The Victory of Reason

Although Western cultural elites deny it, non-Westerners know full well that the key to the West's success over the centuries is Christianity. When you hear the word “globalization,” you probably think of Chinese factories or customer service centers in India. What you probably don’t think about is Christianity. Yet globalization and Christianity are linked in ways you may never have imagined. Globalization is about more than markets and technology. It’s also about the spread across national boundaries of ideas and values—in other words, culture. While the spread and exchange of culture flow in many different directions, the ideas and values most associated with globalization are those of the West. And this is where Christianity comes in. In his marvelous book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark writes that “Christianity created Western Civilization.” Without Christianity’s commitment to “reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800.” This would be a world “with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos.” The “modern world,” to which globalization aspires, “arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a ‘secular’ society—there having been none.” Needless to say, Stark’s conclusions aren’t popular with academics and other intellectuals and have been savaged by liberal reviewers. These folks are all-too-happy to blame Christianity for some of the darker episodes in Western history, but they’re not about to give the faith credit for the Western success. No matter. Non-westerners see the connection. For example, Chinese scholars were asked to “look into what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.” After considering possible military, economic, political and cultural explanations, they concluded that the answer lay in what the Chinese scholars saw as the “heart” of the West’s pre-eminent culture: Christianity. These non-Christian and non-western scholars had “no doubt” that “the Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics.” Apparently, many of their countrymen agree. Whereas there were approximately 2 million Christians in China when Mao came to power in 1949, today there are upwards of 100 million. What’s more, Christianity is especially popular among the “best-educated” and most modern Chinese. Why? Because like people everywhere, except, ironically, in the West, they see Christianity as “intrinsic to becoming modern.” For them, Christianity is an alternative to a way of life that bred misery and oppression. They understand Christianity’s role in the rise of the West, even as Western elites deny the connection. Of course, this isn’t the primary reason that Christianity is “becoming globalized far more rapidly than is democracy, capitalism or modernity.” That is due to the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. Still, it’s a powerful reminder of how Christianity transforms not only individual lives but entire societies, as well. This commentary first aired on June 29, 2006.


Chuck Colson


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