Long before our lifetime, the West gave up on Christianity, so even we Christians aren’t aware of the cultural capital we owe to Christianity. It’s not possible to conceive of the West without the influence of Christianity. Our civilization, though now secular and pagan, is unthinkable apart from Christianity.
Jesus Christ was born as a Jew into the Roman Empire. Israel was a satellite of Rome. It was governed locally by fellow Jews, but Rome pulled the strings. The Romans had supplanted the ancient Greek Empire, and Rome had assimilated many Greek ideas and practices. This is why we refer to the beginning of the classical world as Greco-Roman. This was the world within which Christianity emerged and which it finally vanquished. To grasp the legacy of Christianity, it’s useful to contrast the Christian ways with the Greco-Roman (and other pagan, non-Christian) ways. We therefore can ask what the world might look like today had Jesus Christ never been born, and had Christianity never emerged.
An obvious example is the purification of sexuality. If you visited a home in the Greco-Roman world, you’d likely be stunned by least one factor: the depiction of raw sexual acts, including perversion, on everyday items like wall fixtures, oil lamps, vases, bowls, and cups. Pornography was routine and ubiquitous. There’s a very good, harrowing, explanation for this pervasive pornography. Marriage and sexual fidelity were looked on with derision and disgust. Sexual fidelity in marriage was a rarity. Sadism, masochism, and sexual orgies were common. Common bathhouses were magnets for heterosexual fornication. The emperor Caligula had people tortured during his sexual acts. The Romans were open about their sexual acts with children, even small children, who observed them or observed the acts depicted on common household items. Women were no less licentious than men, and many worked themselves sexual frenzy when they observed licentious acts.
Both the Greeks and Romans were notoriously homosexual, and a great deal of homosexuality was pederasty and pedophilia. Roman emperors like Tiberius (emperor when our Lord was crucified), Nero, and Galba set the abominable standard for elite society and then the commoners. They would have at least one or two beautiful boys for their sexual pleasure.
To heterosexual fornication and homosexuality were added lesbianism and bestiality, also widely practiced among the ancient Greek and Romans. The description of these acts in the classical world is so coarse that it wouldn’t be appropriate to enumerate it publicly. Likely as evil as the acts themselves is the fact that there’s no indication of any remorse or repentance for these depravities. As Paul said in Romans 1, not only did the pagans commit these acts, but they happily approved those who committed them (v. 31).
The Christian view of sex
The Christian approach to human sexuality was decisively different. The sexual act is a beautiful gift from God to be reserved in marriage between a man and woman. Intercourse is designed for both delight and procreation within the divine ordinance of marriage. Interestingly, it was Christianity that introduced the now widespread notion of sexual privacy. Sexual intercourse is a private, not a public, act.
It should come as no surprise that the ancient Romans deplored the Christians precisely because Christians opposed and exposed sexual immorality. Rome was filled with sexual darkness, and Christians shined the light of sexual purity on their evil. By the way, the same thing is happening today when we for stand up for sexual morality. Secularists reverting to paganism mock us and shout us down and even expose us to legal action because we advocate God’s sexual standards. Licentiousness is their idol, and we’re the iconoclasts, and they’re furious with us.
Of this we can be certain: the decency and propriety and privacy toward sexuality that has marked the Western world at most times was the gift of Christianity. Had Christianity never appeared, the unbridled sexual license of the Greco-Roman world would likely have continued unabated.
And the loss of sexual and propriety and unbridled sexual license signals a reversion to paganism.