Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Saving Orphans in Korea: Early Christianity Redivivus

I recently encountered this heartbreaking yet inspiring video on Facebook. It documents the work of a single pastor in South Korea who is saving infants abandoned on the streets.

The video reminded me of sociologist Rodney Stark's now classic book, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Stark offers a historical explanation for the incredible explosion of the Christian faith in Greco-Roman culture.

The numbers are truly staggering. According to the data in chapter seven of his book, Christians made up .0017% of the population of the Roman Empire in A.D. 40. That number skyrocketed to 56.6% by A.D. 350.

Part of what caused Christianity to spread so rapidly was its commitment to life--particularly, as Stark shows, the lives of little girls. Let me explain.

Stark goes through the depressing data from ancient Greco-Roman society. Infanticide and abortion were widely practiced and little girls were especially targeted for death.

Tacitus writes, “. . . we drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal” (On Anger 10.15). Seneca was this as reasonable and commonplace. Roman law stated: “Deformed infants shall be killed” (De Legibus 3.8). 

Excavations of Roman sewers has also revealed how commonplace infanticide was. 
 “Remains of nearly 100 infants, killed very soon after birth, were discovered in this Roman bathhouse. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered infanticide, especially through abandonment and exposure to the elements, the most effective form of birth control" (Biblical Archaeology Review, July / August 1991)
But the "weak" also simply were identified as girls. 

In one shocking letter written by a man named Hilarion, we read the words of man away on a business trip with a group of companions. The matter of fact way he speaks to his wife of killing their baby if it is a girl is simply horrifying:
“Know that I am still in Alexandria. And do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.”— Hilarion’s letter to his pregnant wife (a.d. 1) [1]
According to the analysis given by Susan Scrimshaw, of 600 second century families recorded at Delphi, only 1% had raised two girls![2]

Yet, as Stark explains, the early Christians made a point to rescue babies left out to die of exposure. By the fourth century, if you were a woman, statistics showed you had a good chance of owing your life to a Christian. 

By the fourth century, if a man wanted to get married, the odds were quite good he'd end up marrying a Christian woman. The spread of Christianity was fundamentally related to its commitment to human life.  

To be Christian is to defend life. 

That's always the way it was. 

That's always the way it will be. 

May God bless the pastor in the video above. 


NOTES:


[1] Hilarion’s letter to his pregnant wife (c. a.d. 1): “Know that I am still in Alexandria. And do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.” Cited in Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt under Roman Rule (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), 54.

[2] Susan Scrimshaw, “Infanticide in Human Populations: Societal and Individual Concerns,” in Infanticide: Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives (eds. G. Hausfater and S. Hardy; Piscataway, N.J.: Aldine Transaction, 2008), 439.



2 comments:

Nick said...

Our Lady of Good Health, pray for the Koreans!

John Bergsma said...

Gives new perspective on the so-called "War on Women," heh?