So many of the ideas and values we take for granted today are historical innovations, brought about by the rise of Christianity. Take the common rules of engagement that add a measure of "fairness" to warfare, or the idea that men and women are equally valuable in the sight of God.
These days, of course, Christianity takes the fall for things that cramp people's style: monogamous marriage, chastity, the sanctity of life, and the nuclear family, to name but a few. But in their rush to dismantle these irksome rules, modern secularists would do well to heed G. K. Chesterton's warning about knocking down a fence before knowing why the fence was put there in the first place.
You see, the early Christians' insistence on sexual restraint proved enormously beneficial to the ancient world—especially to society's most vulnerable members. My colleague John Stonestreet talked about this recently on "The Point."
Take the case of children. Writing at "The Week," Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry explains, "Today it is simply taken for granted that the innocence and vulnerability of children makes them beings of particular value, and entitled to particular care...[but] this view of children is a historical oddity."
Gobry points to the work of historian O. M. Bakke, whose book "When Children Became People" documents how radically Christianity altered the practices of ancient Greece and Rome, and what the world before Christ looked like.
Children, he says, were considered nonpersons. In the cultures of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Pliny the Elder, society was organized in "concentric circles," with the most valuable (freeborn, adult males) in the center, and the least valuable (women, slaves, and children) on the fringes.
From the moment of birth, a child in ancient Rome was as likely as not to die. If disease or injury didn't end a young life, very frequently the parents themselves did, "exposing" any infants deemed inconvenient. Such children usually fell prey to wild animals or the elements. But as Gobry points out, a few were rescued only to be raised in one of the ancient world's most lucrative industries: sex slavery.
Today, sexually abusing a child is a serious crime. Not so in the pre-Christian world, writes Gobry. During that time it was legal, and even considered good form, for a married Patrician to keep children—particularly young boys—to exploit sexually in his free time. "[M]ost sexual acts were permissible," Gobry explains, "as long as they involved a person of higher status being active against or dominating a person of lower status. This meant that, according to all the evidence we have, the sexual abuse of children...was rife."
Into this world came Christianity, with its condemnation of abortion, infanticide and child abuse, its glorification of faithful marriage, and its teaching that children come first in the Kingdom of Heaven. "Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble," said Jesus, "it would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea."
This ethic, which the Western world takes for granted today, is a direct heritage of Christianity. It rests on the very same beliefs as traditional marriage, chastity, and the sanctity of all life. And secularists who want nothing more than a world free from these constraints of Christian morality, warns Gobry, had better consider—or rather remember—what that world looks like.
Come to BreakPoint.org and I'll link you to Gobry's excellent article. Let me warn you, it gets graphic. But it's important we understand what a civilization truly free of irksome Christian rules looks like—especially if we hope to make the case for why some fences need to stay put.
The article was originally posted here.