The early enemies of Christianity spread several rumors about the followers of Jesus Christ. They accused them of cannibalism because they partook in the “body of Christ.” Their accusers also believed them to practice necrophilia because they met in the catacombs. Christians were accused of being sexually promiscuous because of their “love feasts.” Supposedly guilty of these charges, Christians were treated as enemies of the state.
Yet none of these accusations were true. For one, Christians were not literally eating the physical body of Jesus. This is true even from the Roman Catholic perspective that says the Eucharist becomes the substance of Christ’s body. Christians did not save the body of Jesus, which they believed to have ascended into Heaven, only to cook it up, carve it up, and then serve it up to the body of believers. There would never have been enough to go around. But this type of interpretation of the Christian language fit well within the prejudices of the wider community of those who mistrusted the Christian minority.
Second, Christians did not practice necrophilia. It is true that Christians met in the catacombs where the dead were kept, but they did this to avoid persecution and to worship in private. It is a non-sequitur to believe that just because one is around dead bodies that one is doing anything illicit with them. But, of course, believing that Christians did such things helped justify Roman society’s hatred towards them.
Third, the “love feasts” that Christians shared were not the orgies their accusers imagined them to be. They were far from it. The anti-Christian Romans took the language Christians used to draw many wrong conclusions. Christians referred to each other as brother or sister no matter what their earthly familial relationship was. A husband would refer to his wife as his sister in the Lord. This, along with the assumption that Christians engaged in orgies, led society to conclude that Christians also celebrated incestuous relations. Yet nowhere in the Christian ethic, ancient or contemporary, is incest even tolerated, much less celebrated. The Apostle Paul condemned sexual promiscuity in general and incest in particular.
Finally, Christians were not enemies of the state, though in the Roman mindset, Christians fit the description. They did not worship the same gods that the Romans worshipped. They refused to participate in many of the local practices that were common to Hellenistic culture. And they often did not serve in the military. It did not help when the Emperor Nero burned down a large portion of his city to build a new palace and blamed the fire on Christians.
If all these accusations are true of any group of people, it would be wise for the broader society to limit their ability to multiply and influence the culture in which they live. Yet none of the above descriptions of Christian practice were true. Still, these untruths were allowed to be promulgated in order to alienate and persecute Christians.
Though Christianity is currently legal in the United States, its enemies still use the same tactics as their ancient predecessors did when it was legally banned. Though the accusations are not the same, modern society draws the same conclusion as ancient society did about Christianity: i.e., it has to be quashed. What are some of the current accusations against these Christian believers? There are several to be sure. Some charges are leveled against religious belief in general, while others are leveled against Christians in particular, and still other against specific groups or denominations of Christians.
Many religious detractors claim that religious belief in general is irrational. College classes teach this idea, and the popular media propagates it. This claim comes in one of two ways: Either the religious arguments are irrational, or those who believe them are. Suffice it to say, this short essay cannot articulate the lengthy response this claim deserves. There is, however, no shortage of responses to this charge. As far as the rationality of religious believers goes, the history of western thought stands on the shoulders of religious intellectuals. Thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson have used the notion of God’s existence and religious truth to ground morality and even governmental principles. Even the rights anti-religious insist that they have, according to Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, are grounded in God.
In addition to the religion’s intellectual history, philosopher William Lane Craig suggests that in the last several years there has been an intellectual renaissance in the Christian community. Some of the world’s leading intellectuals are Christians. Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, and the late William Alston are only a few examples of Christians at the top of the intellectual community. The late philosopher Anthony Flew became a theist as a result of the arguments for the existence of God offered by these aforementioned scholars. This conversion did not go unnoticed by Mr. Flew’s fellow atheists. This is because it is upon Mr. Flew’s seminal work, “The Presumption of Atheism,” that many atheists rested their case. Given the intellectual contributions of religious scholars, it is clear that religious belief is not an indication of irrationality.
Yet what about the religious beliefs themselves; are these rational? A rational person can certainly possess irrational thoughts. It is my claim, and that of more esteemed scholars, that religious beliefs are not necessarily irrational. Moreover, there are many beliefs that fulfill rationality better than competing atheistic assumptions. This is not to say that all religious beliefs are rational. However, not all historical or even scientific claims are rational. So what does it mean to be rational?
To show that religious beliefs are irrational, one must either show that the believer has believed the religious proposition to be true despite overwhelming evidence of its falsity, or minimally to show that there is no good evidence to believe the proposition. In the case of Christianity, neither of these two requirements has been met. From history to the current debate there has been a dearth of evidence against the existence of God. Conversely, many compelling arguments from philosophy, history, science and religious experience have been offered to justify the truth of the proposition that God exists. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas gave five proofs for the existence of God that still stand today. Since then, several other arguments have been added to show that God does in fact exist. The Kalam Cosmological argument, the argument from morality, and the argument from the existence of the mind are a few. The response of the anti-religious community is to throw rocks at these arguments, and to suggest that they are either insufficient to justify belief in God or they are irrational because they posit that God exists. With the latter case, many believe that belief in God is de facto irrational, thus, to argue for His existence is itself irrational. Yet, this claim has to be proved itself, and this neither has been done, nor can it be done. It is a mere assumption on the behalf of those who hate religious belief, and the claim fails to meet their own criteria for rationality.
Even though religious beliefs can be shown to be rational, many detractors still believe that they should still be held at bay because they are divisive and dangerous. The problem with this claim is that it throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Not all religious beliefs are divisive or dangerous. On the contrary, religion more often than not unifies people and promotes peace. One example of this can be seen in what is known as the “Christmas Truce.” On the evening of December 24th, 1914 British troops heard singing from the trenches on the opposing side of the battlefield of the western front. Though the lyrics were in German, the British soldiers recognized the song as “Silent Night.” British soldiers joined in with their enemies from across the battlefield; thus, the Christmas Truce had begun. The following morning a German soldier delivered a Christmas tree to the center of the battlefield known as “No Man’s Land.” Before long an impromptu armistice broke out in celebration of the holiday. This peace came in the face of charges of treason of those who participated in it. One German soldier who participated in this treasonous act of peace said, “It was a day of peace in war…It is only a pity that it was not a decisive peace.”
On September 11th, 2001, four airliners were hijacked and used to attack American civilian and military targets. These terrorists were motivated by their religious beliefs. The hijackers’ actions strengthened many people’s perception of religion as a divisive and dangerous practice. This is what the prevailing schema allowed into their perceptual framework. What religious critics did not perceive for the most part has gone unspoken.
Later that evening, both houses of Congress bowed their heads for a moment of silence. One of the members, who stood in the front row, could be seen making the sign of the cross. This moment of silence by one of the three branches of government was never denounced as a misuse of governmental authority that might have a coercive effect on those who watched it. Nor did anyone cry out that since the practice of religion was what caused the act of terrorism, Congress should restrain itself lest it resort to the same terroristic type actions. Instead, it was described as “an act of unity.” Immediately following this moment of silence, the two bipartisan houses began to sing “God Bless America.” Whether Congress planned to do this or whether it was reaction to the trauma that arguably the most diverse city on the planet had just experienced, Americans as well as other nations were unified in calling out for God’s blessing. Both houses were unified in believing that something terribly evil had just been committed, and even the atheists among them respected their public display of religiosity.
If the religious detractor insists that the fact that religious belief can at times be divisive and dangerous justifies religious restraint, then she must also demand that all belief-forming practices that—at times—can be divisive and dangerous be restrained as well. As I said above, this throws out the baby with the bath water. It not only throws out unifying and peace-creating religious beliefs, it also throws out every other intellectual activity. There is no intellectual practice that is not potentially divisive and dangerous. Even science is not immune from this principle. The eugenics movement and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction are two examples of the dangers of scientific practice. Yet, there is no call for the restraint on scientific activity in general, nor should there be.
Whereas the above charges are levelled against religious belief in general, the next three allegations are specific to the Christian religion. These are the claims that Christians are “intolerant” and “misogynistic.”
Does Christianity breed intolerance? To some degree it does. However, tolerance is not always a good thing. It should go without saying that one should not tolerate injustice. Crimes against children, slavery, and genocide should not be tolerated. Christians do not tolerate these things. Thus, those who claim Christianity should be restrained because of its intolerance need to show that Christians are somehow unjustified in that which they do not tolerate. The mere claim that one is not tolerant is not enough to justify the stifling of that person’s beliefs.
Most recently, the charge of Christian intolerance has been leveled in the same-sex marriage debate. Christians, however, are not unique in their belief that homosexuality is immoral. Historically, same-sex relations have been seen as taboo, unnatural, and inferior to heterosexual relationships by almost all cultures. It is not the Christian believer who is obligated to accept the homosexual lifestyle as heterosexuality’s moral equivalent. It is, instead, the same-sex marriage advocate’s duty to show why such an expansive overhaul of societal norms should be accepted, even to the detriment of religious freedoms.
Ironically, Christians can charge their detractors with the same crime of intolerance. Rather than accept that many religious folk believe that homosexuality is immoral and show tolerance, some have used the courts to punish those who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. Christians have been dragged into court on more than one occasion for refusing to allow their businesses to be used to endorse same-sex marriages. In Canada, the government has scrutinized sermons, and has revoked the licenses of those justices of the peace who refuse to marry same-sex couples.
What many do not understand is that tolerance requires disagreement. Unfortunately, it is most often the case that those who demand tolerance are really demanding acceptance of their views or lifestyle. Moreover, rather than recognizing that Christians disagree about the nature of morality and simply tolerate them, some groups demand that these citizens acquiesce to their morality or face public ridicule and legal penalties.
It is important to note that one of the reasons Christianity was not tolerated by Rome was that its beliefs ran counter to that of the prevailing culture. The Romans would have tolerated the Christians, if only they would have violated their faith by worshipping the emperor and accepting their pagan practices as moral. These Christian beliefs have not changed, nor has the current culture’s reaction to them.
Finally, many Christian detractors accuse Christianity of being misogynistic. This fits well within the current “War on Women” narrative. Simone DeBeauvoir preached that women needed to be rid of the influence of “Küche, Kirche, und Kinder” (kitchen, church, and children). Current feminists too believe that the church defines women’s roles as housewife and child bearer and thus traps them under men’s authority. Because of this, Ms. DeBeauvoir saw it as essential to the women’s cause to reject Christian teaching on familial roles. Furthermore, because children “trap” women into motherhood, it is imperative that they have the ability to shed this bondage through the use of contraceptives and abortion. Therefore, feminists perceive any opposition to abortion as an attempt to oppress women. Because conservative Christians seek to end abortion and advocate a biblical model of the family, feminists tend to see the Church as women’s enemy. This is why Ms. DeBeauvoir saw the need to rid the influence of the Church from the lives of women.
Is it true that Christianity is truly the “enemy” of women? Christianity, even in its most conservative forms, is not the “enemy” of women. As a matter of fact, I shall argue that Jesus was the world’s first feminist and early Christianity was the world’s first feminist movement.
It should be recalled that in first-century Palestine it was unheard of to openly talk to women in public. Jesus was known for not only talking to women in public, but for talking to women of ill repute in public. One such example is Jesus’s talking to the woman at the well. It is interesting that the biblical writers did not see fit to edit out this social faux pas. Certainly early Christians hearing the Gospel would have taken note about the special attention Jesus gave to women.
Second, the disciples and biblical writers took seriously the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances by some of His women followers. In first-century Palestine, women’s testimony meant very little. They could not even testify in court. Yet those with apostolic authority not only believed them, but they saw fit to place their testimony into the Christian scripture.
Third, the majority of the early church consisted of women. This is because of the Church’s strong stance against abortion and infanticide. The tendency was to rid the family of unwanted baby girls by leaving them at dump sites to die by exposure or to be eaten by the dogs. It was the Christians who saved these babies and raised them to believe in Christ. Thus far from Christianity being an adversary of women, it has been their biggest advocate by preserving their right to life.
In the beginning, Christianity did not practice cannibalism, necrophilia, and sexual promiscuity. Yet in the beginning these accusations served as reasons to try to limit the spread of this religion. The same is true today. There is an attempt to silence religious voices in general and Christian voices in particular. The tactic is the same: Make unsavory accusations against them and pressure others to not partake in their practices. Unfortunately, many Christians have believed the charges to be true. Afraid of being labeled “ignorant,” “intolerant,” “divisive,” or “misogynistic,” many of these Christians accept homosexuality as moral, apologize for wars that Christians did not start, and promote the pro-abortion agenda. This does not need to be the case. A careful investigation into the charges leveled against religious belief shows that there truly is little substance to them.
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