Reason #10 The Spectacular Gentling of Lives by Christianity
The facts of history strongly indicate that evangelical Christianity possesses an unrivaled record for making people good.
Atheists tell us that it doesn’t take religion to be good. You just have to realize what is obvious, that if you don’t knife me, and I don’t knife you, we’ll both be happier, and happiness is what all people naturally want.
And they say it’s just common sense that if I share my rice with you when you’re hungry, you might do the same for me someday when I’m hungry and then, again, we’ll both be happier in the long run. Of course, this assumes that the long run is what all people naturally focus on.
And they say this purely-reason-based approach to life is what has motivated the recent taming of the whole civilized world as more and more people voluntarily refrain from “knifing” one another, on both a personal and national level, and choose instead to send their rice to destitute strangers far and near.
They say it’s just simple common sense, but for those few who just can’t seem to grasp the advantages of cooperation, the atheists are willing to rely on tax laws, the police, the courts, and the prison system to keep the population in line.
Of course, for this “good without God” theory to work, the vast majority of human children and adults would have to possess an intuitive bent towards postponed gratification. If immediate gratification were too tempting for too many people, then too many people would do something like act upon a sexual impulse and then abandon the baby that results from that impulse. And too many would fight with their spouses and abandon their children, leaving psychologically wounded family members in their wake. And too many people would choose not to work, and live off the largesse of others instead. And too many people would risk abusing alcohol and drugs for the sake of a few euphoric moments. And too many governments—atheistic and anti-Christian governments—would imprison and persecute citizens with differing religious, or political, and economic views. And these same governments might even attack other nations for the immediate gratification of increasing their own prestige and national treasure.
Maybe we all have to admit that the good-without-God explanation sure seems to break down a lot in the real world.
And as for how the taming of the world in recent decades actually came to pass, the atheists should ask themselves afresh whether it took place because there are more smart atheists in the world these days, or because one particular nation—a nation with a critical mass of Christians—used its extraordinary global influence for the cause of human rights, and assumed the role of primary protector for the liberties of Nordic and other European neighbors during the atheistic Soviet era, etc.
The original atheist celebrity, Voltaire, seems to have been more realistic than the atheists of our generation. He said, “I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because it means that I shall be cheated and robbed and sexually betrayed less often.” Even he had to admit that good-without-God is a hard sell.
As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Harvard researchers found that: “children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.” Research in the social sciences yield many other similar data points as well.
· Evangelical men spend more time with their children and spouses, and are more affectionate towards them than the average American man, or even fathers in other faith traditions.
· Evangelical mothers praise and hug their children more often than other mothers do.
· Evangelical parents are significantly less inclined to yell at their children.
· Evangelical women tend to be happier in their marriages than other women, and report the highest levels of satisfaction with their sexual lives.
· Religious households donate far more of their time to volunteer efforts than non-Christians, and far more of their money to charity each year—$1600 compared to $700, and 3.4 percent of their income compared to 1.4 percent.
· Christians donate far more blood than non-Christians .
· Religious Americans adopt far more children than non-Christians.
· Regular church-goers among black males have better academic performance, more success in holding jobs, and are far less likely to engage in crime and drug use.
· Regular church attendance—for all demographic backgrounds—is correlated with less poverty, fewer divorces, fewer births out of wedlock, less suicide, less alcohol abuse, less depression, and better relationships.
Along these same lines, one astute observer actually presented this amusing prospect in a public debate:
“If you were stranded at the midnight hour on a desolate Los Angeles street and if, as you stepped out of your car with fear and trembling, you were suddenly to hear the weight of pounding footsteps behind you, and you saw ten burly young men who had just stepped out of a dwelling coming toward you, would it or would it not make a difference to you to know that they were coming from a Bible study?”
All the audience laughed heartily, and the non-Christian opponent in the debate conceded that it would indeed make a difference because, really, we all know about the unparalleled good influence of Christianity in the world.
In the nineteenth century, Charles Bradlaugh, the most prominent British atheist of his generation, challenged a Christian minister to debate the validity of the Christian faith. The minister was Hugh Price Hughes, an active evangelist who worked among the poor in the slums of London. Hughes agreed to debate Bradlaugh on one condition:
"I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same."
Hughes then added that if Bradlaugh could not bring 100 individuals, then just 50 would suffice, and if he couldn’t come up with 50, then 20 would still be satisfactory. In fact, Hughes said, he would still bring 100 rehabilitated people with him to the debate even if Bradlaugh could only bring one person with him whose life had been lifted out of addiction, violence, and despair through his conversion to atheism. Bradlaugh withdrew his challenge.
When conditions are favorable, most people can behave towards others in civil ways. They can be “good without God” (albeit not as good as evangelical church-goers when it comes to metrics like charitable giving, wholesome teen lifestyles, etc.). But when conditions aren’t favorable, it’s hard to be good. When unwanted babies come along it’s hard to be good, or when unpleasant seasons in a marriage drag on, or when owning up to the bad choices of one’s past would cause embarrassment, or when peer pressure or oppressive regimes make being good costly, or even criminal—that’s when people start to run out of motivation for being good. And this is especially true when people mostly believe that this brief life on earth is the only chance at pleasantness they’ll ever have, and that this life, such as it is, is really just a product of cold, pitiless randomness.
Indeed, any questions over whether people tend to be good without God would seem to be easily answered by a brief introduction to the recent atheistic “Dear Leaders” of North Korea, or the much-loved Ivy League ethics professor who teaches that infanticide is a really good idea.
The facts of history strongly indicate
that evangelical Christianity possesses an unrivaled record for making people