The Good of Believing In God

Atheism might be in vogue, but it — for sure — hasn’t helped history as much as Christianity.  Believing in God is not only among the most reasonable ideas in history; it is among its most helpful.

It is all too easy to look around the modern world and conclude that there is no place for the Church. The educational system is pervasively liberal, the media jumps at the chance to shame an odd-thinking church, and atheist organizations have long pushed into the public consciousness the idea that belief in God is illogical, a fantasy or a crutch for those too weak-minded to deal with the harsh realities of life, and that Christianity as a whole has done more harm than good to the world. But ever since its inception millennia ago, Christianity has contributed more to the world at large than any other ideology. When Christianity thrives, the culture and the world thrive as well. So what has Christianity contributed to the world, and what does it still have to give?

Although atheists might concede that there is no transcendent meaning to life, they are more than willing to take advantage of modern medical know-how to maintain their meaningless existence for as long as possible. And that medical knowledge is due in large part to the efforts of the Church. For centuries, the Christian call to serve and minister to the poor has resulted in the establishment of thousands of hospitals, shelters, and aid societies. According to an article by the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain, the earliest hospitals in Europe were as much religious as medical communities, and care of the sick was provided by nuns and monks who had dedicated their lives to the service of God1. And though the post-Enlightenment emphasis on logic and science edged the Christian motivation to the background of some medical research, the fact remains that there would be no foundation to build on without the efforts of the Church.

Christianity has also been at the historical forefront of education. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale; all of these famous centers of learning were established by clergy for furthering the study of Scripture, theology, and Church history. These major universities have since been responsible for centuries of breakthroughs in the studies of science, literature, history, and, yes, religion. And though these organizations have largely turned away from their Christian origins, those origins are there nonetheless. You would have to chisel the Bible verses out of the stone facades of their buildings to believe otherwise.

And Christianity was also the impetus for much that has made the United States the most generous nation in history. Almost every good thing the U.S. has ever done draws directly from its Christian roots; the cause that led a ragtag group of farmers, artisans, and preachers to take on the most powerful empire the world had ever known, and win. A government built on the principles of Christianity protected the God-given rights of its people and the good of the world at large. Governments built on atheist principles, on the other hand, have led to the deaths of millions of Jews in the Holocaust, the oppression of religious groups by the likes of Stalin and Mao, and the kind of pervasive corruption and vice that only happens in a system where morality is considered relative.

Of course, whenever the contributions of Christianity to mankind are mentioned, someone is sure to bring up the Crusades as an unanswerable argument for the destructive influence of the Church in history. But while there is no denying that the deaths of those in the Crusades were a tragedy with an estimated death toll ranging from 1 to 3 million people, the death toll of tragedies involving atheist tyrants is far, far higher. The Holocaust, a tragedy motivated primarily by the atheist Nazi regime, had an estimated death toll ranging from 4 to 17 million, depending on which source you consult. Estimated deaths of the Soviet government range from 8 to 61 million.2 This is certainly not to justify the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity, merely to put things in perspective.  While awful as well, bad religion has been far less harmful than bad atheism.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech in Edinburgh in 2010, put it this way: “As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society.”3

Today, the consequences of Christianity are affecting people all over the world, from the reconciliation of genocide survivors and genocide perpetrators in Rwanda to nearly every homeless shelter in the United States. Millions of dollars of charitable funds are donated by churches every year toward humanitarian ends like eradicating poverty, finding cures for diseases like malaria and cancer, and providing clean water and employment to those without it. Atheism can make no comparable claims.

When Christianity influences culture, it leads to a reverence for human life, a desire to alleviate suffering, and the improvement of physical conditions for people all over the world. It means the freedom to express opinions, seek truth, and follow the leading of one’s conscience. These guarantees make life especially worthwhile, and the world is better because of it. Period.

 

1 Watson, Sethina. “The Origins of The English Hospital.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th ser. 16 (2006): 75-94. Print.

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll#cite_note-3

3 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2010/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100916_incontro-autorita_en.html

 

Johnnie Moore is a author, pastor, advisor, professor of religion, and vice president of the more than 100,000-student, Liberty University – the largest Christian university in the world. Follow him on Twitter: @johnniem

 

 

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    atheist Nazi regime

    Are you kidding?

    “The [Nazi] Party, as such, stands for positive Christianity…” ~Hitler

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter.” ~Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

    Lutherans and Catholics gave him their hearty support.

    Even Anabaptist folks (re-dunkers of the already dunked, my religious background) lauded his Christian faith:

    “September 10, 1933: To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:

    “The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the up-building of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”

    I’m no atheist, but I call upon you to not smear them with false accusations. If the Mennonites can openly admit their mistake, you too can be just as honest.

    • ahermit

      As an agnostic/atheist ex-Mennonite I have to thank you for that comment…;)

      How I hate this silly game of “body count..”

      If you add up all the deaths associated with so-called Christian
      regimes, like both World Wars and the pernicious effects of European
      colonialism (ten million in the Congo alone) which was arguably driven
      as much by religious fervor as anything you can come up with some pretty horrendous numbers easily rivalling the Communists. (Interesting that the author cites Rwanda as an example of Christian healing when it was also a case of Christians slaughtering other Christians…)

      But to lay all of that at the feet of Christianity or atheism is disingenuous.

      Having said that I will acknowledge that we who no longer find ourselves able to believe in divinities should nonetheless acknowledge the good that religious institutions have done and in some cases continue to do. I subscribe to Andre Comte-Sponville’s idea that while faith may no longer be viable a kind of fidelity to the nobler aspects of our religious past is worth preserving.

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        > ex-Mennonite

        I know a few of ya! I can never be that, because people keep stopping and taking my picture if I have my broad rim straw hat from Tractor Supply on my noggin; I suppose I’m in some magazine somewhere! LOL! And since most Anabaptists are getting pretty citified nowadays, I’ve teased a few about my not going to church by saying, “I’m still more Mennonite than thou.” ;)

        (My dad’s background is Old German Baptist Brethren, with Bowman being the biggest family name in that church, then I started attending Mennonite church when I could drive, because all my farming buddies were there. And I married a Conservative Mennonite sweet farmer’s daughter from Goshen, whom I met working in her dad’s 50 tie-stall dairy barn when I was flying jets out of Elkhart. Mennonite game, ya know.)

        > the nobler aspects of our religious past is worth preserving

        I concur. How do we do it when the church is divided into CNN Jesus and FOX Jesus camps? The TV GOD—bless its pale blue aura—is the most influential divine message streaming into homes; churches just go along with the corporate brainwashing message to keep members.

        So I’ve become a “real Christian” like Jefferson put it, which was, and still is, a rather solitary station.

        “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819

        • ahermit

          I suppose I’m from the “citified” branch…GC (which I was told by my Grandpa actually stands for “Good Christian” not General Conference). Lots of Penners, Dycks and Hildebrands in the family (first name usually Jake or Henry or Helen…)

          Grandpa was not your stereotypical Mennonite preacher…used to laugh a lot…;) Actually it’s his example I’m thinking of when I talk about “fidelity.” I don’t believe in the divinity of his God anymore, but his example of kindness compassion and thoughtful generosity is something I strive (too often unsuccessfully)_ to live up to. That example is more meaningful than any theology IMHO…

    • DKeane123

      Let us not forget the wonderful book that was written by the very founder of the Protestant Religion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_Their_Lies

      “for Jewish synagogues and schools to be burned to the ground, and the remnants buried out of sight;

      for houses owned by Jews to be likewise razed, and the owners made to live in agricultural outbuildings;

      for their religious writings to be taken away;

      for rabbis to be forbidden to preach, and to be executed if they do;

      for safe conduct on the roads to be abolished for Jews;

      for usury to be prohibited, and for all silver and gold to be removed and “put aside for safekeeping”; and

      for the Jewish population to be put to work as agricultural slave laborers.[4]”

      I would love for the author of this piece try to tell us now how atheism inspired Nazism?

  • Dorfl

    Governments built on atheist principles, on the other hand, have led to the deaths of millions of Jews in the Holocaust[...]

    The Holocaust, a tragedy motivated primarily by the atheist Nazi regime, had an estimated death toll ranging from 4 to 17 million, depending on which source you consult.

    I really recommend Susannah Heschel’s book The Aryan Jesus*, which describes in some detail how the German church interacted with Nazism. Unsurprisingly, the narrative that describes Nazism as being atheistic turns out to be ahistorical nonsense.

    * She’s also written Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust which I should get around to reading one of these days.

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      And let’s not forget the biggest genocide of all: the American Holocaust.

      “…far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.”

      ~David Stannard (1992) American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. Oxford University Press.

      “The reason the Christians have murdered…is purely and simply greed”

      ~Bartolomé de las Casas (1542) A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

      • Dorfl

        I’d never even heard of him until a month or two ago, but the book Less than Human and the webcomic The Oatmeal have very quickly made de las Casas one of my favourite historical people.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    Don’t forget from whence the term “atheist” springs forth:

    “…the persecutors of the Christians coined a new word to describe those who denied the very existence of the old gods and goddesses—the Christians were condemned as ‘atheists.’

    Christian atheism excited rumor….”

    Jonathan Kirsch (2004) God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism. Viking. p. 109.

    Thomas Jefferson would also consider your beliefs “masked atheism:”

    “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820

    • Dorfl

      Jonathan Kirsch (2004) God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism.

      I added that book to my shopping cart. It looks interesting.

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        I love buying used books on Amazon, and often Goodwill has them cheap. Get a good book, help out a good charity. :)

        I want to clarify: I’m a Christian myself, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. I’m not beating up on Christianity like the atheists who often say religion ruins everything.

        Rather, I say boldly, religion ruins nothing, it just rationalizes whatever happens in a culture.

        This is a position of cultural materialism taken by anthropologist Marvin Harris, somewhat famous for his essay India’s Sacred Cows. In short, cultural practices arise, then religion rationalizes.

        So religion, including Christianity, doesn’t ruin everything. What does ruin life?

        Nobody wants to hear the answer. Not atheists, not Christians, nor libertarians nor marxists, for they all are of a single cultural belief.

        But anthropology has its finger in the key problem. Hints here, here, here, and here. Even one Mennonite theologian finally realizes the main problem, i.e., the Original Sin, the Fall of Man mythology in Genesis parallels closely what the anthropologists have discovered.

        • Dorfl

          I love buying used books on Amazon, and often Goodwill has them cheap. Get a good book, help out a good charity. :)

          I’m actually getting them from Ad Libris. They let you make a little donation to SOS Children’s villages and they haven’t committed the kind of shenanigans that the European branch of Amazon recently got famous for. (Public relations tip: Even if you want tough guys as security guards for your company, you probably shouldn’t pick actual neo-nazis ;-)

          I say boldly, religion ruins nothing, it just rationalizes whatever happens in a culture.

          I am an atheist, but I my position would be something like:

          Religion interacts with culture in a way that makes untangling cause and effect – and weighing good effects against bad – difficult to do at best, and impossible with the little knowledge of anthropology I have. Anyway, I don’t think its factual claims are true.

          I guess that’s not a very bold assertion, or a very helpful one, but I think it’s the truest one I can make.

          This is a position of cultural materialism taken by anthropologist Marvin Harris, somewhat famous for his essay India’s Sacred Cows. [...]

          This looks like something I’ll have to read up on. Right now, I can’t really say if his position is an oversimplication or not.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Thanks for the Ad Libris recommendation. I’m checking it out now.

    • ginalex

      The author is an atheist. Atheists don’t believe in gods or goddesses. Therefore, assuming he doesn’t believe in Ganeesh, Krishna, Allah, Buddha etc., he is an atheist. He just believes in one more God than I do.

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        True that.

        We should all strive to be like Jefferson, who was tolerant of all—well, at least 20—gods. ;)

        “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

  • Gandolf

    Quote :”When Christianity influences culture, it leads to a reverence for human life”

    Quote :”t means the freedom to express opinions, seek truth, and follow the leading of one’s conscience. These guarantees make life especially worthwhile, and the world is better because of it. Period”

    Christianity has brought about division. The only reason why we would have need of approximately 41,000 domination’s , is simply because Christians don’t like to allow freedom of opinion. Thus they separate

    Christianity has not had a reverence for human life, in every respect. Too often they focused on a after life ,which we cant be sure even exists. While allowing peoples earthly lives to be wasted away, by in-fighting and division within church schisms. Over faith issues

  • Brian Westley

    Although atheists might concede that there is no transcendent meaning to life, they are more than willing to take advantage of modern medical know-how to maintain their meaningless existence for as long as possible.

    Your apparent bafflement at this suggests you’re one of those really odd theists who think that life is worthless if it isn’t immortal, which is both deeply stupid and at times dangerous

  • Mark Moore

    Every Nazi soldier had a belt buckle that said “God with us” – Gott Mitt Uns. When the Arrow Cross, a Catholic group in Hungary, found out that the Germans weren’t going to get to their Jews they killed them themselves. What does Christianity do to people’s brains? This is easy to find out. Maybe this author should send less time with God and more time with Google.

  • Sven2547

    Liberty University is widely considered one of the worst universities in the United States from an academic standpoint, and this sorry excuse for a column underscores why. A rehash of the same tired fallacy-ridden arguments and bogus claims we’ve heard time and time again from anti-intellectual apologetics.

  • Nemo

    It’s true that Church was involved in medicine during the Middle Ages. Of course, the Church was involved in just about everything during those days (the concept of religion occupying one sphere and everything else in its own sphere is a new idea). However, medicine existed before the church. Take a look at Hippocrates, for example, as well as the medical knowledge of the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese.
    Modern democracy can be traced back to a Christian government, but it has its oldest roots in the pagan societies of Greece and Rome.
    As for the Soviets, it proves that atheists who attribute all bad things to religion are wrong. But their death toll is high largely because they had a modern sized population to persecute using modern weapons. Suppose the Bible were literally true: if Moses or Joshua lived in the present day with modern weapons and wanted to drive a population of millions out of their land, would they not turn to Stalin and smirk at what an amateur he was?

  • Nemo

    I missed something from the article. The part where you break Godwin’s Law. Here’s a quote from Mein Kampf:

    “I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews. I am doing the Lord’s work”
    What an atheistic thing to say.

    You’re going for the debunked claim of Hitler being an atheist? Hitler, who shut down a humanist organization and turned their meeting hall into a church? Hitler, who banned all atheist groups in 1933? Hitler, who in 1935, banned works on evolution? If you want to insist Hitler wasn’t a true Scotschristian, go ahead, but he clearly believed in a ruling supernatural power which had created the world, which is not something too many atheists believe in.

  • ginalex

    I have a feeling maybe this guy’s a troll. However, if he is, I guess it worked on me. Ridiculous. The first sentence, “atheism maybe in vogue” right off the bat that tells me this is a man who has a victim mentality, is threatened by anything that disagrees with his view and has to denigrate his detractors to build himself up. The minute I saw him accuse the Nazis of being atheists, you know the people who had the phrase “God with us” as their motto? those guys? I just rolled my eyes and was able to conclude that I’d been trolled again.

  • DKeane123

    “the fact remains that there would be no foundation to build on without the efforts of the Church.” Because there was only the church, They had all the money and the power. No research was done without their permission.

  • Matt Davis

    Why is it that these sorts of authors never bother to mention majority-atheist countries that are doing very well in pretty much every way? Countries like Sweden and Denmark? The majority of crime in those countries is committed by Muslims. Apart from the fact that Hitler was not an atheist, it must be said that Europe is very secular now and we’re doing absolutely fine without religion, thanks. Of course, mentioning these countries would undermine the author’s already very weak argument even more.

    Centuries ago, people were burnt at the stake for not believing in the dominant religion. Of course atheism hasn’t done as many things as the church; it hasn’t had the chance. Now, however, there are many charitable atheist groups springing up. Foundation Beyond Belief, Upstate Atheists and others. Give them a chance!

    Also, look at the damage caused by none other than Christianity in Uganda and other countries in Africa, and also Russia. Thanks to ultra-conservative Christians preaching hate (especially American missionaries), it’s not safe for LGBT people.any more in those countries. Modern secular European countries do not persecute minorities.


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