Friday, March 24, 2006

The Victory Of Christian Reason


Our sacred things

RELIGION in general – and Christianity in particular – is crucial to society. So I've argued for years.

Now a US academic has unexpectedly trumped me.

Rodney Stark is his name.

Stark's new book, The Victory of Reason, is a 235-page show-stopper, unpublished in Australia as yet, but which promises to revolutionise many of our contemporary political and moral debates.

And if it doesn't do that, it will at least make a lot of people angry.

Western society in 2006 is fractious to the point of fisticuffs over matters of reason and religion.

If you doubt this, take two hot debates: the death penalty cases in Indonesia and the parliamentary vote on RU486.

I believe -- as a god-given matter of principle -- that every human life is sacred from conception.

Therefore, RU486 should be banned.

Legalising it will lead to the destruction of the sacred, quite apart from its effect on women's health.

A sock on my jaw, anyone?

Now -- since I also think that as every human life is sacred, even the nasty ones, the Australians convicted of drug-running in Indonesia must not be executed -- would anyone else like a go?

Of course, not everyone will share the Christian premise on which these arguments are based.

But if Christianity is irrelevant, why should anyone get angry?

Which leads me back to The Victory of Reason.

It has has angered many people in the US and looks set to do the same here by proving that not just the health of civilisation, but its very existence of civilisation depends on Christian faith.

Stark is no bible-thumper. He's a Baylor University professor of social sciences and a Berkeley graduate.

His earlier work -- using secular data -- explained how Christianity took over the Roman empire in pagan times through its superior values.

"Christianity created Western civilisation," he authoritatively asserts.

"Without a theology committed to reason, progress and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: a world with many despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys and pianos."

Christianity is such an obvious story of civilisational success that you wonder why so many refuse to believe it.

As Stark says, rather than accepting the facts, many people now prefer to think Christianity has contributed nothing to civilisation except intolerance.

Of course, it's widely believed that, for centuries Muslim Arab civilisation kept the flames of civilisation burning while medieval Christian Europeans languished in the mud.

Stark upends that belief.

Yes, he says, Islamic scholars kept ancient Greek and Roman learning alive, but their culture didn't do anything progressive with it.

It was the "ignorant" Westerners, steeped in Christian theology, who developed the power of reason and applied it to making the world a better place.

Stark says the so-called Dark Ages of Europe are, in fact, a myth.

The Dark Ages were actually bright.

It was in this period that our modern ideas of the separation of church and state, non-hereditary and elected government, personal freedom, property rights and capitalism were born.

Stark lists some crucial Christian inventions of these "Dark Ages", including clocks and bells, deep-earth ploughs which created northern European agriculture and effective cannons which transformed warfare.

European "round" ships, and compasses, which could tell direction at sea, enabled international transport, communication and travel.

Meanwhile, Christian ideas about personal freedom and individual rights also caused the abolition of slavery and the enshrining of property rights for the first time in the Magna Carta, without which, Anglo capitalism could never have developed.

And it wasn't the later Protestant Dutch and English who invented goodies like capitalism and representative government, Stark proves.

It was the medieval Catholics of Venice, Genoa and other Italian city-states.

They did it by electing their town councils and pioneering modern manufacturing industries.

Today, Africans and Asians, including Chinese Communists, are converting to Christianity in vast numbers.

And Stark says it's not just for existential satisfaction but because of Christianity's appeal to reason and its inseparable link to the rise of the West.

"For many non-Europeans, becoming a Christian is intrinsic to becoming modern," Stark writes.

S TARK ends his revolutionary volume with a recent quote from a Chinese scholar who concluded it was not military, political or economic causes, but rather a religious one which explained the pre-eminence of the West throughout the world today.

"The heart of your culture is your religion -- Christianity. "That is why the West is so powerful," he writes.

Our society will remain a progressive and desirable place to live to the extent that it remains fundamentally Christian.

No comments: