When Europeans began global exploration, their most surprising discoveries were not exotic lands and peoples, but their vast technological superiority over the rest of the world. Fabled peoples to both the east and west were no match for the European intruders. But why?
Why was only Europe in possession of eyeglasses, music notation, working chimneys and reliable clocks? Why had only Europe moved from alchemy to chemistry? The easy answer is capitalism. But this begs another question: Why had this capitalistic system developed in Europe rather than, say, China or India (where the necessary elements were also present)?
The answer, according to Professor Rodney Stark, is Christianity. The West, as a whole, had embraced Christianity. The Bible emphasizes reason as God is shown as the author of reason and humans are made in his image. That means there is purpose to the universe, both initially and teleologically. This biblically-inspired reason gave Europeans a hope and optimism for the future. Optimism led to technological and organizational innovations. Politically responsive states and personal freedom followed…leading ultimately to capitalism and innovation (Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success).
Ideas have consequences. A more recent example…
Nineteenth century philosophers determined that Christianity was passé. “God is dead and we killed him,” declared Nietzsche (though he didn’t mean what we often think he meant). For them, reason alone (apart from its biblical basis and divine origin) was all we needed to lead society forward. But reason, stripped of its ethical moorings, becomes a chasing of personal passions and a society that wanders aimlessly. Capitalism becomes a weapon of greed. As Ben Shapiro says, we’re running off the fumes of Judeo-Christian principles… “The tank is beginning to reach empty in America. In Europe, the tank has been empty for a while (World Magazine, Dec. 30, 2017).”
Ideas have consequences. An even more recent example…
China, in most recent population statistics, is home to 33 million more boys than girls, a “dangerously high” gender birth ratio according to the Xinhua News Agency Why? China’s one child policy. Years ago, fear of overpopulation led to the government forcing abortions and sterilization, giving fines, persecuting, and even imprisoning families with more than one child. Since sons traditionally care for aging parents in China, and since only one child is allowed, Chinese girls are often aborted or abandoned. What sounded like a good idea backfired as the nation began to run out of girls.
Ideas have consequences. I guess we’ll see…
The recent tax law changes supported by President Trump and the GOP double the standard of deduction of two-thirds of Americans. Happy times for fiscal conservatives…but it may mean that Americans who itemize deductions will no longer do so. In other words, normal Americans who give to charity or church may no longer itemize charitable giving, and may therefore give less than they would have before. Whether this happens or not is still unknown…we’ll have to see.
Ideas have consequences.
One of my favorite quotes of Jesus is the statement “But wisdom is proved right by all her children. (Luke 7:35).” He made the statement in regard to John the Baptist. There was a debate about John: Some said he was crazy, a glutton, a drunkard, he hung around the wrong crowd.
Jesus’ response was simply that ideas have consequences. There’s one sure way to reach a conclusion about John: Wait and see. Let his ideas grow up. See if his “children” of repentance and righteousness grow into good, productive citizens or lazy ne’er do wells.
We Americans would do well to heed Jesus’ advice. We would be wise to understand that every idea has a consequence and to project, as best we can, the consequences of our actions.
So as we head into 2018 here are a couple of ideas to watch…
- Will the major political parties keep foisting upon Americans morally stunted candidates? The best quote of the last presidential election came from my daughter after she voted for the first time: “I waited eighteen years for this and these are my only choices?!”
- The advances in the medical world in relation to genetic engineering are simply frightening. Seems like this idea has come around before (think Margaret Sanger or Adolf Hitler).
- Speaking of technological advances…when will artificial intelligence and automation begin to replace our neighbors. And what is Alexa recording and for whom?
- For the first time in our history, there are more single Americans than married. Is marriage done for – a dinosaur headed to extinction? Perhaps young people simply find the institution meaningless…they didn’t like how it worked out for their parents. And if you can simply redefine it on a whim, maybe there’s nothing to it. After all, if something can mean anything it means nothing.
- Will our activist culture bring the end to civility and polite discourse? What are the health implications of being angry and shouting all the time?
- If we remove historical reference to an event, did it still happen?
- Does #metoo translate well into Arabic or Farsi?
Guess we’ll have to wait and see. 2018 should be interesting.