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Victory of Reason: How Western Civilization Left the Rest of the World in the Dust

Updated on June 11, 2020
James A Watkins profile image

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Western Civilization
Western Civilization

The Christian Worldview Led to the Scientific Revolution

The rise of science and the success of the West is due to its Christian foundations. The men who brought it about were devout Christians who believed that God is a conscious, rational, supernatural being of unlimited power who cares about human beings and imposes moral codes and responsibilities upon them.

Eastern religions do not have a Creator, and its path to wisdom is through meditation, not reason. In the East, the Tao is a supernatural essence and underlying mystical force but impersonal, not a conscious God, indeed not even a ‘being.’

Since the time of Christ, his followers have touted Reason as the tool to understand God's intentions. St Augustine said, “Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals!”

God is the epitome of reason. He is a rational being, and we are made in His image. Therefore, His universe must be made sensibly. We must be able to progress in our understanding of His world and thereby Him.

Newton, Kepler, and Galileo saw the universe as a book to be read and understood. God created nature. Nature functions by immutable principles we can discover with our God-given powers of reason.

The scientific revolution was not produced by a bunch of secular atheists but by devout Christians in the Christian institution known as the university. The first two universities were established at Paris and Bologna about 1150; Oxford and Cambridge followed around 1200—all were deeply Christian institutions with nothing but priests as faculty.

Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton

Christian Focus on Individual Sin, Salvation, and Liberty Led to the Abolition of Slavery

Christian political thought focused on the freedom and liberty of the individual citizen. Sin is a personal, individual matter, as is salvation in the Christian Faith. The Christian stress on the individual is unique in the world, and most non-European languages do not even have a word for freedom. It was freedom—economic freedom—that led to free enterprise.

Because of the Christian Faith, Europe was the first place in the world where slavery was abolished. Slaves had souls, and so needed salvation. They should be baptized and receive the sacraments; thus, they were our brothers and sisters in Christ; therefore, our equals in Christ. Only Christianity is a religion that holds slavery to be sinful. Mohammed bought, sold, captured, and owned slaves.

The Catholic Church opposed slavery since at least the 6th century and managed to cleanse Europe of slavery by the year 1000. When Spain and Portugal began buying slaves from African chieftains and shipping them to the New World, the Pope issued three decrees against slavery in 1537 alone, including ex-communication of anyone involved with the slave trade.

Slavery was abolished long ago in Western Civilization. In the rest of the world, still today, at least 46 million people are enslaved
Slavery was abolished long ago in Western Civilization. In the rest of the world, still today, at least 46 million people are enslaved

Christian Ideas of Private Property and Free Enterprise Caused Incredible Prosperity

Christ's Kingdom—Christendom—was way ahead of the rest of the world in science and technology, even in the Dark Ages. During that defamed epoch, Europeans ate better than any previous people in world history. They were healthier, more energetic, and more intelligent than even the Romans had been. Europe was the only society where people knew what time it was, making it possible to schedule and coordinate activities.

Capitalism—using wealth to earn money by investing in risky business ventures—was invented by 9th-century Catholic monks who began to sell the surplus foodstuffs they produced at free markets. Productive activities required land, mines, ships, factories, warehouses, stores, shops, animals, and tools—all of which are capital goods.

Europe developed commercial credit, banks, stock markets, and systems of accounting. Christians spread the concept that work was a virtuous activity established by God. Christian monks lived by their own labor, created substantial industrial estates, and began large scale trade.

Economic Freedom - Capitalism - Created Incredible Wealth for Western Civilization
Economic Freedom - Capitalism - Created Incredible Wealth for Western Civilization

The Idea of Equality Came Only from the Bible

The New Testament is the basis for the Western idea that people are morally equal before God and, therefore, should be equal in the eyes of the law. The Bible takes property rights for granted, or it would not forbid stealing, fraud, and covetousness.

Private property serves the common good because people naturally take better care of their own things. Only when property rights are secure will people stop hoarding wealth and invest it. The right to one’s property then exists prior to the formation of governments—it exists where there is no government. Therefore a government cannot rightfully take my property without my consent—even for taxes.

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

Christianity Created Western Civilization

Christianity created Western Civilization. The modern world arose only in Christian societies. All the modernization that has occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, usually brought by missionaries and colonizers. Islamic nations remain incapable of manufacturing the items they use in daily life.

When communists took over China in 1949, there were two million Christians there. Despite severe repression, that number has grown to hundreds of millions. They are among the most modern and best-educated Chinese.

As one of China's leading scholars said, "We have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made the emergence of capitalism possible and the successful transition to democratic politics."


(This article was adapted from The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark)

Christendom
Christendom

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    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Eric Dierker ~ Thank you for reading. I appreciate your kind compliments on my work. Democracy is, as you observed, on the rise. Even more is Free Enterprise on the rise, hence global hunger and poverty have been greatly diminished over the last 20 years - thank God.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I read that article and it is excellent.

      It made me think about the increasing nature of democracy. Can't say for sure but it seems it is on the rise and seen as the prize.

      It also made me think that the tyrannically run 3rd world countries lie like a rug.

      I am pleased that both Vietnam and India are working hard in the right direction.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Eric Dierker ~ I have a different Hub where I get much more into various civilizations and the reasons for their advancement or stagnation - sometimes even going backwards. https://hubpages.com/education/First-World-Second-...

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      MG Singh ~ Thank you for coming back to respond with such thoughtful insights again. I certainly agree that India is on the way up. It has made huge strides. I am glad India and America are such good friends.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Eric Dierker ~ I appreciate you coming back over to continue our conversation. It could well be that the caste system and intolerance played a part in India being behind the modernity curve. I think its dabbling in Socialism after independence set it back a couple decades as well.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      MG thanks a lot. How good for me to have such insights from a source I really trust.

      In my mind you gave another twist to this engagement and subject matter.

      Assuming the premise here is correct the add on is that it is where the West has "failed", that has caused the rift.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      4 months ago from Singapore

      Eric, Just read your comment. There is no doubt that the caste system is deeply embedded in Indian society but the watertight compartments of Old have gone and there is a lot of mixture between the various castes. At the same time please do not forget that India is a democracy and 20 K people coming on the streets is a very common phenomenon. India is the second populous nation in the world and in such a large population there are at least a hundred demonstrations going on all over the country at any given time. The West only focuses on certain select agitations. With the constraints of democracy India has done pretty well with $3 trillion economies and at number five in the world and is no longer classified as a developing nation. There is no intolerance to Christianity which is again being spread by the Catholic church in India. The Protestants don't talk about it. The objection to the Catholic church in India is to attempt to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity by denigrating Hindu gods and inducements with money from the Vatican. Anyway this is not the place for a long discussion I thank you for your observation which I have enjoyed reading.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I just can't help thinking that at least in some regards India remaining a developing nation has to do with maintaining a caste system and being intolerant to Christians. I do not believe that you have over 20K folks take to the streets for no reason.

      India seems to be a perfect example of Western progress being accomplished by reason.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      MG Singh ~ Yes, indeed you are right that the Christian faith has not made much of a dent in India despite ancient roots. We can see the difference in progress as well. The Eastern view that life is a circle does not philosophically lend itself to progress as does the linear view of the West - that the world is going somewhere in a progressive manner. And the Eastern view that all is but illusion does not encourage the study and development of science and technology - what's the point if it is not real anyway. I love the people of India. They are plenty smart. I hope the progress they are making now continues and accelerates.

      Thank you very much reading my work and for your correspondence.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Pamela Oglesby ~ Thank you for swinging over to read my piece. I appreciate your lovely laudations on it. Christianity, of course, began in Jerusalem, Israel. And almost all of today's Muslim lands in the Middle East and Northern Africa were Christian lands long before much of Europe was Christianized but those lands taken by force - by the massive slaughter of the men and sex slavery for the women and children - from the peaceful Christians by Arab marauders. Only slowly and gradually did Christianity become associated with what we now call Europe - its original name was Christendom.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Devika Primić ~ Thank you so much for taking the time to read my work. I appreciate your thoughtful insights, and I am well pleased to read that you found my article educating and interesting.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Eric Dierker ~ Thank you for reading my article. I appreciate your comments and I agree with you. Anything run by mortal men will have its flaws. Nonetheless, among honest searchers for the Truth, best practices seem to rise to the surface, such as monogamy, private property, the rule of law, etc. There is no question that by 1900, the West had left the rest of the world behind. It wasn't that they had gone backwards as much as they were stuck in time. Hence, almost all countries talked about how much they wanted to westernize, which was synonymous with coming into the modern world.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks MG.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      4 months ago from Singapore

      Eric, why Christianity made no headway has to be analysed separately. But the 2% who converted are from the poorest rungs of the social ladder. They are Catholics but protestants many who converted because of belief are better off. Protestants also trace lineage to English blood as they are because of intercourse between local Hindus and English who were protestants.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Robert P ~ Thank you for your outstanding commentary. Firstly, you hit the nail right on its proverbial head with this: “Although modern day "philosophers" and "historians" with an agenda would have us believe that Christianity impeded scientific thought in fact science flourished where it was the dominant cultural norm.”

      I totally agree with you that Western Civilization rests not only on Jerusalem but also on Greece and Rome. And yes, I’m with you that other civilizations had worldview deficiencies that gave the West a decided advantage. I see leftists rage against Christian missionaries "destroying native cultures.” Some cultures. The Aztecs not only owned five million slaves, whom they treated with utter cruelty, they also had a little festival in which they cut the beating hearts out of 80,000 human beings in four days. Their butchers worked in shifts, four at a time, round the clock, on convex killing tables, so efficiently that they could kill fourteen victims a minute!

      I love your brilliant close: “their sophisticated elites regularly ate human beings and instead of developing a Cicero or St Augustine, they had written cookbooks on how best to prepare humans. And so it was throughout the world before Christianity. The advanced cultures of Tyre and Carthage knew how to craft exquisite works of metal but they perverted their science by building large metal bulls in which they would roast children to death as sacrifices to Baal, while the steam that came from the bull's nostrils would sing a melody to drown out the screams of the children. That is what Christianity ended, but the light it lit is in peril.”

      Amen!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      MG what are the economic markers for the sub continent. Including everyone that is. I hope that 2% is not reflective of well being.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      4 months ago from Singapore

      You have made a good points about Christianity in the Western world however in the East particularly in the sub continent with 1.7 billion people despite all the missionaries Christianity made no headway and they amount to just about 2%

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Certainly, Christianity did begin in Europe before it came to the U.S., I really liked this article as you wrote the history beautifully. This is an interesting hub as well. It is sad that China is now a communist country instead of a Christian nation. This is a very well-written article, James.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 months ago from now on

      Very interesting points Robert P. I had not thought of these. I Look forward to James’ take on your very interesting discussion of this article.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      James an interesting hub on this topic. I learned a lot here and understand your points made about Christianity and its power in the western world.Seems like life is just it challenging and in many ways shows the powerful means of religion.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I was talking to a friend the other day and he pointed out some good things and bad things I had done in the past. We are talking 40 years ago. I think the west made some bad choices. Maybe we will reflect back to today and shake our heads.

      But the clearest fact is that we in the west are as good as it gets today. And I think it is damn fine.

    • quotations profile image

      Robert P 

      4 months ago from Canada

      I agree with much of what you say about the importance of Christianity to the development of western civilization, and the advance of science. Although modern day "philosophers" and "historians" with an agenda would have us believe that Christianity impeded scientific thought in fact science flourished where it was the dominant cultural norm. Repressions such as what happened with Galileo were the exception and for the most part the Church fostered learning. In fact, an early predecessor theory that anticipated the Big Bang theory was developed by a Jesuit astronomer.

      Having said that, the role of Christianity cannot be understood in a vaccum separate from the contribution of Greco Roman civilization. Although these were initially pagan civilizations, they melded with Christianity during the later Empire and imbued Christian civilization with their emphasis on logic, learning and oratory, which resulted in a stronger civilization that took the best of both worlds. From the Greco Romans, the new Christian civilization acquired an emphasis on legality and logic. From the Christians, the Greco Romans acquired concepts of mercy and fraternity, tempering the their brutal excesses such as the ritualized murders for entertainment in the Coliseums and so on.

      But other factors that led to the supremacy of the west in science and culture were the 1) Renaissance 2) the Enlightenment 3) the Reformation and 4) the French revolution. All had their roots in Greco Roman and Christian civilization but they were a re-envisioning of man's role, and to varying degrees (for example the French revolution) they may have tried to turn their backs on their origins. Which is not to say that Christianity was not instrumental, just that it was part of a continuum.

      The other factor that I think needs to be looked at is that the competing ideologies were stultifying and prevented any advances. So it wasn't only Christianity's advantages that led to this result, but the inherent weaknesses of competing societies that gave the west its comparative advantage.

      Take the Aztecs an example. I am going to use this one because it is a dead culture so less likely to offend a bunch of people. They had reached a plateau of civilization from which they could not rise farther because of their religion. It locked them into endless war so they could take prisoners to sacrifice to their gods. It prevented scientific advance because their gods were not gods of reason but gods of war and fear which had to be placated with blood. So they had not even invented the wheel and had not developed iron tools. Like most pagan societies they were locked into a worldview that devalued humanity. Their grotesque ritual sacrifices are notorious. What is less known is that their sophisticated elites regularly ate human beings and instead of developing a Cicero or St Augustine, they had written cookbooks on how best to prepare humans. And so it was throughout the world before Christianity. The advanced cultures of Tyre and Carthage knew how to craft exquisite works of metal but they perverted their science by building large metal bulls in which they would roast children to death as sacrifices to Baal, while the steam that came from the bull's nostrils would sing a melody to drown out the screams of the children. That is what Christianity ended, but the light it lit is in peril.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      T ~ Yes, there surely are two ways of looking at many things. I have an article that is dear to my heart entitled 'Christian Missionaries.' I have another that I think is enlightening entitled First World, Second World, Third World. Just for the record. The former shows the incredible lengths Western people went to - the suffering and deprivation - to share the Gospel. And the often delayed results, sometimes posthumous (the importance of planting those seeds). The latter tries to show why some places are wealthy and some are poor, based on every factor I could think of other than luck (a la Jared Diamond).

      As to your question, I would lean towards their own choosing, since I am a Free Will man. Of course, a Calvinist would not agree. ;)

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      Robert P ~ You know, I wondered about that myself. It came from a Canadian too! The inimitable Jordan Peterson. His artwork does not reflect my personal feelings. It is kind of child like, isn't it. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read my article!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      T ~ Thank you. Somehow it fixed itself during the night. Hallelujah!

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 months ago from now on

      Can’t disagree with anything you have said...but

      Considering the huge role Christianity has played in “Western Civilization Leaving the Rest of the World in the Dust” might it be said that Western civilization has also failed Christianity in leaving the rest of the world in the dust which has not done much to fulfill the great commission!

      Or

      Did the rest of the world get left in the dust by their own choosing or better said by rejecting Christianity?

      Sometimes there are two ways of looking at something, or is there?

    • quotations profile image

      Robert P 

      4 months ago from Canada

      Aren't you being a bit unfair to Canada with that diagram? What do you mean we are not westernized?

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 months ago from now on

      Time to restart your computer!

      Just a guess.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      4 months ago from Chicago

      T ~ I see that. I keep moving it but when I'm done it somehow keeps moving back.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      4 months ago from now on

      Haven’t read it yet but the comment section is not placed at the end of the article

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