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The Foundations of Western Civilization April 13, 2010

Posted by Sean Welsh in ethics.

According to the Herald the Institute of Public Affairs – a “conservative think tank” – recently held a dinner to launch The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/how-the-west-was-lost-a-lack-of-faith-in-civilisation-20100411-s0ow.html.

Apparently John Howard spoke as did Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Pell’s speech has been put online by his media people and it is a very interesting, well-researched speech – as you would expect from a Doctor of the Church. http://www.sydney.catholic.org.au/news/latest_news/2010/201041_857.shtml One might not agree with every thing the Cardinal says but you can be sure that it has a clear moral point, and is well-argued and coherent even if you dislike the moral point and the argument!

He starts with a story about a Chinese academic and how they have sought the secret of Western dominance of the modern world.

In 2002 a group of tourists from the United States visited the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing to hear a talk by a Chinese academic who prefers to remain anonymous. Speaking in the plural for unnamed fellow thinkers, he described their search for what accounted for the pre-eminence, the success of the West all over the world. Their studies ranged widely. Originally they thought the main reason was more powerful guns; then it was Western political systems, before considering the claims of the Western economic system.

Finally, and I quote “in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. . . . The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this”

Interesting observation. Though personally, I am comfortable with the Guns, Germs and Steel explanation of Western dominance. (It is about better guns and more diverse and competitive political and economic systems.) And no doubt the Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has a lot to do it.

Another quote from a Chinese writer in an article comparing Market Economies with Churches and Market Economies without Churches.

“These days Chinese people do not believe in anything. They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in the devil, they don’t believe in providence, they don’t believe in the last judgement, to say nothing about heaven. A person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies that anything is possible – what do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter?”

The lack of religious belief it seems it being blamed from the huge problem of institutional corruption in China. I am not sure if I buy that. Indonesia has similar problems with corruption and there are Mosques all over the Archipelago. I daresay one could point to several Christian jurisdictions in Africa and Latin America with massive corruption issues as well.

Pell goes on to give atheists a bit of a kick. He thinks plague is the correct plural term for a group of atheists. A gaggle of geese, a plague of atheists. I like that… though I don’t agree with it 🙂 Quite a suitable barb from a Cardinal though.

Later in the article Pells calls for undumbed down study of philosophy, history and English literature. Hear, hear!

Very interesting article. Worth a read.

Alas, there is at this time, no further information on the program available on the Institute’s web site which is somewhat disappointing. No doubt it will be made available in due course.



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