Are organized religions good for the world?
This is not an easy question to answer. At some point practitioners of all religions do bad things such as acts of social injustice or inflict great evil on people. However, religions can be a source for much good. Consider for example the influence of Christianity.
There have been times in history when those claiming to represent Christ have supported social injustice at times such as in supporting slavery. No expressions of distasted for Christianity in America would be complete without mentioning the Salem Witch Trials. The Crusades were in no way consistent with the teachings of Christ and yet the military actions against Arabs living in the Middle East were condoned by the Medieval Church.
Still, Christianity has made great strides in being a force for good. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb highlighted the contributions of Christianity in “What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?” What impact on good has Christianity contributed to human history?
Skeptics may point to America’s experience with slavery and the fact that many Christians owned slaves as an example of Christian “evil.” Christians were wrong for supporting slavery in America and other parts of the world.
However, the anti-slavery movement that started under men like William Wilberforce, a Christian, and later spread to America was promoted by Christians and Christian organizations. Some two-thirds of the members of the American Abolition Society were Christian ministers in 1835. Prominent Christian leaders in the abolitionist movement included Charles Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, and Edward Beecher.
Treatment of children
Historically, children were treated as property and were often the victims of abuse. The Old Testament includes instances when children were sold as slaves to pay debts or sacrificed to the Canaanite god, Moloch. Other cultures used infanticide as a means of population control. In some instances, the killing of one’s own children could be considered a philosophical “act of beauty” as part of experiencing a higher view of life.
The early Christian church changed the view of children. Children were people too and possessed innate value as the creation of God. The Roman Christians refused to participate in pagan practices that resulted in the mistreatment and abuse of children and they fostered a new awareness about the sanctity of all life.
Most organized religions include an education component. Christianity has been actively involved in promoting education. Christian groups have founded numerous educational institutions around the world. J.P. Moreland in “Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul” chronicles the Christian influence on education in America since the time of the Puritans. The Puritans promoted the founding of schools in the American Colonies and religious groups were responsible for the founding of universities like Harvard. In fact, over 100 American universities were founded by Christian groups.
Science and technology
The field of modern science began through the efforts of theists and Christians. Men like Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, Blaise Pascal, and Isaac Newton believed that God is a God of order so order must be in His creation. Investigation and experimentation resulted in a primitive understanding of the natural laws of science.
In terms of technology, the invention of the printing press changed how information was disseminated. Works that required days and weeks to transcribe by hand could be printed in mass. The costs were lower and the volume of printed material greatly increased. The Protestant Reformation was one of the motivations behind the invention. The press made Bibles and other Christian literature available for ministers, missionaries, and others who desired to read and understand the Bible.
Christianity naturally supports benevolence on behalf of the poor and needed. Benevolence is often associated with the “missions” responsibility of local churches. Numerous Christian organizations like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and World Vision provide assistance around the world.
Christian influence can be seen in all aspects of the arts. In painting, Christian themes were a prominent theme in the artwork of the great artist like Rembrandt and Da Vinci. In music, Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi were Christians. Christians like Dante, Donne, and Dostoevsky contributed to the arts in Western Civilization.
Are organized religions good for the world? The answer probably lies with the individual. Chances are the answer will be greatly influenced by the individual’s personal interactions with religion. Most religions have contributed something to human history despite the acts of evil or injustice committed by some who claim an affiliation with the religion.