The other two works are historical, and more academic. One is a manuscript kindly sent me by Oxford historian Allan Chapman, of his new book refuting "Enlightenment" charges against Christianity about science, and showing how the Gospel midwifed the birth and nurtured the growth of modern science. Lacking permission, I won't be quoting that book, which is due to be published next year, but I may refer to some of its contents. The other work is a cautiously-phrased, extensively-footnoted, and mathematically-sophisticated article entitled "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy," by Robert Woodberry, a political scientist at the University of Singapore. (Woodberry tells me he plans to publish a more accessible book arguing the same ideas.)
All four tend to confirm, in different ways, the thesis of a fifth book that I finished a month or two ago: The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, by my friend, the Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi. The Bible is, it seems, responsible for most of the good parts of modern civilization, the reform movements Enlightenment philosophers often take credit for, and that get discussed in text books and lectures with nary a positive mention of Christianity. (I may deconstruct one particularly aggregious CNN smeer against Christianity in a coming post.)
Woodberry's article will be the focus of this post, illustrated and extended by reference to the other three. (Vishal's book, and the new book on Christianity and the history of science, will be reviewed separately, the Lord be willing, in the future.)
I. "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy"
I'll quote Woodberry directly, then add clarification and comment as seems appropriate. Woodberry includes extensive referencing, which I will omit, along with all the mathematical gobbledygook, which I'll admit is over my head.
Woodberry traces the influence of "conversionary Protestants" (CP) on five geographical and historical periods, beginning with the West. American democracy, he argues briefly, was rooted in the Bible as well as in Greek democracy:
Although stated in secular form, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights derive most directly from earlier colonial covenants, compacts, and bills of rights that were generally justified explicitly in biblical and theological terms . . .
In fact, Greek democracy was in many ways inferior to the modern form:
Athenian democracy was direct, limited to elite hereditary Athenian families, excluded more than 80% of Athenians, never expanded to Athenian-controlled territories, and was unstable. Modern democracy has elected representatives, separation of powers, constitutions, 'natural' rights, legal equality, and broad citizenship and has often been very stable.
Evangelical Christians decided to print the Bible and religious tracts even before the techonology developed, and their efforts helped spur that development. In most civilizations, the common people remained uneducated, even when print technology was available, the elite preferring to keep a their monopoly on information. Evangelists taught the lower classes to read, helped protect them from oppression, stimulated economic development (think of John Wesley riding around the English countryside on horseback, reading books on agriculture and science), and encouraged peaceful assembly, unions, and protest against injustice. The greatest impact of their work was not always direct. Some groups of people preferred not to convert. But even in those cases, the spiritual competition they brought stimulated local religions to pick up and learn to use the same weapons -- newspapers, education, hospitals -- and forced the elite to cede power to the lower classes.
Woodberry argues that the same phenomena did not occur with other religions, even with top-down Christian denominations, like the Catholics and Orthodox. Asian and North African societies had been exposed to printed books for centuries without the locals doing any printing of their own. It was competition from Protestant missionaries, and those trained by them, which stimulated rival religions to follow the same reformist developmental model.
Another contributing factor was the massive education programs that missionaries developed:
Education expanded rapidly after the Reformation and similiar religious revival movements. In contrast, education rates did not increase with the advent of printing, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution . . . The earliest places with near universal literacy (Scandinavia, Iceland, New England, Protestant cantons in Switzerland, Puritan parts of England, and lowland Scotland) were typically economic backwaters, but had Protestant-sponsored literacy campaigns. (Woodberry 250)
Thus even today, in Africa, Asia, and Oceania Christians are better-educated, and expect more education for their children,. Even in Latin America, where Protestants are converted from the lower classes, they "still seem to put a greater emphasis on education" than their neighbors. (252)
Protestant missions even impacted natives, like my wife, who were educated by Catholics. Woodberry argues that Catholics developed civic institutions usually as a response to Protestant competition, and mainly in societies (like Meiji and later Japan) where they had to compete with the Protestants.
Missions also encouraged movements for social reform:
Calvinists and Nonconformists did the most of any religious group to expand legal protection for NGOs and popularize the acceptance of organizational pluralism . . . (they) pioneered most of the nonviolent tactics and organizations . . . . boycotts, mass petitions, and signed pledges. (252)
Wherever we have statistics, Christians -- especially nonstate Protestants -- are the most active creators of organizational civil society, and Protestant or mixed Protestant / Catholic countries and regions have the highest levels of voluntary association involvement. (253)
Religious civil society is crucial for dissipating elite power because the poor are generally as involved in religous groups as are the wealthy . . .
Religious liberty increased the flow of Protestant missionaries to British colonies, heightened competition between religious groups, and freed missionaries from direct state control. Missionaries were then better able to limit colonial abuses and spur mass printing, mass education, and organizational civil society. (254)
Offering a rare concrete example, Woodberry echos a story Vishal Mangalwadi has told many times about India. In 1813, mission-minded Protestants:
Blocked approval of the British East India Company (BEIC) charter, forcing the BEIC to make three concessions: It would permit missionaries to enter BEIC territories, finance education for non-Europeans, and allow anyone to be involved in trade . . . thereby initiating the beginnings of free trade in British colonies. (254)
Readers might overlook what is most surprising about the first of these reforms. Why did evangelicals have to force the East India Company to allow missionaries into India? Wasn't missions the handmaiden of imperialism? What about the old story about the missionary who asked the natives to close their eyes and bow their heads, and when they openned their eyes, the missionaries owned the land?
Actually, the East India Company had come to own more and more of India over the past century or so, while fighting to keep missionaries out of India. Before 1813, in other words, missionaries had not been allowed in British India. Even afterwards, the colonial power sometimes kept missionaries away as interferring troublemakers, as in the Leshai Hills. This shows, I think, that the colonial enterprise per se was not a religious act, that British conquests were not motivated by Christian zeal, but by zeal for profit.
With the entrance of William Carey and other pietist missionaries into India, tremendous reforms were instituted, which Mangalwadi details in many of his books. (JN Farquhar describes how they inspired Hindus to adopt reform, in Modern Religious Movements in India.) Woodberry summarizes mission-inspired reform briefly:
Colonial magistrates and governors were reprimanded or removed, military officials were put on trial for murder, confiscated land was returned to indigenous peoples . . . abolitionism . . . movements to protect the indigenous land rights, prevent forced labor, and force the British to apply similiar legal standards to whites and nonwhites. (254)
Mangalwadi goes into much more detail, including on Carey's crusade against widow burning and human sacrifice, and his remarkably diverse scientific, commercial, linguistic, and educational accomplishments. Carey is one of the most great heroes of history that no one has ever heard of, because our teachers mislead us: a cobbler who transformed the subcontinent, whom unlike Alexander the Great whose invading armies came and went.
With mission education, which spurred competition from local communities, the British hired more locals, and non-revolutionary political parties developed. Civil society thus grew up that tended to continue past the colonial period:
Historical analysis of slave colonies suggests that white settlers fought to prevent nonwhites from gaining freedom, education, land rights, independent political organizations, and voting rights, whereas Protestant missionaries fought for nonwhites to gain access to all these things. (261)
In his complex and detailed statistical analysis, Woodberry controlled for a wide variety of other variables. He concluded that, claims to the contrary, "secularization does not foster democracy." (263)
Woodberry summarized his historical conclusions:
In all five contexts analyzed -- Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, European-settler colonies, and mission territories -- Protestantism is associated with democracy . . . CPs consistently initiated and spread factors that past research suggests promote democracy: mass printing, civil society, and colonial rule of law. In cross-national statistical analysis Protestant missoins are significantly and robustly associated with higher levels of printing, education, economic development, organizational civil society, protection of private property, and rule of law, and with lower levels of corruption.
What we consider modernity was not the inevitable result of economic development, urbanization, industrializatoin, or the Enlightenment, but a far more contingent process profoundly shaped by activist religion. (270)
That's what the statistical birds-eye view reveals. The people who most empowered and liberated humanity, was precisely the biggest crowd of Bible-thumpers the world, perhaps, has ever known. Each of Woodberry's points is backed by numerous citations.
The other three works I mentioned earlier approach the same issue from different perspectives. It would extend this blog beyond where even the most forgiving reader might follow, or I have time to write, to summarize even their most salient points, still less quote the most interesting passages. But a few points are worth mentioning.
II. What about the Catholics?
One might get the impression, from reading Woodberry, that he has it in for Catholics. He credits the lion's share of reform to "conversionary Protestants," arguing that Catholics generally did not move society forward so much, except when they had to compete with the Protestants. Then they shoved their oar in the water and pushed the boat forward with comparable vigor.
Chapman's book shows, however, how Catholic thought contributed deeply to the intellectual, and thus civil, development of Europe, especially in the Middle Ages. Others have, of course, made this point before, like Rodney Stark, Lynn White, David Landes, and James Hannam. But Chapman takes special joy in deconstructing Enlightenment myths. I'll hopefully have more to say about his entertaining book when it comes out.
III. Spotlight: North Korea
But how might this reform impulse play out today? Is Christianity a spent force? Daily receding like a tide sucking pebbles out from shore, churches losing members, Christians losing influence over public policy? Or does the Gospel still remain the greatest hope for mankind -- even outside of the Pearly Gates? (Even more so than Bill Gates?)
The Nastiest Real Estate on Earth right now is no doubt North Korea. The Kim family franchise, like an in-house horror show you can inherit (think Vlad the Impaler with nukes, a vile young brood to pass them on to, and a totalitarian party apparatus), lets its people starve while the Kims grow fat. The Father-Son-Grandson co-op runs prison camps so harsh that an 8 year old child born in them can be beaten to death for "stealing" a few grains of corn. The Kims, meanwhile, waddle around like near-sighted Buddhas, spending the nation's wealth (accumulated through forgery, drug rackets, and selling weapons to other terrorist regimes) on digging tunnels under the DMZ, and building nuclear weapons. North Koreans are known in neighboring China for the short stature and the reddish hair malnutrition has lent them, while Kin Jong-un, the new 20-something ruler, has set man-traps and issued shoot-to-kill orders along the border.
But someone, Wall Street Journal writer Melanie Kilpatrick shows, is doing something about this tyranny. Not the United Nations, which fought North Korean armies to a standstill 60 years ago, but has kosher fish to fry now. Not the United States, which provides military support to the South. Not China, which deports escapees back to North Korea, to be imprisoned and sometimes shot. Only intermittently South Korea, which for several years instituted a policy of craven appeasement under the title of "Sunshine Policy."
In her book, Escape From North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad, Kirkpatrick shows that again it is "conversionary Protestants," to use Woodberry's term, who are most proactive and helping in trying to save North Koreans from this hellhole: feeding them, helping them escape, taking care of orphans, guiding them through China to freedom, even going back into North Korea to preach the Gospel. Furthermore, the work they are doing, she suggests, is helping to create a cadre of North Koreans who are gaining the skills and understanding to help bring the evil Kim regime down, and to begin rebuilding North Korea when it is gone.
On one of his begging missions (the North Korean refugee) met an old woman who spoke Korean. If you need help, she said, go to a church. Church people help North Koreans.
"What is a church?" Joseph asked.
"Look for a building with a cross on it," the woman told him. (40)
"Because they have been exposed to the pastors, to missionaries, to prayer, to the Christian lifestyle, it has a profound effect on their thinking." How so? "At first they can't believe that someone would want to help others for the sole benefit of helping, just for the purpose of serving God." But seeing is believing. Once North Koreans realize that the Christians who help them aren't motivated by the hope of personal gain and run serious risks by helping them, she said, they often take a closer look at the religion.(160)
Like Soviet communism, only even more so, the North Korean regime has strip-mined the souls of its inmates, teaching them (under the dogma) its own harsh law of the jungle, and little else. Just as Russia unleashed a flood of gangsters and prostitutes on the world after the "wall came down," when North Korean communism fails, as pray to God it will before long, its lost souls will lack internal fortitude, along with the skills needed to get along in the modern world. The results will often, I fear, be ugly.
By converting North Koreans one by one, and teaching them a loving and hopeful way of life independant of the government -- along with whatever secondary skills they may acquire -- the gutsy Christians who help these refugees are building a foundation for what may some day become a free North Korea. In doing so, they follow in the footsteps of missionaries who transformed much of the world before them.
The final book I want to briefly mention generally takes a lighter touch.
There's a Sheep in My Bathtub tells the story of a family of American missionaries in Mongolia in the early 1990s, planting churches in Mongolia's second-largest city.
Communism was not as cruel in Mongolia as in North Korea, and the humanity of the Mongolias does not seem to have been stripped as ruthlessly. The Mongolians seem to like to laugh, and author Brian Hogan, sometimes the butt of their jokes, good-naturedly laughs along with them. (Though the book also includes somber moments, such as the death of the first son in the family, who was buried on a hillside in Mongolia.)
What I seemed to notice in this book, primed by the others, is the early process of the building of civic society in the form of house churches.
One thing that is interesting is how the Mongol converts came to embrace aspects of traditional Mongolian culture that had become "uncool," hick, hayseed, and integrate those beautiful things "spontaneously" into their worship. (Hogan had taught Perspectives courses, and was familiar with such princples.) That is how the Gospel should work, redeeming and making us more ourselves even as an allegedly "outside" force.
But the Gospel is dialectical, challenging even as it affirms. The missionaries also bring a new worldview that challenges Vajrayana or esoteric Buddhism that once dominated Mongolia. (Less so, of course, in the wake of communism). Whether that change is for the good or not, let the reader judge. Even while helping to revive local traditions, Hogan was maybe a little too wholesale in rejecting Mongolian religion. Hogan met many westerners who derided his work, but he was not apologetic. He replied:
Do you think the Mongolians love this god who stomps on them and devours them in every depiction? Or are they just terrified of him? I came to Mongolia to bring Good News, not to destroy culture. I tell Mongolians about a God who loved them so much he allowed himself to be trampled underfoot for them . . . Mongolians are responding because they know Good News when they hear it. They're sick of living in spiritual terror.
Whether or not that is a fair summary of the Tibetan Buddhism that Mongolia traditionally follows (at least for the past millennia: some of their ancestors may have been Christians) the Gospel has liberated, does liberate, and Lord willing will liberate again, and one should not feel "sheepish" about saying so.