Spreading salt

Interview | Scholar Alvin J. Schmidt on how Christianity has bettered society

Issue: "Who will be the next pope?," April 16, 2005

WORLD has criticized Zondervan for putting out the politically correct Bible translation known as Today's New International Version, but the company also publishes some non-PC books.

One is Alvin J. Schmidt's How Christianity Changed the World (2004), first published in 2001 under the clever but less descriptive title, Under the Influence, and largely ignored. It shouldn't be, because these days American schools often deemphasize the contributions Western culture has made to the world, and particularly overlook the central role of Christianity in the development of hospitals, education, science, music, literature, family values, women's rights, and much more.

Alvin J. Schmidt is a retired professor of sociology at Illinois College.

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WORLD: What was the origin of hospitals, and how is Christian charity today often preempted by the way hospitals are supported financially?

SCHMIDT: The intellectual Greeks and practical Romans had no hospitals. There was a pagan void. Hospitals were first introduced in the fourth century by Christians, motivated by Christ's words, "I was sick and you looked afthospitals were supported only by true Christian charity, but most hospitals now require financial support from secular and governmental sources. Still, when you see hospitals today, the evidence of their Christian roots is still present in the Christian names they bear: "St. Luke's," "St. John's," "Baptist," "Methodist," "Lutheran," "Presbyterian," etc.

WORLD: What is the relevance to feminism of the early Christian view of women?

SCHMIDT: Jesus gave women dignity and freedom unknown in the ancient world. He welcomed their speaking to Him in public, He taught them theology, and on the day of His physical resurrection He first appeared to women. Following these precedents, the early Christians equally catechized, baptized, and admitted women to the Lord's Supper. Unlike today's radical feminism, Jesus and the early Christians did not organize a woman's movement, deny physical and emotional differences of men and women, seek to erase occupational and family role distinctions between the sexes, nor advocate sexual politics.

WORLD: What did Christians typically mean by "equality," and how is that concept today often misunderstood?

SCHMIDT: The Christian concept of equality revolves solely about the equality human beings have spiritually before God, before whom "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Hence, the early Christians welcomed all into their fold, regardless of race, sex, or ethnicity. In time, contrary to the biblical perspective, socialists and communists defined equality as an economic concept. This led to coercive policies, depriving individuals of basic freedoms in pursuit of a utopian, economic equality. Thus, communism has been called a Christian heresy.

WORLD: How did Christianity prompt the outlawing of slavery, and how and why was it first outlawed in countries where Christianity had a major presence?

SCHMIDT: Paul told Philemon to receive Onesimus, his runaway slave, "no longer as a slave but [as] a beloved brother." Paul also said in Christ there is "neither slave nor free" (Galatians 3:28). Many early Christians granted slaves full church membership and also freed thousands of slaves, while sadly some erring Christians did not follow suit. Still, Christianity influenced emperors to support Christian opposition to slavery. Constantine outlawed the sale of children to be raised as slaves, and Justinian repealed laws that prevented freeing slaves. By the 14th century, slavery was virtually extinct in Europe, and even after slavery was restored later in parts of the West, it was Christian values again that moved abolitionists in the British Empire and in America to end slavery in the 1800s.

WORLD: How can Christians counter today's widely held belief that science and Christianity are incompatible?

SCHMIDT: Alfred North Whitehead (a non-Christian philosopher of science) said that without Christianity's "insistence on the rationality of God" there would be no science. The first experimental scientists, beginning with the 13th century, were all confessing Christians (Roger Bacon, Occam, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Boyle, Simpson, Pasteur, etc.). They related their scientific findings to biblical theology. Not until the 18th century, when many scientists bowed to philosophical materialism, were Christianity and science defined as incompatible.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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