FREEDOMFEST 2010 “The Importance of Christianity to Western Civilization”
“Christianity was the primary reason this one small section of the Eurasian land mass exploded into an unprecedented five centuries of creativity called the Renaissance. The basic Christian premise that all human individuals are invited into a personal relationship with God and that all individuals are equal in God’s sight was a revolutionary idea. No other religion and no other society had ever said that. Thomas Aquinas was chiefly responsible for transforming Christianity into the kind of individualist belief system that had such a major impact on the West. It was Aquinas who said that it is pleasing to God for us to explore the mysteries of this universe and understand them and to create great works of beauty.
Along with that, two additional ideas gave the West a huge advantage over the rest of the world. One was autonomy—the notion that one can act efficaciously as an individual was also a Christian contribution unique to the West. The second is the Christian idea that each individual had been put on this earth for a purpose, which was a terrific motivator for creative elites. This was distinctive to Christianity. The origins of the scientific method also grew as an accumulation of all this.
The stonemasons created artistic works which were placed where they would never be seen by anyone. When they created those works, the stonemasons claimed that they were carving “for the eye of God.” A great deal of the inspiration of creative elites—people who devote themselves to creating great works, whether in science or the arts—reflects the kind of passion eloquently expressed as “carving for the eye of God.”
Without the influence of Christianity, ideas such as individualism, rights and autonomy would not have developed in the West. In fact, these were ideas which never developed anywhere else except in the West. Individualist ideas are distinctively a Western creation, and all of them evolved as the direct causal influence of Christianity.
The Greeks laid the foundation, but they did not have the concept of individualism. The Greeks and Aristotle predated the concept of individualism as it developed in the West.
As to science and mathematics, non-Western societies such as China did come up with scientific insights, but their scientific knowledge was hampered because they never developed the scientific method, which was an outgrowth of these individualist ideas. The reason we developed the scientific method in the West is complicated, but much of it has to do with the Western idea of individualism. In Asia, there is much less willingness to stand up and say ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’—and to argue it out—which is the essence of how the scientific method got started.
Human achievement, especially in the sciences, is fostered by the kind of individuality which motivates people to fight things out, to stand up and say, “I am right and you are wrong, and we will fight this out to the end.’ In Asia, that is a very alien way of looking at things. Christianity had advantages which other religions such as Confucianism and Taosim did not in terms of developing the scientific method.
Religion’s role in fostering the development of Western civilization has been huge and constructive. Specifically with respect to the scientific method, there was a critical turning point in the accumulation of human knowledge in which Christianity was the direct causal agent.”