The book that made your world: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi.

Whatever you think of the Bible and Christianity, you can’t deny they’ve changed the world. I knew this, but I never realised in what ways and to what extent, until I read The book that made your world.

The Bible gives a particular view of the world – it is not divine, nor a living entity; it is able to be understood and investigated – and of humans: by nature equal, but because of pride and selfishness, socially unequal; born to rule the world but not to abuse it; the crowning glory of creation but rebels against the God who made us.

Manglwadi notes how this unique view of the world and humanity shaped the Western view of life; of humanity, education, technology, science, finance, work, heroism, ethics, equal rights, charity, justice, and compassion.

Considering just one topic, technology, he notes that Korea had movable metal fonts two centuries before Gutenberg developed wooden ones, and that China had developed the printing press before 1000 AD, and Buddhist monasteries contained 130,000 pages of writings; so many that they also developed rotating bookcases. In six out of ten monasteries you could hear the bookshelves revolving day and night – not because the monks were reading the books, but because they were meditating on the sound of the turning bookcases. This was because of their worldview, which sought to stop thought, not encourage it. A culture of sharing information only develops if there is a reason to share information. 

Mangalwadi notes that while there were people in the ancient world who were smart, wise, industrious, and generous – for example, India produced mathematicians of genius, including the person who invented zero – it was only the Biblical worldview that, when embraced by entire cultures, developed the “western” world with many of the benefits we experience today. Mangalwadi cites the results of various studies, such as by A.N. Whitehead, Rodney Stark and others, not necessarily by Christians, to show how it was the Christian worldview that gave us what we call Western culture.

Many people reject the Biblical worldview, not realising that the lifestyle they enjoy was based on the culture developed by people with that very worldview. Just today I read a post from a guy who reviled Christianity as a religion of blood sacrifice and cannibalism. Irrespective of the justice of his opinion, where did he get the belief that these acts are revolting and wrong? Presumably, from the culture he was brought up in: 20th century, native Western – which culture was founded on the Bible. (A philosopher, whose name I do not recall at present, said, “The person who cannot draw on 3,000 years of history is living hand-to-mouth.” We would probably agree that the person who kicks away the ladder they stand on is a fool, bent on suicide, or making a sacrifice for the good of others. This is just what we do when we seek to change society, but ignore the lessons of history.)

Further, Mangalwadi looks at the result of the erosion of a Biblical worldview, by looking at 18th century England, after the influence of the Bible was mitigated by several events. Results such as the rise of corruption, abusive relationships, disease, infant mortality, and slavery, for example.

Mangalwadi’s thesis doesn’t prevent him from overlooking issues critics raise, such as the trials of Galileo and Giordano. Among several other points on this topic, Mangalwadi notes that the Church has been more guilty of condemning theologians than condemning scientists, and of destroying Bibles and theological works than of destroying scientific textbooks.

Mangalwadi is a native Indian, from Allahabad; born, raised and having worked in Christian mission in that country. So he also compares the Biblical/modern Western worldview with those of the predominantly Hindu worldview of the people with whom he grew up and worked, and how our worldview practically affects every aspect of life. His account of how a family, with the complicity of their village, allowed their infant daughter to die of starvation, is the example that sticks most in my mind. Not that these people were necessarily evil or unloving (of course by Western cultural standards they would be considered so, and punished as criminally negligent) but they lived in a culture that does not see death as the final end; so death isn’t a tragedy because the dead person will be reincarnated.

Suffice it to say that there are very few books I would tout as “must-reads”. The book that made your world is one of them.