It is commonplace now to hear that ‘religion’ is responsible for many of the ills of our world and much of the wrongs that have been committed in it over the centuries. That much has been done in the name of Christ which has ignored His spirit and His teachings is undeniable, but says nothing. It is the usual false comparison with an ideal political or religious ideology and a system of thought, political or theological, as actually put into practice by mankind.
In this case, the ‘ideal’ is a world without religion, and in particular Christianity. It is a world in which people would act in accordance with commonly understood ethics and morality as established by logic and reason, rather than through religious superstition. This of course is the ideal without reference to the actions of mankind.
What would a world without Christianity look like? As it happens, we have no shortage of examples, both from our own times, but also from ancient times and from cultures ruled by other religious systems. The critical difference has been that Christians and Jews follow a God who has taught us that every person has an immortal soul, is equal before God and, as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31, are accountable to God for their actions in life. In Christianity, it is the poor and down-trodden who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Over time, peoples and nations who have followed Christ have established societies ruled by law which respects that even the lowliest beggar has an immortal soul and cannot be killed out of hand.
In our own times, numbers of nations have attempted to found states in which an order was established which, as it certainly seemed to those who founded it and who followed it, arose out of the exercise of human reason to establish societies in which religion of no kind had any part, namely Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, the killing fields of Cambodia and the ongoing example of North Korea, among others. In each of these societies, people established a societal order along lines which seemed to them good as determined by their own wants or desires, untethered by any morals or ethics imposed from ‘outside,’ such as God. That logic in all cases disposed of any belief in an immortal soul and disposed of any notion of the worth of a life. The only absolute in these systems being human reason and logic, there was no logical reason for those who were in positions of power to allow the worth of any one or more individuals to frustrate or block the actions of those in power. That millions were slaughtered in these states or as a result of their actions followed inevitably.
The society and legal system which we now enjoy and under which we shelter is essentially a construct of Christian societies, the result of a faith in which the worth of the individual soul was and is indisputable. If that faith is tossed aside, however, there is no especial logic or reason which dictates that it continue to be the touchstone of our society, rather the reverse. The history of the 20th century is testament to this if nothing else.
As part of our Lenten contemplation, we as Christians often attempt to acknowledge all that God has given us, but it is difficult most of the time to understand the enormity of that gift. One such aspect of that gift has been in recent times, the ability to live in a society guided by His principles.