A social media friend recently responded to a blog article I wrote, Are Christians Hypocrites, by asking whether I thought that “higher religious subscription correlated to fewer societal ills”. I think the answer is clearly, yes! (For a skeptic who agrees with me, see this dialogue on the podcast Unbelievable!)
But I know what he was getting at. Intermixed with that “progress” in the Western world are deep grains of corruption and evil in which the Church was not only complicit, but intimately involved.
My friend is a skeptic and an atheist. He believes that the world is better off without religion. He is critical of Christianity, and let’s face it: “the Church” has created its share of societal ills.
People are often critical of Christians and Christianity with some basis in fact for its checkered past. Christians often view that history differently than non-Christians, but a candid person must admit that corruption in “the church” evidenced in history is undeniable.
For skeptics, this vein of corruption running through the history of the Church “spoils the whole thing, undermines the truth of Christianity and justifies their rejection of it and the God Christians profess to believe. The fact that popular history focuses on that corruption, to the exclusion of all the good that Christianity has brought to the world, doesn’t negate the fact that such corruption existed and still exists.
When my friend posed his loaded question to me, I suspect that he sees a correlation between religion and societal ills. I did not argue with him about it because there is more than a kernel of truth to the statement.
But there is much more to the analysis. To begin with, all people are corruptible, not just church people. Corruption is, itself, dependent on the good that it corrupts. Corruption is the misuse, misapplication and exploitation of something good for bad purposes. Good must exist before corruption does its work.
One aspect of church history that correlates with that corruption is the “marriage” of church and state power. I think that Lord Acton was right when he said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the church becomes intertwined with worldly kings and kingdoms, the influences of power, wealth and all that goes with it colors the church, and the church is inevitably corrupted by it.