The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century Review

The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century
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The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century ReviewThis is a superb book with a frustrating flaw. Its excellence is the clarity and informed analysis focused on the convincing thesis that the strength of the West, in contrast to China, lies in its public institutions. These are companies, judicial systems, parliaments, and the press which came into their own at the time of the enlightenment. The frustrating flaw is that Will Hutton refuses to acknowledge the context and people behind these enlightenment institutions: Christianity and Christians. He ably explains other factors such as trade which brought about enlightenment values, but strangely ignores the Christian faith. Yet the enlightenment happened in Christian countries, and her pioneer was not Hume or Diderot, but Luther who put individual conscience before the authority of the clergy. And those thinkers who were critical of Christianity, still operated in a Christian moral system. Enlightenment values did not descend from the sky, but grew out of soil soaked in the teachings of Jesus Christ. And it was Christians who usually made enlightenment values such as accountability and the rule of law a reality. So Victorian Britain's public institutions which fuelled so much of the West's success in the 19th C were often led by devout Christians. It is now more so in America where Christians have a massive influence on these public institutions. All of this does not exist for the author who then compounds this oversight by arguing that Evangelicals in the US are anti enlightenment. This is regrettable. The author himself says that the four pillars of enlightenment are accountability, representativeness, the rule of law, and free speech. Where do many Americans learn these values? In the church, so the Baptist pastor is only one church meeting away from losing his job. And this author is somehow implying he does not know about accountability! There is nothing anti enlightenment about evangelical Christianity especially in America. Indeed many would argue that America's success is rooted in the fusion of the enlightenment with Christianity. The author's odd refusal to seriously treat with Christianity also scars his analysis of China. Quite rightly he believes the way ahead for China and its relations with the world is for the country to develop enlightenment public institutions. But his tone is wishful pleading. If he had taken Christianity seriously he would have appreciated the fact that China now has the largest church in the world (estimates vary from 30 to 150 million) and these Christians have learned in the most painful environment of persecution the values of accountability and other `enlightenment' morals. The success of the West began to happen when thousands of Christians were freed from the intellectual claustrophobia of Roman Catholicism, the thesis of Protestantism and the rise of capitalism still has merit. The same can happen in China. Let the West campaign to free those millions of Christians from the claustrophobia of communism, let their meetings become the norm in the public sphere, and soon you would have flourishing enlightenment public institutions which would enrich both China and the West. There is much to learn from Will Hutton, but be warned that he has not taken into account the most fundamental aspect of the West's success: Christianity. He has one chapter entitled, `It's the Enlightenment, Stupid', but he is wrong: `It's the Christian Enlightenment, Stupid.'The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century Overview

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