For Christians, Christmas is a unique time of joy associated with the birth of the savior Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection makes possible a personal and intimate relationship with God. Jesus was born a Jew, and his teachings were built on the foundation of the Torah and the Old Testament. And so it is that Christians and Jews have much in common and share a natural mutual affinity.
Christians and Jews have both faced persecution throughout history, and hostility is again intensifying. And that persecution comes not just from radical Islamists, but also from secular progressives who now dominate Western culture.
Various towering intellectuals even wish that Christ had never been born. Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, who separately inspired and influenced the rise of murderous totalitarian regimes in Russia and Germany both condemned Christianity and religion in general. For Marx, “religion [was] the opium of the people.” Nietzsche said Christianity was “the greatest of all imaginable corruptions.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is an American film classic enjoyed by more during the Christmas season today than when it first came out in 1946. Directed by the legendary Frank Capra, the film is an otherworldly story revolving around a main character played by Jimmy Stewart in a narrative showing what life would have been like if he had never been born. Similarly, since Capra’s collective cinematographic works exhibit a profoundly Christian vision, it’s worth extrapolating on how history and the present would be different if Christ had never been born.
History shows that the Christian Church has brought about more changes for the advancement and benefit of people than any other force or movement. Nonbelieving secular-minded people might be surprised by the myriad achievements by committed Christians — progressive accomplishments that they too celebrate.
Before Christ, human life was cheap and expendable all over the world. In the Americas, the Near East, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East child sacrifice was a common phenomenon. Babies, particularly females — who were considered inferior — were regularly abandoned. Author George Grant points out: “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life ” That changed in the West with the 6th century Christian Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian whose Law Code declared child abandonment and abortion a crime.
In ancient cultures — in India, China, Rome and Greece — women were considered inferior and simply viewed as property of their husbands. More recently, in the last two and a half centuries with the advent of the Christian missionary movement, the lives of women have been greatly improved. Countless female infants abandoned in China were saved from almost sure death by Christian missionaries who then protected, educated and raised them in Christian orphanages.
In India, prior to Christian influence, elderly widows were burned alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres, while infanticide — particularly for girls — was practiced by tossing little ones into the sea. In Africa, wives and concubines of tribal chieftains were routinely killed after the latter’s death. These practices were greatly ameliorated or entirely stopped as Christianity began to penetrate and influence the respective cultures.
Slavery is still practiced in parts of the Middle East and Africa, but it has been abolished throughout the Western world primarily due to leadership and influence of Christians. Two thousand years ago, Apostle Paul was way before his time, stating in his letter to Philemon, that he should receive his former slave, as “a brother beloved.”
The establishment of hospitals and universities, which began in the Middle Ages were exclusively undertaken by Christians. The Christian Renaissance inspired more of the world’s greatest and most valuable art than any other period. Campaigns for literacy and education for the masses that came several centuries later were also undertaken almost exclusively by Christians.
While some may feel the United States was slow to abolish slavery and elevate women, its Christian Founders were wise in instituting a Constitution that provided for change to enable the country to fulfill the Declaration of Independence, in which all people were declared equal and “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That Constitution assured that the promise of equal opportunity would reach greater fullness with time.
Christian women were most influential in getting child labor laws passed. Methodist Frances Willard inspired millions of Americans to support women’s right to vote, which was enshrined in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. The civil rights movement of the latter half of the 20th century, was inspired and led by American Baptist minister the Rev. Martin Luther King.
While modernity has made many of us impatient, Dr. King probably would not have imagined how quickly his people would advance. In just 40 years, blacks have achieved commensurate success with whites in every field, including reaching the presidency of the United States.
Suffice it to say that life both at home and around the world would no doubt be qualitatively worse today if Christ had never been born and Christianity had not become the greatest spiritual force ever to advance the care and development of people. Indeed, there is reason to sing “Joy to the World.”
• Scott Powell is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.