Impact of Christianity on western civilization

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Christianity has been historically intertwined with Western civilization. However, it is difficult to decide what its effects were.

Through its long history, the church has been a major source of social services like schooling. Several universities in the world were founded by the Church,[1] some historians of science,[2][3][4] have argued that the Church had a significant, positive influence on the development of science.[5][6] Some of the Church's priests have contributed to science.[7]

Church encourages medical care and welfare services and had influence in economic;[8]: inspiration for culture and philosophy; and influential player in politics and religion. Engineering and mathematics was highly advanced and its reflected through the evolution of architecture in the Middle Ages. In various ways it has sought to affect Western attitudes to vice and virtue in diverse fields. It has, over many centuries, promulgated the teachings of Jesus within the Western World and remains a source of continuity linking modern Western culture to classical Western culture.

The Bible and Christian theology have also strongly influenced Western philosophers and political activists.[9][10] The teachings of Jesus, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, are among the important sources for modern notions of Human rights and the welfare measures commonly provided by governments in the West.[11] Long held Christian teachings on sexuality and marriage have also been influential in family life.

Christianity played a role in ending practices such as human sacrifice, slavery,[12] infanticide and polygamy.[13] Christianity in general affected the status of women by condemning infanticide (female infants were more likely to be killed), divorce, incest, polygamy, birth control, abortion and adultery.[14] While official Church teaching[15] considers women and men to be complementary.

Christians also have played a role in affecting features of the Islamic civilization.[16]

The cultural influence of the Church has been vast. Festivals like Easter and Christmas are marked universally as public holidays; Pope Gregory XIII's Gregorian Calendar has been adopted internationally. Year numbering in the West is taken from the assumed date of the birth of the Church's founder, Jesus of Nazareth. In the list of the 100 most influential people in human history there are 65 Christian figures from various fields.[17] However, for most of the time the great majority of people in the West were Christian, so that is not a surprising figure.

Opposition to science[change | change source]

The relation of Christianity to science has usually been hostile when the issues touch on central Christian dogmas.[18][19] The most obvious areas of conflict were the structure of the solar system and the "heavens", and evolution.

The idea of a heliocentric solar system ran counter to the religious authority of the Catholic church. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake, and Galileo forced to retract his published beliefs. This persecution was organised by the Committee for Propaganda of the Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Inquisition. Publication of Copernicus' ideas could only take place outside the reach of the Inquisition. Note that Copernicus was a Catholic priest.

The relation of the established Church of England to evolution was more complicated, because a protestant church is not centralised under the authority of a pope. The conservative clerics opposed evolution fiercely, while liberal clerics could see no conflict with their beliefs. Before he published the On the Origin of Species, Darwin was much afraid of the reaction of the church, and spent many years collecting evidence as defence to the expected criticism. Thomas Henry Huxley spent much of his life establishing that the church was not an authority on scientific matters. This is widely accepted today.

It is probably true that all religions would defend their key doctrines, but since modern science was almost entirely European in origin, it was the reaction of the Christian churches which affected it most.

References[change | change source]

  1. Christianity and eduction
  2. "J.L. Heilbron". London Review of Books. http://www.lrb.co.uk/contribhome.php?get=heil01. Retrieved 2006-09-15.
  3. Lindberg, David C.; Numbers, Ronald L. (October 2003). When Science and Christianity Meet. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-48214-9.
  4. Goldstein, Thomas (April 1995). Dawn of Modern Science: From the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80637-7.
  5. Christianity and science
  6. Are Christians "Anti-Science?"
  7. Wright, Jonathan (2004). The Jesuits. p. 189.
  8. Weber, Max "The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism" (Penguin Books, 2002) translated by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells
  9. church and law[dead link]
  10. BiBle and Law
  11. Good Samaritan. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law. Retrieved January 09, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Good Samaritan
  12. Chadwick, Owen p. 242.
  13. Hastings, p. 309.
  14. Stark, p. 104.
  15. Kreeft, p. 61.
  16. Rémi Brague, Assyrians contributions to the Islamic civilization
  17. Religious Affiliation of History's 100 Most Influential People Archived 1 January 2012 at WebCite
  18. Lange F.A. 1879, 1880, 1881. History of materialism and criticism of its recent importance. 3 vols, London: Trubner.
  19. White A.D. 1896. A history of the warfare of science with theology in Christendom. 2 vols, New York.