This is my last entry on Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart’s book The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World.
The Final Countdown
Having given a blog entry to each of the first 3 miracles, I’ll wrap up this book review by treating the final 4 with an overview. They are:
- 4. The Battle of Poiters
- 5. The Mongols Decision not to invade Europe
- 6. The Old World colonizes the New World
- 7. The Battle of Britain
I am in complete agreement with the authors that Great Britain’s stand against Hitler’s Germany is something to celebrate. I’m also happy that the Mongols decided to call off their invasion of Europe in the 1240’s, so I won’t comment on these chapters. I would, however, like to look a bit at the remaining two miracles.
The Battle of Poiters in AD 732 is the one that “preserved a Christian Europe” by halting an Islamic conquest of the continent. No argument from me on the military importance of this battle, but let’s look at the authors’ notes on why this was important for the concepts of freedom and democracy.
They acknowledge that the Islamic world initially “led the world in technological and cultural advances.” Which is true. Then they note that it seemed to “freeze” and fall behind the west. Why? They propose a list of interesting reasons:
- Fundamentalist Islam defined law as rules coming down from God, not something created by men.
- Therefore, there was no separation of church and state.
- Personal freedom, including the right to protest an unjust law, was not promoted. After all, if laws come from God, how could a good Muslim protest them?
- As the Islamic empires grew prosperous, the religion’s liberal views about the virtue of equality gave way to an elitism that favored the rich and powerful.
- The lack of secular education stifled innovation.
This was oh so very different from the Christian West because that part of the world “forged ahead in the sciences, technology, cultural advancements, and in the advancements in religious thought that led to the concepts of personal freedom and self-government.” No sirs, even according to your own book, the concepts of personal freedom and self-government were inventions of Pagan Greece. What it avoids is discussing how the Christian church often tried to stifle them. It’s fascinating, and depressing, how the authors can criticize the authoritarian nature of monotheism in Islam, yet celebrate that very thing in their own Christian faith.
The Joy of Empire
The most gobsmacking chapter in the book is one that tries to paint Europe’s invasion and colonization of the New World as a happy victory for personal freedom. The havoc wrought on the native peoples by the European invasion has troubled my own mind since grade school. I was studying history in the 4th grade when a light bulb went on over my head: the cowboys weren’t the good guys, they were the bad guys! Not an easy thing to live with for Euro-Americans. I remember explaining this unease to a fellow college student. He was a super sweet guy from Colorado, and he was completely untroubled. “Well it’s better than us living in some hell-hole in Europe!” he exclaimed.
The Stewarts, who hail from Utah, aren’t quite that simplistic. They posit that the conquest of the New World gave Europe the confidence and riches necessary to create a powerful and advanced civilization. That the conquest provided Europe with treasure and pride is impossible to argue with. That this advanced the concepts of personal freedom is ridiculous – until we come to the English colonists who dreamed up an independent and democratic nation. And even here it’s a complicated thing. For this nation, founded on the idea that “all men are created equal” was partly a slave state itself until the incomplete victory that was the Civil War. Amazingly, Sherman’s March, a brutal military campaign that smashed a slave state, is not one of the 7 miracles of freedom.
Living With Original Sin
At it’s core, this book isn’t history, but a founding myth that seeks to erase the moral stain left by the violence, theft, and enslavement that came with the New World conquest. None of that bad stuff really counted, the authors imply, because it was committed by Christians who valued personal freedom – and with the spoils of New World empire we were able to spread our enlightened values across the globe! Hurray for us.
I guess that’s the big challenge for secular humanists. We need to combat the narcotic appeal of tribal chauvinism with an inspiring vision of our own. How by seeing the truth about ourselves and our pasts, we can build a more just society.
To be continued…