The positive influence Christianity has had in the rich history and culture of the Western world is far reaching and successful despite the challenges and oppositions the introduction of this religion has once faced. Being originally a religion of the East, Christianity faced a lot of opposition from the polytheistic Greeks, Romans, and barbarians who dominated ancient Europe as well as the superstitious Native American Indians who lived in pre-Columbian America. Nevertheless, Christianity triumphed and it influenced not only the religious aspect of Western Civilization but also many of its other agencies. This paper seeks to expose how Christianity influenced the many aspects of people’s lives during the times that its influence penetrated Western Civilization.
The Influences of Christianity
Christianity is a 2,000-year-old religion that started with the birth of Christ in 4 BC and whose unceasing influence in the Western Civilization extended even up to the time that the King James Version of the Holy Bible was written in 1611. Throughout this almost 1,600 years of existence, Christianity influenced the Western world in many ways.
The Inculcation of Liberty and Justice. It is said that the virtues of liberty and justice enjoyed by the Western societies are both a product of Christianity, and this is perhaps one of the greatest influences. In fact, “the liberties and rights that are currently operative in free societies of the West are to a great degree the result of Christianity’s influence” (Inspired). Before the advent of Christianity, history presented us “with examples of individuals who acted as a law unto themselves “often curtailing, even obliterating the natural rights and freedoms of the country’s citizens” (Inspired). This is the very thing that Christianity changed for when Christianity and the Bible were introduced, people began thinking that he is in fact accountable to God and the law and that all men are one and the same regardless of status. One inspiring example that instilled humility in the whole of Western Civilization was perhaps the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus where God defeated the once-believed almighty pharaoh.
Moreover, the idea of justice may have been inspired by the very old books of the Bible that otherwise proved to be very influential in making the rather cynical Western world adopt the virtue. It is stated in Deuteronomy 17:6 that “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (NIV Holy Bible, Deut 7.6). This particular directive about justice is also echoed by several other passages: “’If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Num 35.30) and “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed” (Mat 18.16). The concept of justice in the preceding passages somehow introduced to the Western world the idea that the accuser could not execute the accused without himself being subjected to law and without any regard to his position in society. This Judeo-Christian requirement of having witnesses testify in court has come to be adopted by the criminal and justice systems of Britain and America. England in the 14th century gave birth to the “due process of law, [which is] a legal concept first appearing under King Edward III” (Inspired).
Without Christianity, it would have been difficult to inculcate the ideas of justice in a civilization that thrived on the doctrine of “an eye for an eye.” Similarly, what could have been the basis for the freedom of the slaves in the Western world if not the inspiring story of the freedom of the Jews from the clutches of the Egyptian pharaoh in the Book of Exodus? History cannot change without inspiration taken from an authority which was strong enough to inspire like the Christian Bible.
Religious Freedom and Restoration of Trust in the Government. Prior to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, Christians were still persecuted in the Roman Empire by the Emperor Diocletian. However, upon his rise to power in 312 AD, “Constantine ended all persecution in his territories as soon as he came to power, providing not only for toleration but also for restitution (Pohlsander 23). Prior to Christianity, the Western world not only had no choice for another religion but also was not given the freedom to do so. The introduction of Christianity to the Western world somehow paved the way for the freedom not only of Christianity but for other religions too as Rome became more tolerant towards other systems of faith. However, perhaps the most important thing learned here is respect not only for an individual’s religious freedom but also for his right to live, which was severely violated by other Roman rulers prior to Constantine’s conversion.
The conversion of Constantine to Christianity also brought about the people’s faith in the government and in the Emperor himself, this time not out of fear but out of the belief that the Emperor himself is an “arbiter of church affairs” (Pohlsander 32). This was shown when some Christians in North Africa began asking Constantine for intervention on the request for appointment of a new bishop.
It is clear from the aforementioned statements that had it not been for the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, the whole of Roman Civilization in particular and Western Civilization in general may not have risen from the persecutions and destruction. The Roman Emperors were rigid and firm in their beliefs and so were the Romans themselves who even had the Apostles Peter and Paul executed, hence only a powerful man such as Constantine can advocate Christianity to them and thereby change the course of history.
The Natural Law as the Basis of Morality. The emergence of Christianity in the Western world introduced natural law as the moral basis of every act and defined it “not an entity by itself but part of God’s created order in nature through which he made all rational human beings aware of what is right and wrong.” (Inspired)
The prophet Jeremiah pointed out that there are “ordinances of heaven and earth” (Jer. 33.25) that must be obeyed without question. Even “constitutional checks and balances” are instituted on the basis of the Biblical statement in Romans 3.23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (“The Bible and Government”). Moreover, this influence of Christianity in firmly planting natural law as the moral basis of the Western world was proven by the words of Martin Luther: “Why does one then teach the Ten Commandments? Because the natural laws were never so orderly and well written as by Moses.” (Inspired)
The Call for Independence. It is said that Christianity also indirectly influenced the independence of many western nations especially America. Thomas Paine, one of America’s Founding Fathers, in the third section of his Common Sense, on Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession, states that “for all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever” (Paine, 1996). These words clearly state that no man is above another and that no king can dictate America. Paine also explains further that even God Himself was angry at the Jews for wanting Gideon to be their king. (Paine, 1996)
Sir William Blackstone, a renowned English scholar of the 18th century, was also said to have influenced American patriots of his time to fight for independence by using the words “ the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God” (Inspired) in his Commentaries of the Laws of England. The quoted words above show “the reliability [of the Western Civilization] on the Christian understanding of the natural law.” (Inspired)
It is clear from the words of these two men that without the doctrines of Christianity as the basis for freedom, one may not have been able to inspire people and embolden them to take up arms against the conquering enemy.
Christianity has indeed brought strong positive influence to Western Civilization. Firstly, it had introduced renewed and benevolent ideas of Justice and Liberty. Secondly, through the conversion of Constantine, Christianity has also brought about religious freedom and brought back the people’s faith in the government and the Emperor. Thirdly, it firmly grounded natural law as the basis of all moral actions. Lastly, through Christianity’s views on freedom, it helped inspire men and women in the Western world particularly in America to fight for independence, which is actually to fight for the Christian values of life, liberty and equality. With the rigid rules of obedience to ancient rulers who proclaimed themselves as gods, there was no other way that the aforementioned influences could have taken place during the early years of Western Civilization without the influence of the doctrines and teachings of Christianity.
Inspired. “The Influence of Christianity on Western Civilization.” 20 Jan 2008. Journey of Cross and Quill. 30 Apr 2010. ;http://crossandquill.com/journey/?page_id=267;
NIV Holy Bible. Textbook Ed., Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1980.
Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. 1996. Milestone Events. 30 Apr 2010. ;http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/commonsense/text.html;
Pohlsander, Hans A. The Emperor Constantine. 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
“ The Bible and Government.” 2008. Faith Facts. 29 Apr 2010. ;http://www.faithfacts.org/christ-and-the-culture/the-bible-and-government;