Christianity in Public Debate? 3 – Throwing Out the Good Friend

You are currently viewing Christianity in Public Debate? 3 – Throwing Out the Good Friend

for part 1 (The Rejection of Democracy) see here. for part 2 (Vox Populi, Vox Dei? – the voice of the people is the voice of God?) see here. Having argued that any insistence upon the removal of Christianity from the public decision-making process is undemocratic (as the silencing of any voice is) and unrepresentative (since the majority of Australians still choose to identify themselves in some way as “Christian”) I now want to turn to the specific folly of silencing Christianity given it’s positive contribution to our nation. The simple reality is this – Christianity has had a profoundly positive input and effect upon Australian society (and western society more generally). This is not the same as claiming that Christianity’s influence has been exclusively positive; even the ongoing inquiries into abuse of children make that more than clear. But when Christianity is true to it’s own self-identification, our society has benefitted and prospered. Consider just a brief survey of what Christianity brought to us:

  • The first universities in the 13th Century
  • Medical care long before hospitals were established
  • Abolition of slavery – pushed tenaciously through the British Parliament by the evangelical Wilberforce who at the time was labelled as a “fanatic”.
  • Factory, Coal, Mine and Lunacy Acts of the 19th Century in the UK under prominent evangelicals such as Shaftesbury.
  • Renewed call for improved medical care spearheaded by many like Florence Nightingale who described her motivation in nursing as “a divine Christian calling”.
  • The Royal Flying Doctor Service here in Australia, founded by Rev. John Flynn (who also established bush hospitals).
  • The Salvos (Salvation Army) who do phenomenal work amongst the disadvantaged, founded in 1865 by Williams and Catherine Booth as the East London Christian Mission.

Now of course a brief list like this is not a knock-down argument but it is indicative of a provenance of sustained positive contribution into our society by Christians and others. The religious have done a lot for us and we ought to not be in denial about it. Nor is this a historical oddity, the same occurs today.

Macquarie Fields in SW Sydney, where I minister today, is widely acknowledged as an area with a number of serious social issues. There are a great number of disadvantaged people here who need help and encouragement. Aside from governmental agencies who are doing their very best, who else is giving of themselves to serve the people here? Let me tell you the major prominent charities:

  • The Salvos (Christian)
  • St Vincent de Paul (Christian)
  • Youth Off the Streets (Christian)
  • Break the Cycle (Christian – a ministry of our church Glenquarie Anglicans), in partnership with Anglicare and Anglican Aid (Christian).

And that’s the list of major agencies. There isn’t any representation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Now I’m happy to admit that last sentence is a bit of rhetoric, but the principle behind it is, I trust, clear. It’s the Christians who are giving sacrificially to serve our society. And they always have been. Even in Ancient Rome, Christianity was known for it’s (as they saw it) absurd care of the marginalised. Dr Rodney Stark of Baylor University argues,

what Christianity gave its converts was nothing less than their humanity

Christians have done much good for society, the people around us that we love. We care and look to help with the needs of those that others cannot help. We do it on the ground and we have done it through the democratic process in Parliament. That some would now seek to remove our influence from that process is a little bit like later in life rejecting the friend who has done so much for you in previous decades. Despite all the sacrifices made in the past on our behalf and the many benefits we have accrued from it, because they now hold a couple of opinions (which they always held) which we don’t agree with, we discard them from our life. And only one person loses. It’s terribly myopic. The great thing, of course, is that Christians are the sort of discarded best friend who are still there for you, even if you don’t want them. But it is particularly foolish to exclude that friend from our lives when they’ve been such a good friend.

[blockquote quote=”“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?”” source=”William Wilberforce” align=”right”]

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This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. The first institutions of higher learning were actually pagan Greek, roman and Indian institutions followed by Islamic colleges of learning. Christianity only came late into the field of general scholarship

  2. RevRon

    Well said David – and you’ve really only scratched the surface.

  3. Phillip Herbert

    Well, he has selected his 'interpretation' of good bits to support an argument. I am not going to expand on the woes of organised religion, other than to state any footsies with the seriously delusional is an exercise in self flagellation. Seriously, smash them up.

  4. David Ould

    perhaps it did "come late into the field" but I was simply pointing out the contribution made to Western society.

  5. Tony Reed

    He is correct in that many advances in civilisation were achieved by Christians. But for every Wilberforce there were many Christians virulently opposing abolition, including the bishops in the House of Lords. What this means is that whilst many saw their "Christian duty" as one of enlightended humanitarian reform, many did not. Like most other institutions the Christian Churches have therefore proved a mixed blessing, and it is certainly not proven that they have the consistent history which Mr Ould assigns to them.

  6. David Ould

    Tony Reed wouldn't disagree that there were many opposed to abolition. However, the fact remains that they were a relative historical anomaly. Christians have been opposed to the slave trade and proponents of abolition since the New Testament.

  7. Tony Reed

    David Ould No doubt a few have, but the opponents of abolition were the fundamentalists of their day, quoting the Bible to support slavery.

  8. David Ould

    Tony Reed indeed. The real question is whether they understood the Bible accurately (no) and whether they were representative of the majority of Christians before them (no again).

  9. Tony Reed

    I cannot believe that the majority of christian opposed slavery before the 18th century. Paul in the NT clearly seems to support it, telling slaves to obey their masters, and Christendom followed that line. I think you romanticise.

  10. It's worth noting that the established Church of England actively persecuted the Quakers in England for almost 200 years in part because they saw their absolutist abolitionist activism as a direct threat to the churches vast slave plantations.

  11. Jon

    It looks like at time when Christians ostracised non-Christians in the west, Christians were able to introduce social reforms. In Muslims countries Muslims did that same thing. In Buddhist countries Buddhist did the same. In communist countries non-religious people did the same thing… When Christian had absolute control in west there were a greater portion of poor people than now that secularism has entered west. Poverty has almost completely disappeared from northern Europe as Christianity has declined.

    In NSW government runs tenders for social service and for example Anglicare wins/gets millions of secular taxpayer money to run programs. So even taxpayer members of Richard Dawkins Foundation contribute to running of Anglicare. And just to remind everyone Anglicare is under umbrella of Anglican church which has hundreds of millions of dollars assets in NSW alone.

    Irony: Anglican minister takes credit of William Wilberforce when Anglican church’s view was against William Wilberforce.

    Yet again Christians desperately try to make themselves look good and calling themselves “such a good friend”. Christians have never been “such a good friend” of atheists, people from minority religions, indigenous people, and LGBT community, and forcing others to live by their Christian denomination’s rules. Christians are even not “such a good friend” with people from other denominations. People who founded the first universities in Europe would refuse to share Eucharist with Anglican minister. Today Christian organisations insist to have a right to discriminate when hiring people. That is not being “such a good friend”. Even this this article makes poor joke about atheist charity organisation. I’m not sure if Christians know what “such a good friend” means.

  12. Ron Johnson

    David Ould And in the west it didn't "come late". i.e in the U.S. most of the humanitarian institutions had their origins in Christianity. Australia wasn't far behind. If every Christian and organization of Christian origins was suddenly "raptured" this country would collapse socially and economically.
    Take a look at every country in the world where there is no Christian influence and see how well they're doing! This country wasn't built on atheism or humanism.

  13. David Ould

    Tony Reed well, that you cannot believe it does not make it untrue. I fear you misread the NT. Paul does indeed tell bondslaves (different from the slave trade, they were people who sold themselves into indentured service) to respect their masters and masters to treat those same bondservants well. He also strongly condemns the slave trade itself (1Tim 1) and urges a master to receive his escaped slave as a free man and equal (Philemon). You'd have to be really selective and even willfully blind in your reading of the situation to read it as endorsing slavery. That is, of course, why from the earliest Christians onwards we have opposed slavery and (as you note) that the Christians who supported the slave are such an anomalous embarassment.

  14. David Ould

    I'll have to take your word for it on the reasons, Douglas. But I do refer you to my comment to Tony Reed above.

  15. Tony Reed

    David Ould I look forward to your grandson making similar comments about homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a few years as well!

  16. David Ould

    Tony Reed well unless the New Testament changes and all of a sudden the consistent position of Christians for 2,000 years on human sexuality turns out to have been an enormous historical hoax, I fear you'll be waiting more than a few years.

  17. Jon

    Tony Reed, you are correct. Paul uses the word “doulos” = slave in Colossians 3:22. Word “doulos” is used for all kinds of slaves; bondslaves, captured, born is slavery, criminals condemned to slavery etc. Christians want to soften this by only claiming it to be “bondslaves” as it would be a good advice.

    Paul is against the practice of taking someone captive in order to sell him into slavery (1 Timothy 1:10), but God allows this (Leviticus 25:1,44b); The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying… “you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.”

    Christian Church did not abolish slavery in Europe when they had the opportunity. Instead slavery changed to serfdom under feudalism, because of economic reasons.

  18. Nigel Poore

    Yes, well said.

    A simple case of the tree giving fruit …..which comes naturally, and in abundance.

  19. Jon

    I’m surprised David is recommending “Slavery and the Old Testament Law” article. Surely this is not the main stream Christian view.

    Article has many strange claims (I couldn’t list them all):
    – When a man sells his daughter as a slave, this “female slave needed special protection” – “to marry” the owner! Do you really endorse this?
    – “the protections given to Israelite slaves were so good that this was not slavery in the ordinary sense, but a total revamping of the institution of slavery”. This makes slavery sound better than 9-5 job, sadly no evidence is provided.
    – “Long-term welfare dependency, although preserving a person’s formal freedom, is arguably a less satisfactory solution to poverty than being placed, for a limited time, in the household of a kind master and given meaningful work to do” Seriously! Article recommends bond slavery as a better alternative to being poor.
    – “Israelite ‘slavery’ was not grinding misery. It was really bonded service, with a lower status, but for a limited time and with certain protections.” Is this author an apologist for slavery? Again, sadly no evidence provided for the claim
    – “Slavery of Israelites was not the sort of dehumanizing experience which we normally imagine. In fact, it was designed to help the person who had fallen into poverty or crime back into society.” I really can’t see how killing families of slaves (Numbers 31:17-18) to help them back into society. This writer has not read Numbers.
    – “there is almost no evidence in the rest of the Old Testament that the Israelites ever held non-Israelite slaves.” AND “The Gibeonites realized this, and leapt at the chance to be Israel’s slaves” AND the author forgot that Numbers 31:17-18 slavery issue.
    – “there is a really good reason why the Mosaic law discriminated between Israelite and non-Israelite slaves. It was because the Israelites belonged to God”. So author support religion/ethnicity based discrimination. Seriously?
    – “non-Israelites would not be serving God anyway, and therefore had less need of economic freedom.” It looks like author’s solution to Palestine’s problem would be to slave Muslims because they need less of economic freedom. Do you endorse this slavery based on religion?
    – “If you believe, as Christians do, that Israel’s God is the only true God, then to be a slave in Israel is better than to be free in spiritual darkness.” Do Christians really believe that atheists are better off as slaves in Israel than free in Australia? Really?
    – “However, there is no contradiction [between OT and NT slavery policies], because Leviticus was written for a situation where God’s people would have the political power to ensure their people were free, whereas 1 Corinthians is for Christians who did not have the luxury of rewriting the statute books to fit the gospel.” Is Holy Spirit inspired text really endorsing situational ethics where behaviour guide changes based on political power?
    – “We need to be sensitive to the different shades of meaning of the word ‘slave’.” Yet again endorsement for some types of slavery. I can’t believe David recommended this? Clearly Christian position is different to Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

    Article endorse ethnicity and religion based discrimination, portrayed slavery as viable alternative and suggested non-Bible believer to be better off as slaves. David do you really endorse this?

    Article also failed to address the main issue; Why God’s moral law has changed over time? Why is it time, place and political power dependent in the Bible? And how do we know which moral law have changed and which have not?

    If this article really presents Christian view, it needs to be distributed to wider audience so people understand what Christians believe.

    1. David Ould

      I’d urge open-minded readers to return to the linked piece and read it fairly, seeking to understand the author’s argument. Alternatively one can adopt the strategy of looking everywhere for isolated statements to lurch upon, hold up in the air and claim victory.

  20. Jon

    I’m really surprised that you still recommend the article. I’m also surprised that you don’t condemn slavery! Wow! Note that I did not take sentences in isolation; the article supports slavery in some cases and I quoted multiple sentences of it.

    We have diametrically opposite views. I’m against all kinds of slavery you seem to endorse it. My mind is firmly closed to the idea that some/all kind of slavery is good. There is no way I’ll ever support that I or my kids would be better off in slavery, in a foreign land, under master from another religion I/they have.

    I don’t actually believe that the author, you or Christians actually believe what you advocate. I see nobody actually doing this. This is just Christian apologetics trying to get out of slavery issue…

    1. David Ould

      I’m against all kinds of slavery you seem to endorse it.

      That’s right. And I believe in beheading people who eat too much cheese.
      Come to think of it, anyone who sings “Let it Go” in the wrong key ought to be made to paddle a canoe UP the Niagara Falls.

  21. Jon

    Thanks for clarifying your position. The Reverend and president and CEO of Gary Cass also came out supporting violence against people he doesn’t like. He just wrote the article “Why I Absolutely Am Islamaphobic” in Charisma News and gave three possible solutions dealing with Muslims; conversion, deportation and violence. I think they pull the article but Google cache is still available.

    I still don’t get it why you want people to ready slavery supporting article with open mind if you don’t support that idea.

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