In fall 2017, a missionary couple we support in east Africa recommended this book: The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi. Noticing that the first endorsement was by author and apologist Ravi Zacharias and another by our former pastor, Jan D. Hettinga, I eagerly purchased the book with my Christmas gift money. Then I read the 442-page tome with a pencil in hand.
Although I’m familiar with how the Bible has shaped Western Civilization, particularly the culture of America, Mangalwadi introduced me to the depth of its effect and contrasted it with his homeland, India, and other developing nations that lack early biblical influence. The contrast of the hope and human dignity of traditional Western thought and the fear and fatalism of non-Western thought strongly stood out to me.
In college, I took a course on the cultural history of China and Japan. Often, I wondered why China’s technological progress stagnated. I figured that its society became so caught up in memorizing Confucian ideas to pass the civil service exams that all other intellectual development was stifled. I sometimes would imagine how our world would have been different if China had not been so ethnocentric and had explored the lands to its west. (Only one emperor sent ships to East Africa. Beyond that, the Chinese didn’t consider the outside world worth exploring.) What if Western explorers, when rounding the Cape of Good Hope, had found a formidable Chinese armada ruling the Indian and China seas? That would have changed the course of the British Empire and world history.
In his book, Mangalwadi clarified that although many cultures developed some technologies, such as the Chinese creation of the paper, the printing press, and gun power, much earlier than the Europeans, their worldviews failed to nurture inventions. Any scientific or technological pursue accomplished by these cultures were done merely to satisfy intellectual curiosity. The European monasteries, on the other hand, strove to invent time-saving machines to minimize toil and to have time for prayer. With the arrival of the Reformation, Christian compassion sought to life men out of a life of drudgery because all men reflected the image of God and thus had dignity. “Necessity is the mother of invention” became a proverb in the West but not in the East. The non-Western cultures didn’t even see the need to help their fellow man through the development of medicine or just governments. This theme of the West possessing a caring culture and how this attitude led to improving Western cultures was new to me.
For years I’ve wondered why developing nations inefficiently used their natural resources to make their country prosperous. Why did it take the Western powers to harvest the natural resources of Asia and Africa? When the Western powers gave these nations their independence, why did so many of them allow the infrastructure built by the Westerners collapse? As a young teen in the 1980s, I heard missionary say that within about decade after Belgium pulled out of Zaire (now the Congo), the roads crumbled to the point that only ten percent of those that existed under colonial rule were usable. The century-old buildings in New Delhi are crumbling. Is the loss of a “caring” influence the source of this decay?
Honesty and Caring
A caring culture values honesty. During our process to adopt our daughter, I became profoundly aware of how Westerners hold honesty at a much higher than other cultures. Many international adoption processes require bribe payments. A family who adopted from China needed to pay various in-country “fees” in cash. A family member, who adopted children from Ukraine, also had to carry cash to pay off officials. We didn’t bring much cash to India though we were expected to give money gifts to the orphanage caretakers. However, we had no idea how the Indian government spent the $7,000 country fee. I suspect a few government bureaucrats received money to keep the adoption process moving. That’s the way several governments seem to work. In the U.S., and some other Western nations, bribes are still looked down on. Author Mangalwadi points out that Western honesty surprises people from non-Western nations.
While waiting to bring our daughter home, I read several books about India. I became amazed that even though India could launch satellites in space, it is unable to provide safe tap water even to a five-star hotel! I once asked an Indian immigrant why the Indian government couldn’t capture the monsoon rainwater, like we in Washington save snowmelt, in reservoirs for the dry seasons. He replied that it was not possible to do so. Perhaps that government doesn’t do so because they don’t have a sense of caring for its people as Manalwadi pointed out.
Moreover, the Indian government, as do many other nations, lack the ability or desire to enforce their laws. National laws provide the citizens freedom and protection, but the police and government officials either refuse or lack the courage to enforce them. The woman who supervised the orphanage where our daughter lived said that if a woman reported being raped to a local police officer, she’d more likely be raped by him as well instead of receiving justice.
This lack of caring perpetuates the spirit of fatalism. Why try improving one’s lot in life when one can’t fight fate? Something terrible will just happen. It’s Eeyore on a cultural scale. I was shocked to learn from this author that in India it is illegal for private parties to fundraise for disaster relief! That is so contrary to the American way of thinking. Whenever a disaster strikes in the US, Americans quickly send aid or go as a helping hand. Despite this national characteristic, so few Americans understand that their desire to help stems from a biblical worldview.
Preserve Our Biblical Heritage
Now the Western nations have turned their backs on their cultural heritage that laid the foundation for democracy, freedom, justice, and advanced science and technology. I often read about with this rejection and wrestle in my mind how to restore the biblical foundations of my nation. When I look at our social-political problems and listen to cultural pundits, I keep asking myself: Why don’t they get it? Why can’t they see they are destroying the very foundations of our society? The epigraph Vishal Mangalwadi gave to chapter 1 explains the dilemma well.
For two hundred years we have sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake: The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all; it was a cesspool full of barbed wire . . . It appears that amputation of the soul isn’t just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.
—by George Orwell from his Notes on the Way, 1940
We, Westerners, need to restore, preserve, and value our Judeo-Christian heritage. It’s the only one that provides hope and upholds human dignity. We must stand on the Bible as our firm foundation. All other cultural foundations are shifting sands of dismal fate.