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Western Civilization Still Needs a Christian Foundation

“I’m done with Christianity!” Sophie exclaimed.

Through her tears, she explained that a pastor she’d formerly respected had been found guilty of abuse. How had she been fooled into thinking he was a good man? Surely this proved Christians are hypocrites. Her college friends had told her for long enough that Christianity was terrible for women. Maybe they were right.

Sophie isn’t alone. A quarter of Generation Z teens say hypocrisy among Christians is a barrier to believing in God.

Sophie is right to be angry. All abuse is evil. It’s even more outrageous when a person in a position of trust abuses that trust. Sadly, throughout history and today, abuse does take place. Sometimes it’s wrongly perpetrated in the name of Christ. But nominal, institutional religion must be distinguished from real, living Christianity.

Jesus Christ strongly condemned religious leaders who hurt those in their care (Matt. 18:6). The Bible warns of “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and it tells us we’re to judge the reality of someone’s profession of faith not by fine words (or great preaching) but by what he or she does: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16).

But when we’re tempted to reject all Christians as hypocrites or the faith as dangerous and oppressive, we need to remember that the ideals of justice, freedom, and compassion are all based on the biblical worldview. Indeed, the outrage of Sophie (and so many others) toward abuse is the outworking of that worldview.

Real Foundation of Western Values

A growing number of commentators admit this. Tom Holland, author of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, believed in his youth that Christianity had ushered in an age of superstition and that the Enlightenment revived classical values. But when he studied Christianity’s effects on Western civilization, he discovered that the self-giving example of Christ and the Christian ethic that respects all human life as made in God’s image are the real foundations of all those values we cherish.

Elsewhere, Holland writes, “[Christianity] is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value.”

We need to remember that the ideals of justice, freedom, and compassion are all based on the biblical worldview.

Today, we also find commentators, both non-Christian and Christian, arguing that the rejection of the biblical worldview has catastrophic effects on Western culture. As Christian morality is rejected, sexual exploitation and abuse escalate. Communities suffer when individual rights are elevated at the cost of service to others. We all suffer when we’re fragmented into competing identity groups and trained to spot aggression in every social interaction. Innocent people can be terrified of ending up on the wrong side of a zealous inquisition if they say the wrong thing about others’ identities.

Human Dignity and Freedom

The Christian way is a better way. At the core of the biblical worldview is a commitment to serve others. The Christian God is a self-giving God. Jesus came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Moreover, Scripture commands Christians to love families, neighbors, strangers, and enemies. When true followers of Christ have obeyed these commands, they’ve challenged injustice and abuse and provided care for the needy.

The Western understanding of human rights is founded on the biblical view that God created all people in his image (Gen. 1:26–27). This gives equal dignity to every individual. When we see a fellow human being, we see someone who represents God himself, someone “crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). When we neglect or despise a fellow human being, we insult God. The sage says, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31).

Supremely, Christians affirm the dignity of all human life because God himself, in Christ, took on flesh. Christians believe every human life, from conception to natural death, should be protected, because God, the giver of life, will judge the shedding of innocent blood (Gen. 9:6; Prov. 14:31). Every human is given a conscience (Rom. 2:15). God’s moral law applies to rulers and ruled alike: all will give account to him (Rom. 13:1–4). These biblical truths have been the foundation for the “rule of law” and our regard for human dignity and freedom. They’ve also inspired resistance to tyranny. They form the only sure defense against the overweening, totalitarian claims of an all-powerful state.

Human Flourishing and Fulfillment

Western civilization was built on the biblical worldview: respect for the individual as created in God’s image, the belief that rulers are accountable to God, and the creation patterns of family and work. Unprecedented numbers of people across the globe have been liberated from the grinding poverty of subsistence economies. Wealth creation has been made possible by the encouraging of innovation, as well by as the Christian work ethic.

Western civilization was built on the respect for the individual created in God’s image, the belief that rulers are accountable to God, and the creation patterns of family and work.

In a world of individuals who vary in competence and motivation, exact equality of outcomes cannot be attained without oppressive social engineering. But in those countries influenced by the Christian worldview, inequalities are mitigated as virtues of generosity, compassion, and social responsibility are exercised and injustices are addressed by a variety of reform movements.

Across the centuries and across the world, followers of Christ have devoted themselves to their neighbors’ good. Their various endeavors—in healthcare, philanthropy, education, and everyday work—have been driven by the biblical conviction that humans, created in God’s image, should all have the opportunity to flourish. Every effort should be made to mitigate suffering, poverty, and need.

Christianity has had beneficial effects on all areas of life—real freedom, flourishing, and fulfillment. Even for someone like Sophie who is struggling with whether Christianity is good, isn’t that what we all want?

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