Posts Tagged ‘Western Culture’

This is a video of Vishal Mangalwadi’s plenary address titled “Corruption and the Culture of the Cross” from the 2014 C.S. Lewis Summer Institute.

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Fatalism, pessimism, and escapism have paralysed many cultures. The key to the West’s amazing progress was optimism. Where did it come from?

Thomas Hobbes, an atheist philosopher, described life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Gautam Buddha, India’s most influential sage, believed that “Life is suffering.” The only way to escape suffering is to escape life into the Nothingness of Nirvana.

The West became different because something enabled it to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” What was the secret of that optimism?

2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Russia. Hardly anyone is celebrating it even though that revolution was immensely influential. Its aftershocks continue until today, creating havoc in many nations.

Before Communism came the French Revolution. Its ideals were high: Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. It replaced God with the goddess of human reason – but degenerated into a Reign of Terror before ending in the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Russian and French Revolutions were the outcome of the Enlightenment’s faith in man. They taught us that when man tries to become the messiah, he becomes a monster.

A decade before the French Revolution, Americans began their Revolutionary War in 1776. They succeeded in building one of history’s greatest and freest nations. Prior to the American Revolution, the English Civil War had also succeeded in changing Britain. Historian Jacques Barzun pointed out that the English and American Revolutions were ripple effects of the German Reformation.

He wrote that the Sixteenth Century Reformation was the most influential revolution of the last millennium. It reformed nations and created the modern world of freedoms and progress.

The German, English, and American Revolutions succeeded because they began as spiritual movements. The reformers sought the purity of their own hearts before seeking the reform of their nations. They did not fight for power and positions for themselves. They fought for principles, for truth.

Communists call religion “the opium of the masses”. The historical fact is that the Christian hope of Heaven was not just consolation for hardship in this life; it enabled Christians to endure hardship now. Because Christ had given them eternal life, they were not afraid to die. They stood up to tyrants. Eleven of Jesus’ twelve Apostles were martyred for what the Reformation saw as the “freedom of belief”. Christians continue to brave death for their faith in many countries today.

Ideologies such as Communism, Fascism and Socialism put their hope in man. They were disappointed. The Reformers put their hope in Jesus, because he conquered sin and death. Reformers did not fight because they wanted to rule this world. They fought because they prayed, “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s will was to be done in the hearts of believers, as well as bring healing to every sphere of life. One of the Reformation’s chief legacies is that corrupt, cruel and poor nations can be reformed. They can be freed from intolerance, superstition, and oppression.

The Reformers would have agreed that religion is the opium of the masses. But faith in a living God results in hope.

Corruption costs the world about 1 trillion dollars each year. It transfers wealth from the powerless to the powerful. A corrupt people cannot trust their own society. Globally, corruption is the norm. I was surprised that some cultures found a CURE.

My first experience of a culture of trust was in Holland. My host took me to a dairy to buy milk. I had never heard of machines milking cows. No one was selling the milk. My friend just opened the tap and filled his jug. Then he grabbed a bowl filled with cash. He paid in a 20 Guilder note, took the change, and started walking away with his milk. I was stunned. I said, “Man! If you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money!”

He laughed. In a flash I understood a basic cause of my nation’s poverty. If customers took the milk and the money, the dairy owner would have to hire a salesgirl. But if the consumer is corrupt, why would the supplier be honest? He would add water to increase the quantity of milk. Frustrated by watered-down milk, the consumer would ask the government to appoint Milk Inspectors. But why should the Inspector be honest? He would take bribes and allow adulterated milk to be sold. The consumer will have to bear the cost of the milk, water, the sales-girl, the Inspector, and the bribe – none of which add any value to the milk. In paying for them, the consumer pays simply for his sin.

Paying for all this means that you don’t have money left to buy products that actually add value, such as milk turned into ice-cream or cheese.

How did Holland create a culture of integrity? Medieval Europe was as corrupt as India is today. Holland’s Reformation began in the soul of a German monk called Martin Luther. He struggled to find purity of heart. He followed all the religious rituals of his Church, fasted and prayed; went on pilgrimages; confessed every sin he could think of. But none of these gave Luther an assurance that all his sins were forgiven or that he was accepted by God.

The light dawned on Luther when he read New Testament writer Paul the apostle. Paul had also tried to become righteous by following his sect of Judaism. Then he learnt that our religious works or karma don’t make us righteous before God. They can make us religious bigots.

The Bible reveals a God who is very different from gods who want bribes in exchange for blessings. God sacrificed His own Son to save us. Our religious efforts cannot earn salvation. It is a gift received by faith. When the resurrected Christ came to live in his heart, Luther’s inner darkness turned into light. That enabled him to oppose the corruption of his church at the risk of his life.

Luther knew that protest does not eradicate corruption. Transforming a nation requires cultivating character. That is why God gave us the Scriptures. Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by God’s inspiration, and is profitable for correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” [2 Timothy 3: 16-17].

The desire to reform his nation inspired Luther to translate the Bible into German and promote a national educational system built upon God’s word.

Poverty does not cause corruption; corruption causes poverty. To combat both, our nations need more than aid, investment or protest. They need hearts and minds that are transformed.

Why don’t English women haul water on their heads, like many Indians and Africans?” I asked, in a class in London.

“Because . . . they are lazy,” answered one of my African students.

Actually, the answer is more complicated. I asked because in Uganda I had seen hundreds of women and children hauling water on their heads right next to a hydroelectric plant at the source of the River Nile. The abundance of water and electricity made me wonder why women were bringing water on their heads, morning and evening, 365 days a year. That wasted millions of hours of labour. Worse, it meant eating poorly washed food from badly washed dishes with unwashed hands. That infected people with easily preventable diseases that drained their energy.

By using their minds, a handful of people can supply more water to a million homes than a million people hauling it on their heads.

My experience in Uganda refuted the proverb that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Every family needs water. If a wife cannot bring enough water, men forced their children to work, took additional wives, or bought slaves. They didn’t invent.

Many scholars, such as Stanford’s Professor Lynn White Jr., have documented that humanizing technology came out of biblical theology.

Why did Christian monks develop technology?

Buddhist and Christian monks shared the same problem: they could not take wives to haul their water or grind their grain. Buddhism required monks to beg for their food. But the Bible said that a person who does not work should not eat. [2 Thessalonians 3:10] To work was to be like God. He is a worker, not a dreamer, dancer, or meditator like in some other religions.

But the monks had come to the monastery to pray, not to grind grain. The Bible resolved their tension by distinguishing “work” from “toil.” To work was to be like God, but toil was a curse on human sin. [Genesis 3:17–19].

Toil is mindless, repetitive, dehumanizing labor. This theological distinction between work as godliness and toil as curse enabled Christian monks to realize that human beings should not have to do what wind, water, or horses can do. Creative reason should be used to liberate human beings from the curse of toil.

“Gospel” means good news: sin brought upon us the curse of toil. But the Saviour took our sin, its curse, and punishment upon himself. The Lord Jesus died upon the cross to save us from sin and its consequences, including the curse of toil.

This is in marked contrast to every other worldview, for example Hinduism teaches that this world is Maya, not real; and Buddhism teaches that engaging with this world is the CAUSE of suffering rather than a solution.

Francis Bacon made this point most strongly in his New Science, [Novum Organum [1620], “By the Fall, man fell from both his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. But even in this life both of those losses can be made good; the former by religion and faith, the later by (technical) arts and sciences.” (Nov. Org. II 52)

The Bible birthed technology in monasteries. The Reformation took it out of that closed environment and taught it to everyone. That made available to the world God’s gracious gift of salvation, including salvation from the curse of toil through humanising technology.

Did you know that you owe your ability to read and write to a 16th century European movement called the Protestant Reformation?

500 years ago the child of a fisherman, shepherd or carpenter could not go to school in Europe. Education was in Latin, mainly for those who wanted to serve the church.

The Protestant Reformation took education from the elite and gave it to everyone. Why? Because the Bible taught that ignorance and deception was the kingdom of Satan (in Revelation 20), but that God wanted all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. [1 Timothy 2:4]

In order to reform Europe, Martin Luther demolished elitist education. In 1520 he wrote a letter to the Christian nobility in Germany, expounding the Bible’s teaching that every child of God, whatever his colour, class or gender, is a royal priest [1 Peter 2:9]. He called this doctrine the “Priesthood of all believers.”

Every priest needs to know God. That requires studying God’s word. That, in turn, required the Bible to be available in the languages of the people. Luther himself translated the Bible into German. But people who spoke German dialects did not read their language. That required schools.

Who will pay for building schools? In 1524, Luther wrote another letter to the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany. Using Scriptures such as Psalm 78, Luther argued that City Councils were responsible to build and maintain schools.

God is our “Father” means that a man has to be more than an animal. He has to nurture and teach his children as does God.

By 1530 Luther realised that parents were a part of the problem. They could not see why children should go to school, if their life was to be spent milking cows, chopping wood, or bringing up babies.

Therefore, Luther asked parents to send children to school and keep them there. His appeal rested upon God’s Word. Poor peasants wanted their children to help with the family’s meagre income. Luther asked them to trust and obey God’s Word: to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. [Matthew 6: 31-33] That would be God’s way to improve their economic life

Did it work?

By the year 1600, at least 300 German cities and towns had established schools. These were so effective that, as early as 1537, a political opponent, the Roman Catholic theologian John Zwick, stated that if he were a boy again, he would attend a Lutheran school. They imparted better education because the schools were not established to make money. Their purpose was to help every child seek God’s kingdom.

The education of illiterate masses was God’s idea. He gave a written text, the Ten Commandments, to Hebrew slaves who were shepherds and brick-makers. They were oral learners. God wanted to transform them into a great nation. Therefore He required them to learn to read, write, think (meditate) and teach His written Word.

Turning oral languages of the masses into literary languages makes printing and publishing commercially viable mass media. Making the language of the common man, the language of learning, literature, and law democratises knowledge. It is the foundation of modern democracy. You cannot have a government of the people, for the people and by the people unless it functions in the language of the people.

The Bible turned dialects into literary languages. It inspired the missionary movement to translate and publish the Bible into every major language. That has globalized the Bible’s idea of universal education.

One thousand years ago, Islamic civilization had surpassed Europe in nearly every respect. Islamic rulers were wealthier, armies were more powerful, and scholarship was further advanced. But something changed. Now, the Spanish world translates as many books each year as Arabs have translated in the last one thousand years.

What brought about this dramatic rise of the West? My secular professors taught that the secret was the West’s “discovery” of human dignity during the Renaissance. That is true. But they also taught that the Renaissance humanists discovered this view of man in the Greek and Latin classics. That is a myth. The classical writers held many noble ideals, but the inherent value, dignity and equality of each human being was not one of them.

The US Declaration of Independence includes the line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” But human equality has NEVER been self-evident. Virtually every society throughout history kept slaves and made women inferior to men.

So how did the West’s conception of human beings become so radically different?

My professors believed the secular myth that the notion of human dignity originated in ancient Greece. But they didn’t examine the primary sources. A century-long research culminated in a two-volume work by Charles Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness. Trinkaus concluded that although Renaissance Humanists quoted and promoted the classics, their peculiar view of human dignity came out of the Bible in deliberate opposition to Greek, Roman, and Islamic thought. Their view of man was derived from the first chapter of the Bible [Genesis 1:26], which says that God made man in His image.

Renaissance writers such as Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) did not derive their high view of man from only one verse of the Bible about the creation of man. The Bible revealed man’s unique dignity most supremely in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God saw the misery of man and came as man, to make human beings sons and daughters of God.

Muslim intellectuals asked, “Can God also become a dog?” That reduced man to the level of beasts. Islam’s failure to appreciate the value and dignity of human beings prevented Islamic civilization from developing the full potential of its people. It trapped the masses without the fundamental rights and liberties that made it possible for the West to overtake Islamic civilization.

Saudi Arabia for example refused to sign the United Nation’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” [UDHR] because it saw that the Declaration was an anti-Islamic, Judeo-Christian idea, pretending to be “universal.”

Far from violating God’s dignity, the incarnation was to be the ultimate proof of man’s dignity. Man was made in God’s image, but the Bible taught Reformers such as Martin Luther that human beings have fallen in sin. Yet God loved us enough to come and save us from our sin and make us His beloved children. God’s descent means man’s ascent. It confirms that human beings are unique in the created order.

Of course, atheists will tell you that they believe in human equality. That’s only because the Bible wrote that notion into their cultural DNA. If atheists were writing the Declaration of Independence, they would have to write something like, “We hold these ideas to be politically correct: that all human beings have evolved equal, and are endowed by natural selection with unalienable rights…” But that would be absurd. There is no observable way in which all human beings are equal. Evolution never asked mosquitos not to kill human beings! No, Equality is a moral and theological idea that evolutionism can’t support because it tries to explain inequality self-evident in nature.

Now the question is, will we reduce man to the level of beasts? Or will we recover the historic basis for faith in man’s unique dignity?

What enabled a small island such as England to colonise the Indian sub-continent? By the 1850s Indian thinkers came to an astonishing conclusion: one of the West’s secrets was sex — efficient harnessing of sexual energy to build stable families.

Let me illustrate.

Many years ago I was teaching in Jamaica. I learnt that 85% of children there were born to women who never married the fathers. America’s sexual revolution was just getting off the ground . . . How could Jamaica be so far “ahead” of America’s cultural elite?

Jamaica’s sexual revolution was a policy promoted by the British. In 1807, William Wilberforce succeeded in abolishing the Slave Trade. This created a problem for British Plantation owners in the Caribbean. Their business needed slaves.

Plantation owners decided to produce slaves ON the plantations. They discouraged male slaves from marrying. Like stud bulls, they should make women pregnant, but not take responsibility for them. An unwed mother will look after the child for a few months. Then she will need to work. Soon she will be pregnant again, unable to care for the first child. A child without a caring family will have no option but to grow up to be a slave.

Fast-forward to 2008. A handsome young man helped us move from Hollywood to Pasadena in California. After 8 hours of hard work, drinking a cup of coffee in our new home, he began to tell us about himself. “I hate American women!”

“Why?”

“Oh! I have loved many of them. I have kids from three of them. Each of them wants me to babysit three days a week. How can I babysit nine days a week? They all want child-support. Even if I babysit 7 days and work 7 nights, I cannot do what they are asking. I am going crazy. I want to commit suicide . . . though it may be good to get an Indian girlfriend.”

He was a smart, loveable guy. Yet, I had to be honest: “You have already condemned three women, three children, and yourself to poverty. Why couldn’t you love just one woman? Have three kids with her? The two of you take care of them. Then, in your old age, they would look after you.”

The young man looked at me as though I was an alien. “Are you promoting monogamous marriage? That is an outdated religious idea invented because priests did not want people to have fun!”

All his life, my friend had been taught he was a monkey. Monkeys don’t marry. They do monkey-business. That is what the man and his girlfriends had been doing.

Marriage is indeed God’s idea. The German reformer, Martin Luther, articulated the Bible’s unique idea of marriage in books such as “Table Talks.” A triune God created man in His image — male and female — to be one, in an exclusive and life-long relationship. The two of them become more of God’s image when they have a child and become three. It is in taking care of that child that they begin to understand the Father-heart of God, the Mother-heart of God.

The spread of the Bible made it the West’s default definition of marriage. Indian reformers understood this secret of the West’s success. Therefore they outlawed polygamy in 1955.

Sexual revolution dissipates sexual energy. It is the path to slavery. In contrast, marriages harness sexual energy to build families and character. It builds great economies and powerful nations. It is the path to human dominion over the earth.

Five hundred years ago my country, India, had more wealth than Europe. Then, suddenly, some countries rapidly overtook us. What happened?

It is tempting to credit the West’s success to greed and guns, germs and steel. These did play a role. A responsible analysis, however, cannot overlook the impact of the Protestant Reformation.

Economics has become such a complicated subject that it is difficult for many to understand a simple secret of the West’s progress. That secret was a woman — Mrs. Katherine Luther.

Katherine von Bora was a runaway nun who married a monk, Martin Luther. She began the change that Sociologist Max Weber discussed in his classic, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

The newly married nun and monk had no money to buy a house. Therefore the local Prince, the patron of Luther’s university, gave them the empty monastery.

But how was Katie to maintain a large house on her husband’s meagre salary? She turned her home into a paying guest-house for university students. That required her to feed 30-40 people every day. How do you feed so many people?

Katie started growing her own fruit and vegetables. Then she turned her home into an animal farm. The money she saved was invested in a second, third, and fourth piece of land. One had a creek flowing through it. Katie turned it into a fish-pond!

By 1542, the Luthers owned more real-estate in Wittenberg than any other citizen. As soon as she bought land, Katie began developing it. Farms needed buildings for agriculture as well as housing her employees, so Katie became a builder, too.

Back then, cities did not provide clean drinking water. Therefore, Katie ran a brewery. One can still buy “Luther Beer” in Wittenberg.

Martin taught the Bible’s work-ethic. Katie practiced it.

Had Martin Luther followed the Buddha as his guru, he would have remained a religious ascetic, begging for his food. But Luther followed the Bible. It condemned laziness as sin. God’s commandment, “You shall not covet” meant that people must create wealth. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal”, meant that every person had a right to his property. While the state was responsible for protecting a citizen’s property, the family and church were responsible for producing citizens that would not steal a neighbour’s produce.

I grew up in North India. The land and climate were perfect for all kinds of vegetables and fruit. This could have created vibrant agro-industries. But the average peasant did not grow them, because upper-caste men would come to his farm in broad daylight to help themselves to his produce. If he left his wife to protect his farm, she would be raped.

Had Katie lived in the Soviet Union, she would have had no motivation to buy lands and develop them. Atheism does not believe that “You shall not steal” is God’s command. That gives the powerful the right to take your land.

Katherine Luther did much more than feed a few dozen students. Every day, Katie helped her husband disciple Germany’s future spiritual and intellectual leaders. She transmitted to German pastors the Bible’s spirit of economic enterprise: the art of making money with whatever little you have.

At dinner, the boys would often ask her husband questions and take notes. These discussions applied the Bible to everyday life, including the economic life of ordinary families. They were published as Martin Luther’s Table Talks. They enabled scholars such as Max Weber to understand how Luther’s exposition of the Bible created Europe’s spirit of Capitalism.