Does Religion Poison Society?

It’s fairly easy to show that one religion poisons society but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every religion poisons society. That’s like saying that since a puffer fish is poisonous, it stands to reason that all fish are poisonous. Which, I think you’ll agree, is pretty absurd. But let’s not make the reverse mistake of saying that since many fish are not poisonous, that means that no fish are poisonous. Likewise, there are many religions that poison society and I have no problem conceding that. But that provides no justification to say that all religions are poisonous. In that sense, I’m not here to defend all religions. I’m only interested in defending Christianity. So, I’m afraid that the other religions will have to defend themselves.

As long as I can show at least one religion doesn’t poison society, then that is enough to show that the very strong statement, "Religion poisons society", is false.

I would like to define terms:

Poison - something that causes illness or death.

That is to say, we are here discussing what damages the health of a society.

Religion - basically, a belief system.

Why is this relevant?

Christianity is not the same as the church. Christianity is a belief system while the church is the people who claim to represent the belief system of Christianity. Those people can either do a good job living according to that belief system or they can do a bad job living according to that belief system.

My goal here is to show that Christianity has historically been a source of moral and societal improvement because it positively reforms the people who join the church, generally speaking. That the belief system of Christianity provides positive reform even if many of the people who claim to follow the belief system are really bad at following it. And, even if those people that are bad at following the belief system of Christianity have prominent positions in the church.

1. Fathering Modern Science

If someone thinks that science is responsible, generally speaking, for an improving society, that person needs to thank christianity for bringing it into existence.

Max Planck, who won a Nobel Prize in physics, said:

“Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against skepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: “On to God!”

Why is it the case that Christianity is the father of science? Because of the underlying assumptions that support science being more obviously true given a Christian worldview

Three key elements of science

1. The universe can be understood. (intelligibility)

a. Don’t believe this, then you won’t spend years of your life gathering data to figure out its laws.

2. We human can understand it. (capability)

a. If you don’t believe this, then why waste your time trying.

3. It’s good for us to understand it. (Desirability)

a. If you don’t believe this, then why would you want to.

On Paganism, the natural forces are represented as being based on the whims of the residents of mt. Olympus. Order can only be obtained by doing things that please those gods. Otherwise, there is no reliability in the world. At any moment an earthquake could happen or a flood and it’s simply the gods’ will. Since, humans aren’t the gods, they can’t understand the world around them. The best they can do is, do the things that they think please the gods. So, it’s better for them to know the gods rather than know the world around them.

On atheism, there is no reason to believe that the universe will be the same tomorrow as it is today. What is to prevent it from changing? I remember reading articles when we were on the verge of discovering, and even after we had discovered, the Higgs-boson, the so-called “god particle” that gives other particles mass, saying that it could destroy the universe. Articles would mention things like, “it turns out that the energy of the Higgs puts us right on the edge between a stable universe and an unstable universe. We’re sort of right on the edge where the universe can last for a long time, but eventually it should go boom. There’s no principle that we know of that would put us right on the edge.” \

But, honestly, that’s old news. The laws that govern the universe are filled with constants that have incredible precisions that, were they to change, would cause the universe to be destroyed. And we don’t know of any principle that prevents them from changing at any moment. On top of that, why assume that humans are capable of understanding the universe even if it doesn’t change? We are the result of evolutionary processes that were geared toward survive, not necessarily for the acquisition of truth. Atheists are capable of recognizing the good that christians naturally saw but there’s still the nagging question on atheism… "for how long?"

On christianity, the world is created by a sovereign Lord of law, order and eternal goodness. He created the world to be cultivated and known by the humans that He created and loved. So it’s natural for the christian to believe that nature operates in accordance with natural laws. Since god created the world to be known by humans, then humans are capable of knowing it and since God’s creation is good, it is also good for humans to know it.

Don’t believe me? Let’s see what a couple pioneers of science have to say in this matter:

"To know the mighty works of God. To comprehend his wisdom, majesty and power. To appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of his laws. Surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most high to whom ignorance cannot be more gratifying than knowledge."

- Copernicus

"I do not feel obliged to think that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. When I reflect on so many profoundly marvelous things that persons have grasped, saw and done I recognize even more clearly that human intelligence is a work of God. And one of the most excellent." - Galileo Galilei

"Our piety is the deeper the greater our awareness is of creation and its grandeur. Since we astronomers are priests to the highest in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful not of the glory of our minds but rather above all else of the glory of God." - Kepler

2. Moral Improvement

Yale Historian Kenneth Latourette, at the close of his 7-volume history, summarizes Christianity's impact on human society:

“We have, and properly, had much to say of the effects of Christianity upon the collective life of communities, nations, and mankind as a whole. Here has been the most potent force which mankind has known for the dispelling of illiteracy, for the creation of schools, and for the emergence of new types of education. From Christianity have issued impulses for daring intellectual and geographic adventure. The universities, centres for pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge, were at the outset largely Christian creations. Many of the most courageous of the explorers of the earth’s surface were to no small degree impelled by the Christian faith. Music, architecture, painting, poetry, and philosophy have owed some of their greatest achievements to Christianity. Democracy as it was known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in large part the outgrowth of Christian teaching. The abolition of chattel slavery was due chiefly to Christianity. So, too, were the measures taken to protect the Indians against the exploitation of the whites. The most hopeful movements for the regulation of war, for the mitigation of the sufferings entailed by war, and for the eventual abolition of war owed their inception chiefly to the Christian faith. The nursing profession of the nineteenth century had the same origin, and the extension of Western methods of surgery and medicine to much of the non-Occidental world in that and the twentieth century was chiefly through the Christian missionary enterprise. The elevation of the status of women owes an incalculable debt to Christianity. Christian ideals made for monogamy and for a special kind of family life. No other single force has been so widely potent for the relief of suffering brought by famine and for the creation of hospitals and orphanages.”

Charles Darwin himself was no stranger to the moral improvement that Christianity brings about. In his Beagle Diary on Nov 22nd 1835, he was writing about Tahiti and wrote the following:

"One of my impressions was decidedly incorrect: that the Tahitians lived in fear of the Missionaries… On the whole it is my opinion that the state of morality & religion is highly creditable. — There are many who attack even more acrimoniously than Kotzebue, both the Missionaries, their system & the effect produced. — Such reasoners never compare the present to the former state only twenty years before; nor even to that of Europe in this day, but to the high standard of Gospel perfection. — They expect the Missionaries to effect what the very Apostles failed to do. By as much as things fall short of this high scale, blame is attached to the Missionaries, instead of credit for what has been effected. They forget or will not remember that human sacrifices & the power of an idolatrous priesthood, — a system of profligacy unparalleled in the world, & consequent infanticide as part of that system, — bloody wars where the conquerors spared neither women or children have been abolished; that dishonesty, intemperance & licentiousness have been greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity. — It is base ingratitude in a Voyager to forget these things; at the point of Shipwreck on some unknown coast he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the Missionary may have extended thus far."

The True Poison

So if Christianity itself isn’t what poisons society, then what is?

What truly poisons society is, of course….. sin. And by sin I’m referring here to evil thoughts:

Adultery and other sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander, mockery and filthy language. Hypocrisy, envy and greed. Malice, rage and murder.

These things undoubtedly poison society and we all know it. They poison society because those things poison us. And that poison often manifests itself in the form of a decline in mental health. We become sick and ill from them. And this type of poison can commonly be found even in the people who comprise the church.

But, what does Christianity teach?

Christians are taught, with regard to their former way of life, to put off their old self, which is being corrupted by it’s deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of their minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

The commands of Christianity are:

First and foremost, to love God with all your hearts, soul and mind.

  • This is because in loving God and learning about Him and seeking after Him, we can learn what it means to love in the first place. Only then will we be equipped to do the second command.

Which is, to love your neighbor as yourself.

  • And this love is a self-giving type of love. This love is patient and kind. It does not envy, boast and is not proud. It is not rude, self-seeking nor easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. This love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. The love that is taught by christianity always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.

"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" - Pro 14:34
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