Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Heroism.
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You won’t often see the names Mother Theresa and Alexander the Great in the same sentence. They were worlds apart, in more ways than one. One laid her life down in humble service. The other took innumerable lives in pursuit of global domination. Yet strangely, each in their time inspired millions, who adored them as heroes.
The ancient idea of a hero as someone with tremendous power was almost universal. Augustus Caesar, who was worshipped as a god, became emperor by putting three hundred senators and two hundred knights to the sword.
Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted with weapon in hand. Who founded Islam but Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire? Even medieval Europe defined a hero as a knight in shining armour.
“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”—The Apostle Paul
Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. In the words of historian John Dickson, “Today, it doesn’t matter what your religious views are—Christian, atheist, Jedi Knight – if you were raised in the West, you are likely to think that honour-seeking is morally questionable and lowering yourself for the good of others is ethically beautiful.”
What changed us?
For a thousand years, church services had been conducted in Latin, a language foreign to the commoner. But thanks to the Reformation, ordinary Europeans now had the Bible in their heart languages, and were reading things about Jesus like Philippians 2:3-5.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
“Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. What changed us?”
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being… he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Did you miss it? This God who breathes stars into existence became a peasant carpenter. He washed his disciples’ dirty feet, said things like, “the meek will inherit the earth,” and then laid down his life for his friends.
“A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread.”
Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi explains, “As masses sat meditating on the meaning of the cross, it changed Western consciousness from within. A brutal, triumphant knight could no longer be an inspiring Christian hero. He was the very opposite of a crucified, humiliated Messiah who died so that others may live.”
Preachers preached about it. Artists painted it. Smiths and artisans made a million crosses until the cross became the symbol of Christianity.
A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread, and it was this: if the greatest man who ever lived laid down his life for the good of others, then the path to greatness is one of humble, self-giving love.
“Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted depicted with weapon in hand.”
According to John Dickson, “That is the influence of a story whose impact can be felt regardless of whether its details are believed—a story about greatness that willingly went to a cross.
“While we certainly don’t need to follow Christ to appreciate humility or to be humble, it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion on art, literature, ethics, law and philosophy. Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.”
“The founder of Islam was Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire.”
If your heroes are world conquering warriors, I stand corrected. But if they’re humble, self-giving servants, regardless of your creed, you’ve been shaped by Jesus.
Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Education.
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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY
In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.