by Michael Cook, MercatorNet:
Is Christianity responsible for our hyper-individualistic society?
Why is the West different? Why did democracy spring from Western nations? Why did science develop in the West? Why did capitalism develop in the West? Why did tolerance begin in the West? Why did the welfare state originate in the West?
Western exceptionalism is one of the fiercest battlegrounds of contemporary history. And far from being a purely academic argument, it has immediate repercussions on today’s culture wars.
That’s why a recent article in the leading journal Science is being treated as an exceptionally important diagnosis of the distinctive features of Western culture. Economist Tyler Cowan says that “there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written”.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the evidence is extraordinary. Instead of being found in philosophy or theology tomes or dusty chronicles, it was in canon law, the Catholic Church’s internal regulations. The authors, from Harvard University and George Mason University, argue that it is mediaeval laws on marriage. These decisively shaped what they term WEIRD societies – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. The heightened individualism, lower conformity and greater trust in strangers in these populations are at least in part due to the mediaeval Church’s strict prohibition of incest and intermarriage.