- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

What if Jesus had never been born? Western culture would not exist in its current form, scholars say, were it not for that event that demarcated world history two millennia ago.
"Christianity has gotten a bad rap from people who have not done their homework," says retired Illinois College sociology professor Alvin J. Schmidt, author of the recent book "Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization."
"In what countries have women lacked freedom?" he says. "Where Christianity is not present, especially in the Middle East. Were it not for Christianity, Gloria Steinem would still be walking about in a veil."
Presbyterian authors the Rev. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe say in their book "What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?" that had the event never happened, the "gaping hole" in civilization "would be a canyon about the size of a continent."
Christianity's immediate effects were to bring an end to infant exposure (where unwanted children were left out in the elements to freeze or die of thirst), gladiator contests, cannibalism and abortion, they write.
Mr. Kennedy's Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Coral Ridge Ministries has produced a TV special, "Scrooge & Marley," on the question. Appearing on "The Coral Ridge Hour," a weekend syndicated show airing locally on Trinity Broadcasting Network, the special stars Dean Jones as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Scrooge is reincarnated as a 21st-century New England personal-injury lawyer who is president of Atheists R Us. After he decides to sue a Connecticut town for displaying a Nativity scene in front of its town hall, he raises a toast to "a world where Jesus had never been born."
Then his long-dead law partner, Jacob Marley, portrayed by Reg Grant, appears in a dream to lecture Scrooge on the transformational effect of Christ's birth. Scrooge eventually repents.
"We live in a culture that is so often denigrating Christianity and Christian morals," Mr. Newcombe says. "Many people in our culture would eschew bigotry of any kind, but at the same time they are anti-Christian. You see a lot of Christian-bashing in movies, TV and court rulings.
"The goal of our book was to say Christianity gave the world a lot more than the Inquisition and the Crusades."
For instance, the International Red Cross was founded in the 19th century by a Swiss evangelical Christian for "the love of Jesus Christ," he says. "Mother Teresa would not have been who she was without Jesus Christ."
Had Christianity never happened, the world might look like pre-20th-century China, he said. Because Christianity is based on individual choice, political systems with Christian underpinnings tend to be democratic, he says. But China has no history of democracy in its 5,000 years.
"Democracy allows people to govern themselves," he says. "The congregational form of church government was extremely important in the Massachusetts Bay colony. So was the presbyterian form of government, where elders govern. Some have said the U.S. government is patterned much like the Presbyterian Church."
Donald Schanzenbach, director of the Mission to Restore America in Mound, Minn., argues that Christ is the central figure of world history in his book "Advancing the Culture." Pre-Christian tribes, especially those in the Western Hemisphere, were known for brutal forms of slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism, he says.
One overlooked change brought about by Christianity is emphasis on kindness toward enemies and avoidance of torture.
"Non-Christian societies throughout history have been universally despotic and always ruthless toward enemies," he says. "The non-Christian world never had any compunction about compelling the accused to testify against themselves until the Christians came along and taught them otherwise."
Not everyone is enamored of the Christian event, including Friedrich Nietzsche, who likens Christianity to "a poison that has infected the whole world." The editorial writers at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer appeared to agree in a Nov. 20 essay criticizing the Rev. Franklin Graham, the eldest son of evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, for calling Islam "wicked."
The younger Mr. Graham represents a religion, the newspaper said, "whose sacred book taught that everyone who didn't profess that faith would fry for eternity in a fiery pit, a religion whose teachings were cited as the justification for burning unbelievers at the stake, keeping blacks in slavery, restricting women's freedom, banning books and executing scientists whose findings contradicted the religion's tenets.
"Hardly a religion based in love and tolerance, you might say. That religion would be Christianity."
Such logic causes Mr. Schmidt to see red.
"Have these people ever read the Koran?" he asks. "I have read it with a fine-toothed comb more than once. Islam was founded by the sword. Muhammad took part in 66 battles and sold women and children into slavery. All this is documented.
"To present Islam as a peaceful religion is to have your head in the sand. Jihad is right out of the Koran. The Christians who took part in the Crusades never cited any verse out of the New Testament backing what they did. But the Muslims who practice violence do cite the Koran."
Christianity was considered radically pro-woman at the time of its founding, he says.
"Christ was never quoted as saying anything demeaning or derogatory to women. Women in Greek days could hardly leave their homes. When her husband had guests over, she was not even allowed to sit in the same room. Their status was extremely low among the Romans, where the father of the family had the power of life and death, even over his wife.
"In [the Gospel of] John, Chapter Four, Jesus was asked what he was doing talking to a woman in public, as you only talked with prostitutes in public. When he taught Mary and Martha in Luke 10, that was a behavior you did not do with women.
"Christianity also nullified polygamy, as Jesus made it clear a man has one wife. If a Greek man was walking about outside with a woman, that was his mistress, not his wife. Christianity also made it clear widows were to be taken care of."
Other benefits of a Christian civilization included hospitals, which Christians introduced in the 4th century. Before that, there were private physicians, potions and shrines, but no such thing as people being nursed or cared for in a given facility, he said. The one exception would be hospitals the Romans may have had for their military.
"The Romans, Greeks and other ancients usually did not take care of their loved ones in times of plague," he says. "Christians did and often died themselves as a result. Even Plato said you shouldn't give medicine to those who would die anyhow."

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