Because Ideas Have Consequences

A Better Way: The Moral and Economic Benefits of Christianity

I’ve lived and worked in the Commonwealth of Independent States since 2000, serving as a basketball coach with the young people of Kazakhstan. It has indeed been a great honor to live in the Kazakhstan and I would love to make it my permanent home. As I think about the future of the CIS, I’m very concerned about the underlying assumptions against the Christian faith, still left over from Soviet–era mentality.

I’m a former atheist and now a Christian. The evidence of the faith is what brought me to Christ and I understand the benefits Christianity can bring to society, as it did to my life personally. We must understand that if we are to truly progress into a prosperous nation, this can only be done on the foundation of a moral and virtuous people.

Kazakhstan is a nation with great promise and potential. While Kazakhstan enjoys a wealth of natural resources, we must also realize that in order to truly be successful, we also need the moral and spiritual foundation upon which success and prosperity can be achieved. This is the cultural mission of religion in society.

In 2003, South Korean businessmen and diplomats brilliantly argued in defense of Christianity at the Protestant Forum sponsored by the Turkish Institute in Almaty. They explained that as people in South Korean turned to Christianity, this produced an atmosphere which led to the huge growth in the South Korean economy. As Christianity permeated the culture, people transformed to law-abiding citizens who lived honestly and subsequently become more productive. This moral climate created prime conditions for economic prosperity.

Daniel Webster stated:

“Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be entrusted on any other foundation than religious principle, not any government secure which is not supported by moral habits…. Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

The ideological foundation of the West

Roman lawyer Cicero wrote:

“There is a higher, transcendent moral code which governs the universe, upon which all laws are based and interpreted, whose author and sponsor is God.”

This concept of natural law has served as the basis of law and governance in the West and led to a relatively just legal system, where law is based upon a higher principle and standard, to which all are subject and morally accountable. This natural law provides the ideological foundation for rule of law.

The American founding founders understood this in their framing of the constitution and the importance of religion. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “religion and morality are the safeguards of democracy.” Jefferson understood that religion and morality, fostered by religious conviction are the foundation for freedom and democracy. Alexander de Tocqueville understood the importance of the church in early American society. He wrote that while the church in America is not a government institution, it nonetheless is the primary institution in society, which provides the moral guidance which informs all institutions.

The first American president George Washington wrote:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness – these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

Washington concludes:

“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

America was founded upon the ideas of the Judeo-Christian worldview, which has permeated American culture, and produced such a relatively just and civil society, where human rights and property are respected and protected.

Freedom and human rights, as expressed through the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and vote are what produce the vital sense of ownership of the nation by the people. This sense of ownership is what fosters the sense of social and civic responsibility, which motivates private citizens to make a great nation. It is this atmosphere of democracy in which business and free markets thrive.

Ideological foundation of the former Soviet Union

In contrast to democracy, Soviet socialism was built upon the ideological foundation of Marxist atheism. This utopian worldview stems from the so-called Enlightenment era. Based upon the ideas of Hegel and Marx, and brought to the Soviet Union by Lenin, socialism denies the existence of God and believes that human beings and governments are evolving into higher states and are capable of solving their own problems without religious influences in society.

Lenin built the Soviet Union upon an atheistic Marxism which was diametrically opposed to and viciously incompatible with Christianity. Lenin wrote: “There is nothing more abominable than religion,” and that under communism: “God does not exist, cannot exist, and must not exist.” Because of this predisposition against the Christian faith, the Soviet Union was deprived of the benefit of moral guidance and instruction provided by the Bible through the institution of the church.

Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that atheism was not just the underlying worldview of Soviet socialism; atheism was the purpose of socialism. Solzhenitsyn wrote that the communists “flee from Christ like devils from the sign of the cross.”

Again, this movement originates from the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which Alexander de Tocqueville described: “passionate and persistent efforts were made to wean men away from the faith of their fathers.” Colson adds “The French Revolution was a conscious effort to replace the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of man.”

Nineteenth century Dutch Prime Minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper described the onslaught of humanism in Europe:

In place of worship of the Most High God came, courtesy of Humanism, the worship of man. Human destiny was shifted from heaven to earth. The Scriptures were unraveled and the Word of God shamefully repudiated in order to pay homage to the majesty of reason. The institution of the church was twisted into an instrument for undermining the faith and later for destroying it. The public school had to wean the rising generation away from the piety of our fathers. Universities have been refashioned into institutions at which Darwinism violates the spiritual nobility of humanity by denying its creation in the image of God. Hedonism replaced heaven-mindedness. And emancipation became the watchword by which people tampered with the bond of marriage, with the respect children owe to their parents, with the moral seriousness of our national manners.”

Ideas have consequences

Indeed ideas have consequences. Fyodor Dostoyevsky prophetically wrote: “if there is no God, then everything is permissible. Crime will be inevitable.” Atheism removed the basis of personal responsibility and accountability for behavior before God as well as society. Atheism removed any higher moral authority than one’s own. The natural consequence is the mentality of “every man for himself” and “survival of the fittest”, rather than by principle and rule of law. This can account for the lawlessness throughout the CIS, where mafia and corruption is so rampant. Georgian gangster and godfather of the Russian mafia Otari Kvantrishvili stated: “It was Vladimir Lenin who was the real organizer of the mafia and set up the criminal state.”

If there is no God, then there is no higher governing principle, upon which to base justice. Law is then simply determined by power, money, or influence. This can only result in lawlessness, corruption, and injustice; which will ultimately lead to discontent, unrest, apathy, and economic stagnation.

The economic consequences of totalitarian rule

In his book Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Rodney Stark demonstrates the correlation between despotic rule and economic stagnation. Referring as far back as to the Roman Empire, he writes that the empire in fact stifled economies with its taxation and paralyzing oppression. Stark writes:

“That invention flourished in the aftermath of the fall of Rome demonstrates the principle that despotic states discourage and even prevent progress. Why should farmers seek to adopt new and better agricultural technology if all the increased production will be taken from them? Who will reinvest profits to expand an industry if it is apt to be expropriated by the nobility? Invention and innovation tend to occur only where property is safe from seizure either because the state has become disorganized or because powers have been curtailed.”

Stark refers to an example in the tenth century in northern China. Private iron industry was producing impressive yields. These Chinese industrialists were making huge profits and reinvesting profits to expand their businesses. In the eleventh century Mandarins in the imperial court had become aware that commoners were becoming rich and hiring peasants at high wages. This they viewed as being in conflict with Confucian ideas. As a result, the state seized the industry and thus permanently crippling it. Winwood Reade wrote regarding the reason for China’s many centuries of economic and social stagnation: “Property is insecure. In the one phrase the whole history of Asia is contained.”

In another example, Stark describes that the Spanish Empire never rose to prominence through unfettered capitalism, but rather achieved its prominence through exploitive extraction of the wealth of the colonies in the West. Spain’s despotic rule also levied crippling taxes upon peasants, thereby crippling any hopes of developing capitalism. Stark demonstrates his point, contrasting the sharp economic differences between America and Mexico. While Mexico was colonized by Spain, America was colonized by Britain. He writes,

“The British colonies enjoyed a very high level of local political autonomy based upon relatively democratic institutions. The Spanish colonies were ruled by oligarchies, whether Spanish or domestic.”

Stark describes how those despotic, command economies fail to understand that wealth comes from production. Stark brilliantly notes “When wealth is subject to devastating taxes and the constant threat of usurpation, the challenge is to keep one’s wealth, not to make it productive.” Despotism cripples incentive as well as creativity. Democracy on the other hand empowers people, by decentralizing the economy out of the hands of a few into the hands of the many. Freedom and democracy work to protect the rights and property of individuals. This allows people the freedom to innovate, invest, and create without fear of usurpation. Such an atmosphere is conducive to economic development.

Stark writes, “The success of the West depended on the development of free societies able to provide secure havens for early capitalism.” In a despotic state, the priority of workers will be to hide and protect the fruits of their labor, and in turn produce as little as possible. Stark writes that in a despotic state, “The result is a standard of living far below the society’s potential productive capacities.”

The Economic Benefits of Christianity

Stark describes how during the Middle Ages, it was the monastic estates which replaced the subsistence economies and gave birth to capitalism. This capitalism developed upon the principles of Christianity. Stark stresses the importance of production for any developing economy. He writes:

A capitalist economy maximizes productivity in the following ways. Since private property is secure and work is not coerced, people benefit directly from their productive efforts, which motivate them to produce more. Because owners (or investors) benefit from increased production, they will discipline their consumption in order to plow back profits to increase future production, reinvesting in greater capacity, better technology, or a better-motivated or more qualified labor force. Competition among employers will result in rising wages and benefits, which motivates workers by allowing them to increase their consumption. This, in turn, helps to expand the market as those who manufacture, say; cars or television sets also purchase them. Given relatively unregulated markets, new commercial opportunities will attract new producers, creating competition among firms, with the result of raising quality and lowering prices. Hence, the ‘miracle’ of capitalism is simply this: as time goes by, everyone has more.”

Stark highlights how the ideas of the Judeo-Christian worldview validates property rights, condemning theft and fraud. Early church father Augustine “regarded private property as a natural condition…both legitimate and necessary.” Stark explains,

“Aquinas justified this statement by noting that private property contributes to the common good. Firstly, because everyone takes more care of things for which he is privately responsible than of things held in common, the responsibility for which is left to the next man. Secondly, because human affairs are more efficiently organized when each person has his own distinct responsibility to discharge. Thirdly, because there is a greater chance of keeping the peace when everyone is content with his own matters.”

Stark describes how that free markets led to developments in science, technology, and industry. Banking, personnel, management, frugality, and education developed. The university was founded by the church early in the twelfth century, as an institution for higher learning. Stark writes that the first two universities appeared in Paris and Bologna in the early twelfth century. Oxford and Cambridge were then founded about 1200. These were then followed by numerous others in the following century. Stark describes how the universities “were deeply Christian institutions; all the faculty were in holy orders and, consequently, so too were most of the famous early scientists.” Later in America, seventeen of the first eighteen universities were founded by the church as well.

Charles Colson in his book How Now Shall We Live?, describes how the conversions of the barbarians led to economic prosperity which Europe now enjoys.

“As the barbarians were converted and the destructive invasions ceased, European society began to flourish. Cities grew, guilds emerged to protect the interests of the crafts and professions, and ideas of representative government took root. In this setting, Christianity gave birth to a new institution, the university, which developed from schools attached to the great cathedrals in places such as Paris and Bologna, eventually replacing the monasteries as centers of learning and culture.”

It is also noteworthy, that seventeen of the first eighteen universities in America, including Harvard and Yale, were founded by the church. Indeed these are the economic benefits of Christianity.

In his speech to receive the Templeton Prize for Religion, Charles Colson stated that the Judeo-Christian heritage of America laid the foundation of freedom in the West:

“It established a standard of justice over both men and nations. It has proclaimed a higher law that exposes the pretensions of tyrants. It has taught that every human soul is on a path of immortality, that every man and woman is to be treated as the child of a King.”

Colson continues,

“This muscular faith has motivated excellence in art and discovery in science. It has under girded an ethic of work and an ethic of service. It has tempered freedom with internal restraint, so our laws could be permissive while our society was not. Christian conviction inspires public virtue, the moral impulse to do good. It has sent legions into battle against disease, oppression, and bigotry. It ended the slave trade, built hospitals and orphanages, and tamed the brutality of mental wards and prisons.”

In his book Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark quotes a recent statement from one of China’s leading scholars,

“In the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.”

Herbert London, in his book America’s Secular Challenge, cites Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of the Nations. Smith is considered by many as the father of the free-market system. Smith recognized that a free market unfettered by moral principles ultimately will prove corrosive to society.

A better way

At the Japanese surrender to the Allies to end WWII, American General Douglas MacArthur warned:

“We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem is basically theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”

The answer for Kazakhstan, as well as any society, is not in revolution of war, but rather in the moral revolution of the human heart. It is found in spiritual and moral revival. As individuals and nations are reconciled to God, people’s lives are changed and they become God’s moral agents to bring light and hope to a world of spiritual darkness and death. There are tangible economic benefits for those who heed the counsel of the manual given by the Designer.

The influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview in the West has permeated the culture and produced a moral climate of human rights and rule of law, where an individual’s freedoms, rights, and property are protected. This atmosphere has created the climate where economies can thrive. Contrary to Marx, religion is not the opiate of the people. Rather, genuine faith and heeding the counsel of the Bible is in fact the medicine that heals the moral soul of an individual and a nation.

Published in Exclusive Magazine, Kazakhstan. June 6, 2013.

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