The Book That Made Your World

Normally I prefer to leave my book reviews until I have finished the book. In the case of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi I am making an exception.

It is intellectually robust, and thus not a quick read. However in the many pages, Mangalwadi lays out how the Bible – and the Christian faith – was instrumental in creating Western civilization. What sets this book apart from others is that Mangalwadi, can compare and contrast with lived-experience the Christian influence against that of other Eastern religions including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is a book of solid intellectualism, rationally and carefully constructed logic; but that doesn’t mean it is uninteresting. With personal anecdotes and reflections, it has a living, breathing heart behind the words. And from the first chapter, “The West Without its Soul: From Bach to Cobain“, it retains an essence of the here-and-now, even as it looks backward through history to explain why.

There are many, many worthy quotes – and several dozen are applicable in our current environment:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so, by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. . . . our own age is also “a period” and certainly has, like all periods, its own illusions.”

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

Starting with music, and moving onto literature, Mangalwadi illustrates just how all-pervasive the Bible is in our culture. Mangalwadi shows that the Bible – not Greek and Roman culture – have influenced every aspect of the West.

Homer wouldn’t pick any of us as heroes. But all of us can be like Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. If extraordinary things can happen to simple people, if through the obedience of faith we can become a blessing to our neighbors and to the nations of the earth, then all of us can be heroes. … Transformation and development of character is an important feature of the Bible that has had enormous impact on modern writing. Homer’s heroes don’t change. But Jacob does. He begins his career by deceiving his father, stealing his brother’s blessings, and cheating his father-in-law. His experiences with God transform him into a very different person. He then blesses his children and grandchildren with a prophetic faith in the future.

I recommend this book as an educational experience, that will grow your appreciation for the Word of God and the saints who went before us.

Character and Society Value Systems

If I had unlimited resources one of the things that I would like to do would be travel extensively. But when I say travel, I don’t mean visit: I would want to dig deeply. I’d want to literally live in a location for a year or two so that I could really get to know it.

Not having had that experience I’m aware that I have a very unary world view. I see things through my Western mindset, and don’t really appreciate that other people might see it differently.

I was reminded of this when recently I read…

In sub-Saharan Africa, relationship is such a highly regarded value that for many tribal Africans that value often takes precedence over truth – which most westerners usually consider the higher of the two values. That difference in perspective can create serious misunderstandings, unnecessary conflict and sometimes even tragic consequences. An African might choose to massage or shade the truth, or withhold important information, because he doesn’t want to cause offense. He might refuse to say something that others might not want to hear.
When that happens it would be easy for an American to see the African as deceitful and untrustworthy, even lacking in moral character. The African, however, might feel that he has actually demonstrated the highest integrity and trustworthiness by honoring what he has always been taught to believe was the most important cultural value. For him, consciously saying something that he feared could damage or strain a relationship would have been the far greater wrong. (Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God, page 209)

When we are writing fiction it is important to really plumb the depth of our characters and societies to bring out diverse views and perspectives.  Part of what I find invigorating about writing is being able to take something which is ‘normal’ and turn it onto its head.

World-Building: Society

I’ve added a new sub-page to the World-Building section called Society.

The purpose of the World-Building section is to give tidbits of information which will get the writerly juices flowing in the future. Do you have anything you can contribute?


From Ancient Rome: The Republic:

In or out. Patricians were the son of somebody important, and they, and their peers, were the true sons of Rome. The plebian was an outsider, with few rights or privileges. Before the time of Servius, the whole weight of public duty – military service and war tax – fell to the Patricians, under the principle “that the duty of defending the State ought to fall heaviest on those who had the most to defend.” (page 43)

“In the vigorous youth of their nation the Romans knew how to combine the advantages of city and country life. The mere farmer, who spends all his days in tilling the soil, is generally a dull and half-savage creature, cut off from the higher wants and the higher instincts of a civilized man. The mere citizen, whose life is a perpetual violation of all natural laws, inevitably stunted and deformed alike in body and in mind. The primitive Romans avoided both of these extremes … He looked to the land for his support, and spent most of his time in the free air and wholesome activities of the fields. But he was also a citizen, who from the earliest times had some voice at least in the national affairs; and after the establishment of the Republic he might rise to the command of armies and the highest offices of State.” (page 53)

Government. Two rulers known as Consuls took turns governing the nation, one day each, for a period of a year.

Help! A Dictator could be appointed in times of national crisis by decree of the Senate, who would rule with absolute power for six months. The right of appeal was suspended while he was in office. Originally used to confront an invader, the Dictatorship later became a tool of the Patricians to clamp down on commoner dissension.

Land rights. Technically most land was owned by the State, and rented to tenants. But tradition, passed the land from father to son, or could be sold.

Home Life

“But with the Romans home was a sacred name … Nor was the tie broken by death, for the spirits of the beloved dead still hovered round the familiar hearth, watching with affectionate care over those who remained, shielding them from every evil influence … And thus the name of home received a spiritual significance…” (page 54)

It’s good to be King. The father was the head of the home, the bread-winner. All members of the family looked to the father. The king is the father of his people, and the father is a kind in his own household. The father was almost a despot, being able to punish or kill his son. The son was effectively worse off than a slave. A slave, once given freedom, was a free man conversely the son had to be “freed” three times before he was a free man.

Power Restrained. The unlimited power of the Father over his household was restrained by social tradition.

“The feeling that every man owes a duty to society and that no important step ought to be taken without consulting the opinion of others was a deeply rooted conviction in the Roman mind, which no one could defy with impunity. Before inflicting any severe punishment on an erring member of his household the Roman was under the obligation of summoning a family council, and though the ultimate decision lay with him the opinion of the assembled relatives could not lightly be disregarded.” (page 58)

“The man who beats his wife or children, is guilty of sacrilege against the holiest of things.” Cato (page 59).

Wed ’til dead. Marriage was a sacrament and indissoluble. The husband had full control over the wife, for the rest of her life. The breach of the marriage vow was heinous and unpardonable – punished by death.

“So stern were the laws by which these old Romans sought to guard the sanctity of marriage, regarding this as the source of all public and private good, which must at any cost be secured against contamination. And so effectual were the safeguards thus provided that for more than five centuries divorce was unknown among them. … As the mode of life became softer and more luxurious the standard of domestic purity sank lower and lower, and a general licence ensued, which defied all efforts of legislators and all the declamations of moralists.” (page 57).