American Eastern Orthodox philosopher, David Bentley Hart, notes how many of today’s atheists reject Christianity without ever acknowledging the Christian source of many of the values they champion. Chief among them is the valuing the uniqueness of every human life.
With Christ’s inspiration, it was the church that championed this value giving significance to every person regardless of wealth, status, age or gender; healthy, infirm or disabled. Every person should be seen and treated as equal members of the human family — a revolutionary notion in a society where many were regarded as non-persons.
That is not to say the Church is immune from criticism. We often fell short of the standards set by Jesus and we are just as guilty of unjust discrimination, bloodshed and intolerance. While this is perhaps unsurprising given that the Bible teaches much about our fallen natures, nevertheless it is a blight on church history.
Yet, despite what the new atheists contend, violence is not at the heart of Christianity in fact the opposite. History readily shows how it is the state that is violent and true Christianity has often been subverted when it stopped serving and was seduced by power. Christendom, when the church and state were in cahoots, has some shameful moments, but it pales in significance when compared with the millions of lives lost to the totalitarian state regimes of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
The history of the church in the West has been a constant and continuing struggle between the gospel and the hope of a society shaped according to Jesus’ vision and the state and its desire to enlist the church for its own ends. It has been a long journey but many of the values foundational to our community today are there because of the hard work of God’s people over years, decades and centuries.
The same difficult journey continues today. Not all people in our community are treated with the love and respect Jesus called for. While we care for the disabled in our society it is only those who are born that receive it. The same is not afforded the unborn. A change of location, it seems, whether one is outside or inside the womb determines if one is important enough to receive our care.
Jesus’ vision of a new humanity founded on love, where every person is welcome no matter who they are, is still a source of hope and inspiration for his people, including us. May God find in us a willingness to hold and work for that vision.
Stephen L Baxter