The Heart of Our Culture

St. Paul preaching

Over the years there has been much discussion in this space about the reasons why Western Civilization was (and still is) the greatest in history. What are the characteristics of our common culture that enabled it to explode out of Europe and achieve undisputed dominance throughout the entire globe over the brief span of five centuries?

Native intelligence obviously played a major role. Without the genetic basis for high IQ, European ingenuity and inventiveness would not have been sufficient to give our civilization the technological and organizational edge that enabled it to establish and administer far-flung empires.

However, as Fjordman has often pointed out, intelligence alone is not a sufficient explanation, since the average IQ of East Asians is higher than that of Europeans. The Chinese established a complex and sophisticated urban civilization a full two millennia before the European explosion, yet they never managed to achieve more than regional dominance.

Fjordman’s hypothesis is that the incidence of IQ “outliers” — the number of people with extraordinarily high or extraordinarily low intelligence — is much greater among Europeans, which may account for our ascendancy by providing our civilization with a pool of gifted innovators whose work drove the advancement of European civilization.

Now that Western Civilization seems to be in the throes of cultural suicide, China stands as the likely inheritor of what remains. For that reason, it’s no surprise that the Chinese have a keen interest in figuring out what made Europeans so successful. Unlike many of our own analysts — to whom some topics are too repugnant to be considered, no matter how politically incorrect the scholar — the Chinese are interested in discovering the real reasons for the success of the West, whatever they may be.

A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences — a government functionary in a totalitarian atheist state — has come to a surprising conclusion. His analysis will not sit well with orthodox secularists in the West, who have done their best to drive a stake through the heart of Christianity for the past hundred years:

Christianity the reason for West’s success, say the Chinese

In the West we are doing our best to destroy our Christian heritage but in China, Chinese intellectuals are coming around to the view that it is precisely this heritage that has made the West so successful.

Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, in a review in the Sunday Times of Niall Ferguson’s new book, ‘Civilisation: The West and the Rest’, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West, to date.

He said: “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.

“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.

“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.

“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

Note the source. It isn’t from a religious leader, or some religious think-tank. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is an instrument of the Chinese Communist government which spends a not inconsiderable amount of time and money persecuting Christians and is officially atheistic.

If this is the conclusion it has come to, maybe Europe needs to reconsider whether it mightn’t be an idea to encourage rather than eradicate Christianity.

Incidentally, just to drive home the point, Lawson also refers to this data point in Ferguson’s book: Wenzhou, the Chinese city which is rated as the most entrepreneurial in the country, is also home to 1,400 churches.


Even if secular Western intellectuals were able to accept this explanation for the European ascendancy — which I consider unlikely — it would not help re-establish Christian faith among Westerners.

Religious faith is not adopted by an entire people out of expediency. Christian fervor did not arise because its adherents reasoned that it would help their drive for world dominance. It was not established for instrumental reasons. Its phenomenal success was merely a by-product of belief, and not its raison d’être.

After religious faith becomes widespread, cynical opportunists may mimic it in their ambition to get ahead, or exploit those who do believe. Power-hungry leaders may abuse it to enhance their positions. And vast numbers of ordinary citizens will simply go through the customary motions of belief out of deference to societal norms.

Yet the core of faith remains, and its causes lie beyond the reach of reason. I do not believe in God because I find it expedient, nor was my faith derived logically from empirical premises. My belief arises directly from an experience of God, and can neither be reasoned into nor out of existence. Because I was born into it, Christianity was the natural framework into which I could fit my own experience.

The disappearance of traditional Christianity cannot be reversed by a collective act of will, no matter how urgently Christian faith is needed. Western Civilization may well continue to destroy itself, and the realization of what we have lost is not enough to save it.

Even in 1867, at the height of the power of the British Empire, Matthew Arnold could sense what was coming, and expressed his foreboding in “Dover Beach”:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

And withdraw it did. It has retreated so far across the mudflats that a spectator on the shingles of the earth’s shore can barely distinguish the glint of it, even with binoculars.

But tides are cyclical, and Faith will surge across the foreshore again. There’s no guarantee about what form it may take, however; next time it may even be Islamic.

Hat tip: 4symbols.

29 thoughts on “The Heart of Our Culture

  1. Now if only the atheists, socialists and muslims could be persuaded of the benefits of Christianity, we could resume our progress along the path of normality.

  2. A minor quibble . ..quote: “The Christian moral foundation”

    Evidence of Jewish accomplishments and assimilation during this same period should be reflected above as the “Judeo-Christian moral foundation”

  3. Now that Western Civilization seems to be in the throes of cultural suicide, China stands as the likely inheritor of what remains. For that reason, it’s no surprise that the Chinese have a keen interest in figuring out what made Europeans so successful. Unlike many of our own analysts — to whom some topics are too repugnant to be considered, no matter how politically incorrect the scholar — the Chinese are interested in discovering the real reasons for the success of the West, whatever they may be.

    Even if the Chinese could discover, and pin down in a laboratory, the real reasons for the success of the West, they wouldn’t be able to replicate them — other than superficially, and therefore ineffectually.

  4. On a related note, it seems that member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has as one-dimensional and simplistic an understanding of the West’s greatness as many Westerners themselves seem to have.

    This would seem paradoxical, until one remembers the last line of Some Like It Hot.

  5. Interestingly enough, while reading “God’s Battalions” I came across a section that utterly destroys the myth of the onetime Islamic intellectual flowering while Europeans shivered in darkness. It was not an Islamic renaissance but a Dhimmi renaissance. All those supposed great Islamic scholars, scientists, mathematicians and physicians were Jews, Nestorian and Coptic Christians as well as Zoroastrians. As to Asian intelligence? Yes they are very bright and technically proficient, but in most cases that is where it ends. At least in my opinion.

    I once saw a Chinese pianist rip through a piece by Chopin ( I forget which? I think a Nocturne.) followed by a Jew who played the same piece. The difference was night and day. The Chinese man was a technical wizard, but the Jew had the missing piece. Soul. Without soul you have but an empty shell. I wont even go into the ramifications of soul, Christianity and China. ; )

  6. Christianity drives the moral idea that we are to treat each other better than ourselves, and that our success can be measured in how we help others succeed.

    All other cultural/religious ideologies focus on defining success in context of how we make ourselves succeed above the success of others.

    It really is a simple as saying that Christianity promotes selflessness rather than selfishness.

  7. American Evangelicals are now targeting Europe for missionary work, and they are seeing some success. Just as in the US, they are also gaining “converts” from the old tired denominations that have lost their belief and way.

  8. I recently read a wonderful book on this subject called: “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success” by Dr Rodney Stark (prof of social science at Baylor University. A quote from the book: “… the primary thrust of (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) has differed (in theological issues) and with very significant consequences. Legal interpretation rests on the precedent and therefore is anchored in the past, while efforts to better understand the nature of God assume the possibility of progress.” Paul says; “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesy is imperfect” (1Cor 13:9) and Augustine’s quote that while there are “certain matters pertaining to the doctrine of salvation that we cannot yet grasp … one day we shall be able to do so.” It is these ideas of progress and reason, individuality and freedom, that brought success to the West. The author also proposes that the genesis of democracy and capitalism started in monasteries. I highly recommend this book.

  9. Since the Protestant majority nations produced the first industrial societies,I’d have expected the Chinese to distinguish between Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

  10. Velocity,
    I do not want to get into a theological debate, but as a member of the oldest Christian church, the Orthodox church, which was along what became the Catholic church, the ORIGINAL Christianity, I see things differently.
    Yes, the Western Europe is becoming “humanistic” day by day, but the Eastern Europe is knowing a Christian renewal after the faux demise of the communism.
    The reformation has its place but in Europe, the solution is the revival of Catholicism and the reform churches, not by importing the new reform type of Christianity from the USA.
    Feel free to disagree with me, but this is my opinion of somebody who knows both sides of the coin, so to speak.

  11. No offense taken Cobra.

    The eastern Orthodox Churches as you say probably are seeing a revival of some sorts after the Communist tyranny. Russian, Greek, Eastern, etc.

    The Anglican Church is in dire shape in Europe and the Anglo Nations…elsewhere like in Africa is where they are strongest.

    Pope Bennie has been causing a stir with regards to the Anglican Dominion in the UK, welcoming massive defection back into the Catholic fold. Perhaps the Peace of Westphalia is already finished, on account of Islam’s not signing up for it, and we just havent quite realized it yet.

    We shall see.

  12. From all I’ve read on the subject, it seems to me the biggest contribution to our success has been the open and free discourse of ideas. In islam there’s no freedom of ideas, no openness. Nobody is encouraged to think outside the box, so it’s no wonder almost all innovations come from the west.

  13. Velocity,
    The Anglican church seems to be dead in the GB.
    It will probably end up absorbed by the Catholic church.
    In any case, I fully support the unification of the ecumenical churches, starting with the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
    The power is in unity, and the division can not be beneficial to the Christianity itself.

  14. Christianity led to the industrial revolution, scientific innovation, constitutional democracy?

    Would visitors to 15th-century Europe – when Christianity was as old as Islam is now – have predicted such an outcome?

    Was Christian Europe noted for its aggressive promotion of the free and open exchange of ideas, the fostering of innovation and experimentation in the 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th, or 16 centuries???


    Whatever the explanation, it is clear that somehow, European civilization evolved in the direction of skepticism, freedom of thought, self critique, science, and experimentation, and outstripped China and Islam before reaching heights of technical sophistication that would have been utterly inconceivable even 200 years ago.

    Any remotely plausible account of these events will have to take into account the extraordinary role played by a parade of geniuses (outliers), many of them Christian, and an extraordinarily high number emerging from the tiny Jewish minority, which fostered the permanent revolution of European science and technology.

    Somehow, Europe evolved a social environment which selected for the mutations characterizing exceptional intellectual ability.

    I wonder if this is still the case today – certainly any outlier who is concerned with population genetics, race, IQ, and cognitive ability is likely to run afoul of the new censorship regime….

  15. If this conclusion persuades the Chinese government to let up on its persecution of Christians, then some good will come out of this.

  16. elitist, you might be surprised to hear that yes, in fact, the Catholic Church was always open to new ideas. It encouraged scientific research by its monks and priests (apparently the Pope and many senior cardinals were fascinated by Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric model). Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno were persecuted for lese majeste (injured majesty against the Pope) and heresy (Bruno denied the divinity of Jesus).

    Europe in the Middle Ages wasn’t a backwater without dissent. Not as good as now, perhaps, but not as bad as Hollywood might have you believe.

  17. Christianity is neither the foundation or the heart of Western Civilization.

    What about ancient Greece and Rome?

    The philosophy, mathematics, law, art, etc. given to us by the ancients represent the foundation of the West.

  18. Redhead, Christianity gave us our metaphysics and morality. Perhaps they Jews gave us that, but Christian metaphysics is different from Jewish.

    Anyways, the Islamics were also the inheriters of Greece and Rome, but they didnt thrive. In fact we gathered up books that they werent using from them to supplement our meager supply, and then surpased Greece and Rome in Achievement in every field combined.

    Greece and Rome were contribitors but Judeo-Chrisitiany was as well…perhaps being the more important, but certainly equally important.

  19. As to what it was that Christianity gave us, elitist, is it’s morality and metaphysics. Christian metaphysics contributes on multiple levels, providing drive, taking risk, overcoming xenophobia, they underpin our socio-political and legal systems.

    This besides dragging a bunch of backward barbarians out of pre history dark ages and shaping them into the most powerful civiliation the world has ever known,

    But the haters gonna hate.

    Im sure the pro pagan barbarians will be here any minute to denounce Christianity and the Romans.

    How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

    From the role of the monks to art and architecture, from the university to Western law, from science to charitable work, from international law to economics, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization delves into just how indebted we are as a civilization to the Catholic Church, whether we realize it or not.


  20. Good article and thanks to the other commentators for the further reading suggestions.
    In the doubtful event that the Chinese take over as a leading civilization (?) theirs would be different from the European one, precisely because they don’t have the same foundations (yes, don’t have the same soul).
    I happen to agree that the success of Christian civilization in Europe is due also to its Greek and Roman predecessors. After all, the Greek philosophers are depicted in the Orthodox frescoes as prophets (having been born before Jesus) who simply hadn’t had the same name for the One God – but they had the essence of that belief.

  21. Mace –

    You wrote:

    “Since the Protestant majority nations produced the first industrial societies,I’d have expected the Chinese to distinguish between Protestant and Catholic Christianity.”

    You would benefit from reading the book mentioned by @Escapevelocity. FYI: free market philosophy is what is important, not industrialization (see USSR). The org. that issued the first stock (the Dutch VOC) was founded by Dutch Roman-Catholics, like capitalism was invented long before the so-called “reformation” splintered Christianity in Europe. Holland was still a Catholic majority country in the 17th century (as it is today) in spite of the calvinist inquisition.

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,

  22. Redbad,

    “Christianity is neither the foundation or the heart of Western Civilization.

    What about ancient Greece and Rome?”

    The West has four pillars, indicated by the pair of twin adjectives one often uses to describe it: Judaeo-Christian Graeco-Roman.

    All four pillars have been necessary to build the West, and to keep it standing.

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