Book Review: “What’s So Great About Christianity” by Dinesh D’Souza

I don’t follow the news and I’m not plugged into current events.   So when I was assigned What’s So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza for a seminary class, I had no idea that the author had been convicted of a crime, pardoned by the president, and was shrouded in controversy.  It wasn’t until half-way through his book that I found out any of that.  I was enjoying the book so much that I decided to search the web for more his work to put into my reading queue.  Then the internet split open and his tangled history spilled into my lap.

One of the most pervasive evils of the present day is the “blame-splaining” phenomenon.  Instead of engaging with someone’s ideas, the tendency these days is to sidestep them entirely and point to a personal failure or professional blemish.  Or, even more commonly, to mine their work, dig up an old quote from years ago, and trot it out with no context.  This requires the intellectual acumen of a ten-year-old brat. 

There was a kid in elementary school who just couldn’t stand anybody getting a complement of any kind. He’d point out some flaw in the person or the product, no matter how minor.   I can still remember his freckled ten-year-old face saying “Well, it’s not perfect.”  

It is not a brilliant intellectual insight that nothing and nobody is perfect.  A nasty little ten-year-old kid knows that.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a drunk, but The Great Gatsby is one of the world’s greatest novels.  Louis Pasteur — who saved millions of lives by pioneering vaccination and pasteurization — performed clinical trials without a medical license and may have experimented on humans with inadequate scientific rigor. Sure, you can argue character and motives, but you can’t refute the quality of Fitzgerald’s prose or Pasteur’s science.  

Likewise, Dinesh D’Souza is not a perfect person, nor is he the cultural equivalent of Fitzgerald or Pasteur.  But his arguments in this book are generally sound.  He points out that Christianity is the source of:

  • Separation of church and state (“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Matt. 22:21)
  • Functional atheism (the search for logical/scientific solutions before resorting to the supernatural)
  • Public service (“the last shall be first and the first shall be last” Matt. 20:16)
  • The quest for objective truth through science (Fr. Georges Lemaître first posited the Big Bang Theory which was strenuously resisted by atheist scientists who desperately wanted to support the steady state theory)

But I think he’s at his best when he’s myth-busting.  It was very refreshing to see a popular book refute the often-touted “fact” that Christianity is a source of strife, war and death.  He stresses that the real killer isn’t Christianity but atheism.

The three crimes most often alleged against Christianity, D’Souza points out, are the Crusades, the witch trials and the Spanish inquisition.  But the Crusades were a series of wars against the Turks who had invaded the Holy Land, which had previously held by the Byzantine Empire. Losses were great on all sides. This wasn’t a “Christian” war — it was just a war.  The European witch trials, from 1450 to 1750, claimed 35,000 lives over 300 years. At Salem only 19 were executed. From 1478 to 1834 the Spanish inquisition resulted in no more than 5,000 dead over 350 years.   The grand total for these tragedies: 40,000.  

Atheist regimes, on the other hand, were responsible for millions of lost lives in a single century.  Mao killed about 65 million, Stalin 20 million, Hitler 6 million, and Pol Pot another 2 million.  Grand total: 93 million.  Christians aren’t perfect. Fair enough — and about as valuable as any ten-year-old’s observation goes. But Christianity, through its charity, philanthropy and peace-making work, has clearly saved a thousands times more lives than it may have taken.

I enjoyed his book a great deal.  It was smoothly written, engaging, and well-constructed.  As for D’Souza’s personality, his character, politics, criminal record, and other works, I’ll leave those evaluations to other reviewers.

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