The Resurrection of Jesus Is the Most Important Event in History

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Christians around the world will commemorate the most important event in our faith’s history this Sunday, but the Resurrection of Jesus isn’t just important to those who believe a Nazarene who walked the earth 2,000 years ago is the Son of God. The secular world’s history also turns on this pivotal event, which inspired so much progress that we take for granted today.

Christianity turned the values of the Pagan Roman world upside-down. The Romans considered the early Christians subversives—many called them “atheists” because they didn’t worship any pagan gods—and put them to death for refusing to worship the emperor. After some emperors adopted the faith, Emperor Julian attempted to revive paganism, but lamented that the Christian ethic had transformed the empire.

“It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism,” Julian wrote to a pagan priest of Galatia in 362 A.D. Those who believed in the Resurrection established the first hospitals, and Christianity spread rapidly during Roman plagues, as pagans fled the cities, but Christians stayed and tended to the sick, risking death but saving souls.

Rodney Stark, a now-deceased social sciences professor at Baylor University and author of the book “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success,” told PJ Media in 2017 that without the Resurrection, “we would still be in a world of mystery and probably in a world of repressive empires.”

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“Remember, at the dawn of history, people didn’t live in really tiny countries. They lived under huge, huge empires, nasty ones,” the professor added. He argued that Christianity historically has been the driving force behind limited government, science, capitalism, the abolition of slavery, medicine, organized charities, and more—and that Christianity would have been impossible without the belief in the Resurrection.

According to the four Gospel narratives, Jesus’ followers were quick to abandon their rabbi after his excruciating and humiliating death at Golgatha. Something convinced the same Peter who denied Jesus three times to later go to his own painful death saying that Jesus is the Messiah. In I Corinthians 15:17, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.”

1. Universities and Science

While many consider faith and science to be inherently incompatible, Stark noted that Christianity provides the worldview that makes science comprehensible.

“In the rest of the world, it’s thought that the universe is far too mystical to be worth thinking about,” much less experimenting on, Stark explained. But “in the West, the universe was created by a rational God, and consequently it runs by rules and, therefore, it makes sense to try to understand and discover the rules.”

Christians believe that a rational God created an ordered cosmos and created human beings in his image, enabling them to think his thoughts after him.

Modern universities grew out of the cathedral schools of the Middle Ages, and a bishop near the university at Paris made a surprising move in 1277. The bishop condemned certain ideas as anathema, among them the idea that the universe is eternal and could not have been different. These ideas, promulgated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (whom both the Muslim world and the university students held in extremely high regard), discouraged experimentation. If mere deductive reasoning could reveal the full truth of the cosmos, then there was no need to examine the world to test different hypotheses.

By condemning this idea, the bishop paradoxically helped free science from the shackles of Aristotelian thought.

2. Free Markets

It is hard to overstate just how wealthy modern Americans are in comparison to most human beings throughout history. Inflation is rising and it is increasingly difficult to afford a home, but Americans still enjoy the conveniences of indoor plumbing, heating and cooling, rapid transportation, refrigerators and microwave ovens, and endless options for learning and entertainment via the internet and electronic devices.

The term capitalism may be controversial, but the free market complexity that unleashed this jaw-dropping prosperity and innovation deserves respect and protection. While the German sociologist Max Weber famously traced capitalism back to the “Protestant work ethic,” Stark found an earlier source—the Catholic monasteries in the Middle Ages.

Catholic monasteries set up a complex network of lending at interest, and they also changed the narrative on commerce. “In almost all known societies at that time, commerce was degraded. It was thought to be nothing a gentleman would have any connection to,” Stark explained. Yet “Christian theologians, who had taken vows of poverty, nonetheless worked out that commerce was legitimate.”

The growth of complex markets took centuries, and some of it did tie in to darker chapters of world history.

3. The Abolition of Slavery

In one form or another, slavery appears in almost every human society, and if slaves ever succeed in overthrowing their masters, they often turn their former masters into slaves.

“It was only in the West that a society has ever overcome slavery, except when it’s forced by outside forces,” Stark said. Christianity inspired the “only civilization that has ever discovered within itself that slavery is immoral and gotten rid of it.”

Medieval Europe first eliminated slavery, often in fits and starts, and occasionally returning to the practice through trade. Slavery and the slave trade returned in force during the Age of Exploration, but in the 1800s, abolitionists such as William Wilberforce and Harriet Beecher Stowe led Britain and America in abolishing chattel slavery outright.

Abolitionists like them drew deep inspiration from the Christian belief that all humans are made in the image of God, and they deeply believed in the Resurrection of Jesus.

The New Testament does not require Christians to outlaw slavery, but outlawing slavery is the logical conclusion of key Christian doctrines. The Apostle Paul urged Philemon to free his former slave Onesimus. Paul also wrote to the Galatians that, when it comes to the grace of God in salvation, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

4. Limited Government

Most Americans today have no concept of how united religion and government have been in world history. In ancient Egypt, Pharaohs claimed to be gods on Earth, and in ancient Mesopotamia, kings built large temples to their gods in part to maintain their legitimacy. The three-generation Kim family in control of North Korea perpetuates the idea that the supreme ruler is god.

Christianity wrested ultimate power away from political rulers, teaching that God held the ultimate authority. St. Augustine divided the world into the “City of Man” and the “City of God,” emphasizing the independence of the life of faith and service from the concerns of power and everyday life.

Civil society grew and flourished because Christians believed both in helping the poor and in working together outside of government institutions. According to David Brooks’ 2007 book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism,” conservatives in strong families who attend church and earn their own paychecks are most likely to give to charity.

While Jesus famously told his disciples to pay taxes to the government, he also drew an enormously important distinction. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17) didn’t just mean “pay your taxes.” It also meant that Christians—who are made in God’s image as coins were made in Caesar’s image—owe their ultimate loyalty to God, not to the state.

The early settlers to America and the Founders employed these principles in government. The Declaration of Independence grounds Americans’ right to revolt from Britain in “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” The First Amendment forbids Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion or abridging the free exercise thereof,” not because religion is unimportant, but because religion is far more important than the government.

This separation marks Christian civilization apart from the despotisms of the ancient world and from the communist and fascist totalitarianisms of the 20th century. Civil societies exist in other parts of the world as well, but Christianity provides a unique justification for subordinating state power to other concerns.

Does All This Suggest the Resurrection Is True?

These and other benefits of Christian civilization extend far beyond those who believe in Jesus’ Resurrection, and these benefits do not erase the many sins and deceptions perpetrated in the name of Christianity over the centuries. However, they do illustrate the side-effects of faith in Jesus, which calls Christians to become the “salt of the Earth” and the “light of the world.”

If the Holy Spirit is working in Christian churches, the blessings of this faith will spill over to those who do not accept the Gospel.

These blessings are exactly what we should look for, supposing the Resurrection is true.

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