Christians point out that their religion created universities and hospitals in Europe and argue that these institutions are an important addition to the Christian side of the ledger. Investigate the evolution of these institutions, however, and Christianity’s contribution may not look so impressive.
The universities of Oxford and Paris are some of Europe’s oldest, and they began by teaching the disciplines of theology, law, medicine, and the liberal arts. To see their clearly Christian foundation, though, consider the example of Isaac Newton. Cambridge University in the seventeenth century required its professors to be ordained Anglican priests. As a non-Trinitarian, Newton was a heretic, and only an exemption from the king allowed Newton to accept the Lucasian chair at Cambridge without taking holy orders.
The first college in the United States was Harvard, founded in 1636 by Christians to train clergy. Most of the early U. S. universities were founded for this purpose. However, the venerable universities Christians point to with pride are today guided with a very different principle than this declaration by the first president of Princeton: “Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
Christianity was a poor incubator for learning because of its uneasy relationship with any ideas that challenged the Church. The Roman Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books (yes, they had a real list) was a Who’s Who of Western thought and included books by Voltaire, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and many more. Universities with a Christian purpose were looking backward instead of progressing forward, and today’s prestigious universities have moved on from their original focus of training clergy.
Changed though universities now are, we have a vestige of the medieval university with us today: modern Christian colleges that require a statement of faith from students. With the conclusion accepted before study begins, this is no honest quest for truth.
Now consider hospitals. Christians might point to medieval hospitals to argue that they were pioneers in giving us the medical system we know today, but without science, a hospital can do nothing but give food and comfort. Church-supported hospitals centuries ago were little more than almshouses or places to die.
Let’s also be cautious about how much credit Christianity gets rather than simply people. People building a hospital in Europe 500 years ago would have been Christians, not because only Christians were motivated to build hospitals but because in Europe at that time pretty much everyone was Christian. Europe didn’t have a monopoly on hospitals, and India, Greece, and Rome tried to systematize health care long before European Christians.
We see medieval Christian medicine today in Mother Teresa’s hospitals. They don’t treat disease and often lack even pain medication. At best they are comfortable places to die. Mother Teresa said, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”
This, of course, is the opposite of the goal of modern hospitals.
Image credit: Michael Rivera (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia
“It is impossible for God to lie”: Hebrews 6:18. See also Numbers 23:19.
“You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”: Genesis 2:17.
God once lied through a prophet: 1 Kings 22.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: Exodus 9:12.
“God sends them a powerful delusion”: 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12.
“[God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts”: John 12:37–40.
He demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1–19.