Some thoughts on Christ and Culture

Pascal Emmanuel Gorby has an interesting article in The Week, called How Christianity Invented Children.

It is not one of Gorby’s better articles. His point is that classical society had a rather dim view of children, and Christianity changed that. As a general thesis he may be correct, but there are also plenty of steps backward throughout history. Early modern Europeans for example seem to have been less sympathetic towards children than medieval ones, at least according to some recent scholarship.

Christianity of itself did not change infant morality rates, which also played a role in how much emotional energy people invested in children, it took modern medicine to achieve that. Child labor is the general rule of humanity, and only in a very advanced economy of the sort we have nowadays can average families afford to have their children idle.

But Gorby is correct insofar as in a classical world where infanticide and the sexual exploitation of children were common and accepted practices, Christians distinguished themselves by not doing these things. Of course once classical society was “Christianized”, pathologies like child prostitution or abortion didn’t disappear, but they went from being accepted practices to being marginal practices.

I don’t think Gorby is attempting to engage in “Go Christians!” cheer-leading as much as pointing out that our cultural values are historically contingent: there is no inevitable line of progress from the bad old days to Wonderful Us. Were it not for the phenomena of Christianity bringing some Jewish taboos to the wider Mediterranean world, odds are that infanticide and the sexual exploitation of children would still be considered normal.






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