Islamo-Christian civilization?

Some people are objecting to the notion that we have a “Judeo-Christian” civilization, arguing instead that what we have is an “Islamo-Christian” civilization.  See Does It Make Sense to Speak of Judeo-Christian Civilization? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The reason we can speak of the former–even though the Jews were persecuted and marginalized– is that the formative text for Western civilization has been the BIBLE.  The Hebrew scriptures communicate a world view that, despite a whole array of religious differences, has become authoritative for Jews, Christians, and even (though they won’t admit it) secularists.

There is nothing like that commonality between Christians and Muslims.

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.

How Christianity conquered pagan culture

Michael Craven recounts how Christianity won a culture war:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world.

Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .
These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

Following the end of the Punic Wars in 146 BC, the breakdown of marriage and the family had begun in earnest. By the time of Christ, Rome was a pornographic culture. Marriage was a “loose and voluntary compact” (Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [reprint, London: Penguin Books, 1994] 2:813). Sexual licentiousness, adultery, marital dissolution, and pornography were widespread. It was into this depraved cultural context that Christians would introduce a radically new and different view of life, sexuality, marriage, and parenting. In contrast to the Roman concept of Patria Potestas, according to which fathers had the right to kill their wives and children, Christians taught husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Eros gave way to agape.

The early Christians, acting in obedience to Christ, began to care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. So alien were their charitable acts and self-sacrificial lives that the Romans referred to them as “the third race.” In the centuries to follow, even though Christians were still a demographic minority, their care of the poor and sick, would serve as the first steps in achieving cultural authority. By being seen as those who reached out to and cared for the weak and suffering, the early church would establish its “right to stand for the community as a whole” (John Howard Yoder, For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public [Eugene, OR: Wifp and Stock, 1997] p. 8). Sociologist James Davidson Hunter points out, “because Christian charity was beneficial to all, including pagans, imperial authority [political authority] would be weakened” (To Change the World, 2009, p. 55).

Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, clearly understood the power of these Christians when he wrote the following:

“These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests).”

Emperor Julian clearly saw the writing on the wall. The Roman Empire would not succumb to political upheaval or force but to love, the love of Christ. Julian’s dying words in AD 363 were “vicisti Galilaee” (You Galileans [Christians] have conquered!).

Once imperial power was discredited by the superior life and ethic of the Christian community, the church would build upon its newfound cultural credibility and eventually ascend to the heights of cultural power and influence. And, Western civilization would become the most successful civilization in history.via The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven.

I believe the Gospel had something to do with Christianity’s triumph over Western Paganism, not just how supremely moral the Christians were.  Still. . . .What would be the equivalent actions today to get through to our own increasingly barbaric culture?