I don’t know whether to yawn with apathy or get mad with indignation when I read Atheists on social media and on chat shows trotting out the tired old cliche, “religion only causes war and conflict.” This has never been the case and is not the case today for Christianity. Right from it’s earliest centuries Christianity has been overwhelmingly a force for good to humanity.
In the Roman Empire Christians gained a reputation for being just about the only people who cared for the poor, dying and sick and they did so at great personal cost both financially and physically. A good example of what I am talking about occurred in 165AD, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a plague swept through the Roman Empire in which the mortality rate was so massive that Aurelius wrote of “caravans and wagons hauling out the dead.” Christians sought ways to help their communities during the plagues. What they did during the plague of 165AD is recorded in a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria to those who had nursed the sick and to those who were giving their lives in doing so:
“Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…. The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that in death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.”
Just let that sink in, at great cost financially and at the cost at times of their own lives, Christians looked after their plague infected pagan neighbours when no other group would. Rodney Stark, a sociologist who isn’t a Christian, in several ground breaking books argues with evidence to back up what he says, that Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire because the care they provided made themselves healthier and their care of their pagan neighbour attracted tens of thousands to the faith that displayed such unique and practical love for others.
This didn’t end with the end of the Roman empire, the medieval church in Europe mainly through monastic institutions was the main source of healthcare and began the development of what would eventually become our contemporary hospitals. During the mid Victorian era when all too many of their fellow countrymen saw Africa and Asia as places to exploit people for profit many Christians in the West were deeply moved by the suffering caused by lack of even basic medical care in many colonial areas and so founded medical missions and raised vast amounts of money and trained and sent out doctors to start health clinics and hospitals. Today mission hospitals, health clinics and workers are still a vital part and sometimes the only source of healthcare to millions of people in the Two Thirds World.
A recent survey found that the Church is the biggest provider of healthcare in the world, it said
“The Church is the largest single provider of healthcare and education in the world, working especially in some of the poorest countries where there is no other care available. (Catholic church that is. Adding Evangelical church schools/hospitals means there is no close second provider.)
A good contemporary example of this is the Mercy Ships, the largest non government hospital ship in the world, operated by Christian volunteers who take no pay but offer free cutting edge healthcare and life saving operations in some of the poorest communities in the world where such healthcare would otherwise by unavailable. So Christian surgeons, nurses, ships engineers and officers, who could be earning good salaries elsewhere, instead pay for themselves to be able to serve and bring healthcare to the poor and marginalised in the two thirds worlds.
Just look at their figures.
For several years I worked for a small healthcare mission based in Edinburgh below are some of things we achieved in 2014 the last year I have an info graphic for, it will be much more than this now
Let’s not forget the work we do as a church. Supporting projects that provide healthcare for leprosy sufferers in Nepal, a home for orphans in Kenya, food and help for people in need in Romania and clean water for people in Haiti.
Have you noticed that Dawkins and his disciples love to go on and on about the Crusades or Northern Ireland and yet they never seem to get round to talking about Christians’ role in developing and providing healthcare over the last two thousand years? I wonder if that is because they are ignorant or if they are trying to deliberately mislead people?
So what I am arguing is that far from being only or even mainly a source of conflict and war Christianity all through it’s history has, I would argue, been the biggest single contributor to the health and well being of humanity. I don’t want to deny or diminish the terrible things which have wrongly been done in Jesus’ name or defend the violence carried out by misled Christians. In fact, I think I probably feel more despair and outright anger over that any atheist ever can. However what i am saying is that the number of deaths and the amount of suffering caused by people claiming to be Christians, or even at times by sections of the church itself (Crusades and inquisitions spring to mind), are tiny compared to those have experienced healing and who have been comforted by Christians over the last two millennia.
So let’s do away with that worn out and untrue cliche “Christians only cause war and conflict” those who peddle it are showing their own ignorance. Pride is a difficult thing for us as believers but I think we can be “justifiably proud” of the record the church has in alleviating human suffering. Maybe we also need to “blow our own trumpet” a bit more about this in the face of the accusation that Christianity is evil and brings only war and suffering