This movement threatened competing elites to also invest in education and printing to counter the protestant doctrinal influence, spawning a catalytic snowball effect of mass education and literacy. This included a greater proliferation of scientific literature and subsequent technological improvements.
The ability of elites to maintain large educational barriers between themselves and others waned and a newly informed literate public generated newspapers and novel opportunities for political involvement â€" and therefore greater representation for the commoner and huge developments toward liberal democracy.
The ramifications of the protestant influence on mass literacy cannot be overstated.
The Christian impulse to charity and philanthropy still is one of the most positive influences on the world. The number of people cared for and helped by the church is incalculable. Protestant ethics extorted the deferring of self-indulgence in gain of fruit and rewards hereafter. These ideas spurred many wealthy Christians to invest in public goods such as infrastructure in the first pre-industrial economies to be faithful and productive stewards for God.
Self-restraint and personal responsibility were important social-virtues and resulted conductively to a culture of civil conduct.
European Christians, particularly church-men, built the first hospitals, schools and universities. Zealous Christians started the first NGOs and agitated for civilising political upheaval in their times, whether it be the disestablishment of the transatlantic slave trade or civil rights and liberties.
Civil liberties developed from enshrining legal provisions for protection of God given rights against the capricious whims of absolutists – here the Magna-Carta comes to mind.
Our inherited legal theories were rooted in concepts such as the equality of men before God, and the intrinsic worth of individuals, a categorical endowment by God Himself, which formed the basis for human rights and accountability of the Sovereign before God.
Private property was also seen an extension of man's own sacred and inviolable self (as he applies his toil to the earth). Philosophic presuppositions and theories such as these were indispensable forces behind the rise of western liberal democracy and stable commercial environments, with all its protection and security for industrious men and property owners to invest and create wealth.
From the very start Christians recognised the person-hood of all people and saw it as a "moral absolute"…non-variable, or inviolable, while other cultures did not. Human dignity extended God's protection against the unjust confiscation and appropriation of personal property by governments or undue violation of individual persons and property – while other cultures derived their rights from the whim and good favour of a monarch.
God's word disseminated, influenced the proliferation of learning public literacy and scientific knowledge. Even the basis for science could only flourish on a Christian system of belief, that God had made the orderly laws of the universe discoverable and comprehensible, making scientific enquiry worthwhile, and empowering man to subdue and shepherd creation. This belief held that God stood back and let creation take its own course (operant to the self-sustaining/perpetuating laws which govern it) due to the entry of sin.
This is a distinct view when contrasted with competing animistic and pagan world-views which subjected their believers to the inconsistent, chaotic and arbitrary forces of spirits behind nature. This view attributed natural events and outcomes only to the whims of these spirits, rendering dire any grasp of predictable consistent laws (a requirement for repeatable experimentation, and hypothesis, aka science) and impartial processes behind nature.
Christians incorporated truths from Greek philosophy into their theology to arrive at these conclusions while Islam for example stagnated scientifically and philosophically, ultimately installing narrow and more fundamental views.
This was mainly due the likes of Muslim scholar al-Ghazali who established a school of anti-scientific thinking, asserting that God is a direct cause of all events rendering enquiry into operating natural laws and causality superfluous, basically disabling and repressing scientific enquiry and reversing previous achievements in Islamic culture.
The Christian concept of individual accountability before God, judgement for sins, and eternal salvation were the most powerful restraining influences on evil and providers of hope for the most destitute of our early forebears (values and a lack of corruption are also central to a functioning and successful economy).
On a side note, Christian missionaries were actually often influential advocates for the oppressed by colonial powers, as they saw oppressive colonial practices as detrimental to native goodwill toward Christianity. As a result many exercised a sympathetic posture in native-advocacy via correspondence to political influencers back at home.
Summarily, Protestant work ethics and values spurred industrious and charitable activity, generating hives of economic and technological growth, prosperity, while political and legal philosophy based on Christian presuppositions would ensure human freedom (from tyranny, corruption and despotic caprice) for such engagements.
Access to literature bolstered all of these. Christianity and Christians have been a fundamental force for good and were indispensable to our prosperity, liberty and success in the west.
Amos Sale grew up in Auckland and recently moved to Wellington to assist his girlfriend with her youth ministry. Amos enjoys learning about history, politics, philosophy and biology and he likes sci-fi and action movies. Amos has a passion to defend the Christian worldview and value system against its enemies and detractors by any means he can, and to encourage others to seek out an experiential encounter with God.
Amos Sale's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amos-sale.html