Some cultures are superior to others. Would you rather live in a civilization that takes care of widows or burns them to death? Would you rather live in a culture that believes women are equal to men, or in a society that believes females are intrinsically inferior and can be bought, sold, and have horrible procedures inflicted on them (female genital mutilation)?
Some cultures have a framework of just laws with the presumption of innocence for the accused and the basic right to a trial by a jury of peers. Other cultures like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Iran have barbaric judicial systems and often just make up the rules as they go along, in order to further the agenda of the regime.
Western civilization, that is the distinct culture that grew up in Europe and has evolved over the past 2,500 years or so, has gotten quite a bad rap lately. Supposedly “Western Civ” is the source of homophobia, racism, sexism, “income inequality,” and the destruction of the planet. I contend, however, that Western Civilization has been, and still is today (even with all its faults) THE driving force for liberty, creativity, and prosperity.
What is the hated “Western Civilization?” It is a distinct culture — a way of thinking and producing that comes from the combination of the ancient Greco-Roman world, “barbarian” Germanic tribes (Goths, Vandals, Franks, etc.) and the worldview of the Israelites through the Judeo-Christian writings (the Bible). The amalgamation of these worldviews, nestled and nurtured among the competing nations of western Europe (extending from present-day Poland to Ireland) developed throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment.
Western Civilization is THE culture that has most greatly benefited the world for the better, whether or not the politically correct crowd recognizes it.
Here are the areas where Western Civilization has undeniably influenced the world for good:
Do you like the idea of voting? Do you like the separation of powers and a bicameral legislature, or would you rather like the tyranny of one ruler calling all the shots? Where do these political ideas come from? China? The Islamic world? Not at all. Voting was an idea from the ancient Greeks. The Greek idea started only with free land-owning males able to vote, but Western Civilization over time recognized the voting rights of all adults (whether male or female, property owner or not).
From the Romans came the idea of a republic (Latin for “the people’s thing”). It is intended to be a government where the authority derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. True, the Roman Republic morphed over time into the dictatorial Roman Empire, but the idea of a republic lived on in the free states of the Venetian Republic, the Swiss Confederation, the Dutch Republic, and eventually our own republic.
Harvard government professor Eric Nelson writes in his book The Hebrew Republic that the early Israelite nation as established in the Book of Joshua was also a republic and an inspiration for European political thinkers in the Enlightenment era. The Jews lived in autonomous tribal states with no central government. They lived in liberty under the Law of Moses with no need for royalty or a burdensome state apparatus.
European political thought eventually rejected the “divine right of kings” (as articulated by King James I of England) and gave us such earth-shaking concepts as limited decentralized government, private property rights, and equal justice under law (all concepts taught in the Bible, by the way). Where do we get the ideas of tolerance, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, or freedom of religion? From Islam? Hardly. What culture actually removed institutional slavery? The culture of Marxism? For 70 years the Soviet Union kept its people under the threat of slavery and slaughter in the Siberian gulags.
Slavery died out in western Europe by the 8th century. Tragically, it was revived by western Europeans at the beginning of the Renaissance (around 1400) but fortunately, the same Europeans began to abolish it. Great Britain eliminated slavery throughout its empire in 1833. This was eventually followed by France (1848) and the rest of Europe by the middle of the 19th century. Tragically, the U.S. did not abolish slavery peacefully but rather endured a war in which 700,000 people were killed … but in the end, the 13th Amendment forever abolished slavery, thank God.
Meanwhile, the Barbary Pirates enslaved some 1.5 million Europeans from around 1500 to 1800, according to Ohio State professor Robert C. Davis in his book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. These Muslims continued to enslave throughout the Mediterranean and Africa until they were forcefully stopped by the U.S., France, and Great Britain in the 19th century.
What culture has championed women’s right to vote? Certainly not the culture of Saudi Arabia which still does not allow women to vote, and has only recently allowed women the ability to drive. When the U.S. defeated Japan in World War II, it was General Douglas MacArthur who insisted that the new Japanese Constitution give women the right to vote.
While Western Civilization has been the birthplace of the best in human government, it has also seen the rise of some of the most barbaric regimes in history. However, the Nazis and Soviet Communists were a total rejection of Western Civilization and its Judeo-Christian moral foundation.
2. Science and technology.
Do you like air conditioning, washing machines, ballpoint pens, cars, refrigeration, airplanes, movies, microwaves, computers, cellphones, Post-it Notes, paper clips, Band-Aids, penicillin, aspirin, radio, malls, and the internet? All of those things (and thousands more) are the products of inventors whose culture came from Western Civilization.
It is undeniable that Europe moved ahead of the Islamic and Oriental worlds in science and technology by the 1600s. Was it because the Europeans were just smarter? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that any people group is genetically superior to another.
However, banking and capitalism did not originate in Africa or South America or India. The economic force that eliminated feudalism (capitalism) and moved Europe into an Industrial Age began in Venice in the High Middle Ages (not long after the first Crusades). Capitalism allowed free people to acquire wealth and leave the local lord of the manor. When free people can own their own land and their own companies, they naturally want to explore, invent, improve, invest, and expand. This desire to expand forced the creation of new technologies (such as the steam engine) in order to produce more, sell more, and acquire more prosperity.
Science developed as its own discipline, free from magic and superstition, first in Europe. There were great minds in China, India, and the Islamic world who wrote down their observations about the natural world, but they never developed an academic discipline of “science” and its investigative method that would later be passed down to students. Great scientists today in China and India follow the discipline first created in Europe.
3. Art and music.
When I was in China many years ago, I observed an art class. Students were drawing classical Greek and Roman statues. They were studying the sculptures of Michelangelo and August Rodin. They were analyzing the paintings of Picasso.
Now, I saw a great deal of incredibly beautiful art in China, but again, the classical paintings, sculptures, and architecture of the western world are everwhere. Why? Were they forced on people? Or do people just instinctively see that “the Mona Lisa,” “the Last Supper,” and the statue of David are some of the greatest works of art ever?
In China, I enjoyed listening to people play the erhu (a Chinese stringed instrument). I think it sounds great. However, is there a great worldwide desire to study and play traditional Chinese instruments? I doubt it. On the other hand, no matter where you go in the world you will find people who can play the violin and the piano and the classical music they are most closely associated with.
The music and art of Western Civilization are studied worldwide, not because it is imposed on anyone, but because hundreds of millions of people love and appreciate Bach, Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven. Who doesn’t like Tchaikovsky and his “Nutcracker Suite?” The compositions of these classical artists, along with the great operas of Puccini and Verdi, the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, or even the modern musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber are performed every day all over the world. Why? Because they are simply recognized as some of the highest most beautiful expressions of music and drama. The same goes for ballet (which originated in Italy) as it is performed in such diverse countries as Cuba, Japan, and South Africa.
Western civilization is also the home of Rock and Roll, Country Western Music, Blues, Jazz, Rap, and Pop music. They have been heavily influenced in some degrees by the cultures of Africa or Latin America, but the styles of music themselves grew out of Western Civilization, not the culture of North Korea or Saudi Arabia.
4. Health care.
Who created hospitals? Military hospitals existed in the pagan Roman world, but the first civilian hospital was built by Christians in the Byzantine empire in the 4th century. In 529, St. Benedict established his monastery at Monte Cassino which housed a special area for the care of the sick. In 580, Christians in Spain founded a hospital at Merida where they would care for the sick whether they were Christian or Jew, slave or free.
Monasteries across Europe created hospitals, and the idea gradually grew into the modern-day version of the hospital we have today. Muslims in their lands eventually built their own hospitals, but the European Christians built hospitals all over the world, because of their religious belief that all people need medical attention no matter who they are. There are medical dispensaries in the most far-flung regions of Africa or South America today because of dedicated Christian missionaries, following the very best tenets of the Judeo-Christian ethic of Western Civilization.
In fact, it is Western Civilization that gave rise to the idea of charity. The Old and New Testaments demand that believers take care of the poor, the sick, and the foreigner, even if they are not of our faith. Orphanages began in nations that embraced the Judeo-Christian ethic, and in no other culture. It is significant that organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army arose from Western Civilization and were copied in other lands.
Western Europeans, particularly the people of Italy, created the university (the University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and is still educating today!). Medieval Europeans created a university system in which people from one nation could attend in another nation, and receive a degree that was recognized by all other universities. This is another wonderful idea of Western Civilization that has been exported all over the world.
Martin Luther, the German Reformer, came up with the idea of public schools. Since it was important for God’s Word (the Bible) to be in the language of the common people, it was equally important for all people to be able to read it. Luther promoted the idea that local governments should fund free schools for the public. His idea spread across Europe and was taken by the Puritans across the Atlantic to North America. Although I believe America’s public schools today have greatly decayed over the past 30 or 40 years, the concept is still a good one.
Western Civilization certainly is not a perfect society. We currently have a culture that is struggling with drug abuse, the legalization of child sacrifice (abortion), and the lack of willpower to aggressively combat the evil ideologies of the Marxists, Islamists, hedonists, and anarchists. But I’ll take the freedoms we enjoy any day.