Religions have existed since before civilization began. They have been responsible for everything from art and architecture to simple moments of joy and peace. We might look at the soaring cathedrals of Europe and their gorgeous stained glass windows. We can see medical missionaries bringing a better quality of life to the destitute in other countries. We see innumerable instances of charitable giving so the disadvantaged can have sturdy shoes and warm coats. But is all of this a good reason to believe in God?

The idea that religion must be true because it is beautiful is a highly subjective argument. After all, we might turn to Islam as an example and see something very different. The dedication to Allah and the focus on his holiness and power are, for many Muslims, beautiful things. But what about those women whose husbands have cut off their noses and ears, or gouged out their eyes for minor sins? What about the young girl stoned to death for sexual immorality because one of her family members raped her? Religion can be very beautiful, but it can be equally ugly.

So what about Christianity? We might look at the revolutionary character of Christianity—even it’s beauty, if we wanted to use the word—to see its differences from other faiths. When the Jews became a people in the time of Moses, we see marvelous things appearing in human culture for the first time. The belief in one God. The emphasis on taking care of the destitute, even when they are foreigners. The equal value of women. A greater level of ethical living than had been known previously in world history.

When the Jesus and his apostles began their work, we see even more revolutionary things appearing. An inclusive sense of community and personal responsibility and accountability. Opposition to slavery. Emphasis on the equal value of women. Providing help to others in times of need, even if they are outsiders. For instance, the last pagan Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate, once remarked that the “godless Galileans” (his term for the Christians; godless because they did not recognize the Roman gods) took care not only of their own, but of others as well. In a sense, it was almost as if the Christians were “showing up” the Romans by providing for others on a personal level.

What of the ugliness of Christianity in the past? We have to qualify what we mean by “Christianity.” The “Christianity” of those who burned witches, carried out the Spanish Inquisition, and waged war against Muslims in the Holy Land during the Crusades bears little resemblance to the kind of faith described in the New Testament. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner of non-Christians is not a duty given to believers. The same goes for waging war against unbelievers or believers of another faith.

The thing we must remember is that any worldview—religious or not—can be exploited by those seeking to justify wicked behavior. The Crusaders, witch hunters, and others sought justification for their activities. But the religious aren’t the only ones that do so. The non-religious in the 20th century did the same thing. The Nazis used evolutionary principles to demote Jews to non-human status. Soviet Russia outlawed Christianity, burned Bibles, and dynamited churches (a historical fact denied by Richard Dawkins). Even militant atheist Sam Harris says that some people holding particular (religious) beliefs may be considered worthy of execution. Religion can be ugly, yes. So can atheism.

In the end, Christianity is believable because it is logical, rational, and true, although it is also beautiful. Perhaps those qualities are much more closely connected than many people realize.