Book Review: “The Book That Made Your World - How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” by Vishal Mangalwadi
If we went for a coffee today, I’d want to talk about this book. I read it over a year ago, and wrote this review shortly after. Even after a year, I still think about what an important book it was for us as Christians.
Here’s how I got it.
At first, I ignored the episode on the Jordan B. Peterson podcast, (YouTube) where he was interviewing a scholar from India talking about the Bible. But, eventually, I ran a bit short on episodes I was interested in and decided to listen to it. I was blown away from the beginning of the conversation all the way through the end. I couldn’t believe that Dr. Peterson had invited someone on his show to just talk about the Bible, and speak of it in almost purely evangelical terms.
Dr. Peterson invited him on his show because someone had recommended this book to him, he enjoyed it, and wanted to have a public conversation with the author.
The angle was important. Vishal Mangalwadi is a scholar from India, and he’s showing how the Bible created modern India. In order to tell that story, he had to also talk about how the Bible created the societies in North America. The devil is always in the details, and the miracle of our society is displayed when it’s put up in contrast to other major societies including historical ones.
I picked it up from the local public library. But, I wish I had a copy of my own. Don’t be surprised if I invest in one shortly.
What the book is about.
Dr. Mangalwadi wrote the book in answer to a fellow public intellectual in India named Arun Shourie who had publicly criticized the Bible. He wanted to answer his criticisms.
And, boy, did he give us a tremendous gift. When I got to the credits and acknowledgements, it was obvious that there was an enormous team behind this book, including multiple people that did a lot of research for the various chapters.
That shows, as Dr. Mangalwadi opens the book by contrasting the culture that produced Kurt Cobain with the culture that produced Johann Sebastian Bach. He talked about the philosophies that inspired their lives and music and the message that their lives conveyed. He also compared them and their respective cultures with the culture of India. Since India is the product of Eastern culture, Asian culture, Muslim occupation, and Greek and Roman occupation the reader has the benefit of the full spectrum of ideologies.
From there, he tells his own personal journey. I found the interview with Dr. Peterson a better version than what was written in the book. But, still, again, he’s comparing and contrasting the Christianity of his childhood with his experience in university among secular atheists, Buddhists and devout Hindus.
From there, he begins to describe the unique contribution that the Bible has made in these various realms of life. Helpfully, they are each contrasted with the cultures of India, Asia, Islam, Ancient Greek/Roman, and Europe. They are:
Humanity - what the Bible says about the human being and their worth and role.
Rationality - how the Bible produced a culture that valued logic and rationality.
Technology - how the Bible produced a culture that technology was made available to every member in society.
Heroism - how the Bible shaped the Western idea of the hero.
Revolution - how the Bible inspired political science.
Languages - how the Bible created a culture that developed languages and by extension human thoughts and ideas.
Literature - how the Bible inspired the vast array of literature styles and quality.
University - how the Bible fuelled education for the masses.
Science - how the Bible developed a culture of scientific discovery.
Morality - how the Bible ensures anti-corruption.
Family - how the Bible shaped the nuclear family and what effect that had on the individuals and society as a whole.
Compassion - how the Bible gave us ambulances
True Wealth - how the Bible truly benefits a society beyond financial prosperity.
Liberty - how fundamental views of the Bible produce free people.
Mission - why we should give stone aged tribes that are cannabals a copy of the Bible in their own language.
He closes the book with an arousing appeal for people like you and me (English-speakers) to not lose hope for Western Society in it’s obvious decline, but, actually, take heart, and not lose sight of how powerful the words in the Bible actually are. A
And, then there’s an appendix where he discusses how the Bible could be God’s Word.