The Bible is the bedrock of civilized society
Thomas Jones Barker, via Wikimedia Commons
The painting of Britain’s Queen Victoria presenting an African prince’s envoy with a Bible. She wanted to convey how important the Scriptures were as the foundation of British society.
Published: 3 November 2016 (GMT+10)
Have you ever stopped to consider just how much positive effect Bible-believing Christianity has had on societies throughout the world? It is also no coincidence that in prosperous nations such as Great Britain, the United States of America, much of Europe, Canada, South Korea and Australia, a significant proportion of society historically embraced biblical Christianity.
Children raised by parents “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) for generations grew up to influence all walks of life, including as business leaders, decision-makers, lawmakers, police and judges, and in the arts and sciences.
Among the things they were taught was that the Bible gave a true history of the world, including:
- when and how the world and everything in it was supernaturally created about 6,000 years ago;
- how Adam and Eve rebelled against God;
- why that rebellion brought sin into the world;
- why God judged the world through a global Flood;
- how God the Son came to earth as a baby in the person of Jesus Christ;
- why Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for sin;
- how Christ defeated death and rose from the dead;
- how people can now be reconciled to the Father by believing in Christ’s redemptive act on the Cross;
- how Christ will again come to the earth to judge the living and the dead.
When people in the 19th and 20th centuries began to embrace Charles Darwin’s evolutionary concepts, there was a gradual turning away from many of the teachings that came from biblical authority. In its place secular thought prevailed in education and—by extension— throughout the media and society. With the secular creation story (evolution) increasingly taught to the exclusion of anything else, this secularization trend has gathered pace in recent decades.
Rather than a majority of people in society being shaped by biblical authority, there is a significant pushback against such influence as parents abandon bringing up children within a Christ-centred worldview.
Praise from unlikely sources
Despite that, some people opposed to the very idea of the God of the Bible actually admit that Christianity has undeniable benefits—particularly in societies where people are desperately poor and oppressed.1
For instance, British historian and author Tom Holland—known for his writings about the ancient world—spoke of a significant turnaround in his thinking:
“Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.”2
Holland appears to identify as a cultural Christian rather than a born-again evangelical, but this is still a significant shift because he had previously accepted an interpretation of history that came from Enlightenment writers who claimed that Christianity had ushered in an “age of superstition and credulity”.2
But, eventually, that understanding was shattered:
“The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen3 by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment—that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born—increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.”2
Tom Holland had a radical change of mind about Christianity’s influence on history.
Even atheist Richard Dawkins has voiced concern about the decline of Christianity:
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”4
Law and democracy
What Holland and others are at least in part acknowledging is that the Bible—as has been historically recognized—has served as the most important book for the development of both the rule of law and democratic institutions in the Western world.5
The reverse of that is that when the Bible’s influence and Christianity is suppressed in atheistic regimes where state power dominates the life and liberty of individuals, the results often inhibit personal freedoms.5
Think of the regimes under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. which, in the name of ideologies that rejected biblical principles, carried out mass murder, including on their own citizens.
By contrast, during her reign (1837–1901), Britain’s Queen Victoria frequently invoked Christian faith and sent out copies of the Bible “to show how much she values God’s Word”.6
The sentiment is highlighted in a painting of an imagined scene in which the Queen presents an African ambassador with a Bible.6 The associated explanation—which is not authenticated—is that when questioned on how Britain had become so powerful, the Queen said, on handing him a copy of the Bible, “Tell the Prince that this is the secret of England’s greatness”.6
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author, political thinker and historian who visited the United States in 1831, remarked of the young country:
“In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country”.7
Alexis de Tocqueville … impressed by how the Bible benefitted people in America.
More recently, some in the Chinese regime have asked questions about Christianity because of the suggested link between faith and economic success.8 At a conference, Chinese CEOs questioned Harvard scholars about the relationship between Christianity and economic prosperity in the United States. According to one report, they did not know how to respond.8 Perhaps those scholars hesitated to answer because of research published in 2003 in which two of the university’s scholars made the link between Christianity and economic success in South Korea.9 That conclusion was countered by dissenting voices,10 so it’s no surprise that secularized Harvard academics were uncomfortable with addressing questions about Christianity’s influence.
When addressing the impact of Christians in Africa, atheist Matthew Parris wrote that it would ‘suit him’ to believe that the “honesty, diligence and optimism in their work” he saw had no connection with their evident personal faith, but he had to concede that they were undeniably “influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught”.11
Vishal Mangalwadi—when he launched his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization—highlighted why many European nations and the USA first prospered and had since declined.12
He said they thrived with biblical Christianity as the bedrock of society and what he described as the ‘party of faith’ nurtured the West intellectually in terms of education, by establishing schools and universities (think of the many US universities—e.g. Princeton—established on biblical principles, though sadly now mostly temples of secularism).12
But the new ‘bedrock’ of society now is science, applied and understood only from a non-theistic/materialistic perspective. It dominates education and the media, and is established ‘fact’ for a majority of people. Even though such a perspective has no logical explanation for such things as good and evil, its adherents will vehemently attack even fellow travellers for questioning its ‘materialism-is-fact dogma’.13
At the same time, this ‘bedrock’ ignores the historical fact that science flourished because of biblically-inspired logic, as historian Peter Harrison has pointed out:
“Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western science.”14
As well, this alternative ‘bedrock’ has no explanations, for example, for why people hijack passenger planes and fly them into buildings, or strap bombs to themselves and detonate them in crowded marketplaces, trains and buses.15
As Mangalwadi noted with the rejection of the Bible as the source of truth, so began the decline of the once-Christian West.12
How can we respond?
This is exactly where the world is right now, but we are sure there is an antidote. CMI has often pointed out that Genesis is not only key to the Gospel, it has long been the ‘frontline’ issue in the battle for biblical authority. Returning to Genesis foundations is critical because it explains that the world only makes sense from a biblical perspective, and why people—such as Hitler—commit atrocities. It provides the reason for death and suffering, counters superstition, addresses depression, answers atheism, and tells us why ‘bad’ seems ‘OK’ to some people.
Readers of CMI’s materials can be grass roots agents for change by continuing to be involved in creation evangelism firmly based in the foundational teaching in Genesis that leads to the Bible’s unfolding revelation.
In short, the antidote to the hopelessness of evolutionary secularism is the ultimate hope we find in Jesus Christ, revealed in the Bible, which also tells us God is omnipotent, all-powerful, and a God of love. He performs miracles, and He speaks to us through His Word. We have reason to love this God. We have reason to trust and to worship this God.16
And, above all, we have a reason to hope:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Which bedrock would you choose?
References and notes
- Catchpoole, D., Atheists credit the Gospel, Creation 32(4):48–49, October 2010; creation.com/atheists-credit. Return to text.
- Holland, T., Why I was wrong about Christianity, newstatesman.com, September 2016. Return to text.
- It’s interesting that Holland uses Untermenschen (subhumans); this is the term the Nazis used to describe ‘inferior’ people who were not worthy to survive competition with ‘superior’ ones. They made no secret of the fact that their ideology was driven by a passionate belief in evolution (for details, search Nazi on creation.com). Return to text.
- Gledhill, R., Scandal and schism leave Christians praying for a ‘new Reformation’, thetimes.co.uk, April 2010. Return to text.
- Zimmermann, A., The Christian foundations of the rule of law in the West: a legacy of liberty and resistance against tyranny, J. Creation 19(2):67–73, August 2005; creation.com/christianlaw. Return to text.
- ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’ (Queen Victoria presenting a Bible in the Audience Chamber at Windsor), npg.org.uk; accessed May 2015. Return to text.
- Aikman, D., The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, Tyndale House, Illinois, p.106, 2008. Return to text.
- Vu, M.A., Scholar: China Notices Link Between Christianity, U.S. Economic Success, christianpost.com, May 2011; accessed July 2015. Return to text.
- Barro, R.J. and McCleary, R.M., Religion and Economic Growth across Countries, Am. Sociol. Rev. 68(5):760-781, October 2003 | doi.org/10.2307/1519761. Return to text.
- Durlauf, S.N., Kourtellos, A., Ming Tan, C., Is God in the details? A reexamination of the role of religion in economic growth, J. App. Econometrics 27(7):1059–1075, November/December 2012 | doi: 10.1002/jae.1245. Return to text.
- Parris, M., As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, The Times Online, timesonline.co.uk, December 2008; accessed July 2015. Return to text.
- Dr Vishal Mangalwadi: The Book that made your world, youtube.com, June 2011. Return to text.
- Nunn, W., Thomas Nagel—The atheist who dared to question materialism, March 2014; creation.com/nagel-materialism. Return to text.
- Harrison, P., The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23(3):14–15, 2002. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Evolution—the ultimate antidote to spirituality, Creation 30(3):48–49, June 2008; creation.com/evolution-antidote. Return to text.
- McCall, P., Who is the god of evolution and can he be trusted?, Creation 13(1):36–38, December 1990; creation.com/who-is-god-of-evolution. Return to text.
This article is very helpful in condensing a subject down into one small reading, that the Bible is the bedrock of civilised society. The ref 12 mentions Dr Vishal Mangalwadi: The Book that made your world, youtube.com, June 2011. I found that the book itself is a "must read" for anyone historically oriented, who seeks to understand why our western society happened to become what it is, and how the same civilising influence did not happen in other societies, like China or India. An unusual thing is that it is not written by a westerner, but someone from India. The article title is true, but it has been left to an Easterner to tell the Western world what is so obvious to those who have eyes to see, that, The Bible is the bedrock of civilized society.
This is in my view a balanced view of the social and political impact of the Bible beyond the church that holds it dear. Many may criticize some members of the church, and rightly so, but the Bible itself paints it the way it is; so that heroes are also shown for their frailty because it is an honest real life book.
There is a new video series out (which I haven't seen yet) called Jesus the Game Changer which also talks about how Jesus has changed the world. It includes interviews with Vishal Mangalwadi and Rodney Stark. In an interview, Karl Faase, whose organisation produced it, mentioned that one secular academic they were unable to interview was Larry Siedentop, whose book Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism he said is also very worthwhile on this topic.
Very, very good article. Thank you! I shall send it to as many people as I can think of! When I was reading the article, it occurred to me the many strongholds that the Bible has brought to its knees through the ages - including Pagan Rome with its crucifixions, slavery and amphitheaters; the monster of the Dark Ages with its vile persecution of those who dared to stand against it; the slave trade in Britain and the US; the practice of suttee in India (murder/suicide of widows); the law of utu in old New Zealand (and throughout the entire South Pacific); and not to forget the Bible's intrinsic part in the emergence of the democracy which we in the West enjoy so much. I challenge any atheist to find an institution, instruction book or anything else that comes anywhere near the Bible's record in bringing peace and prosperity to humanity. They simply won't.