From the outset I will admit that I found this book difficult to read. It was a book that I had long wanted to read and having received a copy as a Christmas present, expected to peruse it in the space of a short time. As it happened it took many readings over a period of a couple of months to complete it all, for several reasons. The scope of its venture is huge, the prose style is somewhat academic, also there is much to meditate upon throughout its pages. Yet I would recommend it as a work which is both simple and profound, enlightening and thought provoking.
The Bible has been the catalyst for shaping Western culture as we know it and is responsible for the prosperity of the west. This is an audacious premise, hypothesized by Mr Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian lecturer, philosopher and writer, himself a descendent of a tribe of warring head-hunters, evangelised in the 1900s by a single Welsh missionary. Like the great Indian apologist Ravi Zacharias, Vishal lives in a country impacted by the British Raj, who introduced their language, religious beliefs, business practices and culture on a country which already had its own, and Vishal compares and contrasts some of these aspects specifically in relation to India. Most of the book however is a more general historical account of how the Bible and Christians living according to its principles shaped and developed the societies in which they lived.
In chapter after chapter Vishal provides accounts of Biblical impact over a wide range of subjects and there is something to interest everyone, from morality to technology, literature to education, law to science, ethics to economics. It asks the big questions: what shapes a culture? Are all religions the same? Where is Western democracy heading? How do the answers to these questions affect a nation and an individual?
There are many interesting stories and personal accounts documented in the book, and so many ideas presented that it is difficult to single out particular examples, but I would like to share just three quotes:
“Every civilization is tied together by a final source of authority that gives meaning and ultimate intellectual, moral, and social justification to its culture. For Marxists it may be Das Capital or the Communist Party. For Muslims it could be the Qur’an or the caliphate. Rome created the core of what we call today the West. From the fall of Rome to the Reformation, the papacy had been the principal authority for Western Christians. To the present time, Western civilization has had at least five different sources of cultural authority: Rome, the pope, the Bible, human reason, and the current individualistic nihilism whose future will be determined by quasi-democratic culture wars.” P138.
“Those who saw the resurrected Jesus had empirical grounds for believing that death was not the end of human existence. Resurrection meant that we continue to exist beyond our death and remain accountable to God. Just as the consequence of sin was death, the consequence of faith and obedience was resurrection life. The death and resurrection of Jesus became good news – the gospel- because they were more than historical events. They were a demonstration of God’s redemptive intervention in our history………If God does not come into this world to save sinners, then other sinners-dictators and tyrants – have to do the dirty work of restraining our sinfulness. But by cleaning us from the inside, Jesus makes possible inner self-government, socio-political freedom, and clean public life.” Pp258-259
“What he [Thomas Dixon, Cambridge doctoral student] was sure of was that changing our beliefs can transform negative, harmful or destructive emotions into life-affirming ones. We also know that not every belief is equally conducive to a happy and hopeful life. Every day, therapists confront beliefs that make life a tortuous hell. What a person chooses to believe strongly influences whether he lives in peace or in torment.” p375
This is a book for our times, one that I would wish that some of my atheist friends would read. In our post-Christian society, one frequently described as “secular”, where Christianity is frequently derided, it is well to be reminded of where some of our cultural norms have their origin.
“The Book That Made Your World- How the Bible created the soul of Western civilization” By Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Nelson, 2011