure the Church managed to invent anything new in these “areas of endeavor”.
The late, unlamented Soviet Union:
Aptly called the Reds; they had plenty of blood to paint the Kremlin. We’ll never know the body count these guys racked up; or the lives they ruined; or the families they wrecked. If you read any of “The Gulag Archipelago”, you got an idea of what a truly evil, nasty society can be like.
There are plenty more I’m sure could be added to the list.
I’m not saying that in 2000 years the Christian Church hasn’t tried to be competitive in this arena. But I don’t think they’re anywhere near gold medal caliber.
But so far I’ve just talked about the bad stuff. What about the good? What good has the Church done? And while I’m at it, who else has done similar amounts of good? …….. Let’s take a look.
Oberlin, Harvard, Princeton. Those are just a few top schools founded, funded, headed by Christians, and with Christian ideals. The Church has contributed to education in the west and east in numerous other ways. The preservation of knowledge and literacy through the Dark Ages was in no small part due to the Church (especially the Church in the East). Basic education in reading, writing, and mathematics was often done by clerics. Sure you may wish to argue that the clerics controlled education and prevented progress in learning, but I would invite you to peruse “Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine” by Thomas Glick. Or take a look at the history of a place like the School at Chartres. Or if you want more, I have a friend who has made a study of science and philosophy in the middle ages part of his career.
Name the hospitals in your city. Got a St. Joseph’s? … a Presbyterian Hospital? … a Methodist Memorial? … a Good Samaritan? Churches funded and founded a lot of health care establishments. And back in the middle ages, monasteries were often the best places to find care and medications.
Helping the third world:
Christian missionaries around the world are bringing schools, medical care, hygiene, and technology to the world’s poorest. And they can often be found in the midst of war-torn countries helping care for the wounded and dispossessed, and helping to rebuild.
Helping the poor in the first world:
Who is running the soup kitchens and flop-houses for the homeless in your city? I’ll bet churches are funding and staffing them. There may be others, but the churches are there in force.
Do you know anyone who is talking to prisoners to try to help them get out and stay out? Church and parachurch organizations and personnel are doing it. And they are often succeeding in reducing recidivism rates.
Care for members:
A lot of churches are truly marvelous at caring for their members. Picking up invalids and shut-ins to take them places, taking meals to the sick or bereaved or hard beset, babysitting or even taking in family members to other homes when a parent is hospitalized. Giving money, food, clothing, gas, etc. to help families that are financially slammed, providing free counseling in times of grief or distress. The list could go on.
Changing people for the better:
Sure there are lots of folks in churches who are horrid and not improving. But there are also folks who really have had dramatic improvements in their lives because of ministry and care by churches. Recently a poster in this blog site (suddenlylost/Erin) spoke of how she really turned around a messed up life thanks to her church and faith. True many don’t change, but some do. And what other organizations, aside from the religious, have much of a track record of changing people for the better?
Let’s face it. Churches are places where people make friends, find spouses, and form groups of all sorts to pursue common interests and have fun. Churches are darn good at this most times too. And once in a church, there are fair odds the people will be there for you for a lifetime.
Art, Literature, Music, Architecture:
The Christian faith has inspired beautiful works of art (works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Durer spring to mind), classics of literature (e.g. Les Miserables, Paradise Lost, Silas Marner), glorious music (Handel’s Messiah, most anything by Bach), and majestic prodigies of architecture (e.g. Haggia Sophia, San Vitale, Chartres)
Again there is more that could be added to the list. But I want to leave off and now set forth a couple questions to ponder:
- Who else has done as much good in any of the nine areas I listed?
- Who else has done as much good in all nine?
Sure the Christian Church has done at least its fair share of harm. It’s all too easy to point it out. And there are parts of the Church that are little else but harmful. I’d be far less than honest to try to deny all that or try to cover it up.
But the Christian Church, across the globe and through history, has also done its fair share of good. And I’d be far less than honest to deny all that.
There’s something I noted while putting this together. I had no trouble coming up with competitors who might beat the Church in evil-doing, but I haven’t come up with any close competitors in good-doing.
The upshot of all this is that when I see folks try to pronounce the Christian Church as history’s biggest boogie-man, I just don’t buy it.