Dr. Ralph Winter wrote an essay dated October 10, 2003 to which he gave the title “Gutenberg and the Eclipse of Islam.” He begins with a story of a three-year-old boy accidentally gashing the forehead of a playmate with a steel toy. Both children have missionary parents, and one family is visiting the other. A Moroccan family is also present. “Immediately the missionary mother of the offending boy rushed to apologize, and asked the boy who did the harm to apologize. The other mother asked her boy to forgive.” The Moroccan family is totally amazed, saying that if this had happened in their society, the two families would have never spoken again. What is the difference?, Winter asks. When Martin Luther was a leader in the early 1500s, there were as many Muslims in the world as there were Christians, despite the 600-year late start of Islam. In 2003, there are half as many Muslims as Christians. Ironically, in Luther’s day Muslims were ahead of European Christians in many intellectual, political and military endeavors. One explanation is that they inherited the riches of the Roman Empire of which Northern Europe was a very small part. So what in the world caused life for Christians to accelerate around 1500? Modern Europe rose significantly from tribalism, whereas the intellectually and educationally superior Islam made next to no progress in comparison.
Western historians do not desire to be accused of being ethnocentric, thereby exaggerating their own cultural tradition. In the West, we do everything we can to keep from thinking that our way of life is inherently superior. We remember the world wars we were involved in as well as the Holocaust. Yet others around the world just wonder how the West achieved its greatness even though it has weaknesses. Winter writes, “They can plainly see relative superiority on practically every front—educational, technical, economic, political freedoms, human rights, medical care, emancipation of women, care for the environment, etc. Doesn’t much of the non-Western world want to migrate to the West if it only could?” This curious and apparent Western superiority, which in 2003 is sharing its science and technology with the world, and leading the world in virtue as well as noticeable vice, represents a recent and considerable change.
In the age of Martin Luther, Gutenberg made possible the printing of a quarter of a million documents, three fourths of which were religious. When the moveable type was introduced to Europe in 1450, Europe was flooded with printed material over time, and the handy lingua franca allowed thinkers all over Europe, and even late 18th century America, to use Latin as a universal language. Winter argues that Islam did not gain from the moveable type because the Arabic script does not lend itself easily to discrete characters, which flow together. If Muslims had had the Bible, Winter believes they would have been diligently copying it as in Europe. So the Bible was a prime mover. The Bible brought about Luther’s concept of sola scriptura, the belief in Biblical authority as being above all else. It became a tangible touchstone which the living God used to guide, outranking all human authority. The Bible presents concepts of love, forgiveness and meekness that radically challenge unredeemed societies. “It was, in effect, the pregnant disturbance that formed the radically new modern West with all of its rare and genuine virtues as well as allowing and tolerating hostile rejection of the divine.” Winter thinks that it is the rejection of the Bible in 2003 that has caused broken families, emotionally disturbed children, and businesses and political leaders who are morally corrupt. Re-introducing the Bible is the only way to keep the West from falling into a new dark age, so Winter is encouraged about a project he is aware of to take the Bible to the heart of our cultural stream on the PBS television station.