America’s Founders on the High Price of Freedom

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”—Thomas Paine

Such was the mood on the North American continent centuries ago, when pilgrims and pioneers dreamt of a brand new nation to call their own.

Somehow, their experiment worked. Despite the founders’ striking flaws and modern America’s many faults, the United States remains a great beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage this last month down the east coast of the USA. It’s my first time here, so given my obsession with the history of ideas, I made sure to visit Philadelphia and Washington—among many other cities—to better understand the origins of America for myself.

“There’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.”

Yes, we Australians can struggle to relate to the unbridled patriotism of America. What they achieved in a sudden, dramatic break from Britain, we too now enjoy in our quiet corner of the world. And we managed it without the same fanfare, past or present.

But with all that said, the architects of the American project continue to inspire any who stop and consider what they achieved. They were years ahead of their time, bold and zealous, and their love of liberty still resounds today.

Right now in the West, the very foundations of freedom are being called into question. So now more than ever, there’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.

Consider 25 quotes from America’s founders on what freedom cost—and what’s required to keep it alive.

Freedom Requires Risk

Many today want to feel safe from every conceivable danger—even hurt feelings. But there’s always a trade-off between safety and freedom. If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.

“Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin

“If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.”

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms.”—Samuel Adams

“Timid men… prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Appreciation

When freedom is all we’ve ever known, it’s easy to take it for granted and even be apathetic about its demise. But when we know the price others paid for our freedom, we’re inspired to preserve it for coming generations.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.”—John Adams

“It’s easy to take freedom for granted.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”—Patrick Henry

“The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”—Samuel Adams

Freedom Requires Forbearance

If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others—even when that makes us uneasy or offended. The ability to tolerate and even love people with views wildly different than ours is good for them, good for us, and good for society.

“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”—Thomas Jefferson

“If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”—Thomas Paine

Freedom Requires Vigilance

Freedom is still in short supply around the world. This speaks to the fact that freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain. If we want it preserved, we must be ever watchful.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”—Thomas Paine

“Freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain.”

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”—John Adams

“A constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.”—John Adams

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Godliness

Government can provide for our general safety and welfare, but what it cannot do is protect us from our own corruption. Unpopular as it is to admit, the further a society drifts from virtue and godliness, the further we drift from freedom.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”—John Adams

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”—William V. Wells

“Freedom cannot protect us from our own corruption.”

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”—Samuel Adams

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”—William Penn

“It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”—Patrick Henry

Freedom Requires God

It is no coincidence that the freest and safest nations on earth are also those most profoundly shaped by the Bible. The idea that all people are born free, equal, and with inherent rights is not universally accepted around the world, and it did not arise in a vacuum. Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”—Declaration of Independence, 1776

“Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.”

“It cannot be emphasised too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”—Patrick Henry

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”—Thomas Jefferson

We owe much to those who laid the groundwork for the centuries of freedom we’ve enjoyed in the West. May we honour them, and take their word on what’s needed to preserve it for the centuries to come.

New York, or what I saw of it in 100,000 steps

It’s a city that’s always fascinated me. I remember crafting cardboard models of New York landmarks for a board game I made in Year 4.

And if you’re a regular to my site, you may have noticed that my homepage header is a photo of Times Square, also known as “The World’s Crossroads”.

But this week I finally get to see the city that never sleeps with my own eyes. I’ve only scratched the surface of this sprawling concrete jungle in the five days I’ve been here. But in that time, 100,000 steps have taken me to every site at the top of my list and many besides.

“Within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.”

I was taken by surprise at my first glance of New York’s skyline. Looking up at hundreds of antique, pixellated high-rises piercing the sky, I was transported. I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis—both of which, no surprise, began as fictional spinoffs of NYC.

Something felt different about this city to the many others I’ve visited, and I knew what it was right away. Around the world, skyscrapers have been built mostly in late decades from steel and glass. 

By contrast, the majority of New York’s went up a hundred years ago. This was a time when architects stunned the world by sending stone up to impossible heights. And there that stone remains to this day, forming a proud trophy cabinet to the city’s historic genius and wealth.

“Looking up, I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis.”

The Big Apple really is big. It’s the most populous city in America. It has more subway stations, more billionaires, and more spoken languages than any other city on earth—over 800 dialects can be heard in its streets. Most impressive of all, within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.

This city has been called the cultural capital of the world, the media capital of the world, the financial capital of the world, and just the straight-up capital of the world. It’s even been dubbed the ‘centre of the universe’—though that last one might be taking it a little too far.

The list of New York’s iconic marvels is so long that it’s easy to forget they’re all found in the same place: the Empire State Building, Times Square, The United Nations, Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Rockefeller Centre, Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Centre. The list never seems to end.

“The Big Apple really is big.”

The city has such a curious past. As I’ve previously written, during the Age of Discovery, the island of Manhattan was bought in exchange for a now-forgotten ‘Spice Island’ in the backwaters of Indonesia. If only its buyers—or worse, its sellers—could know Manhattan’s value now.

Another discovery I made, confirmed by Google as I paced New York’s vast underground, is this: the terms ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’, now used around the world, originated in NYC.

‘Downtown’ was dubbed for the simple reason that New York’s street numbers descend the further south you travel towards the city’s pulsing centre in Lower Manhattan. Now every city in America and many beyond use the same terminology. Who knew?

Then of course there were the fateful events of September 11, when we all became New Yorkers for a day. Thousands of lives were lost before the eyes of a watching world, and western civilisation was brought to its knees. We were reminded of our own mortality—but also of our enduring resilience and hope.

New York has even been dubbed the centre of the universe.”

Much of what I’ve shared so far could be found anywhere online, but what of my firsthand experiences? Three words that come to mind as I reflect on my days in this city.

Diversity. Perhaps that’s expected in any city of this size. But evidence of it was everywhere in New York, from the chorus of accents at street level, to the smorgasbord of cuisine sold from vans, markets and cafes, and the array of religious attire worn as unapologetically as this year’s fashion.

But the diversity that really captured my attention, that I’d been warned of but hardly believed until I saw it myself, was the gulf between rich and poor, which ran along strongly ethnic lines.

“Multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.”

Manhattan is finite in size, so its real estate sells at a premium. Which is why I was amazed that a community like Harlem in the island’s upper reaches really is as rough and seedy as the movies portray.

This hit home for me when multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.

The people I spoke to that night were friendly and helpful. But there were many sleeping rough; lone young kids rode scooters unsupervised; and the rip of distant gunshots blended into the atmosphere. At every turn, music pulsed from clusters of parked cars, and it was difficult at times to see sidewalk for litter.

“The divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.”

All this within a stone’s throw of Central Park.

It was a sobering reminder that not only is my own nation of Australia an incredibly lucky country, but also that the divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.

I don’t pretend to know the solution to this disparity, but I now see the American problem more clearly.

Generosity. I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York—now friends of mine—who went above and beyond to make me feel welcome.

They’ve loaned me train tickets, cooked me meals, shuttled me to stations, pointed me to local secrets, and much more besides. I was left wondering what I’d done to deserve such generosity.

I also had the chance to visit Redeemer Presbyterian, a church I’ve followed from afar through the books and podcasts of Tim Keller.

“I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York.”

I was fortunate enough to sit next to a couple who’d been part of the church since its earliest days. They introduced me to many others in the room who were part of the furniture. If that weren’t enough, they took me out to lunch, showed a great interest in my life and prayed for me before we said farewell.

If anyone thinks New Yorkers are too brash or busy, I’d simply counter that they haven’t met the right ones yet.

History. New York has a chequered past—from its treatment of Native Americans and slaves to the unrestrained greed that saw vast fortunes won and lost on Wall Street.

But originally, New York wasn’t founded for any of that. It was one of thirteen colonies that banded together seeking democratic and religious liberty.

Those thirteen colonies boldly declared independence in 1776 with the famous words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Liberty is still a key word for the city of New York, though these days it’s taken on a new hue. Walking the streets of Times Square, it was clear that people flock to this city to indulge every pleasure imaginable.

“Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues.”

In that sense, New York remains a city of great liberty. I just wonder if this is the best use of its hard-won liberty—given that the excesses of today quickly become the chains of tomorrow.

A distant king is a terrible master, but unrestrained desires within are arguably far worse.

Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues, taking the rest of the West with it, whether or not we signed up for the journey.

With that in mind, my prayer for this nation I’m calling home for six months is a rediscovery of the liberty it began with and still so desperately needs.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, quota queens and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It’s Time for Revolution

500th anniversaries don’t come around too often. This week, though, is a big deal for western civilisation—or at least it should be. Today marks the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation.

October 31st, 1517 was the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, unleashing a revolution that transformed Europe and helped usher in the modern world.

“This week is a big deal for western civilisation.”

So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of this event. Personal freedoms, universal education, modern scienceglobal languages, the nation state, and even democracy itself owe a massive debt to the reformers—radical followers of Jesus.

To us this sounds odd because we’ve been told that religion and reason are in conflict; that the world can only progress as faith retreats. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today’s world is dizzyingly advanced. But as I’ve recently written, our Judeo-Christian heritage is being quickly abandoned, and rushing into the vacuum are anxieties, terrorism, widening inequality, slavery on a scale never seen in history, and alarming social polarisation.

“So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of the Reformation.”

It was also into a bleak situation (the Dark Ages no less) that the reformers spoke. Post tenebras lux—“After darkness, light”—was their rallying cry.

Three convictions drove them. These convictions turned their world upside down. I’m convinced they could do the same for ours. So what were they?

1. Sola Scriptura

In Luther’s day, a corrupt church was selling heaven’s forgiveness for cash. The construction of St. Peter’s Basilica was being bankrolled by gullible peasants.

Medieval superstition had devoured truth. God’s Word was hidden in monasteries, shrouded in tradition, and uttered only in Latin. The answer of the reformers was Sola Scriptura—back to the Word of God.

“It was into a bleak situation that the reformers spoke.”

“I will cause a boy who drives a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the pope,” said men like Tyndale. And true to their word, they translated the Bible into the languages of the people, reawakening the hearts and minds of a continent.

Today truth has been swallowed by relativism. Now, for example, we’re told that something can be true for you but not for me; that absolute truth doesn’t exist; and that we should question everything.

But why do so few stop to question this? Or to ask if such nonsense is absolutely true? It’s time we stood up and said relativism isn’t true for me even if the befuddled intelligentsia believe it.

“Today truth has been swallowed by relativism.”

Little wonder superstition has returned. Mysticism is in full flower once more in western nations. People are desperate for something real to anchor their lives to. And in this truth vacuum, too many are satisfied with the horoscopes of human speculation, and gimmick-spirituality imported for mass markets.

Today the Bible is more available than ever, but it’s out of fashion and soiled by centuries of slung mud. Still it speaks. God is there, and he is not silent. He has spoken, and his Word remains a sure foundation we can build our lives on.

2. The Priesthood of All Believers

The reformers also rediscovered the priesthood of all believers: we no longer need priests to stand between us and God, mediating forgiveness and blessing. Jesus has opened the way for each of us to be priests, to know God for ourselves and relate to him personally. And that is possible because every person is made in his image.

Today we enjoy individual liberty and human rights, and they arose from these distinctly Christian beliefs. Now everyone cries “equality!” But do they know where this idea came from? More to the point, do they actually mean it?

Many preach tolerance, but only tolerate views they agree with. They tell us don’t judge the morality of others, but condemn anyone too puritanical for their liking. They say that all ethnicities, genders and orientations are equal, but then divide and rank us by who feels the most offended and deserves the biggest megaphone. That’s not equality—and it’s sowing division, not unity.

“Individual liberty and human rights arose from distinctly Christian beliefs.”

Here’s the awkward truth: in our heads, we think of evolution as true and Genesis as a myth. So survival of the fittest must be largely to blame for the racial and gender inequality we have today.

But in our hearts we can’t accept that. No one admits it in polite company, but deep down we still want to believe Genesis and the reformers: that male and female were made equally in God’s image; that no tribe or nation is any less qualified as priests unto God.

If our hearts and heads remain divided as they are, the door stays open to manipulation. When it’s convenient, the culture-makers will preach equality. But when they don’t get their way, they’ll act like some people are more equal than others, and oppress anyone who dares dissent.

It’s time to clear away the dust. The dignity and equality of every person is truly true—but only if the reformers were right. Can we, unashamed, share their convictions once more? Or are we on our way back to tyranny?

3. Sola Fide

Luther’s greatest discovery, the core idea that drove his revolution, was Sola Fide—by faith alone. God’s approval doesn’t come to us through good deeds or religious observance. Jesus won our forgiveness and freedom at the cross. Now it’s a free gift for everyone who believes.

This is dangerous. Fear and control, which religious leaders relied on for millennia to coerce good behaviour, are now powerless. The individual conscience is subject to God alone, and now we must trust that good deeds flow from hearts of gratitude to him, not external threats of judgment.

“God’s approval doesn’t come through good deeds or religious observance.”

It’s also offensive. In every religious system, humans ascend to God through strict obedience, sage insights, or single-minded devotion, and so we get the glory. In the gospel, people contribute nothing. God descends to us, clothes himself in flesh, and achieves salvation on our behalf. We get the gift, but God alone gets the glory.

Finally, it’s liberating—the most liberating news in the world. No longer are we haunted by guilt, bound by addiction, or straining for perfection. God meets us in our weakness, and covers every failure with his grace and everlasting love.

Sola Scriptura, The Priesthood of All Believers, and Sola Fide could change the world once more.

The time has come for another revolution.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Are We Returning to the Dark Ages?

It’s almost an absurd question. Smartphones have put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Passenger jets fly us to the other side of the planet in a day. Soon AI will relieve us from all of life’s humdrum tasks.

But in just the space of a few decades, phenomena like slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks. Are these omens of a new Dark Age? Even as we accumulate the relics of a supermodern world, are the vision, values and humanity that brought us here fading to black?

“Slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks.”

History’s single greatest lesson is that we don’t learn from history—or in the words of another well-known maxim, those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

So join me on a time-travelling adventure through the Middle Ages, and let’s see if anything looks familiar.

Passivity and Mysticism

In the medieval world, superstition was rife. Truth wasn’t discovered by the courageous common man; it was dispensed by the church and those wielding power.

Thanks to reformation and renaissance, we have universal literacy. But while generations past treasured this, today’s culture of whatever shrugs it off with apathy. Education systems soften us; university degrees are becoming commodified, mass produced, and shoddy.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Beneath this decline in serious learning lay the crumbling ruins of a Judeo-Christian worldview. We could have restored their foundations, but instead we chose an experiment. Breeding modernism with mysticism, we’ve created a strange beast.

Now alternative everything has gone mainstream, all backed by its own “literature”. Truth can be validated by empiricism, politics or passion—depending on which tickles your fancy. The humanities have seen this for decades; now watch it rise in the sciences too.

Political correctness and its bizarre new morality pose as Pope for our brave new world. Too many are gullibly persuaded by this upstart authority; too few are willing to speak out for fear they’ll be branded with a phobia.

Widening Inequality

Happily, the modern world has set us free from the rule of princes and feudal lords. Each of us has a vote—and along with it, rights, liberties and opportunities never dreamt of by the peasants of a past age.

And while liberal democracy is by far the best system devised, its founding fathers handed it on to us with sobering words. America’s second president John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself,”—and, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Today, one percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth.”

Could it be that we’re experiencing the “any other” he warned of? Consider the widening gap of inequality. A shrinking number of banks and businesses rule the global economy, paying little to no tax. One percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth. Many are now convinced that class mobility is just a dream.

When so much power is held by so few, and when political influence is up for sale to the highest bidder, our vision grows dull and it’s hard to tell businessman from kings, and feudalism from freedom.

Pessimism, Fear and Brutality

The Middle Ages have been called dark because they were a period of cultural and economic decline that eclipsed the glory of Rome. Europe’s idealism gave way to angst, fear of the outside world, and centuries of bloody crusades.

There are remarkable parallels today. Our technology might be advancing, but in other ways we’re going backwards. We’re obsessed with trivia, airbrushed porn, and the cult of celebrity. Popular tastes in music are vulgar. Even hipster nostalgia is growing kitsch.

“Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it.”

Crass arts pepper every age, but what passes as art today raises eyebrows for its grotesqueness as much as its creativity. If you don’t believe me, take a walk through a modern museum.

Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it. It’s us versus them, with ideological borders replacing the old geographical ones. Now the enemy shares our cul-de-sac, but we wouldn’t know it because we’ve never met. Online algorithms have created parallel left-and-right societies where we reinforce our own dogmas and hoist the drawbridge of our minds.

“We’ve enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free.”

If the last year is anything to go on, it’s a small step from social fragmentation to cruel violence and rioting in the streets. Maybe these crusades will end after another election. Or maybe they’re just the beginning.

It will all depend on our collective conscience: is it truly wrong to hurt our fellow man? We’ve been desensitised from years of terrorism on the nightly news and Hollywood’s glorified brutality. If that weren’t enough, we’ve murdered millions of the unborn, and enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free—all for cheap trinkets and virtual pleasure.

Tyranny Beckons

This is not what the pioneers of the free world dreamed of. They warned us that democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained by their own morals and manners. As these slip away, will we the people at last prefer tyranny to chaos?

Patrick Henry, another US founding father, said, “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” I’m not ready for 1984 just yet. Our civilisation is fading like the dusk, but it’s still the freest on earth, and that makes it worth fighting for.

“Democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained.”

This month the western hemisphere celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—the social and spiritual revolution that jolted us out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world.

Call me dramatic, but I think it’s time we had another one.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

I Ate No Food for a Week: Here’s What I Learnt

The irony isn’t lost on me: Jesus said if we draw attention to ourselves when we fast, the attention we get will be our only reward.

But I’m convinced that as 21st century believers, Jesus’ principle of discreetness in Matthew 6 is almost all we think about when we think about fasting. That means almost no one talks about fasting, which means almost no one practices it anymore.

So maybe I’ve just lost my reward. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if I can stir some thoughts about the forgotten discipline of fasting, and help restore it to a place of normality in the Christian life.

Here are three really valuable lessons I learnt from my week of fasting.

1. Food competes with God for my affections

Food is a really good gift from God. But even good gifts from God can compete with him for our affections.

Over and over again this week I found myself thinking instinctively of food as the place to find comfort when my day had been hard or I’d faced a challenge. Apparently this is how I regularly think—but it took a week without food for me to notice.

“Even good gifts from God can compete with him for our affections.”

I experienced very few hunger pains and almost no drop in energy throughout the week.* The confronting conclusion this lead me to is that I don’t actually need food anywhere near as much as I think I do. Mostly, I just like it, and the comfort it brings.

And there’s nothing wrong with that—except when food is my first place of refuge. That’s a title that Jesus is jealous for. He wants to be the all-satisfying one for me.

Psalm 84:2 says, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The constant companionship of an empty stomach taught me this truth like no amount of prayer, reading or meditation ever could.

*Being a working week, I chose to still drink some tea, coffee, juice and broth—so it was either this or an intervention from God that sustained me.

2. The spirit thrives when the flesh is subdued

By day three or four I had a clarity of mind that I’ve rarely experienced. The best way I can describe it is that my flesh began to diminish, giving way for my spirit to be more in control.

“Fasting is an undiscovered shortcut in learning how to walk by the Spirit.”

In certain conversations, I found myself with words of wisdom and insight that surprised me. When I prayed with others, my mind was sharp and my requests felt more impassioned than normal.

The single greatest takeaway of the week was how the self-control I was practicing with food transferred directly to other areas of my life. Temptations I normally struggle with were noticeably weakened. I told my hunger to bow to Jesus, and it turned out that other desires bowed too.

Our culture believes the myth that indulging every appetite—whether for entertainment or sex or food—is the way to true freedom and happiness. In reality, that path leads to slavery and addiction.

“I told my hunger to bow to Jesus, and it turned out that other desires bowed too.”

The self-control I discovered in fasting felt like the very opposite. I wasn’t playing slave to my desires. After all, true freedom is the ability to say no, not just yes.

I’ve come to believe that fasting is an undiscovered shortcut in learning how to walk by the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

3. Fasting is a means, not an end

Given that I haven’t done it much before, this week I found myself becoming preoccupied with the physical aspects of fasting. In fact, towards the end of the week, I almost lost sight of why I began. If it has no greater purpose, not eating is a strange thing to do and has little value.

“Fasting isn’t an end in itself: it’s a means to seek the presence of God.”

I had to remind myself that biblical fasting isn’t a detox program, and it’s not some form of self-suffering or hunger strike. For all the purposes it has in Scripture—discipline, insight, answered prayer, spiritual breakthrough—its primary purpose is actually to draw near to God.

In a busy week, I found some time to do that. But next time I fast, I’ll be looking to leverage more value out of my fast: more time to be alone with God, to meet and pray with others, to read, and listen to teaching, and ponder. The reason I will is because fasting isn’t an end in itself: it’s a means to seek the presence of God.

The lessons I learnt this week have been invaluable, and I hope they’ve stirred something in you. If they have that’s good, because Jesus didn’t begin his teaching on fasting with the words, “If you fast…” but rather, “When you fast…”

He’s assuming we’ll be doing it again.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Morality

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 Morality.

* * *

Not far from where I live, I’ve heard of a bustling Christmas market that draws big crowds, depicting life in first century Israel, complete with costumed characters—merchants, beggars, Roman soldiers, shepherds. Easily missed, tucked away in a back corner of the marketplace, is a young, shabbily-dressed couple laying their newborn in an animal’s feeding trough.

Isn’t this a perfect depiction of the first Christmas—and almost every Christmas since? Somewhere among the leg hams and frantic shopping and scattered wrapping paper is a God trying to get our attention. But his humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.

The baby born that first Christmas night became a man who utterly reshaped the world. But in 2016, so much ideology and distraction has meant that we’re almost entirely unaware of Jesus’ influence on the West.

“God’s humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.”

Some might interpret this series I’ve written as religious posturing or Christian triumphalism. In truth, it’s none of that. My desire has been to show that ideas really do have consequences, and that Jesus and his teachings have had an unfathomable impact on the world. Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.

It is no coincidence that the nations with the deepest Christian roots are also the safest to live in. Transparency International publishes a global corruption index that year after year finds the least corrupt countries to be those most shaped by Jesus.

“Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.”

But stories speak louder than statistics, so in considering how Jesus transforms the morality of nations, hear the story of John Wesley.

In seventeenth century England, faith and morality had collapsed. Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.

Financial greed was rife. Laws were being manipulated to favour the ruling classes, sharply dividing the rich and poor. If you stole a sheep, snared a rabbit or picked a pocket, you could be hung as thousands gather to watch—or worse—shipped off to a strange faraway land called Australia.

“Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.”

Three quarters of children died before their fifth birthday. Unwanted newborns were left in the streets to die. Gin had overtaken beer as the national beverage, and alcoholism was destroying families, and leading to violence, prostitution and murder.

Gloveless boxing had become a favourite sport for men and women, and it drew massive crowds. Pornography was freely available. As soon as a theatre opened it would be surrounded by brothels. Men were known to sell their wives at cattle auctions.

Up and down the coastline of the British Isles, ships were lured onto rocks by false signals so they could be plundered, and the sailors were left to drown.

“Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.”

Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.

Enter John Wesley.

He’d studied at Oxford and was ordained as a priest. After reading the Bible and searching his heart, he realised he was a Christian in name only. At the age of 34 he put his faith in Jesus. Of that moment he wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine.”

This changed his life. He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him. Encouraged by his friend George Whitfield, he preached his first open-air sermon in April, 1739. The Great Awakening, a movement that was about to transform Europe and America, was born.

Wesley and other revivalists endured three decades of public abuse and violence. Drunken mobs attacked them as they spoke. Bulls were driven into their captivated crowds, and musical instruments were played nearby to drown out their preaching. When struck by rocks, Wesley would wipe away the blood and keep on preaching.

“He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him.”

But never once did he lose his temper. His desire was to point his nation to Jesus, and reclaim England from corruption, believing that when people get saved, their societies change.

Slowly the teachings of Jesus began to take root in people’s minds. His enemies were disarmed and won to Christ. Soldiers, miners, smugglers, fishermen, men, women and children would remove their hats, kneel down and were emotionally overcome as Wesley pointed them to God’s grace.

To teach and disciple the thousands coming to faith, Wesley established hundreds of faith communities across Britain, Scotland and Ireland. He was unstoppable. He got up at four each morning and preached his first sermon at five. By the end of his life he’d prepared and preached 45,000 sermons, written 300 books, and also a commentary on every verse of the Bible—while travelling a quarter of a million miles on horseback in rain, hail and shine.

“Wesley was unstoppable.”

He’d published his thoughts condemning the slave trade, and the last letter he wrote was to Wilberforce, who continued the fight. He opened medical dispensaries and vocational training for the unemployed, and raised money to feed and clothe prisoners, the helpless and the aged.

He died at the age of 88, and no coach was needed for his funeral because he’d arranged for six unemployed people to be paid a pound each to carry his body to the grave.

Directly influenced by Wesley and other revivalists, missionary societies were formed, stirring up hundreds of thousands of Christian young men and women to go to the furthest parts of the world, often at great personal cost.

“In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain.”

Slavery was abolished. Prisons were reformed. Industrial workers were given rights. The Salvation Army was founded, along with George Muller’s orphanages, the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and the RSPCA.

In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain. He’d helped purge his nation’s soul of filth and bring it back from the brink of death.

The power of the Great Awakening wasn’t merely the threat that God’s watching, so you shouldn’t do bad things. Islam also teaches this, but in Islam, Allah is too majestic to enter dirty stables or filthy hearts.

“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The Great Awakening was powerful because Jesus does what no other God can do. He fills people with his Spirit and turns their lives around. As we take our sins to him, and receive his forgiveness and grace, we’re cleaned up and made new. And our world is transformed.

Over and over, and in countless ways, Jesus has shaped the West. This Christmas, in perhaps the subtlest of ways, God is trying to get your attention. Don’t miss him. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

osl

* * *

REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I have been indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Equality

equality

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 Equality.

* * *

Last year, two young women aged 15 and 23 were gang raped in a rural town and paraded naked through the main street. This was the “punishment” handed to them by an all-male, unelected village council. Their crime? Their brother eloped with a neighbouring girl who came from a higher caste than theirs.

Violence against women is a global epidemic, not just limited to India’s untouchables. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. 98% of those trafficked for sex are female. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls are demographically “missing”—they’ve been murdered or have died through mistreatment, and their story has been lost.

“In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe.”

This is all part of a bigger picture of inequality. Across the globe, people are being abused and marginalised based purely on their culture, ethnicity, beliefs, political allegiance, gender or sexual expression. It’s enough to overwhelm us.

Aren’t we all for equality? Don’t we all stand for universal human rights?

The sobering, even shocking, answer to these questions is actually no.

In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe. We yearn for it, our civilisation sets the pace for it, and when we as westerners are treated unfairly, we appeal to equality as a fixed, universal axiom. But strange as this may sound, the idea that every human being has equal and inherent value is entirely foreign to many we share the planet with.

“If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering.”

The village justice described above is a case in point. While Ghandi fought for reform of the caste system, ancient Hindu beliefs don’t disappear overnight.

Much of Indian society is still built on the conviction that people have been created precisely unequal, and that your caste was determined by your actions in a previous life. Untouchables are so inferior to the other five castes, says Hindu tradition, that cows, monkeys and rats have greater dignity.

To us this is unthinkable, and must be challenged. But for many in Indian society, to challenge this or to dream otherwise is to rebel against karma. In fact, even to help the poor is to curse them further by preventing them from paying off their karmic debt.

“Inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history.”

Such inequality isn’t unique to India. The epicentre of child marriage, death penalties for homosexuals, and forced female genital mutilation is the Middle-East and North Africa—the heartland of Islam.

If your blood has started to boil, I trust that it’s because of the injustices I’ve described, not my geographical honesty. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Am I promoting inequality by making these observations? In fact I am—if we’re discussing the equality of worldviews. Let me be clear: not all beliefs are created equal.

But all people are created equal. And it is exactly this conviction that compels me. I must blow the whistle on any worldview that denies basic human equality and thereby fosters oppression.

The simple reality is that inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history. Mesopotamian creation myths held that the king was created in the image of the primary god, while the poor and the slaves were created in the image of an inferior god.

The ancient Greco-Roman world knew nothing of equality. Infanticide was commonplace. Plato had extremely elitist—even fascist—political views. Aristotle believed in natural slaves. In fact in the ancient world it was slaves that enabled the elite to pursue philosophy at all.

“If the world’s ‘races’ are descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal.”

Equality is a modern idea that came to us through the Renaissance. And while Renaissance writers are famous for quoting ancient Greeks and Romans, there was only one place they could go to establish a high view of humanity. And that place was Jesus.

From his parable of the ninety-nine sheep abandoned while one was searched for, to his teachings about the Creator knowing the number of hairs on our heads, to his charge for costly, practical love to “the least of these,” this peasant carpenter from Galilee stubbornly insisted that every life matters.

Jesus inspired his fanatic disciple Paul to write that “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male now female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, even a priest-class that’s closer to God must be a defunct concept if “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.”

“Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.”

If the world’s “races” are variously descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal. If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering. If truth is relative, then tomorrow some of us might wake up more equal than others.

But if God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe. In fact if God became one of us, far from violating his majesty (as Islam teaches) the incarnation would be the ultimate affirmation of our value and worth as humans.

The second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this is not true. All people are created equal—yes! But this is not a self-evident truth, if we take historical and contemporary facts seriously. Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.

“If God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe.”

It came from Jesus. This conviction that each of us possess inherent worth, share equal value, and deserve unprejudiced treatment has birthed the human rights movement, shaped national constitutions, and utterly transformed Western ethics.

Long may it drive us to keep fighting for equality where it does not yet exist. God knows, around the world there is much still to be done. But may we never forget or disdain its origin. After all, there is no ground more level than at the foot of the cross.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Morality.

* * *

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.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Education

education

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 Education.

* * *

Peeling glad wrap from Anzac biscuits, ruling a thousand margins, tying soggy shoelaces with frozen fingers, counting down the seconds to the final bell. Like many kids, I often wondered when school would ever end and life would begin.

I now have another perspective. (I must have if I’ve since become a teacher myself). My life has been transformed because I have an education.

“Turn the clock back only 150 years and 80% of the earth’s inhabitants were unable to read or write.”

Somehow, school seems to just happen in Australia. I’ve been privileged to teach in other settings, where I’m reminded that for many communities, education is won by blood, sweat and tears. In such places, frequent failures in electricity and transport, bone-dry funding, civil unrest and isolation from the rest of the world make schooling feel like a pioneering project every day of the week.

But remarkably through such efforts, today over 4/5 of the world’s adult population is literate. Turn the clock back only 150 years and that statistic was reversed, with 80% of the earth’s inhabitants unable to read or write.

What caused this revolution?

The answer begins in the Middle Ages. Thanks to monks who preserved Greek and Roman classics, learning survived in Europe.

“Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education.”

Augustine had taught that every science was helpful in studying Scripture, so monks learned every subject they could, sharpening their minds as they discussed the Bible’s grammar, language, theology and history. And being written in three languages by dozens of authors over thousands of years, the Bible was itself a library, whose hopeful storyline captured their imagination for centuries.

Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education. It would be Christians in Europe, keen to study the Bible, who would transform monasteries and cathedral schools into the university.

It is without coincidence (but generally forgotten) that Oxford, Paris, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard—and almost all of the world’s leading universities that helped build Western civilisation—were established to teach the Bible.

Even as universities blossomed in Europe, literacy still wasn’t mainstream. The Reformation would provide the impetus for this. Infuriated by a corrupt church hierarchy, Luther and other reformers knew that spiritual revival was possible if the Bible was available in the heart languages of Europe’s people.

“Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education.”

But mass literacy was too monumental a project for cathedral schools and even universities. So the reformers turned to the state, convincing governments that education was their responsibility. An unshakeable desire to read the Bible kept fuelling the fire for a more literate society in Europe.

As education spread in the modern era, three people deserve special mention. John Comenius (1592—1670), a Czech bishop, wrote nearly ninety books on education and founded the world’s first modern university, earning him the title the father of modern education.

A priest in Paris, Charles-Michel de l’Épée (1712—1789) founded the world’s first public deaf school, having developed a sign language for the hearing impaired that has since given rise to sign languages around the world.

“Christians point to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image.”

Louis Braille (1809—1852), a blind church organist, developed a dotted lettering system from the early Christian tradition of using raised wooden letter to teach reading to the sight impaired. Braille is now used worldwide.

Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education. This shouldn’t be surprising. While in the ancient world, blind children were often used as slaves or prostitutes, and while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” hasn’t and couldn’t inspire us to bring dignity to the disabled, Christians have pointed to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image. For them, education was simply another means to this end.

So much for Europe. What made education a global phenomenon?

Well-known for his lifelong campaign to abolish slavery, William Wilberforce also spent decades convincing the British parliament that it was immoral for India to be left in the hands of traders and soldiers, and that Britain had a role to play in dismantling the superstitions that lead to widow burning, untouchability, temple prostitution, and other evils.

“Western missionaries upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma.”

So in 1813, after a twenty-year fight, Britain allowed missionaries in India. Like many of his Christian contemporaries, Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.

For the next two hundred years, with Jesus as their motivation, Western missionaries would upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma. They put their neck on the line so that education could be multiplied throughout the non-Western world. Today we look back, and in their wake see universities by the hundreds, colleges by the thousands, and schools beyond number established, financed and nurtured by Christians.

“Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.”

In time, governments have played their part too, but mass education was both birthed and globalised by the church, leading to the education of millions and the transforming of nations. In the words of Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi,

“Neither colonialism nor commerce spread modern education around the world. Soldiers and merchants do not educate. Education was a Christian missionary enterprise. The Reformation, born in European universities, took education out of the cloister and spread it around the globe.”

Did Europe export education because westerners are smarter? Not in the slightest. The holy men of the east were at least as brilliant as their counterparts in Christendom. It’s beliefs that shape culture.

“By his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.”

If the West believed that enlightenment comes by lying on beds of nails or taking drugs, history would tell a different story. But Christians were committed to the idea of university: unity in diversity. They held that by his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.

Postmodernism has all but dismantled this. For many, drug-taking and nail beds are back in vogue. I’m deeply thankful for my tertiary education. But it’s clear from my time at university that while we still have diversity, unity is lost and now searched for in vain.

Jesus shaped education. Could it be that when he is forgotten, we lose the one who makes this project called university a meaningful, integrated whole?

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Science.

* * *

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.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Technology

technology

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 Technology.

* * *

The watermill, the crank, and the flywheel are quaint symbols of a bygone era. They’re also the very foundations of modern technology.

And along with the wheelbarrow and the windmill (revolutionary in their day) they were invented by—you never would have guessed it—monks.

See the monks of the Middle Ages had entered monasteries to pray, but most of their time was being taken up with necessities like grinding grain to make bread. These new inventions saved them hours of degrading, monotonous toil.

“If God created human beings in his own image, this means when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.”

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. But if that were true, wouldn’t have these inventions surfaced earlier—and universally? What set Europe apart?

Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape. The idea that I can imagine an alternate future, and change nature to become like my imagination, is one we take for granted. But it’s found in high concentration in the West.

Inventing new technologies, upturning culture, changing the course of history. All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.

If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means we too are creative, and when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.

“Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape.”

Not long after the birth of Islam, Muslim armies swept through North Africa, entering Spain in the East. In the West they’d captured Constantinople, and it seemed like only a matter of time before European cities like Vienna and Rome would fall too.

But Europeans had discovered crop rotation and the heavy plow. For the first time in history, farmers in Europe had replaced oxen with horses because they’d invented the horseshoe, the horse collar, and the tandem harness. These lead to a phenomenal increase in horsepower—and therefore, productivity.

Famine could have spelt the end of the continent as Muslim armies invaded. But with these inventions, the food scarcity was overcome, and Europe’s restored economy could now keep Islam at bay.

Reading glasses were invented in Italy in the 1200s. The main customers were monks, who needed them to study the Bible and other great books. This crucial invention almost doubled the productive life of Western scholars, who could now spend their best years improving the civilisation’s texts and technologies.

“All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.”

The mechanical clock was invented in both Europe and China. But only in Europe did it become an industry and develop into other forms of technology. Why?

In the East, time was considered part of samsara, the endless wheel that people were trying to escape. In the West however, time was seen as part of physical reality, a good part of God’s creation. So Europeans wanted to know the time and organise their lives according to it.

Creativity is ubiquitous, on display in every culture. But Europe pushed inventions and technologies much further than anything seen in the East or the ancient world. It transformed their civilisation, and eventually, the world. Still the question lingers: why?

Peel back the layers. If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means something else too—it means that every one of us are of infinite worth.

Cultures won’t spend themselves in labour-saving technologies unless they place immeasurable value on human dignity. Other civilisations of history, and many today exploit women, children or slaves to get work done. Hinduism convinced a whole caste that it was their duty.

“Only the Christian West developed technology to empower the weak and liberate humanity.”

But these early Europeans reasoned that if humans are of infinite worth like the Bible says, why make them do what machines, nature or animals could do? Why not use technology as a force to liberate and empower humanity for more dignified work?

Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless. This is what Jesus gave Europe.

Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi has said, “The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building, for the first time in history, of a complex civilisation which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves… but primarily on nonhuman power.”

“Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless.”

It’s true that many in the West have used technology to exploit the environment and other cultures, and cause huge amounts of damage to the planet. The blame for some of this lies at the feet of Christians, who should have read Genesis more carefully and been better caretakers of God’s creation.

But while in most cultures the ruling elite used creative technology for war, pleasure, monuments to themselves, and the oppression of their people, only the Christian West developed it to empower the weak, and liberate humanity.

Who would have thought? In more ways than one, this Nazarene carpenter truly shaped technology.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Languages.

* * *

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.