Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

The Influence of the Bible

Toward the end of his book, Civilization, the historian Niall Ferguson quotes a member of the Chinese academy of social sciences, part of a team tasked with the challenge of discovering why it was that Europe, having lagged behind China until the 17th century, overtook it, rising to prominence.

At first, he said, we thought it was your guns. You had better guns than we did. Then we delved deeper and thought it was your political system. Then we searched deeper still and concluded it was your economic system. But for the past 20 years we have realized that it was in fact your religion, Christianity. It was the Christian foundation of social and cultural life in Europe that made possible the emergence of capitalism, and then of democratic politics.

The Bible predicts its own influence. Those who follow it, both individuals and nations, will be blessed (Psalm 19:9-11, Psalm 33:12, Psalm 119, etc), whereas those who reject the true God of the Bible will decay as a natural consequence (Romans 1:21-31). The Bible proves itself to be God's word by being the greatest influence for good in our world. Let's do a survey. Since this involves looking at history and drawing conclusions, some clarifications are needed.

Clarifications

We must distinguish between the influence of Biblical (true) Christianity and that of false Christianity. We are only interested in evaluating the claims of the Bible, not all that is called Christian. See: How to distinguish between true and false Christianity?

We must distinguish between various degrees of "good".
First Example: A regularly funded NGO helps the poor. The funds come from corporate entities, tax revenues, and donations from rich individuals. It has paid employees and volunteers who benefit from having this work experience mentioned in their resumes.
Second Example: a person from a developed country leaves his home country, goes to some primitive corner of the earth, suffers untold hardships and helps the poor there. While the first example is good, it is no comparison to the second.

We must take into account the circumstances in which the good deed was done. When I went to an Indian village and taught the women there to read and write, the villagers thanked me profusely and my city friends patted me on my back. So what I did is no match to the same act being done about two centuries ago, when the education of women was a taboo. In other words, the pioneers of any good work deserve much more credit than those who do the same thing today when it is politically correct to do so.

Most of the content of this section focuses on Europe and India. Do not think that Biblical influence is confined to these places. Compared to Orientals, Westerners more often document what they do - thus, work done by Westerners is much more well known than work done by others. Since I'm from India, I am familiar with Biblical influence in India.

A fundamentally new idea deserves more credit than continued applications of the same idea (improvements building on prior knowledge)

There is usually a time lag between an idea and its influence (cause and effect). Old habits (both good and bad) die hard.

Just because two phenomena took place at the same time, it does not mean that one caused the other. My Christian friend was a smoker. This does not mean that he smoked because he was a Christian. Rather, he smoked despite the fact that he was a Christian. Eventually, he realized that since smoking harms the body and is addictive, it is wrong (1 Corinthians 6:19), and so he gave it up. Thus, he stopped smoking because of his Christianity. To establish the causality between the Bible and certain developments,
  • I will first quote the Bible to show that the Bible supports those developments.
  • I will then demonstrate that those cultures that respected the Bible were host to the said developments.
  • In some cases, I will quote the very pioneers of these developments saying that they are doing what they're doing because of their belief in the Bible.

Areas of influence

The following are some of the areas in which the Bible has influenced the world.

Technology: How, when and why did the transition from muscle to machine take place?

Rationality: Critical thinking is the engine of human activity today. In ancient times, it was brute force. The Bible is responsible for this change.

Science: Why was modern science birthed in Europe, about 1500 AD?

Language:In ancient times, there were a few well-developed, classical languages spoken by the elites, and a mess of dialects spoken by the vast majority. Today, there are hundreds of well developed languages, and most governments function using the language of the common people. How did this drastic change come about?

Literature: What has been the greatest source of inspiration for literature that has been cherished?

Humanity: When US President George Bush invaded Iraq in 2001, there was a storm of protest - that it was unfair or unethical. No one protested when Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan invaded Asia centuries earlier. Today, we have a Noble Prize for peace. In ancient times, prizes for fighting prowess were the norm. What has brought about this great change?

Social Reform: Just as the Bible enabled people to realize the worth of man, it spurred its readers to press for reform in the way humans are treated.

Education: What do Oxford, Cambridge, The University of Paris, Harvard, Yale and Princeton have in common? Answer: They were founded to teach the Bible to future church leaders. In fact, the word University was coined because the pioneers of modern education believed that the Biblical worldview provides a unifying fulcrum for all fields of knowledge. The Bible's influence on education reflects a truth that was the basis for the start of modern education: you need a basic education so that you can read the Bible and you need an advanced education to help you teach the Bible!

Art: Most people enjoy art without stopping to think: Why do only humans do art? (Chimps can do a little math, but they don't bother with art) What makes human feelings and sensory experience worth celebrating? 

Conclusion

"How clearly is it proved by this that the praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity;—war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors. The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism;—war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence." – The War In Europe - Alexander Hamilton (founding father of the USA), The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904)., vol. 6 [1795] 

"The Authorized Version of the Bible has set a seal on our natural style, thinking, and speaking...it is in everything we see, hear and feel, because it is in us, in our blood" – Professor Quiller Couch, in a lecture at Cambridge University

"It cannot be denied that the Authorized Version/ King James Version is the very matrix from which has come a civilization blessed with more abundance, more individual freedom to worship, more intellectual development..." – Dr. Burnett Magruder

"It is Protestantism which, by God's help, has been the cause of England's prosperity, and that of all other Protestant countries. While Roman Catholic countries, which acknowledge Papal Supremacy, are everywhere going down in the scale of nations, Protestant countries are everywhere growing in prosperity, and extending their borders on every hand. The Protestant nations are at the head of the world, in everything which make[s] nations truly great and glorious. We have therefore no reason to be ashamed of the word Protestantism...When we contrast Popish countries with Protestant lands, can we doubt any longer which religious most promotes National Prosperity?...Protestantism and National Prosperity go together, like Siamese Twins." The Secret History of the Oxford Movement, Walter Walsh (English historian), (Longdon: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1899) pp. 221, 254 [as quoted in Con Con, Phelps, 2008, pp. 428-429])

When Thomas Paine showed Benjamin Franklin the manuscript of The Age of Reason, Franklin advised him not to publish it, saying, "The world is bad enough with the Bible; what would it be without it?". With such a tremendous contribution to our world, the Bible certainly vindicates its claim to being God's Word. Surely the influence of the Bible makes it a "must read" book!

Further reading:

  • Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001)
  • Alvin J Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World
  • Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World, Thomas Nelson Publishers
  • Babu Varghese, Let There Be India, Authentic Publications

Also see: