Why Atheists should be Thankful for Jesus

Recently, Bart Ehrman (New Testament scholar, former fundamentalist and current agnostic) answered an interesting question on his private blog: why would an agnostic be so interested in Christianity and Jesus?  He responded that whether or not Jesus was truly God and resurrected, etc., the role that Christianity has played in history is amazing.

Without the spread of Christianity’s message that all are brothers, love, faith, hope, charity, repentance, kindness, etc, we would live in a very different world than we now live in.  Without Christianity, there would not have been a uniting force to link people together. There would not have been Jesuits or other order priests to build hospitals and schools.

There would have been no Reformation or Renaissance. People wanted to read the Bible, and so the moveable print type was invented, making books and newspapers affordable. Tyndale would not have been able to make the plow boy know the Bible better than the priest, lifting people out of ignorance.  A middle class would not have been created.

A spirit of exploration would not have happened (forged by adventure, riches, and spreading the gospel), so the Americas may not have been discovered by Columbus and Europe. You’ll note that others discovered America earlier than Christian Europe, but none were able to settle it, change it, and prepare the way for the world’s greatest Republic to be established.

Religious freedom, Freedom of Speech, and other freedoms would not exist in a world with no middle class or educated population. There would be no televisions, telephones, computers, IPhones, space travel, medical cures, or pizza.  We would see a world akin to North Korea.

The world would likely still be where it was 2000 years ago, with feudal states and wooden plows, with few inventions to make changes.

Regardless of how Christianity has changed the world in so many good ways, the message of Christ is as powerful as it ever was.  It is estimated that by the year 2030, China will be the largest Christian nation on earth.  Even in the midst of repressions, including Chairman Mao’s 10 year “cultural revolution” that burned down thousands of churches, the Christian religion survived.  There are tens of millions of Christians in China now, with the world’s largest mega-church near Shanghai.  During this period of growing Christianity, we also see more freedoms in business, trade, etc.  China has a burgeoning middle class, thanks to Christian tenets of freedom, hard work, etc.

The fact is, the world’s true hope is Christianity. If people were to learn charity, kindness, patience, longsuffering, and other Christian attributes, there would be no more war, violence, or suffering caused by man. We could create a worldwide Zion.

While there are many good people who are atheists or agnostics (Bart Ehrman’s private blog has all proceeds going to charity), history is filled with millions of dead because of atheists: Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, and many others Such atheists have gained great power and then used their value systems to enslave billions of people. Had you walked through East Berlin in 1985, you would have seen buildings that were still damaged from World War 2. Not until the Berlin Wall came down, was the freedom of the Christian West able to rebuild the old city and the rest of East Germany.

Without Christ, the world we would live in would be a great tragedy.

14 thoughts on “Why Atheists should be Thankful for Jesus

  1. “Without Christ, the world we would live in would be a great tragedy.”

    True in every meaningful way.

  2. This is a question I have wondered about a lot. Is the world a better place because people like Constantine and Charlamagne forced apostate Christianity upon their pagan populations? Christianity only became widespread because it was forced upon nations by political and religious power brokers. Is Christianity supposed to be a worldwide, majority religion, or is it rather supposed to be for the “elect,” a strait and narrow way that few will find?

    I’m not certain either whether Ehrman’s positions are historically defensible. How much of the positive ethics of the modern world derived from the Judeo-Christian influence of apostate Christianity, and how much of them developed from humanism and it’s roots in Hellenistic values? The concepts of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and forgiveness are also concepts found in the Hellenic world, as well as the virtues of education, community, and equality before God.

    How many humans have been murdered by apostate Christianity versus how many have been saved by apostate Christianity? How much has apostate Christianity contributed to the civilizing influence of science and humanism, and how much has it actually worked against the progressiveness of science and humanism?

  3. It might be argued that Hellenic values could have created an equally civilized modern world given enough time, but it must be noted that Christianity is responsible for saving the wisdom of Hellenic world, and without the Christian monks who meticulously copied and preserved libraries of Greek and Roman learning, they never would have been available to later humanist philosophers and revolutionaries. One of apostate Christianity’s greatest strengths is that it recognized the value of the Hellenic world and spread it’s influence in ways that would not have been possible merely with the Roman approach. It needed to be Holy Roman.

  4. History is what it is. Apostate Christianity might be seen as the olive tree whose branches brought forth wild fruit, yet because of the strength of the wild branches, the root of the tree remained vibrant.

  5. Nate:
    “How much has apostate Christianity contributed to the civilizing influence of science and humanism, and how much has it actually worked against the progressiveness of science and humanism?”

    Response #1
    The last century+ have answered this question for us (actually, even going back to the French Revolution). Without Christianity, even apostate Christianity, we are likely left with the Scylla of failed scientific progress (without Christians, there is no genetics, no physics, no printing press, etc.). Assuming, however, that the Hellenistic culture produces such things, we are then left with the Charybdis of technology merged with democracy absent Christian morality — a dangerous mix that has led to huge problems.

    I find the probabilities to be most likely that failed scientific progress would be the result, second most likely cruel scientific progress, and benevolent scientific progress to be a distantly unlikely third. Think, for example, of the involvement of Christianity as a necessary component of ending slavery as an acceptable world institution — I think it unlikely that a Hellenstic culture would have ever reached that point.

    Response #2
    Apostate Christianity doesn’t always only create apostate Christians. I have no qualms with saying that a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mother Theresa or even a John Brown (despite each’s strengths and failings) was brought to the place where they were inspired to be to accomplish the Lord’s purposes. Would Joseph Smith have even been in the position to ask for wisdom in the Sacred Grove has not Apostate Christianity been imposed on the world? Probably not.

    I am reminded of a story told by President Monson, about riding on a plane with the local ecclesiastical leader of the Catholic faith in Salt Lake City. The Catholic leader was jokingly talking about how the Catholic Church was entering (India?) and how they would be baptizing the country before the Mormons even made it in. President Monson responded, saying that what he proposed was wonderful — after all, good Catholics make great Mormons once our missionaries get to them.

    While I am not a Unitarian when it comes to religion (strait is the gate and narrow is the way), I do believe that all faiths, when lived well, prepare us to receive the further light and knowledge the Gospel provides. And Christianity (even if Apostate) helps to soften the ground for the Lord’s work even while it is accomplishing great things for atheists, agnostics, and believers of other faiths.

  6. Meg said what I was thinking, but she sure prettfyied it! I think even the forced Christianity of Charlemagne and Constantine, brought the world one step closer to what we have today.

  7. Nate, I believe that science historians accept that Christianity has been overwhelmingly positive for science over the last 2 millennia, with just one or two exceptions (which then get exaggerated). Even the Galileo incident was at least as much about politics as it was science and is far more nuanced that we usually hear.

    And it’s not just Christianity, but religion itself I would argue has been positive. Islam was behind the arabian world’s great scientific progress through the middle ages.

  8. Jeffc, I agree that other religions have done great things, also. However, would there be an Islamic religion without Christianity first being there for Muhammed to consider? Without Christianity, would Islam have developed a society wherein a middle class and freedoms burgeoned? When we look at Islamic nations today, most are not democratic, do not have a robust middle class, and do not provide freedoms of speech or religion, etc. Chances are, a world led by Islam would look much like Afghanistan did before we invaded and changed their culture.

    As for rulers imposing Christianity, yes it did happen. Sometimes it was done very cruelly (Inquisition). However, the more Christianity progressed, we see a progression to greater freedoms, scientific discoveries, improved lifestyle for the average person, etc. We just do not see that occurring with any other religious, political, or military movement in history.

    Even with the Greeks and Hellenization, it only applied to those who were free citizens, and not to slaves. Their focus was not on inventions, but on philosophy. Hellenism in Europe was a powerful factor, but I believe it delayed freedoms of the average person for centuries. The rich and powerful sought Hellenistic education: languages, philosophy, literature. They just were not interested in inventions that would make life easier for the average person.

    It wasn’t until the practicality of Christianity was brought to the common man, by way of the printing press and the Bible, that the average person began to see him/herself as a child of God and able to make a better life. Exploration and science go hand in hand with sending Christianity throughout the world. As noted, it was Christian ethics that ended slavery (Wilberforce and others) in the West, while slavery continues in many non-Christian nations today.

    As for the concept of “apostate Christianity”, why must we go there? As LDS, we believe in several kingdoms of glory and that the Terrestrial kingdom will be filled with friends of Jesus, the “honorable men of the earth.” As it is, as far as Latter-day Saints do not understand or follow the gospel correctly, they are also “apostate Christianity.” Much of the good that has occurred in the world was and is done by good Christians of other denominations. Pope John Paul II is on the docket to become a Catholic Saint for helping deliver millions out of Soviet slavery. There is nothing apostate in that. There is everything Christian about it.

  9. I too like Meg’s point. Using the wild and tame olive tree metaphors, you can make more nuanced statements about the various influences of Western Society.

    You might say that there are three basic olive tree species in Western Society, one tame, and two wild: Christianity is the tame tree. Paganism (from the indigenous barbarians of Europe) and Hellenism (Greek and Rome) are the two wild trees. But both Hellenism and Paganism were grafted into the Christian tree near the fall of the Roman Empire, and it’s dificult to really say where our modern values came from, as the identities of the various olive trees have become so entwined.

    For example, Pagans liked to fight and plunder, and when melded with Christianity, it became Chivalry, where knights and crusaders fight for good things, like protection of the weak (women), and rescuing the Holy Land from the Muslims. Chivalry survives today, but is it Christian or Pagan? You can’t say, because it is a particular combination of both.

    The Rennaisance and Enlightenment were reconnection with Hellenic roots within a heavily Christian environment, and a reaction against the Christian/Pagan blend of the Dark Ages.

    The Restoration was a reconnection with both original Christianity, and Pagan Nationalism (translation into indiginous language and anti-authoritarian and anti-theocratic), and a reaction against the Holy Roman blend of Christian/Roman with it’s emphasis on authority and order.

    Then after Protestants and Catholics killed each other for a few centuries, they returned to the Hellenic idea that there are natural rights and freedoms to believe as you wish. This idea of natural rights is completely unbiblical and cannot be said to come from the Christian tree.

  10. Rameumptom, I don’t think we can compare the Islamic countries of today to those of 1,000 or so years ago. They were amongst the most enlightened of all civilisations back then, and scientifically comparatively very advanced. It’s certainly a fair question about whether there would have been an Islam without Christianity, though. Perhaps not.

  11. Jeffc,

    We have to see how religions affect their peoples over time. Yes, Islam a millennium ago had great development. But it went stagnant. They invented modern alphabet, but did nothing with it after that. Muslims were involved in the destruction of the library at Alexandria, because the concept was if the ideas were useful they would already be in the Koran.
    Meanwhile, Christianity developed over time, embracing new technologies that led to where we are today. So, we can validly assert that while Islam had a beginning to development, it actually ended rather quickly as fundamentalism and the desire to forcibly convert the entire world to Islam and its culture became priority.

  12. I confess this is tongue in cheek, and I don’t offer it out of disrespect (I haven’t read the full article), but I am humored by the irony of those I have known who look down their noses at “Judeo-Christian values”, but sure enjoy their weekends. Weekends as we know them do not exist in some countries that don’t have those Judeo-Christian values.

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