In a recent interview, actress Scarlett Johansson admitted that she is not sure that people are designed to be monogamous in relationships. “I think the idea of marriage is very romantic. It’s a beautiful idea, and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing,” said the twice married actress, “I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person.” Johansson considers marriage a “legally binding contract that has weight to it,” and a “beautiful responsibility,” but also remarks that marriage is a lot of work.
Ms. Johansson, I completely agree. Marriage is a beautiful responsibility. It is a lot of work. And it is more assuredly NOT natural to be a monogamous person. It is not natural for sinful human beings to commit themselves – ideally for life – to one partner in marriage. But the fact that, until relatively recently, that has been the standard, accepted pattern in the western world is tribute to the foundational impact the truths of the Bible has had on our society.
I came across Ms. Johansson’s words while I was in the midst of reading a book about the very thing she is indirectly addressing – the profound yet often unseen and unnoticed impact the Bible has had in shaping western culture and society. The book in question was The Book that Made your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi.
Mangalwadi is a social reformer, political columnist and Christian philosopher who was born and raised in India. His eastern roots give Mangalwadi a unique perspective on the whole question of how our society has been shaped by the Bible. With numerous examples from India, Mangalwadi presents a stark contrast between a culture like India’s that has only relatively recently been affected by the Bible and our own culture.
The very soul of western civilization, Mangalwadi argues, has been shaped by the Bible. Our idea of humanity and basic human dignity comes from the Bible. It is based in our understanding of the incarnation – the fact that Jesus became man meant that human beings are and continue to be objects of dignity and great value. Our emphasis on rationality and thinking through things comes from the Bible. Our minds have been understood as one of God’s great gifts to us. They enable us to seek to understand a rational God and drive us to create a thinking civilization. Even our emphasis on technology has its roots in Scripture. The Bible portrays God as a Creator, the architect of the cosmos, not as a dreamer or a dancer as others faiths do. When we create and invent ourselves, we follow a divine example. And much of what the west has created over the years has brought liberty and freedom and the betterment of human existence.
Mangalwadi continues his argument, suggesting that many of the underlying concepts that we accept as a society come from Scripture. Our idea of a hero, someone who refuses to bow before evil and falsehood, is biblical. The godly pursuit of translating the Scripture from Latin into common languages brought revolution, freedom and other biblical ideas to many nations. The idea of educating your subjects, as opposed to just simply ruling over ignorant people, is biblical. Our quest for truth in science has its roots in our quest for the truth about the biblical God and how he created our universe. Biblical morality, even though we are moving away from it, still has its affect. Countries where the Bible has had influence for centuries are notably less corrupt. The Bible’s emphasis on family, gender roles and marriage has raised the status of women, especially compared to many other places in the world. The ideas of medical compassion and stewardship of wealth come ultimately from the Bible.
Now of course, people can argue that the world the Bible created is not all roses and sunshine. I agree. Anything and everything can be used for hurtful, ugly, self-centered purposes. But is that the fault of the Bible, or is that the fault of sinful, corrupt human beings who take advantage of the freedom or scientific advancement the Bible set in place in our society?
The fact is, as Ms. Johansson’s interview reminds us, we are quickly moving away from being a culture influenced and shaped by the Bible. Society is quickly laying aside the foundational ideas that the Bible has ingrained in us. Unfortunately, what society is blind to is that the freedoms we enjoy, or the wealth we are privileged to have, or the responsible, democratic government we take for granted all exist primarily because of the Bible. When we take that foundation away, what will be the result?