How a pope civilized the West
It is a case in which mixed motives, some selfish, some noble, played a vital role in making the world a more civilized (or at least a less barbaric) place.
It happened around the year 1095. Medieval Europe was in chaos. Conditions were desperate. Crime was rampant. Warfare was little more than looting and murder with minimal (if any) moral pretense. Pope Urban II declared: "It is so bad in some of your provinces, I am told, and you are so weak in the administration of justice, that one can hardly go along the road by day or night without being attacked by robbers; and ... one is [always] in danger of being despoiled either by force or fraud."
The Church used this chaos to launch the Crusades in an attempt to rescue Christendom from dissolution, but the consequences of this act were much more far-ranging in a positive sense. It was part of a trend in the Church, seen by some as merely selfish, to restrain the crimes of war, by introducing rules to protect women and children from the worst forms of brutality by soldiers. The only power possessed by the Church was moral persuasion, but that power was used to strong effect, both for charitable and institutional benefit.
It was an important foundation for what was to follow. One can trace the Geneva and Hague conventions to it. Not only are those 20th-century treaties a hallmark of history, but they have infiltrated the basic thinking of civilized people to such a degree that we rarely notice the effects until they are violated.
I was watching the movie A Bridge Too Far with a close Asian companion recently arrived to America. There is a scene in that movie in which a German soldier, under a white flag, steps forward onto the battlefield to demand surrender from the opposing British soldiers. My companion asked me, in a whisper, "Why don't they shoot him?" I was both horrified and amused. To do such a thing was unthinkable to me, but to someone with a mindset less shaped by Western influence, it seemed perfectly natural. Indeed, Japanese soldiers frequently killed helpless enemies (and civilians) without compunction, while on the other hand, their allies, the Germans, took the treaty rules for granted (with the horrific exceptions applied to people they considered less than human).
Having lived in Japan three years, I can testify that today's Japanese are eminently civilized people, who have absorbed the spirit of the Geneva Conventions into their own psyches. This has become so universal that even detestable tyrants make a pretense of honoring the underlying concepts, thereby unwittingly paying tribute to the moral underpinnings of Western civilization.
We should not underestimate the influence of Christianity in its humanizing effect, first in the Western democracies, and eventually, by degrees, throughout the world of today. Without the followers of Jesus, the planet would be even more brutal and unjust than it is.
Unfortunately, we have for several decades now been witnessing the decline of Christian influence. We are moving into something that leftists gleefully refer to as a post-Christian America. As a consequence, we are seeing that the abandonment of its vital moral principles is having devastating effect. I need not list them, but a glance at the news coming out of such hellholes as south Chicago and east Los Angeles, among others, will suffice.
We need once again to reaffirm our commitment to recognizing each other's humanity (including the unborn), and to boldly preach the gospel to all who will listen, even where the Good News is least welcome.