In one of my first posts, I discussed whether Christianity is bad for progress in society. You can read the essay here. After I wrote the essay I had the chance to discuss the topic with two people. These two conversations begat a thought, for which I give credit primarily to the people involved, a thought which should be mentioned in this discussion.
The thought is that although Christianity creates friction for progress it can ultimately be beneficial to society. Christian friction creates time for us to think deeply about the direction society is heading in. Instead of having an avalanche of changing moral views, of changing social structures, of abounding technological inventions, Christianity can help to create a funnel that slows down the flow of progress. Eventually, much of it still passes through, however, it gives us the time needed to think about how we should prepare to tackle the problems that might arise. It also gives us time to reconsider our moral intuitions about the diverse moral questions that arise with societal progress.
Take for example human genetic engineering. Since many Christians are against the adoption of any form of genetic engineering done on humans, this will impede the time horizon for the first global adaption, after we reach the necessary scientific maturity. This impediment, however, extends the time when the world can think deeply about the consequences of artificial manipulation of the human genome, that being social inequality, unknown and undesired side-effects that can surface generations later, possible war conflicts and others that arise. Although Christians can be reluctant to support genetic engineering on the premise of not wanting to play God, the concerns mentioned above have to be dealt with regardless and the more time we have, one might assume, the better decisions we will make.
In some cases, this extended time can lead to a complete abandonment of some pursuits, in others, it will lead to proceeding with more care.
That is not to say Christianity creates these discussions, Christianity creates time. The discussions happen naturally since they are in the public interest. However, Christianity can extend the period when these discussions and policymaking take place, and thereby increase the likelihood of the right decisions being made.
In other cases, Christianity can help to give a complete stop to views that are damaging to society.
This is only a speculation but I wonder whether if it had not been for Christianity the dichotomy of pro-choice and pro-life would quickly turn to pro-choice, neglecting the needed discussion, regardless of people’s worldviews.
The question of abortion does not have a clear cut answer. It is a complicated problem that requires deep thought.
What constitutes life?
Can a fetus be considered a human being?
If so, should human rights be assigned to the fetus even before being born?
If not, when does the fetus become a human being?
At what point in pregnancy, abortion becomes unacceptable? Does it ever?
Can the mother decide to kill the baby even when it is fully developed and about to be born?
Even though the comparison of abortion to the holocaust of some Christians is a stretch, it is important to find the correct answers to these questions. If we find them unaswerable it is crucial to at least think deeply about them. If the answer to the question of whether a fetus should (even at a later stage of development) be considered a human being and thereby acquire some rights, is yes, then 13% of our population has a wrong moral intuition when they believe abortion should be allowed even in the last three months of pregnancy. 1
The Christians who speak up against abortion help to keep the issue in the public eye, in the public discourse, which allows us to reconsider these questions and to see whether our answers correspond to reality, and if not we have the option of changing them.
Since most of the concerns Christianity has with progress are moral concerns, Christianity could be seen as societal moral brakes. It creates the time for people to reflect on whether our direction is the one we want to head in, whether our changing moral views are indeed moral, whether the adoption of some technological perks is a wise decision, and this extra time allows us to adjust our views and decisions if we find them incorrect or unwise.
Is it possible to have such reflections without Christianity? Absolutely. However, in the decisions of the magnitude, we are facing and are about to face we can use all the time available, and all the points of view one can have. Christianity creates time and brings different perspectives and thus should be acknowledged for it. This does not mean society will stall. So far, progress has always pushed further regardless of the “orthodoxy”. However, since the decisions we face are increasing in seriousness with time, it is helpful to have some brakes.
We do not want to step in the wrong direction. At this point in history, the wrong steps could be catastrophic. More time allows us to increase the probability of making the right steps, and thus one can claim Christianity is good for the progress of society.