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Historian Rodney Stark writes in The Triumph of Christianity about the significant contrast Christian mercy and compassion was in comparison to pagan religions. Before this passage quoted here, Stark gives the details of the truly horrible conditions in the ancient world. It's worth reading to get a better picture of the terrible conditions Christian mercy intervened to change.
Critics of Christianity consider it a patriarchal religion that relegates women to "second class citizens" at best. This isn't the case at all. Christianity values all humans equally, and the behavior and practices of the early church demonstrate that women were valued just as highly as men. And this was in stark contrast to the treatment of women in literally any other culture and religion at that time. Though the Bible teaches complementary roles in marriage, it elevated the status of women in marriage, placing equal value on each spouse.
Richard of Wallingford lived in the early 14th century. He was orphaned and went to live with the monks at St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, England. The abbot must have noticed his good mind because he sent Richard to study at Oxford. Richard devoted himself to theology, math, and astronomy. He became abbot of St. Albans and was known for being strict and kind.
Thomas Sydenham, born in 1624, was a Christian physician known as the father of English medicine. He is responsible for significant advancement in epidemiology. He advocated diagnosis by observing the advancement of symptoms. Of course, this is familiar and obvious to us today, but it was not the medical practice of the time.
In reply to the critics who claim Christianity was just a copy-cat religion among the ancient religions, it's helpful to take a look at how an ancient adherent of these pagan religions viewed Christianity. The inherent uniqueness of Christianity was a scandal to many. Not only would Jesus' followers not worship other gods, they rejected the layers of intermediary deities. Christianity taught that we could approach God directly in Jesus Christ. This was utterly unique in the ancient pantheon of gods.
David Bentley Hart explains that the ethic of caring for the sick and needy, establishing hospitals and clinics, was unique historically in Christianity because of what the Bible taught. He writes in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (p. 29-34):
Ancient societies and religion were not known for their care for the sick and dying. Christians who often risked their lives to care even for non-Christians represented a radical difference in the values taught by the Bible than anything else known at that time. It was common in ancient societies, including Rome, which saw the inception and rise of Christianity, to abandon the sick and dying. Roman religion did not teach followers to care for the helpless.
You remember William Penn from history class. He was granted the colony of Pennsylvania by the king in payment for debts owed his father. Penn was a Quaker who converted to Christianity in his early 20s. Penn adhered to the biblical values of human equality and intrinsic value and dignity. These later influenced the governmental framework he proposed for Pennsylvania.
Probably like most people, I wasn't interested in history when I was a child. My interest began as an adult. But there is one historical fact that has stuck with me since childhood, but not because of my history textbooks. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 AD at Runnymede. That fact has stuck in my mind because of an episode of My Favorite Martian – Tim and Martin accidentally ended up witnessing the signing of the great document because they dialed the year rather than the time in their time machine.