I was thinking about this on yet another one of our trips to the hospital a few towns over. (No baby yet.)
Is the world becoming increasingly crazy? Now we have the riots in London, which seem to be for no other reason than the simple desire to create chaos, destruction and to commit robbery and violence. We have all hell breaking loose in many of the Muslim states, we have euthanasia becoming more and more main stream, Christianity is becoming more and more marginalized - Christians can no longer run hospitals, adoption agencies, bed and breakfasts, etc.
I have a history degree, so I know I should not really asks questions like this one. Doesn't it seem to suggest that I am ignorant of how bad the world has always been? Yet, on the other hand, look at the London riots again. Sure, riots have been occurring for millennia, but what's the fundamental difference between this one and the Bastille event, the October, 1917, uprising in Russia? The previous two were prompted by poverty and desperation, this one by nothing of the sort. People are rampaging for nothing more than the chance to get a free pair of jeans at a looted store.
But then, more than 1600 years ago Augustine and his friends stole some pears for no other reason than to do something bad. As he tells us, he had access to better pears than these, which, in the end, they merely threw away anyway. Things never change.
Or do they?
Let's remember, that Augustine committed that crime in his pre-Christian days. These Londoners are post-Christian.
It sounds like I'm making a very ambitious argument here.
In his silly book (and it is silly, I've across much more persuasive arguments), The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that belief in God doesn't make people better behaved. It's easy for him to do this because whenever he sees Christian behaving better he just redefines the terms and pulls out the old, morality is relative card. So, he says belief in God doesn't make you behave better and then he says there is no such thing as better when it is inconvenient for him.
But there is such a thing as better. He wouldn't like it if I punched him in the nose, and were I to do so he would have just grounds for complaint. If I suddenly reached into his pocket and helped myself to the millions of dollars he's earned from tricking the uneducated with his book, he would, no doubt, try and stop me, even if it meant taking me to court to prove my injustice.
So we can talk about a better world and a worse world, although I admit it's not easy to do so.
He wants to take away Christian parents' children from them on the grounds that belief in God is misanthropic. To me, that is a worse world. I'll leave it to you to decide who's correct. One of us has to be correct though, that much is certain.
The question is, Has Christianity made the world better or not? The answer to this question would seem to imply an answer for the related, Would the removal of Christianity make the world worse?
I clearly believe that it has made the world better and that the de-Christianization of the world is making it worse. But how to prove it?
Many people who oppose Christianity believe in something called 'progress.' As far as I can tell the anti-Christian form of progress owes its genesis, more or less, to August Comte. Now, it's not necessary for an anti-Christian to believe in progress, it just happens that most do, including Mr. Dawkins. Some are so grand as to thank Christianity for bestowing a few benefits upon man, but those, they say, are necessarily limited to an historical epoch that has now passed. Christianity played a role, says Comte, in getting man away from polytheism and fatalism and edging him toward reason, but it has fulfilled its function and can benefit us no more.
How would a Christian respond to this?
The issue is clearly: Are non-Christians more reasonable than Christians? If so, Does this mean they are morally better?
The answer in both cases is quite simply, no.
As to the first, the enemies of Christians - especially those in the media - are very good at depicting the followers of Christ as an altogether irrational and bigoted lot. This has been a favourite tactic since the 18th Century. Indeed, so effective have they been that only recently has literature begun to appear that is revealing how essential Christianity (Catholic Christianity) was in the birth of modern science. Unlike other systems, Catholicism understands the world as governed by God's reason, a reason that altogether rules out randomness. It understands the world as a product of God's laws, laws that can be studied and understood. Protestantism generally fails in this as it emphasizes God's will over His reason; Islam too; polytheism does not reduce the world to a single cause; Buddhism is fatalistic and uninterested in reason.
In regard to the second, even though Catholics cherish reason, they do not make the mistake of saying that it is sufficient for man. Indeed, the better things transcend reason: love, family, etc. Kant said that that there is such a thing as good and evil cannot be proven by reason alone, but it is necessary if other things are to follow. So, we cannot prove that the human soul is introduced at the moment of conception, but a better world is one that operates out of the belief that it is so; it is impossible to uphold man's moral dignity without this postulate. In general, human life is deperately diminished when we try to eliminate the soul. Morality rises and falls with the soul. We see just how this maxim - there are things greater than reason - operates when the Church confronts various bio-medical issues. Cloning, human-animal hybrids, fetal cell harvesting, these are not cases of the Church being opposed to reason; these are cases of the Church saying that there are things in life more important than it. We can identify science gone wild in the case of Nazi scientists, why do many assume that science can only go wrong in that case only? Knowledge is good, human dignity is better. Experimentation is great when it serves the dignity of man, bad when it violates it.
I seriously doubt that anyone really disagrees with this. Any posturing to the contrary is meant to do something political, not advance discourse. Of course, it's where you draw the line that is crucial. I love space exploration, but I would rather have money diverted to help Somalians suffering from famine than fund the latest Jupiter probe. Some people fear the unknown, and subconsciously dread NASA discovering extraterrestrial life as they feel it would undermine their faith. But is NASA in violation of human dignity in this part of their pursuit of knowledge? Of course not. According to some geniuses, like Michael J. Fox, foetal stem cells will cure absolutely everything. Curing things is good, but the cost to human dignity in this case makes the violation of embryonic life inconceivable. The Church does not say medical science is bad; it says simply, find another way.
The Church insists on reasonable pauses to the mad advance of science and technology. In the long run, when human dignity is respected, the advance will be greater.
In my experience, and talking to many other educators has tended to confirm this, as society is becoming less Christian it is becoming less rational. The ability of this young generation to reason, to think consistently, is appallingly weak. The Catholic tradition has always been at home with logic because it believes in an ordered universe. Yet, replacing this kind of pedagogical superstructure with an Existentialist or Marxist one, where opinion or force, respectively, are the governing values, reason quickly dissipates. On this score, and it is a big one, Christianity is essential to the well-being of society.
But this is just one aspect of the argument, albeit a huge aspect.
One thing that Christians have insisted on since the get-go, is that they make for better citizens. Their argument was two-fold: 1) they pray to God for the ruler, 2) they behave well.
I think that the powers-that-be will slowly realize this. Maybe they already do, but don't know what to do about it. I think they look around and see that society - even democracy - will not work without Christian selflessness thrown in. They think that they can appeal to natural values to make the difference, but everywhere we see that force and security are what they are increasingly falling back on to ensure order. Public parks, public celebrations, these things are increasingly becoming unworkable because people do not know how to behave, do not have the will to behave, to respect others and to value the common good. For that we need Christianity. A philosophically comprehensive sense of self-interest is not going to cut it.