Review: Christianity on Trial

I’m not sure whether the thesis of this book could best be summed up as, “Christianity isn’t all that bad” or “Christianity has made the world the wonderful place it is today.” That depends on whether you’re trying to summarize the intended or actual thesis.

This purports to be basically a book of Christian apology, in a sense: not defending the faith’s tenants, but defending the faith’s acts. It rightly points out that there is a lot of criticism directed toward Christianity that, were it directed toward any other religion, would be construed as bigotry. That’s true enough, and a fair criticism. On the other hand, the book seems to imply that the majority of contributions Christianity has made to civilization are positive – that the scales tip toward the good. That’s fine and good, but it doesn’t provide enough proof of that. We never get any idea if the people and groups in each chapter are exceptions to the rule, or the standard. I got the feeling that the authors didn’t know either, but were trying to pass them off as the latter.

This is particularly noticeable when we consider the two topics conspicuously missing from the book: Christian anti-Semitism and Christian misogyny. The environment, democracy, and science all rightly get chapters, but nary a word about misogyny, and only lip-service to anti-Semitism (“Okay, okay, Luther was anti-Semitic, but look at all the good things he did!”). The closest thing to mentioning misogyny, on the other hand, is perhaps a reference to the (to use their woefully inadequate understatement) “unfortunate” Salem witch trials.

On the whole, I remain unconvinced of Christianity’s virtues through the centuries. It’s a human institution, filled with the hatred, bigotry, and stupidity common to all people.

Still, it did make me realize that condemning the Apostle Paul for his views on slavery is to use an anachronistic morality to judge him. This is a common theme in the book, and somewhat rightly so. We can’t condemn society X for being cruel when it was no crueler than any other contemporary society, even if it is vastly more vicious than our own. We can comment on it, but it doesn’t make them immoral.

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