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The Victory of Reason: Christianity and the Rise of the West

It never ceases to amaze me how modern western secularists are doing all in their power to purge Christianity from public life. As Chuck Colson told me once, “They’re sawing off the branch they’re sitting on.”


Today on BreakPoint, we re-air a broadcast from 2006 in which Chuck explains the fact that the freedoms and scientific progress we enjoy in the West are due to the West’s embrace of Christianity. Here’s Chuck.


When you hear the word “globalization,” you probably think of Chinese factories or customer service centers in India. What you probably don’t think about is Christianity. Yet globalization and Christianity are linked in ways you may never have imagined.


Globalization is about more than markets and technology. It’s also about the spread across national boundaries of ideas and values—in other words, culture. While the spread and exchange of culture flows in many different directions, the ideas and values most associated with globalization are those of the West.


And this is where Christianity comes in. In his marvelous book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark writes that “Christianity created Western Civilization.” Without Christianity’s commitment to “reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800.”


This would be a world “with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos.” The “modern world,” to which globalization aspires, “arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a ‘secular’ society—there having been none.”


Needless to say, Stark’s conclusions aren’t popular with academics and other intellectuals and have been savaged by liberal reviewers. These folks are all too happy to blame Christianity for some of the darker episodes in Western history, but they’re not about to give the faith credit for Western success.


No matter. Non-westerners see the connection. For example, Chinese scholars were asked to “look into what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.” After considering possible military, economic, political and cultural explanations, they concluded that the answer lay in what the Chinese scholars saw as the “heart” of the West’s pre-eminent culture: Christianity.


These non-Christian and non-western scholars had “no doubt” that “the Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics.”


Apparently, many of their countrymen agree. Whereas there were approximately 2 million Christians in China when Mao came to power in 1949, today there are upwards of 100 million. What’s more, Christianity is especially popular among the “best-educated” and most modern Chinese.


Why? Because like people everywhere, except, ironically, in the West, they see Christianity as “intrinsic to becoming modern.” For them, Christianity is an alternative to a way of life that bred misery and oppression. They understand Christianity’s role in the rise of the West, even as Western elites deny the connection.


Of course, this isn’t the primary reason that Christianity is “becoming globalized far more rapidly than is democracy, capitalism or modernity.” That is due to the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.


Still, it’s a powerful reminder of how Christianity transforms not only individual lives but entire societies as well.



John Stonestreet, Eric Metaxas, and the Colson Center staff are enjoying Christmas and New Year holidays with their families. So we're re-airing some popular BreakPoint commentaries this week. Hope you enjoy them.


This commentary first aired on June 29, 2006.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.


Publication date: December 29, 2015

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