“Ignorance and unbelief are understandable, but distorting one’s own history is a costly bias.” Vishal Mangalwadi warns in his publication, “The Book That Made Your World”. Yet a distortion of our own history is exactly what we’re seeing in many academic circles and within some spheres of popular culture. The mythical mantra that “the Bible had nothing to do with Western Civilization” is one that is being touted quite often these days. The only way that we can combat this misinformation is with the truth: the Bible is part of the foundation of the West, like it or not.
Clouding The Lens Of History
When I was a little girl, I watched the film, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and began to imagine myself as a “girl Indiana Jones”: exploring ancient temples, finding treasure and chasing evil doers with a whip. As I grew, I relegated my love for the past to a much beloved hobby. Yet, my passion for history has never waned.
The older I get, the more I realize that the study of history is extremely important to understand the present. Clouding the lens through which we view history can be risky. If we allow our perceptions of history to be shaped by incomplete or misrepresentations of historical facts, how will we be able to see clearly through the chaos of our present day?
I recently watched a video on YouTube where a speaker (who will remain nameless, because I do not wish to embarrass him), stood in front of a class of college students and stated:
“The Bible had nothing to do with Western Civilization. The reason why ‘The West’ is in Europe? It’s because Greece just happened to be located where it is.”
The speaker never gave any sources for his statements. He never provided any argumentation. Yet he asserted things about history; ignoring various epochs throughout Western Civilization. What struck me the most was that none of the assembled students questioned it. They just accepted what he said because he was in a position of authority and doubtlessly, they allowed their perceptions to be shaped by inaccurate information.
The idea that the Bible had little to no impact on Western Civilization is not true. It’s a myth that was created in part by Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) in his poem, “Prometheus Unbound”. That idea has been promulgated in various forms by the likes of Neitzsche, Freud, Marx, and by many others, including the speaker I noted above on YouTube. But a myth, regardless of the impressive pedigree of its proponents, is still a myth.
The Biblical Influence On The Western Civilization
John Dickson, in his book, “Humilitas” said that “The life and teachings of the man from Nazareth, continue to have an incalculable impact on Western culture, even where explicit Christian belief has waned.” The following key points are not intended to be an exhaustive list, it is merely a start.
Let’s begin with modern science. Science tends to be the cudgel of choice many wield against Christianity, and more specifically, the Bible. The almost humorous problem with it is that, were it not for a Biblical worldview, there wouldn’t be a cudgel to wield to begin with! Professor Edwin Judge of Macquerie University stated,
“Both experiment in science, and the citing of sources as evidence in history, arise from the worldview of Jerusalem, not Athens, from Jews and Christians, not the Greeks.”
Even Richard Dawkins admitted in his debate with Dr. John Lennox:
“It has to be admitted that, of course, science grew out of a religious tradition.”
Also, language has been impacted by the Bible. It’s interesting to know that during the medieval period, Latin was the language of the ruling class and of education. The peasantry, on the other hand, spoke early forms of English, French, and German among other tongues. Plus, the languages of the common man had no written form. Yet, it should be noted that it was during the Reformation the reformers translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into the languages of the people. The effect was nothing short of revolutionary! As Vishal Mangalwadi notes:
“They democratized knowledge. Taking knowledge that belonged only to the elite, they gave it to the masses…Translating the Bible into the vernaculars of German, French, and English, they dug the intellectual tunnel through which spiritual and secular knowledge could flow. It empowered the people who had been ignored by the Latin-speaking elite.”
Finally, the idea that time is linear is a Biblical one. Thousands of years ago, the idea that time was linear and moving forward was a uniquely Jewish concept. They believed this because they believed in a God that entered into His creation at a specific time in history. In contrast, pagan cultures that surrounded the ancient Jews believed time was cyclical. After Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome in AD 410, Augustine of Hippo wrote his landmark book, “City of God”. In that work, he took that uniquely Jewish, Biblical idea of time being linear and moving forward, and spread that concept to the rest of the known world. It remains the way we observe time to this day.
No Need To Hide From The Truth
Western Civilization is, as John Dickson describes “The convergence of three civilizations: the Greek, the Roman, and the Hebrew.” The distortion of our perception of history based upon misinformation will have real-world consequences. To carve away one of the three pillars of Western Civilization, seems to be short-sighted.
Yes, there have been horrific persecutions done by those who bore the name of Christianity, while behaving in a manner that was far from Christ-like. We must acknowledge those things. The truth is not a thing to be feared. We don’t have to hide from it. What we can’t do is allow misinformation to shape our perceptions of history and thus, our present day.
We would all do well to remember the words of George Orwell who said in his book, “Notes on the Way” (1940):
“For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake: The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all; it was a cesspool full of barbed wire…It appears that the amputation of the soul isn’t just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.”