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Is Christianity solely responsible for a better world?


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There was a statement made in this thread about Nordic peoples perhaps managing to "somehow managed to absorb the best of the Christian teaching, like creating decent social support structures, minimizing inequality, focusing on what's best for everyone, whilst rejecting the worst".

I've never really given it that much thought, but what do people think about Christianity maybe, or not, being responsible for dragging the world forward?  Is it Christianity that is responsible for making the world a better, fairer, place, or could/would/might that have happened anyway?  Do people think the world was perhaps a dark and loveless place pre-Christianity?  Is Christianity responsible for decent social support structures, equality, focusing on the good of the community, etc?

Just ruminating.

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The problem with discussing "Christianity" is that it's a diverse religion. I do believe that the more compassionate versions of the religion promote values that make the world a better place. I also believe that there are versions of the religion that promote tribalized identities that can become defensive and authoritarian in ways that do damage to the body of humanity as a whole. 

Part of the issue here is human development. When looking at faith development, we see that one's ability to identify with others increases as the ability to process one's faith becomes more complex. The most popular scholar here is probably James Fowler (Stages of Faith). We also have follow-up critiques that improve on his work, but I like to stick with his work because it seems the most accessible. 

For Fowler, faith progresses as stages of development. Here are the stages I think are most important in discussions: 

  • Mythic-literal stage: Arises in late childhood. It's very black-and-white. Parental authority is absolute. 
  • Conventional stage: Arises in adolescence. It's very socially-oriented, and the peer group takes on the role of primary authority.
  • Individual-reflective stage: Generally arises as a result of "leaving home". Immersed in a foreign environment, it encounters perspectives vastly different than it was used to. Trying to sort it all out leads to the primacy of internalized authority. 
  • Conjunctive stage: Unusual before early 30s, the person has been wrong enough that the primacy of internalized authority breaks down. Now, the person is able to see potential validity in the perspective of others, which means a new openness to accepting without judgement their truths. 

It's important to note that movement through the stages is not mandatory. In fact, it appears that most Christians in the pews usually sit at the Mythic-literal or Conjunctive stages. So, we tend to think of that as representative of "Christianity". 

But what about the influence of certain Christian values on a culture beyond the bounds of accepted religion?

Personally, I believe that many Christians outgrow their faith communities developmentally and then face a choice. Do they remain and keep silent? Or, do they just leave? I suspect that most probably leave and become "church alumni" (to reference JS Spong). As a result, we have people leaving the religious structure because they have actually grown in their faith. 

I tend to argue that the heirs to the Christian spirit in America is not the churches in general, but secular humanism. Here's the list of their principles from Wikipedia:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted by faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific method of inquiry in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life (as opposed to an afterlife) and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Justice and fairness – an interest in securing justice and fairness in society and in eliminating discrimination and intolerance.[27]
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

When we look at the its ideals, though, we see something that seems to reflect an idealized version of American culture. I also believe that those could all be traced back to Christian teachings that tend to emerge in the higher stages of faith development.  

So, I would argue, yes, Christianity has largely been responsible for cultural developments that have made the world a better place (I'm not a fan of "forward" as if we're moving or progressing toward some particular state), provided that you look at how Christianity tends to take form at later stages of faith development. I would also argue that Christianity at the earlier stages of faith development has a tendency toward promoting antagonistic tribalism, which can bring a whole bunch of oppression and destruction into the world. And this is what people see when they argue that religion is responsible for making the world a worse place. 

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In a word No!

A couple of reasons ... the first, your question begs the question that the world is better. This also implies the unfolding of the universe could have been otherwise. I am sure we can all imagine worlds that we might like or dislike more.

So from my perspective you are actually asking do we (I) like the way Christianity has unfolded over the last two millennia?

My answer: No not a fan. :) 

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Agree with irreverance, and I liked that post, hadn't come across "stages of Faith" before.

You can argue till the cows come home as to what the pros and cons have been historically.  

In my own lifetime though, the most Christian nations on earth today, those with the highest proportion of churchgoers, have had some of the worst records, being amongst the most racist (South Africa and apartheid), the most genocidal (Rwanda – the home of the great East African Revival in the early decades of the twentieth century), the most tribal and murderous (Northern Ireland), the most nationalistic (Serbia), etc.

And now you have 4 out of 5 white evangelicals (the largest religious grouping in the USA), who voted, voting for Trump, in both the last elections. With most of them in thrall to conspiracy theories.

So I think, in practice, Christianity has been and is taking us backwards. Mind you, I don't think it has any connection with the teaching of Jesus (in so far as we know what it probably was), quite the reverse. 

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Uh...I don't think so. 

I've mentioned a few times that I study a lot of Indigenous culture and spirituality and that pre-exists Christianity by tens of thousands of years and preaches some of the most beautiful beliefs I've ever seen in an extant civilization: gender equality, respect for gender non binary, equal respect for nature as there is for humans because humans are just part of nature, children viewed as gifts, elders respected, restorative justice, etc, etc, etc. 

Of course these myriad variety of cultures aren't a monolith either, just as Christianity isn't, but none of them were dark or loveless people until the Christians came along and absolutely ruined everything for them. It's a miracle any shred of their culture still exists today after what was done to them. 

So no, I don't think they were worse off before Christianity came to the new world. They were much MUCH better off. 

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2 hours ago, Kellerman said:

Uh...I don't think so. 

Your post reminds me of the following quote: :)

Eskimo: 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?'

Priest: 'No, not if you did not know.'

Eskimo: 'Then why did you tell me?'

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On 2/15/2021 at 12:48 AM, irreverance said:

The problem with discussing "Christianity" is that it's a diverse religion. I do believe that the more compassionate versions of the religion promote values that make the world a better place. I also believe that there are versions of the religion that promote tribalized identities that can become defensive and authoritarian in ways that do damage to the body of humanity as a whole. 

That's a good point.  I was applying the term in a broad-brush approach but you're right - it is so broad that even some Christians don't believe other Christians are Christian!

On 2/15/2021 at 12:48 AM, irreverance said:

For Fowler, faith progresses as stages of development.

Those stages make a lot of sense.  Thanks for sharing.

On 2/15/2021 at 12:48 AM, irreverance said:

So, I would argue, yes, Christianity has largely been responsible for cultural developments that have made the world a better place (I'm not a fan of "forward" as if we're moving or progressing toward some particular state), provided that you look at how Christianity tends to take form at later stages of faith development. I would also argue that Christianity at the earlier stages of faith development has a tendency toward promoting antagonistic tribalism, which can bring a whole bunch of oppression and destruction into the world. And this is what people see when they argue that religion is responsible for making the world a worse place. 

Taking into account Kellerman's post also, maybe it's a case of some cultures benefiting from Christianity, whereas others were better off without it.  Perhaps it depends on the actual fit with the community it is being introduced into?

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3 hours ago, Kellerman said:

I've mentioned a few times that I study a lot of Indigenous culture and spirituality and that pre-exists Christianity by tens of thousands of years and preaches some of the most beautiful beliefs I've ever seen in an extant civilization: gender equality, respect for gender non binary, equal respect for nature as there is for humans because humans are just part of nature, children viewed as gifts, elders respected, restorative justice, etc, etc, etc. 

It's a good point - too often, in our ignorance, we don't know about the strength of these 'minor' cultures and too often understand the world from the point of view of 'dominant' cultures.  Well, at least maybe I do anyway :)

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On 2/15/2021 at 4:17 AM, romansh said:

So from my perspective you are actually asking do we (I) like the way Christianity has unfolded over the last two millennia?

I think what I'm asking is that do people see beneficial understandings and teachings from Christianity, that don't exist outside of Christianity,  being shared with the world, so that they are regarded as a 'positive' development, that wouldn't have otherwise came about except for Christianity?

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12 hours ago, PaulS said:

 

Taking into account Kellerman's post also, maybe it's a case of some cultures benefiting from Christianity, whereas others were better off without it.  Perhaps it depends on the actual fit with the community it is being introduced into?

Most cultures haven't benefitted from Christianity, because the spread of Christianity was largely through conquest and colonialism. 

You can't separate the religion from its cultural and anthropological history, and Christianity has a horrific track record. 

Also, these weren't "minor" cultures, these were the dominant cultures in these areas in the past, and European settlers murdered and oppressed them into either total non-existence or minority status. 

The legacy of the Christian church in the world is not a humane one, and certainly not one any of us should be proud of. 

 

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12 hours ago, PaulS said:

I think what I'm asking is that do people see beneficial understandings and teachings from Christianity, that don't exist outside of Christianity,  being shared with the world, so that they are regarded as a 'positive' development, that wouldn't have otherwise came about except for Christianity?

Do you not see how other religions and world views could impart the same positive values as Christianity?

Do you truly believe that only Christianity promotes love and respect for human kind?

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12 hours ago, PaulS said:

Your post reminds me of the following quote: :)

Eskimo: 'If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?'

Priest: 'No, not if you did not know.'

Eskimo: 'Then why did you tell me?'

K, but the Inuit do know God. They have a deep sense of the divine and value connectedness with it. 

It's not like other cultures are walking around ignorant of the divine. They just don't subscribe to the particularly Christian doctrine version of it. 

From my perspective, there's divinity, and there are ways to understand it. Christianity is one way to try and understand it, which can be in itself interpreted in so many different ways. 

There isn't even a consistent "Christianity" out there. So if there are wildly different belief systems calling themselves "Christian", then how are they more valid than any other form of spirituality?

I can tell you with absolute, 100% certainty that my spirituality has more in common with some of the Muslims, Indigenous, and Jews I've known, than MOST of the Christians I've ever known. 

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I just noticed the word "solely" in the title. That changes my answer a bit. I doubt that any religion has a claim to "solely" make the world better. Every religion has its dark side, and (outside of specific theological uniqueness) promotes values that are duplicated in other religions. I don't think you can say any cultural phenomenon (religion, political ideology, economic system, etc) can claim to have "solely" made the world a better place. 

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The "Golden Rule" is not necessarily restricted to Christianity. Apparently a version of it stretches back in recorded history to 2000 BC. 

It has been suggested that Christianity has spread through conquest and colonialization. I can't help wondering if Christianity catalysed this conquest and colonialization? This question could be equally true for Islam.

Modern Christianity seems to emphasize duality of god and the rest of the universe. God made the universe ...  as opposed to being the universe. Even panentheists seem to have this separation ...  all being in god.  Anyway, regardless Christianity (and Islam)  has spread it's dogmas widely through conquest.

Paul asks is there a unique aspect of Christianity that is beneficial? I think dualistic interpretations of Christianity (and Islam) have done more harm than spreading the simple interpretation of the Golden rule has done good. 

Robert Wright in his Evolution of God has an interesting proposition. He correlates vengeful and loving interpretations of god with the economic prosperity of the regions. In hard times the gods become more vengeful and warlike and in times of prosperity the gods become more loving. Curious that. And again the cycle of duality of vengefulness and loving.

 

Edited by romansh
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1 hour ago, romansh said:

The "Golden Rule" is not necessarily restricted to Christianity. Apparently a version of it stretches back in recorded history to 2000 BC. 

It has been suggested that Christianity has spread through conquest and colonialization. I can't help wondering if Christianity catalysed this conquest and colonialization? This question could be equally true for Islam.

Modern Christianity seems to emphasize duality of god and the rest of the universe. God made the universe ...  as opposed to being the universe. Even panentheists seem to have this separation ...  all being in god.  Anyway, regardless Christianity (and Islam)  has spread it's dogmas widely through conquest.

Paul asks is there a unique aspect of Christianity that is beneficial? I think dualistic interpretations of Christianity (and Islam) have done more harm than spreading the simple interpretation of the Golden rule has done good. 

Robert Wright in his Evolution of God has an interesting proposition. He correlates vengeful and loving interpretations of god with the economic prosperity of the regions. In hard times the gods become more vengeful and warlike and in times of prosperity the gods become more loving. Curious that. And again the cycle of duality of vengefulness and loving.

 

Totally agree.

The question about whether or not Christianity caused the conquest and colonialism doesn't really resonate with me though, as in all of the history I've read, the powers that be that colonized were rarely very pious in their Christianity, and conflicts between kings and the church were rampant. Christianity and Islam are, however, tremendous tools of social oppression, which we still see so obviously in the US. So I can absolutely see how having that tool could have catalyzed/facilitated the process.

You nailed it, this concept of a superior diety instead of the universe *being* the divine allows for a construct where everyone can (and should be) judged, which allows those in power not just the capacity to control through governance and economic forces, but through a collective governing of piousness, which can be twisted to whatever purposes those in whatever position of power wish.

Can Christianity and Islam be used to promote love and kindness? Of course. But they can, and often are, used to promote oppression, hatred, and violence.

The role of religion in society is what people make of it. Organized religion is a VERY human thing, and humans tend to be messy a-holes.

Edited by Kellerman
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10 hours ago, Kellerman said:

Also, these weren't "minor" cultures, these were the dominant cultures in these areas in the past, and European settlers murdered and oppressed them into either total non-existence or minority status. 

I simply used the terms 'minor' and 'dominant' in the context that one culture, even if it was once upon a time the dominant culture for that region, ultimately it was dominated by a more dominant culture, hence it being minor and not the major (dominating) culture that won through in the end.

Doesn't make it right - but just making the point that some more dominant cultures basically obliterated the previous culture.  Indigenous Australians were the dominant (only) culture in Australia for about 90,000 years.  Then along came anglo saxon culture and it obliterated indigenous culture.

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10 hours ago, Kellerman said:

Do you not see how other religions and world views could impart the same positive values as Christianity?

I do.

10 hours ago, Kellerman said:

Do you truly believe that only Christianity promotes love and respect for human kind?

No.

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10 hours ago, Kellerman said:

K, but the Inuit do know God. They have a deep sense of the divine and value connectedness with it. 

The point was the Inuit didn't ever understand God/sin/hell like the Priest was telling him how he 'needed' to.  I think most can imagine the God/sin/hell message Christian priests would have taken to the Inuits.

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It's not like other cultures are walking around ignorant of the divine. They just don't subscribe to the particularly Christian doctrine version of it. 

Agreed.

Quote

From my perspective, there's divinity, and there are ways to understand it. Christianity is one way to try and understand it, which can be in itself interpreted in so many different ways. 

There isn't even a consistent "Christianity" out there. So if there are wildly different belief systems calling themselves "Christian", then how are they more valid than any other form of spirituality?

Good question.  Are Christian beliefs more valid?  Maybe in some instances, but overall I don't think so.  

Quote

I can tell you with absolute, 100% certainty that my spirituality has more in common with some of the Muslims, Indigenous, and Jews I've known, than MOST of the Christians I've ever known. 

Cool.

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PaulS, your recent answers seem incongruous with your previous posts that seemed to suggest that you *did* think that Christianity was somehow uniquely necessary or qualified to enlighten people, or something to that effect. 

I'm now really confused by your answers to my latest comments, so obviously I misinterpreted something along the way.

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1 hour ago, Kellerman said:

PaulS, your recent answers seem incongruous with your previous posts that seemed to suggest that you *did* think that Christianity was somehow uniquely necessary or qualified to enlighten people, or something to that effect. 

I'm now really confused by your answers to my latest comments, so obviously I misinterpreted something along the way.

Incongruous?  How so?  I've re-read all that I've written here, but failing a misinterpretation based on maybe your own personal bias (I know much is lost in not having a face to face discussion), I can't see how I've contradicted anything I have said.  Is it because I am asking the questions that perhaps you have pre-supposed my views?

I asked questions such as what people thought about Christianity doing any good in the world. I asked what others thought about Christianity maybe contributing to the world become a better place - if it was responsible for making the world a better, fairer, place, or could/would/might that have happened anyway?  Etc (see initial post).

I then said your post reminded me of the Inuit/priest story - my intention being that the indigenous Inuit deduced he was better off before receiving the Priests understanding of God/sin/hell.  Not sure how you interpreted it.

Then I pretty much agreed with you that much pre-Christian indigenous culture had much to offer, but I went on to say that such is often lost to history by the overlaying dominant culture of the day (usually Christianity).

Then I clarified what Rom thought I was asking by saying "I think what I'm asking is that do people see beneficial understandings and teachings from Christianity, that don't exist outside of Christianity,  being shared with the world, so that they are regarded as a 'positive' development, that wouldn't have otherwise came about except for Christianity?".  That's not a loaded question, it's just a question.

So I guess I'm not really sure why you are confused, unless you thought I was pushing the barrow for Christianity in general, but I really can't see where you get that from in my posts. 

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8 hours ago, PaulS said:

Incongruous?  How so?  I've re-read all that I've written here, but failing a misinterpretation based on maybe your own personal bias (I know much is lost in not having a face to face discussion), I can't see how I've contradicted anything I have said.  Is it because I am asking the questions that perhaps you have pre-supposed my views?

I asked questions such as what people thought about Christianity doing any good in the world. I asked what others thought about Christianity maybe contributing to the world become a better place - if it was responsible for making the world a better, fairer, place, or could/would/might that have happened anyway?  Etc (see initial post).

I then said your post reminded me of the Inuit/priest story - my intention being that the indigenous Inuit deduced he was better off before receiving the Priests understanding of God/sin/hell.  Not sure how you interpreted it.

Then I pretty much agreed with you that much pre-Christian indigenous culture had much to offer, but I went on to say that such is often lost to history by the overlaying dominant culture of the day (usually Christianity).

Then I clarified what Rom thought I was asking by saying "I think what I'm asking is that do people see beneficial understandings and teachings from Christianity, that don't exist outside of Christianity,  being shared with the world, so that they are regarded as a 'positive' development, that wouldn't have otherwise came about except for Christianity?".  That's not a loaded question, it's just a question.

So I guess I'm not really sure why you are confused, unless you thought I was pushing the barrow for Christianity in general, but I really can't see where you get that from in my posts. 

As I said, I must have misinterpreted. I've gone back and reread and see where I made my mistake. 

I'm on my phone and sometimes read too quickly. I did misread your initial post to imply that you *did* believe that Christianity was responsible. 

My bad. Very sloppy comprehension on my part. 

 

 

Edited by Kellerman
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On 2/15/2021 at 6:37 PM, PaulS said:

I think what I'm asking is that do people see beneficial understandings and teachings from Christianity, that don't exist outside of Christianity,  being shared with the world, so that they are regarded as a 'positive' development, that wouldn't have otherwise came about except for Christianity?

You are not answering my charge Paul (I think). Which is: in a deterministic (or indeterministic) universe does the concept of "better" or "beneficial" for that matter make sense? The phase we call "Christianity" will pass. The question you are asking is a little like did a belief in Baal lead to "beneficial understandings".

A Joseph Campbell quote:
"You yourself are participating in evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil to someone. This is one of the ironies of creation."

For me this raises the question do good and evil exist, and by extension "better or worse". If not ... what do we really mean when we use these terms?

Edited by romansh
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5 hours ago, romansh said:

You are not answering my charge Paul (I think). Which is: in a deterministic (or indeterministic) universe does the concept of "better" or "beneficial" for that matter make sense? The phase we call "Christianity" will pass. The question you are asking is a little like did a belief in Baal lead to "beneficial understandings".

A Joseph Campbell quote:
"You yourself are participating in evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil to someone. This is one of the ironies of creation."

For me this raises the question do good and evil exist, and by extension "better or worse". If not ... what do we really mean when we use these terms?

We participate in life and we either consciously or subconsciously rank where we sit on the 'life satisfaction' scale.  We all sit at different spots.  A poor and destitute person may feel euphoric about life and a rich person may feel suicidal, but at the end of the day we all make judgments about our life experience, so this is what I see as simply as 'better or worse'.

So, has Christianity contributed to better or worse for people's life experience, is what I am asking (but more on a wholesale scale, like entire cultures).  I guess in a deterministic universe that doesn't make sense, but in an indeterministic one it is still a fair observation I think - Probabilistic causation.

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