The Handbook for Western Civilization

On November 29, 2011, in America, Bible, Books, Culture, Education, Freedom, God, Philosophy, Truth, by Derrick G. Jeter

How important was the Bible in establishing Western Civilization? To some, like Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Bible had little to nothing to do with establishing Western Civilization. In a November 2011 Los Angels Times op-ed, “What’s God Got to Do with It,” Shermer takes Congress to task for passing a resolution reaffirming the national motto of the United States: “In God We Trust.” Shermer argues:

It’s time to drop the God talk and face reality with a steely-eyed visage of the modern understanding of the origin of freedom on which the United States was founded and continues to be secured. God has nothing to do with it. [1]

Shermer then contends that if we want freedom and security, all we need are the following:

The rule of law; property rights; a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system; economic stability; a reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country; freedom of the press; freedom of association; education for the masses; protection of civil liberties; a clean and safe environment; a robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states; a potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by people within the state; a viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws; and an effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws. [2]

What Shermer fails to recognize, or refuses to accept, is the truth that God and His Word, either directly or indirectly, has everything to do with his list for freedom and security. It’s unfortunate that an America—born and breed—cannot or will not acknowledge this fact. It’s fortunate, however, that an Indian—one born and breed on the subcontinent of Asia—has taken up the case of God and the Bible as the source of freedom and security, not just in America but in Western Civilization.

Vishal Mangalwadi, the leading Christian philosopher in India, has written an engaging and provocative book outlining the case that the Bible is the genesis of all that we enjoy in the West, include the ideas on Shermer’s list. In The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Mangalwadi discusses a broad range of topics important to any civilization: humanity, rationality, technology, heroism, revolution, language, literature, education, science, morality, family, compassion, economics, and liberty. With each subject, Mangalwadi compares how the West built on these ideas for the benefit of humanity while Eastern cultures, like his own, failed to capitalize on these ideas. The difference, Mangalwadi argues, was the Bible.

Here’s a sampling of Mangalwadi’s argument regarding:

Technology:

The Judeo-Christian view of reality and destiny produced and nurtured technology in four ways: First, the Bible emphasized intelligent craftsmanship in the world’s design. Second, the Bible suggested that human beings participate in divine workmanship by being good artisans themselves. Third, the Bible taught that we follow divine example when we use the physical universe for righteous ends. And fourth, the Bible challenged the West to use time wisely, because each moment is a valuable, one-time opportunity. [3]

Education:

The Bible remained key to education because it is a library—a unique collection of books selected with extreme care. The sixty-six books of the traditional Bible were written by at least forty authors, over sixteen hundred years, in three different languages, yet they tell one story. This metanarrative begins with creation and ends with re-creation.

Corruption:

The Bible is the only force known to history that has freed entire nations from corruption while simultaneously giving them political freedom. The most secular nations—that is, the ex-communist, atheistic nations, which teach that when no man or machine is watching you, then no one is watching you—are among the most corrupt nations, not too different from Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim nations.

In essence, Mangalwadi, contends that “the Bible is not a book for ideal people. It is a handbook for sinners.” Since all civilizations are comprised of sinners, all civilizations, in order to function in a civilly, require Shermer’s list of freedom and security. But the rule of law, property rights, and the protection of civil liberties, for example, do not just spring from the heart of man in a Godless vacuum; something and Someone must inform them. For the West, these notions find their root and sustenance in the rich soil of the Bible.

If we deny this truth, as Shermer does, then we run the very real risk of losing all that Shermer hopes to retain. As Mangalwadi asks and points out:

What happens to a culture that is clueless about what is true, good, and just? Pilate answered that question when he declared: “I have the power to crucify you or set you free.” When we believe truth is unknowable, we rob it of any authority. What is left is brute power wielding arbitrary force. Whether a person or an ethnic minority is guilty or innocent becomes irrelevant. His or her right to life depends exclusively on the whims of whoever has power. Any nation that refuses to live under truth condemns itself to live under sinful man.

And living under sinful man apart from the truth of the Bible is something I’d rather not risk, for there would be nothing civil about it.

[1] Michael Shermer, “What’s God Got to Do with It,” Los Angels Times, November 4, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/04/opinion/la-oe-shermer-god-20111104, accessed November 27, 2011.

[2] Shermer, “What God Got to Do with It.”

[3] Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 97. Subsequent quotes come from pages 211, 255, 297, and 392 respectively.

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