It’s common on the internet to run into a myriad of attacks on Christianity. But the ones which I find the most interesting are those that claim that Christianity is not only stupid, sexist, full of pedophiles, and the like, but that it actuallyruined the world. Most often, these make reference to nothing more than Christianity “suppressing science and thought,” completely ignoring -apparently- the fact that Christians created the scientific method, and that Western thought was kept alive after the fall of Rome by the most radical of all Christians, monks. So, this is a moot-point, but is it?
Is it possible that the internet is right, albeit for the wrong reasons, that Christianity did indeed ruin the world?
Consider for a moment the Christian notion of the Final Judgment. All Christians, regardless of denomination, see this in quite the same light. Each person, living or dead, stands before Christ, and all of their deeds are laid bear for all to see, and they are judged based on them. What is important to notice is one simple fact, we are judged for our actions, each of us, alone. This is how Christianity truly ruined the world, it posited the self.
I know what you’re thinking, “There was always a notion of self.” But, I’m afraid that you’re mistaken. You see, pre-Christian religion had two schools of thought regarding the afterlife, Reincarnation and Hades. In most ancient cultures there was a belief that the soul was reincarnated. This would mean the continuation of the self, right? Well, no. This is perhaps the most ultimate destruction of the self -after the atheistic idea of absolute annihilation. Reincarnation is an destruction of the self because it means that all the memories, and all the deeds, and personality of the self must be destroyed in order for it to begin a new life. Hades, or Sheol, or whatever a given culture may have called it, is a pit where the dead are gathered. In this pit, they have no self, they do not think, or speak, they can only moan and bewail their misfortune in no longer having life. This is a removal of the self because those in the Pit can not be called self, they are shapeless, nameless, and have no memory of their lives. Their deeds are gone, as much as those who have been reincarnated.
But what about the cultures pron to hero worship, in which their deceased heroes hold a place of honor in the next life? Clearly, these heroes have their self even after death, does this not prove that the self was a thought before Christianity? Well, -hate to say this again but- no. This time we see that the ancients did not have the self as we do, not in their thoughts of the afterlife, but instead in their thoughts about the Divine. Even these Pagan cultures, with their belief that heroes would remain in the afterlife, had deities with an entirely inhuman nature. In this inhuman nature they did not, strictly speaking, have a self in the same manner than mankind does, as such even the most heroic of the heroic, the gods themselves, were not a self which could relate to man as a self. Christianity on the other hand, has a God who took on human nature, and thus a self which is like unto the self of man, if not the selfsame self.
Now, let us return to the notion of the Final Judgment. The Christian believes that he will stand before God, to be judged, alone, for his own deeds and merits and by God’s Mercy. The Christian believes he is to be judged based on his actions, and decisions, those parts of him which are attached to his self. So, above all, he stands before Christ, who we have already established is a self in the way that each of us are a self, as a self, and nothing more or less. Thus, the Christian sees the self, its distinguishing characteristics, and its merits as eternal. It is the self which is judged, not the ethnic group, as with Judaism.
So, we have the self, thanks to Christianity. And now, with the self, we must relate to the world as a self, not as just a a part of the great machinery of the Cosmos. Worse still, we must relate to each other as fellow selves, not simply as objects in the Cosmos, which we can manipulate toward our gain. Worst of all, the final condemnation of the self; we must be responsible for our actions, and for each other’s well-being, as we will be a self forever, and will be judged as such by the such (a self) and will spend an eternity with our selves in the repercussions of the merits, deeds, and decisions that we alone, as self, made.
In short, the internet is right, Christianity did ruin the world. But not by keeping us from the potential golden age of reason and science, but by giving us -in a full sense- the knowledge of the self. Now, thanks to Christianity, we are all responsible, and aware of this responsibility, for our actions, and for mankind.