Reformed theologians now speak of a post-Christian culture. Whereas European cities once spent more than a century building just one church to glorify God, now churches are closing down for lack of funds throughout Europe. Whereas almost everyone in the West once went to Church on Sundays, now some Western countries are calling Christian doctrines hate speech. Distinctly Christian values are attacked or at least mocked rather than promoted in everyday culture. This is ironic because the privileges enjoyed by the West are largely due to Christianity.
Nowhere in the world enjoys the level of freedom, stability, and prosperity that the West does, except some Asian countries that consciously adopted Western models. For the better part of 2,000 years, the West was also the only really Christianized part of the globe. Coincidence? I contend not.
One thing people don’t associate with Christianity is tolerance and intellectual humility, but compared with other religions we have a relatively good track record in that area. We’re not like the Muslim conqueror who torched the library of Alexandria with the reasoning of, “If the books don’t say what’s in the Koran, they must be wrong, and if they do say what’s in the Koran, what’s the use for them?” Yes, we believe our theology is the only sound one, but we don’t think we have a monopoly on reason and common sense. It was Churchmen like St. Thomas Aquinas who brought pagan Greek philosophy back into the West after the barbarians forgot it and cultures mingling with Muslim philosophers rediscovered it. That’s quite different from the Chinese approach of shutting the country off from all foreign influences whatsoever because they thought they had everything they needed. It’s largely due to Greek philosophy and reason that we had the scientific advancements that make our unparalleled health and comfort possible.
But the men who actually made those advancements were very frequently Christians, or at least theists. The father of modern biology (Charles Darwin) we all know was not a Christian, but the father of modern chemistry (Robert Boyle) was wholeheartedly one, and the father of modern physics (Sir Isaac Newton) at least believed the universe he was studying was a created one. And in case you think atheists have a lock on biology, the discoverer of genetics (Gregor Mendel) was an Austrian monk, and we still use the taxonomic system Carolus Linnaeus invented to classify God’s creatures. Christians believe that God created the world and upholds it with wise natural laws (without ruling out the possibility of His direct intervention in miracles), and many Christians have devoted their lives to uncovering those laws and harnessing them for the betterment of humanity. As the verse that the great physicist James Maxwell had inscribed over his laboratory says, “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all that have pleasure therein” (Psalm 111:2, KJV).
Slavery is outlawed throughout the West, but before Christianity it was the mainstay of every economy in the West, if not the world. Yes, Peter and Paul were willing to work within the context of slavery, telling slaves to be obedient, but they also asserted their equality before God and encouraged them to gain their freedom if they could do it lawfully. Once the Church had influence, it ended slavery throughout Europe, and when slavery reared its ugly head again in the New World, it was Christians like William Wilberforce who led the fight to abolish it.
This equality before the law for everyone is a specifically Christian concept. Most people balk at the eye-for-an-eye retaliatory system in the Old Testament, but they don’t seem to appreciate that that legal system also stressed equal treatment for rich and poor and that God punished Israel severely for not following that principle. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rallying cry of, “Let justice roll down like water,” comes from Amos 5:24. Paul stressed that everyone is equally accountable to God, and while the West certainly does not always live up to that standard, it remains our ideal.
One of the expressions of that equality is universal education and social mobility, which has meant that some poor children have grown up to be famous discoverers. The West’s emphasis on education is distinctly Christian. When the barbarians toppled Rome, most of them didn’t even have a written language, but the Church kept literacy alive in its monasteries. Later, the Puritans came up with the idea that, rather than only educating the children of the elite like most cultures did, all the citizens’ children should be taught to read. Their reasoning, of course, was so that everyone could read the Bible, but once someone can read the Bible, they can read textbooks.
If you think about it, many of the current Western ideals that put the West into such conflict with Christianity are really Christian values gone awry. I like to say that we’ve made an idol out of compassion and that an idol made out of compassion is still an idol. By that I mean, we’ve made such an emphasis on making everybody happy that we’ve stopped preaching the Gospel to them and exhorting them to forsake sin for their own good. We thus take God’s command to love our neighbor (which means we should truly want our neighbor to be happy) and twist it out of recognition. Do other parts of the world care so much what other people think like we do? Can you imagine the silly protests and lawsuits over mere off-handed comments we have in America happening in China?
By this I conclude that the West is extremely ungrateful. It enjoys a standard of comfort and ease enjoyed by no people since Adam and Eve, largely due to the influence of Christianity in its history, and yet it goes out of its way to spew mockery and hatred towards the religion that gave it its prosperity. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, indeed!