Why a Culture Thrives

I have been reading a wonderful book by Vishal Mangalwadi titled Truth and Transformation. The author is from India and considered to be one of the great Christian intellectuals in his country. What I find is that the logic behind his writing is quite compelling.

In the first chapter he writes about why western civilization has flourished over the years. He says it was built upon the Judeo-Christian ethic and moral code. This in turn created a trust among people.

He then shares an example that took place in his life a number of years ago. He was in Holland speaking at a conference. One afternoon, he and his host, Dr. Jan van Barneveld were walking through the beautiful Dutch countryside. Dr. Barneveld suggested they stop at one of the local dairies to get a glass of milk. When they stopped, Mangalwadi could not help but notice the beautiful, well-ordered dairy. It had 100 cows, yet there was no staff on site. It was incredibly clean.

He described what happened next in these words:

The Dutch dairy surprised me because no one was there to milk the cows. I had never heard of machines milking cows and pumping the milk into a huge tank. We walked into the milk room, and no one was there to sell the milk. I expected Jan to ring a bell, but instead he just opened the tap, put his jug under it, and filled the jug. Then he reached up to a windowsill, took down a bowl full of cash, took out his wallet, put twenty guilders into the bowl, took some change, put the change in his pocket, put the bowl back, picked up his jug, and started walking. I was stunned.

“Man,” I said to him, “if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money.” Jan laughed.

A few years ago I told this story in Indonesia, and an Egyptian gentleman laughed the loudest. As all eyes turned to him, he explained, “We are cleverer than Indians. We would take the milk, the money, and the cows.”

As they were laughing, Mangalwadi suddenly realized why trust makes such a difference in a culture. If people continually failed to pay for the milk, a salesperson would eventually need to be hired to make certain the milk is paid for. Who would pay for this person? Me, the consumer. He goes on to say:

However, if the consumers are dishonest, why should the supplier be honest? He would add water to the milk to increase the volume. Being an activist, I would protest that the milk was adulterated; the government must appoint milk inspectors. But who would pay for the inspectors? Me, the taxpayer!

If the consumer and the suppliers are dishonest, why would the inspectors be honest? They would extract bribes from the suppliers. If they didn’t get the bribes, they would use one law or another to make sure that the sale is delayed enough to make the nonrefrigerated milk curdle. Who would pay for the bribes? Initially the supplier, but eventually the consumer.

It is quite clear that a culture of distrust and dishonesty robs the people of money that could provide a better life for so many, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale. However, it seems that no one wants to discuss how moral integrity plays such a significant role in the socioeconomic success in a country.

If you go back in time, our educators made character formation a primary function of education, because they accepted certain basic Judeo-Christian ideas:

God is holy and righteous.

He has given us His moral laws.

It is through obedience to these laws that people flourish and find peace.

Violation of these laws leads to decay and destruction.

These ideas became the intellectual foundation of the modern West and is what produced moral integrity, economic prosperity, and true freedom.

I think it is abundantly clear that modern people do not seem to subscribe to these ideas. The primary reason is because our universities no longer believe in universal standards and principles that have been given to us by God. They instead see them as merely social conventions that have been invented by Christians to restrict our freedom.

Mangalwadi asserts that truth has been lost to the modern world because of an intellectual arrogance that has rejected divine revelations and tried to replace it with truth that is discovered by the mind.

This reminds me of the research of a brilliant man, Guenter Lewy.

An author and political scientist, Lewy has been a faculty member at Columbia University, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts.  Back in the early 1990s, he set out to write a book on why America does not need religion.  He saw so many of his conservative colleagues taking the position that religion is foundational to morality and social stability.  He intended to prove that they were wrong.  In his own words, he intended “to make a defense of secular humanism and ethical relativism.”  He wanted to prove that they were “damned wrong.”

After extensive research, the sheer weight of the evidence caused Lewy to change his mind.  Instead, with academic integrity, he ended up writing his book, Why America Needs Religion, arguing that religion, particularly Christianity, leads to lower rates of almost every social pathology – including crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and family breakdown.  He clearly recognized the positive influence that Christianity makes on people’s attitudes and intentions.  He saw unmistakably how it instills responsibility, moral integrity, compassion, and generosity.

Lewy concluded,

Contrary to the expectation of the Enlightenment, freeing individual from the shackles of traditional religion does not result in their moral uplift.  To the contrary, the evidence now shows clearly that no society has yet been successful in teaching morality without religion. 

Lewy makes a strong argument that biblical morality makes a difference when it is followed out in the real world.  The only way to explain the outcome of his research is to recognize that when people’s lives are lined up with the objective structure of God’s moral law, they are happier and healthier.

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