Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hey people . . . I know this blog is about no arguments, but . . . *whispering* - Sam Harris is wrong.

Yes, the Sam Harris that says that following God brings the world's evils.  

Now, it is true that hypocrites and fakers ruin people's lives and cause evil havoc on this earth in the name of Jesus (see http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/PDFs/clergyAbuse2-finalReport.pdf for a nauseating account of what priests did to young children in Philadelphia) if you aren't sure.  But those are not Christians . . . they are pretenders.  

But when you look up the deeds of people who take their faith seriously, it is refreshing to find people that are capable of changing the world.  This is a story of that kind of integrity . . . prompted by a talk from Andy Stanley.

Essentially, the story is about how between the 2nd - 4th century there were a series of plagues that had invaded ancient Europe.  These plagues had eliminated up to a third of the population of Europe - the normal citizens had learned long ago to just leave town.  In fact the most noted physician of Europe at that time, Galen, had left Rome for several years until it all blew over.  So how did people try to treat the infected?  "Victims were thrown out into the streets where the dead and the dying lay in piles." (Stark, 300)  Bishop Dionysius, writing in a letter at this time said that they "treated the unburied corpses as dirt." 

So what did the Christians in these cultures do?  Remember, this is a time in which Christians were not acceptable - they were irreligious weirdos (because they didn't worship the gods of the mainstream).  Did they skip town like everyone else?  No.  This marginal sect of Jesus-followers took care of the sick.  Dionysius notes that "in nursing and curing others transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead."  (Stark, 301)

In fact, it is likely that by taking care of the ill, Christianity grew during this time.  These early Christians nursed non-Christians back to health and these appreciative 'patients' became Christian and supplanted the previous population (Stark, 302; McNeill,108)  

This kind of others-centered altruism was typical of early Christians.  In the latter parts of the 4th century, pagan emperor Julian hated Christians, whom he called "impious Galileans."  Julian was involved in a campaign to get pagan priests back in popular demand. In a letter to one of these pagan priests, he compared pagans to what Christians do: "I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence . . . the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well."

This and other efforts by the Christians created a "miniature welfare state in the empire which for the most part lacked social services."  (Johnson, 75)   Even 'pagan' emperors note what Harris can't - genuine followers of Jesus, though far from perfect, are good and can be a force for good in the world.

Johnson, Paul. 1976.  A History of Christianity. New York: Atheneum.
McNeill, William G. 1978. Revivals, Awakenings and Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stark, Rodney. 2000. Religious Effects: In Praise of 'Idealistic Humbug.'" Review of Religious Research. Washington: University of Washington

1 comment:

  1. Those priests definitely aren't Christians, like you said, cause everyone knows "no true Scotsman would do such a thing."