Sunday, July 29, 2012

The West, Christian Thought, and the Rest, 

"Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk." (Jürgen Habermas - Philosopher and Sociologist Jurgen Habermas, self-confessed methodological arheist, "Time of Transitions", Polity Press, 2006, pp. 150-151).

Today it is fashionable for secularist talking heads, scholars, writers and what have you to disparage the influence of religion in the world. It is understandable. Many atrocities that are being committed today are done in the name of religion (911!). Not all, however. In fact, atrocities committed under atheistic worldviews beat, hands down, atrocities done by religionists. (See links for figures *).

The problem with many secularists is that they commit the error of throwing the baby with the bathwater. Just because some religious nut did some evil thing, these atheists jump to the non sequitur conclusion, ‘There, ALL religions are bad for people and bad for the world. Let’s get rid of the filthy thing!’ Driven by his secularist zeal Sam Harris puts on his atheistic superhero uniform and sets out 'to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity…' Sure superhero Sam, go kick some Christian butt. But let’s not take Sam’s word for it; it’s good for us to visit history lane and check out for ourselves the role that the Judeo-Christian Faith has played in world history, Western Civilization in particular, the civilization that has fully dominated the world since the 1500s.

At the outset let me be clear on what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that America is a Christian Nation. What I do assert is the undeniable historical fact that the Judeo-Christian worldview has been a tremendous blessing to the world, greatly contributing to the uplifting of societies, cultures and nations. America is a critical example because today it is the most dominant Western nation (though sadly in decline). And perhaps having the most impact on our country (for better or worse). America, though NOT a “Christian nation” from a political or technical sense, has been greatly influenced by the tenets of the Judeo-Christian faith in its beginnings and foundational convictions.

For example, in the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) it explicitly states,

“We clearly hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

This conviction has its roots in the Judeo-Christian faith. In fact the entire Western civilization cannot be completely understood without considering the strong and deep influence of the Judeo-Christian faith. But modern secularists who are THEOPHOBIC and allergic to anything “religious”, particularly Christian, do everything they can to eliminate whatever Christian influence there was in the development of Western thought. But this is historical revisionism at its worst and a boldfaced lie!

The irrefutable historical fact is that the entire Western Civilization that has dominated the world for five centuries now was DEEPLY influenced and impacted by Judeo-Christian thought and is evidenced in its foundational convictions.

Is the West in decline these days? Yes. In fact, many describe Western Europe as “post-Christian Europe”. It has departed from its historical foundations in Judeo-Christian thought. America also is sadly following a similar path. In fact some are already saying that America now is “post Christian America”!

Writer Fred Hutchinson quotes a critical observation made by a historian.

“Historian Christopher Dawson (1889–1970) devoted much of his life's work to studying and writing about the interaction of Christianity and civilization over the course of history. He claimed that every rising civilization had a religion at its core, and was driven forward by religious zeal and spiritual aspirations. Dawson also wrote that every civilization that loses touch with its religious roots must eventually fall, no matter how rich and powerful it has become. Dawson was alluding to a "higher religion" like Christianity, which is conducive to civilization, and not to pagan religions that are conducive to primitive tribalism.”

Nietzsche castigated the secularists who want to get rid of the Christian Faith yet romantically hold on to its moral and ethical ideals. If you cut the tree then go the whole way and totally uproot the whole thing and replace it with something totally new. Good riddance! Nietzsche offered that new thing—what’s left is THE WILL TO POWER!

Here are some revealing comments --

"Let me begin with a striking passage from Niall Ferguson's recent book, Civilization. In it he tells of how the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was given the task of discovering how the West, having lagged behind China for centuries, eventually overtook it and established itself in a position of world pre-eminence. At first, said the scholar, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we concluded it was because you had the best political system. Then we realised it was your economic system. "But in the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.” (by UK Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks)

The Chinese scholar was right. The same line of reasoning was followed by the Harvard economic historian, David Landes, in his magisterial The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. He too pointed out that China was technologically far in advance of the West until the 15th century. The Chinese had invented the wheelbarrow, the compass, paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, spinning machines for weaving textiles and blast furnaces for producing iron. Yet they never developed a market economy, the rise of science, an industrial revolution or sustained economic growth. Landes too concludes that it was the Judeo-Christian heritage that the West had and China lacked."

Jurgen Habermas' statment is worth quoting again,

"Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk." 


Sociologist Rodney Stark, a convert to Christianity after a serious study of historical and sociological data, made this observations, 

“Christianity created Western Civilization. Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand copied scrolls. Without theology committed to reason, progress and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys and piano. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth – a world truly in the ‘dark ages.’”

“The modern world arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a ‘secular’ society – there having been none. And all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries. Even so, many apostles of modernization assume that, given the existing Western example, similar progress can be achieved today not only without Christianity but even without freedom or capitalism – that globalization will fully spread scientific, technical and commercial knowledge without any need to re-create the social or cultural conditions that first produced it.” (THE VICTORY OF REASON’ © 2005 Random House Publishing, (pp233)

For the evidence of the influence of Christian thought on the West (and the world!) please check the links below. But a summary (from D’Souza’s ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’) of some of Christianity’s influence on Western thought and civilization would be helpful. They include:

> preservation of learning and science during the Roman Empire invasion by barbarians

> enormous contribution in art, literature and music

> putting the basis for Western politics and the respect of each person’s conscience through the teaching of separation between church and state

> human dignity & rights, democracy through the respect for the poor and lowly

> social accountability for leaders who are called to be servants

> major importance given to the notions of family and marriage

> development of institutions like hospitals, churches, schools, charities, orphanages, homeless shelters, and universities

> development of capitalism; the Christian principles of work excellence, love, honor, team spirit, wisdom, trust etc stay at the basis of capitalism’ prosperity

> development of modern science through Christianity’s emphasis on the importance of reason as well as the tremendous work of some famous Christians scientists

> the Western or Protestant work ethic that propelled the West to become the dominant economic force in the world since the 1500s. Eminent scholar Niall Fergusson argues this in his widely recognized work Civilization: The West and the Rest. Reviewer Nubia Nieto of the Peace & Conflict Review (Volume 5, Issue 2 ISSN: 1659-3995) states that according “to Ferguson, the sixth killer application is work ethic, described as a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from, among other sources, Protestant Christianity, which provided a measure of stability and duty to balance the dynamic and potentially unstable values created by competition and consumer society. Ferguson argues that Protestantism was essential to develop capitalism, as adherents devoted themselves to work as a purpose of life, contributing then to reinforce the supremacy of the West.”

"The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." Gal3:8 (NIV)


On the Judeo-Christian influence on Western civilization, see
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  1. More links on the significant influence of Christian thought on Western Civilization --

  2. Elsewhere a good friend commented on my post, alerting me to a possible misunderstanding of what I’m saying. This post is NOT about ‘pro-West-anti-so-and-so…’ It is not about an ideology. It is simply about the powerful influence Christian thought has had on the intellectual and historical development and progress of Western Civilization. I’ll be the first to admit that the West has produced some very "bad eggs". But these “bad eggs” are not the product of the Judeo-Christian worldview but rather its distortions. Whatever evil the West has produced cannot be traced back to Christian thought. What my post argues for is the historical fact that the Judeo-Christian thought played a major role in the development of Western Civilization and the many benefits it has given the world.

    We need to be reminded of this truth because,

    1) the secularists (who paint themselves as the ‘enlightened’ ones) are denying this and want to paint Christianity as a dark (even evil!) blot in history, opposing human progress such as science; they paint Christians as religious ignorant fools with heads stuck in their antiquated nasty little Bibles!

    2) many extreme postmodernists and their ilk are portraying anything Western as evil, and since historically the dominant faith of the West has been Christian (though seriously in decline these days), they charge Christianity itself as guilty of the "crimes of the West", dismissing Christianity as imperialistic, chauvinistic, bigoted, oppressive, manipulative (they point to the missions effort of Christianity as evidence of its imperialism, destroying diverse local cultures).

    These views are very slanted, skewed, naive, and in fact a very bigoted approach to historical facts, severely lacking careful nuanced thinking and analysis. A recent classic example of this was the runaway bestselling book and blockbuster movie (Tom Hanks) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Packaged as a novel but claims historical accuracy; presenting the West and Christianity as imperialistic, oppressive, manipulative and sinister. However, the details of that book have been thoroughly and exhaustively debunked by scholars and historians. The significant details of the book indeed are FICTION and not facts as the author claims. I've read the book and watched the film by the way (the book was a lot better than the film).