April 8, 2010


The key to our civilisation: The Chinese have recognised Christianity’s importance in Western culture, says Cardinal George Pell, so why don’t we? (Cardinal George Pell, 31st March 2010, Spectator)

Paradoxically, modern China can help us understand Western life today. Not because China must achieve economic supremacy (20 years ago we were ascribing that honour to Japan), but because this radically different culture is now searching for the secrets of Western vitality to provide a code for decency and social cohesion compatible with sustainable economic development.

In 2002 a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences described their attempts to account for the pre-eminence of the West. Originally they thought the main reason was more powerful guns. Then it was Western political systems, followed by the Western economy. Their final conclusion, however, was this: ‘In the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity… The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.’

Zhao Xiao, an official economist in China, also published an article in 2002 titled ‘Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches’. It made the obvious points that market economies promote efficiency, discourage laziness, force competition. They work and produce wealth. But, he pointed out, a market cannot discourage people from lying or causing harm and indeed may encourage people to harm others and pursue wealth by any means.

Zhao is critical of the corruption and exploitation in Chinese economic life. His diagnosis of China provides a fascinating comparison with the selfism of Western radical secularism: ‘These days Chinese people do not believe in anything. They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in the devil, they don’t believe in providence, they don’t believe in the Last Judgement, to say nothing about heaven. A person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies that anything is possible — what do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter?’ [...]

Western civilisation derives from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, a wonderful mixture of reason, law and Judaeo-Christian monotheism, and the interplay between the party of nature and the party of grace. The dark side of the Western tradition has to be acknowledged, ranging as it does from the violence of the French Revolution through to the tyrannies of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism. Pol Pot was trained by Parisian Stalinists, and even Mao owed more to Stalin than to the example of any Oriental despot.

But neither Nazism nor Communism should be listed as belonging to Western civilisation, because they both hated the Judaeo-Christian God and substituted the law of the jungle for natural law. George Steiner has even claimed that the insane Nazi hatred of the Jews derived from the unique Jewish role of introducing monotheism into world history; or, in secularist terms, from their invention of God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2010 5:54 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus