Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World is an ambitious undertaking that is also deeply flawed. Mangalwadi’s thesis is concisely summarised in the Foreword to the book written by J Stanley Mattson:
‘[Mangalwadi’s] arduous research establishes the fact that the Bible and its worldview, contrary to current prevailing opinion, combined to serve as the single most powerful force in the emergence of Western civilization.’
In over 400 pages, Mangalwadi provides a sweeping series of historical narratives, entwined with his own personal experiences in India and the United States, which argue that features of Western civilization would not have occurred if it hadn’t been for the Bible. His outline of history includes the development of the valuing of humans as being higher than animals; the commitment to rationality; creative technology and its benefits; the formation of the concept of heroism based in humility and service; and the dramatic impact of the translation of the Bible into various languages. He also argues that literature, universities, and science would not have formed in the way they did without the Bible. For the author, the West is the best because of its higher ideals regarding morality, the family, compassion, true wealth, and liberty that transcend all other cultures because of the Bible’s influence. Ultimately, Mangalwadi wants to call the West back to a commitment to the Bible and its worldview to reverse what he sees as a rapid decline in relativistic morality and its consequential nihilism that results in despair. At the beginning of the book, the author holds up Kurt Cobain as an icon of modern culture arguing that his suicide was one of the rare occurrences when a nihilist genuinely followed through on their beliefs. Mangalwadi believes that this is the ultimate end of the West if it does not return to the Bible and its worldview.
There is no doubt that Mangalwadi is a good writer and very widely read. The fact that he is Indian and can make a comparison, from experience, between East and West provides for an interesting perspective. And his stories from his experience give a personal dimension that mostly enhances the history and philosophy that he surveys.
But there are some serious flaws in Mangalwadi’s argument. Firstly, reducing the entire development of the West to the influence of the Bible and its worldview is simplistic. While I am no historian, I am always suspicious when a single cause is offered for something. The world and history is surely more complex than that. For example, when he talks about the development of the wheeled plough, he argues that it only happened because of the biblical belief that toil was sinful (whereas work was part of God’s original creation). But as another reviewer has pointed out, farmers who are making a living from their work are surely going to look for more efficient ways of doing their work even if they did not subscribe to a “biblical” worldview! Mangalwadi also completely ignores a range of other influencing factors on the development of Western civilisation – the occurrence of plagues, growth in population, and a host of other historical events. For Mangalwadi everything is the result of the Bible and the adoption of its world view.
Secondly, Mangalwadi speaks of the worldview of the Bible. There is no acknowledgement in the book that the Bible has been the basis of multiple interpretations and “world views”. Mangalwadi presents what might be called the best of the Bible and the best examples of socio-cultural examples based on the Bible. But he fails to mention that the Bible has, for many people, been the basis of some very bad practices and used in support of genocide, slavery, and the “raping” of the environment.
Thirdly, Mangalwadi doesn’t mention any countries that have been successful without a basis in biblical theology or world view such as Japan and Singapore. How did they develop so well without a commitment to the Bible? And what about countries based firmly on a secular philosophy such as Sweden?
Fourthly, Mangalwadi completely dismisses any other religion or worldview has having much of value. But there is no sustained engagement with any of these alternatives. According to one Buddhist scholar who reviewed this book, Mangalwadi actually misrepresents Buddhism.
Overall, The Book That Changed Your World is an uncritical exposition of history. There are sweeping generalisations without any evidence being provided, selective use of the biblical text (on some occasions, no biblical evidence at all), and the equating of a romanticised view of the Bible (which is not as even in its presentation of God as Mangalwadi implies) that completely ignores the fact that Christians are just as prone to many of the social evils of our time as non-Christians (eg, teen pregnancy, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse).
In the end, The Book That Changed Your World is a work of apologetics rather than a scholarly and critical look at the relationship between the Bible and the development of Western culture. There is no doubt that the Bible has been influential – for good and for ill. While Mangalwadi’s book makes for an interesting read, it takes a too uncritical approach to history and the Bible to make it reliable. If one already believes that the Bible is solely responsible for the best in civilisation then this book will bolster that belief. But for a well-informed, educated believer, the evidence won’t be adequate to support the thesis as it is presented.
Acknowledgement: I found Jeff Swanson’s review very helpful, in particular, in parts of this review. I recommend it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”