Friday, October 23, 2009

Woman to Watch

Among conservatives there's a great deal of love for Sarah Palin. Even if they don't think she'd make a good Presidential candidate, most think she'd make a fine President, but the reality is that it's hard to imagine her getting through a campaign without being so savaged by the media that she becomes unelectable.

In the last year, however, another strong woman has emerged who, many conservatives believe, would someday make both an outstanding candidate and an outstanding President. She's bright, articulate, and principled, and so the Left, unsurprisingly, is beginning to turn the same guns on her that've been trained on Sarah Palin for the past year. The harder they try to destroy her, however, the better she looks.

To find out who this impressive woman is go here, read the article about her written by Noemie Emery, and remember her name. I think we'll be hearing a lot more about her in the years ahead.


Atheist Delusions

Theologian David Bentley Hart has favored us with a wonderful book which he has titled Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, a takeoff from Richard Dawkins' God Delusion, the basic argument of which is the target of Hart's book. Hart doesn't spend much time deconstructing Dawkins' book itself but rather addresses himself to the larger genre of atheistic tomes which have flooded the marketplace of late.

Hart takes their main premise that religion generally, and Christianity specifically, have been toxins in the bloodstream of human civilization and with an eloquence that's often lapidary, exposes such claims as utterly lacking in significant historical foundation. By way of christening his rebuttal Hart launches in chapter one a witheringly eloquent assault on the thinking of such as Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and their epigones which is worth the price of the book all by itself.

Subsequent chapters take us on an excursis of the ancient world into which Christianity was introduced. It was a world of unbelievable brutality, violence, and superstition, a world in which women and slaves were property and newborn children were often left along roadsides to die from exposure. He then chronicles how Christianity changed all that, not all of a sudden and certainly not perfectly, but inexorably nevertheless. Along the way he puts to rest all sorts of myths about the history of the Christian church.

For instance, everyone has heard how Christianity oppresses women, but the history of Christianity simply doesn't support this myth and, in fact, shows that Christianity has done more to elevate women to equal status with men than any other belief system or culture had ever done. Consider how the status of women in the Roman world changed under the influence of the Christian church.

...there can be little question regarding the benefits that the new faith conferred upon ordinary women - women, that is, who were neither rich nor socially exalted - literally from birth to death. Christianity forbade the ancient pagan practice of the exposure of unwanted infants - which is almost certainly to say, in the great majority of cases, girls - and insisted upon communal provision for the needs of widows - than whom no class of persons in ancient society was typically more disadvantaged or helpless. Not only did the church demand that females be allowed, no less than males, to live; it provided the means for them to live out the full span of their lives with dignity and material security. Christian husbands, moreover, could not force their wives to submit to abortions or to consent to infanticide; and while many pagan women may have been perfectly content to commit their newborn daughters to rubbish heaps or deserted roadsides, to become carrion for dogs and birds or (if fortunate) to become foundlings, we can assume a very great many women were not. Christian husbands were even commanded to remain as faithful to their wives as they expected their wives to be to them; they were forbidden to treat their wives with cruelty; they could not abandon or divorce their wives; their wives were not their chattels but their sisters in Christ....Christians had been instructed by Paul that a man's body belonged to his wife no less than her body belonged to him, and that in Christ a difference in dignity between male and female did not exist....

Christian emperors instituted laws which, though we today might wish went further than they did, were nevertheless unprecedented among prechristian pagans:

Constantine decreed laws that eased the hardship of widows, shielded women from prosecution in public, forbade divorce on trivial grounds, made public accusations of adultery against women illegal, and protected girls against marriage by abduction and forcible proleptic "consummation."

Theodosius and his successors went even further....A wife abandoned by her husband simply on the grounds of domestic unhappiness was now entitled not only to reclaim her dowry but to retain her husband's betrothal gifts to her as well....inheritance law was made more equitable in general by assuring that the estates of deceased women passed uncontested to her children. A girl whose father prostituted her was entirely liberated from his authority, and (more remarkably) a slave girl similarly abused by her master ceased to be his property.

In other words, rights and protections were conferred upon women and slaves under the aegis of Christianity that had no parallel in any pagan culture, which is probably why the Faith had such a strong appeal to so many who had been historically disenfranchised and marginalized.

There's much more in this excellent book which would make a fine gift for someone you know who perhaps labors under the benighted delusion that Christianity has been a pernicious blight on human history. To the contrary, Christianity was the engine that produced the modern understanding of human rights, dignity, and the value of every person.