On one of my overseas trips an in-flight documentary caught my attention. An anthropologist was waxing eloquent about the ‘incredibly advanced Mayan civilization’ of Central America in the 15th century. They didn’t have a written language, but they were ‘incredibly advanced’.
The Mayans built spectacular pyramid temples – all without the wheel! Of course, they did use slave labour to move all those massive stones and, unfortunately, these impressive temples were used for human sacrifices. The human sacrifices were necessary, of course, to make the Sun rise each day.
But none of these minor details dampened the enthusiasm of this anthropologist as he eagerly described the ‘amazing’, ‘complex’ and ‘intricate’ Mayan civilisation.
They had a ‘fascinating’ sport (a cross between basketball and football) in which you could only score using your shoulder. Unfortunately, the losing team were all put to death.
I could only wonder at the mental and ethical gymnastics that allowed this man to praise an ‘incredibly advanced Mayan civilization’ which had not yet discovered the wheel, did not have a written language, used slave labour, engaged in human sacrifice, and routinely executed the losing sports teams! But then the programme was clearly dedicated to the praise of paganism.
I recently saw a similar display of reverence for paganism at a museum. The exhibit included the cover of an old Time magazine announcing, ‘Lost Tribes, Lost Knowledge’. The cover showed a tribesman from Papua New Guinea with a bone through his nose. The subtitle read: ‘Treasure troves of scientific knowledge are being lost by tribes going extinct’.
I wondered briefly what secret scientific knowledge such tribes might possess, but closer examination revealed that these tribes were ‘going extinct’ because of the work of Christian missionaries!
As tribes are evangelised and turn to Christ they abandon their old tribal religions involving head hunting, cannibalism, spirit worship and polygamy.
To the ‘scientist’ the tribes were ‘going extinct’ because they no longer walked around naked or engaged in body scarification. Instead they wore clothes and glasses; went to the doctor instead of the witchdoctor; had schools; were learning to read; only married once; and worshipped in church!
Being somewhat ignorant of the science of anthropology I would have thought that ending tribal warfare, cannibalism, polygamy, occultism, illiteracy and sickness was – well, good. I would also have imagined that bringing them the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ was preferable to letting them languish in ignorance, superstition and animistic fear.
But apparently not! National Geographic articles continue to bemoan the ‘cultural genocide’ committed by missions in the Amazon jungle, and claim that missionaries are destroying ‘the cultural distinctives’ of unique tribal cultures.
Apparently it is better to have illiteracy, tribal warfare, cannibalism, human sacrifices, slavery, high infant mortality and low life expectancies – because otherwise anthropologists would have nothing to research!
Before the advent of Christianity almost every culture practised slavery and human sacrifice – even the truly advanced Greek and Roman civilisations. In Ancient Rome unwanted infants were legally abandoned outside the city walls to die of starvation or be eaten by wild animals.
A father had the legal right to kill his children; to marry them to whoever he pleased; or sell them as slaves. The Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Socrates belonged to a culture which practised slavery and paedophilia.
When missionaries went to 19th century China, they found that baby girls were routinely put out as food for wild dogs and wolves. ‘Baby towers’ were common, where unwanted babies were left to die of exposure and starvation, or be eaten alive by birds of prey. Some towns had ‘baby ponds’ into which unfortunate infants were thrown.
Middle Eastern fertility cults that worshipped Baal and Asherah all practised child sacrifice – as did the Ammonites who worshipped Molech and the Phoenicians who worshipped Kronos.
Writing in Newsweek on 6 November 1995, Jerry Adler expressed appreciation for the positive impact of the Judeo-Christian emphasis on the sanctity of life.
Archaeologists had just discovered a 12-year-old girl sacrificed by the Incas. Adler expressed outrage at the tendency of anthropologists to justify barbaric practices – like ripping out the hearts of living humans by Aztec priests.
He quoted the following example of intellectual detachment: ‘A Tulane University anthropologist has written about ritual killings: “Within the context of [Aztec] culture it all made sense. The sacrifice of human blood, and particularly the heart, was necessary to make the Sun go around every day. It ties in to their stories of creation and myth. It was part of the cultural tradition”.’
Adler goes on to note ‘the prevalence of human sacrifice in cultures from almost every part of the world’ and concludes, ‘The religious tradition of the West begins with a great renunciation of blood offering, when Abraham put down the knife and unbound Isaac’.
Progress or paganism?
‘Suttee’- the burning of widows on the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands – was common when missionary William Carey arrived in India. Yet with perseverance he succeeded in having this vile practice outlawed.
It was the tireless work of Christian missionaries like Anna Bowden, Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael that saved tens of thousands of abandoned children, raising them in their own homes or orphanages.
And it was the persistent work of Christians that outlawed abortion, abandonment and infanticide – first in the Roman Empire and then throughout Europe and America. Similarly, the slave trade was eradicated as a result of the tireless efforts of Christians like William Wilberforce, David Livingstone and General Charles Gordon. Respect for life and liberty are a fruit of Christianity.
Those who promote abortion, euthanasia and pornography today are offering not progress but a return to pre-Christian paganism.
The concept of charity
Few people today realise how much we owe to the advent of Jesus Christ. Hospitals as we know them were an innovation of Christianity (hence the universal symbol of a cross to represent hospitals). More hospitals and orphanages have been founded by Christians than by all other religions combined.
The nursing profession was started by Florence Nightingale out of devotion to Christ. One of history’s greatest humanitarian movements, the International Red Cross, was set up by Christians – in response to the biblical injunction to care for the sick and suffering.
The whole concept of charity was a Christian innovation. The church of Christ has done more than any other institution in history to alleviate poverty and suffering. Wherever the Bible became known, compassion flourished.
More schools and universities have been started by Christians than by any other group. The elevation of women – from the second-class status they were assigned to by other religions – was a Christian achievement. Countries that enjoy the most civil liberties are generally lands where the gospel of Christ has leavened society.
The birth of liberty
Noah Webster – statesman, educator and author of Webster’s Dictionary – wrote: ‘The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil, in human society, the best Book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the only Book that can serve as an infallible guide …
‘The principles of genuine liberty and of wise laws and administrations are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who [undermines] the Divine authority of that Book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer’.
Biblical Christianity gave birth to liberty. Constitutional republics, the separation of powers, limited government, and freedom of conscience, are a result of the Reformation.
It is the secular humanists who have a heritage of oppression. The 44 secular or atheistic states have caused the deaths of over 160 million people in the 20th century alone.
The abuses of human rights, atrocities and massacres in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Red China, North Korea, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba were the inevitable results of rejecting God’s Law. Either men will be governed by God’s Law or they will be ruled by tyrants.
Condensed from an article in Christian Action Magazine.
The writer is author of The Greatest century of missions; Biblical principles for Africa; and Putting feet to your faith