|Detail from the St. Peter and Paul Altar Painting,|
by Lucas Cranach, the Younger, 1555.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Is Christianity good or bad for social and political life?
I fear this question is too broad to answer. You have to define "Christianity", "good", "bad", "social", and "political". This covers quite a bit of ground. I suspect, however, because of the nature of the second question, that there are some preconceived notions about what Christianity is and how it effects people's interpersonal relationships.
If you mean by Christianity the religion that teaches that the guilt of mankind's sin has been paid for by Christ's sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, I would say that it is good for social and political life. The regenerate Christian, according to the Bible, is made into a new creation upon his conversion. All his sins are forgiven, and he is encouraged to lead a life commensurate with the new creation into which he has been made. In fact, the truly regenerate man will seek to flee from the "works of the flesh" (things like sexual immorality etc, which St. Paul says are evident to all people), and do good works, exhibiting the "fruits of the spirit" (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).
If, however, one means Christianity as defined by its detractors, then it is definitely not "good" for social and political life. This false Christianity - a sexually repressive, morally exclusive, bigoted system meant to brainwash and control the masses - would be a detriment to society. This is "Christianity" as described by the communist and progressive leftist. This is the Christianity against which they compare their socio-political system of atheistic statism. This Christianity has no basis in reality, except in those isolated times and places where sinful men give into their sinful human nature and worship their own rules and traditions rather than God, and it can never last long.
What about Christianity contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman empire?
Nothing, as far as I can tell. Assuming we are talking about the fall of the western Roman Empire in AD 476, I would say that Christianity had little, if nothing at all to do with its demise. (Remember, a perfectly legitimate Latin speaking Roman emperor sat on his throne in Constantinople as ruler of the eastern half of the empire, and would until the city was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.)
Liberal scholars may like to draw a correlation between the emperor Constantine declaring Christianity to be legal with the so-called Edict of Milan in AD 313 and the fall of the western empire just over 100 years later, but I believe that correlation to be a false one. The western empire fell due to a combination of many factors: 1) a mass influx of barbarian immigrants who were not assimilated into roman culture, 2) a series of devastating wars against invading barbarian tribes, 3) a lack of capable, educated, and virtuous leaders, 4) economic instability. This list could go on for quite some time; these are just major issues that sprung to mind. In all that I've read about Rome, though, no one seriously ascribes Christianity a significant role in the downfall of the west.
If one was forced to assign Christianity some role in the fall of the west, I suppose one could say that the state sponsored persecutions of Christians caused significant division in Roman society, and consumed manpower and resources that could have been better used shoring up the failing empire. For example, Diocletian persecuted Christians ruthlessly, but the average pagan Roman felt sorry for their Christian neighbors. To them it surely seemed that, as strange as the Christian might have seemed to them because of their beliefs, no one who followed a religion that taught honesty in trade and love for ones neighbor could be too much of a threat to the state. It is for this very reason that some scholars believe the persecution of Christians was unsuccessful in stamping out the religion.
Worshiping the Triune God in the name of the Risen Christ does not bring about the demise of empires. Man's worship of himself and his quest for power, fortune, and glory does.
The Hodgkins Lutheran
+ Jesus Christus Dominus Est +
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