Did Jesus make a difference in the world?

Author Thomas Cahill poses this question in the introduction of Desire of the Everlasting Hills:

In other words, is the world a better place because of Jesus?

IÕll anticipate some of the more obvious arguments.

Number 1:
No. Just look at all the evil done in the name of Christianity: the Crusades, the holocaust, the Inquisition, Salem witch trials, the massacre of Native Americans, etc. Therefore, Christianity has had a negative influence on the world.
You canÕt really blame Jesus for these things. Imperialism was rampant before Jesus. ThatÕs the whole reason the Romans were in Palestine in JesusÕ day anyway. Alexander The Great managed to commit atrocities in Thebes, Tyre and other locales without the aid of Christianity. Darius III led the Persian Empire that was not exactly humane either.

Number 2
Yes. Christianity has given solace and comfort to millions of people throughout the last 2000 years. Christians helped form democracy in America and have given the world great advances in learning and art.
Again, we canÕt attribute this to Jesus specifically. Religions of all sorts have given comfort to adherents throughout the ages. That is, I believe, why religion exists. Democracy was begun in Greece and is still being refined today. American democracy is not the result of Christians exclusively. As far as the humanities and knowledge go, individual Christians have contributed to the world, but these contributions are independent of their faith. Christianity also hindered the progress of knowledge, cite.

Number 3
Yes. Christianity has shaped the events of the last 2000 years, largely through the influence of the Roman Catholic Church until the Reformation and then through both the RCC and Protestant denominations.
I believe this is irrelevant. If not Christianity, then some other religion would have dominated. Whichever religion the dominant ruler followed would have been the dominant religion. In the history of the Western World, rulers used the Christian Church to their advantage without necessarily following the teachings of Jesus.

My conclusion
Jesus really didnÕt make a big difference in the world, per se. Many men have been more influential in how the world has developed. Alexander The Great shaped the political structure of the Mediterranean area for centuries. Confucius changed the way the government operated in ancient China.

JesusÕ teachings, however, can make a difference in individual lives.

Does anyone have another conclusion?


I really don’t see how you can equate this question with

The two questions are fundamentally different. Which would you prefer posters to pick?

IANAAFJ (I am not an apologist for Jesus), but, how are his followers implicated in the holocaust? (I was going to add the massacre of Native Americans, but I don’t know enough to assert this, others might).

Xerxes, I’ll answer your second question first. I was anticipating arguements and responses that might be given, based on other debates on this and other boards as well as in real life. But more specifically, check this Straight Dope column for a discussion of Christianity and the holocaust. I’m sure there are many more references elsewhere.

Now to your first question. The thread title is meant to get attention. The actual question is stated in the OP. However, that said, the world could not be a better place because of Jesus unless he did make a difference. So, if the answer to the thread title is no, then the answer to the question in the OP is necessarily no also. However, I’d concede that he could have made of difference without making the world better.

So, perhaps, the question could be two-part. Did he make a difference? If so, was it a positive difference?

But, your comment:

is relevant in that some of the things self-identified Christians do aren’t necessarily things Jesus would have supported. In fact, I asserted that many of the atrocities of human history may have occured without Christianity, but likely would have been conducted under the guise of another religion in a similar manner.

Well, one effect of Christianity was the abolition of slavery.

William Wilberforce (in Great Britain) and the Quakers and other Christian groups in the US were responsible for the abolitionist movement. The US had to fight a war over it, but we did ban it in the US, and the (largely Christian) colonialist powers like France, Great Britain, and so forth, abolished it in their colonies. Many slave traders in Africa who resisted the banning of the slave trade there were Islamic, and AFAIK the Greek and Roman gods had no issue with slavery. Neither did the Nazis, who were officially non-Christian, and the Soviet Union and other officially atheist countries continued the practice in their prison camps.

The monks of the Dark Ages were also responsible for preserving literacy and learning thru the Dark Ages. They needed to be able to read the Bible, so they valued reading. They also reclaimed a lot of marginal farmland in Ireland and Britain, under the Cistercian motto “Work is prayer”.

Many hospitals in the US were originally founded by Christians, as are social service agencies like the Salvation Army, Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Charities, etc., etc. All these were founded in obedience to the direct command of Jesus to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and preach the good news to the poor.

I think the effects of Jesus’ personality and teaching are so ubiquitous as to be unnoticeable in the West.

May I ask what triggered your question?

I don’t think anyone could deny that he made a difference, or had an impact on society as we know it-hell, he started a movement that would change the world forever. Think about the impact religion has had on history.

HOWEVER…was it for better, or for worse? THAT is the real problem. I don’t think you could say he didn’t make a difference.

Christianity was also used to justify slavery. You might want to check out what Frederick Douglass had to say about American “Christianity”.

Neither does the God of the Bible. Check out the Refuting Scripture thread for more info.

Christianity is not the sole proprietor of charity or compassion. Taoist and the followers of Buddha are also compelled to defend the weak and the poor.

That’s the point, essentially. Religion has had tremendous influence. But religion existed before Jesus and had tremendous impact then too. IMHO much of what has passed as the Christian Church for several centuries was little more than what went before, just by a different name. And don’t make me cite Jack Chick for a discussion of how early Christianity adopted the customs of other religions.

I’m not convinced his movement changed the world.

How is it different than before? We still have dominant cultures imposing their will on minorities. We still have widespread conflict throughout the world. We still have hate and bigotry. Might still equals right.

The world has changed in some aspects: we have air conditioning and air travel. But those innovations are the result of humanity’s increased knowledge and experience.

I’m not sure Jesus even meant to change the world. Jesus’ real teachings apply to individuals. I think that changing individual lives is all he tried to do.

True, but everyone talks about Jesus-in other words, he’s still very well known, probably ONE of the most talked about individuals. And passive resistance-he influenced Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr, at the very least.

Not bad for a poor carpenter’s son. Think about it.

All we need is another planet, just like Earth, we make sure it develops in exactly the same way Earth did for the first 4,499,997,994 years or so, and then we make sure Jesus (perhaps a ‘Free pizza for messiahs’ sign pointing away to distract Him?) doesn’t show up and watch how it turns out after another 2,000 years or so…

What’s that? You don’t like the sample size? OK, we take one hundred planets exactly like Earth… :smiley:
We cannot possibly know what the world would be like had Jesus never existed. We can probably be sure that it would be different somehow, but we can’t know how.

Why do I think He’s made a difference?

Even those who seem to be arguing that Christianity hasn’t made a difference appear to agree with these statements:

I think this is inseparable from making a difference in the world. Global human society is, after all, the result of all the actions of people all over the world and through history, so it is not in any way independent of the actions of individuals. If individuals’ actions are influenced by the teachings of Jesus, then the world has been influenced by them.

Is it possible that the number of people whose actions have been influenced by Jesus’ teachings is so small that even without them, the world would pretty much have followed the same course? Yes, but I don’t think it is likely. Since there are perhaps as many as 2 billion Christians worldwide (although such numbers should be viewed with suspicion because firm data must be hard to come by), it stikes me as likely that some of them make major decisions on the basis of Jesus’ teachings, decisions that will effect others around them, and therefore change the world.

Religion seems to be an important factor in many people’s lives (including the lives of some influential people, including businessmen, political leaders, scientists, philosophers, oh yeah- and clergy themselves are sometimes influential), and there are many who have Jesus’ teachings at the center of their religion, so I think it’s pretty easy to believe that Jesus has had some impact on the world.

Of course, there’s always the ‘some other religion would have stepped in and the same things would have happened’ arguement. But we don’t really know that, do we?

Was the total effect good or bad? That’s meat for another post, this one’s too long already.

Don’t forget that those Crusades to the technologically more advanced Middle East brought the West out of the Dark Ages and on the Renaissance, and onward.

Don’t forget the Catholic Church burning the Library at Alexandria in the name obliterating pre-Christian Scholarship. We might have avoided the dark ages in the first place if not for that sort of hubris.

To the ones who believe, the ones He has delivered from the chains of alcholism, drug addiction, disease, sin and death, to the greatful ones who will sit forever at His feet, free from fear and oppression and worry, yes. He has had a HUGE impact on their world.

To the ones who don’t believe, I guess He hasn’t made that much difference.

Um… actually, the Library was destroyed during a Roman civil war in the third century. Although, a hundred years later its sister library, which was housed in a pagan temple, was destroyed by Christian attacks against paganism by Alexandria’s patriarch, Bishop Theophilus.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says of him:

Bad people happen.

Homebrew writes:

There was disagreement in the Christian church about slavery. The abolitionists won out. Douglas and the other abolitionists based their arguments on Christian theology. They went on to outlaw slavery in the rest of the world, again basing their actions on Christian theology. This is what I meant.

Christianity does, at least nowadays. Read the New Testament book of Philemon for more info, or read the works of any of the abolitionists.

I didn’t say that Christianity was the sole proprietor of anything. I said that Christ was responsible for thousands of social service agencies, in the US and abroad. Christianity is also a missionary religion which seeks converts, so it will tend to spread out its charities beyond itself more than Taoism. Thus there are agencies such as the ones I mention (Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Charities, Bread for the World, and many others). Of course the tendencies of Maoist governments such as the PRC to repress religions means that Taoism will have less opportunity to act than those who follow Christ. The economic weakness of Marxist societies also means that they are more likely to be the object of Christian charity than its agent.

In any case, those who argue that Jesus had no effect on the world need to prove that whatever good (or bad) effects came about as a result of His life and ministry “would have happened anyway” - inherently an almost impossible task.


This one’s easy. Any human being that spawns a religion lasting 2000 years and worshipped by over a billion people, to the extent that our worldwide calendar system is based on the years since YOUR BIRTH as well as having two major holidays celebrating your birth AND death, could be said to have made at least a minor difference. :slight_smile:


This one is simply unanswerable. There is no way of knowing what direction civilization would have taken if it weren’t for Christianity. (Although I’m of the belief that if Jesus hadn’t been born, another crazy Jew would have taken his place.) So any debate on whether the world is a better place or not is essentially pointless.


Ahem. I do believe that America was the last major nation to abolish the institution of slavery. Unless someone can show I’m mistaken, of course.


I don’t think the discussion is pointless. While there are Christain charities and millions, perhaps a billion, Christians in the world that doesn’t mean the world was changed in any significant way. (Although there is another debate on whether the Christian church follows the teachings of Paul more than Jesus, this is not the thread for that.)

Noone has addressed the implicit position in my OP, and explicit in a later post, that the world is essentially the same:

We still have dominant cultures imposing their will on minorities. We still have widespread conflict throughout the world. We still have hate and bigotry. Might still equals right

Not much has changed except our technology.

Okay, I should have said “fruitless” instead. The problem is, your OP (“Is the world a better place…?”) is too vague. We need to define exactly what “better” means, for starters.

Let’s take as a given that without Jesus, technology would have developed at the same rate (although this is debatable, I’ll get to that in a minute.) What we’ll focus on instead is the moral implications of Christianity.

The whole sex issue, for instance. Christianity is adverse to adultery, polygamy and homosexuality. Many other religions are not. Let’s assume that without Christianity, the only difference is that all sorts of sexual proclivites are allowed and enjoyed. Does this make the world a better place? Homosexuals and sexual freedomists would say, hell yeah. Christian fundies would say, no f’ing way. You can start to see the problem here.

Then there’s the fact that Christianity is essentially a messianic religion. Jesus’s last words (as written in the Bible) were, “Spread my Word to all peoples of the Earth.” VERY few other religions do that. So now we’re dealing with the issue of religious tolerance. As well as the fact that many technology-expanding events, such as the Crusades, were inspired by these messianic principles. To get to the godless heathens on the other side of the world that are in dire need of salvation, we need to build roads, ships, etc.

In fact, the entire course of technological advancement may have been directed by the whole Judeo-Christian “Go Forth And Subdue The Earth” ethic. The religious system of many pre-industrial peoples, such as Native Americans and Sub-Saharan Africans, tended towards establishing an equilibrium with their environment. Buddhism basically asks nothing more than to seek the inner truth within and say “Om” a lot. These religions, and others, assert that things are fine the way they are, and no change is necessary. Christianity tends towards the idea that things REQUIRE changing.

Christian monks preserving written works during the Dark Ages is a strong, valid point. Without them, however, another religious culture may have filled the void and achieved an industrial society on their own, with a vastly different set of morals.

As you can see, there’s a staggering amount of variables here, and presupposing conditions on top of it turns the question into no more than a theoretical exercise. Which I guess is what GD is all about. :slight_smile: But it doesn’t even come close to approximating the state of the world if baby Jesus had suffocated in his manger, and steers the whole debate into the realm of pure opinion.


Well, that was largely because it was a Protestant nation.

Slavery and Christianity

Good points J.E.T. However, I will quibble (second definition) with a few. You state:

I think the quest for wealthwas more of a driving force than the desire to convert the heathens. But you may be onto something with the contrast between the Christian view of people as Lords of the Earth and other religions’ “Mother Earth” ethic. Perhaps technology would have advanced more “green” if the relationship with our plant had been more appreciated.

Another quibble:

The Dark Ages were a result, at least in part, of the oppressive society fostered by the Church.

I’ll grant you that this debate is mostly conjecture. However, I still think the world is little different than it was before Jesus, except for technology. Whomever has power and wealth subjugates the weaker and poorer - even in the name of Christianity.

This is my point. Christianity has affected the development of the world. I assert that Christianity has not completely followed Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus specifically stated that the powerful are obligated to care for the poor and oppressed. While professing to follow Jesus, Western society has not followed this ethic faithfully.

Why does everyone give all the credit or blame of Christianity to Jesus? Paul, who didn’t care one twit what Jesus said or did took the myth of a Jewish cult and combined it with the mystery cults of Rome and spread it to other parts of the empire. I personally do not like Paul, but the fact is that he probably had as much influence on the teachings of Christianity as Jesus and was absolutely the driving force behind the establishment of the church outside of the Jewish state. If not for him Christianity would have died in the Jewish rebellion of 66 AD.